Most of the Pacific cities like San Juan del Sur, Granada or Masaya are stable destinations for the most backpackers. Well built infrastructure and tons of hostels, bars and fun. However, I also wanted to visit less known areas and the best choice was definitely Caribbean side. Especially the area around river San Juan on the south is spectacular. Most of the villages are reachable only by boat and Costa Rica’s border is just behind the corner.
I read about the ferry which leaves from Altagracia on Ometepe island 2 times a week and goes directly to San Carlos. It’s overnight ride and it usually takes 12 hours to get there. The price for the 1st class ticket is around $9 and it’s recommended to bring your own hammock. Otherwise, there are no other sleeping options on the board.
And so I bought my beautiful hammock for $11 on artesian market in Masaya and spent 7 hours in the buses and on the local ferry to get to Altagracia. The overnight ferry was supposed to leave on Thursday at 9 p.m. Unfortunately once I was in Altagracia all locals told me that ferry is no operational right now due to the low water level. I decided not to trust local hostel owners and rather ask directly in the port which was 2.5 km behind the village. Because I was not willing to pay $6 for taxi or motorbike ride I walked there alone in total darkness. What a beautiful walk in Ometepe countryside. Unfortunately nothing changed and the guard just confirmed there really isn’t enough water in San Juan river. Shit.
And so I spent totally pointless night in Altagracia and the next morning took early ferry and bus back to Managua. From there I caught another bus to San Carlos. The ride was more than 5 hours, standing all the time. There’s this thing about Nicaragua – if you think there’s definitely no place for another person in the bus, drivers will squeeze at least 10 more people. Pure nightmare. At least I managed to find very cheap hostel in San Carlos and even with internet connection. That was the win as it’s very hard to find places with connection in this area.
Next morning I took the boat, direction El Castillo. I wanted to stay in hotel Grand River Lodge but had no idea where is it. Well, my bad travelling karma continued. It was only about half way to El Castillo and I wasted decent amount of money. Shit again.
Let’s be honest, the hostel Grand River Lodge was cheap and insanely beautiful. Nature was amazing, horses and cows running around, monkeys screaming like someone was torturing them.
But there was literally nothing around. The nearest village was 40 minutes away by walking. The only place where I could get food was in their quite expensive restaurant. Yes, they offered free horse rides and jungle tours but I wasn’t very interested in neither of them. And so I walked to the village hoping there will be some shop full of food and fruits. The walk was really nice but no cars to hitchhike. I was talking to myself all the way there and back, thinking about my blog, presentations, friends, relationships, advices to other travellers and whether I enjoy all of this or not. You know, those things travellers usually do when they’re alone.
Village was of course huge disappointment. No food, no fruits, no vegetables. At least they had gambling machines and few bars. And so with bottles of Coca Cola and water I walked back. At this point I definitely knew that I am not enjoying it at all. If there was at least internet connection in the hostel. This was definitely not a good place for me and it was time to move on.
Now the funny part starts. I asked the owners how to get to El Castillo. Well, every person would assume they know, right? They told me to take the bus on the main road and it’s about 45 minutes ride. And so I did. This was actually one of the most memorable rides. Super old chicken bus playing 90s disco hits. I was thrilled, sometimes singing aloud not giving a shit about anyone.
It took exactly 15 minutes until the road disappeared in the river. This was the final stop. I had to take small passenger ferry over the river and walk to the next village. Again, everybody was saying there’s a bus going from there to El Castillo.
What I however found out was that there’s no bus at all because the road to El Castillo … well doesn’t exist. WTF? I’ve already experienced many things but this was too much.
Anyway, big smile #4, relax and ice cream. That was my solution how to survive another 3 hours of waiting for the boat. Yes, the same boat I could take directly from the hostel. The ride was short and cheap and in 30 minutes I was standing o the small square in El Castillo. The mission was clear – try to find as cheap accommodation as possible.
First hostel was $30 but they were able to go down to $25. For a dorm. I thought that I misunderstood them so I asked again. No, I didn’t. Still $25 for a dorm bed. Next hostel was pretty much the same shit – $25 dollars. After 20 minutes of walking around and asking I finally managed to find a dorm for $10. But it still seemed to much for me. I didn’t get it how can they ask for so much money in this small remote village.
And so I continued walking and finally found a local place for 100 NIO. That less than $4. I got my own room but soon I understood why is it so cheap. No shower and believe me, you don’t want to see the picture of toilette. It was just one night so what the hell.
I immediately explored the city (or better village). Nothing much to see and do except the old fortress. That’s actually the main reason why this place is so popular. It was very important place during many battles. Right now you can enjoy the spectacular views from the top.
Well, and that was it. I felt asleep listening to local girls singing songs about jesus in the church right across the street. All would be great if they knew how to sing. Problem solved by headphones. Next morning I took the earliest boat back to San Carlos and decided to go up north.