Essential Nicaragua Background
GETTING TO NICARAGUA AND THE SURF
(Excerpts from The Surfer's Guide to Costa Rica & SW Nicaragua)
In the past, Nicaragua was the place you visited to renew your visa during extended Costa Rica trips. These days, most surfers fly in to Managua for a Nicaragua-only trip. It takes about the same time to get from the airport to the surf as other Central America destinations, assuming you don’t get lost or you hire a driver. That said, road signage as well as road conditions improve every year. The roads are actually pretty good now.
If you’re doing the surf camp thing, help is part of the package, so you won’t have to worry about finding your way. If you’re driving yourself and heading SW towards San Juan del Sur, Popoyo and those areas, don’t try to take what looks like the shortest route, i.e., don’t try to head west to the Panamerica Highway. Everyone will give you the same advice: Head east toward Tipitapa, then south to Masaya. Don’t drive through Masaya, drive around it. Work your way to Nandaime where you’ll meet up with the Panamerica Highway. When you check the map these directions will seem ridiculous, but they work, ask anyone. If when leaving the airport you head due west or NW you’ll have no choice but to drive through Managua. It’s a crazy drive, but you’ll find your way eventually. And always, don’t drive at night.
One of the better ideas is to hire a driver. Robert Ow is well-recommended as a knowledgable professional who will make your trip from the airport to your lodging pleasant and safe.
NICARAGUA ENTRY & EXIT REQUIREMENTS
A valid passport is required to enter Nicaragua. Make sure your passport is valid for six months from your arrival date or you will be sent home from the airport. You should also have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support yourself during your stay. You probably won’t get asked for most of these things, but they can turn you back for any of them.
A visa is not required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card must be purchased ($10) and stamped upon arrival at immigration. Tourist cards are typically issued for 30 to 90 days, but mostly for 30 days. Be sure to look at the back of the receipt given to you when you pay your $10. It will tell you how long you can stay before having to leave the country to renew your visa.
There is also a $32 departure tax. Most airlines include this tax in the price of your ticket so you rarely see it. If the tax has not been paid in advance, payment can be made at the airline counter upon departure.
According to Nicaragua’s Law for Foreigners, foreigners must be in possession of a valid identity document at all times while in Nicaragua and may be required to show it to Nicaraguan authorities upon request. Acceptable identity documents are: (1) a permanent residency card, (2) temporary residency card, or (3) valid passport or travel document accompanied by an entry stamp.
COMING FROM COSTA RICA
If you come up from Costa Rica (which has always been popular as a means of renewing 90 day visas), you’ll have to endure an hour or so of border crossing red tape—longer if you go on weekends or holidays, especially Semana Santa, Easter Week. You can expedite that by hiring one of the “coyotes” there who will speed you through for a fee, roughly $20 to $40 per person. If it’s slow or your Spanish is good you can get it for less. (But if it’s slow you don’t need him!) If you have a rental car know that most rental car companies won’t allow you to take the car out of the country. You can also take a bus or taxi to the border then catch another bus or taxi on the other side. That's what most folks do. Like everything else, taxis are cheaper in Nicaragua. Border crossing office hours are 6:00am to 8:00pm.
A good option, but more expensive by comparison, is to fly in from Costa Rica from either San José or Liberia. You can fly in to either Managua or Granada, but the best bet is to fly straight to the surf at the Costa Esmeralda International Airport next to Hacienda Iguana, home of the best surf in Nicaragua.
NICARAGUA SURF LODGING
Unlike Costa Rica, in Nicaragua you can rent condos and houses right on the beach in front of the best surf breaks. Most notable is in Hacienda Iguana where Colorados and Panga Drops are found. It's not easy to find these places by driving because there is no coastal road and many of the best breaks are located in private developments.
Lodging prices have risen with Nicaragua’s popularity, but it’s still much cheaper than Costa Rica or the popular Mexico beaches.
NICARAGUA TIME ZONE
Nicaragua is on the same time as U.S. Central Standard Time with daylight savings time reflecting Mountain Standard Time (Denver).
NICARAGUA SURF REPORTS
All the major surf report services provide regional forecasts for different parts of Central America, but they tend to put more of their efforts into Costa Rica. The best forecast coverage for Nicaragua is at MagicSeaweed.com. They cover more breaks while giving all the swell and wind conditions you get from Surfline.
For daily reports with photos and firsthand commentary go to NicaraguaSurfReport.com, aka NSR. The NSR guys report from Playa Iguana most of the time (Colorados and Panga Drops) but they're often found up the road at Rancho Santana or down at Playa Maderas, their original stomping ground. Lots of photos of locals and tourists alike. NSR is really the best surf report for SW Nicaragua, and their archives can’t be beat.
The rainy and dry seasons are the same as in the rest of Central America, with some parts rainier than others. In order from driest to rainiest (Pacific Coast states) it goes like this: Carazo, Managua, Leon, Rivas and Chinandega, but that depends on the year. The rainy season can come late, or early, and the early-August mini-dry season can be long or short. But on average, it’s goes like this. (See chart below.)
PACKING FOR A NICARAGUA TRIP
When packing for Nicaragua there are three main things to consider. First, it’s less developed than most other Latin America destinations, so when in doubt, bring it. That said, with Wal-Mart buying and expanding the Pali store chain and the overall growth of tourism, you can find most anything you need these days, but it takes a bit of work.
Second, bring a board for bigger, juicier waves. You won’t be disappointed, especially if your trip is between April and November.
Third, if you’re going any time from December through April, bring a short john, neoprene sleeves or some minimal wetsuit gear. The offshores blow hard during those months and push the warm water out to sea, chilling it up a bit. Many are surprised to hear that the water where the offshores blow most can dip into the sixties, but it happens occasionally. If you’ve surfed Witches Rock during hard offshores you’ll understand what we’re saying here. The further south you go (Pacific side) the harder the offshores blow, so plan accordingly.
For a packing checklist covering pretty much everything you might need, and more click to the "What to Pack" page.
AIRLINES & BOARD BAG FEES
Check Surfline here.