Activities in and around San Juan del Sur

When my parents visited us in San Juan for the first time in early 2008, they both commented that it is a beautiful town, but they didn’t know how to access the various activities our pueblo claims to offer.  So, this post is for you, Mom and Dad.  Enjoy!  And FYI – this is really just an expanded list of Rancho Chilamate’s A to Z Guide, with the exception that all of these activities are within 30 minutes (más o menos) of San Juan.

Horseback Riding with Rancho Chilamate

Canopy Tour with Da Flying Frog

Take Surf Lessons with NSR, Chica Brava, Casa Ariki

Visit La Flor Wildlife Reserve to see the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

Visit to surrounding beaches (Marsella, Maderas, Playones are all about 25 minutes north and Remanso, Yankee, Hermosa, and Coco are between 10-40 minutes south)

Practice Yoga at Zen Yoga Studio or Nica Yoga

Get a massage, mani/pedi, and more at Spa del Sur, Bonnie Lassie, or Pelican Eyes

Go Sailing with Pelican Eyes or Nica Sail and Surf

Go Deep Sea Fishing or Spear Fishing with Aquaholic

Play a friendly game of Paintball

Try Kitesurfing on Lake Nicaragua

Learn Spanish

Volunteer with Comunidad Connect, Barrio La Planta Project, A. Jean Brugger Foundation

Join the annual Howler Mountain Bike Race (seasonal)

Play Frisbee Golf

Take a Helicopter Tour over Playa Ocotal or Playa Hermosa

Rappel from the Lighthouse

Real Estate Tour with Justin at Aurora Beachfront Realty

Hike to the world’s second largest Jesus

Rent a Kayak from Kyle’s Kayaks, found at Pau Hana Restaurant

Try to Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) in the San Juan Bay

Tour San Juan on an ATV

Itinerary for a 10-day trip to Nicaragua: Lake/Beach/Volcano Style

Justin and I have been fortunate to travel a decent amount of Nicaragua while living here.  Every trip we take, I deign to say it was my favorite, until the next one comes along.  I have documented various sojourns throughout the country in previous posts:

Purisima in Leon, Leon Viejo, Volcano Boarding, PoneloyaGranada, Granada IsletasOmetepeCorn IslandsEsteli, Condega, Miraflor, and TiseyJinotegaLaguna de ApoyoMasayaTolaMontelimar

But I am often asked for ideas for a solid 7-10 day vacation for first-time visitors to Nicaragua.  Though this particular itinerary may not reflect all of my favorite locations, it is a good first primer on the country.  Check back later for further itinerary ideas.

Airlines flying to Nicaragua:
American Airlines, via Miami
Continental Airlines, via Houston
Delta Airlines, via Atlanta
Spirit Airlines, via Ft. Lauderdale
Taca Airlines, via San Salvador
Copa Airlines, via Panama City

Upon arriving in Managua, you will want to have a shuttle or a car rental available.

Shuttle Companies Servicing San Juan del Sur Area:
Iskra Travel
Adelante Express
Pelican Eyes Resort

Rental Car Companies
At the Managua Airport
In San Juan: Dollar, Alamo, Classic Cruisers 

Should you arrive in Managua late at night, I highly recommend spending the night in a hotel.  If you want to stay near the airport, try:
Hotel Camino Real

Unless you have a lot of shopping needs (i.e., you’ve bought a home here and need to furnish it, buy sheets and towels, etc), I recommend skipping Managua altogether.  It is rather chaotic and not very tourist-friendly.  Upon departing Managua, your vacation truly begins!

For an itinerary, you might consider the following:

Day 1: Arrive in Managua early afternoon, 45-minute transfer to Granada. Granada is a beautiful little city and always a favorite of first time visitors. It has the brightly painted buildings, the horse-drawn carriages, etc.  Relax at hotel pool, wander city in the evening. Stay at Hotel Plaza Colon or Hotel Dario 

Day 2: Take Panga Tour of Isletas on the Lake Nicaragua in morning, relax in afternoon.  Good chance of seeing Howler Monkeys here.

Day 3: Transport to San Juan del Sur in the morning – possibly stopping at Mombacho Volcano for a hike before heading to San Juan.  You will need a solid half day for this excursion.

Days 4-7: Stay in San Juan del Sur.  Click here for further ideas on activities in San Juan.  Stay at Pelican Eyes Resort and SpaPosada AzulVillas de Palermo or rent a house from Vacation Rentals Nicaragua.

Days 8-9: Visit Isla de Ometepe, on Lake Nicaragua, home to Volcan Concepcion and Maderas.  You can access Ometepe via a ferry from San Jorge, a town located just outside of Rivas and appx. 30 minutes from San Juan del Sur.  The ferry takes about 1 hour to get to the port at Moyogalpa.  Taxis and buses are available at the port or you can arrange for a private transfer ahead of time.  Once there, hike the San Ramon waterfall, ride horseback to the Ojo de Agua (a natural swimming pool), kayak on the istian river, and rent bicycles to explore the island and visit the museum in Altagracia, home to view pre-Columbian Nahuatl Indians petroglyhps.  Stay at Hotel Villa Paraiso or Totoco Eco Lodge

Day 10: Depending on what time and date you plan to depart, you could stop in Masaya on your way out of town.  There is an artisan market there and/or you could drive up to Masaya Volcano.  There is no hiking involved with this volcano.

The itinerary allows for flexibility.  Some prefer to skip Ometepe altogether or visit the island before relaxing at the end of your trip in San Juan.  For people with more time, I would also recommend a visit to the colonial city of Leon, located approximately 3.5 hours north of San Juan.  For extended vacations, consider going further north to Esteli, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Somoto.  Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen, bug spray, camera, and bathing suit and have a great time!

