By: Mikael and Thrillism
20 minute read
Last updated June 5th, 2020
Nicaragua, Central America’s largest country, is finally starting to get the attention it deserves. Up until recently, Nicaragua was one of the least visited countries in the area.
But all that has changed within the last decade; some travel gurus are even referring to Nica as the “next Costa Rica”. So what exactly happened to bring about this drastic boost in Nicaragua’s tourism?
What happened was that surfers from around the world finally realized that Nica boasts some amazing breaks. This is really no surprise at all since the country is lined on both sides with stunning coastal waters (Pacific in the West, the Caribbean in the East).
This means that you’ll spend a good chunk of your Nica travel itinerary feeling salty and sandy, most likely accompanied by a surfboard. There are tons of highly-rated Nicaragua surf camps to choose from, most located along the Pacific coast.
Although you’ll be tempted to spend hours on end strapped to a board, there’s plenty more to keep you busy throughout Nica. The country is home to mountainous volcanoes, a vibrant capital city, and clear waters perfect for SCUBA diving.
You can learn about all of these things and more from this guide. But most importantly, you’ll gain insight into the best surf camps in Nicaragua.
Let’s get started!
For visitors traveling by plane into Nica, the only international airport in the country is located in the capital city of Managua. Augusto C. Sandino International Airport is about 3 hours by taxi from the Pacific Coast, which is where most surfing fanatics spend the majority of their time.
For travellers doing a long-term Central America backpacking tour, arriving from neighbouring countries of Honduras and Costa Rica is common.
It’s possible to cross borders into Nica by bus – the TICA bus is a trustworthy operator that is found all throughout Central America. Traveling by bus might take a bit longer, but it is certainly the best way for budget travelers.
Like most developing countries, it’s not safe to drink Nicaraguan tap water. For all you conservationists out there, you’ll just have to accept that bottled water is the only viable option. Nicaraguan people may be used to their country’s tap water. But for travellers, not so much.
There is, however, a clean drinking water source on the small Caribbean island called Little Corn. Most locals and travellers drink water straight from the tap here. But just to be safe, staying hydrated with bottled water is always the best way to go.
The main language spoken in Nicaragua is Spanish, but many locals have a strong English language background as well. This is especially true in the more touristic destinations.
The people of the Caribbean islands speak an interesting blend of Spanish, English, and island Creole. English speakers will do just fine in all touristy locations of Nicaragua. In more remote areas, Google Translate will become your best friend.
Like most flourishing travel destinations, the internet options in Nicaragua have been slowly improving. It can still be difficult to find strong internet in more remote areas, but it’s no problem in major tourist spots.
Travelers staying in highly-rated hotels or hostels almost always have access to high-speed WiFi. If you’re unable to find WiFi, there is another solution. You can easily purchase a local SIM from a Claro or Movistar store.
Claro is the most common data provider in Nica. The prepaid SIM costs about 50 Nicaraguan Córdoba (NIO), which is about $1.50 USD. For 1.5 GB of Claro data, the cost is 230 NIO (less than $7 USD).
The plugs in Nicaragua are the same as US plugs. They use 110V electricity, so North American travelers don’t often need an adapter. For travelers hailing from other parts of the world, look for type A and C adapters. Investing in a universal travel adapter equipped with a surge protector is a solid idea.
Almost all nationalities travelling to Nicaragua are eligible for the 90-day Visa on Arrival. This tourist visa costs $10 USD, so be sure to have a bit of cash when you arrive. Keep in mind that the immigration officers are very picky about ripped or torn banknotes, and they often claim not to have changed.
This visa is not just for traveling in Nicaragua, but also for Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Travellers can cross the borders of these 4 Central American countries with just 1 90-day visa. This makes backpacking through the region and visiting the best Central American surf camps easier than ever.
The Nicaraguan Córdoba (NIO) is the currency used by the local people. 1 USD is equivalent to about 33.56 NIO. Travellers can exchange their local money at the airport, but withdrawing local currency at an ATM offers a much better rate.
You’ll absolutely want to invest in travel insurance before heading to Nica. The best medical care is provided at private hospitals in Managua, and private treatment costs can be very high. Luckily, there are plenty of travel insurance providers that will cover the cost of treatment.
No matter if this is a quick vacation or a long-term adventure, always cover your health with insurance. World Nomads is a top choice among travellers, especially surfers needing additional coverage for adventure activities.
Is Nicaragua safe? This is one of the main questions asked by travellers, especially after the political unrest of 2018. 2018 was a year of widespread protest among the Nicaraguan people. These protests were related to government corruption with the country’s social security reform.
This recent unrest put a HUGE dent in tourism rates, but things are finally getting back to normal. There is always likely to be a bit of social unrest in this developing country, but the current protests are long over. In fact, Nicaraguans are praying for tourists to return to get the economy back to normal.
