Granada to Balgue, Isla Ometepe

Isla Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanos, Volcano Concepcion which is still active and Volcano Maderas. Maderas is the smaller of the two volcanos and has not been active in historical times and it’s crater contains a crater lake. The two are joined by a low isthmus to form one island. We were told it is the only island in the world with two volcanos but we couldn’t confirm this anywhere. What we did learn however is it is the largest island in the world in a fresh water lake.

Visiting Isla Ometepe is a little like going back into time. The ferry is very old but functionable and we were able to get a seat on the main deck but it does remind you of the photos you see where 500 people drown in a lake from a overcrowded ferry capsizing. The ferry wasn’t overcrowded and it was a nice crossing .

The island is lush and resembles many areas in Southeast Asia, hippies and all. There is a large expat community and everything from tantric healing to womb awaking is available. We really don’t know what womb awaking entails but it is available.

We stayed at El Bamboo jungle cabins and it was an amazing experience. Che, the owner, originally from Argentina purchased land and started a restaurant and then began building bungalows from local bamboo and recycled materials. What he ended up with are several very cool bungalows near and on the lakefront. He eventually closed his restaurant and turned it into his home and then continued building and now has, we think about six unique cabanas for very reasonable nightly rates.

Che is a wonderful man. He is so happy with his life, his little paradise as he calls it, and his two dogs, Joyce and Pedro. He hikes into the hills daily where he works with a co-op garden featuring organic coffee and other crops, tends his own garden with numerous herbs and fruit bearing trees and comes across as just the most down to earth guy you could meet. We envy him for his lifestyle and we are happy we met him. Hats off to you Che!

A short walk from our bamboo tree house in the forest was a really good restaurant, Cafe Campestre. We ate there every night. Great curries, all home made and other great options and very affordable beer! One litre bottle of very good, very cold Victoria Classic cost the equivalent of $3.60 CAD. A great deal!

We had two full days to explore the island so we decided to rent an ATV. The road on the western side of the island which essentially circles Maderas volcano is unpaved gravel and we saw many people with bandaged legs from wiping out on their small tired motorcycles so the ATV made sense. At $60 USD per day it was worth the added protection.

We spent several hours cruising the undeveloped unpaved eastern side on our first day and a couple hours driving a portion of the more developed western side.

The attraction of both drives was the different views we had of the two volcanos and the difference in the landscapes between the two sides. On about one half eastern/Maderas side volcanic rocks ranging in size from a baseball to giant boulders were scattered all over while the other half and the western side had none.

It was a great experience staying in our “tree house bungalow”. We had an extremely comfortable bed with mosquito net, a small functional kitchen, a cold fridge, a stand alone fan, and a nice bathroom with hot water and good wifi. The days were very hot but the evenings did cool down a bit so with a little breeze off of the lake and the fan blowing on us it was comfortable for sleeping.

We were in a small rural community so there were roosters and chickens and pigs roaming about and there were packs of dogs. At all hours of the night we could hear the dogs barking in the distance. It seemed like a competition of who could bark the loudest and occasionally some of the local dogs would decide to join in and usually, just when the dogs stopped barking, the bloody roosters would start up. I guess if you lived there for any period of time you would get used to it but we still got a fairly good nights sleep regardless.

We had a really enjoyable time on the island and probably could have spent another couple of nights but three nights was good. On a side note, the cabana beside ours was occupied by Hubert, a really nice French Canadian who has lived there for two years!

We departed the island on March 15th and made our way to San Juan del Sur where we had a “Luxury Studio With All The Trimmings” waiting for us. We hope.

Managua to Granada

After about a one hour drive from Managua we arrived into Granada, a beautiful city boasting a rich Spanish colonial history.

The architecture and landmarks have survived repeated attacks occurring between 1665 and 1857 from Caribbean pirates that operated in Lake Nicaragua. They came via San Juan River which connects Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean near the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. The city was an important trading centre so it was a prime target for the likes of henry Morgan and William Walker.

