Surfing Nicaragua is right up there at the top of the list for many traveling surfers looking to get a bit off the grid.
Even without flying around the world (for us norte americanos) a surf trip to Nicaragua promises all of the key elements of a great surf trip – warm water, thumping beach breaks, consistent offshore winds, cheap places to stay.
Without a question, surfing Nicaragua has brought you right into what is arguably the best surfing in Central America.
Of course, Nicaragua isn’t Costa Rica, and that is exactly the point. A bit grittier, a bit less developed. Sprinkle in some political unrest, or in the current case, a full-on democratic emergency.
Nicaragua hadn’t even fully recovered, from a tourist perspective, from the student-led political protests in 2018 when the COVID pandemic hit. Recent visitors have told of towns, including the larger beach towns such as San Juan del Sur, being mostly shut down.
Of course, this is surfer talk for “empty waves”.
This lack of tourism hurts the locals though. If it is possible to pull off a surf trip to Nicaragua and it is within your comfort zone, your tourist dollars will be welcome and needed.
Empty waves and some of the best surfing in Central America will be your reward.
Surfing Nicaragua – Seasons
Like all of Central America, Nicaragua has two distinct seasons – rainy and dry.
The rainy season generally runs from the end of May through October, with the peak being in September. The rainy season also generally is a “low” season from a tourism perspective, so there are deals that can be had.
The rainy season in Nicaragua, while not as extreme as Panama and Costa Rica to the south is still nothing to be trifled with. Access to beaches and other travel can be affected.
However, while it is technically the low season, I have always enjoyed the rainy season in Central America.
There’s really nothing like a long surf session in the morning followed by a solid sleep in a hammock while torrential tropical rains pound down all around.
Nicaragua Surfing Beaches
While Nicaragua is blessed with coastlines on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides, for this article we are focused on the Nicaraguan beaches of the Pacific.
Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast is barely developed and has the well-earned and fabled monicker “The Mosquito Coast”. Look at a map of Nicaragua and you’ll barely find any roads heading into this large part of the country.
More importantly for surfers, it is just angled the wrong way for the storm swells that track from the north.
Are there Nicaraguan beaches in the Caribbean that get surf? Who are we to say? They just aren’t as well known or documented as Costa Rica’s Salsa Brava or the thumping surf of Bocas del Toro in Panama.
Perhaps there is some surf exploration to be done here.
Back to the Pacific
On the Pacific side of Nicaragua, beaches and surf spots can be broken down into Northern and Southern Zones.
The Southern zone of surf spots in Nicaragua is more well established for two reasons – proximity to airports, and all-day offshores due to the effect the massive Lake Nicaragua has on the weather.
From Playa Popoyo to San Juan del Sur, this southern area of Nicaragua is blessed with all of the waves a traveling surfer can handle.
Nicaragua Surf Spots – South
The southern Pacific coast of Nicaragua is truly blessed when it comes to waves.
It would be hard to argue against the claim that this stretch of coast offers the best-concentrated area of surf spots in Central America.
Part of what makes this area so special isn’t even the waves or the beaches. Rather, it is the mere presence of Lake Nicaragua.
Lake Nicaragua, along with Lake Managua (smaller), combines to make a huge gap in the mountain chain that stretches through Central America.
This gap allows trade winds that blow from east to west from the Caribbean to reach this Nicaraguan surf region almost unobstructed.
Therefore, this area of Nicaragua, along with all of its surf spots, is known for having constant dominant offshore winds throughout the entire year.
Imagine! A surf zone that has offshore wind all year long!
As a buddy of mine who just returned from a surf trip to Nicaragua explained, “Since the wind blows offshore all day, I didn’t even bother getting up early for dawn patrol sessions.”
What you will often find in on a surf trip to this part of Nicaragua is that people hole up in a place and don’t feel the need to move. After all, there are empty barrels right out front. Why go anywhere!
Playa Popoyo is on of the most well known surf spots in this part of Nicaragua. It takes about two and a half hours to get to Popoyo by car from the international airport in Managua.
Its proximity and range of surf options also opens up plenty of places to stay.
Popoyo Surf Lodge
Just a bit further down the coast from Popoyo is Playa Santana. Playa Santana offers everything you need to hide from the crowds, but don’t expect to find much of a town let alone a coffee shop or surf shop.
Bring everything you need and enjoy the waves.
Next stop on the southerly trip towards San Juan del Sur, Playa Colorado.
Playa Colorado is known for its thumping beach break barrels. Colorado can be a bit advanced, so this surf spot may depend on the ability of you and your crew.
Playa El Gigante
After El Gigante, you’ll find the coastal roads run out.
It’s time to head east, up and around to head back down towards San Juan del Sur.
San Juan Del Sur
San Juan del Sur is a well-known tourist destination in this southern region of Nicaragua. However, with its protected port and narrow bay, don’t expect there to be surf right there in town.
After all, this is why it is a port town and cruise ship destination.
When people talk about surfing in San Juan del Sur, what they mean is that they stay in town for all of the great amenities, restaurants, and the calm beach of Playa San Juan del Sur, then go surf at some of the surf spots that are close to town.
The main surf spot close to San Juan del Sur is Playa Maderas. Getting there requires a drive or hitching a ride of some sort, so don’t expect to just walk up there in your flip-flops.
Playa Maderas is the best surfing beach in the San Juan del Sur area.
Playa Marsala is also a great beach in the San Juan del Sur area, but it is known for being a bit more calm.
Nicaragua Surf Spots – North
Right now, Nicaragua is experiencing a political crisis as President Ortega seeks to hold onto power by jailing anyone who decides to run against him.
Protests to Ortega’s power grab began with student uprisings in 2018, which led to many students having to flee to Costa Rica to escape persecution – plus, Ortega just went ahead and closed universities to avoid that headache in the future.
I had a chance to meet with a group of these student refugees in San Jose a couple of years ago through my contact with a group called Ticos y Nicas Somos Hermanos.
It was a great experience. If you are interested you can support this group through their connection with Amigos of Costa Rica.
More Resources on Traveling to Nicaragua
Surfing Nicaragua Travel Guide
More Articles and Guides About Surfing in Central America
Best Surfing in Central America
Which Airport? Liberia or San Jose
Surf Travel Insurance – Should I get it?
Bocas del Toro – Surfing, Scuba, Adventure
Ticos y Nicas Somos Hermanos
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