Monday, April 30, 2012

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

What can I say about Santa Teresa, Costa Rica?  It was a dream come true, a beautiful town in a beautiful country.  The lush greenery was welcome after the dryness of Nicaragua. It took us a very long day of travel to get there from Nicaragua and we got to town when it was dark but we were absolutely thrilled when we woke up in the morning. The beaches are perfect, the food amazing and vibe is just what we wanted.  I could live there for sure.  We chose Santa Teresa after countless hours poring over different locations in the Costa Rica.  Originally my parents were going to join us on this portion of the trip so we wanted a place with surf where they could also snorkel (which Mal Pais offers). When they had to cancel we decided to stick with the location as everything we heard about it was great.  It did not disappoint.

We rented a little 2 bedroom house on the property of a hotel called Luz De Vida.  The location was amazing and we were all very happy we went with a simpler place on the beach rather than a nicer place up the hill. If you want more detail about the house you can read my review on TripAdvisor here. Luz De Vida is technically located on Playa Carmen but there is no discerning line between Mal Pais, Playa Carmen and Santa Teresa.  It all runs together on a dirt road lined with markets, restaurants, hostels and houses.  One thing I heard about Santa Teresa before we came was that it has become very developed in recent years.  In hearing that I expected it to be more developed than it was.  Things are still nicely spread out and there's still plenty of empty oceanfront property.  It did not feel crowded or congested in any way.  Granted we were there at the tail end of their high season and things seemed pretty sleepy so it could be different when it's busier.

Villa S on the Luz De Vida property

path to the beach

The beach, looking south

Country road

Beach hammock

We spent a lot of our time in Santa Teresa beach exploring, bronzing, reading books and stuffing our faces with the delicious food they have there (more about that in another post).   Husband-face was able to surf right out front of the house which was perfect. The beach is clean and pristine, no trash in sight. This area is very isolated and there's only about 5-6 miles of road along the coast, then it just ends. However there is plenty to do between the waterfalls of Montezuma, Cabo Blanco Nature Preserve and miles of beach.  Santa Teresa is definitely an outdoor and beach lovers paradise.  I would recommend a rental car here so you can go exploring on your own, and 4WD is also recommended.  The roads you take to get there are pretty rough, I can't imagine what they're like in the wet season.

My fave beach shot of the trip-north of town, Playa Hermosa I believe

Life is better at the beach

My favorite things about Santa Teresa:
-The food was AMAZING.  We did not expect that, more details on the restaurants we ate at to come.
-The dogs, there were stray dogs everywhere and they were all the sweetest most mellow dogs.  They are also all obviously well fed and taken care of by the locals.  There were quite a few veterinarians in town. Any place that shows a love and kindness for animals I am a fan of.
-The halloween (I call them this because they're purple and orange) crabs that are everywhere.  Some people may find them annoying but I thought they were cute and funny. However they migrate across the road at night and in the morning the road is littered with squished crabs...
-The Momma and 2 kittens living on the roof of our house.  The more adventurous of the kittens kept falling off the roof or getting stuck in trees.
-Imperial is pretty good for a local beer, much better (less malty) than Nicaragua's Toña.

Halloween crab!  Heeeyyy, heeyyy

Costa kitten

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Boston Revisited

Back in February I posted some pics from my trip to visit my brother in Boston here.  Upon return from our trip to Central America I dove straight into my 2012 scrapbook.  Here are those photos (I barely took any during my 4-day trip) on pages:

Off to Boston-We R Memory Keepers Out & About

Used a Page Maps sketch for this one:
Chef Evan-Echo Park This & That

Fabulous Thai Food-Basic Grey Ambrosia

Used a Silhouette sketch for this one:
The Minuteman Trail-Basic Grey Origins

Boston, I hope to visit you and eat more fabulous food again soon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

The second part of our Nicaragua trip was spent in Playa Maderas, about 20 minutes north of San Juan Del Sur. We also picked this area because of the surf and rented a little villa in the hill just north of the main beach at Maderas. It's a property with 5 houses on it called Villas Playa Maderas. The view from this place was absolutely stunning and the house had a wonderful patio with hammocks to laze around in. However the accommodations were a bit disappointing for the price. Very basic, almost hostel style. For the price we paid for the house I would have expected something a bit better, though I suppose it's the view we paid for.  Little things like exposed wires in the shower, 2 tiny towels that were never replaced, a non-functioning coffee maker and only one roll of toilet paper added up to some annoyance on our part. When you pay $150/night in a place as cheap as Nicaragua you expect a bit more. This house was on par with the cheap room we got in San Juan Del Sur our first night here. The positives were having our own kitchen to cook in and the pool (shared with another house on the property) which has an absolutely breathtaking view.

Our house on the hill, patio with hammocks was the best part

Definitely the best view I've ever had

Playa Maderas, around the point to the south of our rental house
Contemplating life in the pool

We came to the realization while we were here that there is not a ton to do in these areas of Nicaragua besides surf, hang out at the beach and drink. Exploring and adventure is difficult as the roads are terrible and there's just not much around. It was also very windy when we were there so lying on the beach resulted in getting a good coating of sand blown onto your body.  So we resigned ourselves to reading books, walking on the beach, dipping in the pool and drinking Toñas.  Worst of all husband-face pinched a nerve in his neck and wasn't able to surf most days so there was a lot of down time in the 3 days we were here. There were a couple of beaches we could explore on walks from the house.  One beach to the north is Playa Majagual which we were told used to be private and owned by the family that owns Flor de Caña rum, one of the richest in Nicaragua.  However they sold it and it has since gone into disrepair.  Rumor has it there are guards with machetes on the property.  I wanted to venture in but it's walled off and I didn't want to run into the machete wielding guards. the beach is still accessible by walking behind Matilda's hostel at the north end of Maderas.

