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.
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.
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
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.
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?
Details & Information
Location/Map: Las Salinas, Nicaragua
Acommodations: La Bocana del Surf ($7 US) Private Room
Good Food: Cheap fritanga next door
Useful Notes: Take a bus from Rivas to Las Salinas, get off at the Pink Panther sign. Take a left and walk down that road for 15 minutes beside the salt-marsh. When you hit the river, look for a little bridge on the left. It can be hard to find. Head right after the bridge. Find a clearing in the mangroves and wade across the river.