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?

Travel Planning Resources for Las Salinas, Nicaragua
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 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.


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:


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
Join 20,000 others who receive exclusive email updates!

7 Reasons To Subscribe →
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I'm also a member of other affiliate programs. For more info please read my policy page.

Leave a Comment

Comments (48)

  1. 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?


  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Hi Matthew
    We are looking in renting a home for a week in Popoyo with our kids and grandchildren. Are there restaurants and stores to get some groceries? Will
    we need a car or can we get around on foot.

  5. I am budgeting for a trip to Popoyo and cant find much info on ow much food costs. What did you spend on lunches and dinners?

    Also, I’m torn between doing an all-inclusive resort or piecing it together. Any thoughts?

    Thanks for your help!

  6. Hey Matthew, great blog on popoyo! I was there in June and it was quite a journey to get there from San Jose, Costa rica. I got there in a full day of travel, but what a great little place and amazing surf spots.

  7. I am going to be backpacking around Nicaragua with a board under my arm, any tips on bus travel with a board ?

    • The chicken buses all have luggage racks on the top, you can put your board up there. Each bus driver has 1 or 2 assistants, and they’ll make sure it’s tied down.

  8. Sean, I’m here now and drove a time compact rental through Rivas to get here because you need a 4×4 to cross from masaya due to the rainy season. The rivers flood and you’ll have to cross 4 of them. It’s not too bad though. Check out two brothers surf for maps to get to popoyo. Check out Santana which is a great point break, asterillo for the bat and smaller waves, andif you are craving barrels, go to Colorado. Chococente is the turtle reserve and you can drive there and see howler monkeys and the waves are nice. There’s an entrance fee and you have to walk about 3k to the beach. It’s empty and beautiful. Get a Movistar SIM card because claro isn’t that great. Make sure you get data and you can GPS your way around with a smart phone. Have fun

  9. im renting a car in managua and driving to popoyo to stay and surf for a weeks solo. Sound like i cant take shortcut in a 4wD suv rental or can i??? if not is there another way? sounds awesome!! gracias!!

    • No Sean, you won’t be able to take the short-cut with a vehicle. But you can still get to Popoyo with a car.

      The short-cut is really only good for avoiding an expensive taxi fee.

      • ok thx for that. plan on posting up there for 5 days in popoyo. wondering if thats an ideal place to call home and explore out of…want to be able to explore coastline and find other fun spots since i will have a ride. Im open to any small towns on the coast if you can recomend a better HOME for my situation. ps…my first time in nica…only 5 days to charge it…im goofy and experienced surfer but not close to pro. thx!!

  10. Sounds great! I’m going to be in the San Juan Del Sur area in a few months and was looking for something to kill a few days while I wait for a friend. I’ve already done Granada, San Juan Del Sur and Ometepe. Is this a trip that would be worth it if I was only going for say 2 nights?

    And it sounded like the journey there went perfectly for you. Did you hear of anyone that got lost on the way or had any major issues?

    BTW, I just discovered this blog and it is AWESOME

    • Thanks BJ! Can take a good chunk of the day to get there, but you could do a quick 3 days/2 nights if you wanted. Might only mean an afternoon & 1 full day for surfing though. If you walk in you could have a hard time finding the bridge, but it’s not terribly difficult. Most of the walking is on a dirt road.

      Keep an eye out for the Pink Panther sign when you’re on the bus. It’s easy to miss.

  11. Awesome adventure indeed. A MUST! Even for those who cannot surf, the way to get there is a state of the art. It reminds me of 2 famous movies: The Beach and Diarios de Motocicleta. Will be there for sure, thanx for a nice place to step off the beaten path!

  12. How long are you planning on staying in Costa Rica? How long have you been surfing for? Sweet blog, by the way. The design is fun – and makes me want to be traveling RIGHT NOW!

    • Maybe 3 weeks in Costa Rica. I learned to surf many years ago, but don’t get to do it that often. Still can’t get the hang of short boards yet. :)

      Why, do you have a recommendation for a good spot?

    • I don’t really have any recommendations for spots – I was just curious. Our family loves to surf (I’m not very good but try) and my Dad has over twenty surfboards here around the house. Wax collection, etc…He invented the Smart-Screw, the little screw you can put into longboards for fins that uses the same shortboard fin key, and loves the sport. Just wondering – because there’s so much of it around here at our house! :D

    • The adventure getting out of there was just as crazy! It downpoured all night before the morning I left, and the river flooded. The water was brown and filled with debris. I had to walk through mud up to my shins on the path to main road.

      The chicken bus back was completely full, not even standing room. So I joined 10 other people on the top of the bus, sitting in the luggage rack. We had to dodge tree branches on the ride back to Rivas! Got some great video of that ride… :D

  13. Looks like my kind of place. Where did you learn how to surf? Was it in Montana? Was it volcano surfing? Are you sure you just didn’t rent a board and pose next to it? Next time your on a chicken bus, I need some underwear. Get the good stuff. How about some pictures of downtown? How do the townspeople get to town? I don’t think they go over a board bridge and wade a river.

