Discover Remote Surf Town Gems off the Beaten Path of Nicaragua and El Salvador

Beautiful, undiscovered beaches and waves await travelers willing to venture beyond the tourist hubs of Nicaragua and El Salvador. While destinations like San Juan del Sur and Las Flores attract crowds, the laidback surf towns nestled along the Pacific coasts of these neighboring Central American countries offer a more authentic experience.

Playa Mapaché, Nicaragua – Endless Empty Point Breaks

One of Nicaragua’s best kept secrets is the long, empty point breaks that line the beaches of Playa Mapaché. Located in the remote Northern Department of Nicaragua a few hours north of San Juan del Sur, Mapaché offers world-class waves with virtually no crowds. The point breaks stretch for miles and treats surfers to long green barrels.

The surf culture here remains low-key, with just a handful of foreign surfers and locals in the water at any given time. You’ll find a sparse collection of small seaside restaurants and surf lodges, the largest being Casa Mapaché, nestled among coconut trees set back from the beach. Most visitors come to surf all day and relax under the stars, enjoying simple seafood meals and cold beers after sunset.

It’s a slow-paced lifestyle focused on appreciating nature’s beauty. Beyond surfing, activities include fishing trips, hiking through tropical dry forests, swimming at secluded beaches, or relaxing in a hammock with a book. The warm locals are always happy to share their laidback surf town’s tranquil way of life with appreciative visitors. Plan to spend at least a few nights soaking it all in along this pristine and remote stretch of Pacific coastline.

Surfing 101

For those new to surfing, the point breaks at Mapaché offer perfect conditions for beginners and intermediates to learn. Waves are generally waist- to head-high with long rideable sections, making it easy to catch waves and practice techniques. Several local surf instructors like John at Casa Mapaché offer private or group lessons at very affordable rates, providing boards, wetsuits, and patient guidance in the water. Be sure to ask about beach safety, such as areas to avoid and tide schedules, before your first session. With practice, you’ll be catching uncrowded barrels in no time in this surfing paradise.

El Sunzal, El Salvador – Quiet Town with Great Waves

Just a short drive from the bustling capital of San Salvador, El Sunzal presents a stark contrast as a peaceful beach escape with excellent surf. Multiple points and reef breaks dot the coastline here, with consistently fun waves even in low swells. Unlike many Salvadoran beaches, the water remains clear and swimmable year-round.

El Sunzal itself is a bedroom community without many tourists. Simple beachside cafes, market stalls, and a small downtown area make up the town center. Several budget surf lodges have sprung up in recent years to accommodate the growing number of surfers discovering this gem. Casa del Mar and Surf House International offer clean rooms, friendly staff, and surf advice.

The mellow surf town vibe and consistent surf make El Sunzal a top spot for both learning surf techniques as well as advanced wave-riding. Multilevel breaks cater to all abilities. English is widely spoken by locals and business owners too, so communication is never a problem. Spend a few relaxing days here surf-tripping, hanging with locals, and soaking up El Salvador’s laidback Pacific charm without the crowds.

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Beach Eats and Drinks

After a day in the water, recharge over authentic Salvadoran fare at beachside spots like Kiana’s, run by a local family. Fresh seafood, homemade tortillas, and chilled beers satisfy any appetite. Vegetarians will find options too at Franco’s Juice Bar, which has many healthy juices and wraps. Come evenings, grab a cocktail at Surf House’s rooftop bar or San Alejandro Restaurant for fantastic views of the sunset washing over breaking waves below. The locals are always down for a game of beach volleyball, too – join in for extra fun and socializing.

Las Peñitas, El Salvador – Secret Surf on Three Secluded Bays

Remote Las Peñitas is the area’s best-kept surf secret. Accessed via a bumpy dirt road through grassy hills, you’ll reach three sheltered bays harboring empty, quality surf. Waves break consistently along scenic rocky points and beach breaks all year. Add to this pristine beaches, limestone cliffs, and lush mangroves, and you have the makings of an epic surf trip off the grid.