Comida Tipica

Typical Nacatamal

Despite its tasty Gallo Pinto and Nacatamales, Nicaragua is not often recognized as a culinary capital of the world, but here are two links that have found the hidden gems of Nicaraguan cuisine – and some of the pitfalls of its politics.

Goodwin: Discover the culinary delights & flavors of Nicaragua

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

Can “Survivor” redefine Nicaragua’s image? – Tim Rogers Article

Can “Survivor” redefine Nicaragua’s image?

Nicaraguans like that “Survivor” is highlighting its harsh environment.

By Tim Rogers — Special to GlobalPost
Published: September 7, 2010 06:45 ET in The Americas

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — “Survivor” contestants are infamous for their petty catfights, but Nicaragua’s tourism industry is holding out hope for something more.

When 20 American contestants face off for the $1 million grand prize on “Survivor Nicaragua,” about 13 million Americans will tune into watch — giving the country a level of pop-culture exposure like never before.

The Emmy award-winning reality TV show, which begins airing Sept. 15 on CBS, has promoted this season with a dramatic trailer highlighting Nicaragua as an exotic and untamed land of “impenetrable terrain” and “savage wildlife.”

But following Nicaragua’s only other experience on American prime time television — the brutal U.S.-funded contra war in the 1980s — a show focusing on Nicaragua’s harsh and uninviting environment is considered positive press here.

And tourism boosters are thrilled. That’s because the American audience that tunes in each Wednesday represents the otherwise “impenetrable terrain” of a mass market that Nicaragua can’t possibly tap with its own resources — a paltry $2 million in annual promotional funding.

“The country does not have enough budget for promotion and marketing to reach an audience of this magnitude. Therefore, the filming of “Survivor” in Nicaragua constitutes a huge opportunity for us,” said Javier Chamorro, executive director of the Nicaragua’s investment-promotion agency ProNicaragua, which played a key role in convincing the producers of “Survivor” to come here.

For a country whose tourism industry has yet to reach the 1 million annual visitor mark, even a relatively small boost from curious “Survivor” fans could have an enormous ripple effect on the economy here. Tourism Minister Mario Salinas notes that if only 1 percent of “Survivor” viewers decide to visit Nicaragua, it would represent a 50 percent increase in American tourists — Nicaragua’s main market.

Salinas said the government and its public-relations agency in Los Angeles are already working to answer the increasing demand for information from U.S. travel agencies that are experiencing an uptick in interest about Nicaragua as a result of the thousands of articles that have already been published to promote the new season of Survivor.

And Salinas said he’s not worried about the show labeling his country as “savage.”

“I don’t think it has a negative connotation — it’s associated with pure, virgin nature that is uncontaminated,” the tourism minister said. “In other parts of the world, nature is domesticated, designed and arranged. But people don’t want that from nature; they want it to be authentic. And that’s what we have in Nicaragua.”

Lucy Valenti, president of Nicaragua’s National Tourism Chamber, agrees that the country could use “Survivor” to spin its “savage” image into a positive catchphrase — similar to Colombia’s recent campaign to turn its perception as a violent and dangerous place into the catchy tourist slogan “The only risk is wanting to stay.”

Valenti said the reality show could also give Nicaragua a unique chance to showcase its underdevelopment as an unexplored tourism destination for adventure and nature.

The truth is Nicaragua can use all the positive spin it can get these days. Since President Daniel Ortega returned to power in 2007, stories about Nicaragua in the international media have focused mostly on the Sandinistas’ political shenanigans, claims of electoral fraud and tiresome tales of political crisis and ungovernability. While tourism continues to grow in Nicaragua despite all that — and even during a global economic downturn — the number of American tourists coming here is showing signs of leveling off for the first time in many years.

So the dirty tricks and cutthroat politics of Survivor contestants in the reality show competition will come as a welcome distraction from the real thing in Nicaragua’s government. Plus, by becoming part of mainstream American TV culture, Nicaragua will be able to reach out the large segment of people who otherwise may never have considered this country as a place to spend a week’s vacation.

“’Survivor’ is a unique opportunity for a host nation to reach out to the world,” said Leisa Francis, the show’s co-executive producer. “The show is created in a way that highlights the host nation’s scenic beauty, its wildlife and its culture. Survivor delivers a video postcard of the host nation. The promotional value is extraordinary.”

That’s particularly true for Nicaragua. With remote white-sand beaches and lush tropics — all within a two-hour flight from Miami — Nicaragua hopes to benefit from the “‘Survivor’ effect” more than previous countries that are either too large to notice any effect, such as China and Australia, or too far off the map to be helped by reality TV, such as Gabon, Vanuatu and Samoa.

Realtors — a motley group of national and international salespeople who haven’t had much to cheer about for the past three years — report that “Survivor” is both a selling point or something to refrain for mentioning, depending on the potential client.

“Most clients assume that the show will bring good publicity to the area, thus making their investment now a good idea to get ahead of the rush,” said Justin Fahey, of San Juan del Sur’s Aurora Beachfront Realty.

However, he added, “Some clients couldn’t give a crap about a reality TV show that is in its millionth season, clinging to relevancy. Many people come to Nicaragua and buy land here to retire or vacation away from 24/7 news cycle and rat race. So mentioning ‘Survivor’ to them might be construed as a negative — they want to experience authentic Nicaragua as a contrast to life in North America.”

But for people who already bought here, Fahey said, “Survivor” has become a bragging point among their friends and family back home in the U.S.

Expats and investors now “feel legitimized” in their decision to buy here, Fahey said. “It’s like they’re saying, ‘Ha! My friends back home said I was nuts to invest here, but now I tell them, ‘You can see my beach this fall on “Survivor!”‘ ”