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Managua’s too dodgy, San Juan Del Sur’s too party, Granada’s too expensive, León’s too hot! Common gripes we’ve heard from fellow travel lovers in Nicaragua. Do not stress! We have your private paradise covered. It’s nestled away in a short but sweaty bus ride from León – welcome to Las Peñitas, Nicaragua!
Craig and I spent five weeks living in this paradise for free! By free I mean we offered our skills in exchange for our keep and one meal so I can say with confidence that here is a local’s guide to Nicaragua’s best-kept secret! Whether you are here for a day trip from León or taking a break from the backpacking trail, Las Peñitas has lots to offer.
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Las Peñitas Beach
Las Peñitas is a playa, approximately 5 km of sand with lots of beachfront cafes and bars for you to enjoy the views of the lapping waves and incredible sunsets. The Marina is the best spot to catch the sunrise and the rocks, where the surfers in Nicaragua hangout, is the hotspot for the sunset.
Locals take over one side of the beach during the weekends and then leave for the city on Sundays. They tend to stay in the sheltered hammocks, away from tourist accommodation options. It is a real shame but you can expect a lot of trash left on the beach post weekends. Why not do a bit of a beach clean?
There is a small shop (pulperia) which sells candy, laundry powder and fruit until it sells out on the main road just before the beach.
Las Peñitas Surf
Many surfers in Nicaragua head to Las Peñitas for a tranquilo surfing trip. The quality of the waves varies from day to day. Think you’re a good surfer? Watch out, the local kids will put your skills to shame! They are extremely talented.
The waves of Las Peñitas are wild. They make for a fun afternoon jumping in them, over them, and through them. Hold on to your bikini bottoms ladies, one swipe and the sea has claimed them!
- Surfboard rental: $6 half day / $10 full day / Lesson: $20
Horse Riding in Paradise
There are many four legged friends in Las Peñitas, the street dogs are plentiful and like most Nicaraguan towns, pretty well looked after. The larger of the four-legged animal kingdom, horses, are available for rent. With a guide, horse riders will trot along the sandy shores with the wind in the hair.
- Horse Riding: $14 approx.
Fancy seeing cute turtles? This is often possible through a trip to the mangroves of Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado!
- Mangrove Trip: $12.50 (short) $25 (long) approx.
Marina and Fishing
Las Peñitas has a beautiful marina where you can watch the fishermen set up their boats at sunset and return with the catch of the day late morning. Travellers are also invited to take a fishing trip with the local fishermen!
- Fishing: $40 per hour / three hours (1 – 4 people)
Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua
The number one thing to do in Nicaragua is volcano boarding. This is when you hike up an active volcano and sledge down it. It’s thrilling and it happens close to Las Peñitas. Most visitors stay in the city of León and take a day trip to Cerro Negro volcano from there but if you would prefer to set up the seaside you can still take the bus into the city and catch a day tour like this one here.
Restaurants in Las Peñitas
So much choice to meet every budget!
Budget: Carmen’s Restaurant, which is actually Carmen’s house with tables and chair set up next to her sleeping husband in the hammock and the friendly parrot! Fish selected from the fridge or meat, rice, and salad for 80 ($2.82) – 100 cordobas.
Healthy: Simple Beach Lodge have kick-ass chefs who rustle up healthy wraps, baguettes (90 / $3.18 – 120 cordobas), a popular and pretty cheese board, as well as fruit smoothies. Breakfast (90 cordobas) of pancakes, eggs, fruit, or chocobanana (dessert for desayuno) is available from 07:30.
Nice environment: Bomalu is the perfect escape from the midday sun. Salad, sandwiches, and some specials including paella are available but the main attraction are the hammocks!
Burgers: Canadian run, The Lazy Turtle, offers a variety of burgers including a Canadian special (approx. 200 / $7.06 -300 cordobas)
Pizza: Keeping it Canadian, a very nice Canadian couple run Dulce Mareas which offers pizzas (approx. 100 / $3.53 – 200 cordobas) and specials throughout the week. They have a fancy coffee machine too. The brownie and ice cream is not to be missed.
