Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Granada to San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur is a very popular beach destination on the Southern Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. There are regular buses from Granada going to the town of Rivas (1.5hrs – 30cords / $1.20) which is also a junction for a ferry terminal to Ometepe Island. We were fairly lucky that there was a bus leaving immediately for San Juan del Sur as we arrived and jumped straight on. It cost 20 cords / $0.80 and took about 45 minutes.
San Juan del Sur
This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Nicaragua. Arriving into town you could feel the atmosphere change a little as you noticed more and more white bodied tourists walking the streets. As soon as we stepped off the bus, we had our first offer of a cheap hospedaje at $16 for the night. We went for a look, but it wasn’t all that desirable. Toby then went for a look around town and we settled on a place called “Guest House Nina” that was opposite the bus stop. The cost was $17 for the night, but it was immaculately clean and she would let us use the kitchen if we needed it.
The beach itself was nearly deserted in the afternoon, I think because of the heat or maybe also the seemingly not so clean water. There are a lot of boats parked in the bay also. We did find an Eskimo ice cream store to buy a 10 cord / $0.40 deal of the month. Always welcome when the temperatures are hot and you’ve got a hunger for food.
Jesus Christ Statue on the hill
Toby was looking for a hike and heard about the recently built (2009) statue of Jesus on the hill overlooking San Juan del Sur. The official name is Jesus de la Divina Misericordia. It ranks as the 10th tallest in the world at 24 metres (77.8ft) in height. You can take a taxi there if you want, but from the middle of town it’s a walk of maybe 20-25 minutes across a suspension bridge and up hill past many very expensive houses to the entry gate. The cost is 50 cords / $2 per person and even though the sign said it closed at 5pm, it was in fact open until 6pm for the end of the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean.
San Juan del Sur to Ometepe
We’d had our share of time on beaches in the past few months and this one had not really taken either of our interest. The place is famous for “Sunday Funday” in which a crawl of 3 different swimming pool bars occurs in the afternoon every Sunday. It costs $15 for the privilege which includes a T-Shirt and 2 drinks. With it being Spring break in the US and noticing the predominant young US guests, we chose to leave before this started and get onto Ometepe Island.
The return bus to Rivas took a while to load and was fully packed by the time it did leave. When we arrived in Rivas we were instantly offered a taxi ride to the nearby port of San Jorge. It was only 4km away down a flat and easy road, but with no regular bus service and too far to walk in the heat, a taxi was the best option. Initially it was offered at 50cords / $2 each which we agreed to, but when we got in there was some confusion as we wanted to know how long we’d have to wait for more passengers. It was the driver and his friend along with 2 of us, so only 1 seat to fill. At this point we took off to the port and upon arrival they proclaimed we had agreed to a price of $5 each. We stood our ground for a few minutes and they showed sad faces but I handed him the agreed money and walked to the ferry.
We think it was a bit of a shake down by them, but it always pays to ensure you agree the price before going anywhere in a taxi.
The ferry only runs a few times a day to Ometepe, but there are almost hourly launches that are fine to take and almost always cheaper. See the ferry schedule here for more information. We took the 1.30pm Karen Maria to Moyogalpa that cost 35 cords / $1.40 each and took just over an hour. It was a little rough at times, but with it being so quick, you didn’t notice the bumps that much. If Rodora can do it, then pretty much anyone can do it.
Moyogalpa is the main port on Ometepe with almost hourly buses to Altagracia and about 4 buses per day to our destination of Merida. The bus schedule is at the same website here. The bus to Merida took around 3 hours and cost 31 cords / $1.24 each. The final part of the road into Merida of about 6 km is dirt only with large rocks. It’s a slow trip for that last bit, but really worth the effort for that final result.
Merida – The best sunsets on Ometepe
Hacienda Merida is the go to place on this part of the island. Dorm $7, Private double $25, camp or hammock with your own for a small cost or use their tent for $4 a person. It’s cheap, it’s on the waterfront and kayak rental for your entire stay is $15 a person. We didn’t stay there though as literally next door is a place called Rancho Merida that has private doubles for $12 each. The staff were maybe a little bored and not too happy, but the breakfast was well priced and tasty. The other option would be Monkey’s Island that is a further 10 minutes walk down the road with $14 privates. It looked nice from what we saw, but we didn’t stay there.
