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Stormrider Guide to surfing Southern Nicaragua


Manzanillo, Dan Haylock


+ Long swell season - Hard access to surf spots
+ Dominant offshore winds - No standout righthanders
+ Low crowd levels - Natural disasters threat
+ Quickly developing country - Lacks tourist infrastructure

Most of Nicaragua’s better-known surf spots are concentrated in the developed southwest corner where a narrow stretch of coastline separates Lake Nicaragua (the largest lake in Central America) from the Pacific. This huge body of water creates the perfect atmospheric conditions for offshore winds to blow most of the year, grooming a wealth of excellent beachbreaks and left points.

When to Go

The major swell season stretches from March to Oct, concurrent with the rainy season, when continuous 3-10ft swells, with occasional 15ft bursts arrive from the S-SW. The middle of the dry season (Dec to April) sees fewer swells, but is rarely flat and the offshore winds are at their strongest, often reaching gale-force. These northern winds, called papagayos, are produced by an intensification of the northeast tradewinds in the Caribbean, and can be experienced all the way from Guatemala to Costa Rica. Without opposition, they shriek over NicaraguaÕs large lakes, producing a continuous jet of offshore wind from November through to September. Only Sept seems to suffer from regular SW-W onshore winds. The tidal range reaches 2.5m, becoming a crucial element at many of the rocky spots.

Surf Spots

Puerto Sandino is touted as one of NicaraguaÕs best waves and could also be the longest with rides up to 400m possible, when the reef anchored rivermouth sands pile up in the perfect triangle. Take-offs can be fast and vert straight into the first of multiple barrel sections, broken up by lip-smacking walls. Likes a higher, pushing tide when the outside peaks soften and the NE winds are dead offshore. Most local surf camps access via boat, otherwise itÕs a long, current swept paddle. Punta Miramar holds consistently good lefts, with fast inside runners and tubes on the inside sections of reef at higher tides. When the swell cranks, so does the outside section, offering mean, heavy, hollow rides for those with the skills to handle the low tide bombs. Pipes is the rocky beachbreak barrels to the north in small to medium swells. Flatter slab-like reef at Shacks requires sand, swell and tide to be right for some fun inviting barrels and walls for blasting. The lefts are always better and it needs moderate swells to work. El Transito vacuums up all available swell onto constantly moving sandbars, shaped by refraction off the reef protrusions at either end. Fun waves for all until it gets overhead and quickly closes-out. Playa Ausuchillas consistently handles swells of most sizes and is a go to for small peaky days when there will be some nice peelers for all abilities. Gets demanding at size, with big challenging barrels. Likes low tide. The left reef at Hemorrhoids prefers more water over the rocks and can have some rapid-fire walls and barrels for the guaranteed crowd that come from the Gran Pacifica resort and beyond. Chiggas is popular because it handles any size and is an easier deepwater roll-in to barrel and turn sections, just north of Playa San Diego, an exposed stretch of black sand beachbreak for all abilities on small days. The private, all-inclusive beach resort of Montelimar fronts an average beachbreak with a sluggish left sometimes forming off the southern point. Best ridden on a small peaky swell and pushing tide, when the odd inside tube section can spice up a session. MasachapaÕs rights will only go off on a rare combination of big W swell and low tide on a windless day since NE is sideshore. Also check out the nearby pier on the protected beach. Pochomil is a popular vacation spot only 1h drive from Managua. It picks up plenty of S swell and there are 3 rivermouths to help sculpt sandbars. Check for a slow, rolling A-frame down Pochomil Viejo. Casares needs a good swell to get through the offshore reefs and focus in on the rocky shoreline where several peaks will work, usually at higher tides. Fickle and hard to read. Boat in to remote Playgrounds, where sweet, inviting lefts and shorter rights scurry across the barnacle encrusted cobbles, offering fun skatepark walls in moderate swells from the S-SW. Predictable, ripable and good for intermediates, but avoid touching the sharp bottom. LanceÕs Left pointbreak offers easy rollers and shoulders in most swell directions and sizes. Best accessed by boat on a dropping tide for fun rides for most abilities unless big. El Astillero gets great beachbreaks, particularly up by the rivermouth where the rights get hollow and pack plenty of punch. Popoyo has become a surf town with multiple surf camps and accommodation close to the super-consistent A-frame peak that has been attracting surfers for decades. The peak at Popoyo displays alluring symmetry over the flatfish reef and sand slab at the southern end of Playa Guasacate. Peels off predictably at a nice pace for vertical whacks and the odd crumbly cover-up. Better at low incoming tide, the peak will hold up to double overhead with longer barrel sections before closing-out and a considerable crowd as well. The Outer Reef, found 400m offshore, is only really an option for the very bravest and skilled big wave riders. The lefts look deceptively perfect from distance but close inspection reveals shallow rocks, boils and riverine currents sculpting heaving, bloodthirsty barrels with a do or die end section. Easily handles 20ft faces at this higher tide spot and it gets scarier by the minute on the drop, which doesnÕt deter the local hellmen that have it wired. Popoyo is one of the most consistent and crowded waves in the country and site of the 2015 ISA World Surfing Games. Other reefs like La Piedrita and Stoneys left help spread the crowd. ThereÕs also easy waves at Beginners Bay and along Playa Guasacate. Playa Santana has heavy beachbreaks barrels that are highly sought after and always crowded on higher tides. ItÕs in a gated community with direct access to Playa Rosada, a straight-shooting, short, speedy left over a carpet of craggy, urchin sprinkled reef. Panga Drops bombora style horseshoe-shaped reef picks up everything going and offers whizzing walls, inside barrels and fading shoulders that shift all over the large playing field. Super-fun for mere mortals on both short and longboards. The rivermouth sandbars at Playa Colorado are quite possibly the hollowest, fastest barrels in the country when a SW or even better a W swell arrives. Quite sensitive to tide and wind, arrive by boat and avoid the copious stingrays in the shallows. Playa Gigante has a few fickle breaks ( Amarillo, Hongo) and is the closest launch spot for the classic, draw-card left of Manzanillo when the specific SSW swell wraps in. A wedgy, cliff bounce take-off, leads into a series of walled, occasionally hollow sections, before racing into the beachbreak on the inside. A longish ride from tip to tail and definitely best around mid tide on moderate swells below 225¼. Only accessible by panga or the 5 star resort. Often crowded because it appeals to the average surfer, but the long paddle back out and various sections can spread the bodies. Beware of rocks and urchins.The beachbreak of Playa Maderas is probably the best around San Juan. Very consistent, sometimes hollow, it gets challenging in overhead swells. Often crowded with all types of surfer and surfcraft. San Juan del Sur has become a cruise port and seaside resort, popular with Nicaraguan teenagers as much as gringo surfers. The surf isnÕt very good within the cityÕs horseshoe-shaped bay, so some locals go south to surf second-rate beachbreaks at the picturesque cove of El Remanso. Better sessions should be found at the next beach, Playa Tamarind, where quick barrel opportunities occur on clean small swells, although on most days, the right pointbreak will prove too sectiony. El Yanke is a good beachbreak with well-defined peaks, but even better are the high tide peaks found two beaches north at Playa Hermosa, where all abilities will find something to their liking without the crowd. Just south El Coco isnÕt as good, but the main road hits the coast for easy access. Beyond the turtle nesting sites along the beach of Playa la Flor, the long, hollow left point just south is known as Sally AnnÕs and should only be attempted on huge swells, because when itÕs under double overhead, rocks litter this break.


