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Tag Archives: Nicaragua

Nicaragua to Costa Rica

To save some money we decided to do the border crossing from Nicaragua to Costa Rica independently. There is the option of using a bus service such as TicaBus or NicaBus. The cost is $29 per person regardless of where you catch it from in Nicaragua and there is no cost reduction for jumping off earlier than San Jose, Costa Rica.

As such we opted for the local bus route. We took our free shuttle from Playa Maderas to San Juan del Sur where we jumped on the local bus for Rivas for 15 Cordoba per person.

Once at the Rivas station we took the bus for Penas Blancas which is the border for Nicaragua, this was 20 Cordoba each. When we arrived at Penas Blancas it was somewhat chaotic to work out what you needed to do and where to go.

There are people swarming you offering you immigration forms,but you can’t actually seem to buy one from them as they want to fill them in for you and charge you for the service. However, you can pick these up at the actual border exit by giving the person a “tip” for them.

From the bus stop you need to follow the crowd and in essence go through a fence where security checks your passport. Once through you need to head towards the building across the road to pay your exit fees and hand in your forms. Exit fee is $3 per person.

Once stamped out and payment processed you need to walk about 300 metres to the Costa Rica entry point. Along the way there is more security who may ask to see your passport.

When you arrive at the immigration building head to the right hand side as the left is for exiting Costa Rica. We were extremely unlucky and the queue went around the building, it took us over 3 hours of slowly moving in the queue in the lunch time sun to finally reach the entry office.

The process for entry is very easy. You fill in another immigration form which are free on this side and hand over your passport. No fees and no hassle. We were simply asked how long we would be staying and then were stamped in.

From outside the building you can catch local buses to places such as Liberia. We had got talking to a semi retired Canadian couple who now live in Costa Rica and they were nice enough to offer us a lift all the way to Liberia, which helped us keep our costs down for the day!

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Playa Maderas

We planned our last stop in Nicaragua to be on the coast, to top up our tans and relax a few days before border crossing to Costa Rica.

Originally we had planned to go to San Juan del Sur and had found a nice hostel online that we liked the look of. However, after arriving from Ometepe the hostel in question didn’t have any availability. We were annoyed with them as their policy was on a first come first serve basis yet they had taken bookings. We had tried to book but they never replied to our emails.

After looking around the town a little disheartened we couldn’t find anywhere we liked the look of so after reading some leaflets we realised there were more mini beach resorts a short way from San Juan del Sur, in particular Playa Maderas.

Playa Maderas seemed to have the most selection in terms of nearby eateries and places to stay. With this in mind we stumbled upon a poster for Casa Maderas, an eco-lodge with free breakfasts, free shuttles services, restaurant, swimming pool and a 10 minute walk from the beach. Upon arrival we also discovered it had a communal kitchen which was a bonus.

It was a little expensive for our normal accommodation coming in at $US36 per night, but when we considered the fact we could take free shuttles to and from the beach and San Juan del Sur whenever we needed to we thought we would give it a try.

Casa Maderas Eco-Lodge

Casa Maderas turned out to be a nearly finished resort of sorts. Opened just under 6 months ago it feels too small to be considered an actual resort but too expensive to be classed as a hostel, despite the dorms and communal kitchen, instead it seems to sit somewhere in the middle.

To say we were pleasantly surprised is an understatement. The peace and tranquillity of the place was phenomenal. The only “noises” were from the chorus of frogs at night and the howler monkeys in the nearby trees in the morning.

Playa Maderas: sandy beach

The beaches themselves are not really for swimming as the waves and currents are too strong, but if you’re into surfing then it’s the area for you. There are plenty of surf board rental places, both from Casa Maderas and on the beach along with surf lessons.

Playa Maderas: surf

If like us you just want some downtime you can just walk along the beach to the many semi hidden coves, or if even that is too strenuous for you then there is always the pool!

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Ometepe Island

Ometepe is located in lake Nicaragua and consists of what seems like 2 islands, each with a volcano making up most of the island, joint at the hip by a narrow ridge.

The larger of the islands has an active conical volcano called Concepcion, while the smaller island has a dormant volcano called Maderas with a crater lake.

Ometepe Island: volcanos

There are 2 ways to get to the island, either by ferry straight from Granada although this service only runs bi-weekly or to go to San Jorge near Rivas and take a daily boat across. Either way will take you to the larger side of Ometepe from where you will have to take the bus or, if you can join a large group, take a taxi to your destination. However, you should note that buses stop running at 5.30pm.

