Where to find secluded surf on Nicaragua’s southern coast

Inhaling the salty air, your body pleasantly fatigued from a morning surf, you gawk at the breathtaking, crescent-shaped cove and slouch deeper into your hammock...for surfers, Nicaragua has it all. From powerhouse waves to more relaxing rides to secluded surf for novices, you've got an array of options if you're flying into the capital Managua.

Surfing a barrel wave in Nicaragua. Image by Sean Murphy / Taxi / Getty Images.

To the north, the Aserradores region offers less crowded breaks for experienced surfers, and is most popular during the dry season (November to April). Slightly south, Popoyo houses over a dozen breaks, but not much else besides surf. Even further south lies the most aquatically diverse and electrifying town in Nicaragua: the party hub of San Juan del Sur (SJDS). No place in Nicaragua comes close to the cuisine, nightlife and invigorating atmosphere of SJDS. It’s a social surfer’s dream.

Relax on the beach with a heavenly Backdoor Smoothie (coconut, avocado, walnuts, bananas, cinnamon) from Banana Hamacas (www.facebook.com/BananaHamacas), play volleyball with the local all-stars, or enjoy a succulent Middle Eastern bite at El Colibri, located behind the town's Catholic church. You can rest up inside one of the countless hostels that line the beachfront (starting at around $5 USD). For a party ambiance, try Hostel PachaMama (www.hostelpachamama.com); for peace and quiet simply walk a few blocks off the main strip.

Like all places in Nicaragua, the SJDS region offers the most consistent surf and smallest crowds during the winter/rainy season (May to October). While it’s easy to get sucked into a 2am bar crawl, you can just as easily hop aboard a getaway to one of its more picturesque beaches and test your skills in the surf.

Surfboards in San Juan del Sur by David Dennis. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Playa Maderas is suited to all surfers. It’s a 30-minute, $5 shuttle from SJDS. Maderas is positioned alongside a beautiful cliff and features sprawling boulders jutting out from the water. Beginners should play in the white water, while more experienced surfers can paddle out with the channel near the boulder on the left of the beach. The surf is consistent here and so are the crowds. This line-up can easily have 30-plus people, all fighting for the best rides. If you’re willing to get up at the crack of dawn, you may have a few rides to yourself. Waves here often reach six to 10 feet, so novices should choose their days wisely.

The power and speed of the waves at Playa Colorados dwarf those of Maderas. A 1.5-hour ride north of SDJS, only accessible by boat or SUV, Colorados is suited only to the best surfers. It is a powerful force of nature that breaks feet from the beach bottom. If double overhead waves bring a smile to your face then this is the place for you. If, like this writer, you choose to live, head to the more secluded, novice-friendly break that is Playa Hermosa.

A surfer jumping off a water taxi. Image by Ryan Creary / All Canada Photos / Getty Images.

Hermosa’s three-kilometre beach has white sand, palm trees and a backdrop of forest-covered hills. You could be in Tahiti. The waves remain relatively uncrowded because of a small entrance fee (included in your shuttle). Unlike other beaches, which are at best sketchy after dark, this cove is nearly impenetrable. A host of guards stroll the surrounding woods 24/7, keeping guests safe. The beach has a lone hostel ($18 to $45 per night), which has running water and electricity (sometimes). They offer snorkelling, spear fishing, horseback riding, and of course, surfing. Come for a day, or stay for a week.

You might find yourself wrapped for hours in a hammock with a novel, protected from the sun in the shade of a cabana; you might go for a walk along the rocky coast; or you might indulge in a cold Tona beer and sopa de mariscos (seafood soup), aimlessly staring at the rolling surf...it’s easy - far too easy - to be lazy in Hermosa. If you do muster some strength, smooth and sometimes sizeable surf awaits at over half a dozen peaks. If you come with a great book, no agenda and an appetite for waves, you might just stay a lot longer than you planned.

Surfing tips for Playa Hermosa

  • Boards rent for $10 a day
  • Best surfed at mid to high tide
  • Avoid stingrays by shuffling your feet, or dragging your feet on the sand
  • Be wary of underwater rocks near the beach volleyball court
  • Surf schools practice from 10am to 3pm; waves are least crowded before or after, and on weekdays

Getting there

From Managua take a $2 express bus to Rivas. From Rivas take $2 bus to SDJS. From SDJS take a shuttle to Hermosa - costs are $5-10 per person in a group of 4-6.