Nicaragua has been coined one of the top surf destinations in the world and for good reason. From its consistent offshore winds to year-round surf, it is arguably home to some of the best waves in Central America. And the San Juan Del Sur surf area has some of the best of the best.
Located just north of the surf in Costa Rica, Nicaragua is known to be much more economical and less crowded than its well-known neighbor. If you are traveling on a budget, your money will go much further here than in places like Costa Rica or Panama.
San Juan Del Sur is a funky coastal surf town located on the southern end of the country. It is known for its nightlife, good eats, large expat community, and proximity to a variety of solid surf breaks.
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Are you planning a last minute surf trip to San Juan Del Sur?
If you’re planning a last minute surf trip to San Juan Del Sur, we’ve got you covered. Here are the best surf hotels, surf camps, and more!
Best surf hotels in San Juan Del Sur
Best surf camps in San Juan Del Sur
- Dreamsea Surf Camp (meals, surf lessons, accommodations & more included! )
The best things to do while you’re not surfing
San Juan Del Sur Surf Overview
While the San Juan Del Sur beach itself is not necessarily ideal for surfing, it is located amid a variety of breaks that cater to all levels and wave preferences. Just north or south, you will find a stretch of beautiful beaches and decent waves.
There are numerous 4 x 4 shuttle services in the area that will take you to surrounding beaches for a decent price. You may book these through the place you are staying at or third-party companies. I highly recommend looking into this transport option before deciding to drive yourself, especially during the rainy season.
If you are a beginner, you can also find local surf schools in San Juan or Playa Maderas (which I will touch more on later on) that will facilitate your experience in and out of the water.
The Different San Juan Del Sur Surf Breaks
The San Juan Del Sur area is home to a stretch of sand-bottom breaks. They all work around different swells and tides but, like most beach breaks, mid to higher tides are usually best for beginners and longboarders. Mid to lower tides can offer a better chance of barreling sections as well as quicker all-around rides.
Playa Maderas is one of the most popular beaches near San Juan Del Sur. It is about a 25-minute drive north through an alluring jungle path, and it’s been said that the surf in Playa Maderas is some of the most consistent year-round.
This spot has recently been developing its own set of trendy surf and yoga lounges which has attracted expats and travelers to plan an actual stay at Maderas rather than just passing by on a day trip. Given its popularity and up-and-coming tourism, I would rank this one high on the list of crowded lineups. However, if you plan your surf around lower tides or mid-day, you can sometimes escape the morning and evening crowds. Maderas will also be one of the better places for board rentals in terms of quality and variety!
The wave itself is an A-frame with a really good left and decent right. This wave is suitable for all levels (always depending on the size of the waves of course).
Do you want to learn to surf in Playa Maderas? Book a surf lesson here!
25 minutes South of San Juan Del Sur, you will land at Playa Hermosa. If you want access to the entrance road as well as amenities like water, showers, and a lounging area, you will have to pay a one-time fee of about $3 upon entry. What makes this beach special is its long stretch (about a mile and a half long) of uncrowded peaks. Due to its privacy, you will be able to score a much higher wave count. This beach break works best around a mid-tide and has a reform section on the inside that is perfect for beginners!
Playa El Yanke
One of the most secluded spots in the area, Playa el Yanke lies off the beaten path 35 minutes North of San Juan. This is definitely no place for beginners, as it is often compared to the wedge in Newport Beach and can take you on quite the washing machine ride at times. It works best during mid to high tides and can hold size pretty well. I recommend this for the more advanced and adventurous surfers who have their own equipment given there are no rental spots in the area. There is not much to do in the area aside from surfing and appreciating the untouched beauty of the Nicaraguan coast.
Similar to Playa Maderas, Playa Remanso is home to waves for all ranges of surfers. This beautiful sandy bay is home to a much more gentle, rolling wave than its next-door neighbor, Playa Hermosa. I highly recommend this break for beginners and those who enjoy riding larger boards. It is also a very manageable wave when it gets big, offering more forgiveness than the other breaks. There are some options for renting boards in this area as well as a couple beach bars and restaurants to snack in between surfs.
