Southern Nicaragua and Sailing the Papagayos
Southern Nicaragua is famous for its great surf, in part because it blows offshore almost 300 days a year. As the swell rolls in and begins to break, the offshore winds rush up the face of the wave holding the lip from crumbling and helps to form a hollow barrel that you can ride inside for several seconds. The winds that help to create these amazing surfing conditions are called "Papagayos", and they can also pose quite a challenge to sailboats like us trying to transit the coast.
20-50mph winds race through the canyons and mountain passes from the Gulf of Mexico through to the Pacific, forming a chop on the ocean surface that when colliding with the opposing dominate ocean swell, can create a washing machine like effect at sea. To avoid the worst of these conditions it is recommended to stay as close to shore as safely possible, so that the wind does not have as much time to wreak havoc on the sea state.
At first Rachel and I were nervous to sail in these conditions. We had never purposely taken the boat out in 30+ knots of wind, and when we had previously sailed in strong winds it was always with white knuckles. But these winds would last for the next couple of months and we really didn't have a choice. Plus we needed the practice of sailing in higher winds.
Once we found the best sail plan for Agape in these conditions we began to get more comfortable underway and even began to enjoy how well she handled the conditions. As long as the wind wasn’t directly on the nose (although most of the time it seemed like it was), and we were close to shore we felt safe and even had some fun.
Don't let these winds detour you from coming down to this region and Nicaragua!!! The wind is warm, and like I said makes the surfing all the better.
Here are a few of our favorite spots to stop along the way, although this only skims the surface. There are so many other great places to visit in the area that we didn’t get a chance to see because we didn’t feel safe leaving Agape at anchor with winds up to 50kts.
On the way south from Corinto to San Juan del Sur you can find the anchorage and town of El Transito, and although it has nothing to offer, just to the north is the amazing surf break of Punta Miramar. Blessed with offshore winds, point and beach breaks, Miramar offers more than just an average wave. It provides breaks for all levels of surfers, year around. During the surf season, March to October, waves can peak around 12ft and experienced surfers can easily access them on foot or by boat.
Masachapa, just to the south of El Transito, was our next stop along the coast. The twin villages of Masachapa and Pochomil are so close together that they might as well be one. They tend to attract weekend tourists from the capital and a contingent of touring surfers, but they tend to be much quieter than the busy San Juan del Sur to the south.
A handful of bars, hotels and restaurants are dotted along the sleepy, unpaved streets. Some will rent surfboards but this is a very small town and you will more than likely be on your own in the water.
El Gigante is the last “major” tourist stop before San Juan del Sur and should not be missed. Tourism has just started here in the last ten years, so the town hasn't lost its funky little vibe. On a walk down the dusty streets and you will more than likely hit a traffic jam of cows crossing from the field to the beach, or a group of piglets being led down the road by a slightly over protective sow. The hostels here are a funky combination of a yoga retreat/Bali surf camp and you can do anything from lounge in a hammock, fish, surf, and kayak. And if you're not too tired by the end of the day you can take part in any one of the hostels late night parties.
San Juan del Sur is by far the largest tourist destination in the southern section of Nicaragua. If you Google it, you will most likely see the famous statue of Christ that sits on the cliff just to the north of downtown SJDS, and is the second largest Jesus statue in the world. The community here has been welcoming tourists to its warm sandy beaches for well over 20 years now and they have completely redefined themselves from a small fishing port to a full on tourist hub. This change comes will all the pros and cons that tourism so frequently brings.
While we were here, we rented motorcycles and spent a day driving down dirt roads to the different beautiful beaches surrounding the city to see as much as we could before our tourist visas expired. There are dozens of great surf and swim beaches to the north, many laying in protected bays with small beach bars and restaurants that will let you spend the whole day relaxing in their lounge chairs, under an umbrella as long as you buy a few beers or some food.
To the south there are also several great beaches made famous by the three seasons of survivor that were filmed there. It’s pretty funny to see just how fake the show is when you walk from a large hotel onto the beach and just two minutes down the sand is the set for Survivor. I am sure they had a really tough time drinking all those pina-coladas and almost starving to death when the poolside bar ran out of guacamole.
It is definitely worth renting bikes or a car to go and explore the surrounding area. We got a great deal at Big Wave Daves, a bar right off the main drag where the owner rents motorbikes. Just ask for Monkey Business Moto Rentals and the owner Dave will set you up.
For Agape though, our favorite place/anchorage was Playa Anima, located in a small bay resembling a three leaf clover. We tucked in and spent a couple nights enjoying the secluded beach and great fishing.
Nicaragua has always held a special place in my heart. Even before I ever set foot in the country I told Rachel that I would love it there and that some day I would want to build a home there. After exploring the country and meeting it’s amazing people that live up and down the coast, I can say my gut feeling was right on the money!!! Nicaragua is a country filled with beautiful people and culture and is set into some of the best coastline in all of Central America.
We hope someday you’ll have the opportunity to visit this amazing country!