An Insider’s Guide to Surfing in Southern Nicaragua
Updated: Feb 8
The untouched pacific coastline boasts some of the best waves in all of Central America!
Surfing here is truly the stuff of dreams: warm water, empty waves, jaw dropping scenery, ice cold beers, and delicious, fresh food to fuel you when you get out of the water. Not to mention the most welcoming bunch of locals you’ll find anywhere.
With fewer tourists than our neighbor to the south, off-shore winds that help to create a consistent swell nearly all year-long, and a super friendly, chilled vibe, Nicaragua is an unbeatable place to travel, as far as surf trips go.
The major swell season, with waves reaching up to 15 feet, runs from late April through September and coincides with the “rainy season,” which isn’t all that rainy. (Read this article for more info about Nicaragua’s weather.) During the dryer months, starting mid-to-late November into April, the winds, called the Papagayos, are strongest, generating nice, but smaller swells. No matter what time of year you visit, and whether you are a seasoned surfer or have never paddled into a wave, there’s a break here for you.
When to surf in Nicaragua
To be honest, there’s never really a bad time to hit the Nicaraguan surf.
Even during the peak of the rainy season which is in October, it's not unheard of to score glassy head-high perfection with little to no competition. You may very well get hit with a downpour this time of year, but in general, when it rains in Southern Nicaragua it’s light and sporadic, and doesn’t last long. Often, the rain passes through overnight when you’re catching some zzz’s.
Late November is the start of the dry season, which runs through much of April and is a great time for surfers looking for a little milder surf, but with clean conditions. From late January through most of February the winds are at their most powerful, sometimes howling through at alarming speeds. The swells come from the South Pacific most of February, and that means smaller waves. Although it’s still comfortable to surf in a rash guard or lightweight wet-suit, the water is definitely cooler than it is other times of the year. Because the waves tend to be the smallest in February, advanced surfers will still enjoy the surf, but it’s more ideal for beginners.
Starting sometime in April through to September is the prime time for more experienced surfers to travel to Nica, but beginners can definitely still have a blast. There’s always the whitewater to play around in on the days the surf is too big! These six or so months are actually a fantastic time of year for anyone to visit here, whether or not they surf – flights are cheaper, it gets super green and lush (i.e. gorgeous), there’s less tourism, and the atmospheric temperature is perfect, hovering in the low 80’s. Which, thanks to Nicaragua’s proximity to the equator, is the temp pretty much always. More importantly though, south swells are in full swing and the waves are usually overhead and good to epic!
The best surf beaches in Nicaragua
Nica’s swells rank among the best in Central America. That’s because the wind blows unopposed over Lake Nicaragua and out into The Pacific for over 300 days a year. Add to that the fact that the country receives the brunt of storm waves coming up from the South Pacific, plus it has a coastal topography littered with points, reefs, and creek-fed beaches that lend themselves to awesome breaks.
In other words, on any given day, there is somewhere in Nicaragua that is going off!
But, the southwestern pacific shores, sometimes called Nicaragua’s “Emerald Coast,” are where the best surfing takes place, particularly around the fishing port town of San Juan del Sur and the string of beaches that stretch north of Verdad Nicaragua, the top-rated hotel in the area.
Thanks to that aforementioned consistent off-shore wind, there’s a reliable beach break at Playa Escameca from early November through September. Surfers of all levels can enjoy riding the waves right below Verdad, which sits on the hillside overlooking the beach, pretty much all year-round.
The waves here tend to be best for surfing at a mid-to-high-tide. Though the local surfers like to stick to the north end of the beach where there’s a really nice beach break, there is a river on the south end that feeds into the ocean that can form some hollow left barrels, and you’ll likely have that side all to yourself.
This break is not well-known, so for the most part, only locals and hotel guests surf here, which translates into a very low-key, uncrowded line-up. Locals are super friendly and they're not only willing to share their stoke, but they’re also happy to offer a tip or two to fellow surfers - one of the perks of being truly off the beaten path!
There is one rancho here, Rancho las Tortugas, that serves ice cold beers and simple, but delicious food.