Hacienda Merida weren’t security checking people, so we walked into their dock to make use of it for sunset. We’d met some other people on the bus who were also staying there, so we stopped in several times for a chat. As you can see from the photo below, this was definitely the best spot we had for sunset beer o’clock on the island.
Dinner time – take some cards for the wait
The nearest typical comedor is called Pescadito’s Restaurant. This is right where the bus stops and I assume the mid point of the small town of Merida. We bought some bread (Pan) from here quite cheaply, but it was stale and not all that good. You can also buy bread from the fruit stand across the road for slightly cheaper and probably fresher.
We both went to this restaurant to buy bread for the next day’s hike, but stayed for dinner as it was quiet and we were hoping for quick service. Ten minutes later several smaller groups totalling maybe 15-20 people turned up which had us worried about time to wait. We thought we’d be ok as we could smell our Fried Fish cooking and thought we would get some food soon. Sadly, it was 2 hours later that our cold fried fish was served with sides and almost immediately other tables were also served. Of course this meant they’d held our order until everyone was served at once. I think this was one of the longest waits we’d had for food since when we were in El Salvador and they’d forgotten our order for Pupusa’s.
The other food options are at Haceinda Merida (a little overpriced), the comedor at the fruit stand, the comedor up on the main road to the San Ramon waterfall about 5 minutes walk away.
San Ramon Waterfall
This is really worth doing and it can be done cheaply. We hiked along the road from our accommodation but ended up hitching a ride in a truck for at least half the distance of 4km. You pay an entrance fee at the San Ramon Biological Field Station of 75 cords / $3 each. The hike up is about 3km and takes maybe an hour but take good shoes as the last kilometre is rough and big rocks. Once at the top of your hot hike you can relax in the super cold water and take a shower in the falls as you can see from the photos.
We got really lucky as there was a pickup leaving the top car park as we walked down, so we hitched a ride all the way back to Merida.
Monkey Island Kayaking
We paid $5 per person per hour to rent a 2 person kayak from Hacienda Merida to visit the nearby Monkey Island. It took maybe 20 minutes to kayak there against the wind and we spent around 25 minutes watching the Monkey’s as you can see from the photos below. Other people suggested that you take some fruit to give them and they will get close, but they came close to us without the need for bribery. The story goes that these monkeys were chained up in other parts of Nicaragua and set free on this island as part of a conservation project. Do not step onto the island as they might bite you.
Hiking Madera Volcano
This was our plan for coming to Merida, but guides were quoted at between $20-$25 for 2 people and no one was willing to give us any directions to go alone as they said it was too dangerous. We then decided to go to the northern side of the island where the trail at Finca Magdelena was said to be easy enough to guide yourself and if you stay overnight, the access to the trail is free.
We did go up to Finca Magdelena for a night and Toby did go and hike it starting very early in the morning. Rodora wasn’t feeling well on the morning and stayed in bed. The initial part of the hike is quite nice with various monkeys and other wildlife quite visible. The trail is very clearly marked and in good condition. Toby made it to the mirador where the cloud forest had closed in any view. He then went another 20 minutes up the trail but with mud, rocks and other dangers getting in the way, decided to turn back (altitude 750m of 1300m). There are no other views going up except for the small crater lake on top. The crater lake is very shallow in the dry season with maybe 1 metre of water and half of that being mud to swim in.
Two days relaxing on Santo Domingo Beach
The next two days we went to a place called Buena Vista which is one of the cheapest places on Santo Domingo beach at $25 a night for a private. The beach itself is one of the best on the island with nice flat and clean sand. Next door are a couple of cheaper comedor’s that sell fried fish for 120 cords / $4.80.
Ojo de Agua – A great place to beat the heat
This place is about 2km away from Santo Domingo towards Altagracia. It is a pair of natural swimming pool that are fed by a natural springs. The water is crystal clear and generally speaking the whole are is kept quite clean. The entrance is 75 cords / $3 per person and you can spend the whole day swimming and relaxing in one of the many pool side chairs in the shade.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/