Three Central American Trips That Won’t Break The Bank

Minimal cost, maximum stoke, using LAX as your flight hub

With the effects of El Niño still lingering, we may see northwest swells keep receptive spots alive into spring. Once south swells start rolling through, though, you've got a whole spectrum of different spots on tap. Central America loves south swell, and it's relatively inexpensive to make a trip to the region. Whether you've got kids to feed, are paying off heaps of college debt, or you just don't want to drop a boatload of cash for your next surf trip, we can all relate to the desire for a quick, inexpensive getaway. We pulled together three Central American surf adventures that won’t break the bank, using LAX as your flight hub. Better start brushing up on that Spanish.

With varying degrees of difficulty, the lineups of Costa Rica are some of the most diverse in all of Central America. This peak being one of many options you'll have to choose from. Photo: Carey

With varying degrees of difficulty, the lineups of Costa Rica are some of the most diverse in all of Central America, this peak one of many options you’ll choose from. Photo: Carey

Costa Rica

¡Pura vida! Costa Rica has been a mainstay in the traveling surfer’s itinerary for ages, and for good reason: inexpensive flights, inexpensive living, good food, good vibes, and consistent waves. When traveling to Costa Rica, you'll likely fly into San Jose. From there, your voyage can take many directions.

Costa Rica is very user-friendly; you can find the exact type of wave that you are looking for quite easily. Interested in getting sand-bottom pits for the next five days? Bunk up near Playa Hermosa and surf the black sand banks as swell spills through. Looking to score some of the longest rides of your life? There's Boca Barranca to the north and the fabled points of the Gulfo De Dulce to the south. Both regions will have your legs burning after one lined-up wall. Searching for a place to hone your skills with the chance of catching the iconic Witches' Rock lineup in true Endless Summer II form? Head up to Tamarindo and have a gas. The coastline is littered with rights, lefts, pointbreaks, wedges, and more (renting a car to move about is crucial if your plan is to search). Also, if you're just beginning, Costa Rica has a multitude of surf camps throughout, not just limited to the above locations.

Notable Waves: Playa Hermosa, Playa Tamarindo, Boca Barranca, Gulfo De Dulce

Avg. Cost of Flight (From LAX): $350-$400

Avg. Cost of Rental Car (Economy): $20/day

Avg. Cost of Meal: $7

Avg. Cost of Gas: $4.50 per gallon

Exchange Rate: $1/ 534.67 Colón

Offshore winds and a  perfect lip line, replace Jared Mel with yourself and you're living inside a Nicaraguan dream. Photo: McInnis

Offshore winds and a perfect lip line. Replace Jared Mel with yourself and you’re living inside a Nicaraguan dream. Photo: McInnis

Nicaragua

You want offshore winds and beachbreak perfection? The Land of Offshores sees more than 300 days of such winds a year (in it’s southern half, at least), and in springtime south swells line up and detonate on a multitude of breaks that span the region. Explore the northern half of the country's coastline, which is, for the most part, uncrowded and perfect, with places like The Boom gaining notoriety in recent years. If you aren't familiar, just imagine donning trunks or a bikini to go stand in Jacuzzi-warm tubes all day. You can also go to central Nicaragua and surf places like Playa Colorado for a more established trip. Be warned: It's fairly crowded (in Nicaraguan terms). Further south, you have waves such as Popoyo, an outer reef slab with size, if you feel like pushing your vacation to the extreme.

While not necessary, surf camps are a big thing in this Central American dreamland, and make for an easy, all-inclusive surf trip to a place where you'd have to try your hardest not to get barreled. A couple camps to keep in mind are Puerto Sandino Surf Resort, Playgrounds Surf Camp, Chancletas Surf Camp, and Miramar Surf Camp. Also, knowing/meeting somebody with a boat opens up the possibilities in Nicaragua.

Notable Waves: Playa Colorado, Popoyo, Playgrounds, Miramar, The Boom

Avg. Cost of Flight (From LAX): $400-$500

Avg. Cost of Rental Car (Economy): $18/day

Avg. Cost of Meal: $6

Avg. Cost of Gas: $4.19 per gallon

Exchange Rate: $1/ 28.19 Nicaraguan Córdoba

Not much will matter once you line up one of these peelers. In fact, you'l be so absorbed in El Salvador's pointbreak perfection that everything else will go right out the window. Photo: Chachi

Not much will matter once you line up one of these long, peelers. In fact, you’ll be so absorbed in El Salvador’s pointbreak perfection that every other concern will go right out the window. Photo: Chachi

El Salvador

El Salvador is your best alternative to the never-ending right points of Mexico. Just a 30-minute drive from San Sebastian, you can be in the water at El Salvador's most famous wave, Punta Roca in La Libertad — a powerful, rippable right point with a lot of push and a proper tube on the right days. The wave and crowd is El Salvador's best impression of Lowers. The locals are friendly, but they rip, so it takes some effort to get in position for a set. This wave bred one of El Salvador's best surfers, Jimmy Rotherham.

Travel east, and you'll find yourself in a whole new environment. Contrasting the urban landscape of La Libertad, Las Flores sits where the Central American jungle meets the sea. There are right points galore, but the problem is limited coastline access in the region. Punta Las Flores is a dreamy righthander that comes out of deep water and hits the top of the point where rocks hold together a sandbar that stretches down the point for 200 yards. Sand depending, you can drop straight into a dredging tube out the back and come out for four-to-five turns on a slopey face. Line up a boat from the local panga drivers on the beach and motor over to Punta Mango, which on its day can be the best hollow point in El Salvador–a long, reeling right down a perfect rock/sand bottom.

Notable Waves: Punta Roca, Zunzal, Punta Las Flores, Punta Mango

Avg. Cost of Flight (From LAX): $400-$500

Avg. Cost of Rental Car (Economy): $16/day

Avg. Cost of Meal: $3.50

Avg. Cost of Gas: $3.07 per gallon

Exchange Rate: $1/ 8.73 Salvadoran Colón

More DEPARTURES:
The Current State of Jaws: With Billy Kemper
How to Keep a Secret: With Mikala Jones
What to Eat on a Surf Trip: With Rusty Long
Five Waves and Regions to Chase During El Niño: With Timmy Reyes
How to Prep for a Cold-Water Surf Trip: With Cyrus Sutton
Balaram Stack: Now Boarding: Catching up with a man on the move
The Perks of Traveling Alone, With Kepa Acero: Acero shows it can pay off to fly solo
Taylor Knox's Top 5 Destinations: Mapping out his surf trip to-do list
Perspectives On P.O.V. With Mikala Jones: How the D.I.Y. documenting of surf travel has changed the game