A group of 17 of us flew into Managua on November 1, 2013 (on different flights), stayed at Maderas Village for 10 days before 12 people in our group went back to Toronto and the remaining 5 of us set off to explore some more of the country, backpacker style.
To see photos of Nicaragua through my lens:
- Maderas: http://on.fb.me/IJqhha
- Granada: http://on.fb.me/18rnIKw
- San Juan del Sur: http://on.fb.me/19pES8u
- Ometepe: http://on.fb.me/1bnCrDc
- León: http://on.fb.me/1f6VBCa
- Las Peñitas: http://on.fb.me/19pFD1o
For those less about the pictures and more about the info, read on to find out about Maderas, Granada, San Juan del Sur, Ometepe, León and Las Peñitas. By request, I also included a packing list based on a 2 – 4 week trip.
- Fidel is the name of the driver we used when we needed to go somewhere. All rides from Maderas (to Granada for a day trip and to/from the airport) were arranged by Danielle who works at Maderas Village.
- We arranged a shuttle van from the airport to Maderas and with 6 people per car it was approx. $35/person but for our friends that arrived in a pair it was $50/person. (The drivers all stopped at a gas station so we could pick up cans of beer for the ride to Maderas)
- If you rent a car, make sure it’s an SUV, but honestly I would recommend not – the roads can be sketchy, especially if it rains, and it’s vacation so people are rarely not cocktailing in some respect.
- At some point, you WILL ride in the bed of a truck, maybe in the pouring rain!
- At Maderas Village, beer is $1.50 and cocktails are $3.50 – I recommend Peppermint Paddy’s (cold peppermint tea and rum concoction – not actually called peppermint paddy’s but they’ll know what you mean;), caprhinias & mojitos
- At the beach bar (not Tacos Locos but the one directly across from it) they have an afternoon 2 for 1 special on cocktails like daiquiris, mojitos, etc. Perfect for sunsets.
- The local beer is Tona (pronounced: tone-ya)
Where/What to Eat
- If you’re not planning to eat dinner at Maderas Village, let Danielle know as early in the day as possible – especially if it’s Monday (sushi night – one of their cooks was a former sushi sous-chef).
- Definitely go to Pizza Night which is organized by Danielle at Maderas Village and I think happens on Wedesdays – you’ll never see anyone so passionate about pizza as Sergio.
- Though they have a menu posted on their board they’re open to modifications (I highly recommend asking for peanut butter and/or Nutella for your banana pancakes – life changing.)
- The hot sauce is amaze balls – you can pick it up from any convenience store in the nearby town, San Juan de Sur.
- Eat lunch at Tacos Locas - right on the beach and big portions (share a plate of nachos and either chicken or fish tacos – they are UNREAL). Spend some time talking to Alberto about baseball – if you’re lucky he might invite you to watch one of his games.
- If you get pizza at the little place just before you get to the beach, make sure their oven is already on before you order or it is a 2-hour wait (they turn it on around 3pm so if you go after 5pm that’s usually ok).
- A good lunch spot it Juanita’s Kitchen, which is to the right (past Tacos Locos) and along the beach (make sure you go before high tide or it’s a bit of a precarious walk back to Maderas!)
- There is a lobster spot that’s also supposed to be really good for lunch but is a 2- 3 hour excursion as it’s a bit of a walk (ask Danielle at Maderas and she’ll tell you how to get there!)
- All the girls did the 1 hour horseback ride along the hilly roads and they take you for a little ride along the beach – I think it was $20 or $25 per person
- Our guy friends did a day-long deep sea fishing trip which they said was more of a booze cruise – booze is included but the guys picked up extra beer/rum for the day – I don’t know how much it was.
