Nicaragua: San Juan del Sur and Isla de Ometepe

OK. We are in the south-western Nicaragua. An entry point for many travellers coming from Costa Rica. Right across the border, one passes a massive lake on your right hand side. If you look closer, you’ll see two volcanoes sticking up on the horizon. They are Concepción and Maderas and they are located on Isla Ometepe.

Upon your arrival to the closest town of Rivas, you can chose whether you want to catch a ferry to the island or if you catch a chicken bus to San Juan del Sur, a small party town with many surfing spots on the Pacific coast about 30km away.

San Juan del Sur

What to say here? San Juan is a small party town. It safe, it has beautiful surfers’ beaches, it has stunning sunsets and it comes with everything the little party towns normally come with. The beer is cold and everything works the way it supposed to work in a place like this. It’s a well oiled machine, as they say. And it’s overpriced for Nicaraguan standards. On a beer, you’ll spend nearly €0.50 extra if compared to Granada or León.

San Juan del Sur

Ometepe

The island is much bigger than you might think. To move around, you’ll therefore need to use either a taxi, chicken bus or rent a bike. The cheapest option is a push bike but watch out your fitness levels as the heat can get quite intense here. Chicken buses are regular and even cheaper. And sloooooow. But it’s a great experience.

Motorcycles go at about $15 for an automatic scooter per day, but you can only drive those paved roads. Those however don’t cover the whole road that is in the “8” shape around the island. If you want to drive the whole “8”, your only option is to pay $20 for the off road bike. It’s good fun btw and don’t forget to use a lot of sun screen 😉

Ometepe’s vulcanoes of Concepción (left) and Maderas (right)

There’s some apparently great hikes I haven’t done because I don’t fancy hiking in 40C. I mean it’s doable but the heat takes a lot of the enjoyment away. I’ve red about hiking both volcanoes is a treat, although Madeira hike is apparently rather challenging.

As for places to stay – there’s plenty. I personally preferred the Playa Santa Cruz area as it appeared like it’s offering more than just sit in your hostel and get eaten alive by mosquitoes. The island people are friendly and the whole place is as safe as it can get. I wish I wasn’t there in the hottest period of the year. I’d say that it’s OK for a 3-4 day visit, unless you want to chill and relax there for longer.

Playa Santa Cruz @ Ometepe Island

Some practical info

After leaving South America, all border crossings appear a bit more difficult and silly, plus there are also charges. As an European, to exit Costa Rica, you’ll be charged $7 followed by Nicaragua’s entry fee of $13. Upon leaving they will charge you further $3 for an exit fee. WTF is an exit fee? Who came up with that? No sir, you can’t leave this country before you tip our President.

How to get there?

  • San José (Costa Rica) to Rivas: comfy bus ride takes from around 6hrs to 7hrs. The costs vary from $27 to $42, depending on a company you’ll pick. The bus will wait for you until you will sort out your border stamps, payments and all that. From the border to Rivas it’s about 45minutes.
  • Rivas, to Ometepe: catch a chicken bus to San Jorge for 20,-NIO (€0,55) to grab a ferry to Ometepe for 50,-NIO (plus 33,-NIO for the port tax)
  • Rivas to San Juan del Sur: take a chicken bus to San Juan for 45,-NIO (€1.20). FYI, there will be very friendly lying taxi drivers that will tell you there’s no public transport today because of something like “it’s Sunday” or national holiday or whatever just so you will go with them for $15 to San Juan or $5 to San Jorge.
Ometepe

Stay

  • San Juan del Sur: Due to the fact that at this point I wasn’t alone, my friend and I decided to treat ourselves to semi posh Barrio Cafe Restaurant and Bar. For $43,-USD per night, we got a super-comfy room in a nice place that served a great coffee. The breakky was included and we were about 5 minutes walk to the beach.
  • Ometepe: I’ve picked the most colourful place I could find based on the pictures. Lazy Crab Hostel was OK, the dorm I was shown was however rather claustrophobic. The staff was very friendly but I wasn’t entirely sure about the manager who had me paying double taxes when upon switching the room to private. If I was ever coming back to the island, I would definitely stay in one of the places in Playa Santa Cruz.

Border fees

  • Panama: Entry fee was reported to be $3,-USD by some people, I wasn’t asked to pay one. Exit fee was $3,-USD. Many travellers reported that they have needed to show the proof of onward travel. I’ve purchased the bestonwardticket.com for $12,-USD but I wasn’t asked to provide it.
  • Costa Rica: No entry fee. Exit fee is $7,-USD. You might need to show a proof of onward travel. I have passed without one.
  • Nicaragua: Entry fee was $13, exit was $3,-USD
One of the stunning sunsets in San Juan del Sur

Other destinations in Nicaragua

  • I’d definitely check out the towns of Granada and León
  • If you want to experience the non-resorty stunning Caribbean, I would not miss out on Corn Islands
  • Well and last but not least, in case you were interested, here’s a piece about vibrant history of Nicaragua tht can give you an idea how crazy this part of the world once was

Enjoy 🙂

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