As a world-class surf destination, Nicaragua needs no introduction. The central American nation boasts epic waves, tropical waters, a low cost of living, sick surf hostels, and friendly people. It’s the dream surf trip and one of the best surf destinations in Central America. Oh, and there’s even a zone with permanent offshores. Pretty sick, huh?
Truly a surfer’s paradise, and if you’re coming from North America, you’re only a short flight from tapping into pumping, barreling beachies, a-frame reefs, and beginner-friendly bays. Whatever you fancy. But with such plentiful surf options, navigating where to go and when is tricky, not to mention getting around. Here’s everything you need to know about surfing in Nicaragua.
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When to Surf in Nicaragua? (Best Season)
Nicaragua has great waves all year round. However, the best time to surf in Nicaragua is between April and October. This is when the biggest swells march into the coast deep in the South Pacific and light up the country’s premier breaks.
However, you can also score fun 2-3ft waves in the off-season. The only time I would avoid surfing in Nicaragua is February, where (particularly in the south) the coast is plagued with howling cross-offshores and cold currents. Seriously, it’s too cold for boardies in Feb!
Water temperature is tropical year-round, and boardies every month apart from February. Because of strong offshore winds and cool currents, the water gets surprisingly cold–and you’ll need a shortie if you wanna be comfortable!
Nicaragua is super consistent and has waves for most of the year. Swell size averages around the 2-3ft range; however, this step up a notch in season (April-Oct), and you’ll find the surf size consistently in the 4ft range with the odd bigger day thrown in for good measure. Check out what the waves are doing right now in Nicaragua on Surfline.
Best Surf Spots in Nicaragua
Nicaragua has two distinct coasts, the Pacific and the Caribbean. However, the majority of the best breaks are on the Pacific side. This is where you’ll want to head to score the best waves.
San Juan Del Sur
San Juan Del Sur is a wicked beginner surf destination with a handful of beginner-friendly breaks and a lively surf/backpacker town to match it. If you want to surf in Nicaragua, meet new people, and party, San Juan is for you!
There’s an abundance of great surf schools, surf camps (stay tuned for the breakdown on the best surf camps in Nicaragua), accommodations, and hostels. However, as an advanced surfer, and if you’re done partying, you’ll want something with more juice, so head north to Popoyo.
An hour North of San Juan Del Sur is Popoyo–the capital of surfing in Nicaragua. This stretch of coast has several world-class waves, great spot diversity, and excellent accommodation options, whatever your bank balance. The wave density here is astonishing, and within just a few hundred meters, you’ll have access to Playa Guasacate, The Peak, Beginner Bay, and Playa Santana.
Perhaps the jewel in the crown of Nicaraguan surfing. Playa Colorado is an incredible, world-class beachie. Thumping A-frame barrels unloading onto the sand. (It’s exactly how you dream of Nicaragua). While it’s prone to closeouts, Playa Colorado has the potential to gift you the tube of your life on the right day.
If heaving sandbars doesn’t sound like your cuppa tea, thankfully, beginner bay is just down the coast and is a super forgiving left point/mellow whitewater, perfect for learners or progressing from whitewater to unbroken waves. One of the best beginner surf spots in Nicaragua.
The main wave in Popoyo. The Peak is a perfect a-frame reef break with a long wally left and short, punchy right. A ridiculously fun wave, and despite the crowds, you’ll always get a couple of waves here.
When the swell turns on in Nicaragua, Popoyo outer reef comes to life. A solid, barreling left reef that can seriously make or break your trip. Only works when the swell starts hitting the 8-10 ft mark.
To learn more about the area, check out my full breakdown of surfing in Popoyo. The guide takes you on a detailed rundown of each spot, where to stay, and how to get there. You may also like my guides to other top Central American surf destinations, such as the Complete Guide to Surfing in Santa Teresa or Ultimate Guide to Surfing in Bocas Del Toro.
In Northern Nicaragua, Aposentillo is perhaps the only surf town to rival popoyo for the best surf town in Nicaragua crown. However, Apsontillio is a super small town; it’s a dusty collection of streets strung together by the various surf spots surrounding the coast.
There’s not much else to do here, but surfers come from all over for the main attraction–The Boom. An amazing wedgey beach break with fun peaky barrels day in day out. One of Nicaragua’s best waves when it’s on.
The Mosquito Coast
If you’re after adventure, there are some secret spots located on Nica’s Caribbean coast. However, the swells aren’t consistent here, drug cartels run much of the coast, and the area is sketchy and hard to navigate. I haven’t explored the area, but if you’re reading this and have, I’d love to hear about your experience (drop me a comment below).
Where is Nicaragua & How do you get There?
Nicaragua is located between Costa Rica to the south and Honduras to the north. It’s one of the larger countries in Central America. Getting to Nicaragua is relatively straightforward.
From overseas, fly to Managua! Managua is a small airport despite being the main hub, so you may need to jump on a connecting flight from somewhere else in Central America first. Check out the cheapest flights to Nicaragua here. For flights, I always use Skyscanner as I find prices unbeatable.