Contrary to popular belief, Nicaragua is perfectly safe in terms of crime. Nearly all of the locals are welcoming and genuine. That being said, it’s still important to have common sense and awareness as a traveler. Petty crime does happen here, so always be mindful of your possessions.
Like most things in Nica, getting around is very cheap. Many local taxi drivers will try to rip off unknowing tourists, so having an idea of transportation prices beforehand is a must. Short trips should never cost more than $2 USD (~70 NIO). Before getting in any taxi or shuttle, establish a firm price beforehand.
For long-distance journeys throughout the country, travellers often choose to fly via an airline called La Costena. This is definitely not the cheapest option, but it’s the most convenient. For budget travel, buses are a great choice. A local bus from Managua to Granada (about 40 kilometres distance) costs less than $1.
Travelling in Nicaragua on an extreme budget is more than possible. Accommodations vary greatly in price, but the cheapest hostels and guesthouses can be booked for as little as $8 USD per night. Booking a private hostel room averages about $20 USD per night, and the same goes for a budget-friendly hotel.
Booking a pimped-out Airbnb is another possibility. Travellers can typically find a comfy private room for $10 or an entire home for $30 per night on Airbnb. If an extreme budget is the name of your travel game, you might consider renting a hammock by the beach. This is often possible for $3 per night in a gated-in, protected area.
The typical cost of eating “street food” is less than $2 USD per meal. A meal at a sit-down Nicaraguan restaurant cost between $2.50 and $5, while touristic restaurants will be more like $10 USD per meal. As always, the best way to stick to an extreme budget is by preparing your own meals. Most hostels offer access to a shared kitchen space.
Because Nicaragua is the land of adventure – surfing, diving, hiking, and even volcano boarding – the majority of a traveller’s budget will go towards adventure activities. These preorganized activities are still quite cheap compared to other areas of the world. For instance, a day-long volcano trekking tour costs about $30 USD.
Keep in mind that a surf camp in Nicaragua will often charge a weekly rate. This means that everything will be included in one price, including food, accommodations, and surf equipment/sessions. Surf camps in Nicaragua vary in price depending on the camp’s reputation, what’s included, and the time of year.
Surfing is possible year-round in Nicaragua. However, there are definitely clearcut rainy and dry seasons. The dry season falls between January and June, while the rainy season happens during the second half of the year.
For surfing, try not to let the rain stop you from booking a flight during the wet season. This is actually the best time for surfing; swell is largest during a good portion of the rainy season. The good news is that constant rain is not common in Nicaragua, not even during the rainy season.
It is more common for heavy showers to happen just once a day before the sun starts to shine again. You can expect a tropical climate all year with temperatures varying from 21 to 35°C (70 to 95°F) depending on the season.
As mentioned before, Nica is home to two very different coastlines. The Pacific Coast in the West is perfect for surfers, while the Caribbean in the East is more geared towards SCUBA divers. It is highly recommended for travelers to at least check out the Caribbean side for a few days. But for the best surfing opportunities, stick to the Pacific waters.
For beginner-level surfers, focus on finding a Nicaragua surf camp near Popoyo or San Juan del Sur. The best beach for beginners in this southwest Nicaraguan town is Playa Santana. Santana is nestled right between Popoyo and San Juan. The reason this is perfect for beginners is that this beach break offers tons of space. Catching a wave all to yourself is common here. Rivas is another popular Popoyo beach for more advanced surfers.
If meeting fellow travellers is the main priority, there is no Nicaraguan surfing destination that compares to San Juan del Sur. This is also quite the party destination, hosting a massive pool party event each week called Sunday Funday. For beginner to advanced-level surfing in and near San Juan, head to the nearby beaches of Playa Maderas, Playa Remanso, and Playa El Yankee.
Gigante in Nicaragua’s southwest is yet another popular surfing town. The best beach to check out here is Playa Amarilla, which is just north of San Juan. It’s great for beginners and the perfect spot for yogis and ecotourists to unwind. Even further north, you’ll find another surf spot called Salinas Grande in Miramar. This town is located in Leon province, which is known for rich authentic culture.
Travel up north even more for something much more lowkey than San Juan del Sur and its infamous Sunday Funday. The quieter area of Chinandega along the northern Pacific coast is ideal for travellers just wanting to surf. The relaxed-out vibes of the area are perfect for chilling, especially in a town called Aposentillo. In addition to surfing, yoga and SUP are popular activities in Aposentillo.
For the past decade, Nicawaves has been consistently rated as one of the best surf camps in Nicaragua. This surf resort is located in the heart of southwest Nica’s Popoyo. The beach here has been ranked as one of the best Nicaraguan surf spots for world-class breaks all year-round. Travellers have the option to book just a few nights at the Nicawaves Hotel or sign up for an all-inclusive surf holiday.
