Central America’s Best Kept Secret
Words: Kyla Langen
Where: Sandwiched between Honduras and Costa Rica, between the deep-blue Pacific and tortoise Caribbean Sea, where piglets litter the streets and empty barrels spit.
What: Nicaragua is Central America’s largest, least densely populated country and arguably the safest and most pristine. With 910 km of hollow beachbreaks, rocky A-frames, playful river mouths, and big-wave outer reefs, Nicaragua is a surfer’s Shangri-la. Once the stage for revolution, Nicaragua is now the home of 83 national reserves, which protect ten percent of the world’s diversity of plants and animals.
When: November to August is the time to go. Nicaragua’s mild topography and Lago De Nicaragua make the trade winds blow across the country, blessing it with all-day offshore winds the majority of days of the year. Most of the Pacific side is well exposed to South swells, making March through July ideal months for visiting. During the rainy season, (August to October) heavy rains and fickle winds are common. The Caribbean relies on wind swell, but be leery in July to late October, as the weather can get nasty.
Why: Because you don’t travel to Central America to speak English. Most Nicaraguans don’t understand “Where is the bathroom?” which means you should learn a word or two of their language. If you’re too lazy, stubborn, or dense, a crotch-grabbing charade will have to suffice. A history of revolution and civil war has slowed Nicaragua’s growth and modernization, preserving its individuality and natural beauty. Not until the 90s, when a peace agreement was signed between the Contras and Sandinistas, was Nicaragua deemed safe for tourists. The local people aren’t yet jaded by tourismos and still regard surfers as a novelty and greet them with smiles.
How: Fly into Managua, then either catch a bus, rent a car, or prearrange a shuttle to the coast. From Los Angeles, with one layover, it’s roughly a $600, seven-hour flight. Many of the good breaks are inaccessible by car, making boat and guide access key. If you stay at one of the few surf camps in Nicaragua, boat transfers are usually available. If not, paying a local to boat you to the surf is easy. If you decide to rent a car, a four-wheel drive is crucial because of the beach driving and muddy roads.
Places To Stay: If you’re looking for a vacation where you’re spoon-fed waves, meals and entertainment, the surf camps in Nicaragua will accommodate your needs. The touristy, quaint fishing village of San Juan Del Sur is an easy place to start your venture and has two quality camps, Surf Nicaragua (nicasurf.com) and Nicasurf International (nicasurfint.com). Good waves can be had north and south of San Juan Del Sur, but you’ll need a boat, which both outfits offer. Rivas is the other obvious surf region, central to a bunch of good waves, the most popular being Popoyo and Outer Reef. The best surf camps in the area are Surfari Charters, (surfaricharters.com), The Popoyo Surf Lodge (surfnicaragua.com), and Popoyo Rental (popoyorental.com), which offers a taxi ride from Managua and brand-new accommodations. If you want to feel like a surf pioneer, go get lost in the north where you can still discover and name new waves.
Places To Eat: Nicaraguan fare is among the finest in Latin America. Fruit, veggies, and meat are fresh and tasty, and most establishments can be trusted. Without an iron stomach, the street food could send you to the john, but meals starting at $4 U.S. are safe and delicious. Good coffee, gallo pinto, cabbage, rice, beans, tortillas, plantains, fish, chicken, beef, and pork are the staples.
Babes And Dudes: There are some beautiful people in Nicaragua, and if you’re into living off of subsistence farming and in a small house with the whole family, then you’re in. Like anywhere, avoid prostitutes due to the obvious dangers.
Crowd Factor: Call me a bragger, but we scored a number of epic days with only our crew out because the multitude of wave options usually spreads out the crowd. However, if somewhere is particularly good, or all the charters happen to pick the same spot one day, it can get a little crowded. There are a couple spots all the locals surf that can get pretty packed, namely Playa Santana and Popoyo. In the northwest and Caribbean side, chances of surfing with a crowd are thin, as it pays to venture on the road less traversed.
Stuff To Bring: Mosquitoes can get bad, so bring your citronella, bug spray, and mosquito net. A thin, long-sleeved shirt at night will protect you from pests and the possibility of contracting dengue fever or malaria. The sun can be intense, so thick sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, and a long-sleeve rashguard is imperative. Surf shops are scarce and not reliable for supplies, so come prepared and bring extra supplies to hook up the locals. You’ll only need a spring suit at rare times when there’s major upwelling and wind, otherwise trunks will do. For boards, it’s up to your comfort level. You could get use out of a 7’10” if the Outer Reef starts breaking, but if you’re not trying to win an XXL award, you’ll do fine with a shortboard and a step-up.
If The Surf Is Flat: Charter a boat and go catch yourself some dinner. Or take a hike through the gorgeous, lush rainforest. It’d be silly to not as twenty percent of the country is protected reserves. If walking isn’t your thing, try a canopy tour and zip line down a mountain above the trees. The colonial town of Granada is definitely worth a check. Once perpetually ransacked by pirates, Granada is one of the oldest European settlements in the Western Hemisphere. It’s rich in history, architecture, and ambience, and is considered Nicaragua’s most attractive town. From there you can check out Central America’s biggest lake, Lago De Nicaragua where rare species of fish like the prehistoric garfish and the world’s only freshwater sharks reside.
Helpful Web Sites: Nicaraguasurfreport.com is a good site with daily surf reports, forecasts, and constantly updated photos of the waves. Surfaricharters.com has good photos and helpful info, too, as do Globalsurfers.com, SurfNicaragua.com, and Wavehunters.com.
Central America’s Best Kept Secret