Category Archives: Nicaragua

Nicaragua Essentials

Wifi – 3 /5

Pretty great coverage and speed in major hubs, however the power grid in Nicaragua seems to be only loosely tied together (or loosely tied around tree branches… true fact) and entire towns go black for hours (days) at a time. Specifically San Juan Del Sur and the beach towns. Northern surf towns also have very limited wifi, if at all. This is a very poor region and we are sure all their other needs will come first before fast wifi.

Transportation – N/A 

We’re driving now bitches!

Road Conditions – 5 / 5

Absolutely shockingly wonderful. Brand new highway systems south to north. Not a single pot hole to be had. Even the newly built cobblestone road around 80% of Ometepe is spectacular.  No tolls to be found, only one police checkpoint by the border and seriously smooth sailing. Great job Nicaragua.

Food  – 4 / 5

One word: smoked cheese. Wait maybe two words. Also, the arepas (thick mais cakes) have been getting progressively thinner and turning more tortilla-esque as we travel north.  We are okay with this. Especially when combined with cheese.

Nicaraguan food is extremely flavourful, largely portioned and at least the street food is cheap. The markets are a great place to shop for fresh produce, and there were papayas that were larger then small children.

Safety  – 4 / 5

We had no issues in the cities, beaches or highways. Not to say we didn’t here about some issues (particularly on beaches) but we found everyone very friendly. The only place we felt a bit concerned about safety was after dark in Granada. There are too many gringos  in town partying too hard, it seems to draw in the lurkers just waiting to pick off an easy one.

 

Street Dogs – 3 / 5

Not as many as some places we have been, but generally healthy looking. Most people, most of the time seem to mostly be pleasant towards them. Unlike most other places we’ve traveled we didn’t make any dog friends, maybe because we were cat sitting?

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Nicaragua: City Edition

Granada
June 9-10

In the short span of 3 days we managed to drive through and stay in the three major city destinations within Nicaragua. Granada, Managua, Leon. BAM.

Granada, although beautiful and with excellent 2×1 Mojitos (4 mojitos for $5 USD), was a bit seedy around the edges at night. The series of 4-5 hostels we toured before making a rough decision were also very disappointing. Our hostel didn’t have a single dish in the communal kitchen, had only clogged toilets, and its workers stayed up all night coked out and partying in the hostel making sure neither of us slept. Left them a really great review the next morning!

Hot Tip: Secure parking is available at the Bomberos (fire station). Roughly $2.5 USD per night, as a donation.

Despite the terrible sleep, we made a MAJOR discovery at the market the next morning. Nicaraguan smoked cheeses. After months of only Queso Blanco (bland country cheese) throughout Colombia and Central America, we probably ate 2 lbs of cheese in 24 hours. The texture is firm and bubbly like an areo bar. The flavor varies from gentle to extreme smokyness. 2 lbs of cheese cost us under $4 USD. The market in Granada is a great place to stock up on fruit, veg and cheese. This haul cost us under $10 (including cheese and a breakfast each).

Side note, eggs come rolling around loose in bags not cartons.

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The Boom & Jiquilillo
June 10-11

Once again, second year in a row, our surf dreams went unfulfilled in Nicaragua. Another swell had come in, making what we imagine would be a perfect beach break into a body breaker. To be clear, they were beautiful barrels going off next to “The Boom”, but they were also 1-2meters. Which in our terms is still a bit problematic.  The Boom itself was also just absolutely terrifying at that level. Brett attempted the smaller sets, but they were still extremely advanced waves and after a an hour or so time to go.

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The limited and unsafe camping options compounded with the swell meant we traveled north to Jiquilillo to see if we could find something more manageable. However, that far North in Nicaragua also means little to no infrastructure for tourism or for locals. Signs started appearing stating “This bridge donated by Japan” or “Electric Grid developed by Canada”. The surf towns, being out of season, were also absolutely abandoned. Ghost towns.

Sigh. One day we will surf you Nica!

Leon
June 11-13

This is a city we can get behind! Beautiful colonial architecture without the same seedy feel we had in Granada. Hostel recommendation Hostel Guardabarranco, quiet and half the price of the rest on the same street. We could park right in front.

Hot Tip: semi secure parking available on the main hostel street (It has BigFoot Hostel, Via Via Etc). The businesses pay for a security guard to patrol at night. You can tip the guy to watch your car especially, negotiate price in advance as we were not told a tip was required until afterwards.

If you are ever in need of cheap, second hand clothing, Nicaragua apparently is the place. Literally tons of the stuff are shipped her from the states, some of which are still tagged and must have been sold for pennies on their original cost. In leon, the shops are literally everywhere and have excellent “names”.

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The market here also has cheese. We ate more cheese.

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Leon’s church game is on point. Each one better then the last.

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During this period, we also used our time to really dig into border crossing research and the best plan of attack for Honduras & El Salvador, countries which put fears into the hearts of our mothers.

Brett’s not scurred’

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Nicaraguan Eruption

San Juan Del Sur
June 5-8, 2016

Crossing the Nicaraguan border only 24 hours after the Panama border was not originally on the books, but we did what we had to to get this overlanding underway. See our notes for instructions on the sometimes crazy other times convoluted crossing.

In any case, arrived into San Juan Del Sur safe and sound, kitty in hand, and let out a sigh of relief. We said out final goodbyes to our friend Chris (who had started traveling with us nearly 3 weeks before and been very, very patient with the entire paperwork process) and began celebrating.

Celebrate through a good bottle of whiskey, and a bite to the face.

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San Juan Del Sur is definitely gringo overridden. A bit of a backpacker haven for those looking for a taste of home. For example, caesars at the Loose Moose which we sampled. If we are honest, the bar scene there is quite gross (ie. white girl wasted, “Sunday Funday” and ladies drink free pubcrawls). We were here last year, but prices seem to have already increased. Most hostels now only have private rooms for $35 + (low season) whereas last year they were at least $10 cheaper (in high season).

We did find a gem of a host however, a few blocks from the beach. Her name was Elizabeth, she ran Hostel Elizabeth which was essentially an ancient family home that had 3 floors added on for guests. The engineering of these floors was creative at best. The private rooms/shared bathroom had a breeze (very important) and views over the entire city.

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$20 USD. Also, she had a STUNNING full apartment for rent for $30 USD a night. Don’t be put off by the bottom floor, which is a dreary and inhabited by two giant rabbits…

Foreshadow: Our kitty loved it there.

Ometepe
June 8 -10, 2016

Ometepe is breathtaking. Also, an overlanding paradise filled with countless free camping possibilities. Ferry there was a bit pricey with the truck & 2x passengers (approx $30 USD), and the ferry wranglers really wedge you into your parking space with increasing aggression, however the ferry on a calm day is a great way to get lead up to a few days (or a lifetime) on the volcanos.

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Ometepe was quite sweaty, but at least now we are acclimatized. Thankfully we were able to cool off in Agua de Ojo, a volcano fed crystal clear watering hole with a pretty cute dude in it.

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The first night we camped on a deserted beach nestled under Volcan Conception. Brett built a romantic fire on a small island, and we spent the night with the kitty on the island watching a lightening storm. Kitty fell asleep face down on the island. Must have been a long day playing on her first beach. She learned to jump that day.

Then, while sleeping, we experienced the lightening storm up close and personal. Our newly improved tarp system held up great.

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On the opposite, more rugged and obviously poorer side of the Volcan Maderas, we hiked to the San Ramon Cascada. Hot Tip: the reserve will let you camp across the road on the pier for free, use their bathrooms and wifi as well, 24 hour security. Waterfall was $3 USD. Another Hot Tip: Hiking to the waterfall is awfully humid. Within 2 minutes of starting we were soaked due only to sweaty humidity, not due to the state of our physical ability. But the 4 hour hike is %100 percent worth it for the incredible waterfall secreted away at the top. Don’t give up like poorly dressed flip flop girl or jean woman!