Best swell for San Juan Del Sur Surf:
San Juan Del Sur holds size really well. When the waves get too big on the northern end of the coast, you can see many surfers flock to the area. Like most of Central America, the better waves appear on a SSW swell which shows up most consistently in May through September. The general ‘best’ tide for this area will be mid to high but will have its exceptions, like most places. When the waves are small, lower tides are preferred.
San Juan Del Sur surf seasons
The rainy season begins at the beginning of May and ends around November/December. During this time, roads are a bit more difficult to navigate, so you will need to travel via 4 x 4. The rainy season is most recommended for intermediate-advanced surfers as it is when the bigger swells hit Nicaragua. However, swells usually mellow out before the next one hits, so you can always find a window of smaller, friendlier surf. A few hazards to watch out for during this time are strong currents, driftwood, and (sometimes) more competitive crowds.
Dry season, which starts in December and ends around the end of April, is best for beginners and those who enjoy smaller surf. In fact, Nicaragua is one of the best places to surf in February!
The good thing about Nicaragua is that you can always find a wave somewhere, so as long as you talk to the right people and do some research (as you are doing right now), you will be just fine!
The only downside of this season is that the winds, although usually positioned offshore, can get pretty strong. It doesn’t affect the actual waves much but can make it harder to get into them.
The only hazards around this time would be crowds in certain areas and the wind, which can sometimes send boards flying in the lineup.
For more information on what the surf in Nicaragua is like each season, check out our ultimate guide to the Nicaragua surf seasons.
Where to stay for a San Juan Del Sur Surf Trip
This incredible, 8 day surf camp takes place at Playa Maderas, so you’re as close to the surf as possible. Dreamsea Surf Camp includes daily surf theory classes, three hours of yoga classes, 10 hours of surf lessons, transport to surfing beaches, daily breakfast and dinner, 7 nights of accommodation, equipment access, and a lovely pool.
If you’re on a budget surf trip to San Juan Del Sur, check out Hola Ola Hostel. This hostel has a pool, a mix of affordable dorms & private rooms, along with a fun blend of surf & party atmosphere.
The beautiful Beach House Nicaragua is located literally on the beach of San Juan Del Sur, and includes a bar/restaurant and private beach area for hotel guests. All rooms have a private patio with garden rooms, and some have air-conditioning and ocean views.
Gear for a San Juan Del Sur Surf Trip
- Rash Guard
- Mosquito Repellent
Welcome to the tropics! Mosquitos run rampant down here, so be sure to pack along some mosquito repellent.
- Surfing Vest
Thanks to Lake Nicaragua, the surf spots around San Juan Del Sur are subject to consistent offshore winds, which is awesome for the waves. However, it also makes it a bit chilly, so you’ll likely want a little surfing vest or spring suit to stay warm.
San Juan Del Sur FAQs
Can you surf in San Juan Del Sur?
Technically, yes, but it is usually completely flat. I wouldn’t recommend it. Additionally, San Juan Del Sur is a boating bay therefore the water quality isn’t great.
Can you swim at San Juan Del Sur?
As stated above, the water quality is not the best. You are better off swimming at any of the neighboring beaches.
What is the best time of year to surf Nicaragua?
It’s always a good time to surf Nicaragua! If you are hunting bigger, more consistent swells, you will likely enjoy the rainy season. However, if you are a beginner or prefer smaller, less-crowded waves and the wind doesn’t bother you, I would recommend the dry season.
Other Tips for San Juan Del Sur Surf
Book your stay ahead of time! San Juan del Sur has been booming the past couple of years and accommodations often get booked out.
I also always recommend communicating with your hostel, hotel, or Airbnb and sharing what you hope to get out of your trip. People in Nicaragua are always eager to help and share their own knowledge and recommendations (surf related or not).
Wrapping up San Juan Del Sur Surf
To wrap things up, Nicaragua will not disappoint you! Whether you are a beginner looking to learn something new/improve your skills or a long-time surfer hunting for the best waves. It is important to research beforehand and travel smart, but also let yourself roll with the punches and enjoy the adventure.
Respect the locals, and welcome any knowledge about the surf conditions they might have. This will help you decide which spot to go to each day.
Most importantly, have fun! San Juan Del Sur, regardless of not being a proper surf break, is full of surf culture. You will meet people from an array of countries and walks of life, and will likely leave having more friends than you came in with.