Until I stepped foot on the sandy shores of Popoyo, Nicaragua, I didn’t realize just how much character a Central American surf town could have.
With an alluring spirit of the “Wild Wild West,” a swirl of local and indigenous peoples, and a collection of surf fanatics and yogi expats, there’s something so special about Popoyo. I call it radical-chic.
This stretch of Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast is no stranger to tourism, thanks to its legendary surf breaks. But there are also plenty of things to do in Popoyo that don’t revolve around surfing!
And yet, there are very few Popoyo guides and itineraries online. So, after calling the beaches of Popoyo home for nine months, I created this expert Popoyo travel guide just for you.
From the best things to do in Popoyo and the best Popoyo restaurants, to where to stay, how to get to Popoyo, and other must-know facts and tips – consider this your roadmap to the best radical-chic adventures around Popoyo, Nicaragua!
Table of Contents
- Is Popoyo Worth Visiting?
- Must-Know Tips & Quick Facts About Popoyo
- 11 Best Things to Do in Popoyo, Nicaragua
- 1. Surf Lesson at Beginner’s Bay
- 2. Surfing Charter
- 3. Take an Oceanfront Yoga Class
- 4. Watch a Sunset at Finca Popoyo
- 5. Walk to the Tide Pools
- 6. Ride Horseback with a Gaucho
- 7. Go on a Fishing Trip
- 8. Go to an Electronic Music Event
- 9. Las Salinas Rodeo Show
- 10. Get a Beach Massage
- 11. Soak in Natural Hot Springs
- Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Popoyo
- Where to Eat: Best Restaurants in Popoyo
- How to Get to Popoyo, Nicaragua
- How to Get Around Popoyo
- Final Thoughts: Best Things to Do in Popoyo, Nicaragua
- Popoyo, Nicaragua Travel FAQs
- Did you know…
Is Popoyo Worth Visiting?
First things first. You want to know whether Popoyo is worth visiting. And the answer is, absolutely, yes… Especially if you’re already traveling around Nicaragua or Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region (peep our Ultimate Nicaragua Itinerary and our Ultimate Costa Rica Itinerary!).
Many people visit Popoyo for surfing and yoga retreats and don’t even explore the rest of this dynamic country, which points to just how magnetic this place is!
So what makes Popoyo worth your time?
In Popoyo, you can learn to surf or improve your skills on some of Latin America’s best waves; take amazing yoga classes right in front of the ocean; ride horses on the beach during a majestic sunset (Popoyo has some of the best sunsets I’ve seen!); and kick back with a cocktail at a beachfront bar and restaurant.
A visit to Popoyo Nicaragua is both an adventure and a relaxing vacation… And it’s one of my favorite reasons to visit Nicaragua.
Must-Know Tips & Quick Facts About Popoyo
Before we dive into the best things to do in Popoyo, let’s quickly cover some must-know facts and expert tips to help you plan your trip to Popoyo!
- Playa Popoyo is located on indigenous land between Playa Jiquiliste and Playa Guasacate.
- Almost all Popoyo hotels are located in Playa Jiquiliste or Guasacate, but the whole area is referred to as Popoyo.
- The dry season is the high season for tourism (December-April).
- I would advise not traveling to Popoyo during January and February because it is incredibly windy!
- Nicaragua’s rainy season (May-November) is best for bigger waves.
- Popoyo is famous for its nearly year-round offshore wind and idyllic surfing conditions!
- There are often hurricanes during the late months of Nicaragua’s wet season.
- Popoyo is about 2.5 hours from Managua, the capital of Nicaragua and airport city, and about 1.5 hours from Granada, Nicaragua.
- Currently, there is no ATM in Popoyo, but there is one near Hacienda Iguana, at the Riviera Market, 20 minutes away.
- You can get cash back at the Popoyo Ocean Market for about an 8% fee.
- Most restaurants take debit and credit cards, but cash is king.
- The power frequently cuts out. Sometimes for 30 minutes but up to 20 hours… or more.
- Internet is strong when there is power; CLARO is the common carrier.
- You cannot drink the tap water, so buy bottled water or use a GRAYL GeoPress Water Purifier Bottle.
- Book a hotel with air conditioning. This one is my favorite!
- If you want to rent a car it will need to be a 4X4, and it will likely have a manual transmission. Click here to find the best deals on rental cars!
- You can rent motorcycles and scooters in Popoyo at Popoyo Moto Rental.
- There are three main beaches in Popoyo: Playa Popoyo, Finca Popoyo, and Playa Santana, but also many other beaches that you can access by boat or a short car ride.
