Nicaragua beckons the well-rounded Central American traveler. With storied colonial architecture, dense cloud forests, still-pulsing indigenous cultures and active volcanoes, this is a country that shines from all angles. However, if you’re a sand-between-your-toes type who is simply looking to spend time with a mojito and a steamy Nicholas Sparks novel, you should head for the coast. Nicaraguan beaches are fantastic, and offer everything from lively tide pools to fantastic surf and quiet vibes of a humble fishing village. Spend a little time with our list below to find out which beach (or beaches) deserve a spot on your vacation itinerary.
1. Corn Islands
45 miles off the east coast of Nicaragua is the country’s prime example of a Caribbean paradise. White sandy beaches, calm sea breezes and a laid-back Creole culture is what you’ll find on the Corn Islands. Flights run daily from Managua to the island, but if you’re down for an adventure, you can piece together a journey involving boats, buses, and catamarans. And, if you’re there between the months of July and March, sign up for a lobster diving tour, as they will be in season.
2. Playa La Flor
This gem in the southwestern corner of the country is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, and really anyone keen on spotting sea turtles lumbering along the sand. Playa La Flor is a 2,000-acre reserve, home to a wildly diverse array of monkeys, iguanas, possums, pelicans, parakeets, and migratory birds. Between the months of July and December, sea turtles — olive ridley, hawksbill, green sea, and leatherback — arrive in masse and lay around 10,000 nests per year. In a win for the biodiversity, there are no hotels or storefronts on the beach, but for under $30 visitors can camp directly on the sand. Be sure to pack your food responsibly as animals have been known to pester the occasional beach dweller.
3. San Juan del Sur
This crescent-shaped bay, 90 minutes from Grenada, is by far the most popular beach in Nicaragua. Tourism in recent years has created a funky collision between Australian and Californian surf culture, as well as the authentic vibes of a Nicaraguan fishing village. There are all-inclusive resorts snuggled up next to dilapidated taco shops, and sun-faded tugboats docked next to sparkling speedboats. If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that San Juan del Sur is the place for the party-going traveler. Each Sunday the hostels organize “Sunday Funday,” an all-day rage fest where guests hop in the back of pickup trucks and bounce around a series of thumping pool parties. Pro tip: do not bring anything of value — you’re only 50% likely to end up with your bathing suit, let alone any electronics.
4. Playa Maderas
Just 20 minutes north of San Juan del Sur is Playa Maderas, a secluded strip of white sand that has the feeling of a hidden paradise. At low tide, you’ll see the rocky expanses that are perfect for tide pooling. The iconic shark fin ridge and accompanying cove are great for exploring. When you’re beat, the beach has a spattering of little hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving cold beer, ceviche, and fresh tacos. Playa Maderas is becoming a popular alternative for those looking to bypass the party culture of San Juan del Sur, so you’ll find a generally calmer vibe here.
5. Playa Colorado
About two and a half hours south of Managua is Playa Colorado, widely regarded as the best surf spot in the entire country. As most of the Pacific coast of Nicaragua faces southwest and thus benefits from the gamut of south and southwest swells, nowhere shapes up quite like Playa Colorado. While this isn’t exactly Costa Rica when it comes to the surfing, the waves are impressively hollow. So if you’re looking for that elusive barrel experience, Playa Colorado is your best bet. It’s a private beach, and it can only be accessed if you stay at the Hacienda Iguana resort or if you hire a boat.
6. Playa Santo Domingo
Lake Cocibolca is a massive lake in the south of the country that lays claim to the Concepción Volcano on the island of Ometepe. It’s pretty rare that your beach view includes a towering active stratovolcano, so Playa Santo Domingo is pretty special. With heavy winds and choppy seas, it offers a different kind of beach experience. There’s a solid amount of accommodations infrastructure including bungalows, villas, and hostels. If you’re an adventurous traveler, hiking the volcanoes is an excellent way to spend an active day among some of the best cloud forests in Central America.
7. Las Peñitas
If you’ve found Managua to be too seedy, Granada too expensive, León too hot, and San Juan del Sur too raucous — Las Peñitas is a perfect little spot off the common Nicaraguan backpacking trail. While it’s one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, there are lots of options for fun activities here including horseback riding, a mangrove trip, a fishing trip with seasoned local veterans, and even dirt boarding down the slopes of an active volcano.