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Journey to Surf Popoyo Beach

Popoyo Beach Bus Nicaragua

Sweaty & Dusty Bus Ride

Popoyo, Nicaragua

It started like most Central American adventures do, inside a chicken bus. The tiny Nicaraguan surf town of Popoyo Beach isn’t easy to get to, but those who embark on the journey are greatly rewarded.

The trip began in the city of Granada, where I jumped on an aging American school bus for a 1.5-hour ride to the town of Rivas.

After pushing past a swarm of 20 different taxi drivers at the Rivas bus station (all of them spewing lies to secure my business), I found a man who honestly told me what time the only bus to the town of Las Salinas would leave.

The 2 hour bus ride to Las Salinas was cramped, dusty, and hot.

Luckily I was sitting next to a curious little old lady who chatted with me while we munched on tasty empanadas. Vendors would occasionally hop on board to sell food, belts, flashlights, and even underwear.

Popoyo Beach Nicaragua Shortcut

Meditating Pink Panther

Meditating Pink Panther?

Once close to Las Salinas, I kept my eyes peeled for the mysterious meditating Pink Panther sign that marked the entrance to the shortcut for Popoyo Beach. When I saw it off on the left side of the road, I stood up to bang on the roof of the bus with my fist.

Locals use the Nica whistle to tell the driver to stop, unfortunately, I’m not that talented. :(

I opened the emergency exit in the rear and hopped off with my backpack. The bus sped away in a cloud of dust as I began walking down the dirt road into the sun.

The Pink Panther shortcut passes along a salt marsh, where many families make a living boiling the marsh water to produce mountains of salt. There is so much salt in this area that the ground is covered with a fine layer of it, almost like frost.

Police Nicaragua

Nicaraguan Police

Shots Fired!

Finally the road ended at Rio Salinas de Nahualapa. This river empties out into the Pacific Ocean. Some local fishermen pointed me in the direction of a small (sketchy) plank bridge that crossed a tributary of the river.

On the far side of the bridge, there is a path that leads through mangrove trees to the shallowest part. This is where I needed to cross to reach Popoyo beach.

While preparing to wade across the river, I suddenly heard gunshots right behind me.

Who was shooting at me? Had I taken a wrong turn? Am I trespassing on private property?

Turns out it was just the local police playing with their AK-47 assault rifle, shooting at who-knows-what. Two of them rounded the corner and happily proceeded to tell me where the best place to cross the water was. Nicaragua’s finest! :D

Nahualapa River Nicaragua

Crossing the Nahualapa River

Time to Get Wet

The Salinas de Nahualapa river rises and falls as the ocean tides rise & fall. So if you show up at low tide, it’s actually pretty easy to wade through water up to your knees.

But as the high tide comes in, this mighty river can shoot up as deep as your head, and the currents are pretty strong.

Luckily I timed it right, and today it only went up to my waist.

So I threw my backpack up over my head and waded through to reach the tiny surf town of Popoyo.

It’s a REALLY small town, just one main dirt road along the beach. There are a few cheap hotels, a few basic restaurants, and a surf hostel.

All the beachfront property has been bought up, but most are just empty lots wrapped in barbed wire.

Surfing Popoyo Nicaragua

Local Surfing Popoyo Beach

Epic Days of Surfing

One day I joined a fun group of fellow surfers and ventured into Las Salinas to purchase a live pig (and watch it get slaughtered) for grilling on the beach.

Cooked whole by a professional Argentine chef on a grill we made out of bricks & rebar, it was easily the best pork I have ever eaten!

There is only one convenience store in the whole town, and it’s not very convenient. Depending on who’s working, you may just get handed a calculator to figure out for yourself how much you owe… But a fruit & vegetable truck also comes by once a day and sells products to people on the street.

I ended up renting a 7’2″ board and spent four blissful & quiet days in Popoyo surfing 4-6 foot (uncrowded) waves every morning and afternoon with new friends.

Often the most memorable journeys can be found on the road less traveled. ★

What Do You Think?
Are you a surfer? Have you ever been surfing in Nicaragua?

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Acommodations: La Bocana del Surf ($7 US) Private Room
Good Food: Cheap fritanga next door

Packing Guide

Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip. Pick up a travel backpack, camera gear, and other useful travel accessories.

Book Your Flight

Book cheap flights on Skyscanner, my favorite airline search engine to find deals. Also read my tips for how I find the cheapest flights.

Rent A Car

Discover Cars is a great site for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.

Book Accommodation

Booking.com is my favorite hotel search engine. Or rent local apartments on Airbnb ($35 discount!). Read my post for tips on booking cheap hotels.

Protect Your Trip

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance.
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READ MORE TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide to surfing on Popoyo Beach! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Diego

Tuesday 27th of August 2019

Hi Matthew! Your story sounds thrilling and exciting, I can really tell that you enjoyed your time in Nicaragua. I am going there next week and my trip will be similiar to yours (Managua to Popoyo, then playa Gigante or Maderas and lastly Aserradores). Only thing is, I read somewhere on internet that the Bus station in Managua can be quite dangerous, is that true? I would like to go the cheapest way to Popoyo, but not sure if try to get a good deal with a taxi shared with other people in case its dangerous...what do you recommend?

Thanks!

Isabelle Fournier

Monday 26th of February 2018

Is there a place to by some meat? My husband and I have rented a place at Popoyo for 1 month! We don't have a car.

Reg

Tuesday 2nd of January 2018

Wow! How very Indiana Jones of you! I'd love to hear your account of going to the corner store for beer.

Steven Monrad

Monday 28th of August 2017

Nice report. You've probably learned it's easier to come to Calle Guasacate from the north than wade the river. And things have changed a lot.

Joel Schurtz

Tuesday 22nd of August 2017

Great blip on Popoyo! We're headed there this winter and we're super stoked to go. I sent your post off to my wife and kids to get them excited about the trip. We all love the less traveled roads of the world.

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