- There are no street lights in Popoyo, so it’s best not to walk in the road at night.
11 Best Things to Do in Popoyo, Nicaragua
After living in Popoyo, Nicaragua for nine months, here are my top 11 picks for the best things to do in Popoyo!
1. Surf Lesson at Beginner’s Bay
Of course, one of the best things to do in Popoyo is surfing! And you don’t have to be a professional surfer to catch a wave.
Beginner’s Bay offers the perfect protected area for timid beginner surfers to test out their surf legs.
Multiple companies offer surf lessons with a surfboard rental, but I highly recommend Beginner Bay Surf School. They are also conveniently located right at Beginner’s Bay, so there’s no need to haul your board rental down the beach!
2. Surfing Charter
If you’re an avid surfer looking to take advantage of Popoyo’s offshore wind and epic surf spots, there’s no doubt a surf trip by boat should be at the top of your Popoyo to-do list!
With the freedom of a boat, you can check out Popoyo’s nearby waves such as Playgrounds, Lance’s Left, Panga Drops, Colorados, and Manzanillo.
Chances are, your Popoyo hotel will offer a surf trip or have a connection to set you up with one.
However, I suggest booking yours with this hotel because they offer state-of-the-art boating and surf equipment, and the owner, Simone, will take you to the best spots according to daily conditions.
3. Take an Oceanfront Yoga Class
There’s nothing quite like practicing yoga to the rhythm of the Pacific Ocean. And in Popoyo, there are plenty of good yoga classes to choose from.
The classic is at Magnific Rock Surf Resort & Yoga Retreat (A.K.A. Mag Rock), where their covered yoga room looks out over the ocean with large open windows that welcome the sea breeze.
Right over the sand, but shaded from rain and sun, is 99 SURF LODGE’s modern and new yoga deck with a spectacular view of the waves!
Both classes are $10. Find their schedules on Instagram!
4. Watch a Sunset at Finca Popoyo
One of my favorite ways to end a day in Popoyo is watching surfers take their final waves as the sun sets the ocean aglow.
The perfect spot to do this is Finca Popoyo! Their laid-back restaurant and bar, clinging to the cliff above Popoyo’s inner-reef offers great views of Popoyo’s outer-reef, a pool table, cozy hammock chairs, and an always-vibey playlist.
5. Walk to the Tide Pools
North of Playa Santana in Popoyo is a vast expanse of sandy beach called Playa Guasacate. But about a 20-minute walk to the end of Guasacate Beach is a rock outcropping with a hidden gem right around the corner!
If you walk around the curved rock formation, you’ll discover natural swimming pools to retreat into for relaxation and complete nature immersion.
The tide pools are best accessed at low tide.
6. Ride Horseback with a Gaucho
The long stretch of beach from Jiquiliste to Guasecate is best explored on horseback at sunset. Horseback riding on the beach is romantic, but you can always book the ride solo and talk with Fabio, the famed gaucho of Popoyo!
Riding with a skilled Nicaraguan horseman (gaucho) is an authentic experience! Time to brush up on your Spanish!
You can easily book a horseback riding tour through your hotel – just let them know you want to go with Fabio!
7. Go on a Fishing Trip
If a surf trip isn’t your thing, or if you want to explore the ocean another way, book a fishing charter.
Popoyo has fantastic inshore and offshore fishing – when the weather permits. If you get lucky during an offshore trip, you can reel in dorado and wahoo!
Like most things to do in Popoyo, you should be able to book a fishing trip through your hotel.
However, there’s a longstanding fishing/surfing charter company called Surfari Charters that you might consider for an all-inclusive experience. They’ve been providing guests with epic fishing adventures for 20 years!
8. Go to an Electronic Music Event
This serene beach community is a good place to have a quiet time. But if you’re looking to celebrate life and party it up, I’ve got just the recommendation.
Let Shared Rhythms music collective lead you into a night of dancing and mingling with beautiful people. They throw fabulous electronic music parties in various locations, collaborate with local artists and DJs, and even bring in international talent for special events.
Expect stellar lights and lasers, a boho-chic DJ booth, fire dancers, LED dancers, and killer electronic music ranging from organic house to dark techno.
9. Las Salinas Rodeo Show
I will never forget attending the local rodeo. If you’re visiting during May and June, this is one of the best things you can do in Popoyo (well, nearby anyway).
The Las Salinas rodeo is a staple in the community. But what exactly does this Nicaraguan tradition entail? Well, cowboys ride bulls and rodeo clowns entertain in between.
This is a great time to let loose, drink Toña, and soak up real Nicaraguan life.