Interestingly, because this river flows to the sea there are what are now fresh water bull sharks inhabiting the lake.

The city’s beautiful main plaza is tree filled and is dominated by the Cathedral of Granada, originally dating back to 1583. Just off of the main plaza is Calle la Calzada, a long pedestrian mall lined with great restaurants, bars shops and hotels.

The afternoon of our arrival we did something we’ve never done before. Lined along one side of the plaza were probably 15 horse drawn buggies. We were approached by a young man who spoke very good English and he offered us two options. A short 40 minute tour to some of the closer town highlights or a 1 1/2 hour full tour. We took the. 1 1/2 hour tour, hopped into the ornate carriage and off we went. It really was a nice way to see the city and landmarks and a little of the lake shore.

His name escapes me but he was a good salesman and he sold us on a boat tour to the Islets of Granada the next day and directed us to great restaurant to have lunch after the tour.

The islets of Granada are located in Lake Nicaragua southeast of town and comprise a group of 365 small islands scattered around the Asese peninsula. The islets were formed when the nearby Mombacho volcano blew much of it’s cone into the lake thousands of years ago creating an archipelago covered with vegetation and rich with bird life.

Many of the islands are privately owned by beer barons, ex presidents ( Carlos Alvarado Quesada of Costa Rica) and other business magnates and a few host small hotels that are for rent for very reasonable prices. Our boat guide showed us one island with nice accommodation for up to 10 people and it was listed for $200 USD for three nights!

Granada is a beautiful town and it was a very enjoyable three nights that we spent there. The food choices were excellent , the streets were clean and well maintained and the people were exceptionally welcoming and friendly.

When walking back to our hotel in the darkness the streets were deserted and we felt completely safe. A really nice town to visit.

Next stop, Isla Ometepe.


We booked four nights in Managua. We tend to book four nights when we enter a new country with no concrete plans because you really never know how quickly plans will come together. We needed four nights in San Jose because we ended up scrambling to find a rental car. In hind sight three nights in Managua would have been plenty but we put our time to good use.

The day after our arrival the first good use of our time was spent dodging traffic trying to cross major roadways while we attempted to get to the nearby Metrocentro shopping mall where I finally found a specific pair of Sketchers shoes that I had been looking for in several countries. My original pair were getting, shall we say, sketchy. I bought those shoes in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2017 so they definitely served me well.

Not far from our place were two good restaurants and a nice sports bar. It’s advertised as a sports bar because they had several large TV screens showing sports but it was for the most part a nice local place to have cheap drinks that was frequented by students from the local Universidad Centroamerica. After our afternoon snooze we wandered down to 2Que3 Sports Bar for a few pops and then headed over to the Asados Flor Maria for some really good roasted chicken and steak.

The picture above left is a drink called a Michelada. The drink is a Mexican drink and usually includes beer but we had a variation of this drink in Costa Rica where the alcohol in the drink was guaro, a cane liquor similar to vodka and was served in a shot glass. When we ordered the drink at the bar in Nicaragua we asked if it was a small drink and they replied yes so we assumed it would come in a shot glass. The drink is made with lime juice, tomato juice, assorted sauces and spices and chili peppers. The drinks were served to us in large glasses rimmed with assorted spices and about 2 ounces of a spicy tomato juice. We looked at each other a little surprised at the size of the glass and proceeded to sip the nectar through a straw and give the rim of the glass a little lick. This is different. Then I looked over at the bartender and saw him and several servers watching us intently. The bar tender then came over to our table and politely said, let me explain how this drink works. First, you pour your bottle of beer into the glass, mix it up a bit and then drink it. We had an embarrassing laugh and they had a good laugh.

On our second day in Managua we we spent much of the day exploring Plaza de la Revolucion which can be accessed by walking north on Avenida Bolivar, an electric tree lined avenue which essentially starts with a large image of a smiling of Hugo Chavez framed by two giant light trees. I guess Manuel Nortega and him were buddies.

