Nicaragua and El Salvador – San Juan Del Sur to El Tunco

Volcanoes, beaches, sunshine and adventure. Nicaragua has it all, and in absolute abundance! Within just a few hours of arrival, I knew Nicaragua was going to push me outside of my comfort zone. A combination of misdirection, an adverse reaction to walking down steep hills in flip flops and partying for a little too long and I found that I’d hitchhiked three times and been on the back of a motorbike twice. Both hitchhiking and motorbikes being firsts for me. While obviously not always recommended, it was kind of exhilarating – this was going to be fun!

The cute and buzzy surfer town of San Juan Del Sur was a great base and with an eclectic mix of cafes, bars and restaurants it had everything a girl could possibly want. With an array of beautiful beaches in the area, it was quite tempting to spend a few days beach hopping. Although, due to limited time I had to choose my beach wisely. I was torn between Playa Maderas, which offered much needed shade for this English skin, or Playa Hermosa which is a great strip of sand piggy backing of a resort and equipped with hammocks. Deciding I didn’t need to rough it, I opted for a day on Playa Hermosa and it was just lovely.

From San Juan Del Sur, I headed to the lush Isla de Ometepe. An island situated within a lake, dominated by two volcanoes. Quite spectacular, and quite unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It’s beauty was only heightened when I hopped into a tuk tuk and headed to Punta Jesus Maria to witness another epic sunset. Sunsets will never get old!

Buoyed by my motorbike experience in San Juan, I rented a scooter with some friends and headed off to explore the island. Kayaking on a quest for caimans, lunch with the best view in town and a refreshing dip at Ojo de Agua – it was the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure.

As amazing as Ometepe is, it can really be a b*tch for the solo traveler to get around. The best form of transport is without doubt a scooter, but since some of the roads are like off roading then you really need an ATV or a driver. Keen to check out the waterfall, but not keen to break the budget to smithereens I thought I was going to have to forgo some exploration on the smaller island, occupied by Volcan Maderas. Fortunately, everyone was pretty much in the same boat and we were able to muster together a group and with our own driver and mini van we were off to the San Ramon waterfall. After a hot and sweaty climb, we were rewarded with an impressive view and a cool refreshing dip under the water. Monkeys were swinging overhead and there were birds galore on the scramble down. I would’ve appreciated it more if I hadn’t been so ravenous and knew that the ‘trending’ Cafe Campestre was the lunch destination of choice.

While beaches, nature and island life had been delightful, I do love a good city and was quite excited to be on my way to the colorful Granada. As the Chicken bus rolled in, I knew I was going to like it. With it’s colorful buildings and cobblestone streets it was perfect for an afternoon of meandering. The view from the Bell Tower at the nearby church, provided a peaceful perspective of the chaotic market stall lined streets below and was captivating.

Despite being quite a pretty base, much of what attracted me to Granada was the abundance of places to explore in the vicinity. The gorgeous Laguna de Apoyo, a huge crater filled lake was the perfect place to unwind in a deck chair with smoothie in hand before frolicking in a rubber ring on the waters edge.

The highly rated Isletas were a little disappointing, but perhaps that’s because I was more captivated by seeing the lava at the nearby Volcan Masaya. Or probably more likely, because I was terrified when a monkey climbed aboard our boat!

A couple of hours north of Granada sits the city of Leon. I’d been really impressed with Granada but despite this I still thought Leon was a cut above. There was a lovely vibe to the place, and I loved watching the locals at Salsa night. On my second night, fueled with Tona, I succumbed and gave it a go myself. For the adrenaline seeker, volcano boarding was the activity of choice. While in total contrast to this, the views from the Cathedral were stunning. Extremely peaceful and so tranquil.

At 2am after my Salsa escapades, it was time to board the bus and head on to El Salvador. Crossing through the southern point of Honduras, entering at 4am and leaving at 7 am, I have the passport stamp but pretty much slept through my entire Honduras experience. I was headed to El Tunco on the El Salvadorian Coast. The purpose, really just to break up the long journey to Guatemala but since I was passing through it would’ve been rude not to have stopped. There was enough time to soak up the Saturday night vibes created by the city folk who had flocked to the region for the weekend. Beers on the beach, live music at sunset and all the puposas I could eat. Overall, not a bad experience…even if my accommodation was a hole. Nicaragua had spoilt me with it’s high standards!

With my final land border crossing looming and Guatemala calling, it was time to head to Antigua…

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