Those that follow along with me on social media know that I am still settling into living in a new country, Costa Rica. Being that I am not a resident (yet), I am required to leave the country every 90 days. People (expats) like me do what is called a “border run”. This is where you drive to the Nicaragua border, cross from Costa Rica into Nicaragua, and circle around to come back to Costa Rica with a new visa stamp that is good for another 90 days. This entire process is quite quick. I decided to make a mini vacay out of my first border run, and explore the coast of Nicaragua for six days. This trip was a long time coming for me. My grandparents and mom migrated from Nicaragua, and I still have a lot of family members that live there. I have always had a huge desire to visit this country and see the roots of my heritage. I was blown away by the raw beauty of Nicaragua! Living in Costa Rica, I am used to areas being underdeveloped. However, Nicaragua is even less developed than Costa Rica. True raw beauty! I explored five beaches in six days, enjoyed the nightlife dancing until the early morning, and took a motorcycle through the jungle. Nicaragua is very reasonably priced, has nonstop perfecto waves for surfing, and the food was fresh and delicious. I highly recommend that the expats of Costa Rica spend at least a weekend in Nicaragua while completing a border run. It was only a three hour drive from my home in Costa Rica to my hotel in Nicaragua.
GETTING TO THE BORDER
A lot of people hire a driver to take them to the border for border runs. This makes everything easy as they will help guide you through the process if you are a first timer. Once you have one border run under your belt, you will have it down and can easily drive yourself for the next run. If you choose to stay in Nicaragua, there is a family-owned parking lot that charges a small daily fee to watch over your car at the border. This is probably the cheapest option if you are going to spend some time in Nicaragua. Luckily for me, my parents were in Costa Rica and drove me to the Penas Blancas Nicaragua Border. Easy peasy. It took a minute to figure out the process, but if you just keep asking for direction, there are plenty of people who will help you to navigate. Side note….there will be miles of trucks lined up to cross the border. I was told they wait for days to weeks to cross. Once you see the trucks, keep driving past them all the way to the front of the line. This is the border crossing.
SAN JUAN DEL SUR
I paid my exit taxes in Costa Rica and my entrance fees to Nicaragua and crossed through. It is important to have small USA dollar bills on you for this process as they don’t give change. I also packed light. This was the very first trip I had ever packed solely in a backpack. I impressed myself. Ha ha. As you enter Nicaragua, it is very busy. Make sure to have phones, cash, and passports put away. I got a bit swarmed as we entered. Once through, I jumped in a taxi and headed to my first stop, San Juan Del Sur. SJDS is only a 25 minute drive from the border and a $25 cab ride. It’s a very popular spot to vacation. Everything in SJDS is walkable and there is no car needed for exploring this lively beach town. I chose to stay at the Hotel Alcazar. The location is perfectly set right in the middle of town with views of the ocean. I got the most expensive room at $80 per night. So nice to splurge for the best when the price is so reasonable! My room was on the top floor with a large private balcony overlooking the beach. There are so many dining options that are lined up beachfront, but my favorite place to eat was Dale Pues. I ate here 3 times and ordered the same thing every time… a schnitzel sandwich. So delicious!
San Juan Del Sur is a party town! It had been a minute since I danced my butt off until the early morning hours. I certainly took advantage of the packed nightclubs on the beach bumping great music all night long. So fun! I felt completely safe in this area walking around at night. Of course, I always practice common sense while traveling. I found this area to feel very safe and nonthreatening. The key for me is to blend in. I don’t wear jewelry, I don’t dress in any way to create attention, and I stay in areas that have a lot of people around. It also helps that my husband is a pretty built guy. We truly never have any trouble when we travel, and I’m sure his build has something to do with that. Regardless, I did walk around alone and felt very secure.
After hopping around and exploring all nooks and crannies of SJDS, I decided to rent a motorcycle to start exploring different beaches in the area. My husband is pretty much the only person I would trust to drive me on dirt roads through the jungle of Nicaragua. LOL. He is very good at driving a bike. However, if you aren’t experienced in this area, you can rent a car in the town of San Juan Del Sur to explore the surrounding areas.
We hopped from beach to beach. My favorite beach (by far) was Playa Maderas, which was about a 25 minute drive north of San Juan Del Sur. We took the bike there and stayed all day watching the surfers ride nonstop perfecto waves while sipping margaritas and eating fresh seafood. It’s a smaller beach but absolutely paradise. After spending the day there, I knew I wanted to spend a few nights. This area is much different than SJDS. There is no nightlife whatsoever to speak of. People come here to surf, enjoy the beach, practice yoga, and disconnect.
Another great beach that I loved was Playa El Coco. I would have loved to stay a few nights here as well. However, the ecolodge is only open on the weekends and the timing didn’t work out for me. If you aren’t able to stay here, this is definitely worth driving to spend the day here. I had the best seafood soup since moving to Central America at Playa El Coco. This is a huge beach with great waves. What I loved most about it was the ecolodge. There are cabanas and hammocks all along the beach to relax the day away in a breathtaking setting.
After four days of exploring the coast and four nights of late night dancing, we moved hotels and headed to Hush Maderas to relax. This adult only slice of heaven sits in the treetops with the howler monkeys and overlooks beautiful Playa Maderas. I stayed in the penthouse suite, which was the entire top floor of the hotel. It was floor to ceiling windows, a wraparound balcony, a gym, and a living room in the suite. This is hands down the largest hotel room I have ever stayed in, and came with a price tag of $120 per night. I told you Nicaragua was affordable! Hush Maderas offers many other rooms to fit any budget, including dormitory rooms. Everything about this hotel is top notch. The food was so fresh, healthy, and delicious. The drinks were all fresh squeezed. I sat poolside at the infinity pool with the most incredible views of the ocean. I felt so spoiled. They offer yoga lessons at the hotel and in room massages. We got one of the best couples’ massages of our lives in our hotel room for $30 each. Winning!
After six days of exploring Nicaragua, I really didn’t want to go home. I felt as though I had just scratched the surface of this country. On my next trip, I hope to go for a month so that I can really get deeper into adventuring in Nicaragua. There is so much to see! I headed back to the border and crossed with a new visa stamp to stay in Costa Rica for another 90 days. Border run turned vacay was a total success!
For my unedited photos/videos of this trip, you can head over to my Instagram account @bucketlistinabikini and watch my “Stories” of Nicaragua.