Surf Season, Swell & General Bocas Surf Info
There are two main swell seasons in Bocas del Toro: the winter season (November through April), which is the primary season (the best months are from December to March) and the summer season (June through August), which is the secondary season (best month is normally July). During the rest of the year, sporadic swells do come through, so some surf can almost always be had if you know where to go, with the flattest months generally being September and October, which in contrast provide the driest months and best ocean visibility, perfect for spear-fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving.
During the entire year, water temperatures remain constant between 26° and 29°C (80° and 85° F) so you’ll never need a wetsuit and you’ll always be able to surf in warm tropical conditions. The water is turquoise and transparent and you can even see the reef while you surf. Another advantage about surfing in the Caribbean is that there is a really small tide coefficient between high and low tides, which allow you to surf the same break all day long. There are plenty of reef breaks in Bocas del Toro, so if you’re not used to it, booties can come in handy.
Bocas del Toro surf has been compared to Hawaii’s north shore (on a smaller scale) and certain places in Indonesia. The way the bottom drops off the coast is one of the reasons why the waves break with so much power in Bocas del Toro. Even though Bocas del Toro only receives short period swells (mostly under 11 seconds), the dramatic drops in the continental shaft create hollow, barrelling waves. Add to that some reef, a little sand or a certain angle to the coast line, consistent seasonal swell seasons, and you got yourself some serious tropical world class surf.
The winter season swells (November through April) are produced by the combination of a) the Intertropical Convergence Zone or ITCZ (where winds originating in the northern and southern hemispheres come together), b) the dry winds of the northern coast of Colombia and certain Caribbean islands which are practically deserts, and c) the Caribbean high pressure systems that form every winter in the mid Atlantic, providing significant push and pressure gradient differences. The result of these three combined factors is a massive acceleration of low pressure pushing constant north eastern swell into Bocas’ wave window, which does not stop for weeks or even months at a time. Another swell contributor which brings a more northerly swell comes from the low-pressure systems that drive swell down from the Gulf of Mexico into other spots of the Archipelago of Bocas del Toro.
The summer season’s swell is produced by the early hurricane season coming off Africa (Bocas del Toro is not within the Hurricane zone by the way). Just like during the winter, the swell glides over the Atlantic and accelerates thanks to the high-pressure systems of the Caribbean, and then hits several dry and windy islands in the Caribbean and northern coast of South America, producing the same type of NE swell as in the winter.