01 Jun

Nicaragua: Isla de Ometepe and San Juan del Sur

An adventure over water, as Bruno floats across Lago Nicaragua and travels with us to Isla de Ometepe! The island is comprised of two volcanoes connected by a skinny landmass. There is little space around the edges for people to live, let alone all the tourism this island is known for. And the monos! We found Ometepe pleasantly packed full of monos.

Bruno on the mainland with Ometepe in the background.

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We camped on Isla de Ometepe for three nights at Finca Magdalena, an organic farm cooperative owned by 24 local families. The site is at the base of extinct Volcan Maderas; the volcanic ash makes the soil very fertile and allows for continuous planting. They have a small hostel and restaurant on site, where chickens roam free among the flowers and pigs squeal from their pen. The finca produces many things (plantains, milk, corn, beans, rice, veggies), including organic coffee which we had to purchase for our Central American coffee collection (still working on the Guatemalan bag). We awoke many mornings to find monkeys having a breakfast of fresh leaves and mangoes in the trees next to us.

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During the day, we hiked to a magical waterfall up the side of Volcan Maderas. Nobody told us it was magical, but we assumed it must be, winding us up through humid rainforest. We met another couple during this hike who are traveling in a 1986 Volkswagon Bus named Susie: a guy, a girl and their Mexican dog (he is Québécois and she is from Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco).

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Even in the dry season (the island hasn’t been hit with their summer rains yet), the San Ramon waterfall is impressive and measures about 50 meters or 164 feet high.

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The trusty monos were in the trees and also along for the hike. Is this mono happy to see us? Hard to tell.

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Bruno explores the roads of Ometepe. Vrooom!

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Back at the finca, this guy looks like he’s managing a financial portfolio or maybe typing this very blog post – NOPE – he’s researching monos on the internet!

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Where is sleepy cat?

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SLEEPY CAT IS HERE!!!!

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One of our splurged dinners at the modest finca restaurant: grilled chicken (we probably saw him clucking around earlier) with onions and carrots, a fresh salad, rice… and looks like some fried plantains with a blotch of ketchup! Yum!!

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After a few relaxing days communing with nature on the island, Bruno takes his second boat trip back to the mainland. We hop on the road heading straight for the ocean to San Juan del Sur. Bruno’s tires purr along the smooth asphalt of the Pan-American Highway like a cat being fuzzed.

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San Juan del Sur is famous for two things: surfing and partying. The partying we can attest to immediately. We are in an apartment sandwiched between Chabad House, a hangout for the young Israeli surfer crowd, and Pachamama Hostel, which might as well be one of the dorms at Cal Berkeley. We are certain that they have an ongoing rivalry for both volume of music and most repetitive songs. Travis had no choice but to embrace Lil Jon’s Turn Down for What! Our private party consists of trying our hand at yucca (cassava) fries, washed down with piña and Nicaragua’s own Flor de Caña rum.

Our apartment is one block from the ocean. We step out onto the beautiful beach and discover that there are actually no surfers in the water. Hmm… Turns out the good surfing spots are at beaches to the north and south of town. Our favorite: Playa Hermosa, 20 minutes south. Peacefully devoid of people. The mountains in the background are actually Costa Rica to the south – we are that close to the border!

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Back in San Juan, you can’t walk without noticing a mysterious person up on the north hill overlooking the playa. Who is it? You guessed correct – IT’S JESUS!!

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Did we do the climb? Of course. Here is the view that Jesus has: the small inlet of San Juan.

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We enjoyed sunsets in the bay and visiting the handful of beautiful beaches up and down the coast around San Juan. After seeing all the beginner-friendly waves, Travis is excited to buy our own surfboards and get settled into our new home in Costa Rica for a few months!

Nicaragua has proven to be one of our favorite countries on the trip. Although León and Granada were hot when sitting indoors, the streets always had a nice breeze for us. They are relatively clean cities – relative to some of the trash-strewn areas we’ve driven past. There is a feeling of prosperity in Nicaragua. On the surface, their democracy seems to be relatively stable and the state seems to be implementing policies that better their citizens. There is investment in renewable energies, and post-secondary education has been made free for students. In a modest traveler’s opinion, these are good indicators. The entire coast has good surf breaks with unspoiled beaches and the cost of living is low. If you want to retire and spend your time surfing, Nicaragua should be on your list of places to investigate.

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  • Hannah Ray

    This post and the one where you visited the volcanos are my favorite so far. Nicaragua looks super beautiful. How are you doing in Costa Rica? Have you seen any turtles yet?

    • Amanda

      Miss you, Hannah! Life is pretty relaxed down here at the playa. We have to get some snorkel gear – no turtles yet!!