If you haven’t heard of Popoyo, then you’re probably not a surfer. Tucked on the south-west Pacific coast, a 2.5 hour drive from Managua, it’s one of the most accessible waves in the country. No wonder then, besides a brilliant break that it’s fairly popular. Which is why we’d originally only booked to stay here 2 nights.
Although a popular place, it’s still very under-developed, much like the rest of the country. There may be a number of bodies in the water during peak hours of the day, however the long stretches of sand are otherwise pleasantly quiet and the natural beauty and rugged farming and fishing cultures still dominate the region. This is totally not what we were expecting. And we loved it!
There are new surf camps and restaurants popping up along the 10km stretch between Playa Santana and Playa Popoyo as we speak; but unlike Las Penitas further north, or Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka, the developments are not along a “strip” or directly on the beach (as long as you don’t stay in Popoyo village). So as this area does develop, it should still retain some of it’s beautiful features and be less over-run with back-packers.
Besides loving the area, we lucked out with the weather. Travelling during the rainy season (May – October) can always be a risk but it turns out thanks to the humid air being pushed out by the winds across the vast Lake Nicaragua (to the East), the Rivas region benefits from ‘summer like’ weather between mid-July through mid-August. No rain!
Where to surf
Besides the great weather, south-western Nicaragua receives 300+ days of offshore winds per year. 300 PLUS!! Throw in some decent swell and you’ve got a playground to keep the kids occupied nearly all year.
Although there are a number of other breaks in this area, these 3 are most worth talking about:
Playa Santana (formally known as Playa Jiquiliste) – This southern beach-break bay is great for intermediate+ surfers looking for fun, consistent, often barreling waves. It works best at mid-high tide (as long as the swell isn’t huge, then work with a lower tide) but still provides something fun to play around on throughout the day. It can get busy during ‘peak’ periods, but there are multiple points that work along the beach. Get up and get in the water at sunrise and you can have the water to yourself. I did paddle out on a HUGE day, much to the surprise and shock of Ollie, and then I took an absolutely beating getting back in(it can get quite heavy) and trying to avoid the rocks – all board time is good board time right?!
Playa Popoyo – Playa Popoyo is the reason surfers flock to the region; which of course can mean crowds. Much more a wave for those with short fast boards under their feet, the reef and sand slab can peel some double-over-head cover-ups if you’re luck. Better at low-tide and certainly not one I was willing to give a go. (Let’s not talk about the outer-reef here!)
Beginners Bay – Over shadowed by the Magnific Rock Hotel, at low tide it’s almost possible to walk out to he line-up along the shelved-rocks (choose where to come back in carefully). Most suited to beginners and intermediates, this rolling point-break can be enjoyed by all. Again, it can get quite crowded thanks to it’s notoriety but still good fun at all times in the day.
Other breaks worth knowing about:
Playa Colorado – this is a well known break making it rather popular, however it’s is also a private beach only accessed by staying at Hacienda Iguana or by hiring a boat. We didn’t do either, so can’t talk of whether it’s worth it; however Hacienda Iguana is a large beach resort popular with Americans so I can only imagine how crowded it gets. We did rent our boards from SURFNSR, the shop inside the resort though. Not cheap ($225 for 12 days) but they had a great range (in various conditions) to suit all levels of expertise.
El Astillero – A 10 minute drive north of Popoyo, El Astillero is a working fishing village. We did have a wander around here, but to get to the Rivermouth would require a long walk down the (hot) black sandy beach or drive in a 4×4. Lances Left (previously secret long left hand point break) again is only accessible by boat but meant to be a fun wave for everyone. Most likely quiet too.
Where to stay, eat and chill
There are plenty of surf camps if that’s what you’re looking for. But if like us, you’re looking for a bit of luxury and control of your time check some of these out:
Buena Onda Beach Resort – Don’t be fooled by the ‘beach resort’ in the title. This little hotel is fabulous! A hop, skip and jump to Playa Santana, we fell in love with this place at first sight. Featuring a mix of villas, deluxe rooms and cheaper options including a dorm with 4 bunk beds, it has a beautiful pool to cool off in, hammocks scattered around the gardens and a great kitchen and bar that serves an extensive menu of reasonably priced foods. It quickly lived up to it’s name (good vibrations). They’re currently building a new restaurant/bar and yoga space on the beach to welcome non-hotel guests.
Deluxe rooms including aircon, fridge, wifi and a little patio will set you back $89.50USD/ £70pn. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and drinks throughout the day set us back between $20-30 each. <<Book here>>
Meson Nadi – If you’re looking for a bit of luxury during you’re stay, we’ve found it! Just next door to Beuna Onda, this boutique hotel is very Mr & Mrs Smith. It’s decor more familiar of a chique London or New York bar, combines the architectural ideas of Bauhaus, modern raw materials and the traditional Latin American interior gardens under a big house canopy. We enjoyed a very nice dinner here one evening; the organic food some of the best (and expensive) we had on the holiday.
©MesonNadiA garden suite including wifi, rainshowers and aircon will set you back $135USD per night. <<Book here>>
Magnific Rock – Overlooking beginner bay an Playa Popoyo, Magnific Rock has an impressive restaurant and a variety of accommodation options. They also offer surf and yoga packages for those looking to focus their time whilst there. If anything, this is a great place to come and check out the views. The panoramic restaurant also does great food, and the bar downstairs serves happy hour 4-6pm (if you can drag yourself out of the water in time).
A sea view studio with wifi, aircon and a private balcony to check the surf costs $80 per night. (No pool though).
99Surf Lodge – Fairly new, 99Surf Lodge sits between Playa Santana and Playa Popoyo. It may not be so easy to run down to the beach for a surf, but all of their rooms have sea views, are built entirely with local materials can sleep up to 4 people. Their infinity pool and chill out are over-looked by the organic restaurant, featuring a pizza oven too which we enjoyed on one of our last nights. A private bungalow or suite costs from $90-160USD per night.
What else to do?
If surfing doesn’t knacker you out and chilling in hammocks isn’t energetic enough there’s still plenty to explore in the area.
Turtles are known to hatch and lay their eggs on El Astelliro beach. Although we didn’t go ourselves, guests at the hotel showed us some amazing videos.
Sunsets – you really can’t beat watching the sun go down over the pacific after a hard day in the water or by the pool. Grab a Tona (local beer) or Flor de Cana (local rum) and watch the sky smash into hundreds of different colours.
Thermal Baths -Hot and sulfureous water of volcanic origin rises from the spring of Las Salinas. These are more for local bathing use than tourist novelty, much unlike those in The Azores. We popped by to see what these were (follow the signs from the main road), but decided they weren’t worth paying to use. Plus, the ocean water was warm enough!
Isla Ometepe – the hour-glass shaped Isle of Ometepe, 2 volcanic peaks rising from Lago de Nicaragua / Lake Nicaragua can be seen as you drive the Pacific Highway from Manauga to Popoyo. Originally on our list of places we wanted to see it unfortunately didn’t make the final cut due to time constraints. Due to ferry timetables, you need at least 2 days to explore these volcanic islands. We were told by other guests at Buena that they are also extremely humid.
Yoga / Fishing / Horseriding / Kayaking – all of the hotels in the area offer excursions and extra actives from exploring the salt flats of Las Salinas by horse to kayaking the lagoons.