- There is a catamaran booze cruise that you can arrange with Danielle and I think it’s something like $75/person (none of our group did this but I think it’s from noon – 6pm and you have to let Danielle know 1 day in advance)
- Gump is the yoga teacher there and he teaches on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and I think it’s $10/class (1.5 – 2 hours long). We were told he would teach additional classes for a higher fee but we asked him to teach on a Sunday and it’s his day off so we didn’t end up doing yoga that day. Anyone that did yoga said it wasn’t really their preferred style (to each his/her own!) and 2 of our girlfriends ended up leading classes for our group in one of the cottages we rented.
- The surfing is good and appeals to all levels – there’s some decent white wash for beginners (better when it’s not low tide) and a break further out for the more experienced. You can rent surf boards right on the beach for $10/day or $5 for an hour – they have a pretty good range of board sizes (bigger & wider for beginners, shorter for more experienced surfers).
- If you want to get a massage there (Dunia is the girl’s name) book it about a week in advance to make sure she’s available
- We did a day trip to Granada and left around 8am and came home around 9pm or so and Granada is about 2 – 2.5 hours from Maderas Village. We hired private cars through Danielle at Maderas and did the following: stopped on an active volcano (we drove up, didn’t hike), visited a market (touristy), then got dropped off in the city centre. We had lunch at a restaurant called Kelly’s (Irish bar that serves Mexican and lured us in with 2 for 1 cocktails) then walked down to the lake (can be a bit dangerous down there we were warned but I never felt unsafe – we went in daylight) and back up to the city centre.
- We visited a cigar spot – they make cigars in the front and have a pool in the back (our photos from this look like we shot a rap video in Pablo Escobar’s pool). The cigar shop is calledMombacho and is owned by a friend of Dickie’s (one of the owners at Maderas Village). He arranged it so we paid $20 which got us a tour and you actually see people rolling the cigars (15 – 20 minutes), a cigar, pool time and open bar for 2 hours. I’m pretty sure for a few extra dollars you can learn to roll cigars yourself. Ask for Eric (Canadian) or Claudio (Italian). If you can, go out to dinner with these guys after the shop closes and they’ll show you a fun night (ask them to take you to the German restaurant in the company car).
Maderas Village Accommodations
- There is no hot water, but you don’t need it or want it (it’s not cold either, more lukewarm)
- It is about a 5 minute walk down a gravelly hill to the beach (and a slightly slower, longer walk back up)
- There is a main building, 2 cottages (1 is a 3-bedroom, 1 is a 2-bedroom), a dorm and little casitas – I would reco either the 2-bedroom cottage or a casita per couple (the casitas each have a little loft area and you can watch the monkeys in the AM!)
- It’s pretty safe to leave your bags during the day – I left my beach bag of money, cameras and my iPhone on the beach every day while I surfed and so did everyone else and nothing got stolen.
- Low tide is in the AM and if you’re an ok surfer, there’s barely a line-up on the break in the AM. By midday, the San Juan del Sur crowd comes in in carloads and it gets much busier in the afternoon when it’s higher tide.
- Check the surf report nightly – no 2 days were the same.
Maderas Village Animals
- Murray, Luna and Pataya are the pups that hang out there – all of them are really sweet but don’t let them lick/bite your face, I saw Murray eat horse poop
- The howler monkeys in the morning are LOUD – it seriously sounds like something out of Jumanji, or as our friend put it, bear dragons. Between these furry friends and the sunrising at 5:30am, it’s early to bed, early to rise!
SAN JUAN DEL SUR
Maderas to San Juan
- This is 25 – 35 minutes from Maderas Village as the road in/out of MV is pretty rough
- The guy that works at Tacos Lacos plays baseball in a men’s league (not pro at all, more like adult house league) but it’s a big deal there – our guy friends went to the game, ate the local food (vigarone, pronounced vig-a-rone) and you can get drinks there and they said it was awesome! The game was in San Juan del Sur, about 30 minutes by car from Maderas Village
- Sunday Funday is a themed pool crawl that is organized by one of my high school friends, Megan, who is a partner at the Naked Tiger. You can buy your tickets and get your Sunday Funday tank at Naked Tiger for $10 and a shuttle picks you up there, you go to a really nice resort (I think it was called Pelican Eye), then back to Naked Tiger for dinner/swimming. Next you go into San Juan where there are a few bar stops (Pacha Mama is one of them). This is very Aussie-focused and it’s a pretty young crowd but there were enough of us that we had a lot of fun! (PS Don’t go in the Pacha Mama pool, it’s GROSS.)
