Located on the southwest coast of Nicaragua, you’ll find one of the most famous waves in Nicarragua: Popoyo. Popoyo is a fast, steep wave, which often barrels and gets big and heavy during the rainy season.
However, in the region surrounding Popoyo to both the north and south, you’ll find several other waves that are suitable for beginners, expert surfers, and everyone in between.
We recently just took a border run to Popoyo, Nicaragua from Costa Rica, and spent a week surfing and exploring the area. While we didn’t get the chance to surf at every break in the area, we did learn a LOT about the Popoyo surf region.
We spent the week watching the waves, surfing some of the different breaks, and chatting with locals about the different waves in the area, and how they break during each season. In this post I’m going to everything we learned about the Popoyo surf, to help you plan your next surf trip to Nicaragua!
How to get to Popoyo
Located on the sleepy southwest coast of Nicaragua and surrounded by ranches and tiny fishing villages, the Popoyo area is pretty desolate. However, it’s fairly easy to get to, as the area has a solid amount of infrastructure thanks to the popularity of the wave.
The easiest way to get to Popoyo is to fly into Managua, and have your accommodations arrange transportation for you to get from the airport to your hotel or hostel. You can also take a taxi, but it’s nicer to have your transportation pre-arranged, especially if you’re traveling with surfboarders. The cheapest way to get from Managua to Popoyo is to take the bus. To find the bus routes, I recommend reaching out to your hostel/hotel. You can check online, but there is no guarantee the information you find is accurate, as bus routes change frequently.
How to get to Popoyo from Costa Rica
Since we were going to Popoyo for our border run from Costa Rica, we travelled from the Costa Rican land border, rather than flying in. To get to Popoyo, we drove from Nosara to Liberia, had a shuttle driver drop us off at the border, crossed the border in Peñas Blancas, and then had another driver pick us up on the Nicaraguan side of the border and take us to our hotel in Popoyo. The hotel we stayed at, Magnific Rock arranged all of our transport, which made the experience pretty seamless- all we had to do was walk across the border through the various checkpoints.
If you’re planning a surf trip to Nicaragua from Costa Rica, I definitely recommend having your hotel arrange transportation for you to and from the border. It’s not the cheapest option, but it’s definitely the easiest. For reference, we paid over $200 total to go from Liberia to Popoyo, and then the same to go back to Liberia.
If you’re looking for a cheaper option, you’ll want to take the bus. You can find bus routes on Rome to Rio, but it’s best to check at your local bus terminal and ask around so you can get the most accurate, up to date information.
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Popoyo Surf Overview
Popoyo is a powerful, barreling A-frame located on the southwest coast of Nicaragua. The area surrounding Popoyo is also colloquially known as “Popoyo”, and there are several surf breaks in the surrounding area that are accessible by car, foot, and boat. Popoyo is also super affordable, so if you’re looking for one of the cheapest surfing destinations in the world, this is a fantastic option.
The Different Popoyo Surf Breaks
Popoyo Main Break
Popoyo was really put on the map in 2015, when the ISA world surfing games took place at Playa Popoyo. Popoyo is a powerful A-frame wave that breaks over a shallow rocky shelf. The wave will break at almost any size, up to double overhead plus. Although the wave is best surfed at lower, incoming tides, you can surf it at any tide. Because the wave works at all tides, and with next to no swell, Popoyo is regarded as the most consistent surf break in Nicaragua.
At a lower tide, and with a bit of offshore wind, Popoyo does barrel- especially the left.
We came to Popoyo in March, during the peak of the dry season. At the time, there was about a 1.8 foot south swell and 18 second period, and the break at Popoyo was just about head high.
The Popoyo Main Break is incredibly crowded. Even at sunrise there were still at least 5 surfers, and later in the day through sunset, there were usually about 20-30 surfers in the water at a time. While the wave is super consistent, there is really only a small zone where you can take off, and only a handful of more accomplished local surfers seemed to have any luck catching waves. Meanwhile, there were collisions, drop-ins, and boards flying wildly through the air during almost every single set. We’re told the Popoyo surf region is overall much less crowded during the rainy season, and during bigger swells fewer people are able to paddle out, which also lessens the crowds.
Overall, I would say the Popoyo main break is definitely not suitable for beginner surfers, okay for intermediate surfers if you can catch it without the crowds, and pretty sweet for advanced surfers. The majority of the surfers at Popoyo main break were shortboarders, although there were a few longboarders catching the right, which broke a little softer than the left.
Outer Reef Popoyo
Heading just a bit further out and to the south, you’ll find Outer Reef Popoyo. Outer Reef is a big, heavy slab that breaks over a shallow rocky reef. This wave is for expert, big wave riders only, and get over 20 feet! Outer Reef Popoyo is pretty famous for being one of the very few big waves in Central America, and it really only comes alive in the green season, or May-September.
