Traveling To and From Nicaragua During COVID

Here are my recommendations for traveling to and from Nicaragua during COVID. This guide covers flying in and out of Managua. Many of the same tips will also apply to other entry and exit points.

Standard Disclaimer: Circumstances are changing regularly. Make sure you double check the latest restrictions, requirements, etc. regarding travel to and from Nicaragua.

For context, here is my specific case:

  • Traveling between the US and Nicaragua
  • Traveling during the summer of 2021
  • Going to Nicaragua for a surf trip

Part 1: Entering Nicaragua

As of summer of 2021, the testing requirements are as follows:

Nicaraguan Government Requirements

  • Negative PCR Test – The test needs to specifically be PCR. Other tests like the antigen test are not accepted.
  • Administered within 72 hours of arrival – Your test must have been administered (when your nose gets swabbed) within 72 hours of your arrival. You can’t do it too far in advance. Depending on your airline’s requirements – see next section – this might mean you have a very small testing window.
  • Must be from a valid testing lab – My airline specifically stated that the results must include a “seal from the lab” and the “signature of a physician”. Basically, it needs to look legitimate. A simple printout with text-only will likely get you denied at the border.

Here’s my actual test, which allowed me in to Nicaragua. I’ve highlighted the important parts.

When we arrived in Managua and before we went through customs, everyone’s covid results were checked by what appeared to be a physician. From my understanding, they are checking for the date and time, a negative result, and to make sure it looks official (not counterfeit). I have heard from non-verified sources that people have been turned away at the border for not having official lab tests with them.

To be sure, I booked my test with a lab that specifically caters to travelers. They reassured me that the test will suffice for entry into Nicaragua and that it will have their letterhead + a physicians signature.

Your airline will also check your test before you board the plane, so if you make it on to the plane in the first place you’re probably good.

Airline Requirements

Airline requirements may be different from Nicaraguan requirements, so it’s important to double check these. My airline required the following:

  • 36hr Requirement – I had to submit my test results via email 36hrs or more before my flight. This means at least 1.5 days before your departure time you need to send in your results.
  • Printed Results – I also had to have a copy of my results printed. This was checked at the checkin desk and again before boarding.
  • Survey – I also had to complete a digital survey submitting my basic information such as passport number, name, etc.

Note: I flew on Avianca. I’m sure other airlines have different procedures. Check with your airline to see what their requirements are.

Takeaways & Tips for Entering Nicaragua

  1. Double check your math – Between the 72hr requirement for the Nicaraguan government and the 36hr for my airline, I had a tight window of when I could get my test and get the results back so I could send it to the airline in time. Because of this I had to find a lab that guaranteed results in 24hr or less.
  2. Double check with your lab – Make sure that the results you get back will look official and meet any specific requirements your airline states. Most testing labs dedicated to travel should meet your needs, but I suggest calling to double check before paying for your test.
  3. Print your results – Many labs offer digital results, some of which are even in an app and have a QR code. Regardless of what your airline states, I recommend taking 2 copies of your test results so you have them on hand. While this might get you by for your checkin at the airport, in Managua they physically signed off on everyone’s test results when I entered.

Part 2: Leaving Nicaragua

As of the summer of 2021, the recommendations from Nicaragua for travelers headed to the United States is to get a COVID test in Managua before departure. This method works, but there is a much easier and more cost effective way of getting the results you need to re-enter the US.

Note: Double check restrictions for your final destination and airline. Restriction and regulations are changing regularly. This resource is helpful for checking regulations and was recommended by my airline.

Requirements: You must have proof of negative COVID-19 test results. You must have the test within 72 hours of your arrival.

A Few Key Differences

  • Boarding check only – My results were only checked at check-in and during boarding. I didn’t need them once in the US.
  • Timing – You still need to get your test within 72hrs, but I did not have to submit it to my airline ahead of time.
  • Test type – Multiple test types were accepted (this turns out to be key in saving time and money).

Getting COVID Test in Nicaragua

You can meet all of these requirements by going to the one and only location in Nicaragua where they provide COVID testing. I have a close friend who used this method and he reported it was relatively easy (but it does require $150 and for most travelers and overnight stay in Managua).

To get a COVID test in Nicaragua you can only go through the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health. The testing is only carried out at one location and at only during certain hours:

  • Location: National Center for Diagnosis and Reference (CNDR) 
  • Time: from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

The fee is $150 dollars. Acceptable payments:

  • Cash
  • Receipt from a deposit into the specific “Banpro” account

You must also have proper identification and your itinerary.

You can get the specifics at the US Embassy in Nicaragua website.

Before you commit to this method, see if the alternative described below will work for you.

Using An At-Home Test In Nicaragua

This is the test method I used. While I have not tried the other method, based on the logistics it’s likely I saved myself a lot of time and money by taking the at-home test instead of going to the Nicaragua Ministry of Health testing site.