“Nicawaves is our family-owned and operated hotel, located on 7 tranquil acres in the heart of Popoyo, on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast.”
– Mike, Owner of Nicawaves
The Supreme Surf Package at Nicawaves costs $1295 per person. This includes one full week of accommodation and food, roundtrip airport transfers, two inshore fishing boat trips, and unlimited surf trips to the best breaks in Popoyo. The Nicawaves facilities are perfect for kicking back after a long day on the water. Guests have access to a pool, hammock cabana, free WiFi, and onsite restaurant.
To get the most out of Nicaragua’s peaceful natural surroundings, the perfect location is Leon’s Miramar Beach. Miramar Surf Camp is located in the sleepy Miramar Beach fishing village, but the waves here are far from sleepy. Advanced surfers love the challenging breaks, peaking swells, and pristine barrels. Environmentally-conscious travellers love that Miramar is focused on sustainable practices.
“We try to be more and more self sustainable everyday…And a huge plus is we have solar power.”
– The Team at Miramar Surf Camp
There are a few surf camp packages to choose from, the most popular being the Surfers All-Inclusive Package. The price is based on a daily rate and starts at $86 USD per day. This includes all surfing excursions, accommodations (5 nights minimum), 3 hearty daily meals, and transportation to and from the airport (or nearby Leon).
Many surfers have gone as far as to say that Giant’s Foot Surf Tours is the best surf camp in Nicaragua. The main reason for this claim is that this camp offers access to 14 different breaks along the Pacific Coast. The experienced surf guides know about all the best surf spots in the area, as well as the best times to visit each location.
“Our vision is to offer a one-of-a-kind surf camp experience, giving our guest the best surf Nicaragua has to offer!”
– The Team at Giant’s Foot Surf Tours
The camp specializes in 8-day surf vacations for beginner and intermediate surfers. There is also a Giant’s Foot intensive surfing camp meant for more experienced surfers. Like most camps in Nicaragua, onsite accommodation and 3 daily meals are all included in the cost. Prices start at $1,450 per surfer. That price even includes all alcoholic beverages. And we all know that there’s nothing like a cold beer after a long day of salt, sand, and surf.
Los Clavos Surf Camp is located in Chinandega’s El Viejo neighbourhood. It’s the perfect Nicaragua surf camp for travellers hoping to relax and unwind. Los Clavos specializes in surfing, but yoga is a major selling point as well. This is why all of the packages are featured as “Surf and Yoga” combos. The camp even offers a 200-hr Yoga Teacher Training several times a year.
“Running a surf camp is our way to share our passion for surf, nature and travel with people seeking an extraordinary holiday.”
– Claire and Romain, Owners of Los Clavos
Many travelers feel that northern Nicaragua is the perfect surfing location. This area catches some of the best swells in the world. Waves are consistent and water temperature remains warm all year. Los Clavos is located near 5 idyllic surf spots that are suitable for all levels, including Nahualapa Bay and Aposentillo. More advanced surfers will have easy access to a well-known Nicaraguan surf spot called The Boom.
For both the traveller and the surfer Dreamsea offers first class vacation and surf packages in Souther Nicaragua. Located in San Juan Dreamsea offer a immersion into Nicaraguas nature where focus lies on wellness, weather it be surf, yoga, food or a combination of thereof.
“Our dream from the first moment was to create spaces where you can enjoy nature without leaving your bed.”
– Dreamsea team
The camp offers three types of rooms, suit, twin and dorm. All with their own highpoints. You will primarly look at booking weekly packages that include pretty much everything needed for a world class surf vacation, including breakfast, dinner, transportation to surf spots and equipment.
The main thing to remember when packing for a trip to Nicaragua is less is more. The climate here is tropical all year, so only lightweight clothes are necessary. Unless you plan on hiking at high altitudes, there’s no need for a jacket.
It’s common for avid surfers to want to travel with their own personal surfboards, but it’s really not necessary. Boards are heavy and bulky, and many airlines charge extra baggage fees for passengers checking them. Your best bet is to pay the $5 to $10 per day that it costs to rent a surfboard.
Since Nicaragua is home to two lengthy coastlines, it’s no wonder that seafood is the main staple here when it comes to food. When travelling along either coast, you’ll have easy access to fresh seafood for every meal. While traveling inland, the more common animal proteins are beef and chicken.
The most common Nicaraguan dish is Gallo Pinto, which is a mixture of white rice and black beans. Gallo Pinto is a typical meal for local Nicaraguans, and it is a staple for travellers on a budget. But Nicaraguan cuisine has so much more to offer than just rice and beans.