Where/What to Eat
- There is a popular gringo hangout for breaky called El Gato Negro Café which has pretty much anything you could want – the bagels and the apple caramel pancakes are killer
- There is a French lady who owns a chicken joint on the main strip in town – our buds ate there and LOVED it
- Was about a 1 hour drive from San Juan del Sur by private car to the port where you catch the ferry to the little jungle island
- The ferry runs about every hour or two and you have the option of taking the big, slower ferry (better for those prone to sea sickness)
- At the port, we arranged with a man named Hector to be picked up on the island by his cousin who drove us to our hotel (roughly 45 minutes from the port on the island)
- Little Morgan is the hostel for those who like to party and offer various ‘challenges’ like downing 3 shots followed by a line of coke and then a line of K (my guess is that it’s full of hard partying Aussies – I didn’t stay here)
- We stayed at a place called Santa Cruz. A snake curled up in my rocking chair and a woman woke up with a scorpion on her hand (the snake was non-venomous and scorpions aren’t deadly in Nicaragua so this could have happened anywhere and wasn’t really dangerous, just terrifying).
Where to Eat
- We were only there for 1 night so we had dinner and breakfast at our hotel
- At lunch we went to this little vegetarian restaurant right on the main road and on the beach in Santa Domingo – about halfway between our hotel and Agua de Ojo – the family’s restaurant was knocked to the ground days before we arrived over a political dispute but cooked for us out of their home kitchen (highly recommended!)
- We rented bikes for $6/day to ride around the island (they were not in the best of condition which made the hills pretty difficult)
- It was a half hour ride from our hostel to Agua de Ojo which is this amazing natural spring in the middle of the jungle (note: not a hot spring!) – they do sell food, booze and water there and entry to the spring is $3
- We heard Magdelena was a good lookout spot but didn’t make it there
- There are day tours that will take you to all of the must-see spots on the island if you prefer that to biking and if you only have a short time, I would recommend that if you want to see more
- After taking the 1 hour ferry ride from the island back to port, Hector’s friend was ready with his pick-up truck to take us to Léon (if you have more than 4 people, be very clear about the kind of vehicle you want – we had a 5-seater pick-up truck with 6 people for the 3 hours journey which ended up taking 5 – 6 hours because of traffic – NOT comfortable!)
- A brand new hotel opened while we there (Nov 2013) called Azul. They don’t have a website yet, but they have a beautiful open area for eating/drinking/playing cards, a clean pool, small but brand new, clean rooms with an AC option & TV and an en-suite bathroom for $20 – $30/night. This was the promotional/grand opening price and will be going up to $40 – $50/night.
Where to Eat
- If you like any sort of meat, Carnivores is for you and is conveniently located right beside Azul
- We ordered a bunch of apps & mains for the table to share and everything was really good!
- It’s a small colonial town with lots of beautiful churches, including the largest church in Central/South America
- One of the churches has a lookout that is perfect for a beautiful sunset view
- We went to a local blanket factory where you can buy locally made blankets at wholesale prices
- Lots of restaurants, cafes, etc.