10. Get a Beach Massage
A beach vacation isn’t complete without a beach massage, is it?
Getting yourself a beach massage is not only good for you, but it supports the young local women who get certified in massage therapy. There’s no shortage of incredible masseuses here! Book one through your hotel.
11. Soak in Natural Hot Springs
Just inland is an indigenous village called Las Salinas Nahualapa. There, you’ll find naturally-fed hot sulfur water soaking tubs perfect for your post-yoga or post-surf R&R. Locals call it the “Ojo de Agua.”
Go at night to look up at the stars while soaking your muscles in an organic hot tub.
Not to mention, the small fee of $3 goes toward uplifting the local indigenous community. Find it on Google Maps here!
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Popoyo
99 SURF LODGE: As far as luxury surf lodges go, this is the best in Popoyo. An infinity-edge pool jutting right out to the ocean; modern, understated cabins; and a beachfront yoga deck make 99 SURF LODGE hard to beat! Click here to book it.
Tropic Popoyo: If you want your very own tropical hideaway in the heart of Popoyo, Tropic Popoyo’s cabins are sure to please you. Come enjoy the lush greenery and refreshing pool for ultimate post-surf hangs.
El Pez Surf Hotel: If you want to stay in Guasacate’s best new hotel, look no further than El Pez Surf Hotel. From the pool to the rooms and restaurant, you’ll be wowed by this slice of paradise. Click here to book it.
Casitas Pacific: Also in Guasacate is Casitas Pacific, with a wood and white design oceanfront property. I love Casitas Pacific’s location, sunset views, and on-site bar and restaurant! Click here to book it.
Where to Eat: Best Restaurants in Popoyo
99 TABERNA: 99 SURF LODGE can do no wrong. Everything on the menu is delectable and they offer a stunning, one-of-a-kind sand-tatami seating arrangement.
Paolone Restaurant: It doesn’t get more Italian than Paolones. The lasagna with bechamel cheese is absolutely insane and you need to order it. Also, get a few glasses of wine! The prices are great here.
Dutchy’s Cafe: If you’re in the mood for an incredible breakfast sandwich that is light but filling and made fresh, Dutchy’s is your spot. The ambiance and service are fabulous.
Yolanda’s Cafe: Yolanda is the sweetest señora. Her cafe is in Limon Dos, the nearest village to Popoyo. Come here for super authentic local food; the fried fish is my go-to! P.S. She has a little pet monkey!
La Finca y El Mar: Though Rancho Santana is in Playa Santana, north of Popoyo, it’s an incredible place to have a meal, and a short car ride away (about 25 minutes). The food, drinks, and sunsets at Rancho Santana’s La Finca y El Mar are out of this world.
Popoyo, Nicaragua Packing List
To make it easier for you to plan your trip to Popoyo, I’ve put together this packing list with links to our favorite products on Amazon!
- GRAYL GeoPress purifying water bottle (so you can drink any water, any time!)
- Eco-friendly, organic bug spray
- Natural, reef-safe sunscreen (to protect the environment, and your skin!)
- Waterproof hiking boots (these are the best ever!)
- Travel rain jacket (for wet season)
- Foldable and breathable sun hat
- Lightweight long sleeves + pants (for sun protection)
- Sandals for adventures, like Tevas
- Headlamp (for power outages!)
- Waterproof dry bag (for kayaking, boat tours, rainforest exploring, etc.)
- Backup charging pack (for power outages)
- Manduka EKO Superlite Yoga Mat (if you’re a yogi, this is the best travel mat)
- Quick-dry Turkish beach towel
- Travel insurance (an absolute must)
Popoyo Surf Spots
Since Popoyo is a surf destination, this guide to the best things to do in Popoyo wouldn’t be complete without a breakdown of the best surf spots.
1. Popoyo Main Break
Popoyo Nicaragua’s jewel in the crown of surf breaks, Popoyo Inner Reef, is right in the center of Popoyo Beach. It’s also called Popoyo Main Break. This wave is an A-frame shape that favors lefts and barrels. Popoyo Inner Reef is best for experienced surfers – and when it’s double overhead, experts only!
2. Popoyo Outer Reef
Outer Reef is one of Popoyo’s expert-only surf spots. It’s said that the Outer Reef resembles Hawaii’s Pipeline. Did I mention experts only? The paddle from Popoyo Inner Reef is just 5 minutes north of Popoyo Outer Reef.
3. Playa Santana
This beach is one of Popoyo’s best all-level surf spots. No reef breaks here! Access Playa Santana by walking due north of Popoyo to Jiquiliste Beach, just before the Rancho Santana Resort.
