San Juan del Sur and the Nicaraguan Border Crossing (Penas Blancas), Nicaragua – including the story of the missing dolphin…

The journey from Tamarindo to the Nicaraguan border isn’t too bad – only one connection in Liberia and costing under $4 in total. The border crossing itself is a bit more strenuous. First you have to pay an exit tax which at the time of writing was $7, and this has to be bought from a dodgy looking stall on the Costa Rican side. A 300m walk, during which I almost got taken out by a careless truck driver, and you reach the Nicaraguan customs, the entry tax being $12.

The little shanty town just through the border is interesting. Bustling with food stalls, money exchangers shoving wads of cordobas in your face and people yelling “taxi” and occasionally “guapa”.

Crossing to Nicaragua

I eventually located a chicken bus which would take me to Rivas. If you’ve never been to Central America, you’ll have no idea what these are, and trust me, the concept itself is quite baffling. Essentially this is the public bus service here, but they are run in old US school buses, the classic yellow ones which you see in the movies. Your luggage might well be chucked on top of the bus, as my backpack was, so keep valuables in a separate pack. Music blares loudly, vendors walk the cramped aisles selling fast-food such as corn. I have heard that they are called chicken buses because livestock are very much welcome aboard, though I haven’t seen any myself.

A chicken bus in Ometepe
Having told the “conductor” (a guy who opens the door whilst the bus is still moving at speed and constantly whistles to the driver to let him know when to go again) that I was heading to San Juan del Sur, he promptly dropped me off at a junction in the middle of nowhere and I was left to fend by myself. Luckily, another chicken bus heading to San Juan del Sur came in good time and I made it there safe and sound having had a nice chat with an old French-Candian couple on board.

San Juan del Sur is another paradisaical location only just being discovered by travelers. A glorious bay with a sweeping sand beach, a great vibe with latino music constantly blaring as you walk through the streets, this place is well worth a visit.

San Juan del Sur

The beach at San Juan del Sur isn’t quite as equipped for surfing as Tamarindo, but this small Pacific coast town is well worth a visit. Many hostels do shuttles to beaches better equipped for surfing. Prices are noticeably cheaper than Costa Rica, with some of the Happy Hour offers at the beachside bars offering decent cocktails for $2 or less.

Good places to go for nightlife include Lost in Translation and Iguana, but there are plenty of great bars in the town. It’s small too, so it’s easy to get between them.


My sunset mojito costing just £2 or 60 cordobasT

The whole town sits underneath a statue of Jesus atop a hill. It isn’t too strenuous to climb and there’s a great view over the town.

Statue of Jesus on the hill overlooking San Juan del Sure

Once more, there was an absolutely fantastic sunset, and San Juan del Sur marks the first place I have swam in the ocean at sunrise and sunset in the same day.

Sunset at San Juan del Sur, perfect time for swimming

I had a complete disaster when my dolphin mascot toy – one that I have had for 12 years and has survived trips to both Egypt and Russia and therefore is very hardy – went missing.

I was actually almost in tears; I had placed him down next to my bed, but the next day (when I was supremely hungover might I add) he was gone!

What monster would take such a ratty, dog-eared little toy?

This monster, after several hours of worrying and being hastled by an odd Nicaraguan and Argentinian sitting on the steps by the beach volleyball courts, turned out to be in the shape of a puppy.

Yes, somehow the hostel owner’s dog had managed to get a hold of my beloved dolphin and the poor thing required many emergency stitches. He’s doing great now – in recovery – and he’s very proud of his scars and being able to tell everyone that he fought a pitbull puppy and won.

My tough dolphin sporting his battle scars

I am in Moyagolpa, Ometepe now, more detailed most tomorrow!


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E.Q. Lever is the pseudonym of a hopeful young writer living in London, England.

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