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San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

2.16.2014


I always get depressed on my birthday for assorted reasons.  This year I decided the likelihood of that happening was less if I treated myself to an out of country adventure.  As you'll come to notice, nothing makes me happier than travelling. 
I frequently browse the getaways on Groupon & Living Social because they have oodles of good deals.  I've purchased several trips (everything from skiing to white water rafting to international trips) on these sites & have never been let down.  This trip was no exception.  I found a great deal to a GORGEOUS  hotel in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.  This sleepy little surftown on the Pacific coast is quickly becoming a safe haven for ex-pats.  As is common with most Latin American countries, the exchange rate is extremely favorable to the US dollar ($1 = 25 Nicaraguan Cordoba).  This makes for high affordability when purchasing your own little piece of paradise.  After the fierce cold Alabama has been getting hammered with recently, I decided warm sunshine & stretching beaches was the perfect birthday getaway. 

Brad & I flew out of Birmingham bright and early on Wednesday morning in order to arrive in Managua shortly after lunch.  We took a private shuttle- which was nothing more than a small sedan driven by a local- to San Juan del Sur two hours away.  We used Adelante Express shuttle service for this & it was affordable & safe ($80 for two people).  It was recommended on San Juan's official site as well as many guidebooks so I assumed this was a reputable service.  (If you ever find yourself in Nicaragua, I highly recommend them.)  This drive allowed us to see a lot of the countryside as we passed through several small towns.  It showed us that there were countless interesting places to see in this beautiful country.  Sadly, we were only there for 5 days. 
One of the many active volcanoes in Nicaragua

After our commute to San Juan del Sur, we arrived at our hotel, Pelican Eyes Resort & Spa.  This 79 villa resort is spread across a mountainside, overlooking the town.  San Juan is nestled in a valley, surrounded by mountains & a bay.  Because of its affordability, it has become a popular spot for backpackers so there are several hostels scattered along the streets of the town.  While these places may be affordable, there is no way their views could remotely compare to those of Pelican Eyes.  Everything I read when researching our hotel said that it was THE place in San Juan.  We were fortunate to find such a good deal because these gorgeous vistas come at a steep price.  Adelante Express dropped us off at the open lobby of the resort.  Our first glance was from the lower (main) restaurant, overlooking the town.


Upon seeing this view, I knew we were in for quite the treat during our stay.  We checked in at the front desk & found that all the employees there spoke excellent English (because my Spanish was a little rusty upon our arrival).  Of course the first employee we spoke to was German- my German brother in law, Christoph, likes to remind me that they're taking over... Reception advised us that we would be driven up to our villa.  Shortly thereafter, a 4x4 pickup pulled up to give us & another couple a ride to our villas.  I was initially confused because the driver immediately drove back out the front gate of the resort & down the city street.  We'd soon come to learn just how expansive the grounds were to our resort.  A few bumpy minutes later, we arrived at Casa Achiote.
The entire front of the thatched roof villa was complete with floor to ceiling windows to allow endless sunlight in.  The large room was complete with beautiful wood closets, cavernous stucco walls, exposed beams, & magnificent views. 

We later found out that our stunning casa was the "low end" as some of the other houses (for larger parties) had incredible wrap around porches, full sized kitchens, & lofts.  Our 'quaint' little casa was more than enough for the two of us & we felt like we were living in the lap of luxury.  We spent some time settling in to our new digs before venturing out to the town.   
The view from our villa where we spent a lot of time
We constantly felt like we were in a jungle (& not just due to the high humidity) thanks to the beautiful & lush vegetation covering the grounds of the resort.  We were surrounded by plantain trees, elephant ears, & rolling acres of palms.
 

 
After settling in, we walked down the 500+ steps from our casa to the town. Approximately a block from the gates to Pelican Eyes, there was a city park with a large church.  There were several families gathering in the park & street cart vendors pushing their merchandise. The year round temps generally average between 70-85°F with a dry and rainy season.  As you can imagine there is a consistent high humidity, which for two Alabama residents, is complete normalcy. 


A few more shots from around town... 
One of the many chicken buses seen around town

First glimpse of the bay (San Juan del Sur Beach) that the town is centered around


You can barely see El Cristo on the top of the mountain- the largest in Central America


Our growling bellies eventually got the better of us & we ducked into El Barrio.  This restaurant sits on the corner of one of the busier 'intersections' in town, which allows for tableside entertainment as you dine.  We opted for a quieter table in the back, near the shared courtyard of the restaurant's hostel.  Brad & I both decided on the adobo avocado burger topped with a savory chipotle sauce, with a side of salad.  This was quite possibly one of the best burgers I've had in some time & the salad was yummy as well.  We were both leery of the salad, knowing the water situation in most Latin American countries.  Fortunately, neither of us suffered any repercussions from the food (throughout our whole stay). 
After lunch, we wandered around the town a bit more before the heat got the better of us & we headed back to the hotel.  We spent the evening admiring the stunning vistas.
We spent hours upon end here admiring the views!



