The Ultimate Guide to Nicaragua Surf

by Tom Sanchez

Nicaragua surf has proved that it can match the likes of Costa Rica and there’s a certain stretch of coastline that boasts some of the top waves in Central America.

An introduction to Nicaragua surf

Nicaragua surf

Nicaragua was once the untapped surf territory of Central America. That’s changed now, mainly because of the 100-mile-or-so stretch of coastline that runs north from the Costa Rica border, through the town of San Juan del Sur (learn the name: It’s Nica’s surf capital), and up to our personal fav of Playa Maderas. Yep, despite a little civil strife and some of the trickier arrival airports in the region, Nicaragua now draws thousands of surfers every year…

It’s easy to see why. The country has some of the finest waves in Latin America. They benefit from a unique combo of almost-unceasing offshore winds that are generated by the waters of Lake Managua and reliable SW swell systems that rise up from Antarctica in the summer months. Couple that with thinner line ups that Tamarindo or Santa Teresa could ever dream of and you’re looking at a pretty package.

Recent years have also added a good mix of well-heeled surf camps and surf stays to the line-up in Nica. Gone are the times when you’d have to hunker down under canvas in the company of mantled howler monkeys and god-knows-what snakes.

We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

This guide is a part of our larger ultimate guide to surfing in Central America

Surfing in Nicaragua at a glance

The good:

  • Crazily consistent offshore winds on the Pacific coast
  • Still not too busy
  • Very laid back and relaxed

The bad:

  • Nica isn’t the easiest place to get to in Central America but it’s still not hard!
  • Cold water upwelling in the down season

What will I find in this guide to surfing in Nicaragua?

The top surf spots in Nicaragua

The focus of the Nicaragua surf scene has been on the very far southwestern edge of the country for some years now. A stretch of about 60-100 miles of shoreline there runs from the Costa Rican border past the town of San Juan del Sur. There are waves the whole way, mostly rock reef breaks that rely on certain tides to work, but also beach breaks for beginners and some points. Popoyo and the more central Nica coast is where we’d recommend you look if you’re after something more advanced. That’s the territory of surf boat trips and you can escape the digital nomad/yogi crews to get barrels to yourself.

Popoyo

Popoyo is proabbly the most consistent and quality spot in the whole of Nicaragua. This one has the credentials to match other major global surf regions like the Ments or Queensland, but perhaps not quite on the same scale. There are about five or six named breaks within reach of Popoyo beach itself, but the focus always falls on the main breaks (known as just Popoyo) – an A-frame with very fast rights and more tubey lefts that crashes onto shallow reefs right in front of the bars and palapas. Outer Reef is bigger XXL stuff for the Maverick’s vets. Then there’s Stoney’s, which plays a little like a NZ point break only in warm water; a left, of course.

Read our complete guide to surfing in Popoyo right now!

Playa Maderas

Playa Maderas is a dream of a surf destination. There’s only really one wave, but it’s a high-quality A-frame that works on upcoming tides and offers really great shoulders to the left and the right. Really, though, people – just like us – fall in love with this town beucase of the chilled vibes. Surf-yoga retraeats hide in the jungles just behind the bay. Choose one of those and you can wake to the calls of howler monkeys and finish the day with cold beers while watching the sunset over the Pacific. It’s sorta San Juan del Sur (see below) but without the development.

Check out our complete guide to surfing in Playa Maderas

San Juan del Sur

It might strike you as a little strange that San Juan del Sur is now the annointed surf town of Nicaragua. The town actually doesn’t have any great breaks of its own. But it’s right smack dab in the middle of about 100 miles of fantastic surfing coast. You can head north for 20 minutes and be hitting the A-frame lefts of intermediate-dream Playa Maderas. Or you can go south to hit the beginner waves of Remanso, a mid-tide dream for learners. That’s just scratching the surface, too. Oh, and SJDS is also a party town with sea-veiw villas and yoga studios, a little like Nica’s answer to Tamarindo.

Check out our complete guide to surfing in San Juan del Sur

Playgrounds

Playgrounds is what this uber-find surf area south of the El Mogote Nature Reserve on the fringes of Playa Acosaco has been christened. It’s a pretty unchartered part of the Nicaragua surf coast but people still make the trek up. They mainly come for the namesake Playgrounds Surf Camp, which offers access to all the area’s breaks and fantastic all-inclusive stays in the coast jungles. There are something like 10-12 breaks in the offing, with Playground Left and Right trumping the lot with their hollowish sections. We also love the barrel at Chococente, which is more sectiony and a little punchier.

Top places to stay if you’re going surfing in Nicaragua

The Nicaragua surf scene has come a whole long way in the last 10 years. Even with moments of political upheaval and the meteoric rise of next-door Costa Rica, there’s been a bit of a boom when it comes to surf camps and whatnot. There are now some seriously fantastic options to consider for your trip…

Villas Playa Maderas

Surf-hotel-top-pick

Villas Playa Maderas sits on a perch just above Playa Maderas. It’s a proper health retreat with an on-site gym and exercise programs – you’ll enter feeling like a slug and come out feeling like Arnie circa 1983. Seriously, though, it’s a cracking place to be based for surfing the quality A-frame in the bay, the rooms are luxurious and spacious, the pool is lovely, and it’s just all-round good vibes. We’d go back and back again if we could.

Hostel Clandestino Maderas

Best for: Budget surf trips in nature

Hostel Clandestino Maderas is for the budget-seeking surfer with a penchant for eco stays. It’s such a cool pad, built on bamboo sticks in the coast jungles. The rooms are simple but simple is what you want here. Share your time between surfing and meditating on the decks.

the SPACE.

Best for: Solo surfers looking to meet other people

the SPACE. channels a touch of Bali and adds its own Central American flair, offering dorms and doubles in an uber-cool space in San Juan del Sur. The piece de resistance has to be the lobby bar that’s ringed by a dark-concrete pool. It’s really about the atmosphere, cos’ this is the place to meet, mingle and chill with likeminded surfers.

When to surf in Nicaragua

A point break in Nicaragua

To be honest, there’s never really a bad time to hit the Nicaragua surf (save for, maybe, February). The peak season is the summer (officially the wet season), when the SW swells that form in the Antarctic latitudes come up day after day. They are the same swells that power the Baja and SoCal but here they are even punchier, which means regular barrel days and overheads from the Popoyo reefs down, although Maderas and SJDS do offer more protection to help intermediates keep going during the bigger days between May and September.

Swells calm a touch in the autumn and winter, as the southern channels slacken. However, there are still strong offshores and decent mid-sized waves. That’s why we think November-January is the top time for beginners looking to surf in Nicaragua. February is the only anomaly, because it tends to be the windiest month and that can upwell and cause the mercury to drop in the water so it no longer even feels like your surfing in the tropics. Dodge that.


We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

This guide to surfing in Nicaragua is just one part of our guide to surfing in Central America