We arrived from Granada following a 4 hour ferry journey and were lucky enough to find 10 other people looking to go to the same area so we managed to arrange for a shuttle to take the 12 of us for a discounted price.

Ometepe Island: sunset over volcano Concepcion

There are only a handful of attractions on the island; the 2 volcanos, a waterfall which unfortunately was almost dried out due to it being the start of the rain season, a clear pool of water called Ojo de Agua and petroglyphs.

Outside of this the island has some beaches but they do not seem to be very well maintained. We walked along Playa de Domingo, the beach resort area and found plenty of dead fish, cattle droppings and rubbish scattered among the shoreline. As such we decided to only stay 2 days.

Ometepe Island: playa Santo Domingo near Santa Cruz

There are many options for accommodation on the island and we would recommend taking your time choosing the hostel/hotel as they don’t all live up to expectations.

We pre-booked at the Zopilote eco-farm near Santa Cruz and were expecting a basic yet homely retreat. We arrived after the sun had set and had to find our way along a dark path through a plantation for around 200 metres, needless to say with 1 torch at hand between us (2 packed away) we got lost and the 10 minute walk turned into a 20 minute search for the right way. Luckily we were rescued by a passerby who directed us the right way or who knows how long it would have taken us!

Once we arrived the whole place was in darkness except for the communal kitchen and reception which were hard to find as the place is full of paths. We finally arrived dripping in sweat and out of breath from the uphill scramble in the dark.

Ometepe Island: a path in El Zopilote

Once checked in we were shown to our cabana which was very basic and didn’t even have a fan but the big surprise came when we were given a map to the accommodation area and discovered we had communal showers in the open air with compost toilets.

Ometepe Island: cabana in El Zopilote

We hesitantly went for a shower among bamboo shoots, under the light of some stars and the moon. Definitely a new experience for us!

Ometepe Island: japanese shower in El Zopilote

When we woke up the next morning we were pleasantly surprised with our surroundings and once we got our heads around the facilities we started to enjoy our open air showers.

The only downsides to the place were the extremely basic kitchen with no fridge and the complete lack of light at night. The cabin could have done with a few more basics too. There are also no shops nearby so if you plan to cook make sure you bring food with you as the little home shop sells only a couple of basic items.

After 2 days we felt ready to leave and decided to head towards San Juan del Sur on the beach for a few days before moving onto Costa Rica.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Granada

Even before arriving in Nicaragua we had heard that Granada was “the” city to visit and despite it being a number 1 destination for tourists we felt obliged to go see for ourselves.

Historically there had been a debate about where to move the capital of Nicaragua and the 2 contending cities had been Leon and Granada, however in the end as a compromise Managua, which resides between the two, was chosen.

After spending some time in Granada I can’t help feeling that maybe it was a blessing that it was not selected as the capital, as I am sure that the beauty of the city would have been at best diminished if it had.

Granada: the cathedral

To us Granada felt like a breath of fresh air with its colourful buildings, large plazas and lakeside positioning. There are numerous places to stay to suit all budgets and a great variety of food, from authentic pizzas to Irish pub food as well as local cuisine.

Granada: view of La Calzada

The city offers visitors a number of places to see but best of all it is a great place to kick off a number of tours from; Mombacho volcano crater tours, Masaya volcano expeditions, visits to the nearby Lake Apoyo and even cocoa plantation days out.

Granada: La Merced church

For a pretty view of the city make your way to the Merced church near the centre, where you can climb the bell tower and see across Granada to both the nearby volcano and the lake.

Granada: view from La Merced tower with Mombacho volcano

Its location also makes it a good choice for people wanting to move onto Ometepe island or the coast as both are easily accessible.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Mombacho Volcano

Although Mombacho volcano is classed as active it has not erupted since 1570 and therefore has a very dormant feel to it. The only giveaway that this volcano is still active are the pockets of hot air that can be felt coming out of the soil near the otherwise very green and peaceful crater’s edge.

We decided to take a tour to the volcano and were again lucky enough to have the bonus of a private tour, due to low season, at no extra cost. We were picked up at our hostel and driven up to the ecological station near the crater.

Mombacho volcano: start of the trail

From here we took a very comfortable and relaxed 2 hour trail around the main crater. The area is very peaceful and the cloud forest keeps you cool even when the sun is out. There are clear, easy to follow paths allowing you to gently walk around and enjoy your surroundings.

Mombacho volcano: view of Laguna de Apoyo, Granada and Lake Nicaragua

The biggest appeal to the tour is the views. From around 1,100 metres high you are greeted with extraordinary views of Granada and the surrounding landscape, including Lake Apoyo and Lake Nicaragua as well as the steaming Masaya volcano.

