The Beaches of Tola, Nicaragua

Ten kilometers west of Rivas is the agricultural community of Tola, gateway to the steadily improving shore road and a string of lonely, beautiful beaches that make up 30 kilometers of Pacific shoreline. The word is out and land prices are rising, but the beaches west of Tola are still far less developed than San Juan del Sur and retain some of their fishing village character. Tola is famous in Nicaragua as the subject of a common expression: “Te dejó esperando como la novia de Tola” (“He left you waiting like the bride of Tola”), which recalls the real-life soap opera of a young woman named Hillary, who, on the day of her wedding, was left at the altar at Belén while the groom, Salvador Cruz, married his former lover, Juanita.

In Tola proper, many travelers have stayed and worked with Doña Loida (an influential Sandinista leader, elected mayor in 2004) of Asociación Esperanza del Futuro (on the road that leads from the park to the baseball field/basketball court, about 100 meters past the baseball field, tel. 505/2563-0482), who can help arrange cheap room and board from a week to six months. Her foundation provides educational workshops to local campesinos (country folk) as well as a library, sewing co-op, and gardens; classes in guitar, agriculture, herbal medicine, and computers are offered. There are a few decent eateries in Tola, the most popular of which is Lumby’s.

Playa Gigante. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.
Playa Gigante. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Playa Gigante

North up the coast from San Juan del Sur, and an hour outside Rivas, Gigante is the first beach you come to after Tola and is named after the Punta Pie de Gigante (The Giant’s Foot), the rock formation you’ll see on the left side of the beach. The community of Gigante consists of a beautiful crescent beach; a few dozen homes occupied by about 800 locals, mostly fishermen and people working in the nearby resorts; several restaurants and hotels; and a few surf camps. Surfing has had a big impact on the community’s economic situation, and it’s continuing to grow. Get here before it’s so developed that it’s unrecognizable.

If you want to spend a week or more learning Spanish on the beach, this is a great place to do it. The beachside Pie de Gigante Spanish School (tel. 505/2560-1450 or 505/8652-7502, provides one-on-one lessons with teachers who have 10+ years of experience. They can organize a homestay immersion with a local family ($100 pp, minimum 1-week stay, includes private room and three meals a day).

Avoid this beach during Semana Santa, when it gets crowded with locals who camp out on the beach, get phenomenally drunk, and run cockfights.

Getting There and Away

It’s easier than ever to get to this beach town, but it’s still a trek. Take the Las Pilas bus from Rivas at 2pm daily (except Sun.). It returns at 7:30am and 3pm. Otherwise, take the Las Salinas bus from Tola or Rivas ($1.50) and get off at the first entrance to Gigante (30-40 minutes). You’ll have to walk a sweaty 40 minutes, or hitch about six kilometers to reach the beach. Taxis on this road are few and far between, but anyone driving a pickup will probably let you hop in back. You could also contract a taxi from Rivas for $25, not bad if you can fill the cab.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.