When you are planning a family beach vacation, the beaches in Nicaragua might not be at the top of your list. Everyone we’d talked to who had visited Nicaragua had gone there to surf. We learned that the beaches in Nicaragua were pristine and beautiful from their travel stories.
We are always looking for new family beach vacation destinations to get away from the cold winter in Colorado. Why not try somewhere new?
The beaches in Nicaragua did not disappoint! In fact, the beaches around San Juan Del Sur made for a wonderful and affordable family beach vacation. We explored five different beaches and the only one that we didn’t love was the famous surf beach Playa Maderas. That’s the one beach most people travel to Nicaragua to visit!
5 Beaches in Nicaragua Near San Juan del Sur
The roads to all five of these beaches are unpaved and rough, some worse than others. If you are renting a car you will definitely want to get a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The sunsets from Playa Marsella were nothing short of amazing. Playa Marsella was the closest beach to the house we rented so we would frequently go watch the sunset from the beach after dinner.
Parking is located on the North end of the beach next to a small thatched-roofed restaurant. We always found that there were plenty of parking spots no matter the time of day.
To access the beach you need to walk across a shallow fresh-water river that runs into the ocean. There is a beware of alligators sign and it isn’t a joke. We actually saw an alligator swimming upstream behind the restaurant and parking lot.
You can walk the whole length of the crescent beach (about a half a mile). Several rental properties back to the beach and there is a small resort at the south end.
There are some rocky areas along the beach but the sand is soft for the most part. It’s a great beach for playing in the sand and waves and a perfect beach to watch the sunset.
Just north of Playa Marsella is Playa Maderas, the most famous surfing beach in Nicaragua. The first thing we noticed was that Playa Maderas was packed with people. The parking lot, located between the hostel and restaurant, was almost full when we arrived mid-afternoon. We were lucky to snag one of the last parking spots. Every table in the restaurant was full and there were people everywhere.
Although Playa Maderas is stunning, with huge rocks jutting out of the ocean, it isn’t a relax-on-the sand kind of beach. There isn’t much sand at all, just rocks. If you don’t surf and are looking for a beach for swimming and playing in the sand, Playa Maderas is not the spot.
Watching the many surfers catch waves was by far our favorite part of Playa Marsella. We didn’t stay long because Eli was bored watching the surfers. He wanted to swim or play in the sand. The scene at Playa Maderas was the least family-friendly of all the beaches in Nicaragua that we visited.
Playa La Flor Nature Reserve
Every year from July through December more than 100,000 olive-ridley sea turtles come to Playa La Flor to nest. The beach is now a protected nature reserve. Hundreds of turtles come to shore each night to create nests and lay their eggs. In San Juan del Sur you can book a tour to watch the turtles nest on Playa La Flor.
Playa La Flor is also accessible during the day for a small entrance fee. Before heading to the beach, stop in the small office on the right to pay the fee and learn more about the nature reserve. The rangers have cages with turtle eggs in different stages of development and baby turtles ready to be released back into the ocean after dark (to prevent bird attacks).
Playa La Flor is the most exquisite of all the beaches in Nicaragua that we visited. The half-mile crescent beach is such a gentle slope, you can wade far out into the ocean and the water is still only knee-deep. The sand is fine and soft on the entire beach. Near the trees, we found the ground to be completely covered with turtle eggshell fragments. The ample piles of turtle shells look like litter from far away.
We played at the beach for hours and had the whole beach to ourselves the entire time! It was incredible.
There are no facilities in Playa La Flor so come prepared.
Make sure to bring plenty of food, water, and sunscreen. Also, the only shade is in the trees near the parking lot. The sand stretches almost a quarter-mile from the shade-trees to the ocean so a beach umbrella would be extremely helpful.
The pass we bought to visit Playa La Flor was good for the entire day. We left to eat dinner and returned to the beach after dark hoping to see sea turtles nesting.
After dark, you can only access the beach accompanied by a guide. Although we didn’t book a tour, one of the rangers from the office was available to guide us for a tip.
Our guide informed us that the turtles don’t usually come to shore until after midnight. We were all tired and didn’t want to stay that long so we weren’t able to see any turtles laying eggs.
Luckily, there were some baby turtles at the office ready to be released into the ocean and our guide said we could help him. Only red lights can be used to view the nesting turtles and to release the baby turtles into the ocean. Regular lights are disruptive to the turtles. We had brought our headlamps and our guide provided us with red-tinted tape to put over the bulb.
Watching the tiny turtles make their way into the vast ocean was an incredible experience.
Playa La Flor was the best family-friendly beach we visited in Nicaragua. We loved the soft sand, limited crowds, and the amazing experience of releasing baby turtles.
Playa El Coco
Playa El Coco is yet another exquisite stretch of beach in Nicaragua near San Juan del Sur. We parked in front of La Veranera hotel and ate dinner at the hotel restaurant because we couldn’t find anywhere to park for public beach access. The food was average and overpriced compared to restaurants in San Juan Del Sur, but the locale and access to the beach made La Veranera a great spot for dinner.
If you are looking for lodging right on right on an amazing beach in Nicaragua, the few rentals backing to El Coco beach would be great options. El Coco is the kind of beach you imagine when you picture a beach vacation. The fine sand stretches between lush green cliffs on either side. The gradual slope of the sand makes El Coco the perfect beach for kids to play in the waves.
We walked the entire length of the beach between the cliffs and only met a few other people.
After dinner, we were lucky enough to enjoy another beautiful sunset.
Driving the road to Playa Hermosa is an adventure in and of itself. After turning off the main road, the seemingly unmaintained road to the beach is two miles long. Two miles of rutted mud that crosses back and forth over a river six different times! I was white-knuckled the entire ride thinking our rental car was moments away from getting swept downstream or stuck deep in the mud.
Once we arrived at Playa Hermosa all worries from the drive were instantly forgotten. The beauty of Playa Hermosa is breathtaking. Fine sand stretches for miles in each direction. Because the location is so remote, there are no visible structures. It feels like you are on a private island.
I’m not sure if it’s because we arrived early in the morning, or because it was an overcast day, but we ended up having Playa Hermosa all to ourselves for several hours. The employees at the restaurant were getting things open but other than that, there was not another person.
We explored the beach for hours. On the north end near the cliffs, we found tide-pools in the rocks. Eli loved looking for sea creatures and crabs.
I have never been to a beach with so many beautiful shells. We discovered several perfect sand dollars, something I have never before had the opportunity to find at any other beach.
Getting to Playa Hermosa
There are several transportation options to Playa Hermosa. Like us, you can drive your own car there. Right after you turn off the main road you will come to a toll station. A small fee (only a few US dollars) is collected to access the resort and beach. The other option is to arrange a ride in San Juan del Sur. We saw a truck-load of people heading to the beach on our way out. It didn’t look very comfortable but I’m sure it is affordable.
Because we paid the entrance fee on the way to the beach, we were able to use all of the facilities at the resort. It was so nice to have access to beach chairs, cabanas for shade, and bathrooms.
Nicaragua Travel Warning
My family was fortunate to have visited the beautiful beaches in Nicaragua just before the latest round of political and economic unrest erupted. The United States Department of State has now moved Nicaragua to a level three advisory – reconsider travel. This article clearly explains what’s going on in Nicaragua right now and what lead to the current political crisis.
Writing about these amazing beaches in Nicaragua makes me want to go back tomorrow. But, we’re going to wait until the political unrest is resolved before planning our next adventure to Nicaragua. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers go out to the people living there.