Damn, Nicaragua is good!


While Costa Rica has been the darling of Central America for surfers, tourists, retirees and investors since the 1990s, Nicaragua is the new belle of the ball. Surfers have heard about the uncrowded breaks, investors have found an alternative to overpriced Costa Rica real estate, and more adventurous tourists are finding the raw, unspoiled Central America they once found in Costa Rica. The skittish now know that Nicaragua is Central America’s safest country. The informed have learned that 100 percent of the 147,303 anti-personnel mines installed during the Sandinista revolution have been removed. And everyone is marveling in the country’s economic turnaround. Nicaragua is no longer a surfer’s secret or the new frontier. It is now mainstream, or nearly so, with surf contests, surf magazine covers, Century 21 and golf condos.


And some pretty good surf.


The result has been a surge in tourism, exceeding 1.2 million visitors in 2013, up nearly a third from 2009. All of the travel guides put Nicaragua in their lists as must-visit destinations. And with tourism now the economy’s leading income source, it is likely the successful politicians will be those who favor policies that make Nicaragua increasingly comfortable for visitors, with more and better infrastructure, hotels and other things that make it easier for you to get to the surf and enjoy more of it.


Nicaragua is Central America’s largest country, so it stands to reason that it should have a lot of surf potential, especially with over 250 kilometers of Pacific coastline. And the surf is awesome.


In many ways Nicaragua is like Costa Rica. The weather pattern is pretty much the same. Most of the surf comes from the Southern Hemisphere. The surf is consistent and the water is warm. Travel costs are low and it is way less crowded than your local break. But Nicaragua is also different than Costa Rica.


Surfwise, one of the biggest differences between Nicaragua and Costa Rica is that most of the breaks are not yet accessible by vehicle, because there’s no coast road to speak of, so getting to the surf via boat or by renting in a private development is pretty typical. Additionally, there’s much less lodging, so even where there is access to the coast, you often need to travel to the surf. All of this is changing, though, as surf camps, beach lodges and condos have sprouted up everywhere. The real estate market had been going hog wild since around 2002, driven by expectations of “the next Costa Rica.” It came to a screeching halt in 2007 when Daniel Ortega was elected president after being out of office over a decade – a decade of dramatic growth. But it’s now back in full swing.


While things have been improving, Nicaragua is still a poor, Third World country. It’s the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, with Haiti being the poorest. The literacy rate is low and the unemployment rate is high. The locals don’t speak much English, and that’s how it should be, so you really should brush up on your Spanish. Then again, there are fewer cops and radar traps, so you may not need to use that Spanish as much.


When it’s all said and done, Nicaragua is one of the best surf destinations on the planet. Great, consistent waves. Warm water. Offshore winds 300 days out of the year. Damn!