With offshore winds coming across Lake Nicaragua daily, Rivas has some of the most favorable surfing wind condition in the world.
The Rivas Province of Nicaragua is a couple of hours south of Nicaragua’s capital city, Managua. It is home to several popular surf sports such as the heavy beach break Playa Colorado as well as the perfectly groomed reef at Popoyo. Here is everything you need to know for a fantastic surf trip!
My both-arms-in-the-air stoke got caught on Instagram when we emerged at Chococente Beach in the Rivas Province of Nicaragua.
Fly into Managua, Nicaragua or even Liberia, Costa Rica. Managua is slightly closer and saves you one trip through customs. Additionally, a small private airport is just ten minutes from Popoyo. It is called Costa Esmeralda, use airport code ECI. About one commercial flight per week arrives from Liberia, Costa Rica. You can rent a car at any of the above mentioned airports. You can also arrange with your hotel to pick you up. Airport transfers will cost you about $100 each way. A car may not be the best option since the surf season is also the rainy season and much of the beach area floods. I recommend you either stay right at the wave you want to surf or with a reputable surf camp equipped with 4×4 vehicles such as Malibu Popoyo.
When to go
Nicaragua picks up south swells, that means northern hemisphere summer is the best time to go. The season starts in April and ends in October with the prime months being May-September.
A 30 day tourist visa costs $10. You will be directed to purchase one upon entering the country at the airport. Your visa will also be checked when you leave so be careful not to overstay.
The view from Finka-Popoyo, looking out toward the Outer Reef
The local currency is the Cordoba. At the time of writing this the exchange rate is 33 Cordoba to 1 USD. This makes exchanging easy as 100 Cordoba is $3 USD. However, everywhere I went I had the option to pay in either currency although change was almost always given in Cordoba.
What things cost
(Prices given in USD)
Bottle of Water: $1
Rental Car: $20/day
Daily Accommodations: Starting at $20/ day up to $300
Beer (the local beer is Toña): $1.50
Ice cold Toña and fresh ceviche
Where to stay
When it comes to accommodations there are a ton of options. I stayed at a boutique surf resort called Malibu Popoyo which I would definitely recommend if you are into luxury and/or you are traveling with a non-surfer who wants a nice place on the beach with yoga, great food and a beautiful pool. The nice thing about staying there is that guided daily surf trips are included. I also checked out the rooms a Magnifica Rock, many of them have breathtaking views. I would definitely recommend staying in this area since there are 4-6 different waves within walking distance. Another more budget friendly option is to stay at Finka-Popoyo, right above the wave at Popoyo. For a couple looking for a romantic and simple B&B, I suggest you stay with Bella at the two room Sirens Surf Hotel.
Mag Rock is one of the best places to catch the sunset
El Gigante is also a fun little beach town with budget friendly hostels for backpackers and surfers. Playa Amarillo, a beach break, is easily accessible from here.
In April of 2018, frustration over government corruption rose to a head and the people of Nicaragua started demonstrations in the streets. Since then there have been issues of violence including airport shutdowns. Although the demonstrations have ceased, the US government still recommends against travel to Nicaragua at this time. That being said, the tourist have never been a target and both sides of the opposition understand how valuable tourism is to their country. Everyone I spoke to, locals and visitors, felt very safe, especially in the coastal regions. Furthermore, I found cheaper rates and uncrowded waves because of the drop in tourism. I never shared a peak with more than 15 people and 6-8 was more normal.
I heard of one surfer having his money and passport stolen from his hotel, presumably by the cleaning staff. However, that was the single incident I heard reported. Speaking from my own experience, I was perfectly safe 100% of the time.
15-year-old Valentina Resano on a typical day at her homebreak of Popoyo, Nicaragua
Travel insurance is highly recommended. You can buy World Nomads travel insurance after you left your country, they also cover surfing & all other activities you are likely to do plus donate money to sustainable causes and communities. There’s a 5% discount for Still Stoked readers with code STOKED5 using this link (unfortunately the discount isn’t available for USA and Canada residents ).
From South to North:
The Gigante Region:
Playa Amarillo (Yellow Beach)
A punchy beach break. Rights and lefts. Best later in the season after the rain causes the river mouths to open. Closes out on a big swell. Prefers short period wind swell.
Known for big barrels, this beach break loves a decent size swell. Again, better after the rains start around May 1st. There is a beautiful beach bar out front with an infinity pool. A great place to for surf specating or a snack between sessions.
