First Impressions of Nicaragua

May 15, 2015
First Impressions of Nicaragua

Nicaragua is the country, where I will live and learn for the next 6 months. During my journey through Panama and Costa Rica, I’ve already heard many good things of Nicaragua from other travelers –friendly people, pretty cheap, beautiful and special landscapes, good food, safer than neighboring countries, etc.

So I was already very curious about what would await me. 

Border crossing and drive through Nicaragua:

I was entering the country via the Costa Rican border. And very quickly I realized that I am now in another country – the houses became smaller and poorer and the streets are in a poorer condition. Bus drivers drove more chaotically and on the streets you can find many ox charts and horse carriages.

The landscape we drove through was indeed very special! On my right hand side I saw the Lago Nicaragua with its island Ometepe formed by the majestic twin volcanoes.

My final destination for now will be León, where the study project at the university UNAN, which I am going to work for, is located. But it would have been too far to get there directly from San José (at least if you always take cheap “Chicken Buses.” So I decided to stop for at least one night in San Juan del Sur.


I took the bus from the border (Peñas Blancas) to La Virgen – if you also want to get to San Juan del Sur, you have to tell the ayudante (bus helper) that you would like to get out there.
From La Virgen there are other local buses (chicken buses – every 30 minutes for 20 Cordobas (around 1 Euro)) to San Juan del Sur or also colectivos (shared taxis) for around 50 Cordobas.

San Juan del Sur

The same problem that I faced in Manuel Antonio (Costa Rica) was awaiting me here. Semana Santa (Ester Week) was still present! Hostel prices were rising, rooms booked out, plenty of tourists around, and so on. I spoke to some locals and they told me that during “normal” times, the city is also full of tourists (foreigners and locals) because San Juan del Sur is one of the most visited places in Nicaragua – even if there are way more special and beautiful places here, for example León and the close beach Peñas Blancas or the caribbean beaches.
But during normal times, the hostel prices are between $6 and 10 and not between $14 and 30 and the village including the beach might not be that crowded. 
I arrived in the early evening with all my heavy luggage and started looking for an accommodation, at least for one night.
After I found an acceptable hostel, I was walking around, checking out the town and the beach and I didn´t find anything very interesting here. The beach in not beautiful, there are many drunk people around and it´s a bit dirty. I felt a bit lost and I asked myself: what am I doing here?
San Juan del Sur does not look like a “normal” Nicaraguan village but rather like a place fully owned by tourists. Travel agencies that offer tours, surfing trips, etc, western restaurants, bars and cafés, plenty of hostels, etc. I´ve got the impression that plenty of people are just working for the tourism and many of them are just tired of tourists. That´s a bit a pity, since San Juan del Sur was some years back just a tiny, tranquil and unknown fisher-village.

Only if you want to surf, you can get your moneys worth! For that, the Playa Maderas is the best option – that´s what I heard.


Some hostels wanted $25-30 for a dorm bed for one night, others didn´t have rooms at all left. I thought that cannot be true. After around 1 hour I found a hostel with reasonable prices for that season ($14 dorm/night incl. breakfast). The name was Casa Tedeo. It was clean, there was even a big terrace with a pool, wifi, kitchen and the breakfast in the morning was big and good.

Casa Tadeo
Casa Tadeo

Resume San Juan del Sur:

So, San Juan del Sur is without doubt a nice surfer and party spot – but not for just relaxing at the beach. Playa Maderas could be a nice option for that, but it´s better to explore that not desperately during the Ester Week, where anything is expensive and crowded.

In my opinion, San Juan del Sur is just famous for the good surf waves and because it´s recommended in every travel guide. Every traveler who I met in Nicaragua was in San Juan del Sur or is planning to go there, even if they don´t plan to surf. In this case it´s really a better idea to visit the less visited places which are still kind of magical. San Juan del Sur was maybe like that in earlier times, but now lost it´s flair and personality because of the crowds of tourists. 

My decision was: check out the next day and try to get as fast as possible to my home town for the next six months – León.

Transportation to León:

From San Juan del Sur I took the “Chicken Bus” (local bus) to Rivas for 20 Cordoba (around $1). From there, take another Chicken Bus to Managua. But this time it was an “Express-Bus” – and for sure, everybody wants to take that faster bus. So people were already forming a queue and when the bus arrived, everybody ran like crazy to the door of the bus, to get in as soon as possible.
A guy wanted to take my backpack and store it on the roof, but I don´t feel really safe like that. So I told him many times, that I will take it into the bus and store it there!

In Managua I had to change the bus terminal and for that I had to take a taxi for around $5! But once I reached the other terminal, everything was a bit more relaxed. The bus to León came almost immediately and was not too crowded.

Now I am in León.

Bus Terminal and Market Rivas
Bus helpers

Safety hints

It´s easy to travel solo in Nicaragua. So far I haven´t had problems at all. The only thing which is sometimes annoying and even makes me angry now and then are the catcalling comments – very often the guys make kissing noises which is very offensive. Other comments like guapa, deliciosa, bonita, etc. are common and also annoying but easier to ignore. 

About Sarah Schmidt

I did my Bachelor Degree in Business Administration/Marketing at the University of Pforzheim and my Master Degree in Integrated Natural Resource Management at the Humboldt University Berlin. I’ve lived in Berlin, Karlsruhe, Hyderabad (India), Mumbai, Bangkok, Bogotá and León (Nicaragua), and currently I´m traveling around South America for doing volunteer work, that is related to my master studies (natural conservation, reforestation, agro-forestry, permaculture, biodiversity conservation, etc.). I love to travel in a sustainable and nature-close way, to discover other countries, cultures, traditions, and languages, and to learn more about our world and nature, and how to protect it, as best as I can.

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