We found Playa Santana mostly because of an awesome deal on Airbnb and I couldn’t be more grateful. I’m a big fan of slow travel; having the time to do everyday things in a new place really adds to the evolution of my perspective.
Bryce wanted to be able to walk out in the morning to go surfing without dealing with taxis or shuttles to surf spots like in San Juan del Sur, and I wanted the space to be able to practice flow arts without a crowd. So, during our first week in Nicaragua, while we were in SJDS, I researched slightly more remote places in our budget with a kitchen and in reasonable proximity of good surf and found something that exceeded our expectations.
Playa Santana is in the southern part of Popoyo, north of SJDS. It was much less populated than any other beach town we visited giving us plenty of afternoons soaking up the sun and surf by ourselves. It was rocky in some places, but there was still plenty of sandy places to walk into the water. Bryce did get quite a few jellyfish stings, but that seemed to be an issue everywhere we went and was never a reason to not go out.
Check out this little breakdown of surf spots in Popoyo on Café con Leche.
You can get there by chicken bus from Rivas or if you are going to stay for awhile, grab a taxi that will take you to a grocery store first and then drive you all the way to where you are staying. The bus drops off in town, but you will have to get a tuk-tuk the rest of the way to where you are staying assuming you chose a place on the beach (which you should).
We had a clean apartment with a kitchen, fast wifi, and a small porch literally 40 meters from a good surf break. I could essentially lie in a hammock on our patio and watch Bryce surf. It was perfect.
We stocked up on the essentials in Rivas and relied on the produce trucks (mostly bring fruits and vegetables, occasionally eggs, meat, and cheese) that came every couple days to help bring this place into our budget. The apartment was about $550 for the month and we each averaged about $18 dollars a day with everything else included. (Watch out for a full break down of our expenses here soon!)
Our “splurges” were mostly $.50 coffee, $3 wine, and sometimes $1.50 dessert at the restaurant next door, Villa Jiquelite. Occasionally, a soda or a smoothie from Buena Onda or Café con Leche. And of course we had to make it to Magnific Rock for a night out at least once.
There were of course a few occasions where wifi, electricity, or water was out, but nothing more than we would expect for any beach location like this.
Other than that though, it was the slow (but still active), simple, sober life in Playa Santana for us. So, if you’re intoto that, then this is the perfect place for you even if you are on a budget.
Where to Stay:
We rented our apartment through the owner of Garden Grove, Susan. She was just helping out her friend who actually leased the apartment but was away in Australia at the time. She was just lovely though; welcoming us as if we were guests at her own guesthouse and was always available if we had questions or needed anything.
Garden Grove would have been our next choice. The bungalows were all nice and clean with a porch circled around a communal hammock space and grassy yard. Susan even had a simple ‘bar’ set-up in the shed with beers and sodas so you didn’t have to cart all of that from Rivas. Check out this drone video of Garden Grove on their facebook page, here.
She rented surfboards for the most affordable price we saw in Nicaragua. And it was only about 100 meters from the beach and just a little further North from where we were. It was definitely meant for people on more long term surf holidays but would still be a great place to visit even for a couple days.
Magnific Rock is probably the most popular lodging for backpackers. However, there are no kitchens available for use, which left the restaurant as basically the only option for food, which was a little pricey. Still, they had rooms with four bunks available for $20, so if you have three friends with you, this could definitely be an affordable stop.
And nothing beats the view. Magnific Rock sits on a cliff and gives you a great view of the ocean and the beaches on either side. The restaurant and yoga area sits on the very edge so that even day visitors can enjoy the sights.
Check out a more thorough review on staying there on Five Point Five.
Café con Leche is a great spot to stay or to visit for a yummy smoothie or espresso. It’s right south of Magnific Rock and had a great chill vibe. The Canadian owner made us our smoothie and chatted with us about the area for a bit. They have a sand volleyball court out front and definitely cater to the surfer and yogi types. Bryce was able to buy a reasonably priced Get Up Stand Up shirt from here to use as a rash guard as well as surf wax.
Rancho Santana, a high-end spot that we only had the fortune to visit because of a tsunami warning on Thanksgiving Day. Our neighbors worked at Rancho Santana and invited us to come along when we were all advised to evacuate to higher grounds after an earthquake hit Nicaragua on the morning that everyone was preparing for Hurricane Otto…seriously. Weirdest Thanksgiving ever. Too many natural disasters all at once…but nothing really happened in Playa Santana so our trip to one of the most beautiful views I’ve seen in Nicaragua was nothing but a sweet bonus.
If you have the money though, check it out. Find a more detailed review of Rancho Santana and tourism in Nicaragua in general on Forbes, here.
Buena Onda was just south of Garden Grove and was one of our pseudo regular hangout spots. This place was a little more resort like but was a bargain compared to Rancho Santana. Because it was still low season, they didn’t mind us hanging out even though we weren’t guests. However, that may differ during high season if you’re only going for a beer and end up lounging by the pool for a couple hours.
Where to eat and drink:
Yolanda’s Café is a must. It’s close to the center of ‘town’ and was probably a 30 minute walk from our apartment. It’s absurdly delicious and the portions are absolutely insane. We got one of the more ‘basic’ meals, which came with a meat, a sauce, fried plantain cakes, white rice, beans, and salad for under $10 and we both walked away feeling like we wouldn’t be hungry for days.
Magnific Rock is the spot for nightlife. We went because there was a community circus performance being put on by CircAsana. A neighbor told us about it when she saw me playing with my dragon staff in the front yard one day and I’m so glad she did. The event was super family friendly and then afterwards it turned into the party spot. Drinks were a little higher than standard but nothing too shocking, and the local bartenders were generally full of smiles which is sometimes hard to find.
The show was great, a blend of kids just learning dance or flow arts and some professionals as well, even one fire dancer. I love flow arts and every chance I get to share my art with a kid, which has happened quite a few times while I’ve been in Nicaragua, is such a treat. It’s such a creative form of activity that gives one the feeling that they can do anything, and for a young person (well, for anyone really), that’s magic. I would have loved to check out one of the cool circus/yoga retreats put on by CircAsana but the timing wasn’t quite right. Next time:)
Villa Jiquiellete Restaurant was right next door to us and just a short stroll from Playa Santana. It was simple, cheap, and right on the beach. I loved going there for a glass of wine at sunset and by the end of our month in Playa Santana all the ladies who worked there remembered us and could probably guess what we were going to order because of what time of day it was. It was a hostel as well but I have no clue how to find them online nor what their prices were. However, I have a hard time imagining it was too expensive.
If you have the time and are okay with entertaining yourself or have a bit of work to do (this is where I really got my blog back on track after a bit of a hiatus), go here and settle in for a minute. You won’t regret it.