What are the main differences between our surf coaching retreats at Playa Guiones, Costa Rica, and the ones at Playa Maderas, Nicaragua?
Playa Maderas, 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 in Playa Maderas, Nicaragua
Playa Maderas and the beaches around San Juan del Sur deliver more than 300 days of offshore winds per year, from sunrise to sunset! The waves at Playa Maderas are a bit faster and a bit stronger than at Guiones, but great for beginners on small to medium days. The great thing about the area of San Juan del Sur is that surfers can reach 4+ surf spots in less than 25 minutes driving. Lots of these spots are shaped in a way that “protects” them from incoming swells, offering softer breaking waves than playa Maderas. 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. (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.
Playa Maderas, Nicaragua
The area around playa Maderas and 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, 30 minutes South of Playa Maderas, 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 condition 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”.
Travelers 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 Playa Maderas and Playa Guiones each provide their own, unique travel experience.
Playa Maderas is so small that the term “village” or “surf town” might be misleading. Maderas is tiny and only has a handful of restaurants, cafes and hotels. Because San Juan del Sur is only a 15-minute drive away, a lot of travelers and surfers stay in that village and get shuttles back and forth during the day. This is one great thing about Playa Maderas: if you crave a particular meal, if you want to have a beer, or if you want to party for a night, you can always go to San Juan del Sur for the evening and enjoy plenty of options.
Playa Maderas definitely has more of an “off the beaten track” feel that will please adventure and nature lovers. It attracts surfers and yogis of all ages. It is a great place to take a solid break from your busy life, breathe, relax, surf all day and have a drink while watching the sunset. Our guests live less than a 10-minute walk from the famous waves here. (Photo below: the small village of Playa Maderas, Nicaragua)
While Playa Maderas is the “surf beach” that is next to the “main village” of San Juan del Sur, 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 has more options in terms of food and activities and is a bit more “high end” than Maderas, which has a more authentic and rustic feel as there are still only just a few hotels set in the jungle hills.
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!