- We didn’t do this, but you can go volcano boarding (we saw the aftermath of this on quite a few travelers – serious volcano rubble burns after sliding out), turtle hatching and you can hike up an active volcano at night and actually see the glowing lava
- We took a taxi from Léon which is approximately 20 – 30 minutes (approximately $5 – $10 per person and there were 5 of us but there is also a shuttle that runs back and forth)
- We stayed at the basic, friendly, Canadian-owned (Val & Ryan) Lazy Turtle which is about a 2 minute walk to the beach
- We had originally booked to stay at Oasis which is right on the beach but there was a mix-up in terms of how many nights we were booked to stay
Where to Eat
- The enchiladas made by Val were out-of-this-world good and they have a number of burger and Mexican options on the regular menu
- We also ate at a large outdoor restaurant just a few doors down from the Lazy Turtle which was ok and it looked like a pizza place will be opening in December of 2013 right next door
- Turtle hatching
- Beach bonfire & mojitos at Pirate (7 minute walk from Lazy Turtle) – wear bug spray, I got attacked by sand fleas
- We went twice – once from Maderas (see above) and once from Las PeÑitas which was about 2 or 3 hours by private car arranged by Val and Ryan at the Lazy Turtle
- We stayed at Oasis for $20 or $20/night (I think) and it had lots of hammocks for reading, free coffee & tea and a small but clean pool
- Justin Bobby from The Hills owns a hair salon on the main street in San Juan del Sur called Brush Your Hair and can be found about town
- Scorpion bites are not lethal in Nicaragua unless you have an allergy and the effects include tingling/numbness of the tongue and last for an hour or two
- Keep the hashtag alive: #NicaNonsense (secondary hashtag: #NicaPlease)
- Nothing dries at Maderas b/c of the humidity (at the end of our stay we learned that they do have a secret dryer though if you’re desperate
- I brushed my teeth in the water the whole time and was fine but depends what you’re comfortable with
- Pay for your Maderas Village accoms and meals in cash or you will pay an additional 17% on your total for using Visa (you don’t pay per drink or per meal, they give you a total at the end of your stay – to give you an idea, our group had tabs of approx. $1,200 – $1,500 for 10 days which included our rooms, our meals and our drinks)
- In terms of currency, you can use either American or Cordobas very easily ($1USD = 25 cordobas)
- There is no ATM in Maderas – go there with the money you intend to spend (each room has a safe)
PACKING LIST (3 – 4 weeks)
- SPF 60 (at least for your face and your bum if you’re surfing)
- SPF 30 (if you prefer for your body)
- Crap bikini bottom/boardies to surf in – the surf wax will get all over
- TIGHT sportsbra
- Leave-in conditioner (if you’re surfing, it’s a life-saver!)
For Horseback riding
- 3/4 Lulus
- Tank or t-shirt
- Sport socks
- Running shoes
- Yoga shorts or leggings
- Tank top
- Sports bra
- Bank card
- US cash – factor in your ride from the airport, activities and paying your Maderas Village bill (each lunch/dinner meal is $10 – $15 per person, breakfast is $3.50 – $6.50 per person)
- Make sure you scan your passport, bank card and Visa and load the images to Dropbox to make sure you always have your info in case anything is lost/stolen
- 1 – 2 pairs of shorts
- 1 pair of boardies or sports shorts
- 1 onesie
- 1 – 2 skirts
- 1 – 2 sundresses
- 1 maxi dress
- 5 – 7 tanks/t-shirts
- 1 long sleeve
- 1 hoodie or sweater
- 1 pair of flip flops
- 1 pair of gladiators
- 1 pair of Toms
- 1 pair of running shoes
- 1 beach bag (a dry sac is awesome if you have a camera)
- 3 – 4 bikinis
- 1 clutch/purse
Toiletries & Misc
- 1 travel towel
- 1 sarong
- Body wash or soap
- Travel toothpaste
- Water bottle (free refills at Maderas Village!)
- Bug spray
- Hair elastic/headband/butterfly clip
- Camera + charger / Phone + charger (turn on your airplane mode & use wifi!)
- Memory card
- Book or e-reader
- Blow up pillow for travelling
- Tylenol cold & flu
- Tylenol sinus
- Zantac-150 (works better than Benadryl as an antihistamine and doubles for indigestion)
- Gravol – non–drowsy
- Ear drops that evaporate water (post-surfing/scuba driving)
- Adavan/Valium for flying