Playa Gigante: sunsets and relaxation
Three volcanoes in our Nicaragua journey (…and we had skipped two for lack of time), we had planned the final days to be all about relaxation at the beach.
So after narrowly managing to board a small ferry off the island of Ometepe, we drove 45 min west to Playa Gigante. There are about a dozen small beach towns like these on the Southwestern coastline of Nicaragua, but Playa Gigante kept coming up as a top choice during our online research. The promise was this: a 1km stretch of beach with gorgeous sunsets and a surfer’s vibe that you could have found in Oaxaca (Mexico) or Costa Rica 15 years ago before mass tourism arrived.
And Playa Gigante met its promise! We arrived there just as the sun was setting on the horizon, which was just enough time to snap a few beautiful pictures:
We then checked in our hotel, Gigante Bay, situated at the south of the beach. When you walk in, it’s absolutely like what you imagined in your dreams: a big palapa-style bar & restaurant, straight on the beach, with flags hanging from the ceilings, hammocks, cozy lights, and chill music.
After hiking the Maderas Volcano on Ometepe, this was the exact opposite: a relaxation haven for our tired legs and our thirsty mouths. Boy many cheap cocktails and beers did I drink!
The whole hotel is built with wood, and has a few basic rooms. Luckily, we had a fan to fight against the heat. The 3 bathrooms are shared by everybody and don’t expect any hot water. While rudimentary, this is exactly what we expected when we came here!
There is no party in this beach town, and the bar was closed at 10 pm after the locals had had their beers. All lights were turned off, and everyone went to sleep in order to have the proper energy for 8 am surfing.
The following morning, Jarelle and I had the biggest breakfast ever: Gallo pinto (rice and beans, avocado, fried plantains, and scrambled eggs), and banana pancakes. It was so delicious!
I was then trying to relax in a hammock and read my Kindle, but Jarelle, like the man-child that he is, came around poking my face with his GoPro. So like with a cat that needs attention, I got off the hammock and indulged him: we shot some awesome videos of him doing flips on the beach because, let’s face it, I am not much of a gymnast.
After a walk on the beach, meeting some animals that you don’t necessarily expect to see on the beach, we packed our stuff and left Playa Gigante around noon. Driving through the hills, we passed by an open-air landfill. The thing with Nicaragua is that they don’t have any public bins in the streets. Like none. So people end up throwing their trash on the road or sidewalk. I don’t know if it’s because the government doesn’t have the money to install public bins, or if there are darker forces controlling the garbage business. Probably a bit of both. But this landfill seemed to be where all that thrash ends up!
After arriving in the main hub of Rivas, we took the road n°72 south towards the party town of San Juan del Sur. You can imagine our surprise when we found out this road was not paved! With just dirt and rocks, it was quite the bumpy 25km ride! We had to drive very slow to not wreck the car, which allowed us to catch a glimpse of a 6-year-old kid in his driveway whip out his tiny pecker and nonchalantly start peeing on the road (LOL!!!).
I don’t know if the other road to San Juan (road n°16 that goes through La Virgen) is paved, but it’s probably the best option to take that one.
Fakery in San Juan del Sur
We had booked a beach hostel on the outskirts of San Juan. We arrived there at 1 pm, and walked in the compound. There was nobody there except a few local men sitting on chairs by the pool. As soon as we walked through the garden door, one of them came towards us and told us the hostel was indefinitely closed. I was like:
“What do you mean it’s closed? I booked a room here!”
– “Doesn’t matter, it’s closed.”
– “Why is it closed?”
– “There were problems.”
– “What kind of problems?”
– “Well, will we get our money back?”
– “I don’t know, send an email.”
This guy was clearly protecting some secrets (was there a drug bust? Did someone die? Was this place run illegally?). Luckily, we had booked this fake hostel on AirBnB, which swiftly refunded our money.
We went into town, and stopped next to the beach to have a smoothie. It turns out the smoothie place was also a hostel (which I had seen online before), so we asked if they had rooms. And they had! Thank you Rositas Hotel for giving us a bed.
Safe with the knowledge that we would have a roof over our head, we went walking around town (which is quite small), bought some Ban Rays sunglasses, and took note of all the Happy Hour beach bars.
The San Juan beach itself is quite large and mud-like, and a haven for street peddlers. Not the white sandy beach you want to lay your towel down on.
So around sunset, we drove our shitty little car up the steep hill at the north of the San Juan bay (I had to push that gas!). On the other side of that hill is the Nacascolo Bay and this is where the rich people and American expats live: gated condo communities, huge villas with infinity pools amidst the jungle, overlooking the ocean. Up there on the hill stands the Christ of the Mercy statue, a colossal statue of Jesus Christ blessing the town of San Juan del Sur below.
For 45 minutes, we snapped photos of the sunset and of the bay. Then, empowered with the grace of God, we drove back into town and went out to eat. We went to a small & hip bar for Happy Hour & dinner. You could build your own Thai dish, so I went with prawn & vegetable rice, while my bro ordered noodles and chicken wings. It took them an hour to kill the chicken and cut off the wings, as Jarelle kept demanding them like an impatient child. It’s quite clear that service is sloooooooooow in Nicaragua, so don’t be in a rush! As the bar was playing Jarelle’s favorite Hip-Hop tunes, and the waiter brought my meal, the whole power went out in the city. That’s how much it takes to feed this man!
Like in León and Granada, there were religious celebrations, so while we were in the dark, we watched the spectacle on the street, as a man with a cardboard on fire was chasing people around (WTF?!)
San Juan del Sur was designated as a “Tourism City of Nicaragua” in 2002, so its tourism boom is quite recent. Occupied by 155,000 people, mainly fishermen families, it is starting to see quite the arrival of young backpacker tourists.
Some chill cafés and bars are reminiscent of Mexico’s Zipolite or Tulum, but it’s Boracay in the Philippines that this town is most noticeably trying to emulate: all-night, loud, unbridled nightclubs for young Americans, Europeans, Australians and Latin Americans to party far away from home. However, it’s not as successful as Boracay in this lofty goal. The EDM music sounds incongruous in this landscape, and while most of the clubs’ clientele (including Jarelle) felt right at home in this Electronic ear-bleeding soundscape, I felt a bit like a fish out of water. I’m more the salsa kind of guy. Maybe I should go to Cuba… Luckily, there was at least one beach bar with decent Latin music, but we weren’t much in a party mood that night. How can you blame us after a week of whispering to volcanoes, and getting our mind centered deep in nature?
After a decent night’s sleep, we left San Juan del Sur at 11 am to go to the nearby Playa Maderas (well.. 8km takes 30 min to get there!), which we’ll talk about in our next article.
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