What are the main differences between our surf coaching retreats at Playa Guiones, Costa Rica, and the ones around San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua?
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, is just a short 30-minute car ride from the Costa Rican border. Although geographically close, the two destinations offer quite different experiences. We often have guests hesitating between both surf trips, so hopefully, this article can be helpful in making a decision.
In either country, you probably won’t be disappointed about the consistency of the surfing. The Pacific coast of Central America is one of the most consistent on earth. Over the past 8 years of coaching in this region, we have not seen one “flat” day!
Surfing the beaches around San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
The beaches around San Juan del Sur deliver more than 300 days of offshore winds per year, from sunrise to sunset! The great thing about the area of San Juan del Sur is that surfers can reach 4+ surf spots in less than 20 minutes driving. Lots of these spots are shaped in a way that “protects” them from incoming swells, offering softer breaking waves when conditions are bigger. This means whether the swell is 2 feet or 8 feet, beginners and intermediates are consistently able to find great waist-to-head-high waves, depending on their level. It’s possible to surf the bay of San Juan del Sur when the conditions are big, but generally the conditions are better at the beaches to the North and to the South. The good thing about staying in San Juan del Sur is that you are set in between the Northern spots and the Southern ones, deciding on where to go each day depending on conditions.(Photo below: surfing at Playa Maderas, Nicaragua)
Surfing in Playa Guiones, Costa Rica
Guiones offers hundreds of waves on its 7-km long white-sand beach. The waves here have a perfect shape for beginners and intermediates to progress on, because they peel nicely and give extra time for surfers to pop up or do turns. In the swell season (May – September), it can get harder to paddle passed the break, as this beach is “wide open” to the incoming swells. On bigger days, novice surfers might sometimes travel around to enjoy smaller conditions. There are beaches not too far that can often offer easier conditions when the surf is bigger. (Photo below: surfing at Playa Guiones, Costa Rica)
Climate and Surf Seasons
Both small countries are very close to the equator and have tropical climates. Temperatures very rarely go under 25 Celsius (77 Fahrenheit). They both have the same dry season, from mid-November to April. Their wet season (or green season), goes from May to mid-November, with September and October being the rainiest months.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
The area around San Juan del Sur is much drier than in Nosara, Costa Rica. The region has a micro-climate due to its proximity to Central America’s biggest lake (which is also responsible for the all-day offshore winds). Apart from the months of August, September and October, it rarely rains “all day” for extended periods of time. In May, June and July, most days are sunny and if it rains, it is usually at night or for about an hour or two in the afternoon, after which it usually gets sunny again.
The winds blowing through the lake can get very strong from January to March, bringing the water temperature down to chilly temperatures (surfing with a wetsuit jacket or spring suit would be preferable in those months). It sometimes gets hard to catch waves when the offshore winds are blowing so strong, but conditions are still clean and can be fun from January to March. In our opinion, the best months for a surf trip in Nicaragua are from mid-April to July, and from November to mid-December, avoiding the strong winds of January to March, and the peak of the rainy season from August to October, during which winds are unpredictable. (Photo below: surfing coaching at Playa Hermosa, 20 minutes South of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua)
Playa Guiones, Costa Rica
Guiones beach is surrounded by some of the lushest rainforest hills on earth. The area is very tropical and receives a lot of rain during the green season.
If you don’t mind rainy days during your vacation, this season is absolutely beautiful, with the trees and plants coming alive and the hills being extremely lush. As in Nicaragua, the months averaging the most rainfall are August, September and October, although from May to mid-November, full days of rain are not uncommon.
We believe that for beginner and intermediate surfers, the best time to go on a surf trip to Guiones is from mid-November to March. This is typically the “small wave season” on the Pacific Coast of Central America, but playa Guiones is an absolute “wave magnet”. Even on the smallest days of the season, surfers almost always enjoy waist to shoulder high waves! There will certainly be great waves during the rainy season too, but Guiones’ 7-km beach doesn’t always offer optimal surfing conditions for beginners and intermediates during those times, and surfers of this level might need to do some travelling around to surf waves that are more suitable for them. (Photo below: waves peeling on Playa Guiones, Costa Rica)
Cost of living
It is no secret that the cost of living in Costa Rica is higher than in most other countries in Central America. Costa Rica is different from what some might have in mind when thinking about Central America: it has a literacy rate of 97.8%, has one of the oldest democracies in Latin America, 25% of its territory is either national park or wildlife reserve (the biggest percentage of protected land in the world!), it generates 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, it has no national army since 1948, and the list goes on… It is not the typical “cheap tropical destination”.
Travellers should expect similar prices to North American or European countries when treating themselves to complete meals, craft beer or wine in fancier restaurants. This being said, it is still possible to eat local meals at the typical Sodas for 5 or 6 dollars in playa Guiones.
If budget is a factor, then Nicaragua will certainly be cheaper for most of your travelling costs (food, accommodation, transport, etc.). You can still get an ice-cold beer for 1 or 2$ in most bars or restaurants, and most meals will cost between 4 and 9$.
The surf villages of San Juan del Sur and Playa Guiones each provide their own, unique travel experience.
San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur is a beautiful Nicaraguan coastal town, often considered the “capital of surfing” of Nicaragua. It attracts travellers of all styles, from younger backpackers coming to party, to yogis, nature lovers and of course, surfers. It has a great choice of restaurants, cafes and beach bars. The centre of San Juan del Sur generally gets more action with its handful of hotels, youth hostels, and bars along the beach. Around the quiet hills of San Juan del Sur, about 5 to 10-minute walk from the centre, is where most luxurious hotels and villas are located.
Because of the many surf spots that are only a 15-minute drive away, a lot of travellers and surfers stay in the village and get shuttles to the beach during the day. This is the great thing about San Juan del Sur: you can journey across the jungle during the day to sleepy surf beaches, and still come back at night and enjoy a good variety of restaurants, cafes and beach bars.(Photo below: the small village of Playa Maderas, Nicaragua)
Playa Guiones is both a surf beach and a “small village” of its own. What is fun about Guiones is that you can live a short walk from the waves, plus you can walk 5 to 10 minutes to at least 20 amazing restaurants and cafes. Everything is easily reachable by feet or by bicycle. In general, Guiones is a bit more “high end” than San Juan del Sur, which has a more authentic and rustic feel.
Guiones also attracts surfers, yogis and nature lovers. You will find all types of people travelling here: families, retirees, lone travelers, couples, groups of friends, etc. It attracts an older crowd (usually late twenties and older) than the Costa Rican town of Tamarindo because there isn’t any nightclub or party in this town. People come here for the waves, yoga, healthy and delicious food, and maybe some craft beers and cocktails. (Photo below: playa Guiones, Costa Rica)
The Barefoot Surf Coaching will be the same
Whether you decide on Costa Rica or Nicaragua, our surf coaching program will be the same. Our team travels to both destinations and offers the same quality of surf coaching. For both surf trips, you will have access to the same number of surf lessons, photo and video analysis, a personal surfer profile and a small coach to student ratio (click here to know more about how we coach surfing).
We look forward to surfing with you!