dominant swell S -SW S -SW S -SW S -SW S -SW S -SW
swell size (ft) 2-3 3-4 5 5-6 4-5 2-3
consistency (%) 70 80 90 90 80 70
dominant wind NE -E NE -E NE -E NE -E NE -E NE -E
average force F4 F4 F3-F4 F4 F3-F4 F3-
consistency (%) 86 64 41 58 32 77
water temp (C) 26 27 28 28 27 26
wetsuit boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts

Travel Information

The Pacific lowlands of Nicaragua are always extremely hot, but the air feels fresher during the rainy season (May to Nov). Torrential downpours and flooding can be expected around October. The dry season (Dec to April) brings winds that send clouds of brown dust across the plains, especially in the last months (mid-April to mid-May). The early dry season is generally considered as the most pleasant time to visit, but is not the optimum swell season. The constant, strong, offshore winds create upwelling and make the water temperatures drop quickly. Some neoprene may be necessary despite the average water temp staying between 26-30¡C (79-86¼F).

Lodging and Food
Recent years has seen a huge increase in the number of surf camps along the whole southern coastline from San Juan del Sur to Popoyo offering everything form budget to high end options. In the Popoyo area, Las Plumerias Lodge has all-inclusive packages from $750 p/w. Waterways has packages from $1399 p/w. Surf Tours Nicaragua around Puerto Sandino further north has packages starting from $1050/wk. Try ÒGallo PintoÓ the local rice & beans combo.

Nature and Culture
Around San Juan del Sur go to the refuge at La Flor beach, where thousands of turtles lay their eggs between July and January. Walk to the lighthouse or the ÒantennasÓ for stunning views of neighbouring Costa Rica. Take the trip to ÔIsla de OmetepeÕ on Lake Nicaragua, which is inhabited by freshwater sharks.

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