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!

Corn Island Adventures

Justin and I just spent a glorious 6 days in the Corn Islands on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.  A few details and then I’ll let the photos paint the picture:

WHERE TO STAY:

Big Corn Island: Casa Canada

Little Corn Island: Little Corn Beach and Bungalow

How to get there: La Costeña Airlines – to Big Corn Island – appx. $165/person

For more info: http://www.littlecornbb.com/getting_here.asp

Click here for our Corn Islands Photo Album

Enjoy!

Our Northern Trip

Back in September, Justin and I took this fantastic trip to the northern part of Nicaragua with our friends, Sarah and Baldo.  The four of us had been planning this trip for close to a year before we were finally able to take it.  It was well worth the wait.  The northern part of Nicaragua is stunning and everyone who visits should take the time to explore this corner of the country.

We began our journey on a Friday afternoon, driving thru Rivas, Nandaime, Catarina, etc. and circumventing Managua by passing thru Tipitapa (the route to the airport).  We spent the first three hours of our drive salivating about the upcoming stop in Sebaco for güirilas and cuajada at Tipico Daisy.

A quick stop and “lunch” to go, and we continued on our way to La Ecoposada el Tisey in the Reserva Natural Meseta Tisey-Estanzuela, located about 25 minutes outside of Esteli.   This place is wonderful!  They have a small, traditional kitchen, an outdoor dining area, and a handful of simply appointed cabinas (just a bed and a bathroom).  After a tasy dinner, a media of rum, and some cards, we all retreated to our rooms for a cozy night of sleep, nestled under blankets.  The northern part of the country is much cooler and sweatshirts and jeans are highly recommended!  In the morning, we awoke to a mist-covered landscape of orange trees and coffee plants.  We ate a fresh breakfast of homegrown eggs, gallo pinto, cheese, and coffee and then changed into sneakers for a hike up to Mirador Segoviano which gave a great panoramic view of the Valley of Esteli, the volcanoes of Los Maribios, Lake Nicaragua and all the land up until the Gulf of Fonseca.  From there, we ventured down the road from the ecoposada in search of the elusive Alberto Gutierrez, an eccentric recluse who lives in Cerro Jalacate. A self taught sculptor, he carves animal themed reliefs into the cliff-face overlooking his house.  Unfortunately, we walked in the wrong direction and got caught in a massive downpour!  So, instead of meeting the talkative hermit, we returned to the ecoposada, packed up, and made our way to Salta Estanzuela, a 36 meter waterfall that feeds into a small, refreshing swimming hole.

From there, we drove thru Esteli and stopped at Restaurante Pullaso’s Ole.  Pullaso, we learned, is a certain cut of beef that is incredibly tasty and full of fat – yum!  The thick slab of meat is accompanied by none other than…more meat…your pick of sausage from around the world.  Plus, they throw is some gallo pinto, some ensalada, and you can eat yourself into a food coma. 

Stomachs fulls, we drove into Condega where Baldo’s family owns and operates Pension Baldovinos, a small hostel in the center of town.  That night, we ate awesome taquitos and other street food from the vendor just down the road, wandered the small town, and relaxed in the garden of the pension.  The next morning, after breakfast, we journey onto Somoto Canyon.  The Somoto Canyon was relatively unexplored until a group of scientists from the Czech Republic and Nicaragua discovered the canyon in 2004.  The canyon is believed to have formed 5 to 13 million years ago.  After its discovery in 2004, the Somoto Canyon has been developing into a tourist attraction, further helping the growth of tourism in Nicaragua.

There are no formal tour guides at the canyon, but there is a family that lives along the highway just before entrance signs to the park.  They are adept at identifying slowing cars in search of the canyon and will flag you down as you go by and offer to take you thru the canyon.  Try to find Bayardo, a nimble guide, well-informed on the history of the canyon and, more imporatantly, on the location of rocks throughout the river.   He is well outfitted with life jackets and a plastic bin to put your valuables in while floating down the river.  You can leave your car at his house while you journey thru the Canyon.   He will first guide you on a 45 minute walk into the canyon where you will then walk another 10 minutes along the rocky river until it becomes deep enough for floating.  From there, you can put on your life jacket and float the length of the canyon in the river’s gentle current.  This is an experience not to be missed!  The water is refreshing, the canyon is incredible, and the float is peaceful.  Be sure to ask about good diving spots.  At the very end of the river, there is small rowboat that takes you along the final leg of the trip.  Some guides also rent inner-tubes, but we found the natural float perfect.

Tired and hungry after a long day on the river, we pulled over at a roadstand fritanga and chowed before continuing onto Miraflor.  The plan for the afternoon and night was to stay at another house owned by Baldo’s family, within the reserve.  However, we all know what happens to the best laid plans…Miraflor is a unique natural reserve located about 30 kilometers outside the city of Estelí.  The reserve is over 250 kilometers squared, which means that it is giant!  Confident that we would arrive at our location in plenty of daylight, we took our time driving thru the unique landscape of the reserve.  Two hours later, in the dark and pouring rain, we still had not found our house, so we pulled over at a small posada to ask for directions.  When we explained, to the owner, where we were headed, his face told all and we made the decision to stay there for the night.  Finca Neblina del Bosque turned out to be a great find!  Set in the middle of the cloud forest, this small eco-friendly posada offered comfortable bamboo huts, an organic farm, vegetarian meals, and tasty coffee.  The owners, a local Nicaraguan and his German wife, spent a lot of time designing their guest houses to make them eco-friendly – right down to the bicycle-powered water pump!  Our only regret was that we didn’t have more time to spend there, as they offer hikes, horseback tours, and more.  But, having arrived late at night with an early departure the next morning, we only had time to take in the beautiful view before heading out.  The next morning, we began thr 2 hour journey back to Esteli and then hit the road south towards San Juan del Sur.

Jicaro Island Ecolodge

Last weekend, our good friend, Gladis, invited us to spend a weekend at Jicaro Island Ecolodge.  As we both work in the hospitality business, it is helpful to explore how other hotels, inns, and resorts operate.  It keeps us on our toes and constantly thinking about new ideas.  Although, it was also just a wonderful weekend escape.  

Jicaro Island Ecolodge is Nicaragua´s most upscale nature resort located on a private island in Lake Nicaragua. The lodge is located just a short boat ride from the colonial town of Granada with spectacular views of the Mombacho Volcano across the lake.  The entire hotel consists of 9 private casitas, a restaurant, small spa and yoga deck, and numerous outdoor seating areas and lounges.  

I cannot say enough positive things about this place!  From exquisite service to fine details to gorgeous architecture, this place was heaven on an island.   Some people may be familiar with the architect, Matthew Falkiner, who is also behind Morgan’s Rock and Balcones de Majagual.  Even more impressive is their commitment to sustainability.    Straws, bowls, placemats, and other utensils are made from  jicaro.  Water is heated with solar panels for guest and kitchen use, no air conditioning is installed on the island, and they use only organic and biodegradable soaps, cleaning detergents and spa products.

We went out on two kayak trips while at Jicaro – the first at sunset and the second at night, under a full moon.  During the first trip, we must have seen over 30 species of birds and Fabian, our guide, said that he counted over 50 in a 24-hour time period.  Both mornings, we woke to fresh coffee awaiting us on our private deck.

The photos are numerous, but it was just too difficult to narrow down the album, as the entire place was so beautiful: