One of the great perks of living in Granada, Nicaragua is being able to effortlessly head out to a beautiful, family beach for the day (or more luxuriously for the entire weekend) without going out of your way to do so. When volcanoes and their swimming holes just won’t do and you need fresh seafood, beachcombing and surfable waves, in a few hours drive Granadinos can be entertaining the family all day long in the warm, healing waves of the Pacific Ocean.
Most travelers will want to head to San Juan del Sur at least once to see why it is always at the top of the tourist billboard. San Juan is known for its brilliant, blue bay with fantastic eclectic restaurants, all manner of hotels and spectacular beach home rentals. I also have loved San Juan de Sur for those very same reasons through the years, but there is a lot more out there to see along the Pacific coast that can provide a more intimate, Nicaraguan immersion experience for families in the water.
If your family is looking for a more personal family beach, there are quite a few small, quiet beaches that feel almost private just to the north of San Juan. Our family recently stayed over at nearby Playa Marsella, about 25 minutes away and although it wasn’t the perfect beach for us, I know that a lot of Granada families love staying at Playa Marsella for a family weekend beach escape.
What I did like about Playa Marsella is its jaw dropping, breathtaking beauty which really has to be seen to be believed. Marsella is a small, cozy beach surrounded by cliffs on both sides. There are luxury home rentals all down the front of the beach with the popular Marsella Beach Front Resort nestled in the south side corner of the beach.
The problem with recommending Marsella as a family beach is that I didn’t think that it was safe enough, at least in the time that we were there. The beach collects not only jelly fish that leave thorns in your skin (Aiden was stung twice in the first hour), but it also has stingrays that camp out at the bottom of the water near the shore (this requires you to shuffle your feet in the sand to give them fair warning) and a bask of crocodiles in the estuary that leads to the bay.
The jellyfish are perhaps not always there, because I know families that have never seen them on their trips to Marsella. But I have also met families that travel with vinegar in their beach bags to Marsella to take out the sting from a jelly fish encounter and know how to use a credit card swiped against the skin to eject the almost invisible yet quite painful thorns that jelly fish can leave on the skin’s surface.
The crocodiles in the estuary have an interesting reputation. They are a protected species in Nicaragua and are legally at home in Marsella but depending on who you talk to, they may or may not even exist at all. Many visiting families have been told that there is only one crocodile that is a sort of pet that hangs out in the water by Restaurante Rancho Marsella that overlooks the estuary; that story is probably told to best keep tourists happy.
But if you speak Spanish and you find an honest waiter like I did, you’re going to get the real account. In actuality, there is a large bask of crocodiles in this space that are considered to be dangerous until proven otherwise and are avoided by locals. The crocodiles are known to leave the estuary during the dry season to head out to the beach when the water is low. If you look closer at the water, you can count up their numbers by the rings their breaths are pulsing out at the water’s surface (I counted at least 15).
I love a great adventure, but I am all about safe adventures for families in Nicaragua. Yes, we enjoyed the sunset, the awesome sopa de mariscos and the beautiful horseback ride to over to Playa Maderas- but going to the beach for us is about really enjoying the water. We have so many beaches to choose from where we don’t have to worry about anyone getting hurt by local fauna.
But if you are still inclined to go…
Getting there: You will have to travel over a bumpy, dirt road complete with a low grade river crossing to arrive, so think well about what vehicle you want to rent, if you are picking up a car for the trip. Beware of getting stuck in mud after a big rain! The same road that takes you out to Playa Marsella will also take you on to beautiful Playa Maderas (popular with surfers).
Where to stay: If you stay at Marsella Beach Front Hotel make sure to get a room that faces the beach! An extra ten bucks gets you more room space, a deck with hammocks and direct access to that spectacular view of Bahia Marsella.
There are also beautiful home rentals like Casa Kawama on the beach (3 bedrooms, sleeps 9), or Casa Milor also right on the beach (4 bedrooms, sleeps 8), rustic hideaway Mar de la Vida (1 bedroom sleeps 4), or Sun Surf Sand canopy house, if you want to enjoy a more relaxed stay with your family in your own private nest.
Things to try: easy going horseback riding to Playa Maderas (1 hour about $10, arrange at Restaurante Rancho Marsella with Erick Tours), Surfing at Playa Maderas (boards and lessons available on site), and disk golf at near by Marsella Valley Nature Center just off the main road arriving to the beach.
Playa Masachapa – a great beach for kids!
On the other hand, I can easily recommend beautiful Playa Masachapa for families, especially with small children. Masachapa is not a foreigner’s beach; it is really the choice beach for Nicaraguans who are often not very strong swimmers and so for the same reason it also works well for little tikes who are emerging swimmers, as well.
The beach entry is extensive: you can walk and walk and still only be about waist high in the water. You will find tide pools everywhere to explore and use as tiny swimming pools for kids that like to camp out with beach gear.
Maschapa is also a very active fishing port that affords great views into the fisherman’s life: early morning catches being brought in to market, as well as the distant serene lights of their moonlighting boats on the night’s horizon.
Don’t miss out on ordering up those fresh harvests for your own table. You can buy that day’s catch of shrimp, lobster, and corvina by the pound and have it delivered to your house for an awesome family lunch or dinner (or breakfast when you realize that you want to eat that well all the time).
When you have ocean foods that fresh, you will start to question the very nature of your life, the food you normally eat and why in the world you haven’t already moved to a quiet, gastronomical paradise like Masachapa (just kidding Granada, you know I love you).
We stayed at a home rental which is off the general market, but there are spectacular homes such as Belliview Beachfront House (5 bedrooms, sleeps 15), Montelimar Beach House (between Montelimar and Masachapa: 5 bedrooms, sleeps 10),and Villa Mar Beach House (between Montelimar and Masachapa: 3 bedrooms, sleeps 8)- lots of great options for a single family or even a few families spending the weekend together.
If anyone in your group likes a more powerful wave or a deeper beach, walk down to the south of Playa Masachapa (or drive around) and you will make it to Playa Pochomil which also has a more powerful current and is a popular surfing destination.
Getting there: Masachapa is located to the north of Granada closer to Managua (about 45 minutes out from the capital) and driving there is a pleasure: the landscape and nearby pueblos are scenic and the roads are solidly paved and safe.
La La Nica Land Moments