A fairly short walk leads to Revolution Square or Plaza de Republica which comprises the National Palace of Culture which houses the National Museum also known as the Nacional de la Cultura, the Cathedral de Santiago (the Old Cathedral of Managua) and Casa de la Pueblos ( House of Peoples). The cathedral survived the 1931 earthquake but was heavily damaged by another earthquake in 1972 and was condemned but not demolished.

It was extremely hot outside as we stood in the middle of the square and we were the only people there. Alone. And then my bowels decided to act up on me. Joyce was being the photographer and I was hinting that maybe we should go to the museum sooner rather than later. No rush I said, but I was just being nice. I knew there would probably be a clean bathroom inside and so did my stomach. I was very patient.

We entered the museum, paid the entrance fee and I calmly asked, donde el bano? Just down the hall I was directed.

The bathrooms were really clean. I made my way into a stall, nice and clean. Just one problem. No toilet paper. What luck but there was a lady cleaning the bathroom so I asked, is there any toilet paper? No she replied. I made it very clear to her that toilet paper was very necessary for what I needed to do. Nope. I showed my displeasure and started to leave and then voila, she indicated that she had a small amount of tissue in her pocket. Not enought I exclaimed! I really need to go! Magically she came up with another wad of toilet paper. I thanked her profusely and continued on my mission. Whew!

The National Museum housed an extensive collection of old artifacts, and artworks. It’s paintings date from the pre-columbian period and houses a wide variety of ceramics and other artworks as well as work from renowned Nicaraguan artist Armando Morales and Leoncia Saenz.

On our final day of exploring we walked about 10 km in total in the hot blazing sun. Our first stop was the new Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, aka Zamboanga Cathedral. The cathedral was built to replace the Old Cathedral of Managua, known as Cathedral de Santiago which was irreparably damaged as mentioned in 1972. Heralded as an architectural wonder we were definitely not impressed. Sorry to say it resembled a bomb shelter more than a church and the surrounding gardens were littered with trash.

Our final stop before collapsing in the heat was a visit to the Sandino Monument, a 59 feet high steel statue that can be seen from many parts of Managua and is dedicated to Augusto Cesar Sandino, one of Nicaragua’s most famous revolutionaries. It sits atop a large hill and offers good views of the city and lake Managua.

We made it back to our place, relaxed, went out for dinner and then had nice stroll through the neighborhood.

We enjoyed our stay in Managua. It could have been a little shorter but we made the best of it. Next stop, the beautiful colonial town of Granada.

Next stop, Managua, Nicaragua.

We are not early morning people and the flights from San Jose to Managua had two schedules. Depart at 5:00 am and arrive in Managua at 8:15 am with one short stop or depart at 4:45 pm, stop over in San Salvador for four hours, fly 50 minutes and arrive in Managua at 10:45pm. Both require that you be at the airport 3 hours before departure. We were not going to be at SJO airport at 3:00 am so we chose the late afternoon flight. All in, from leaving our hotel in San Jose to arriving at our hotel in Managua was a total of 11 hours.

Total driving time from San Jose to Managua is 390 km. About 7 hours of driving. Hmmm.

We were really apprehensive during the taxi ride from the airport to our Hotel/B & B. The roads were very dark, cars slowed at red lights but didn’t always stop. When they did stop it was because there was police at the intersection. The further we drove the more we noticed the police presence. They were at most intersections, hidden behind trees or sitting slightly out of sight on a road curb. They just seemed to be lurking everywhere. And there were very few street lights so it made the whole experience kind of surreal, like a police state.

We pulled up to a wall with doors and barbed wire lining the top of the walls in what looked like dingy area in the darkness. Everywhere was dark so it was hard to discern what the area looked like. At first glance, it didn’t look good.

One of the doors opened and we were met by a very nice man named Rodrigo. We entered through the doors to a completely different scene.