Since the US accepts the antigen test (as opposed to only the PCR test) you can utilize and at-home test. This test comes in a small box and you administer it yourself with the guidance of a proctor via an online portal. You get your results in about 15 minutes and an official test report about 5 minutes after that (in my experience).

Key Considerations
  • Buying the test – These tests are only sold inside Nicaragua second-hand. I don’t recommend trying to find one once you get to Nicaragua. Instead, buy one before you go and take it with you.
  • Taking the test – You might want to take 2 tests with you just in case you get a false positive. To successfully take the test you need your phone or a computer, wifi, and an original, unopened test kit.
  • Showing results – The test I took gave me my results in both a PDF and via their app. I recommend printing your results, but I was able to show them the PDF on my computer since I didn’t have access to a printer.

You can buy a pack of 6 Emed At-Home Tests for $150. If you have extras upon leaving Nicaragua, it’s likely you’ll be able to find someone happy to take them off your hands.

There are unconfirmed rumors that at-home tests are being confiscated at the airport. This isn’t a surprise, as the Nicaraguan government benefits from having the one and only testing site with a $150 fee. I recommend having a backup plan in case your tests do get confiscated, stolen, or are otherwise unusable for some reason.

If you have any additional tips, recommendations, or updates, feel free to leave a comment so future travelers to and from Nicaragua can be as prepared as possible.

How To Get To Playa Colorado, Nicaragua (2021)

Traveling to Playa Colorado is not difficult, but does take some coordination. There are a few different routes to get there. The main two are:

  1. Fly into Managua, Nicaragua – then take a ~3hr car ride to Hacienda Iguana
  2. Fly into Liberia, Costa Rica – then cross into Nicaragua via car or bus, then catch a ride to Hacienda Iguana

Accessing Playa Colorado

To make a proper decision about how to get yourself to Playa Colorado, it may help to understand how it’s laid out. Because it is within the gates of the larger Hacienda Iguana property, you can’t just stay in the general area.

Playa Colorado (the beach) can be accessed by:

  • Car or on foot from Hacienda Iguanas
  • Boat

If you’re staying at the resort to the north, Rancho Santana, you can walk, bike or drive to Playa Colorado, but it isn’t very close.

If you plan to surf Colorados more than once, your best bet (by far) is to stay within Hacienda Iguana.

Hacienda Iguana

The Hacienda Iguana area is a gated and secured “ranch”.

The property is mainly made up of:

  • A 9 hole golf course
  • A handful of 2-4 story condo complexes
  • A few small restaurants and mini-marts
  • Scattered privately owned houses (mostly concentrated by the Play Colorado beach)

If you aren’t staying at the ranch, or don’t know someone who is, it will be difficult for you to get in.

If you’ve locked down a spot inside Hacienda Iguana… getting there is your next challenge.

Getting to Hacienda Iguana from Managua

Your best bet is to arrange a ride from the airport straight to your place in Hacienda Iguana ahead of time. In 2021 the price range was $100-160 USD depending on how big of a car you need. A sedan is on the lower end and a large van is on the higher end.

You should be able to arrange transportation through whoever you booked a place with. AirBnB’s and other accommodations are used to helping people with transport. Make sure you clearly communicate your flight information, number of people, board bag situation, etc.

You’re looking at a 2.5-3hr drive depending on traffic and how aggressive your driver is.

Private car from Managua to Hacienda Iguana is 2.5-3hrs

Alternatively, you can take public transportation (this consists of local buses that are old repurposed American school buses). This will be significantly cheaper but much harder to navigate and much less comfortable. You’ll likely have to do at least 2 bus transfers and depending on your time of arrival, this may require an overnight stay in an intermediary city. Doing all of this with boards increases the inconvenience. Even if you’re looking for an unusual adventure, I’d still recommend saving the public transportation system for another day when…

  • You haven’t already been traveling all day
  • You don’t have boards with you
  • You aren’t going as far

Getting to Hacienda Iguana from Liberia Costa Rica

This path requires a little bit more logistics, but the majority of people I met at Colorados had opted for this route over Managua (mostly because of COVID testing requirements – see next section for details).

Getting to Hacienda Iguanas from Costa Rica requires the following steps:

  1. Fly into Costa Rica
  2. Get a COVID test in Costa Rica (subject to change – check restrictions before traveling)
  3. Get a ride to the border
  4. Go through customs
  5. Get another ride from the border to Hacienda Iguana (about 1.5hrs)

While the drive is shorter, you have to factor in steps 1-4 as well… which ads a fair amount of planning and logistics for you. You’re most likely looking at arranging two different drivers, and a post-landing COVID test (plus waiting for the results).

There are services that will help you arrange this whole process. You should ask your housing contact for help if you’re considering this route. They will be able to advise you on logistics, pricing, etc.

COVID Considerations

You definitely need to plan ahead and be careful about your logistics when it comes to COVID and traveling to Nicaragua. Making a mistake in this aspect of your travel might cost you your trip… here’s a full guide on how to navigate COVID for travel to Nicaragua.

