Great Waves, Uncrowded, and Affordable: The Rivas Province of Nicaragua is your new favorite place to surf
With offshore winds coming across Lake Nicaragua daily, Rivas has some of the most favorable surfing wind conditions 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’s our detailed surf guide and everything you need to know for a fantastic surf trip to The Rivas Province 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 (see more options below).
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. More info on visa requirements here.
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 are given in USD)
- Bottle of Water: $1
- Rental Car: $20/day
- Daily Accommodations: Starting at $13 for a dorm room/ up to $300
- Breakfast: $2-$7
- Lunch/Dinner: $5-$15
- Beer (the local beer is Toña): $1.50
Where to stay
When it comes to accommodations there are a ton of options. I would definitely recommend staying within the Popoyo to Magnific Rock area since there are 4-6 different waves within walking distance (see Booking.com map below).
I stayed at a boutique surf resort called Malibu Popoyo which I would definitely recommend if you are looking for absolute 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 (see our full review here). The nice thing about staying there is that guided daily surf trips are included. Prices range from $75 to $300 a night.
Also highly recommended are the rooms at Magnific Rock, many of them have breathtaking views. A 4-person dorm room is $13 per person. The sea view apartments with 1x twin & 1x double bed, are $85 a night. The food, view and general vibes at this headland hotel are amazing. It is a must visit for a sunset beer even if you are not staying there (see where to drink below!). The Mag Rock or Beginner’s Bay wave is just below the hotel.
Budget-friendly options include 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. Beach-front budget stays include Los Coco Beach House is right on the beach and only $8 a night for a bed in a mixed dorm room or $24 for a private double room. Of course, Magnific Rock as mention above have a $13 dorm room. Big Surf House is in a great location with a ping pong table and pool, also $8 a night for a dorm or $24 for a double room. A double room at Popoyo Surf Camp SHAKA will cost you $14 and a dorm $7, although this is 10 minute or so walk from the beach.
We recommend booking through Booking.com as you will receive the most competitive rates. For many accommodation options, you can reserve your dates free-of-charge and then pay on arrival. Great for when your plans change (as they always do!).
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 has 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.
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.
An A-Frame wedge breaking over flat reef near the beach. Best on a medium swell.
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.
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 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 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 National 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. Enjoy the hunt.
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):
- Saludos (Greeting)
- Qué onda?
- Como te veo?
- Qué nota?
- Qué hubo?
- 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.
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!
For more surf guides including The North Shore Hawaii, El Salvador, Puerto Escondido Mexico, Maldives and The Arugam Bay region in Sri Lanka, check out our detailed surf guide section and also don’t forget to double check your bags against our essential surf packing list!