When Magdalena Zielińska sent me an amazing photo of her recent surf travels in Central America, it reminded me of my long bucket list of surf destinations. While we still have to be patient for a little while before travel will return to normal, now might be the ideal time to start planning your next destination. Why not make it Nicaragua?
Magdalena Zielińska wrote about her experience in Nicaragua for us.
Get those notebooks out!
El Gigante is definitely still a hidden gem of marvellous Nicaragua. Even though the country is visited by roughly 1.9 millions tourists each year (statistics from 2017 - a year before the protests emerged) Nicaragua is still one of the countries in Latin America that are considered to be ‘off the beaten path’.
Before we even start I want to tell you that we felt safe, super safe in the whole country. We were advised by everyone to stay away from Managua (the capital city) as it can be quite dangerous, and here, we definitely agree, but other than that we felt like tourists in any other country - so usual rules apply e.g always keep an eye on your stuff (especially at the beach!), don’t wander around in a rough neighbourhood, be more careful after certain time of the day etc. But we indeed felt safe and warmly welcomed. Nicaraguan people are generous, helpful and chatty, they really want to know you. And by travelling to Nicaragua we all can contribute directly to the local communities and strengthen their economy which haven’t seen much of a rise lately. The government isn’t too democratic, supportive and fair so we can help them from the inside - buying food, fruits from them, staying at their places etc.
Anyways, how did we end up in Nicaragua/El Gigante? We were looking for a Spanish school nearby the seaside so that we can combine our two passions - learning the language and surfing. So if anyone is interested in polishing two skills at the same time - we truly recommend you Pie de Gigante Spanish School http://www.nicaraguaspanishlessons.com/ We stayed with a local family and had 3 hours of Spanish lessons per day during weekdays. After 3 weeks we were quite fluent and could communicate with the locals! Super fast and the best way to learn Spanish!
About the town: El Gigante is a fisherman village (around 500 people in total) and probably no more than 30 tourists at the same time. So on the daily basis you barely see people but you constantly see pigs, horses, cows, chickens and dogs freely wandering on the dusty roads. They make you feel easily outnumbered (so cool!). We were never so close with the nature. However, whenever you feel like you need to meet some people go to Juntos (a cool beach bar that has delicious food, billiard table and hammocks. They also have Taco night every Tuesday).
While staying in El Gigante you have access to three beaches: Playa Gigante with a neighbouring Playa Amarilla and Playa Colorado - all are definitely quiet, rustic and mostly secluded.
Playa Gigante is the busiest one, as the whole village is next to it. You have two cool places (Juntos bar and Cafe Cicada - perfect for breakfast and using a decent wifi). The beach is also partly occupied by fishermen, so if you aren’t vegan (we are) you can get a deal and buy a fresh dinner.
At the end of Playa Gigante you have the coolest place in El Gigante -Giant's Foot Surf House hosted by Trevor and Tara (they are amazing people who can made you feel super welcomed). Useful tip: Every Monday they have a Burger Night that is super famous - everyone’s there. Its a perfect way to meet new people, you can win free beers as well!
They have three rooms so you can stay at their place. They organise three surfing sessions each day, you can also book some 1:1 lessons with them. But the coolest thing is, they have a boat, so whenever the wind/condition is better somewhere a bit further away, like two beaches away or something, they can take you there. Our first week in Playa Amarillo was quite flat, so they were taking people to Playa Colorado/Panga.
Another two places from whom you may rent surfboards are Monkey House (top of the hill between Playa Gigante and Playa Amarillo) or from one of the nicest guys around – William, who also owns a surf house on the top of the hill in between El Gigante and Playa Amarillo, next to the Monkey House. All of these places offer lessons and surfboards for 10$ a day. We got a deal 50$ a week at William’s.
Playa Amarilla, The Yellow Beach, is surrounded by green forest with rocky cliffs on both ends, no hotels, no resorts, only one cottage house at the very south of the beach. It makes it super secluded, usually we were the only ones at the beach and the spot was never crowded - up to 7 people with surfboards maximum. So basically you’re surrounded only by the ocean, the trees and the clean beach itself on the stretch of over a kilometer, and it’s only 10 minute walk from the El Gigante. Super cool! Playa Amarilla offers different types of waves so everyone should find something for themselves: beach margin waves, empty waves, tube-like waves, or beach break and reef break waves. The best spot for beginners is near the cliff, south part of the beach, with stronger bigger waves at the far north end of the beach. You get both left and right hand waves. Without a typical reef break, all the waves close fairly quick here, but if you learn to catch them, you will catch waves everywhere/anywhere - thats at least what we have been told! The north part of Amarillo has a tiny reef at the bottom which will bowl up and occasionally offer a heavy barrel, left and right, given the right conditions. At low tide the rock formation is completely exposed so stay careful there!
Playa Colorado has some of the most impressive swells and is the spot for more experienced surfers, although some instructors say it’s good for everyone. Previously mentioned Giant's Foot Surf House do offer a boat service there for about $5 one way, so for some low-budget travellers it can quickly add up and get expensive. But do not worry, you can get there on foot, and probably it won’t take you much longer.
To get there, walk to the end of Amarillo beach. Here's you'll find a track leading through some woods bringing you out to the Colorado beach - don’t worry it’s only 10-15 minute walk (remember about shoes though, as it can be quite rough, unless you are local, then it’s a different story). The surroundings of the Colorado beach differ from Amarilla Beach - here you have luxurious resorts and vacation rentals. (Note: it’s a private beach so you can only get in there by foot and through woods, no cars/motorbikes are allowed).
It can be crowed, and it can be completely empty, but there is always a surfable wave, especially at the north end of it which is called Panga. It’s an awesome, open-faced, 70 meter long right and left rockreef break. The best swell direction is from the Southwest and usually happens between May and October. The waves are slower here than at Amarilla beach making the drops more friendly and great for long arching rail surfing. The cool thing about surfing in Nicaragua is that (thanks to the two huge lakes: Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua) you get offshore wind almost every day a year, they say they have offshore more than 300 days a year!, so usually it results in slow breaking waves as the wind keeps them open for a little bit longer.
HOW TO GET THERE
We had an easy way as we were picked-up straight from the airport by the driver who works for the Spanish school. El Gigante is 130km away from Managua, to get to El Gigante by bus you HAVE TO pass through Rivas - a major transit hub.
From Managua you can get to Rivas by bus and from Rivas you can catch a direct bus to Playa Gigante. There is only one bus a day, leaving around 1.30 p.m - NOTE: it doesn’t run on Sundays. The tickets should be between $1-2.
You can find all the details of all the cheap busses on this amazing website: https://centrocoasting.com/nicaragua/
Magdalena is wearing Salt Gypsy. The newest Hibiscus Collection will be opening again soon for bespoke orders.