Our 2 weeks in Nicaragua was divided between San Juan Del Sur in the south-western corner of the country, Isla de Ometepe (a dual Volcano Island on Lake Nicaragua), and the colourful & colonial city of Granada. I'd like to write a 3 part series on our trip, talking a bit about each place. For today, let's start with San Juan Del Sur..
Every where you go you see trucks full of sun kissed travellers and their surf boards, either heading out to catch a wave at one of the many nearby windswept beaches, or returning from such a beach. I am not a surfer myself, but I did enjoy watching the comings and goings of all those bronzed surfer bodies.
The beach in San Juan Del Sur itself is actually not all that spectacular-- packed brown/black sand, and small waves make it a better place for a long walk or body boarding that actual surfing. To get up onto the board properly, all the cool kids head to Playa Maderas or Playa Hermosa. Shuttles in town offer round trip transportation to these spots for $10 USD. Just be prepared to wait around a bit for the truck to fill up--nobody is in a rush in Nicaragua, it seems.
You may not know this about me, but I am something of a Sea Turtle Enthusiast. In Hawaii in 2014 I was able to realize a life long dream of swimming with a sea turtle (well... it was sleeping on coral at the time, but I swam over top of it and squealed like a submerged piggy the whole time while giving enthusiastic underwater thumbs-up-- so, still counts) which was a highlight of my life. This tour was right up my alley!
12 of us were taken to 'Playa La Flor' Wildlife Reserve, which is one of only 7 Olive Ridley Sea Turtle nesting sites in the world. Turtles lay their eggs en-masse on this beach June-December. Because poaching is such a problem in many parts of the world, conservation efforts are put in place to help nests survive. La Flor is patrolled 24 hours a day by armed guards. Some nests are even carefully dug up by conservation officers, and moved to a safe place until the babies hatch (see right image). After the babies hatch out of the repositioned nests, they are released on the water's edge, so they can begin their journeys into the ocean. These conservation efforts have helped see Olive Ridley populations flourish in Nicaragua for the first time in decades.
When we arrived at the Turtle Reserve, we were shown about 20 babies that had hatched that morning from their repositioned nest. Amazingly, we were allowed to gently hold one! Feeling it's little, leathery body toss about strongly in my palm was a feeling that I will never forget!!
After a quick photo op (with no flash!) we were instructed to place our babies a few meters from the water's edge, and give them space & time to begin their journeys. It is said that only 1 out of every 1000 hatchings will make it to adult hood. The odd are not in these little one's favours. Knowing that information was humbling and heart breaking. However, protecting nests from poachers and predators, and ensuring that babies can at least make it *into* the ocean gives these little ones a huge advantage and increases their changes of survival substantially. We watched as our little one scooted her way down the sand, battle against waves, and eventually disappear into the water. Good luck, dear one! May you be the 1 out of a 1000.
The wind-- In the earlier parts of the day, the wind blew so hard that utilizing the beach beach was impossible. Sand blew so strongly across the beach that it stung your legs as you walked. Sunbathing was completely our of the question, and even eating a meal at a beach-front restaurant was made unpleasant as sand blew into your eyes, mouth, and meal.
The prices-- Having been to Thailand 2x, I foolishly expected Nicaragua to have Thailand-Comparible prices. In fact, I expected Nicaragua to be like Thailand in many ways; it was not. Thailand and Nicaragua are so vastly different in so many ways that I feel like a total fool for ever expecting there to be any similarity at all. The prices are a wonderful example of this:
My husband and I travel fairly 'middle of the road'. We stay in moderate accommodations, eat at moderate restaurants, with both the occasional splurge, and the occasional sketchy food cart. In San Juan Del Sur, we were paying the equivalent of $22 cdn for a taco lunch, with two bottles of water. This is just a little bit less than what you would pay in Canada for the same meal. Was the food good? Yes, definitely! But it was easily 2x more expensive than we had anticipated going in.
I suspect that this has a lot to do with the current low Canadian dollar. Nicaragua deals in the local Cordoba, but informally deals in US Dollar as well. In San Juan many, many places list their prices first in USD, and will give you the Cordoba exchange if you ask for it. As such USD is essentially the starting point for all prices. A $15 USD lunch for two may be considered a good deal to many American travellers... but thanks to the low Canadian dollar, $15 turns into $21-$22 and it's suddenly not that great of a deal. Because of this, our trip ended up being almost twice as expensive as we budgeted for. Ouch!
The approachability of the other travellers-- I am not sure I have been anywhere where other travellers are as warm, engaging, and friendly as San Juan. Perhaps it's because so many of them are Canadians, and we Canadians are certainly known for our pleasant demeanours. Every where we went, we were making friends. If you are a solo traveller, SJDS is absolutely the place to go.
- Budget Travellers should check out Casa Oro-- It's centrally located, the staff are super helpful, and the place has an awesome vibe. We didn't sleep here ourselves, but used a lot of their tour/shuttle services and were really impressed. Their rooftop bar is pretty bangin' as well. Dorm rooms $15.
- If you have some money to spend, and want some where super nice, but still very much *in town* (so you aren't spending a fortune on cabs getting to & fro) check out Pelican Eyes Resort. Studio King Rooms starting at $220 p/night. This place is incredibly swanky! Can't afford to stay here, but want to make sure of their pools? Apparently they allow day-use for a fee. See reception.
- Beach front Hotel Alcazar is a slightly less expensive option, but still very nice and in an unbeatable location. Ocean view rooms with private terrace starting at $150 a night. Poolside rooms $130 a night.
- In terms of eating-- the restaurants on the beach are (predictably) the most expensive. The further inland you go, the lower the prices. Barrio Cafe does a wonderful breakfast. El Timon is beachside and has great nighttime entertainment (and high prices to match). Dia De Los Donuts has some of the best, freshest donuts I've ever put in my mouthpiece. And The Taco Spot has tasty & cheap tacos with amaaaaazing guacamole.