November. Best. Month. Ever. Before I arrived in Nicaragua, I had a feeling that I was going to love this country. Everyone who goes to Nicaragua loves it. But I had no idea that this country would fill up so much space in my heart that leaving just about broke it.
There’s so much to say, so from start to finish, here’s what November in Nicaragua looked like through my eyes:
I teamed up with an incredible group of travelers.
After feeling the rush of volcano boarding down Cerro Negro in León and subsequently feeling the lows of traveling alone again in Masaya after about six weeks with a partner, I wasn’t really sure how I was going to fare on my own. As soon as I put my backpack down in my dorm room in Granada, I struck up a conversation with two girls traveling together. One lunch and a few hours later, I was agreeing to join them and two friends they were meeting on a trip to Laguna de Apoyo. The group only continued to grow as we started making our way through Nicaragua.
Laguna de Apoyo was a slice of heaven.
Not only was the company fantastic, but this crater lake was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. One of the deepest and cleanest lakes in Central America, the water in Laguna de Apoyo was so blue that I couldn’t believe it was really lake water. We floated around in inner tubes, stand-up paddleboarded, jumped off the floating dock, and just enjoyed the stunning scenery.
I didn’t realize how much I needed this girl-time until I’d teamed up with these lovely ladies. I started to realize that I was happier than I’ve felt during this entire trip. We all hit it off right away, and our group only continued to grow. A few days later, there was a group of 10 of us trying to find accommodation together in Isla de Ometepe, which was no easy feat.
Isla de Ometepe tested my endurance.
We didn’t get to hike either of the island’s volcanoes due to heavy rain and mud, and resorted to renting bicycles to ride to the Ojo de Agua, a natural spring pool with water so clear it was reminiscent of Mexico’s cenotes. We swam about and relaxed. After the many buses and ferry it took us to get to the island, we needed time to unwind.
The ride to Ojo de Agua was much longer than I expected it to be, but somehow that didn’t deter me from wanting to explore more of Ometepe by bicycle. I mean, I’d rented the bike for the entire day, so I had to maximize the $3! I didn’t think twice before joining Juan, one of my new friends whom I met in Apoyo, on a bike ride around the island.
A little background information on Juan: he is currently bicycling from Nicaragua to Argentina to raise awareness for cancer. A little background information on me: I didn’t even know he was doing that until a few minutes before we decided to go exploring. So we took off on a bike ride that lasted 30km and about 6 hours. Up and down hills. In flip flops. By the time we returned to the guesthouse, the owner who had taken the role of our mother was worried about me, as were the other girls. I was drenched in sweat while Juan looked as fresh as a spring morning. But it was a good day. One of the best, in fact.
I started to fall for San Juan del Sur.
San Juan del Sur is known for the infamous “Sunday Funday” party that attracts most backpackers traveling through Central America. That’s not why we went, and I was more than happy to hang out with our group instead of paying to join the party and for a T-shirt, then paying to drink with people interested in getting a little crazier than we were.
There’s actually much more to do in San Juan than partaking in Sunday Funday. I took my second surf lesson EVER and fell in love with surfing. I’m no expert, but I was really surprised at how quickly I got the hang of standing up on the board. This is a feeling I don’t know how to explain. It just felt like something that I, being as uncoordinated as I am, shouldn’t be able to do. But I could do it! In the weeks that followed, I’m happy to say that I significantly improved and can’t wait to get back out on the waves.
I soaked up relaxing beach days in Popoyo.
The waves were way too intense for this beginner surfer in Popoyo, but it was still a lot of fun to watch everyone else riding the waves! Now that I’m interested in it, surfing is fascinating to me and I love watching it. Unwilling to test out my skills on the waves in Popoyo, I spent a few days hanging out on the beach. I even jogged barefoot during sunset, which is a first for me – it’s nearly impossible for me to get myself to run at all, let alone barefoot on the beach! It was the most beautiful sunset of my visit there, which made the run all the more rewarding.
Popoyo was a great place to spend a few days, but I didn’t like the lack of grocery store and salt water in the showers and taps. Accidentally brushing my teeth with salt water was an unpleasant surprise!
And then I went back to San Juan del Sur.
I couldn’t stay away. I wanted to practice surfing on waves that I could handle, and the allure of the town was pulling me back. I returned to Casa Oro Hostel as a volunteer and had the best time. I went on a turtle nesting tour, practiced yoga, went to all three popular beaches, surfed, honed my photography with the help of other volunteers, and met some of the coolest people.
I love traveling, but there’s something to be said about staying in the same place for a while and putting down roots (mine were temporary roots, but still). Casa Oro was my home and I felt so comfortable there. If I didn’t stay at Casa Oro my first time in San Juan, I don’t think I would have returned. The people at the hostel made my experience.
I flew back to the US for Thanksgiving!
Unbeknownst to my parents, in early November I booked a flight to my brother’s house in Virginia for Thanksgiving to surprise my parents. Last year I was in Madrid for Thanksgiving and I hated missing out on my favorite holiday with my family. Thanksgiving is the only time of the year that my family is usually in the same place at the same time and I didn’t want another year to go by without being there. So I flew home and surprised my parents, which was truly epic.
It was the first time my whole family spent Thanksgiving together in three years. That alone made the trek worth it. I spent five glorious days of being able to flush the toilet paper and take hot showers at my brother’s house before flying back down to Central America to continue my journey.
I just arrived in Costa Rica a few days ago and am feeling lukewarm about it. Everything is much more expensive than anywhere else I’ve been in Central America. To tell you the truth, I’m also missing the pseudo-real life I was living in San Juan del Sur. The “routine” of life by the beach was simply the best. That being said, there are some very fun outdoorsy things to do in Costa Rica that I’m excited to try. Yesterday I zip lined in Monteverde with Lilly, one of my favorite female travelers, and it was AWESOME. I can’t wait to share the video footage soon!
I’ve planned out about two weeks in Costa Rica, one in Panama and am still deciding on whether I should splurge on sailing from Panama to Colombia or fly (crossing overland through cartel country is NOT recommended). I’m so excited about getting to Colombia as I’ve heard incredible things, but I also have no idea where to start planning. November was a month full of smiles and I’m feeling really good about the way things are going on this trip. I think December has the potential to be just as memorable!
I absolutely loved Nicaragua as well – I spent two weeks there in 2014 with my now husband – though sticking mostly in Granada and the Corn Islands. I can’t wait to get back to Central America someday, and hopefully soon! 🙂
I 100% plan on returning to Nicaragua and when I do, the Corn Islands are #1 on my list! I hadn’t given Central America much thought before I came here, but now I’m just completely in love with this part of the world!