Mombacho volcano: the crater

To ensure the best weather we opted for the 12.30pm tour which lasts 4 hours and were lucky enough to have perfect weather for the duration of our time there.

Mombacho volcano: view of Granada and Lake Nicaragua

If you are feeling particularly energetic you can opt for the 4 hour puma trail which goes around the second crater of Mombacho, however for this you will need to have a guide with you which you can easily arrange for at the station and it is not included in the tour.

The trail was by no means strenuous and it was nice to go at a slower pace and really enjoy the scenery. This is another tour that we would recommend!

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Laguna de Apoyo

A short 30 minutes drive away from Granada is the pretty crater lake of Apoyo. The easiest way to get there and back is via the shuttle service offered by Hostel Oasis in Granada which takes you to the Paradiso hotel at the lake. You can choose to either visit the lake as a day trip or stay overnight.

Laguna de Apoyo: Paradiso hostel

There are plenty of places to stay at the lake and if you want to stay elsewhere you can also get to the lake by a combination of bus and taxi. The bus will drop you off at the entrance and then either take a taxi or local car to the actual lake, a further 3 km away from the main road.

If you want to relax for a few days then stay there but if you just want to see the lake then a day trip is probably enough as each resort has its own dedicated area along the lake and outside of that there is nothing much to do in the area.

Laguna de Apoyo

The lake has sulphur and other minerals which makes it good for keeping mosquitos away allowing you to relax without the need for bug spray. The water itself is generally warm to ridiculously hot in some places, and with virtually no waves it is an ideal place to swim.

View of Laguna de Apoyo

If you opt to take the day trip with Oasis then your $6 entrance fee to the lake is included in the $12 price ($10 if you’re staying at the hostel), plus you also have free kayak use at Paradiso which makes it pretty good value.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Mombacho Cocoa Plantation

We wanted to do something different from the usual tours offered so when we stumbled across a cocoa farm tour in the Chocolate Museum in Granada we couldn’t resist signing up.

The icing on the cake came when we asked to go the next day and found out that the minimum group size was just 2 people which meant we would have a private tour at no extra expense!

We met up with our driver and our guide at 8.30am and headed out to the lancha for a short boat ride through the islets to the farm entrance.

Mombacho cocoa tour: lake Cocibolca - lake Nicaragua

From here we were given horses and we slowly rode through a plantain plantation. I am not an experienced horse rider and my partner had never been on a horse before so it was an interesting experience to say the least. I think it took us longer to go by horse than if we had walked!

Mombacho cocoa tour: horseriding through plantation

Eventually we arrived at the endless looking plantation of cocoa and were shown the different types that they currently grow and how they make hybrids.

Mombacho cocoa tour: the pods

We were then shown what the inside of the cocoa pod looks like and told to try the pulp that surrounds the seeds. The fleshy areas around each seed are very sweet and we later learned that this pulp is what helps to give cocoa its sweetness.

Mombacho cocoa tour: open cocoa pod

We moved onto the actual farm itself and were shown the fermentation and drying process that each batch undergoes – 6 days of fermentation and a further 4 or so days of drying. The fermentation is done in boxes and every day the cocoa seeds are turned to ensure they fully ferment, as demonstrated by our guide:

Mombacho cocoa tour: fermentation process with our guide

Once ready for drying they are placed in large trays under the sun to in essence dry out until they reach around 6% water content. They weigh the seeds at the start and every day until they see the weight has dropped to signify the right percentage of water left within the cocoa.

Mombacho cocoa tour: drying of the cocoa beans

Once our cocoa education was over we were taken to a beautiful spot for lunch overlooking lake Nicaragua. After lunch we were taken to small thermal pool for a cool down and then headed back to the boat.

Mombacho cocoa tour: views over the lake at lunch

By this point we decided to walk back as we gave up with the horses, mine didn’t want to go anywhere except for under the trees dragging me through the low branches and my partner was sufficiently sore to not want to get back on.

Once back at the boat we were taken to another part of the lake where extremely hot water bubbles up from the Mombacho volcano. It was remarkable to feel the water steadily increasing in temperature as we progressed to the source, so much so that you could feel it under the boat.

Mombacho cocoa tour: river boat to hot springs

We were finally returned to Granada by 3.30pm and have to say we thoroughly enjoyed the day. It was our first relaxed tour that did not rush us and went at our own pace, the guide was friendly nd had a genuine passion for chocolate. If you are looking for something different then we would highly recommend this one!

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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