Gardens and patio furniture and walkways. This definitely looked better than the outside and when we were shown our room, we were very happy. Lots of room, a small kitchen with fridge, two big beds if we so chose and lots of storage room and a quiet air conditioner.

It was past midnight when we arrived and as an added bonus, the bed and pillows were fantastic. Sweet dreams.

Samara to Monteverde

Our final destination before heading back to San Jose to continue on to Nicaragua was Monteverde, one of Costa Rica’s major ecotourism destinations located in the Cordillers de Tilatan mountain range.

Our main purpose of visiting the area was to explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, “the jewel in crown of cloud forest reserves” as described by National Geographic. And it did not disappoint.

The drive to Monteverde took about three hours on mostly good roads however the last hour plus was essentially uphill on extremely narrow and winding pothole filled roads. If you got stuck behind a slow moving vehicle there was really nothing you could do except wait for a short reprieve from the road curves and step on the gas and hope like hell no one was going to come around the corner ahead. Fortunately things went smoothly and if anything, we had SUV’s on our tail just dying to pass us. We weren’t in a rush but we were driving above the speed limit. So there.

On a side note, the route back to San Jose was different with mostly nice paved and wider roads and mostly downhill.

We stayed at a nice lodge, Miztli Lodge and Adventure, but it was a little away from town, which was downhill from the lodge and a “no way jose” hike back uphill so we took taxis to get to town if any alcohol was to be on the evening menu.

The day after our arrival we booked a 9:00 am bus ride to the entrance of Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, paid $42 USD entrance and spent the next three hours exploring this incredible area of biodiversity. Plants grow upon plants grow upon moss grow upon rock. The area was bursting with growth. Pictures don’t do justice to the this amazing landscape and once at higher elevations you enter the clouds that literally speed through from the Caribbean side towards the Pacific side of Costa Rica. Kind of at a loss for words to describe.

After a little rest later in the afternoon we took a taxi to the local watering hole, Bar Amigo, had some cool ones and then ate at a very average Italian joint near our place. I say very average because Joyce ordered a glass of vino tinto, red wine. When the waiter brought the wine Joyce had a sip and it was very cold. I said something along the lines of “cold, no”. So he came back with the same glass of wine but had added ice cubes. Very entertaining. So, I then put on my Spanish speaking cap and slowly explained that vino blanca should be cold (fria) and vino tinto should be room temperature (ambiente). Joyce got her glass of ambient temperature wine and it was apparently quite good.

We had one day left in Monteverde before heading back to San Jose so we spent the next morning hiking a secondary and primary rain forest that was very close to our lodge, Reserva Bajo Del Tigre, also known as Children’s Eternal Rainforest, Costa Rica’s largest private reserve. The reserve was founded by donations from children in 44 countries and is run by a nonprofit conservation organization, the Monteverde Conservation League. Visit for a lot more information on this reserve.

The hike around this reserve was substantially more difficult than the cloud reserve with large gains in altitude, rooted and rocky trails and steep inclines. It was a real workout.

We wandered around town afterwards and had lunch then went back to the lodge for a siesta and then went across the street from us to a nice little hotel and had a very good but expensive dinner. And for some reason they really didn’t like to give you much butter for your buns.

We headed back to San Jose the next day, March 4th and then departed to Managua, Nicaragua March 5th for the next leg of our journey.

Tamarindo to Samara

We departed Tamarindo on February 26th after a five night stay and then made our way to Samara, another beach resort on the Nicoya peninsula. It was about a two hour drive and we arrived at 1:30 pm at our apartment that we rented in advance for the next three nights and we were happy we arrived when we did.

The place we rented was named Casa La Guaria, advertised as being a 6 minute walk/200 metres to the beach. The photos of course were very eye pleasing and the price was about $115 CAD per night. Most accommodation in and around Samara were sold out so this looked good, it was a whole apartment with a lovely terrace so we booked it.

