Northern Nicaragua: The South's Less-Crowded Cousin
Words by Brendan Buckley
Photos by Seth Stafford
Where: The northern portion of Nicaragua's Pacific beaches.
What: Fun waves. And I mean that in the least general way possible. This place isn't Indo, and you're not going to get spit out of a Pipe barrel here. But maybe there's beauty in imperfection, and chances are you're too much of a pussy for a Pipe barrel anyway. The waves in Northern Nicaragua are awfully challenging not to enjoy. Unless you're a sad, angry, horrible person whose hobbies include punting stray cats and anonymously saying bad things on the Internet, you will have fun surfing here. Puerto Sandino (sometimes referred to as "Freight Trains") is a barreling left and mostly considered the marquee wave, but the beachbreaks are where the fun is. The Leon area has some good waves, as does Chinandega.
When: Northern Nicaragua loves a south swell like a fat kid loves a talented baker. When a south swell massages the coast, the waves fluff up like a moist devil's food cake and tempt you to dig in. The Pacific's cake season is summer, but anything from May to November should not disappoint.
Why: Because this is the part of Nicaragua that isn't Costa Rica yet. In the past few years, the Popoyo region has become synonymous with Nicaragua. Sure, it hosts a surplus of quality waves and offshore winds, but you're also likely to find clogged lineups, and it's a hot spot for things like colored zinc and fun shapes. If you want to enjoy the fruitful waves of Nicaragua while straying away from these inherent dangers, give the north a look.
How: Fly into the capital city of Managua. Most hotels and camps offer transportation. Renting a car in Central America can get pricey, so choosing a place that includes transport isn't a bad idea and may even save you some money. If you choose to stay at a place that isn't all-inclusive, it's not too hard to get around.
Places To Stay: Hotel Chancletas is a cool place that's owned by an expat tube guru and run by some awesome local people. Baja Surf Adventures and Surf Tours Nicaragua both have camps in the zone as well. Snoop around the web to find the place that suits both your needs and your wallet.
Places To Eat: Don't expect to find an Olive Garden in Northern Nicaragua. Instead of bad Italian food and unlimited breadsticks, you'll find yourself eating a variety of tasty local cuisine with plenty of rice and beans, and you will probably fall in love with Lizano sauce. Also, there's the pleasure of knowing that the chicken you're eating wasn't born to die after a short steroid-filled horror of a life spent a small, shitty cage. Sounds nice, right?
Babes And Dudes: BYO-Babe. The guy-to-girl ratio is worse than a Star Wars convention. So if you're a girl, then go. Please, go. Bring (girl) friends. If you're a guy and have no babe of your own to bring, good luck. Unless you look like the hunchback of Notre Dame, the local girls might smile at you with their eyes, but they're usually younger than they look or married. Unless you bring the party with you, this place is not a party destination whatsoever.
Crowd Factor: Expect to make friends, not enemies. The lineups aren't nearly crowded enough to be frustrating, so be friendly to anyone you encounter! The locals usually wear smiles, so chat 'em up and improve upon that broken high school Spanish.
Stuff To Bring: You won't find a surf shop, but that doesn't necessarily mean you need to bring a surf shop with you. Some wax and an extra leash never hurts. Ding repair is easy to find and cheap. I STRONGLY advise you to bring some extra goodies for the locals. Clothes, fiberglass, surf accessories, stickers…whatever you got. There's a really great feeling in that direct form of charity, the act of literally handing something over to someone who needs it. It's far more rewarding than blindly chucking some stuff in a donation bin back in the US. It means the world to these people, and I wouldn't have resorted to all caps earlier in this paragraph if I didn't mean it. So pack up!
If The Surf Is Flat: If you need a day to mend your rashes, you have a couple of options here. There are volcanoes relatively close by, so you can go check one of those out. If your inner Hemmingway is calling, you can go try to nab a fish or two. It's never a bad idea to try to connect with the culture. Nicaraguans are very welcoming people, so don't feel weird checking some stuff out with the locals. Or you can simply kick back and relax (i.e., get drunk and fall asleep in a hammock wearing a sombrero).
Helpful Web Sites: Google Earth is always a fun way to make Columbus turn over in his grave by gaining an in-depth geographical understanding of a faraway place in a matter of minutes. Surf campsites have galleries of pictures from different spots in the area, so you can porn out on those. Check out surftoursnicaragua.com, and bajasurfadventures.com Northern Nicaragua site for some of that. Hotelchancletas.com posts a couple of photos daily, so you can get on there and dig the daily consistency. Don't be afraid to get familiar with your favorite surf forecasting site's Northern Nicaragua page either. As always, just remember never to claim any promising surf forecast on Facebook—that's a surefire way to scare the swell away, jackass.