Playa Majagual and the beachfront compound

The beach north of Majagual, not sure if it had a name, completely deserted

Sunset from the ridgeline north of the house, a short hike

Also be warned the road to Playa Maderas is a rough one, you need 4WD.  I have a great video of the drive but unfortunately my browser crashes every time I try to upload it. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rancho Santana, Nicaragua

Rancho Santana was recommended to me by an old co-worker and looked amazing in all the photos we found online. It a large American owned property that is in development with lots of empty lots still for sale. It is very Americanized and most of the people that work there (at the clubhouse/pool/restaurant) speak decent English.  It also has four private beaches, all except the main beach by the clubhouse were empty when we visited them. It is pretty isolated, about an hour down a dirt road outside the town of Rivas.

The pool/clubhouse area, right on Playa Santana

Sunset view from the pool

Bocce Ball court at the clubhouse

Breakfast with a view

Waves crashing on the rocks south of the clubhouse

My take on Rancho Santana is somewhat mixed. If you want an authentic Nicaraguan experience this is not it, this is America in Nicaragua.  But is had great surf, breathtaking views and empty beaches which makes it all worth it in my eyes. I also loved that it was very secluded and a bit of a trek to get to. On top of that it is still very reasonably priced, we paid $125/night for a 2 bedroom garden view casita (unfortunately I forgot to take pictures but you can see them on their website here) that was a very short walk to the clubhouse/Playa Santana. We actually met with the guy who was selling property there because it was so reasonably priced, an investment we're considering making once we are employed again.

There is only one restaurant and one "market" in Rancho Santana. The food at the restaurant was really good but the market had basically nothing. If you plan on cooking do your shopping at a grocery store in Rivas before you head to Rancho Santana. You definitely need a rental car when here so you can venture outside the property to find other eating options or get to the beaches that are away from the main clubhouse.

A map of the property showing all the lots houses will be build on and the beaches
Playa Lost Perros, the southernmost beach in Rancho Santana.  It's shared with the neighboring property which has built a hotel on it but it's still empty.

Playa Escondida, in my view the most scenic of the beaches, also empty

Husband face and I, Playa Escondida

The only thing I wasn't that happy about was that we were there during the dry season and man was it dry. Everything was brown and dusty. I think if we were to visit again it would be when it's more green and lush.

When it comes to the people in Nicaragua I can't tell whether they're happy with tourists or not. When we were in towns and dealing with locals they were polite but not exceptionally friendly as we have experienced in other countries we have visited. I honestly do not know how they feel about Americans/tourists visiting their country. They might welcome the development and tourist dollars or they might loathe us, I couldn't tell either way. Also expect to get stared at, especially if you have platinum blonde hair like myself.

*tip, eat at Rana Roja in Las Salinas. Expensive (American prices) for Nicaragua but worth it, amazing pizza and handmade pasta. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

As I type this I am sitting in a hammock in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica; one of my new favorite places. I have already lost this blog post twice as I've never posted from an iPad before and they apparently won't save drafts. It also won't allow me to insert links or upload photos so I'm typing this up now and will post them all when I return home next week.

The first half of the vacation we are on was spent in Nicaragua. We chose Nicaragua for husband-face as it has some of the most consistent surf in the world and was rumored to be undeveloped and unspoilt (like Costa Rica 10 years ago). What we got was a bit different than expected. We flew into Liberia, Costa Rica and then hoofed it across the border into Nicaragua, it added a little more adventure to the trip. Taxis to the border from Liberia are expensive (they quoted us $140, likely because of our white skin) so we decided to do what the locals do and take the bus. We grabbed a bus from the airport to the bus depot in town (about 50 cents/person) then took another bus up to the Penas Blanca's border crossing (about $2.50/person, an hour and a half ride). We had watched this video about crossing the border and it definitely helped us know what to expect. The zone between countries is a very weird area, lot's of people just hanging out and sitting, we found that's what most people do in Nicaragua, sit and observe. There's a couple different checkpoints you have to go through but it's pretty unstructured, the exact opposite of what it would be in the US. We were lucky enough to be traveling on a holiday (Easter) so we didn't encounter any of the atrocious lines we read about. Once we got through we got a cab to San Juan Del Sur for $20, there are buses as well but we wanted to get there quicker. We stayed in San Juan Del Sur for the night at a little hotel called Hotel Colonial.  San Juan Del Sur is the southernmost town in Nicaragua and sits on an enclosed bay.  It gets a fair amount of tourists for Nicaragua and the beachfront is lined with restaurants and small hotels. It was just a quick stopover for us so we didn't do much, there wasn't a lot of appeal to us as there are much nicer beach areas in Nicaragua which is where we were headed.
The beach in San Juan Del Sur

Hotel Colonial triple room, simple but just what we needed for a nights rest
Nicaragua's beers, they all tasted pretty much the same
View from the hill above San Juan Del Sur
Church in the center of town
Isla de Ometepe, I wish we'd taken the time to visit