The rough west coast of Nicaragua; surfers paradise

Nicaragua is captured by 2 oceans: First you have the 50 shades of blue, easy snorkling Carribean sea at the East coast.
The sand is white, palm trees wave in the wind, fisherboats pass by searching for lobsters.
And then there is the rough West coast. No white sand and palm trees here, large beaches of vulcanic gray sand stretch out.
Lots of wind and rocks cause the sea to start creating waves, big waves that is.

Every year the challenging waves of the Pacific coast attract thousands of surf lovers from North to South America. Nicaragua is one of the countries that attracts professional surfers, since the current and the rocks make surfing quite a challenge. However, even though the wave height here can be a little frightening, the sea can be tempered by beginning surfers as well. Probably the most famous surf area of Nicaragua is San Juan del Sur, a tourist city known for it’s Sunday Funday, turtles and Spanish lessons.

And the place from where you can travel to the beaches Playa Maderas and Playa Hermosa. The spots for learning how to surf. However, the coastline of Nicaragua is about 900 kilometres long. If you want to catch waves, but are looking for a more relaxed and easygoing surrounding, you can find plenty of small, laid back surf towns along the west coast.

If you would like to combine some history in the city with a couple days of surfing fun, Las Peñitas beach might be just your solution for you.
Located only 30 kilometres from “colonial” city León it’s just a 20 minute drive away. The perfect spot to escape the oppressive heat of León.

Las Peñitas is a small fishing village with maybe 300 inhabitants. The atmosphere is laid back, simple and easy. It’s neighbor, Poneloya, is perhaps even sleepier.
With only a few deserted coconut “vendedores”. Don’t expect much, eventually you’re here for a couple days of surfing fun.

What I love about Nicaragua is the ease of traveling.
Like in other Central or Latin American countries they have a quite extensive network of school buses that transport the locals from A to B.
These so called “chicken buses” transport about anything (besides people of course): buckets of freshly catched fish, heavy bags with sugar or flower, bicycles, boxes with supplies for the pulperias (local stores with about everything you need), and – of course – baskets with clucking chickens (most of the time they put them on top of the bus).

There’s a chicken bus that commutes daily between León, Poneloya and Las Peñitas. It runs about every 30 to 40 minutes and leaves from “El Mercadito” (Sutiava Market).

If you’re located in the center of León, there are several ways to get to this “busstation”. If you’re optimistic (or on a very tight budget), you can walk it.
From the Cathedral of León it’s only 2 kilometers west on Calle Rubén Darío.

However, for only 5 Cordobas you can take one of the tiny trucks, converted into mini vans. They are blue. Wave your arm, time it well and hop in. 99% of the time you will not have a place to sit, but it’s only a 5 minute ride.

You can also reach El Mercadito with the tricycle taxi, for about 15 Cordobas per person.

Once you’re at the market look for an old – mostly painted yellow – school bus that shows Las Peñitas on the back. Get in and allow yourself some entertainment in the form of guitar songs, speeches, vendors and beggars selling “70% chocolate” candy.
The bus will leave as soon as it is completely full. If you want a place to sit, time it well or wait for the next bus.
Once the bus takes off, you’ll notice the extreme loud radio music following the taste of the bus driver. This can be either Mariachi music, Celine Dion or top 40 hits. Let them surprise you.

When the bus reaches the beach, it will first turn right on an intersection, heading for Poneloya. It will turn and at the same intersection head for the beach on the left: Las Peñitas.

The busdriver stops where the people ask him to stop. If you don’t know where to get off, go for Playa de Rocas, located in the “center” of town and with a good surfing spot in front.

One very important note! Las Peñitas has 1 ATM, but most of the time this one is out of order. So before you hop on the bus, please make sure you withdraw enough cash for the upcoming days. The 2 of us together spent about 2100 Cordobas ($70) per day, including our surfing lessons.

I guess there are as many hotels as houses in Las Peñitas. Which means a few, but you have a choice at least.