The beach bar at Colorados
An A-Frame wedge breaking over flat reef near the beach. Best on a medium swell.
The parking lot at Panga Drops
The Las Salinas Region:
A beach break with just the right amount of kick. A little softer by beach break standards but still plenty of barrels. Excellent body surfing too. Fun on the medium tide rising.
Santana Beach, as shown off by a member of the local surf team. Respect the Locals.
Mag Rock or Roca Magnifica or The Bay or Beginners Bay
A sheltered left hand point on the outside and a rolling Waikiki-style inside beach break. Don’t be fooled by the name, on a big swell the point gets really fun. The inside is always a wonderful place for a surf lesson or a cruisy session on a big board. This place swamps out on the high tide.
There are actually three or even four places to surf at Popoy.
The main break is directly in front of a fun beach bar called Finka-Popoyo. This is a flat reef offering a zippy and sometimes hollow left along with a bit more user friendly right. Gets a little shallow and crumbly at too low of a tide and swampy on too high of a tide.
Standing on the beach and looking left of Popoyo is Outer Reef. This sport doesn’t really work until 6-8 foot Hawaiian (double overhead plus). It is hollow, slabby and for experts only.
On the inside of Outer Reef there is a fast break and more manageable left that works on the right tide and swell.
To the right of Popoyo is a reeling right-handed barrel also known as “The Surgeons Table” due to the shallow water in which it breaks.
The surfing at Popoyo – Uncrowded, offshore, and FUN!
Lefts and Rights all day everyday with offshore winds!
A perfect waves goes unridden of Popoy’s outer reef
The El Astillero Region:
Stop off at the “Cold Beer Lady” and then head to the river mouth. Mostly lefts, can hold a pretty big swell and gets heavy. Best after the rain starts.
Anything that shares its name with the famous break in the Mentawai Islands is probably pretty good! This spot is only accessible by boat. On a smaller swell it can be fun for beginners. On a big swell this left hand point produces fun long rides. Best on low to medium tides
Located on nation park land, you will need to hike 20 minutes through the jungle. This fickle beach break is almost almost always empty. If you happen to get it just right you’ll score perfect little peaks and barrels all to yourself!
Also called Veracruz. Cobblestone bottom with lefts and rights. Accessible by boat only.
My surf guide from Malibu Popoyo casually mentioned a secret spot where a french canadian surf camp existed. There is a blue dommed mansion in front with three private waves. I happened to drop a google pin as we were driving by so here are the coordinates: 11.4921808,-86.1619933 . Just don’t blame me if you get yourself in trouble!
There are plenty of uncrowded beach breaks in the Rivas Province
Other Local Knowledge:
Best place to dance
Mag Rock bar on a Saturday night. Take salsa lessons with Alberto and Roxana before -every Saturday at Malibu Popoyo.
A rad way to get involved in the community
Join Bella on a Saturday morning as she takes local girls ages 8-18 surfing. Her program, Las Sirenitas (The Little Mermaids) helps build confidence for local girls and provides opportunities for English classes and career training.
Local Spanish Slang (Nicañol):
Como te veo?
Qué tal te veo?
Despedidas (When leaving)
Dale puej (pues)
Bye puej (pues)
Salvaje = Cool
Chinelas = Flip flops
chavalo/a = Kid
Affirmative (yes) = Simón
Negative (no) = Negra, nel, nelson
Wow! = Chocho!
Me gusta = Me cuadra = I Like
Beera = Beer
Foods to Try
As is normally the case on a surf trip, the sea food is epic. Bananas are uses in many ways like potatoes. Try the fried plantains and the banana chips. You definitely need to get at least one traditional breakfast: Red beans and rice, eggs, fried local cheese and fried plantains.
Chia seeds are cheap in Nicaragua and so they show up in a lot of local dishes
To go or not to go?
To summarize my experience in the area: Offshore winds, manageable fun waves, something to challenge all skill levels, great food, beautiful people.
One saddening aspect was the blatant discrepancy between the rich and poor. For some reason this bothered me more than in other areas I’ve traveled. The area is a popular destination for expats and middle class retirees from wealthier nations. Although this brings tourism dollars, it also makes it hard for local people to own homes and business. I felt conflicted about this. I quickly ran out of hats and extra clothing that I passed out to befriend the kids on the beach. Still, I wished there was more I could do. Tipping generously is always appreciated if possible. Standard tipping is 10% but its always great to give more if you can.
Have so much fun, but be careful, you might just fall in love with Nicaragua and never want to leave! You wouldn’t be the first!