There is zero tourism infrastructure here besides a few local families’ modest beach huts renting rooms. Otherwise you’ll find utter seclusion, wildlife like howler monkeys, and the Salvadoran jungle stretching to the Pacific. Camping is your best option to truly immerse yourself in nature with just the sound of waves lapping the bays. Bring your own food, water, and supplies.

With zero crowds in the water, Las Peñitas is an advanced surfer’s dream, providing barrels almost daily. But beginners will also be stoked at the inviting small surf and lessons available from locals. Spend at least a week to properly appreciate the natural beauty of the bays and allow ample days simply soaking up empty waves in this raw, untouched slice of coastline. It’s the definition of pure surf adventure travel.

Planning Your Central American Surf Trip

Now that you’ve explored some of the hidden gems for surfing off the tourist track in Nicaragua and El Salvador, here are some tips for planning your one-of-a-kind trip:

  • Research seasons: Peak surf months are November-May, when swells are large and consistent. July-September sees smaller waves, but they are still surfable.
  • Travel documents: U.S. citizens need a valid passport and no visa for stays under 90 days in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
  • Book lodging: Reserve rooms at Casa Mapaché, Surf House International, or directly contact locals renting rooms in Las Peñitas well in advance.
  • Rent gear: Most surf lodges rent high-quality boards, wetsuits, etc., at fair prices. Bring basics or rent upon arrival.
  • Transportation: Rent a 4×4 vehicle to reach more remote destinations like Las Peñitas. Public buses serve larger towns.
  • Money: U.S. dollars are widely accepted, but smaller denomination bills are preferred. Have local currency for small purchases.
  • Phones: Purchase a local SIM card or rely on Wi-Fi for messaging/research. Cell service varies in rural areas.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink purified water and ample electrolyte beverages in the hot, humid climate.
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Proper preparation will allow you to fully relax into appreciating the raw surfing experiences and beauty nature provides along these tranquil, off-the-beaten path coasts.

Exploring Nicaragua and El Salvador – Common Questions Answered

Here are answers to five common questions for those considering a surf trip in these Central American countries:

Is it Safe to Travel Solo as a Woman?

Both Nicaragua and El Salvador have risks like any developing nation, but generally feel quite safe for solo female travelers especially in tourist areas and surf towns. Use common sense precautions like avoiding walking alone at night and not displaying expensive cameras/phones. Locals are typically very friendly and respectful towards respectful foreign visitors. Staying in reputable lodgings adds another safety layer. Many solo female surfers have positive experiences in the areas covered in this post.

What’s the Wave Quality Really Like?

By all accounts, the quality and consistency of waves far exceed expectations, given the remote nature of destinations like Playa Mapaché and Las Peñitas. Barrels, long rides, and hollow waves are the norm, even in small surf, thanks to each location’s geography. Conditions are primed for all abilities, from beginners to advanced shapers. Video footage reveals world-class waves that will have surfers itching to book a flight!

How is the Food and Water Safety?

Stick to drinking bottled or purified water and you’ll be fine. Ice is generally safe in establishments frequented by tourists. As for food, locals pride themselves on fresh seafood, grilled meats, homemade tortillas and more. Avoid undercooked/raw foods from roadside stalls in very rural areas if concerned. Majority of meals from recommended spots have never caused digestive issues for travelers. Hygiene is generally good in surf towns with a foreign presence.

How’s the Wildlife and Nature?

The coastal regions feature abundant natural beauty. Mangroves and tropical dry forests shelter howler monkeys, iguanas, birds, and other creatures. Bioluminescent plankton lights up the night ocean in some areas. Hiking trails lead to secluded beaches and scenic overlooks. Offshore, you may spot dolphins, whales, or sea turtles. Interacting respectfully with the natural environment makes for remarkable surf adventures.

What’s the Best Way to Experience the Local Culture?

Chat with surf lodge owners and locals in town, asking respectful questions to learn about daily life, food, music, and traditions. Tags surfer friendliest towns tend to younger generations that appreciate cultural exchanges. Some speak English. Attend Sunday services, local festivals, or salsa dance clubs. Cultural immersion offers a profound connection to places beyond surface tourism.

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