 The next morning we roused early to venture down for a morning on San Juan del Sur Beach.  Little did we know that the gale force winds would make it impossible (& painful) to lounge on our towels for hours.  We did manage to walk along the beach for the length of the town. 
What a beautiful morning on the bay!

San Juan's rendition of the Golden Gate Bridge- which crossed over the river that flows into the bay
 After giving up on spending the morning on the beach, we schlepped back up the countless stairs to our hotel.  We knew there were three pools at our hotel but we had only seen the (smallest) pool at the lower restaurant.  We decided to check out the grounds a little more & find the other two pools.  We stumbled across the second pool that had a beautiful pergola with crepe myrtles & bougainvillea.  It had a deck around the other side of the pool &, of course, had more beautiful panoramas.

 We settled in here briefly before a minor blustery umbrella incident, after which we heard laughter coming from above.  While I thought it may have been God mocking me, I found it was actually a group overlooking us from yet ANOTHER infinity pool.  I hiked up the stairs to check out the scenery & I think it's fair to say Brad heard my squeals from above.  I immediately ran down the steps & forced him to move to yet another location.  After he saw the vistas, he understood my excitement & we spent the majority of our time in Nicaragua here.

The upper bar & restaurant
Why would you ever want to leave this bit of paradise?!?!?!?
 After we finally pried ourselves away from the pool, we decided to clean up & head into town for some dinner.  During my research, I found that El Timon has a traditional Nicaraguan night on Thursdays.  The staff puts on a show with salsa & traditional dances, accompanied by local musicians.  I knew this was a treat we needed to attend.  Clearly word was out about the event because the restaurant was crowded, but we were able to grab a table within prime viewing space.  We arrived & saw several of the patrons enjoying the salsa music & dance floor.  Soon the shows started & the staff put on skit after skit, decked out in true Nicaraguan garb.




 We ended up not staying for the entire show, as they went on for hours (those Nicaraguans know how to party!).  We made the long journey back to Pelican Eyes & tucked in for the night, with full bellies.  The remainder of our trip consisted of more pool side lounging.  I had read several great things about the local beaches but after realizing the convenience & beauty that the upper pool at our resort offered, we decided to stay put.  Nothing makes it easier than having employees bring you drinks & food until your heart's content as you move between poolside naps & dips in the water.  That evening we decided to venture down to El Colibri (The Hummingbird).  I read several rave reviews about this eclectic restaurant outside the resort gates.  This was definitely my favorite food of our trip.  The atmosphere of the restaurant was magical.  It was like an ethereal garden that I never wanted to leave!  It was especially enjoyable since for the majority of our meal we had the entire restaurant to ourselves.  I ordered a Indian chicken curry type dish with steamed vegetables in a tomato sauce with yellow rice.  The yogurt mint (tzatziki-ish) sauce was delectable.  Brad thoroughly enjoyed the Swedish meatballs he ordered, as they were topped with roasted peppers & tomato sauce.   
The entire restaurant was made from recycled materials

 
 
My delicious chicken curry

Saturday morning we had plans to do a canopy & rappelling tour with Da Flying Frog.  Nearly every blog or book I read about San Juan del Sur noted this as a "must" for a trip to Nicaragua.  We spoke with some of the other guests at Pelican Eyes the day before that backed these reviews, citing it as an incredible experience.  I was heartbroken when I awoke to an email from an employee saying that several of the guides were going to be at a sustainable tourism (very big in Nic) conference & we wouldn't be able to do the rappelling tour.  Thankfully, we were still able to do the canopy tour.  This tour stretches the length of an entire mountain.  We had the whole mountain to ourselves (with our two local guides that couldn't have been over the age of 21).  Our sweet guides put up with my efforts to practice my Spanish on them & they were quite humorous & knowledgeable.  They told us the zip line tour was the longest in all of Nicaragua, stretching 2.5 kilometers.  I think it goes without saying that the views here were nothing short of incredible.  Sadly, I don't have any photos since I didn't want to risk dropping my camera off the side of the mountain.  After our tour, the Da Flying Frog driver returned us to our resort & we (once again) spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool.  Later that evening we headed back into town for dinner, making sure to leave early enough to catch sunset on the bay.











Before we knew it, another day was gone & we had to prepare for our journey back to the States.  We tucked in for our last night in paradise.  I couldn't have asked for a better birthday getaway, especially during these cold winter months.  The next morning we enjoyed one last delicious breakfast before Adelante Express returned to pick us up for our two hour journey back to Managua.  But not before a few bittersweet last photos...
Goodbye Paradise!

 Sadly, we made our journey back to Alabama where we were greeted the following week with snow & an ice storm that made for 12 hour shifts & chaos.  I'm just glad that I had these photos & a bit of nostalgia to keep me warm on those cold days.  
If you're ever looking for an affordable getaway to somewhere that's not overrun with tourists, I hope you'll visit San Juan del Sur.  It offers exception natural beauty, relaxing beaches, & several interesting activities for day trips.







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