24.03.2011 - 01.04.2011 35 °C
From Granada we journeyed to San Jan del Sur –a long stretch of beach on the southern pacific coast of Nicaragua. We ended up staying in a cheap hotel the first night, which was likely the worst accommodation we have stayed in to date. With bugs crawling everywhere and wind shrieking through holes in the roof, we dropped off our bags and went in the search of a nicer place for the following day. Finding a great little apartment over the quiet and mostly patron-less Irish Bar, with a kitchen and balcony, we were happy to move first thing in the morning after a restless first night.
Settling into San Juan del Sur is easy to do. The quiet and peaceful town is easy to walk around, with colourful one-story buildings and little shops. The town is situated in a large, horseshoe –shaped, sheltered bay. With high cliffs shielding either side of the bay and an enormous statue of Jesus peering down over the town, San Juan is protected from all sides from wind and large waves. The bay is full of little fishing boats, tour boats and some sail boats, but with these vessels further out in the water there is plenty of room for swimming all along the coast. The dark fine sands of San Juan del Sur are full of locals playing soccer, volleyball and splashing in the waves. The beach is lined with rustic restaurants, full of people crowding on the beach patios enjoying a snack and mid-day drink. Primarily, backpackers come to San Juan del Sur for the great surfing located at beaches north and south of the town, but with a $5-$10 price tag to simply reach these beaches each day, we felt that the main stretch of sand had plenty to offer without making a daily trip up or down the coast.
Our days began to blend together, mostly spent sunbathing, swimming, watching the sunsets and planning what meal we could make in our tiny kitchen. A lazy week on the beach was only broken up by going out for a few drinks in the evening as San Juan has a lively nightlife for the backpacker crowds, or walking around the town and exploring. One morning we took on the mission to reach the large Jesus statue that is visible from any point in San Juan. Following a road that takes you over a small suspension bridge, we walked our way out of town on a dirt road only to realize we had missed the turn off. Determined, we tried the hike again in the afternoon and found the narrow road up the cliff, and with some huffing and puffing we clambered up the mountainside to reach the stunning views of the town and bay below. The Jesus statue towers over you at nearly 50 feet high, overlooking the cliffs edge. We marveled at the blue waters and perfect beach below, taking countless photos and deciding to spend one extra day on that lovely beach.
From San Juan del Sur we caught a local chicken bus back to Rivas, and then a taxi to the pier on Lake Nicaragua. On the bus we sat beside a single traveler and soon realized he was also from Victoria BC. The three of us boarded the ferry that takes you the hour trip over to Ometepe. The large Lago de Nicaragua has turbulent waters, making the ride across to the island a very rough ride sitting out in the middle of the strong mid-day sun. Not far into the boat ride one lady began vomiting into the wind and on people around her, making the trip more uncomfortable than it already was; however, the view of Isla de Ometepe soon makes you forget the rough ride. With two large volcanoes on either end of the island and a central strip that connects the two, the island formed from volcanic explosions is about 90 km all the way around.
We landed in Moyogalpa, the largest of the towns found around the island. Unsure where the best place was to stay, we decided to take a room in this town and rent some motorcycles to explore and see if the following day we should move. The one main road on the island forms a figure-eight around the two volcanoes, but with only one section paved it is difficult to explore some areas. This first day we drove along the stretch of paved road as our friend Jacob had never been on a motorcycle, but he picked it up quickly. We visited Playa Santo Domingo, a strip of beach found along the land that connects the volcanoes. Normally this town has the best beach, but with the waters of Lake Nicaragua being unusually high, most of the beach is underwater. Getting lunch here, we moved on to the Ojo de Agua –a natural volcanic spring that feeds into two large pools of water. The mineral water is cold, refreshing, and incredibly clear; it is said to have healing properties so we spent some time splashing and washing away the days travel from our tired bodies. We then drove to Charco Verde and Punta de Jesús Maria –two small beaches along the lake that boast beautiful views. After touring around part of the island, we realized that staying in Moyogalpa was the best choice as a main base since most restaurants, accommodations and bike rentals are found in this town.
The following day we found a guide to take us up the Volcán Concepción, the larger of the two volcanoes. It rises over 1600 meters and is still active, having erupted large gassy puffs of ash only three months ago. The full hike to the top and back takes around ten hours, but due to the last eruption it is not advised to look into the crater with vapors still rising. We decided to hike the five hours to the 1000 meter mark where stunning panoramic views of the island, lake and distant mainland are possible. In the scorching heat, we questioned why we were doing this hike until finally reaching the lookout with triumph and awe at the incredible view. We were able to stand at the edge of the large chasm carved into the volcano from the rivers of lava that tore through the land last, in 1957. Our seventeen year old guide, Jonathan, made the difficult hike with barely breaking a sweat and joking with us the entire way up and down while sweat-drenched we tried to keep up. Feeling proud of our accomplishment, the day was ended with a drink, a nice dinner and an early bedtime.
For our final day on the Isla de Ometepe we decided to rent bikes again and this time took on the entire 90km road around the island. Some areas of the road were simply sand and gravel, but around the other volcano, Maderas, the road became so rocky and slow going that it took nearly three hours to get around just the one side. Volcán Maderas is a non-active volcano rising 1394 meters and is covered in a lush rainforest, a stark contrast from the dry and hot Concepción. The center of this volcano has a green crater lake, but the eight hour hike up and down takes you through muddy paths and we decided that simply driving around to take in the small villages was enough for the day. Much of Ometepe is covered in farm land with large banana plantations being the main crop. There are countless horses, cows and pigs running around the dusty roads of the rough terrain. With sore bottoms from the bumpy ride we ended our day back at the Ojo de Agua for another healing soak and to rinse off all the dust from the days riding. Ometepe is a quiet island that is known for its many birds, monkeys, hikes and small beaches, though it has little to no nightlife. We ended up going for a few drinks and played pool to conclude our time on the island.
We left the Isla de Ometepe on the 9am ferry, running into friends from Victoria on the boat, we counted six people from Victoria (including ourselves) on this tiny ferry, as well as a guy from Vancouver –what a small world it is. From the ferry we had to take a taxi to the border crossing of Costa Rica, and a couple bus transfers, making for a nearly ten-hour travel day to reach the very developed beach town of Tamarindo. I will leave Tamarindo for the next blog... until then…
Sending love to friends and family,
Ana and Andrew