Beginner’s Bay is located all the way on the southern end of Playa Guasacate, right underneath the hotel Magnific Rock. The waves at Beginner Bay are typically soft, gentle lefts that peel right over the rocky bottom. If you’ve never surfed before, Beginner Bay is a great place to head. The paddle out is very easy, making it a great option to try to catch green waves. The vibe at the break is very mellow, since it’s so full of beginners learning how to surf, and surf lessons.
With that said, it’s super crowded! If you head out first thing in the morning, you can probably catch it to yourself, as surfers usually don’t head out until 8am or later. However, after 9am, Beginner Bay gets PACKED.
While the break itself would be really fun for most longboarders, it’s generally surf school territory, and odds are you won’t have the wave to yourself.
However, it’s still a fun little break if you want to learn to surf, or cruise around on a longboard and don’t mind dodging a crowd. In fact, this is one of the best places to surf in February for beginners and longboarders.
The break was a bit too soft for the shortboards when we were there in February/ March, but we’re told when the swell season comes the crowds thin out (at least at Beginner Bay) and the waves get bigger and powerful enough to ride the shortboards all over.
Just to the south of the Popoyo main break is a little right that breaks called La Lejana, Stoneys, or simply inside the outer reef. It’s one of the less crowded breaks in the Popoyo surf region, and produces a pretty solid, long, left with the right swells.
Best Popoyo Surf Season
The rainy season, or May-November is the best Popoyo surf season. This is when the swells come, and all the breaks up and down the beach will come to life. The crowds are also much thinner during the rainy season, and since there are more waves breaking up and down the beach, there is less congestion at the Popoyo Main Break. June and July are probably the best months to come if you want to avoid the intense rains of September/October, but still enjoy the best swells of the season.
The dry season is the best time to come to Popoyo for beginners, and even intermediate surfers who want to surf Popoyo on a smaller swell, and don’t mind the crowds. Keep in mind, the dry season is also incredibly windy, and even with the offshores from Lake Nicaragua the spots can still frequently get blown out, especially in February/March. During the dry season, the waves are typically much smaller here, and while Popoyo main break is always working, there might not be much else other than a few cruisy lefts in Beginners Bay.
For more information on what the surf in Nicaragua is like each season, check out our ultimate guide to the Nicaragua surf seasons.
Where to Stay for Popoyo Surf
The Popoyo surf region is pretty spread out, and I think getting the right accommodations are pretty crucial to having the best possible surf trip. Basically, there are two main areas where you can stay in the Popoyo surf region (with a few exceptions). The first is over on the southern part of Playa Guasacate, where there are several beachfront hotels, beach bars, and a few restaurants. In this area, you’re about a 10-15 minute walk from Popoyo Main Break, and you have to cross a small rivermouth to get to it. We were able to walk across the rivermouth even at high tide, and it was about waist deep.
The other area is on the northern side of Magnific Rock, in front of Playa Popoyo, Playa Santana, or Playa Jiquelite. I recommend staying in front of the Playa Popoyo area, as then you’re only a 10-15 minute walk from Beginner Bay and the Popoyo Main Break, but you don’t have to cross the river and there are a few more good restaurant options. Here are some of the best accommodation options for Popoyo Surf:
We stayed at Magnific Rock, and the views were stunning. The hotel is perched on top of the cliff overlooking Beginner Bay, and from the hotel, you get a perfect view of Beginner Bay, Outer Reef, La Lejana, and can just see the Popoyo main break working. The rooms are lovely, and this is the best place to stay if you want a great view in Popoyo. However, they’re in a bit of an intermediary phase, and the restaurant is pretty sub par- mostly fried food. However, if you don’t mind walking for food, it’s a great option. Plus, they’re hiring a cook and revamping their kitchen and menu, so hopefully in the near future, the food gets great again!
In terms of surf, the location of Magnific Rock couldn’t be better for surfing Beginner Bay. They’ve recently revamped their surfing program, and the guy running the show, Billie, is a real gem.
Magnific Rock has a variety of rooms, including everything from ocean view studios to a dormitory.
Magnific Rock Surf Camp
The Magnific Rock surf camp includes surf coaching with an amazing coach, 5 nights at the hotel, video analysis, board rentals, board rentals, and a complimentary massage- it’s an excellent beginner surf camp.
99 Surf Lodge
99 Surf Lodge is a really swanky hotel with a delicious restaurant attached to it. The rooms are beautiful, and equipped with Wifi, air conditioning, and the hotel has a pool, fitness center, and is right on the beach.