    • Downtown? Please review the photo where I’m crossing the river. Those buildings are it. :)

      For people rich enough to own trucks or dirtbikes, there is a road that leads into the town. But everyone else who relies on chicken buses crosses the river. It’s a shortcut. You see people crossing it every day. Little old ladies, local police, fishermen, people with bikes over their heads, etc. There is no bus directly into Popoyo. I could have taken a taxi into town, but wanted get there like the locals. Plus a $10 US taxi ride would eat up 1/3 of my daily budget!

      As for surfing… you do remember I used to live 3 blocks from the beach in Hawaii, right? ;)

      • Mathew I lived on Playa Jiquelite which is South of Magnific Rock hotel, for three months this past winter staying at Villa Jiquelite which is located on the beach directly in front of the best surfing area on Playa Jiquelite and the part of that beach that is referred to as Playa Santana (but warning there are no official road signs identifying Playa Sanatan instead the sign outside Rivas is to Playa Jiquelite as is the turn-off in Los Salinas. Surprised that you refer to the village of Gasacate as Popoyo…the sign entering the village is Gasacate. Yes one can take the so-called short-cut but I encountered more than a few new arrivals who were completely lost. The Los Salinas bus goes on to takes about another 20 minutes. At certain times of day such as mid-day, the bus is not crowded. Friday afternoon is a guaranted crowded bus. A taxi to Villa Jiquelite from Rivas always cost me $30 but in Rivas on two occasions I was able to find other passengers to share the cost. Your readers should be advised that the reason so many young surfers come to this area is that there are quite a few surf camps or hostels where a bed costs $10 a night and less by the week or month. There are also a few houses to rent..pretty simple local type houses with latrines but cheap and often shared by several surfers. My room at Villa Jiquelite cost $25 a night and was one of a unit of four air conditioned rooms sharing a common bathroom and cheaper rented by the week or month. Surf boards can also be rented at Villa Jiquelite and the meals are excellent..favourite is the large meat hamburger at $5. Popoyo Beach is suited only for the expert surfer..there are great breaks but over a rocky floor so dangerous for a novice. Top hotel as you no doubt know is Magnific Rock with its incredible view from on top of its prominent hilltop location…Popoyo on the right and north and Playa Jiquelite on the South. (My daughter lives on the road to Magnific Rock so I know the area well). New hotels are being built in Guasacate as well as the new Canadian owned hotel just below Magnific Rock right on the beach and as well soon to open a new eco-hotel just past Villa Jiquelite. Several great restaurants all within walking distance of Villa Jiquelite plus several in Guasacate itself (which you call Popoyo).

        • I should have re-read and checked my spelling the village is GUASACATE.

          Also should have mentioned that this year I arrived mid-November and departed end of April. Previous two years I was there in Dec and Jan. These months are dry..absolutely sunny clear blue skies every day. As several commentors mentioned the wind picks up in Feb and is an off-shore wind and while it whips up the sand on the beach it also helps create larger surf waves..on a couple of days I estimated the surf on Santana and Jiquelite at between 8 and 10 feet high. (I run the entire Jiquelite two km beach at low tide every day despite the blowing sand..wear sun glasses!).

          Also the short-cut from Los Salinas to Managua (or Granada) we used several times by taxi or a couple of times with a private driver shared by two or more persons). That short-cut saves something like 35 km by not requiring one to go all the way to Rivas and then back on the main highway…instead the short-cut cuts across to reach the Pan-American highway at the Ochomogo dam. This road however means that all vehicles have to cross the Rio Nagualapa which was no problem the time of year I was there as the river was almost dry last two years and this year certainly was dry as a bone so no problem crossing the river bed.

          Re food costs: there are a couple of small shops in Guasacate as well as in Los Salinas but most people renting a cabin or staying in a private home with kitchen privileges travel to Rivas once a week or ten days to buy food that is not available locally. At Villa Jiquelite where Angelica the owner is the chef, the meals were excellent (and I have over 100 meals easily over three months and over three years). She makes a great pizza, her cordon blu chicken is outstanding and she picks fresh caught fish each day or almost daily which she fries up whole ($8). A must is her banana milkshake ($2). One can have a typical American breakfast or take the so-called “typico” which is a Nicaraguan breakfast. Villa Jiquelite also offers free bottled water to guests and free wi-fi. Never had a stomach upset in three years and over five months staying and eating at her hotel. (As I mentioned there are several excellent restaurants in walking distance including an Italian restaurant owned by an Italian from Florence and right next door great sushi every Friday night!).

  14. Dude that looks fucking awesome. I had never heard of this but I am sure even if I had I would not have gone by myself.

    • I learned about it from another traveler who had just been there. Random fellow backpackers are sometimes the best source for great travel tips!

    • Why not? It is a great place to go to. Stay at the Melting Elephante Hostel and meet others. A great environment and a place for meeting others. I love it

  15. What a journey to get there! The surfing looks and sounds pretty damn good. I became obsessed with surfers in Brazil. They are just amazing to watch.

    Cool post. :)