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Rambling in Nicaragua :: Our Route

San Ramón is a small town in the mountains of northern Nicaragua that, although it has made efforts to attract tourists, has little to offer in terms of restaurants, hostels, and activities.   The majority of the town consists of the town square and a few businesses established on nearby roads.  Tours of the town and nearby natural attractions are offered through the Tourism Office.

However, Finca Esperanza Verde Eco-lodge, a coffee farm that was featured in a Ramble Writer article and video, is 45 minute drive from San Ramon and offers lodging, coffee tours, horseback riding, camping, and bird watching.  A restaurant is also located on the premises.

Finca Esperanza Verde Eco-lodge

Double room with private bath: $62 USD
Dorm room: $17 USD per person
Camping: $7 USD

Granada is a city of preserved colonial architecture, and is one of Nicaragua’s most popular tourist destinations.  The main square, Parque Central, is filled with vendors peddling jewelry, trinkets, and traditional street food, and is situated by the Cathedral de Granada, a massive Catholic church built in 1583 which is painted a striking yellow and white.  The church marks the entry to the main tourist strip, a pedestrian street that is obviously rarely frequented Granada’s residents.  Although restaurants on this road are overpriced and menu items cater to gringo tastes (nachos and burgers are on just about every menu), Nick and I enjoyed resting at the seating areas for a beer or two, watching the numerous gringos that ambled by our table.

I recommend meandering through Granada to get a better taste of its various neighborhoods and markets.  The main market, consisting of a maze of vendors that pile on top of one another, is an entertaining experience in itself.  The bustling chaos of screaming vendors, unidentifiable foods that hang from the wooden stands, and various odors linger in your nostrils bombard the senses as you elbow through the crowds of customers.

An eating option that ventures away from the tourists traps is by the water, Lake Cocibolca, where street vendors offer meals of fried plantains, fried chicken, grilled pork, and homemade vinegar-based salsas.

Nick and I stayed at Amigos Bed and Breakfast, an accommodation that I strongly recommend to ramblers traveling on a budget.  The cost for a dorm room, which is $7 USD a night, includes fans, free internet, cable TV, outdoor patio areas, a communal kitchen, and a full breakfast in the morning.  The furnishings were minimal, but the staff was extremely friendly and the common areas were always clean.

Amigos Bed and Breakfast
Calle Estrada No. 103
Phone: 2552-2085

Nicaraguans garbed in O’Neill and Quicksilver shirts and board shorts walking along the dirt roads are the first clue to this town’s popular pastime.  Popoyo, a small town on the southwestern Nicaraguan coast, is a prime spot for surf enthusiasts.  The surf is the main attraction of the town, for there is little else in which tourists can be occupied.  The tourist strip is located on the beach, where restaurants, hostels, and ding repair shops line the coast.

We camped at Nicawaves, which rents a house and rooms on a plot of land that is a 10 minute walk from Popoyo beach.  Nicawaves offers a communal bathroom, shower and kitchen, bike and board rentals, surf photos, and camping.  The no-frills accommodations are geared for guests who plan to spend most of their stay outside and surfing.  The general atmosphere at Nicawaves is relaxed and peaceful, and it is easy to mingle with the other guests on the property.

Rentals for $10, $20, and $30 per night

While Popoyo is quiet, laid-back, and centers around natural settings, San Juan del Sur revels in it’s restaurants, bars, surf shops, hostels and crowded surf spots.  If you grow tired of frequenting restaurants with hamburgers and french fries, pop into the central mercado for lunch.  There are several restaurants inside that serve hearty meals of rice and beans, salad, fried plantains, and various meats and fish.

Drive up to Playa Maderas to surf the best waves in town, but don’t expect the peaceful beaches of Popoyo.  If you cannot drive to this beach, do not fret – shuttles drive truckloads of surfers in about every hour.  By mid-afternoon, Playa Maderas is filled with surfers in the water, surfers sipping on smoothies on the shore, and surfers eating at the restaurant that connects to the beachside hostel.  If you want to experience this beach, but not to be surrounded by people, drive up morning – before 10 am – to beat the shuttles.

Playa Maderas is a bit difficult to find, so I hope these directions from new our friends at Buena Vista Surf Club, a beautiful hotel close to the beach, will help you:

– Just before you enter San Juan Del Sur take a right at the city hall (big red & white square building) and go on the dirt road (la Chocolata). If you drive past a Palí supermarket on your left, you have gone too far.

– Take this road for approximately 15-20 minutes until you come across a little bridge (one lane) with a low yellow railing.

– Take a left after the bridge, and you will come to a river crossing (dry river bed in the dry season).

– After crossing the river, the road forks. Take the left fork to Playa Marsella/Playa Maderas and continue for approximately 5 minutes. You will go past the ‘Mango Rosa resort’ on your right hand side.

– The road will fork again, take the right fork to Playa Maderas.

– After a short drive take a right at the next fork, you will see two brick towers on the left, and a big tree on the right. You should engage 4WD at this point. Don’t forget to ‘lock’ the hubs on your front wheels when you put the car in 4WD!

– Go up the hill, and when at the top, follow the road to the left, down the hill (past a big entrance with a bamboo fence). Once at the bottom of hill (150m before the beach), go straight until you see the beach.

– Normally the trip from San Juan Del Sur to our place takes approx. 20-30 min depending on weather & road conditions.

Looking for a break from camping? When I walked into the bar at Buena Vista Surf Club, the congestion of San Juan del Sur immediately transformed into a peaceful and sophisticated space.

If you are looking for camping near San Juan del Sur, there is a camping area next to a hostel called Camping Matilda, which is located on the northern side of Playa Maderas.  Camping Matilda looks like a very resonable hostel, but Nick and I chose to camp to save money.  The camping site is a plot of land that belongs to the outdoor restaurant located on the street.  If you park at the end of the lot, you can camp with a wonderful view of the beach.  There were even people camping on the beach, which is another option.

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