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An Adventure in Central America

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Apr 3rd, 2012, 03:16 PM
  #1
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An Adventure in Central America

My family and I just returned from a week long adventure in Central America: 4 nights in Nicaragua and 3 nights in Costa Rica. Since there is relatively little info about Nica on this forum, I will do my best to give detailed account.

Airline: JetBlue
I love that JetBlue flies into Liberia and I love the Liberia airport. We arrived on time at 1pm. Our luggage was already waiting for us after we cleared customs and we were out the door by 1:30pm

Border:
I have never seen anything as crazy as the border at Penas Blancas. Semis were backed up for miles and luckily our shuttle driver knew to go off road and drive around them. There is no semblance of order. We were stopped twice at random police check points as we walked across. But, luckily, there was no wait at Costa Rican or Nicaraguan immigration. We had heard stories of 2-3 hour waits. I guess mid-afternoon is a good time to cross.

Nicaragua:
Base: Palermo Hotel & Resort, San Juan del Sur
We booked our stay directly with the hotel at a flat rate of $999. It worked out to $167 per night plus tax. This included 1 two-bedroom villa for 4 nights, a second two bedroom villa for 3 nights, transfers to and from the border, and breakfast each morning.

The Palermo Hotel & Resort is around 2KM from the town of San Juan del Sur and is built into a mountain. The villas are spacious and there is a lovely pool and moderately priced restaurant. We saw howler monkeys on the property, along with a collared anteater. A shuttle runs into town every hour until 6pm. My only complaint is that the windows in the villas have wooden frames and they rattled all night long. We had to stuff magazines into the tracks to stop them from shaking whenever the wind blew (which was pretty much constantly).

Activities: We made the most of our three full days! All of our activities were arranged through Iskra Tours which I would recommend using.
Mombacho Volcano & Granada islets - Mombacho is a dormant volcano covered in a cloud forest. I was super excited at the prospect but was disappointed that we did not see any animals on our hike. The views of Lake Nicaragua and the Apoyo Lagoon, however, are spectacular. I expected the Granada islets to be more of a marsh tour but was surprised that many of the islands have mansions on them! A stop next to the monkey island was a treat (although I later found out that the monkeys were planted on the island and have no means of escape). A spider monkey made herself at home on our boat after we left granola on the bow for her to snack on. She delighted my 8 year old by walking up and down the boat and plopping herself in each of our laps. She then proceeded to steal my bottle of diet Coke. Between activities, we had a delicious lunch at the Casa San Francisco in Granada.
Granada, Masaya Volcano & Masaya Market - Granada is a beautiful city with brightly colored buildings. It is also one of the most reasonably priced cities I have ever been to. We had lunch at the Hotel Alhambra overlooking the Central Park. Three sandwiches, three pina coladas, two Cokes plus tax and tip: just under $30. If I ever return to Nica, I will be sure to include an overnight in Granada.
The Masaya volcano is actively steaming and is very impressive. Although the Masaya market had a lot of the same stuff, we enjoyed perusing the stalls. I purchased cigars, coffee and a few t-shirts. My daughter bought an embroidered purse that she has already received many compliments on. We spent around an hour at the market and could have easily spent another 30 minutes or so.
Ometepe - Unfortunately, we were two minutes late for the large ferry to the island and watched disappointedly as it pulled away. We ended up taking the wooden ferry and, by some miracle, I did not become seasick as it rode every swell. My daughter spent the hour and 15 minute trip looking for bull sharks but to no avail. Once on the island, we visited the Charco Verde preserve and saw howlers and various birds. We then drove to visit the petroglyphs and took a little tour of the gardens nearby. Finally, we stopped at the natural swimming pool. Thankfully we caught the large ferry back. For 4 people, the tour cost $350. This included the ferry, lunch, an English speaking guide and a separate driver on the island.

Costa Rica
Base: El Establo Hotel in Monteverde
We arranged a transfer from Penas Blancas to Monteverde and from Monteverde to Liberia through Transport Costa Rica. Both drivers assigned to us were very efficient and polite. The drive from PB to Monteverde took around 5 hours with a stop for lunch. On the way, we saw a double rainbow! The drive from Monteverde back to Liberia took under 3 hours.

