Las Peñitas is kind of a gem, but the thing that makes it really stand above the rest of the beach towns, is it’s close proximity to León, a colonial city only 30 minutes away by chicken bus. As far as beach towns go, if you’re going to SJDS, then you’re going to deal with lots of people. If you go to one of the more remote beach towns scattered along the coast, you’re going to pay the high prices.
To visit Las Peñitas on a budget was great because we could grab a few items from León to help save money and it wasn’t unreasonable to just go for two days because of how accessible it was. I’m shocked at how few people seem to take advantage of the León to Las Peñitas combo.
There’s surf, plenty of beach front bars and restaurants, a beautiful estuary and nature reserve, affordable accommodation, and even places to volunteer your time if you feel so inclined.
However, there was only one decent swimming beach, elsewhere the waves were more choppy and sporadic. So, if you’re solely going for surf, I stand by my suggestion for Playa Santana. And if you really want a place that you can gracefully walk into the water and feel like a mermaid splashing in the mellow waves, then I stand by my suggestion for Playa Gigante.
But, if you’re traveling with a small time frame or doing a long distance trip and just want a good feel for city life and beach life in Nicaragua, then I highly suggest heading first to León and then heading to Las Peñitas for a couple days. Do like we did, leave the bulk of your bags at your hostel in León (Lazy Bones Hostel had a closet that seemed reserved for this) and just take a weekend bag to the beach.
What to do
Surf & yoga retreat anyone? Before you sigh and think ‘I wish I could afford something like that,’ listen up. Buena Onda Surf & Yoga is offering incredibly affordable half day retreats! You receive a 75 minute surf lesson with a local instructor and a 75 minute relaxing Vinyasa/Restorative fusion yoga class for only $30! This includes the board rental, yoga mat, and light refreshments. This new operation is run by an awesome couple—Lizzy, a lovely friend of mine who I met at InanItah and Jorge, a local guy born and raised in Las Peñitas.
Casa Verde is a non-profit that works directly with the community and are working mainly right now to instill a recycling program in Las Peñitas. Lizzy and Jorge of Buena Onda Surf & Yoga both volunteer with Casa Verde, so go check out their half day retreat and ask them directly about volunteering with Casa Verde. The non-profit also offers local excursions in the estuary and to the nature reserve. You can even request Jorge to be your boat guide too!
On A Whim is owned by a woman who offers the space for people selling handmade items to set up as well as space to give classes. We went to a yoga class there taught by Lizzy for only $3. I was surprised at how often I was hearing $8+ for classes in Nicaragua so I highly recommend taking advantage of these prices in Las Peñitas.
Take in the beautiful sunsets. The beach offers plenty of restaurant and bar options to take in the view with an ice cold Toña in hand. My favorite spot for this was Coco Bar because of it’s balcony.
Kayak to the nature reserve. You can rent kayaks for a reasonable price from people right by the estuary to kayak yourself to the nature reserve if you don’t feel like going with a tour.
Where to eat and drink
On Saturdays and Sundays, there are often times people set up selling cheap street eats but there isn’t much of a schedule for this. Just something to look out for and seize if you are so lucky.
Simple is just that, simple. It’s a cute cafe with a lot of attention to detail. It’s one of those places that makes you want to take a picture of your coffee set up and your grilled nutella and banana sandwiches. They also had actual fresh juice. It’s beachfront and perfect.
Comedor Bertha is the spot for a nice seafood dinner. It’s a good walk from the main part of town. Probably 30 minutes or so, but there are bicycle taxis available if you want. Ceviche, grilled fish, fried fish, there menu was actually huge. And shocker, it took forever, so don’t go too hungry.
El Pirata is the bar most highly recommended to us from our friend Lizzy. They are located on the beach, they do cheap bottle service, and our bartender actually ground the ice for us for our Caipirinhas. This girl was stoked!
Playa Roca is a casual beach restaurant. The service is slow, the music is a little loud sometimes, but they had cheap, decent tacos for 100 cordoba. And a balcony that we had to ourselves every time we went. It’s also right in front of the best swimming beach, and ya know, location, location, location.
Where to stay
Caracolito is where we stayed recommended by Lizzy and it was fantastic. It’s a small new hostel, super clean, and the design was very unique. Dorms were $8, privates were $22, and privates with a bathroom were $28. There was outdoor seating and hammocks scattered about the place. And it was right by our favorite sunset spot, Coco Bar.
Bigfoot and Surf Turtle Lodge are the party spots. Bigfoot is on the north side of the beach, rather far from the actual town. Surf Turtle Lodge is in Poneloya which is even further north than Bigfoot. We thought about staying at the surf turtle lodge as it did look really nice and was fairly remote. But, we passed since we had friends that lived in town.
How long to stay?
This is one of those places that you can see it all in a weekend trip or even during a day trip. However, if you’re looking to settle into a quiet beach town and immerse yourself into a community (and perhaps volunteer with Casa Verde), this is definitely a place I could see myself staying for a few weeks. There’s more going on here than in Playa Santana where we stayed for a whole month!