Surf Report Data

Understanding where your surf report data comes from can help you find better waves by improving your ability to:

  1. Understand what the surf report really means
  2. Evaluate how accurate it is (and how much to rely on it)
  3. Make decisions on when and where to surf

Where Does Swell Data Come From?

Data Source: Ocean Buoys

Swell size and period data comes primarily from buoys out at sea.

This is what an ocean buoy looks like:

Station 46050 – STONEWALL BANK – 20NM West of Newport, OR

There are hundreds of buoys around the world. A large portion of them are placed and maintained by NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There is a dedicated program for managing the buoys and the data that comes from them – the National Data Buoy Center.

Map of NOAA Buoys

NOAA Buoy Data

How Does A Buoy Measure Swell Height?

Ocean buoys are equipped with various sensors that help them capture data about the sea conditions around them.

The two sensors used for capturing swell height are:

  1. Accelerometers (Most Common) – measure up and down movement as waves roll past them.
  2. Water Pressure Sensor Arrays (Less Common) – measure water pressure as waves move over them.

The movement of the buoy also captures sea surface elevation which can be used to estimate swell height.

A simplified diagram of ocean swell (waves).
Ocean buoys move up and down as waves pass, measuring the swell height.

Buoy data comes from NOAA in raw format that looks like this:

As you can see there is much more data than just wave height (WVHT). Main Data Points:

  • Time
  • Wind Speed and Direction
  • Water Temperature
  • Swell
    • Height
    • Period
    • Direction

Wave-Related Data

Example of wave data from NOAA buoy.

This data gets pulled in by surf reports and translated into a report that is “surfer friendly”.

Some of this information is just raw data from the most relevant buoy, formatted and visualized in a way that is relevant to surfers.

Surf forecasts, however, are the result of a combination of data points that are evaluated to come up with a prediction of surf conditions for a specific area.

How do surf reports combine data?

Surfline is famous for its LOLA wave forecast system and is a great example of how websites like surfline turn buoy data into surf reports.

LOLA is a proprietary model created by surfline. It is essential an algorithm that takes in various data points and provides a surf and swell forecast. The main data points it uses are buoy data and bathymetry (ocean floor contours that affect how waves break at different beaches).

The forecasting algorithms of services like Surfline are a bit of a black box. The only information the company reveals is that certain data goes in and a “reliable” surf forecast comes out. It isn’t clear how many buoy data sources they use or how they calculate it… however, I do have some modeling experience as part of what I studied in college (GIS), so I may be able to shed a little more light on this.

How surf reports like LOLA are generated:

What happens in the algorithm filter?

  • Data is weighted – some data is more important of a contributor to swell height and quality than others.
  • Data is calculated – some calculations are made to estimate the outcome of multiple swell types merging together. Data points like swell height, speed, and changes in conditions over time can feed calculations to extrapolate the life of a swell into the future.
  • Some metrics are converted – some metrics may be converted into surfer-friendly terminology.

The outcome is a surf report that is often as simple as a color and surf size range by the day.

Knowing that there are so many different variables can help in several ways:

  1. Forecasts change – you should view forecasts as dynamic, rather than an accurate prediction of what will come in the next few days. Just like tracking a hurricane, meteorologists may have a good idea of where it will go and how strong it will be, but there are so many variables that things can change at any moment.
  2. Accuracy is different by location – some places like the coasts of the US have a large amount of buoy data to evaluate, while other locations only have a few. So some surf breaks will have more accurate forecasts.
  3. Local factors – there are other local factors that influence surf. A surf report may give you the swell rating, but you also have to take into account tides and wind conditions.

How I use surf reports

I use surf reports as a data point into my own “Filter”. By combining my own local knowledge of surf breaks with a regional forecast, I can usually have a fairly good idea of what breaks in my area will be best.

As a general predictor for swell events. If I know a swell is generating at a particular size and from a particular direction I will change the surf spots I go to check. I know for my region:

  • Certain swell angles make surfing in the northern breaks better
  • Certain swell periods break better on reefs rather than beach breaks
  • Some swell sizes are too big for certain breaks but very good for others

How and when to read buoy data

Welcome To Surf Economics

Welcome to Surf Economics (AKA Stoke-o-nomics) – Please read before continuing…

This website is for surfers who want to increase their stoke.

Definition of “Stoke”: If you don’t know, this website isn’t for you. Go back to trolling YouTube or Facebook and come back after you’ve been bitten by the bug.

I do an economic evaluation of surfing to find ways to increase stoke levels. Then I share them with you here.

The main things I focus on to help you increase your stoke levels are:

  • Surf Quality – Getting more pleasure out of surf sessions
  • Surf Quantity – Fitting more surf time into your life
  • Propensity for Stoke – What? Other stuff that can impact your stoke

Most of us live our lives and make decisions based on stoke-o-nomic principles and the Stoke Level equation:

(Surf Quality * Surf Quantity) / Propensity for Stoke = Stoke Level

Let’s break it down so we can understand why we really surf and find ways to keep the stoke alive.