Everybody loves a good “Top 5” list and I’m no exception. After living and surfing in Nicaragua for the past 6+ years, I’m ready to share some of my hard earned knowledge with you. Below, please find my ranking of Nicaragua’s best surf spots and why. Some of them might surprise you.
How did I come up with this list? Good question. First, I listed out all the major surf spots in Nicaragua – 18 of them. Then, I developed 6 evaluation criteria which I applied to each spot. Spots were scored on a scale from 1-5 in each category. The final scores were then tallied and the winners were chosen. The explanation of the 5 Evaluation Criteria follow:
Consistency – A big reason Nicaragua is a top surf destination is because of the general consistency of our waves and weather conditions. Simply put, we have ride-able waves almost every single day. In the southern region, we have offshore winds that blow all day long for an average of 300+ days per year. Spots in this zone receive the highest scores for consistency.
Wave Quality – It doesn’t matter how good the conditions are if the waves are junk. While this category is completely subjective, it’s important to take note. Some waves are just better than others.
Crowds – Nobody likes surfing in a big crowd. As in most places, the best and most popular spots are also the most crowded. While it might not matter to a pro surfer, most of us would rather not fight for waves. Remember that a crowd here in Nicaragua might seem light for a normal day at Trestles – it’s all relative but crowded waves lost points accordingly.
Skill Level – Some waves are good for longboarders and some waves are good for barrels. Very few waves are good for everybody, all the time. For my Top 5, waves that appeal to a wide range of skill levels are scored higher.
Hazards – Everybody dreams of locking into a barreling point break on their surf trip. What people forget to dream about are the potential hazards and pitfalls of pulling-in when it’s 1′ deep over sharp rocks. Sometimes, a sand bottom, beach break is just more fun – so they get a higher score on the hazard scale.
Barrels – I added an extra criteria for waves that “Barrel”. This might be completely subjective, but in my opinion, a hollow wave should score more than a mushy wave. I’ve never seen anybody claim a mush-burger. Hollow waves are the trademark of Nicaragua and the Top 5 has been judged accordingly.
Waves were scored on a scale of 1 to 5 and prioritized by Total Score. Only one wave scored a 23, the highest score. Six different waves scored exactly 22 points and to break the tie, I prioritized them by Crowd Factor and then Wave Quality. Below, I present the Top 5 Surf Spots in Nicaragua:
Spot #5 – Playa Colorado
Coming in at #5 is the mighty Playa Colorado. If you want to get barreled, Playa Colorado is the place to visit in Nicaragua. The secret is out and you won’t be surfing this spot alone but if it turns on, you will likely get one of the best barrels of your life. Playa Colorado is a private beach and is accessed by either staying inside Hacienda Iguana (a private beach and golf resort) or by boat. This wave can work on all tides, changes personalities frequently and can dish out a beating. ADVICE: Stay inside Hacienda Iguana if you want to score Playa Colorado – if you can time the boats and the crowd you can still score an empty line-up here. Bring your paddle arms and an extra board or two! WATCH OUT FOR: Boats, Santana Walkers and other eager surf-trippers who will all paddle out and sit right next to you.
BEST PLACES TO STAY: The new NSR Beach House
Spot #4 – Playgrounds
As the name indicates, this spot is one of the most fun and rippable waves we have in Nicaragua. Breaking across a cobblestone reef, Playgrounds is often compared to a warm-water Trestles. The left is usually longer than the right, but you can easily go both ways. Equally fun on long boards and short boards, Playgrounds is a wave that a broad range of people can enjoy. This wave starts getting fun at about chest-high and holds size up to double-overhead. Playgrounds is a boat-only spot and while there can sometimes be a few people in the line-up, you can also surf here by yourself. ADVICE: To score it without the crowds, try surfing Playgrounds in between swells during the season. It’s usually better in the morning or with light winds. WATCH OUT FOR: The rocks! Don’t put your foot down unless you want to take home a battle scar. BEST PLACES TO STAY: Anywhere in Tola with boat access.
Spot #3 – Astillero Beach Break
At the end of the road, in front of the river mouth, lies one of the best and least surfed beach breaks in Nicaragua. Astillero is a small fishing village, but it is also known for it’s hollow waves and lack of crowds. It’s best surfed when there is a little bit of swell in the water as it is usually a bit smaller here. The rights are usually better than the lefts and there are multiple peaks to choose from – Works best when it’s double overhead or less and around a mid-tide. ADVICE: Get a 4wd and drive down the beach – you can park in front of the wave and avoid the long walk. Be careful not to get caught by the high-tide. WATCH OUT FOR: Dirty water during the rainy season and petty theft if you leave your vehicle unattended. BEST PLACES TO STAY: Popoyo area
Spot #2 – Aschunchillo
Aschunchillo is a lesser known spot located in Central Nicaragua. It is a consistent beach break, located just outside of the Offshore Wind Corridor and only 1 hour from MGA International. As such, it’s best to try and surf it in the mornings when the winds are light. The wave is fun and rippable and occasionally gives up a barrel or two. If you want fun, but non-threatening waves and absolutely no crowds to hassle with, this is the wave for you. ADVICE: Access the wave through Gran Pacifica and make your way North. The best peaks can be found a short walk to the N of the parking area, in front of the river mouth. It’s best surfed on a lower tide. WATCH OUT FOR: The black sand beach can get very hot in the sun. BEST PLACES TO STAY: Gran Pacifica
Spot #1 – Playa Hermosa
Update Jan. 2012 – Playa Hermosa is now open for drive-in access. There is a small fee per person to enter. Unfortunately, Playa Hermosa and the surrounding beaches (Playa Remanso, Playa Tamarindo, Playa Yankee) have also experienced an increase in armed robberies over the past 12 months. Most incidences have gone unreported and the culprits still seem to be at large. We don’t want to scare anybody unnecessarily, but some bad things have happened. Please use extreme caution when traveling to these beaches.