Playa el Yankee is a surf spot favored by the locals for sure. It is an isolated beach with limited access about half an hour from San Juan Del Sur, and is one of the strongest breaks in the area. You can get there in about 10 minutes walking the trail with your board from Verdad, or there’s road access on the far north side of the beach.
There is never — and when we say never, we mean it — a crowded line up here.
Playa Yankee has a fast, strong left wedge that short boarders love. Given the more challenging wave here, beginners are probably better off at Playa Escameca or Playa Remanso (see below) but more advanced surfers will be stoked to get barrelled here, which is why it’s mostly locals in the line-up. The wave tends to go best at high tide, but there can be a great break at mid-tide as well. On a rare occasion, there's even a low tide swell on the far north side, but it's most definitely a wave for folks that know what they're doing, since there's not much water underneath a fall at low tide!
You won’t find a surfboard rental hut or restaurant on the beach here. Though a few houses dot the hillside, and it’s rumored a resort is being built there, it is still wild and untamed for the time being.
Over a mile long, Playa Hermosa offers several peaks, long walls and the occasional barrel. It’s called “Hermosa” for a reason — its name literally means ‘beautiful beach’ in Spanish. From a surfing perspective, it’s also “hermosa” because there is plenty of room for surfers to spread out and find their own peak. There are both left and rights to be found here, so it’s a paradise for goofy and natural footers alike!
The wave is typically a good bit stronger than Remanso, but not as strong as Maderas (see below). For this reason, Hermosa is pretty great for intermediate to advanced surfers, but it also provides a large stretch of white wash for beginners practicing their pop-ups.
Everything you could need for a day of surfing at the beach is also right onsite. The hotel there has a full set up where you can rent a surfboard, sign up for surf lessons, grab a bite, enjoy a happy hour beverage, or relax post-surf on their beachside hammocks. You’ll pay a small entrance fee at the gate to gain access.
Tamarindo is a small, always uncrowded beach just to the south of Playa Remanso that not many people go to except in-the-know locals. You can walk there from Remanso over the cliffs, or drive through the narrow roads of a private beach community to get there. Either way, when you arrive, you won’t find much of anything. The beach is secluded, peaceful, and surrounded by an untamed landscape. There are no amenities at all, so plan to bring everything you need.
If you are feeling fit and looking for a challenge, you can also paddle around the hills from Remanso on your surfboard — a demanding 20-minute endeavor that is well worth it, since you'll be riding some really nice waves that you'll likely have to yourself when you get there! When Remanso is busy, you’ll surely spot a few of the local kids hiking or paddling over to Tamarindo to get away from the crowd. The surf at Playa Tamarindo is an exposed point break that mostly goes right, but goofies can catch a few lefts here too. The waves work best when the tide is mid to rising.
Playa Remanso is a small and charming bay no more than 300 meters in length and the closest surfing beach to the town of San Juan Del Sur. Of all the beaches on the Emerald Coast, Remanso is one of the most popular today, probably because of its chill, relaxed vibe, excellent, easy surfing conditions, and proximity to town. It’s most certainly a favorite spot for surf schools to take groups of students, so it’s not uncommon to find lots of beginners making their way in the water.
The waves aren’t too powerful, but on a good day you can catch both lefts and rights. It's a great place for those who have never been on a board, as it has consistent small to medium waves that peel perfectly, providing a great opportunity to learn how to angle and surf “down the line.”
You do need to be aware of the pebbles on the beach and the rock formations at both far sides, which can make navigating the water safely a bit of a challenge. The rock formations particularly on the north side get buried at high tide and can wreak havoc if you meet up with them, and the pebbles underfoot can make for a challenging walk in. Locals hop on their boards when they get in the water and start paddling right away to avoid them.
Remanso is often crowded and lively during the day because it not only has great surf, but a few beachside bars and restaurants that are popular hang-outs for surfers and non-surfers alike, especially around sunset time. If you head out in the mornings, you will usually get lucky to find it quiet. The surf is best here at mid-tide to high-tide.
