You are a surfer? You will love Nicaragua! It’s literally a paradise. Since I surfed the first time, Nicaragua was a dream destination for me. Now sitting in the plane back to Germany, I am thankful that I finally made it to this great country and equally sad to leave. The following article will provide you with several information to make the most of surfing in San Juan del Sur, one of the best places to surf in Nicaragua.
What you need to know about San Juan del Sur
SJDS is one of the most touristy places in Nicaragua. First that does not sound very charming but it’s understandable. It’s a pretty much perfect place for surfers. The city of San Juan itself became perceived as a party town over the last years. The Tiger Hostel hosts the biggest party in Central America every Sunday, the “Sunday Funday”. As we wanted to surf as much as possible and didn’t come to Nicaragua to party, we decided to stay close to the best and most consistent surfing beach in San Juan del Sur – Playa Maderas. Good decision!
Thanks to a huge lake in the northeast of SJDS, this area gets off-shore winds almost every day a year. The good thing about these winds is that they come from direction of the land and go off-shore, so in the direction of the ocean. That results in slow breaking waves as the wind keeps them open for a longer period. This is why surfers travel from all over the world to get here. The downside is that the wind can be really strong. It blew away my board, which resulted in $100 repairs. So be smart and put your board beneath the porch of the beach restaurants and put a weight or two on it. Secondly, the water gets colder the stronger the wind gets as the wind pushes the warm water out. I never thought I would be jealous of people wearing a wetsuit in Nicaragua. But who cares about coldish water when you can paddle simply breath-taking waves?
There are five daily shuttles leaving from Hostel Casa Oro in town to Playa Maderas. The first one leaves at 8am and the last one returns at 6pm “Nica time” from the beach. That could also mean at 6:10 or 6:20pm but nobody is stressed anyways. The price for this trip is $5 for a return ticket.
Prices in San Juan del Sur
You might remember that I wrote “pretty much perfect place”. Yes, not entirely perfect as Nicaragua, especially the more touristy areas are not as dirt cheap as anticipated. Actually we paid European prices for a lot of things. Especially coming from Mexico we were not used to pay amounts as back home. To get a feeling, here’s a list on what we’ve paid in the area around SJDS.
Surfboard per day: $10
Surf lessons: Around $30
Beach Shuttle per day: $5
Main dish lunch: $6
Tip: A great and significantly cheaper option to get lunch in town is the restaurant “La Lancha”, which is mainly visited by locals. Great “Mariscos” and delicious “Pollo a la Plancha”, de verdad!
Surfboard rental in San Juan del Sur
If you are not traveling with your own board you are dependent on surfboard rentals. At the beaches around San Juan del Sur you will find many shops that offer boards for $10 per day. You can leave them overnight at the beach, which makes your life easy as you do not need to carry them around. The big downside here: The board you rented the previous day, can be gone in the next morning and you need to get used to another board. The majority of the boards are not in the very best condition, got repaired a hundred times and are either too short or too big for your specific needs. The one I was looking for, was never in stock and when I asked for recommendations which board to surf, every board was a great board for me. So no real advice here. That resulted in frustration as I got a board which was too short for me and catching waves has been a lot harder.
A surf instructor I talked to recommended to rent boards at “Casa Oro” in town (the hostel where all shuttles leave and you are likely to arrive anyways). They have a great variation of boards at the same price at a significantly higher quality. Be prepared to leave your passport or credit card as a deposit. Feels wrong, but often it’s often required.
Sharing what I got told: The right board for you is the board you catch most waves with. You need to have a high frequency of waves in order to improve. Don’t go too short too fast!
Tipp: The water is partially a lot colder than I expected. A rash is definitely needed!
Surfing at Playa Maderas – Great for intermediates
Just thinking about it, gives goosebumps. I fell in love with this beach and it was definitely the best surf spot I surfed so far. The long, pretty much sandy beach (a couple of rocks are here and there) offers a great variety on lefts and rights. Due to the moving sand below the water, waves are always breaking on slightly different places. Sometimes you will see more surfers on the left hand side, and five minutes later all of them are paddling to the right or vice versa. This in combination with a high frequency of more or less perfect waves, you will paddle a lot. After one hour I caught at least six waves, paddled let’s say nine and paddled out hectically twice as a bigger set was about to hit me. The mentioned offshore wind kept the waves open longer than I have ever seen before and it felt like a slow motion wave. When you made your way over a wave that didn’t break yet, the offshore wind blew water in your face. Amazing feeling!
Even when it got crowded not all surfers hang on one spot as many different waves break. That makes surfing very enjoyable. Less competition, no over-crowded line-ups and plenty of waves for everybody.
Surf tip: If you are an intermediate surfer as I am, position yourself in the inside section as you will catch more waves here. Just watch out for the bigger sets. They are likely to break behind you :) So either paddle out, duck dive or crocodile roll you out of the “danger-zone” but in the end one or two bigger ones will hit you.
Where to stay in San Juan del Sur
Before traveling to Nicaragua we researched a lot and found great articles on San Juan del Sur. The main question we had was whether we should stay in town or closer to one of the beaches. The answer heavily depends on what you want to do. As we wanted to relax and surf, staying at the beach was the best decision. If you want to go out and meet backpackers from all over the world, the city might be a better option for you.
Staying in town – Casa Oro
Many people we have met stayed in Casa Oro* really liked the vibe here. It offers clean dorm rooms for $10 including a good breakfast and water refill. The big plus here is a very central location and shuttles to the beaches that just leave at your doorstep. As already mentioned in the article Casa Oro also offers surf boards.
We stayed at Casa Maderas* and got a private room for 39 Dollars per night. Shared by two, completely fine. The place, an exhausting ten-minute walk (hill up and down) or a three-minute shuttle ride (included in the rate for the rooms here) away from Playa Maderas, also offers dorm rooms for $13. Casa Maderas has great facilities such as a pool where you can enjoy a Nica-Mule, Nicaragua’s answer to Moscow-Mule, at night or wash off the salty water from your skin. We really enjoyed our stay.
The downside of this hostel is that it does not offer a fridge for backpackers or a shared kitchen. Due to that you are always depended on the kitchen, which will get expensive on the long run. The food is good but not very much, especially after surfing I could have eaten way more and the prices are more European than Mexican.
Close to Casa Maderas, also just a view minutes walk from the famous surf beach Playa Maderas you will find Clandestino*. The hostel offers cabanas (double room with shared bathrooms $20) and dorm rooms ($15) in the jungle. Water refill, coffee and Wifi are included in the rate. Friends stayed there and loved it. So definitely recommended for travelers who look for a cool place very close to San Juan’s best surfing beach.
So, all in all Nicaragua is more expensive than we expected but an amazing country! The waves make me come back at some stage. Better sooner than later. For a longer stay a hostel with a kitchen and a shared fridge would be a must-have. For a short time being dependent on the kitchen is fine and frankly speaking quite comfortable.
You have some more tips on surfing in San Juan del Sur? Leave a comment and let us know!
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