Bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Nicaragua's coastlines stretch for a total of 910 km (566 miles). Travelers have no shortage of beaches to explore, and the variety is immense - white sand, black sand, secluded, busy and vivacious, wild and untamed, or lined by restaurants and hotels.
There really is something for every beach bum here, whether you'd prefer to dig your toes into the sand and kick back with a beer, catch a wave, or wander for miles on deserted stretches of sand without seeing another soul. This country has got you covered. As for the best beach in Nicaragua? It's debatable, but here are ROAM's top picks.
Best Private Beach: Playa Redonda
This little-known gem is one of the prettiest beaches on Nicaragua's southern coast, with a small white sand beach lined by thick jungle on one side and crystal clear water on the other. One of the best swimming beaches in Nicaragua, the private beach and bay is located on the property of Aqua Wellness Resort, so if you're not staying there, make a lunch or dinner reservation to get onto the property and enjoy a day at the beach.
Best Protected Cove: Playa Maderas
Located just twenty minutes north of San Juan del Sur, Playa Maderas retains a feeling of a lost paradise. The white sand beach's signature shark-fin-shaped rock formations and jungle-lined cove is incredibly beautiful, has rocky expanses perfect for tide pooling, and there are a handful of bars along the beach that serve tasty ceviche, cold beer, and local fish tacos.
Playa Maderas is quickly becoming the go-to alternative for travelers looking to experience legendary surfing in Nicaragua while foregoing the party scene that San Juan del Sur is famous for. The beach here has a beginner-friendly sand-rock bottom and a consistent swell that is good for all levels.
Best Local Experience: Las Peñitas
One of the best beach towns in Nicaragua, this 5 km stretch of sand is is a well-kept secret with an authentic Nicaraguan atmosphere, and a long expanse of beach, lined by beachfront cafes and bars, the perfect spot to kick back and enjoy incredible sunsets.
Though still mainly popular with locals, Las Peñitas is becoming more popular with international travelers as word gets out about the beach's chilled-out surfing experience, suitable for most levels of surfers, depending on the size of the waves.
Best Secluded Beaches: Pearl Cays
With dazzling turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and lush palms and coastal jungle, this stunning group of islands is Nicaragua's beachy paradise at its very best. The archipelago is a group of 12 cays that offer a secluded, romantic experience, a wide diversity of land and sea life, and great swimming, snorkeling and diving.
There is limited infrastructure on the islands, though larger islands do have potable water, restaurants where food may be purchased, and small boarding houses where locals host tourists that wish to stay the night. Note that there is a military checkpoint when you leave Pearl Lagoon on the mainland - don't forget your passport!
Best for Wildlife Encounters: Playa La Flor
For those beachcombers looking for an up close and personal experience with Nicaragua's wildlife, you can't do much better than Playa La Flor, located 20 km south of San Juan del Sur. The 800-hectare reserve where the beach is located is home to an array of animals including monkeys, iguanas, possums, and a huge number of resident and migratory birds, but the white sand beach is also famous for another visitor - the olive ridley sea turtle who comes here to nest.
The endangered olive ridley sea turtles (as well as other species - hawksbill, leatherback and green sea turtles) arrive en mass between the months of July and December, with about 100 000 nests laid per year.
Best Wild Black Sand Beach: Jiquilillo
Take a break from the well worn backpacker trail and you'll find yourself in an off-the-beaten path northern paradise complete with a long and deserted stretch of clean black volcanic sand beach lined with coconut palms, water colored a deep ocean blue and a shoreline dotted with colorful fishing boats.
The beach is a great spot for visitors interested in shell collecting, with seashells in all shapes, sizes and colors regularly washing up on the sand.
Best Caribbean Flavor: Corn Islands
Nicaragua's Corn Islands, located 70 km off the country's Caribbean coast, are the absolute fulfillment of every Caribbean fantasy you can conjure, and our top pick for best beach in Nicaragua. Picture sleepy harbors, gentle ocean breezes, crystalline waters, and a very laid-back, Creole-flavored culture. There are domestic flights from Managua, which is the easiest, quickest way to get there (we recommend shelling out for the convenience), but an epic journey involving buses, boats, pangas, ferries, and long delays is also possible to get here from the mainland. Insiders tip: visit during lobster season, which generally runs July through March.
Photo: Kuba Okon Photography
Honorable Mention: Miskito Cays
Nicaragua's Miskito Cays are so wild, so untamed that there is virtually no information to be found about them anywhere. Once a hot spot for pirates, these days the archipelago is still only accessible via boat, and the islands lack infrastructure, meaning no accommodations, electricity, or potable water.
That all being said, for an adventurous traveler, the Miskito Cays are paradise. They're uninhabited, save for sleepy, sparsely populated indigenous fishing villages, so you'll most certainly often find yourself the only one enjoying spectacularly beautiful pristine white sand beaches, glassy turquoise water, exceptional snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking, bird watching, and more. This unique travel experience is not easily replicated and well worth the price of a less-than-luxurious stay and a long and somewhat bumpy boat ride to get here.
Curious if traveling to Nicaragua is safe? Read more on safety in Nicaragua here.