Playa Maderas is the furthest northern beach in the area, and is by far one of the most popular surfing beaches in Southern Nicaragua, which means it is also one of the most crowded. There are a few places you can rent a board, and several restaurants right on the beach as well as a few simple hostel-style hotels.
Maderas is a fast, peaky beach break suitable for more advanced surfers or advanced intermediates on smaller days. The break is lined by rocks that surfers need to look out for, especially when there is a heavy current that pulls you towards them. Surfers that know it well like to use this as a channel to suck them into the line up without having to paddle too much.
As for tides, much like the rest of the surf spots in Southern Nicaragua, because there's a beach break, the waves are best at mid-to-high-tide.
Maderas is also known for hosting surf competitions, of which there are several held here each year, including the Central American games, where surfers from all over the region come here to compete!
One thing that is not in short supply in Nicaragua is surf schools. Walking up and down the streets of San Juan del Sur you’ll see many, and several of the beaches we mention above have surf shacks and teachers on hand, but none that compare to La Escuelita Surf School.
La Escuelita was started back in 2018 by Jose Espinoza, who happens to be the longboard champion of Nicaragua, and his partner Wesley Bermudez, who is also the general manager of the Verdad Nicaragua boutique hotel. When Wes took on managing Verdad back in 2019, La Escuelita set up operations at Verdad, and now operates exclusively through the hotel, which means Wes now juggles both jobs - managing the hotel as well as the professional surf coaching team. Since all the coaches grew up surfing in Nica, they're all really passionate about surfing here, and know the breaks like no one else around.
“You can’t find conditions like ours anywhere else in the world,” Wes said as he discussed teaching and the team that works with him. “We love sharing with people something we’ve been doing our whole lives. Sharing a sport that we absolutely love."
And one thing Wes loves to do almost as much as surfing himself is sharing that connection and freedom with others, through teaching.
“There’s no feeling like it,” said Wes. “Being free on the water, connected with the ocean. Even if you are having the worst day ever, once you get in the water and catch your first wave, all your worries fade away.”
Wes and his team are happy to give you a pointer or two when you’re in the water with them, and also to share their vast knowledge of where to go for the best break on any given day. If you're beyond taking lessons and are a guest of Verdad, you can even hire one of the team to be your surf-guide for the day. You can also check out Magicsweed to get up-to-date surf reports.
Beyond knowing the coastline and the surf inside and out, the team at La Escuelita also has a unique way of teaching. Jose and Wes are firm believers in incorporating surf theory and technique both in and out of the water, and every coach on the team focuses in part on theory when they give lessons. Every program also includes one-on-one instruction to guide you toward improving your knowledge and skills.
Additionally, the team working through Verdad, includes a dedicated videographer. That gives the coaches the ability to incorporate photo and video analysis into your daily lessons, giving you visuals that show you exactly what you are doing right and wrong and what you need to work on to confidently ride the waves.
“People learn much better this way,” said Wes. “It’s way different when you have the chance to show them what is going on. People trust more because the video helps them understand.”
Tito Siezar, who recently won second place in a longboard surf competition at Playa Remanso, is the newest member of the La Escuelita team. Tito has been surfing since he was about eight years old, and he's spent a good chunk of his life in the water since! He took up teaching in his teens, and has become an especially talented coach for beginner and intermediate students. His infectious smile and endlessly positive attitude fit right in at Verdad Nicaragua, where he’s been working for the past year.
The Escuelita coaches are also constantly learning new techniques and trying to improve their own surf skills so they can become better instructors. Recently, Wes and Tito attended a workshop in Popoyo (a beach about two hours north of SJDS) that focused on surf biomechanics and was designed to help surfers improve their performance in the water.
“It was super fun," says Wes. "All of the guys who attended the workshop know how to surf, but they brought us right back to basics so we could learn how to coach people even better.”
For a deeper look into the country’s amazing coastline, read the local’s guide to Nicaragua’s most remarkable beaches and surf breaks. Hope to see you in Nica soon!