4. Panga Drops
Pretty much everyone agrees that the deep-water reef of Panga Drops is one of Nicaragua’s most consistent waves. Panga Drops offers both lefts and rights. It’s the main wave of Hacienda Iguana, a nearby gated community. You can access it by unmarked roads or a boat (also called a panga!).
You’ll meet people in Popoyo who come just to surf Colorado’s: often referred to as one of Central America’s most incredible beach breaks! This wave can get big, so it’s not for beginners! You’ll only access Playa Colorado by staying in Hacienda Iguana or by a long boat ride.
If you’re on a surf charter, Manzanillo is one of the most desirable waves you can access, and it’s one of Popoyo’s most popular reef breaks. Manzanillo is a fun mid-size point break suitable for intermediate surfers, and accessible with a quick five-minute boat ride.
7. Beginner’s Bay
As you know by now, Beginner’s Bay is the best surf spot for newbie surfers. However, this bay does occasionally get big waves! So it’s not always suited for beginners learning for the very first time, but it will always be a softer wave than a beach break because of the rock formation out front. Beginner’s Bay is just below Magnific Rock Surf Resort and has a left and middle section.
P.S. If you’re looking to improve in surfing over the course of your trip, try one of Popoyo’s surf camps, like Sirena Surf House!
Welcome to Popoyo Nicaragua’s best “ripple wave”! Playgrounds is commonly compared to Trestles in Southern California and is good for all levels. This surf spot is accessed by boat and really only safe with light winds.
9. Lance’s Left
This long left point break is accessed by both road and boat, so take your pick! Lance’s Left is said to be Nicaragua’s truest point break and has up to a 1,500-foot-long ride, suitable for almost all levels!
How to Get to Popoyo, Nicaragua
Getting to Popoyo from Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua is very simple! However, the dirt roads close to Popoyo are often semi-flooded during Nicaragua’s wet season, so be sure to request a 4X4 taxi!
The drive takes around 2.5 to 3 hours and will cost you anywhere from $80 to $100 USD, depending on your driver, the season (rainy season is more expensive), and your bargaining skills, of course!
If you prefer a hassle-free route, order a private transfer through Pablo Travel! You just need to provide them with your flight info and how many people you’re traveling with.
If you’re coming up from San Juan del Sur, Popoyo is just about 1.5 hours away. You’ll pass through the town of Rivas, Nicaragua, which is a great place to get groceries before heading to Popoyo (Popoyo only has a couple of mini-markets). A taxi from San Juan del Sur to Popoyo will run you anywhere from $40 to $60 USD.
How to Get Around Popoyo
The best way to get around Popoyo is by motorcycle or 4X4 rental car.
There are multiple moto rental operations in Popoyo, but the best and most reliable is Popoyo Moto Rental. They offer daily and weekly rentals, as well as surf racks! Expect to pay at least $25 USD for a daily rental in Popoyo.
For your Popoyo car rental, contact Luis Popoyo Rental Cars and Tour Transportation. They have a consistent selection of 4X4 cars built to handle the rough road conditions around Popoyo. The average rate for a daily car rental is around $40. However, if you want to pick up a rental car at the airport, click here to book it.
For taxi services, a transportation company like Pablo Travel will arrange your rides in and around Popoyo. Since there are no idle taxis in the area, I suggest keeping the name and number of your driver handy.
MORE NICARAGUA TRAVEL INSPIRATION
Final Thoughts: Best Things to Do in Popoyo, Nicaragua
Whether your sights are set on Popoyo surf camps, surf trips, yoga classes, or fishing trips – or if you’re in the mood for a tranquil beach vacation – you’ll love this incredible Nicaraguan coastal town.
Popoyo, Nicaragua is paradisiacal, yes. But also, truly rugged and rural. Popoyo is untamed!
Popoyo, Nicaragua Travel FAQs
Popoyo, Nicaragua is no doubt worth visiting. For off-the-beaten-path travelers, Popoyo’s rustic yet just-enough-developed style will suit you. And if you like surfing, yoga, and chilled-out beach life, look no further!
To get from Popoyo to San Juan del Sur, hire a taxi or book a shuttle through a transportation company such as Pablo Travel. The ride is 1 hour and 45 minutes.
The best time of the year for surfing in Nicaragua is during the wet season, from May through November. However, surfing is great year-round in Popoyo, Nicaragua!
The best tide to surf Inner or Outer Reef is mid to high tide. Just be sure not to surf when the tide is too low because the reef below becomes a hazard!
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