Nicaragua, Central America’s largest country is famous for it’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts and noteworthy terrain of lakes, volcanoes and beaches. Sister to Costa Rica, but much less developed and cheaper (so we’re told), it sure has a lot going on. Plus, south-western Nicaragua receives 300+ days of offshore winds per year, that means GREAT surf year round.
This trip took a lot of planning. Quite possibly the one we’ve spent the most time researching to date. Holding us back was the flights – the surf-board friendly airlines don’t really fly to central America and from Europe flights are certainly not cheap (£700+). This left us with slim pickings; American Airlines and hiring boards once over there. The flights, car hire and board hire accounted for 70% of our £2000 each budget; so although it’s a cheap country, getting there, hiring equipment and getting around at your own speed comes with a tourist tax.
More popular with Americans and gap-year backpackers, we didn’t know anyone who’d travelled to or through Nicaragua before, leaving us to make up our own itinerary and decide where best to stay (with help from a couple of other travel blogs* and the Lonely Planet).
And although limited to 14 nights we still wanted to try and see as much as we could with as much time in the water possible. This meant some tight planning (Yay! I love an itinerary spreadsheet!) with a little flexibility; thanks to Booking.com and Airbnb.com for allowing us to change our minds.
14 night Itinerary:
(click on the places to find out more about them)
x1 night at the Best Western Las Mercedes at Managua Airport to recover from landing late (it is a 15 hour flight with connection after all)
x2 nights in Popoyo, 2.5h drive from Manauga and 75km from party and surf town San Juan del Sur. Pick up location of rental boards
x4 x3 nights in Las Peñitas – 210km drive north x4 nights in Aposentillo – 100km further north still, 40kmish to the Honduran Border
x5 nights back at Buena Onda in Popoyo… see below for more!
x2 nights near Volcan Masaya, Laguna de Apoyo & Granada – an opulent area of volcanoes, rain forests, lakes and a very cosmopolitan city.
x1 night Managua; with a quick trip back to Popoyo to drop the hire boards back
Victim of our own planning:
We’d only picked to stay 2 nights in Popoyo as we thought it would be too crowded with surfers being the most accessible from Managua. We had therefore decided to head north to lesser known spots such as Miramar, Las Penitas and Aposentillo. However, it also turns out Popoyo isn’t as developed or busy as we’d expected and we fell in love with the beach club we were staying at on Playa Santana.
Buena Onda features a mix of villas, deluxe rooms and cheaper options including a dorm with 4 bunk beds. With a pool to cool off in, hammocks scattered around the gardens and a great kitchen and bar that serves a great menu of reasonably priced foods, it quickly lived up to it’s name (good vibrations). And, a quick run down the sandy track to the beach break meant getting up and in the water at 5am didn’t hurt so much either.
After a 5 hour drive north to Las Peñitas on day 3 where, although our stay at with Catalina and Jose at the Nayal Lodge was brilliant, we also discovered it rains from 3pm and through the night in the rainy-season. And, the “point break” (if you can call it that) can’t handle larger swell.
Turns out Popoyo is part of a weird weather system thanks to the winds passing over Lake Nicaragua and pushing out the humid, in turn providing summer like conditions between mid-July to mid-Aug.
So it’s no surprise that we decided to change our itinerary and head back to Popoyo, missing out on our stay in Aposentillo. Having said that, we also saved ourselves 15 hours in the car, giving us an extra day at the beach and 2 days to fully explore Masaya and Granada. On reflection, I guess we were being a little ambitious.