Vigorón: Vigorón is one of the most popular street food dishes in Nicaragua. This is partly because it’s very simple to make, but also because it’s easy to eat with the hands. The dish consists of a cabbage salad (called curtido), pork belly rinds (called chicharrones), and yuca.
Indio Viejo: This dish is similar to the curries you would find in India, but with a Nicaraguan twist. The main ingredients of Indio Viejo include beef, onions, peppers, tomatoes, mint, and masa. Masa is a corn dough that is typical among Latin Americans for making tortillas. Everything is sauteed together and then simmered with a broth for at least two hours.
Arroz a la Valenciana: This rice dish is common all throughout Nica, but the beauty behind Arroz a la Valencia is that every family has their own version of the dish. The dish always contains rice and is similar to a jambalaya. Most renditions of the dish use chicken, onions, and peppers. Some include Nicaraguans include additional veggies, and sometimes even spicy chorizo.
Nicaragua is not known for having a variety of international foods or hip and trendy restaurants. It is, however, known for authentic, cultural cuisine that is unique to the local people. Here are a few popular Nicaraguanese restaurants that stay true to the culture. Each one is conveniently located somewhere along the Pacific Coast near the best surf camps in Nicaragua.
Restaurante El Timón, San Juan del Sur
Paseo del Rey, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Whether you’re heading to San Juan del Sur for the surf or the party, stopping in for a meal at Restaurante El Timón is a must. This is the largest and one of the oldest restaurants in the area, located right on the beach for stunning evening sunsets.
“The best thing in SJDS was not the beach or the statue of Christ overlooking the hill. It was El Timon restaurant.”
Da Surf Spot, Popoyo
Calle Las Lajas, Jiquelite, Nicaragua
Da Surf Spot is one of Popoyo’s most popular restaurants. The name is fitting; this eatery is located in one of Popoyo’s ultimate surf spots along Playa Santana. Everything served here is simple, like warm tacos and cold smoothies. If you’re unable to find Da Surf Spot, ask around for “El Pez Rojo”, which is technically the official name of the establishment.
“Pina Coladas were out of this world…Paulo makes excellent drinks.”
Doña Pilar, Managua
10 Ave Suroeste, Managua, Nicaragua
Most travellers spend at least a day or two in Managua on their way to or from the international airport. While in Managua, Doña Pilar is a local hotspot that will leave you satisfied. The local people refer to this eatery as a fritanga, which is a restaurant that features homestyle Nicaraguan cuisine. Be sure to give the BBQ chicken a try.
“Doña Pilar’s been here for years, and this popular evening fritanga is a neighbourhood institution”
Volcano Board Down Cerro Negro – Cerro Negro is the youngest volcano in Central America. Although it’s quite active, tourists climb the volcano every single day. Once at the top, they hop on a board and boot it back down to the volcano’s base.
Corn Islands SCUBA Diving – If you’re looking to experience the ocean in a completely different way from surfing, consider diving. The best place to strap on a SCUBA tank and explore the underwater world of Nica is on the Caribbean Corn Islands. This is also the ultimate destination for kitesurfing.
Visit Historical León – The city of León served as Nicaragua’s capital until 1857. Although it is no longer the official capital, it is filled with historical significance that no traveller should miss. You’ll get to see two very different sides of León – “old” and “new”. New León is home to art museums and trendy foodie spots. Old León contains the ruins of the 16th-century city.
Sunday Funday in San Juan del Sur – If you’re looking for a good time, Sunday Funday is where it’s at. It’s certainly not for everyone, but this weekly pool party happening all throughout SJDS is one of the craziest parties you’ll ever attend.
Hike the Ometepe Volcanoes – Ometepe is a volcanic island located in the massive Lake Nicaragua. The island is made up of two volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas. It’s possible to hike to the top of both volcanoes, but the more popular one is Concepción. This is a full-day adventure and it’s not for the faint of heart, so be sure to plan ahead.
One of the best surfing spots for beginners travelling to Nicaragua is Playa Santana in Popoyo. Newbie surfers love the fact that they can ride waves all on their own thanks to the wide breaks. Not all waters of Popoyo are meant for beginners, but Playa Santana is the perfect spot to learn.
For the best swell along Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast, the ultimate time to visit is between March and September. Swell from the South tends to consistently become present at the end of March. It then builds over the next few months, reaching its ultimate peak in June.
Keep in mind that this is also the rainy season, but it is very unlikely to rain more than an hour or two each day. So if you want to take advantage of the most swell, but also the least amount of people, visiting in early April before the Easter holiday is ideal.
This depends on a few things, like whether you plan on surfing your heart out or you’re in the mood for a full-on backpacking adventure. For visiting the best surf camps in Nicaragua, April is a perfect time. A dry season month like January or February is a better choice for sightseeing around Nicaragua.