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Second night, second incredible lightening storm over the lake. Sunset was awful.

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We finally also admitted to ourselves that perhaps trying to bring Skinny Scratchy all the way back into Canada would not only compromise our mission, but also potentially not be great for kitty. Our hot truck is only going to get hotter, and we can not always guarantee where we will be staying and the kitty safety factor. Also the fact that she only sleeps on my head makes a full nights rest really difficult. We made the difficult decision to return to Hostel Elizabeth, to grandmother Elizabeth and let her become a kitten mom. She had originally offered, however we were not quite ready to part ways with our rescue.

Goodbye Skinny Scratchy. Its been a wild ride rescuing you from certain death in a dog filled garbage pit on the Panamericana. We will forever miss you and your tiny little face, and the way you chase butterflies, and dig a million tiny holes then try to poop in each one of them on the beaches.

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Northbound-Borders Collection: Nicaragua to Honduras

Given our shortened timeframe, and the warnings by many about traveling Honduras/El Salvador we decided to skip them this time. We know that many, many people have traveled safely into the beauty of these countries, but decided that we would wait until next trip to really explore them.

We were able to travel between Leon Nicaragua, to San Vincent, El Salvador in 12 hours (Leave 5:15AM, Arrival before dark 5PM). We would recommend stopping somewhere immediately after the border though, because after San Miguel there are few towns and fewer hotels. We stayed at a Auto-Motel (*wink wink 3 hours for 10 $).


Borders : Nicaragua to Honduras

When: June 14, 2016

Where: Guasuale

Time Frame: 1.5 hours (early, early morning 7AM)

Process:

  • Drive up to the border checkpoint, they will check your passport and give you a Customs Declaration to fill out.
  • Park on the left in front of the border office, get your passports checked (no stamps) at the exit side of immigration. He will instruct you to pay 45C (or alternately a terrible USD ripoff rate) for exit fee. Pay on the opposite side of the office. **If you do not have exact change, the bank is in the same building and can make it for you.
  • Keep exit receipts!
  • Once processed, return to your vehicle and find a customs official wondering around to inspect your truck. Again, picture someone dressed for business-casual day at the office. He will sign the back of the customs declaration form for you. You will then need to have a customs official sign the back of your Vehicle Import Document (originally received on entry in Nicaragua). Is this can be the same official or a different one, we are not sure. Both were wandering around the same area.
  • Proceed back to the immigration office, down the hallway from the cashier whom you paid the exit fee too.
  • Customs will process you.
  • Documents Required (no copies):
    • Passport
    • License
    • Registration
    • Vehicle Import Form(signed by customs officer)
    • Customs declaration (signed by customs officer)
  • No exit stamp from Nicaragua
  • Drive through to Honduras (over the bridge).
  • Park on the left side of the road, in front of the Border Offices.
  • Get an entry stamp for Honduras. $3 USD, receipt given.

***You’ll also need to have exact change. No banks in this neighbourhood, but they accept Lempiras or USD. Moneychangers can charge you a fee for change. 

  • Walk through the building to the other side. You will need to enter into the offices (just ask the Transito booths for permission). Someone will escort you to an office, to import your vehicle.
  • Vehicle import is $13 USD.
  • Documents Required (2x copies needed of everything):
    • Passport
    • License
    • Registration
    • Passport Entry stamp
  • No Insurance required (we did not ask about prices since we are only going to be in Honduras for a few hours).
  • You will receive 2 receipts: a receipt for the transaction and for the import itself (a rainbow receipt, hang on to this)

***Copy office located across the large tractor-trailer parking lot from the customs side of the building. We recommend checking it out if only for the lewd pedophile poster and ancient beast of a typewriter.

  • On leaving the border zone, again you will be checked by an official to make sure you have everything. They’ll kindly inform you if you need anything else, which we did (the rainbow receipt).