If you’re driving (renting or in your own vehicle), it can be a mission to drive into and through Nicaragua. Poor roads, military checkpoints, wildlife, and a generally slow pace of life combine to make driving pretty difficult at times.
However, either passing through in your own vehicle or hiring a car in Managua will give you the maximum freedom and flexibility for chasing waves in the country. Take driving safety seriously; avoid driving at night, lock the doors while you drive, and store valuables safely. Check out rental cars in Nicaragua here.
If you’re traveling to Nica as part of a larger Central American surf trip, then the bus will be your best friend. You can find bus companies (Tica Bus) that take you from Costa Rica to cross the border into San Juan Del Sur and even Managua.
Buses are pretty cheap, and you can find these overnight buses for around $20-30. For instance, I took a bus from La Fortuna in Costa Rica to Managua overnight. Check out the best bus routes on BusBud. It’s also worth noting that cross-border bus companies help make the border crossing processes smoother. Which is still a faff, but it means you know what you’re doing as the driver tells you what to do and where to go.
By Local Bus
If you’re on a seriously tight budget and you’re traveling to Nicaragua by local (chicken bus), you can find local bus routes using Bus Bud or Rome2Rio, which cost only a few dollars. However, you’ll be crammed in with dozens of people, livestock, and countless other things that shouldn’t ride on a bus. These buses don’t cross the borders so you’ll have to do this yourself. You must also pay the $30usd entry fee at the border in cash!
Where to Stay?
Best Budget Picks
Hostel Sunset Villas is a wicked, budget-friendly hostel right on the beach at Playa Guasacate. For $12 per night, you’ll get a shared room, right on the sand, and be able to walk to the Peak and beginner Bay. There’s also a small shop (Teinda) and a handful of restaurants close by.
A couple of doors down from Sunset Villas, you’ll find Melting Elephant. Another super affordable budget-friendly surf stay on the sand at Guasacate. As the name suggest the property has a unique aesthetic and yes, does actually look like a Melting Elephant. Cheap rooms, bare and restaurant on site and within walking distance of the Peak.
Best Mid-range Picks
This is where I Stayed on my two-week trip to Popoyo. Suyo Cabanas is a small but wicked collection of beach cabanas. Private cabanas, clean sheets, and 30 seconds from the waves at Playa Santana. Prices start at $40 per night and cabanas sleep two people.
Best Surf Camps in Nicaragua
If you’re after an all-inclusive, immersive surf and stay package in Nicaragua, check out the best surf camps in Nicaragua. Book Surf Camps makes it super easy to book your entire surf trip in one booking, taking all the stress and organization from your trip!
Nicaragua Key Information
Tips for Surfing in Nicaragua
If you travel to Nicaragua in the best surf season, expect crowds. The country is well established on the traveling surfer’s radar and has been for decades. So don’t expect to score the best waves by yourself. Many of the most well-known spots are super crowded. But time it right, and you can always score less crowded sessions between the dawn and pre-onshore time slot!
Nicaragua has had its fair share of rebels, both politically and economically, and you can feel this; you can notice that the country is poor, even coming from Costa Rica. Safety must be a priority. Don’t walk anywhere alone at night, avoid driving at night and keep valuables locked away. Despite this, I found everyone, local or not, to be super kind, friendly, and welcoming.
Many local people in Nicaragua don’t speak English, or at least very little. Learning Spanish (even just a few phrases) goes a long way in helping you get around. I’d suggest downloading Duolingo, a free language learning app, or buying a basic Spanish phrase book from Amazon.
As you’d expect from any Central American surf destination, what is incredibly intense in Nicaragua and the black sand of most beaches is scorching underfoot anywhere between 10 and 3 pm. Be aware of this; you don’t want to burn your feet and put yourself out of action; trust I’ve done it before. No, it wasn’t fun, and yes, I missed pumping waves!
Take a couple of standard shortboards and a step up, maybe a small wave groveller if you’re visiting in shoulder season.
Boardies year round, except if you visit in February–then take a shortie or even a springy.
You’ll need some solid, thick zinc anytime you surf in Nicaragua, so this is something worth investing in!
A couple of spare leggies never go a miss on any surf trip; the same goes with finds and any spare equipment that will keep you covered.
Nicaragua is an affordable surf destination with some of the best waves in the world. Whether you’re a beginner or a well season surf traveller, Nica has something for everyone. If you’d like to read more about surfing in Nicaragua, check out my complete guide to surfing in Popoyo.
Surfing Nicaragua - FAQs
The best beginner surf spots in Popoyo include San Juan Del Sur and Beginner’s Bay in Popoyo.
The main surf town in Nicaragua is Popoyo, which has great waves for all abilities. Alternatively, Aposentillo also has amazing waves.
While Nicaragua has had its fair share of economic and political issues, the country is pretty safe (especially in the main surf towns) for tourists. However, you should still be careful of petty crime.