Without going on and on about the place and it’s location suffice to say in our opinion it didn’t fit the description and we really couldn’t stay there.

Fortunately the owner who we had met at the apartment was very reasonable and waived the 50% cancellation fee, charging us only $20 US for the cleaning service he brought in before our arrival. He also gave us the wifi password and exit lock code so we could sit in the shade on his property and try to find a place to stay in Samara. It was extremely hot and humid outside so we were grateful we could sit in the shade and try to find another place to stay with a better location.

We came across Blue Iguana. A hostel that also had private rooms with bathroom, included breakfast, had a pool and a bar, was close to the beach and cost $90 USD per night. We gave them a call and they held a room for us. We breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The Blue Iguana was a little run down. It was primarily a hostel style place with as mentioned, some rooms with private shower and bathroom. Our room had two beds, AC and a bathroom with shower and was well, quite basic and we’re guessing clean but didn’t really look very clean. Still overall it was kind of funky and we made it work for three nights.

Samara was not what we were expecting. We’re not sure why but we expected something similar to Tamarindo, a built up tourist destination but it was much smaller and laid back. This was a good thing however there also seemed to be many places that were permanently closed so drinking and dining options were limited although the places we did eat were excellent.

The beach in Samara was similar to Tamarindo in that when the tide is out there is a very large expanse of beach to walk to get to the water and the water is very shallow for quite far out. Because of this both Tamarindo and Samara are good places to learn to surf because the shallow water allows for small waves to form. The biggest difference though was the water in Tamarindo was clearer due to less sediment in the sand as compared to Samara.

We were getting restless so three nights and two days were plenty. We had a lot of sun and were looking forward to our last stop, Monteverde, before heading back to San Jose.

Nuevo Arenal to Tamarindo

It was frequently very windy in Nuevo Arenal and also much cooler than the coast so it was a nice reprieve from the heat but it was time to head back to the coast, specifically the Nicoya Peninsula for some more beach time.

Like most of our drives the distance was around 130 km and it typically took about 2 1/2- 3 hours to drive.

Our original plan was to try to get a place to stay in Brasalito. We were told it was beautiful and more laid back than Tamarindo. We also didn’t have any reservations anywhere so we were a little anxious about where we would end up staying.

We arrived in Brasilito wondering if this was Brasilito. We couldn’t see any redeeming features in the area so it took us about two minutes to decide to continue on to Tamarindo. We saved a couple of names of places to stay in Tamarindo just in case so we set our maps to our first choice, Tamarindo Sunshine. Earlier in the morning we checked and they still had one room left so we were really hoping it would still be available when we arrived into town.

It was a short 15 minute or so drive and we arrived into the well developed, traffic jammed town of Tamarindo. Yikes!

The place looked really busy so our fingers were crossed when we pulled off of the main road onto a gravel road, past a run down looking hotel we first thought was our destination and then around the corner to a nice looking place that was our destination. It looked more like a compound with only one large locked door to enter the fortification.

We parked the car, Joyce stayed behind to protect the gear and I proceeded to the door and rang the bell. And knocked. And rang the bell. And knocked a little harder. This wasn’t looking very promising.

There was a tiny space between the door slats that I was squinting through when finally I could see a person approaching the door. That was definitely a relief.

After a short period of time the lady who opened the door figured out what I was trying to say, sweat dripping off of me like I was in a sauna (it was very hot outside and a little stressful) and got the room-booking ball rolling and we were in luck.

They had one apartment available for four days and possibly extendable to five. It was a bit on the expensive side but the grounds were really nice, we had a small kitchen so we could have breakfast, coffee and keep the beer cold, a nice outdoor sitting area and it was a 5 minute walk to a beautiful uncrowded beach and only about 10 minutes walk to the south end of town and there were howler monkeys in the area to boot.

We ended up taking the extra night that was available and had four really good days on the beach, lots of fun at a nearby bar with live music and great lunches and dinners.