There are a few more luxury hotels and lodges, like Nayal Lodge hotel and Costa Maya, right when you enter Las Peñitas. A night is about 1500-2000 Cordobas ($50-$65). They have a pool and nice lounge chairs, but in my opinion you could better spend those extra dollars at a real nice beach. These hotels are also located quite isolated, it’s about 15 minutes to walk into “town”.

There’s a hotel strip a little further up, with basic but good hotels with sea view. A room there will cost you about 900-1500 Cordobas ($30-$50) a night. I can recommend Simple Beach Lodges, Bomalu, Oasis or Barca de Oro.

There are a few hostels as well.
2 have a kitchen: La Caracolita and Mano a Mano (just opened up in june). A dorm bed costs about 150-240 Cordobas ($5-$8) a night.
There’s also the party hostal Bigfoot Beach. Dorms are 300 Cordobas ($10) a night. The hostel has a pool, but unfortunately no kitchen. If you want a week of surfing, partying and loud music at the pool all day long, this is your spot.
If you want to go remote and are looking for a chill spot to reload, the Surfing Turtle Lodge is your type of scene. The hostel is located on Isla los Brasiles and the atmosphere is super laid back and relaxed. Prices of food and drinks here are a little more expensive, since it’s so remote. However, they offer dorm beds from 300 Cordobas ($10).

Keep in mind you’re staying in a small fishing village. Both hotels and hostels are really basic and not as clean and well maintained as the ones in León.

The lack of tourists in Las Peñitas has its charm, of course. However, during night time it’s quite sad to see all those empty restaurants. Since we like to cook ourselves, we bought some vegetables and groceries at the pulperia and cooked in our hostel. Try to avoid buying dairy products such as cheese or milk, since their fridge doesn’t really do his job.

If you’re looking for a good, BIG, fresh pizza. Go to Mama Pizza. Best pizza in days, I’ll guarantee! (The 17” pizza is huge! You’ll have pizza for breakfast.)

SUA Chill & Grill offers delicious skewers. Don’t forget to try one of their juices! I would recommend jugo de calala (passion fruit).

We had a really good lunch at Comedor Bertha. We used the restaurant as a pitstop during our trip to the Surfing Turtle Lodge. It’s located at the end of the beach when you walk from Las Peñitas towards Poneloya.

Furthermore, if you’re looking for fresh fish. Try the restaurant left of El Faro (unfortunately we forgot his name), in the bay. Yes, there’s a jukebox, yes they play music extremely loud, yes those are plastic chairs, no there won’t be any other guests. But the fish is perfect! You can choose the size and if they ask you if “ketchup is okay”, please allow them to use it for the fish, it’s delicious!

Of course you are here to enjoy surfing. And either you are an experienced surfer, or just a beginner (like me): you will have a good time here, with plenty of waves to catch.

Almost every hotel rents surfing boards and offers surfing lessons. I really enjoyed my lessons with Roger at Pelican Surf (at the East end of the beach). But there are also a couple surf schools near Playa Roca. They’ll all charge you about 600 Cordobas ($20) for an hour, including surfboard. If you don’t need lessons at all, you can rent a board for about 300 Cordobas ($10) per day.

Besides surfing, you can kayak the mangroves of the Isla Juan Venado Reserve. Barca de Oro rents out kayaks for 360 Cordobas ($12) for half a day. That’s long enough, the currents are pretty strong so you have to put some effort into it. You can easily create your own trip, just make sure you keep on the big water routes and don’t head into the heart of the mangrove. Believe me, you can get lost over there. If you want to get the most out of it, inform Barca de Oro for a tour.

We decided not to stay at the Surfing Turtle Lodge, but wanted to relax there for a day. It’s a very nice trip, of about 5 kilometers from Las Peñitas “town” via Poneloya to the hostel on Isla los Brasiles. Cross it during midday, when the tide is low (waist-deep water). Order a drink at the bar of the hostel and just relax for a bit. When you head back, the water will be probably too deep to cross. My advice: just chat with some of the fishermen over there. They’ll be happy to offer you a ride on their boat (if you smile politely, you’ll get it for free).