Marina View: Barca de Oro aka ‘the French restaurant’ has strong WiFi as well as an incredible BBQ every Saturday. Nice view of the marina too.
Ambience: Sua Grill & Chill serves food, cocktails and live music on a Saturday night. Bliss!
Plus many more waiting for you discover them! Be wary of ‘Nicatime’ some restaurants have a ‘relaxed’ concept of time!
Stop! Hammock time, Bomalu, Las Peñitas
Partying in Las Peñitas
Las Peñitas is more paradise than party but you won’t go without choice in regards to bars at the playa Las Peñitas.
- Simple Beach Lodge, grab a Toñya (30/60 cordobas) and watch the sun lower then smash into lots of shades, smothering the sky.
- Coco Surf, this simple beach hut bar is in stills so you can enjoy the sunset from up high and daiquiris are only 60 cordobas / $2.12, half the price of the popular Playa Roca!
- Big Foot Hostel buses in city guests during the day to chill out by their seafront hostel and bar. Good tunes, nice backpackers.
How to Get to Las Peñitas
In Leon, head to the mercadito (just outside of central Leon) and queue for the chicken bus at the side of the market. The journey takes around thirty minutes and costs 14 cordobas / 49 cents. The bus will take you through Poneloya first of all and then down Las Peñitas. In order of hotels, cafes, and bars mentioned above from the start of Las Peñitas
- Bomalu Las Peñitas
- Playa Roca
- Simple Beach Lodge (two surf shops next door)
- Coco Surf (surf shop)
- Carmen’s Restaurant
- Dulce Mareas
- The Lazy Turtle
- Barca de Oro
A taxi from Leon to Las Peñitas should cost USD $10. Agree on this beforehand and make sure that it is for two people (or how many is in your group) and not just one. Find out the process in full here.
Las Peñitas Accommodation
There are hotels in Las Peñitas as well as hostels and private rentals. Many of the hotels also serve food so holidaymakers can pop in for meals without being paid guest or swing by for a swift drink (and use of WiFi!) I would highly recommend staying or dining at a hotel with hammocks. You really can’t beat swinging an afternoon away reading a book before the sun sets.
Las Peñitas hotels
- Barca de Oro is located by the bus turning circle on the marina. It has private rooms and dorm beds, serves food – the weekly BBQ is popular.
- Simple Beach Lodge is Playa Roca’s quieter neighbour. This clean and neat boutique hotel is one of the best-rated hotels in Las Peñitas on Booking.com.
Las Peñitas hostels
Mano a Mano is an eco-hostel made from recycled materials which is very in keeping with the Las Peñitas vibe. The hostel offers four dorms, two for eight people or one for five, which is great for group travel. Rooms have fans and beds have much-needed mosquito nets. You can charge your devices in the lockers.
There is a communal kitchen with a fridge (do your shopping before you leave León). Cocktails are also served onsite.
Las Peñitas to Leon
Day-trippers should begin to leave around 4pm – 5pm, the chicken buses run every 30 – 40 minutes but at no set time, listen out for the horn tooting it’s way along the road. The bus turns and stops outside Barca de Oro at the marina so if you hear it toot as it heads towards the turning point you know you have a couple of minutes to run out to the bus stop on the opposite side of the road.
It’s not uncommon for passing locals to ask if you want a lift, they’ll tell you how much a taxi costs and then barter. We were ripped off and left stranded on the road to Leon when we refused the new amount, a passing taxi soon picked us up for 20 cordobas each!
Best Time to Visit Las Peñitas
Like most of Nicaragua, the dry season is a more appealing time to visit Las Peñitas. Weekends, especially Sundays, are busier as locals from Leon leave the hot city in search of nature’s air con at the beach. There are still stretches of untouched sand on Sundays, so don’t be put off if that is the only day you can visit.