I was excited to leave the five star resort and head for the Nicaragua border. It felt like freedom! There are a number of ways to get across the border, but the cheapest (and most entertaining) is to just do it yourself. Park on one side and pick up a taxi on the other side. It also seemed like the most adventurous way to go, so clearly it was the best option. We could have gone one step further and taken a chicken-bus on the Nicaragua side, but there was no need to take our 20-something backpacker rouse that far! We weren’t taking the air-conditioned Ticabus, and that was good enough for us! For the first time this trip, we were actually travelling.
We had friends drop us off and were immediately accosted by someone trying to ferry us off to a building to pay our Departure Tax. Hold on a second, I did my research beforehand, I thought we paid the departure tax at a machine in the immigration building? According to the one man the machine “wasn’t working” but we decided to go and find out for ourselves. The machine was indeed working, we paid our departure tax, got ourselves stamped out of Costa Rica, and began walking down the road towards Nicaragua. (You can pay with cash to the guys outside but it costs an extra $1 for their assistance).
Passports in hand, they were checked when officially leaving Costa Rica, and then 3 seconds later when entering Nicargua, and then 10 seconds later when we had our temperatures checked. We then waited in line for our Nicaragua stamps. It was hot! The border guy ran out of tourists papers, so we had to wait…and wait. He finally came back (after about 20min) and we passed through into an air conditioned room to have our bags scanned. Of course, what wre only in the air conditioned room for about 30 seconds. A few later, we had finagling a price and were in a taxi on our 30min ride to San Juan Del Sur.
After checking into our little hotel we went for a wander around town. San Juan Del Sur is a cute little tourist town, and apparently the most expensive in Nicaragua! It’s very easy to travel around thanks to all the expats and tourists. Menus often have English descriptions, and most people that we interacted with spoke passable English. It’s still Central America and combines the ease of English with the culture of Nicaragua. The beach is lovely and there are a number of bars and restaurants lining the beach for a meal, snack or drink and enjoy the beach. I was surprised by the price of things, but I guess you pay a premium for beach-front no matter where you are in the world.
On our first morning in SJDS we hiked to the statue of Jesus Christo. It was a warm but windy hike, and we enjoyed lovely views of the bay before hiking back down. Every time we passed someone on the way down I was happy that we were going down and not up. It was warm in the morning, but got warmer as the day went on.
SJDS has a small market in the centre of town that runs every day except for Sunday. I love to find the market when travelling, I find it helps me to get a good feel for the place I’m in. The market was small with a few clothing stalls, some produce stalls, and a couple of restaurants. It definitely had the feel of a tourist town! The other reason I like to find the market is that it’s usually easy to find a good, cheap lunch. After our hike, both Randy and I were ready for some lunch. This was the cheapest and most authentic food we found on our trip. Lunch cost us about $6 total! Randy had a typical Nicaraguan lunch of rice ‘n beans, fried chicken, plantain and pico de gallo. I had a quesadilla, some of which I shared with my dog friend who had found me from the night before!
We spent the afternoon lounging by the pool, re-gaining our strength for the evening. We were meeting up with some friends for dinner, and on the agenda…”party”!
We met up at the Iguana Bar to watch the sunset, have a snack, and began the night with a few cervecas for the boys and caiparaignas for the girls. Since the sun sets at about 6pm, the night hadn’t even begun by the time we were finished with our first round of drinks.
We headed back to Casa Oro, the popular hostel, and went to the rooftop bar since they had rum and cokes on 2-for-1 until 8pm. We visited with our rum and cokes, chatted with some of the hostel guests and reminisced about our backpacking trips of the past.
Then, we all started to yawn.
This couldn’t be happening, we hadn’t been out long enough to warrant street tacos yet. We needed to get on the move before we all went to bed!
After walking past some horrible karaoke we found a bar with free rum for ladies until midnight. Perfect! In we went. We tore it up on the dance floor, and then the karaoke started! By this point we were more than happy to join in. Us girls sang and danced our way around the dance floor, singing along with the English songs at first, and the somehow singing along with the Spanish songs later! I’m pretty sure we made a spectacle of ourselves, however that’s what you do when you’re 20 right?
Finally the time had arrived for a Street Taco.
We wandered down to the Taco Stop, enjoyed a crisp taco while replaying some of our favourite karaoke moments, and then headed back to our room for the night. We were getting up early the next morning to go surfing!
Tips for crossing from Costa Rica to Nicaragua at Penas Blancas
- You can pay the departure tax from the men outside that accost you on arrival. You pay with cash and it costs $8. Alternately you can pay from the machine inside, with a credit card, and it costs $7.
- Bring water! The walk is about 1km, and it’s hot! Plus it can be a bit of a wait to get stamped into Nicaragua, and it’s not air conditioned. Water is a must.
- You likely will have a taxi driver help you through Nicaragua immigration in hopes that you will take his taxi once on the other side. This isn’t a bad thing, just make sure you negotiate the fare before getting too far into things. The going rate when we were there was between $20-25 into San Juan Del Sur, depending on the number of people and the number of bags.
Where we stayed: The Hotel Gran Oceana.
The rooms were basic but clean, location was great, breakfast was included and the beds were comfortable. There was air conditioning and hot showers, and the pool was lovely. We had one double bed, but they have larger rooms that would be family-appropriate.
Where we ate:
The Iguana Bar – great sunset view from the upper patio, decent food, decent drinks, pricey but on par with the other beach-front bars.
The Taco Stop – I was expecting better but I only tried the hard tacos. I think that the soft tacos may have been better. I don’t feel like I can comment well on this because I ingested far too many rum and cokes to make a valid judgement.
Cerveceria – The battered- fish taco was amazing, followed closely by the pan fried fish taco. The rest were just okay. Randy enjoyed the Brown Ale, and I enjoyed the rum Old Fashioned. It’s pricey as it caters only to tourists
El Bodegita – The food was good, and well priced. We had pre-dinner drinks and some tapas for $12 total!
The Market – Good, local food at a great price. If you see my canine friend say hi, just don’t try to feed him anything corn-based because he doesn’t like it!
El Gato Negro – A cute little coffee bar where they roast their own coffee. We didn’t get to try the coffee there as the power was out, but we enjoyed a lemonade in the shade on the back patio. They cater to tourists and have an English-language bookstore inside that’s worth a few minutes browsing the interesting selections.
What we did:
Hike to the statue of Jesus Christo – good views, $2 entrance fee, worth the bit of exercise and an hour or two of entertainment. Bring water and maybe a snack for something to do at the top.
Surfing – you can read about my surfing adventure HERE.