You’ve already got some very good advice here, so I’ll just add my dos centavos. For your surfing, I would recommend Popoyo more than Maderas. There is a beginner’s break right in front of Magnific Rock and just to the north is Popoyo reef, but it’s not super sharp or anything. If you go out on the higher tides you’ll be fine. Plus if you are coming in January, the surf won’t be real big anyway… Now if you do want the option to go to San Juan del Sur, then Maderas is the call. I’ve dropped folks off at Hulakai and when they came back to stay with us again they said it was really nice. There is a little bit of a dining scene at Maderas whereas while Popoyo/Playa Guasacate has fewer restaurants albeit some much better and more international flavors then in past years.
For your transportation budget, you might save a bit if you stay at Maderas as you can bus to SJdS then take a taxi which won’t cost too much, max $20 as it’s only fifteen minutes away.
That’s it from me, have a great vacay!
Cheers, Mike @ El Portón Verde, Managua