El Establo is officially one of my favorite hotels. How could you not love the amazing setting? We purchased a package through familygetaway.com for just under $700. It included a 2 King bi-level suite, breakfast for 4 each morning, a treetop canopy tour for 4, and taxes. Breakfast was an elaborate buffet that included fresh fruit, freshly squeezed juice, omelets and pancakes, and delicious banana bread. There is a shuttle to take you around the property because it is also built into the side of a mountain.

Activities:
Treetop Canopy Tour - The highlight of our trip. To tell you the truth, I was terrified of ziplining. But, once I got going, it was the most exciting thing I have ever done. Actually, the most fun thing was the tarzan swing portion but ziplining itself was also super fun. Our guides, Roy and Dio, were priceless. They were hilarious and kept us relaxed and safe throughout the tour.
Night Walk - We left the room around 5:45pm and headed up (by shuttle) to the top of the property. Once it was dark, we began a 1.5 hour walk through the cloud forest. We saw various kinds of bugs, along with a few birds and an olingo.
Monteverde Biological Reserve - We arranged a 3 hour guided hike around Monteverde in hopes of seeing monkeys, a sloth, basically any kind of rainforest mammal. Unfortunately though, we only saw birds and more bugs (including the world’s creepiest orange and black tarantula). We did, however, see five quetzals!

In all, we had a fabulous trip and would highly recommend both Nicaragua and Monteverde. Although the border was a hassle because we had to change drivers, I would definitely encourage people to include Nicaragua in their travels. It is a beautiful country with a lot to offer. Feel free to post any questions!
kcapuani is offline  
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Apr 3rd, 2012, 07:33 PM
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Nice reading your report, especially Nicaragua. Lucky you to see 5 quetzals. Tickled you ate lunch at Casa San Francisco, I stayed there on my last visit. Loved Granada as well and one day hope to return.
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Apr 3rd, 2012, 07:35 PM
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Glad you guys had a great time. Olingo is a new one for me - what are those?
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Apr 3rd, 2012, 09:32 PM
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Thank you for the report!
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Apr 4th, 2012, 09:51 AM
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Sounds like a great trip! My family will be in Monteverde at the end of May. We will arrive late in the afternoon after a long trip so we do not want to plan anything for that night, but we will be doing the canopy tour the next day along with one other activity. Would you recommend the night walk over the biological reserve tour? We have to leave early the next day for another long drive, so I need advice regarding our one day in Monteverde.
Thanks!
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Apr 4th, 2012, 09:57 AM
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Thanks everyone!

volcanogirl - I'd never heard of an olingo either but it looks like a tan coati.

peglegpete - That is a tough decision but even though I didn't see any mammals, I'd do the biological reserve. Actually, now that I think of it, I am pretty sure you can do a night walk in the biological reserve. Either way, just being in the reserve is spectacular and half the fun is not knowing what you will see.
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Apr 4th, 2012, 11:48 AM
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Thanks, k - I looked up a pictures, and it looks very kinkajouish. Glad you got to see so many quetzals!
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Apr 6th, 2012, 06:06 AM
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Good idea to combine the night walk with the Biological Reserve. Thanks!
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Apr 9th, 2012, 08:14 AM
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I will be arriving into Liberia in Aug. w/6 teenage girls - destination is Nicaragua. I would love to know exactly how you got from the airport to Penas Blancas - bus, taxi,shuttle?, cost?, did it leave from the airport, bus station, Pan-Am highway, etc.... We arrive at around 1:00 in the afternoon so would like to cross the border the same day. There isn't much current information on the internet about this topic so any additional details would be really helpful! It sounds hectic but do-able. Been across that border once on Tica Bus so am a little familiar with the layout. Thanks in advance for any info.
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Apr 28th, 2012, 06:49 AM
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Sorry for the delay in responding... There were 6 of us crossing the border so we decided to hire a shuttle driver. The cost was $99 and the guy met us right as we exited customs. He accompanied us to Costa Rican immigration (not sure if I am using the right term or not), then drove us .25 miles to Nicaraguan immigration where he couldn't go any further. We booked through http://www.liberiacostaricainfo.com/

Best of luck!
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