Cafe con Leche
If you’re traveling on a budget and want a nice social environment in a beautiful hostel/hotel, I recommend Cafe con Leche. The owner is really nice and knowledgeable, and has a good assortment of shortboards for rent. Cafe con Leche has a restaurant, pool, and beautiful outdoor area, along with a few different room options.
Cafe Cerveza is one of the cheaper options around the area. They have a mix of dorms and private rooms, along with a fantastic common area and restaurant. Even if you don’t stay here, I recommend popping over to at least try their burrito bowl!
Planning a surf trip to Popoyo? Check out our guide to the best surf camps in Popoyo!
Where to Eat
99 Surf Lodge
99 Surf Lodge has excellent drinks and food. Their menu features fresh caught fish, delicious woodfired pizzas (sometimes), sandwiches, typical food, and more. I highly recommend trying whatever fresh caught fish special they have that day.
Popoyo Republic also has great food. We tried their Tuna tataki, poke bowl, hummus veggie wrap, and chicken wrap- they were all delicious.
Cafe Cerveza has an amazing burrio bowl on their menu. They also have good typical food.
Soda Luna is only open for breakfast and lunch, but if you can catch them when they’re open, it’s worth it for their delicious typical Nicaraguan food.
How to pack for a Popoyo surf trip
Here are a few essential things to pack for your Popoyo surf trip:
I brought my Jolyn surf bikini and a one piece surf suit I purchased locally in Costa Rica. Rowan brought a few pairs of boardshorts. During our Popoyo surf trip we did go out in the middle of the day with just a bikini/boardshorts, as the sun warmed up the water quite a bit.
- Springsuit/ Wetsuit Vest
For early morning, sunset, and windy surfers, you’ll want at least a little wetsuit vest if not a springsuit.
- First aid kit
Popoyo is pretty out there, and it’s difficult to get supplies. I cut my foot a few times on the rocks surfing, and wished I had brought along a mini first aid kit to clean it up.
- Reef safe sunscreen
The sun in Nicaragua is super super strong. You’ll definitely want to bring a good reef safe sunscreen.
- Your surfboard
If you’re a beginner, ignore this one- there are plenty of beginner rental boards. However, if you’re accustomed to surfing a specific board, I recommend bringing it with you to Popoyo. There aren’t a TON of options for higher-quality rentals in the area.
What to do in Popoyo besides Surf
While most people that come to Popoyo visit for the waves, there are other things you can do around the area. Flat days don’t have to be boring!
Tidal Pools at Guasacate Beach
The tidal pools at Guasacate Beach are a beautiful place to explore around Popoyo, spend some time and hang out. While there isn’t that much to do there, it is a really good place to spend some time at the beach!
Natural Hot Springs at Las Salinas
Visit the Hot Springs of Las Salinas to dip on hot mineral-rich water. The Hot Spring pools are maintained by local families and cost foreigners $3 to enter, while locals pay $1.
Visit Chacocente Natural Reserve
Visit the Chacocente Natural Reserve and participate in one of their activities like animal sightings, sea turtle sightings, visiting community farms, hiking, and more.
The Chacocente Natural Reserve is one of the largest wildlife refuges in Nicaragua and contains one of the most important beaches in the world, where Olive Ridley sea turtles come to plant their eggs.
Is Popoyo Nicaragua Safe?
While Nicaragua has a pretty intense reputation, we felt pretty safe during our surf trip. Some of the hotel owners told us the area is generally pretty safe, although there is the occasional robbery at night on the beach, usually of someone’s cell phone.
Is Popoyo Nicaragua Good for Beginners to Surf?
Beginner Bay is an amazing spot for beginners to learn to surf.
Can you surf in Popoyo all year long?
Yes! Although the surf is generally smaller in the dry season (December-March/April) and bigger in the green season (May-November).
Other Tips for Popoyo Surf
Bring cash with you
Popoyo is a place that has so much to offer… but keep in mind that Popoyo has no ATMs. Remember to bring enough cash with you to last for the duration of your stay and until you encounter an ATM again!
If you’re taking out a lot of money, I recommend you split it into a few different stacks and hide it in different places, in case something happens.
Popoyo surf guide final thoughts
That’s a wrap on my Popoyo surf guide! Overall, the area is beautiful, quiet, and pretty isolated. If you’re a beginner looking to visit Beginners Bay, you’ll probably have an amazing time. Sendy intermediates & advanced surfers will love surfing the Popoyo main break, and if the breaks around Popoyo aren’t quite doing it for you- simply reach out to your hotel about scheduling a boat trip to a surf break, because there are some AMAZING spots accessible by boat!