Granada, Isla de Ometepe and San Juan Del Sur

Posted by on May 29, 2017 in Central America, Nicaragua, Travel | 0 comments

Granada, Isla de Ometepe and San Juan Del Sur

I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in Nicaragua with two of my oldest and closest friends, I absolutely loved this cheap and cheerful country, and not just because of the great company!

Coming from southern Costa Rica I spent two days on buses to get to Granada to meet them.  Although not the most efficient method it was definitely the cheapest, only costing me about $50 USD total instead of the hundreds it would’ve to fly.

The Tica Bus is an easy way to get across the border, and the transport is on a real coach with air-conditioning and comfortable seats, the kind of luxury that matters when you’re going to be travelling for around eight hours!

The border crossing can take quite a while and is a great opportunity to practice patience and eat some plantain chips with cheese and salad from a plastic bag for lunch.  Also, don’t be phased when they disappear with your passport for what seems like an unnecessarily long time.

 

Granada

On the shores of Lake Nicaragua lies the colonial town of Granada where the colourful buildings and quaint central park square immediately transport you back in time.

It is also very HOT.  One of our regrets was not spending the extra $2 a night to stay at a hostel that had a pool!  Instead we cooled off with buckets of six ice cold Tona beers for 150 cordoba ($5 USD).

We stayed at De BocaEn Boca, a hostel next door to the famous church Iglesia La Merced.  Dating back to 1534 you can climb up to the bell tower of the church for a nice view over Granada.

 

 

The hostel was clean and friendly and included a pancake breakfast, albeit you have to cook the pancakes yourself, but at $8 a night we weren’t complaining!

We did a trip to view the active Masaya Volcano at night, it was cool to see the hot lava bubbling away, but know the trip is simply a car ride to the volcano and about 15 minutes of viewing time before returning.

 

 

A cute town perfect for talking afternoon strolls along the brightly coloured streets or the lakefront.

 

Ometepe Island

We had heard great things about the island of Ometepe and it did not disappoint.  The island is situated in Lake Nicaragua and made up of two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas, whose peaks rise out of the lake in a most mesmerising manner.

To get there we took a local “chicken bus” to Rivas, a taxi to the ferry port, a ferry and finally a collectivo to the area of Santa Cruz where we wanted to stay.  We ended up staying at Hostal Santa Cruz which had the perfect spot to watch the sunset with the stunning backdrop of Concepcion.

It was also across the road from a small supermarket, a short stroll from the delicious meals at Nectar cafe, and an easy walk to the beach.

 

 

Through the hostel we arranged a local guide to take us hiking up Maderas Volcano for $15 USD each.  It is possible to do the hike on your own, but there were several forks in the path and I was glad to have an experienced guide with us.  He also pointed out interesting wildlife on the way and yelled a jovial warning of “cabeza!” whenever there was a low lying branch.

It took us around 3 1/2 hours to hike to the summit of the volcano where we were rewarded with a view over the lake for lunch.  It’s also possible to hike down to the lake and swim.  On our way down the rain hit and our muddy rocky path became a slippery slope, literally!  Our guide informed us he had fallen down only three times in the last three years, I lost count of how many times I hit the ground that day.

We returned to the hostel covered in mud and a little bruised (both ego and body), but happy.

 

 

The next day before we could get too stiff we headed to Hari’s Horses to take a ride around the volcano, which we could now triumphantly say we had conquered!  We had a private tour with Hari and gleefully cantered along the lake, pretty impressive considering my friends were beginners.

We stopped to wander through ancient petroglyphs carved into rocks, and took a swim in the lake which not only cooled us down but also gave us a view of petroglyphs on rocks that you couldn’t see from the shore.  We rode again before stopping for a cold beer and then it was the horses time to cool off as we rode them bareback into the ocean.

The horses were obviously well cared for and Hari is passionate about what he does, a great way to explore the island regardless of your experience level.

 

 

San Juan Del Sur 

After a few days on Ometepe we headed back to Rivas and from there to the coastal town of San Juan Del Sur (SJDS).  When you mention SJDS the first response is usually “Sunday Funday!”, either said with great excitement or great disdain.  This weekly afternoon pool crawl party is evident each Sunday as groups of people don their ‘Sunday Funday’ tank top and head out.

At $30 USD just for the tank top and privilege of attending (compared with other tank tops for $2 in the local market) and still having to buy all of your drinks, we opt out of Sunday Funday and instead create our own, going to bars not on their hit list.

I was prepared not to love SJDS, knowing it was somewhat of a tourist hot spot and party town. However after a couple of days it felt like home, and during the week it was much quieter and laid back which I enjoyed.

Casa Oro Eco Hostel was our base, rooms vary depending on what floor you are staying, there’s nice common areas with hammocks for lazing about and a daily breakfast included.  Their ‘coco caliente’ cocktail made with coconut milk and jalapeño was incredible, and 2 for 1 during happy hour.

We walked up to the statue of Jesus that watches over the town, a good idea on a Monday morning when everyone is sleeping off their hangover as you’ll practically have it to yourself.

A fun filled morning was spent doing a jungle canopy zip lining tour with Da Flying Frog, awesome views, long lines and you get to control how fast (or slow!) you want to go.

 

 

There are many beaches in the surrounding area, most with great waves for surfing.  We spent a day at Playa Hermosa which is a beautiful white sandy beach, but be warned there is only one option for food and drinks and it is way more expensive than anything in town, so I suggest you BYO.

 

 

 

Food wise in town there is an amazing local comedor near the market that serves up your choice of meat (chicken, beef or pork) along with the typical sides of gallo pinto, plantain and salad.  Just follow the smoke billowing from the side of the road!  The food at the market is also cheap and good, but only open during the daytime.

Rum and beer are cheap, usually $1 during happy hour, and for an amazing homemade ginger infused rum get to Republika Bar.  The Beach House is located on the sand, but quite pricey and the food servings are small.  A better option for sunset drinks is to simply grab some from the supermarket and sit on the steps of the beach – perfecto!

A sunset stand up paddle board session with SUP Del Sur was the perfect way to end our last day in SJDS.

 

 

Nicaragua offers truly spectacular natural beauty and is still affordable (especially compared to it’s southern neighbour Costa Rica), the people are friendly and it is relatively easy to navigate (although even a little Spanish goes a long way).  It is somewhere I would definitely recommend putting on your list when visiting Central America.

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