Most of you who don’t know about Playa Hermosa are missing out on one of the best kept secrets South of San Juan Del Sur. Playa Hermosa is over 1 mile long, is accessible only by boat and features lots of empty peaks with no local surfers! The wave quality is better than average and features lots of peaks, long walls and the occasional barrel. This spot is fun for almost all skill levels. Because it is located South of SJDS, Playa Hermosa needs more swell than others to break, but this touch of inconsistency is more than offset by the lack of people in the line-up. You will never have to share a peak here if you don’t want to. ADVICE: If you are coming to Nicaragua to surf alone, stay in SJDS and take the short boat ride to surf Playa Hermosa. The best months are April through September. Mid to High tides are best. WATCH OUT FOR: Empty peaks.
BEST PLACES TO STAY: NSR Headquarters
Honorable Mention – Playa Santana
A wedgy beach break that almost always has a fun peak. Playa Santana scored top marks for Consistency and Wave Quality. On small swell pulses, this break is punchy and rampy. When the swell get’s bigger, it’s a full-on barrel-fest. If there’s one bummer about Playa Santana, it’s the crowd of locals that live in adjacent Limon. It’s rare to surf this spot alone and if it’s good, you could be battling 40 heads for a peak. ADVICE: The wave turns on at mid to high tide and stays fun until about mid-tide going out. If you want to beat the crowd, try waiting until after high-tide to paddle out. Early season, when the water is cool, also cuts down some of he crowd. WATCH OUT FOR: Other surfers!
Other Popular Spots – Playa Maderas
Coming in at number 4 we have Playa Maderas, the most popular surfing beach near San Juan Del Sur. Playa Maderas is predominately a beach break and breaks year-round. It’s a rippable wave that caters to a variety of surfing abilities. Maderas scored high marks for Consistency and Wave Quality and low marks for Crowds. San Juan Del Sur is home to many local rippers as well as busloads of of wannabe surfers so expect to share the line-up when you are here. ADVICE: If you zig when all the other’s zag, you can still get fun and uncrowded waves at Playa Maderas. When the swell is small, try showing up at low-tide. You’ll most likely have the beach to yourself and there will be some fun corners to ride. This also works when the swell is BIG, when most people go surf somewhere else and it’s too much for the casual surfer to handle. WATCH OUT FOR: Other surfers and submerged rocks!
Other Popular Spots – Popoyo
Popoyo is a staple and it’s the wave that put Nicaragua on the surfing map. This powerful reef break goes both left and right (the left is usually better) and offers long, powerful walls and sometimes a thick barrel section. It’s very consistent and magnifies even the smallest swell. As you might imagine, there is a pack of locals and ex-pats alike who have this place wired. It’s a shifty wave, but it’s only one peak so competition for your daily quota is guaranteed here. This wave breaks over shallow reef, so take that into consideration as well. ADVICE: Popoyo breaks at all tides but most people tend to prefer high tide. Give low tide a try, with a smaller swell, and you will be rewarded. Otherwise, try Popoyo during a long stretch of good surf (the crowd will be tired and mellow) or in the off-season. WATCH OUT FOR: The reef!
BEST PLACES TO STAY: Surfari Charters, Nicawaves
Other Popular Spots – Panga Drops
If you want a solid wave across all of the criteria, look no further than my number 2 pick, Panga Drops. This isn’t the best wave in Nicaragua by any means, but if you value a wave that is fun most of the time, doesn’t really ever get too crowded and can be enjoyed by most skill levels, you have to consider Panga Drops. Located at the North end of Playa Colorado, this wave is a deep-water, horseshoe reef which magnifies swell and throws shifty lefts and rights at you. It breaks at all tides, on all swells and all times of the year. Don’t knock it until you try it. ADVICE: Panga Drops breaks pretty far out and is affected by strong offshore winds, most common in the off-season. Try checking it out on a solid swell with light or no-wind and you’ll be trading big, shifty peaks with just a few friends. WATCH OUT FOR: Stingrays and strong currents!
For more information about surfing in Nicaragua, photos, maps, places to stay, real estate, etc – please check out my website: www.nicaraguasurfreport.com