Notes:

  • We were warned by everyone about this border. We were warned about helpers jumping on your car, running after you, yelling at you. We were warned about scams from the officials and about sketchy transactions. We were 100% surprised to find this the easiest border of all time. No helpers to be found, no scams, happy officials, and even some that spoke english.
  • One of the warnings is of the police checkpoint in Honduras, immediately after the border. Apparently they typically extort people for not having warning triangles, fire extinguisher which are required in the country. We stocked up in Leon (check out the SINSA hardware store on the way out of town) in preparation.  However, there were far more police pylons then police at the countless checkpoints from border to border.  The one time we were stopped, he simply asked where we were from. We were also waved through both military checkpoints. Success!

 

 

 

Northward-Bound Borders Collection: Costa Rica to Nicaragua

Borders : Costa Rica to Nicaragua

When: June 6, 2016

Where: Penas Blancas

Time Frame: 2.5hrs (mid afternoon)

Process:

  • Pay exit fee at Costa Rican border. To the right of the road, down a small embankment. Looks unofficial, but they gave a receipt. $7 USD.
  • Off the main street, to the right, get your exit stamp at immigration. They need to see your exit fee receipt.
  • Costa Rican Customs Office is located in a strange location in relation to immigration. Drive towards North towards Nicaragua, past the immigration offices, then turn around and head in the opposite direction back into Costa Rica. The customs offices are located to the right; you cannot miss it, looks like a parking lot for semi trailers with no building visible. Drive to the southern end.
  • Customs office will cancel your importation, but needs one copy of the Importation form. No charge, and copy shop located nearby.
  • Documents required:
    • Passport
    • License
    • Vehicle Registration.
    • Costa Rican Vehicle Import Form (received when you entered the country) + 1 Copy
  • Now you are ready for Nicaragua….. and boy you better get ready for the craziest border crossing yet.
  • Loop back around as if you were starting the process again, but head all the way across into Nicaragua this time. **Nicaragua has relocated their Border offices compared to 2015 (right hand side of the road). They are now located on the left hand side of the road.
  • Park in the parking lot to the south of the building. Helpers, children and maybe baby ducks, will swarm you. You do not need them, politely decline their services. You can do it.
  • Receive a Vehicle Inspection Form, from a customs officer who will be wandering around the lot. Should look like an official, but on business casual day. He will fill out a small customs form, including various items you are carrying (example: Surfboards, ropas, “casa” by which he meant our roof top tent). He did not check anything besides our license plate, and opened the back door but did not need us to open the drawers.
    • You can pay him off if you want so he does a shitty inspection, but if you have nothing to hide… why waste the money. We did pay a helper $5 USD for this service, but seriously do not think it was necessary.
  • Take the Vehicle Inspection Form to a Police officer who should also be wandering around the parking lot. He will thankfully look more official, and will inspect the vehicle also. He needs to sign the customs form for you.
  • Pay for Nicaraguan insurance (unofficial looking tent to the left of the immigration office). $12 USD
  • Enter immigration office, receive exit stamp. Exit fee $12 USD
  • Walk through the immigration office into a big blank room with many tables and only one grumpy lady. We honestly have no idea what she does, besides take a dinosaurs age to enter and reenter your information.
  • Documents needed (no copies needed):
    • Passport
    • License
    • Registration
    • Vehicle Inspection Form
  • However grumpy she is, she is necessary. Once she approves you in her voodoo computer system, you can exit.
  • When you are driving out of the border zone, there will be someone checking to ensure you have all the correct clearances. If you are missing anything, never fear! He will kindly redirect you.
  • Pets: Customs noticed out cat, but completely ignored her. No documents needed. We did not declare her.

Notes:

  • This Border is literally the craziest to date, thanks mostly in part to the helpers rushing you all the time. They are persistent.
  • This crossing has the most steps out of all the borders so far but we have found it really helpful to simply ask at each official step “What is the next step” Or  “A donde vamos  despues?” Officials will always direct you.
  • The Police checkpoint is located before the turn off for San Juan Del Sur. They only needed to see our passport.