We live in the heart of a tropical paradise, close to an archipelago of 365 tiny islets and two volcanoes. Where do you vacation when you live in paradise? I describe Nicaragua to my guests as an unexplored oasis, and there is so much of it to see, including dozens of volcanoes. Deciding what to explore and how to navigate the land of lakes and volcanoes is often a complex process. For this vacation, we chose Nicaragua’s Pacific coastline outside of San Juan del Sur for many reasons, but we wanted a beach that was rustic and undiscovered. Our version of paradise is hard to get to, remote and off the beaten path.
Nicaragua’s transport network can be hard to navigate and this is where it is essential to do your research. Is it better to travel by local bus or hire a private car? At times the car is worth paying for, as I will explain below, in some cases you may need an SUV to pass rough beach roads. You could bus it part of the way, and then pick up a taxi for the next leg of the journey.
This year we chose Escameca because we needed a digital detox after launching a new hotel website. We chose a destination we knew would have spotty internet and where phone calls would not reach us. I always answer guests emails within 24 hours, so shutting down mind and body was essential.
Playa Escameca is an unexplored surfers beach on the outskirts of San Juan del Sur and not many people know about it. If they are seeking services and amenities such as beachside cocktails they would not choose it. We chose it for the reason we did not want to see crowds or hear loud music. The sound of waves over bar talk and music was much more appealing.
Playa Escameca is also home to the Costa Dulce, a unique community with a fusion residential and hotel component. The apartment we had rented in the neighboring Costa del Mar beach community was owned by a friend from an old Granada family. We left Granada early morning and took the chicken bus, a retired yellow American school bus that forms an unofficial and unregulated transport network, to the market town of Rivas. This is the connection point between Granada and the beach area, and from here you can choose a taxi or a bus to San Juan del Sur, Tola, and Popoyo Beach.
The journey was uneventful and in the market town of Rivas we took a $15 taxi to the center of San Juan del Sur to meet my boyfriend’s friend El Cubano. He had kindly offered to take us to the apartment despite not knowing exactly where it was. We had printed off the air b n b directions and hopped in his car confidently. Giselle his wife was the navigator, and we headed out of town passing the popular Playa Yankee and eventually nosing the car towards the beach community of Escamca. Gradually the flat country roads became steep rocky hillsides. How are we going to get up that? I cried pointing to the sign for Escameca perched on top of a sandy almost vertical hillside. Without any response, El Cubano pounded on his gas pedal and inched the old Toyota up the mountain, her tires grinding into the rough sand and stones. She groaned and came to a halt halfway up.
A farmer who had perched on the rocks watching us gave a shout and told us to cut the engine. Mercifully, a giant tractor was on the way down to smooth out the road. The sander came down about every hour he told us so motorbikes and cars could pass. Achingly slow she ironed the road and compacted the sand so vehicles could move up and down the hill. Suddenly trees became organized lots with houses and apartment blocks peeping through the jungle.
A family was waiting outside the apartment to welcome us. The little boy introduced himself as Enrique and the dog was Rambo. Maria Elena cleaned the apartment and helped us inside. We figured out the combination lock and we had a little spot where we could lock up the key in a cubbyhole in the wall. The apartment was bright and modern with natural wooden furniture and a polished concrete kitchen. We could hear a parrot in the jungle canopy singing songs in Spanish. Danilo told me they were campesino country songs he had probably been taught by the kids. La Lora, the tropical parrot, is an intelligent creature not to be underestimated
Climbing down the hillside to the beach was difficult as I had left my running shoes behind accidentally. Note to other beach travellers: in Nicaragua, you need sneakers and flip-flops to access the beach. Eventually, the hillside turned to flat coastline. A turtle hatchery had been set up on one section of the beach. Unfortunately in remote areas of Nicaragua local people often hunt the turtles for food and other commodities. Protecting them is a struggle for conservationists. A tiny hut indicated the beach did have a restaurant; as we passed by the women giggled shyly and a dog growled. We promised to return for an early dinner.
The sweeping length of coastline was stunning. Smooth rocks provided a spot for us to sit and watch the dark waves of the Pacific crashing against the shore. Escameca was turning out to be just what I hoped, but I feared others had discovered my secret. On the hillside, we could hear the hum of saws and construction equipment, tiled roofs indicating development was on the doorstep. It took almost two hours to walk the length of the beach, and at the end we found more tree trunks and rocks to use for support practising yoga or just lounging on in the shade.
We walked back and started to explore the resort. Tiny huts had been set up in the trees as part of an open air spa concept. At the small restaurant and reception desk we were able to book a massage for only $20 US dollars. Each one of us had the best massage in our lives under the tiny pavilion. The young masseuse was from the village of Escameca and new to her work, but she was kind and sweet. I don’t normally like massage but her gentle touch encouraged me to relax.
Later at night, we returned to the tiny restaurant for fish soup. We could hardly find it being that electrical lines did not run along the beach and we had to use flashlights to locate it. A bare lightbulb hung from the ceiling, and as the beach waves crashed in front of us, the only sound was the roar of the ocean. No one else was in sight.
The next morning we took another beach walk. Our photos show green countryside hills and a river leading from the sea into the countryside. We passed another couple of days here sleeping, beach walking, eating tropical fruits and feasting on simple fish soups and fish fillets. We saw only a handful of lone surfers or other couples enjoying the same type of escape as ourselves. On the third day, we discovered a group of fishermen diving off the rocks with a net to catch fish by hand, a practice that can be extremely dangerous on rough coastlines. We bought three pounds of fresh sea bass and made a delicious fresh soup using tomatoes and cilantro that Maria Elena kindly provided.
The end of our trip was just as exciting as our arrival. Again we decided not to pay the $30 transport into town and walk to the bus stop, and catch a country bus into Escameca. That proved to be a bad decision. The skies opened up with early morning rain and we stood at the bus stop shivering and thoroughly soaked.
Almost an hour later the bus arrived. The apartment caretaker had sent his dog Rambo and his son Enrique to check on us, and I suspected they had followed us to make sure we didn’t get lost. Eventually, the country bus pulled up, another retired yellow American school bus that still managed to survive these rough country roads. On the way it continued to rain, but the bus ambled along picking up school students and workers heading into San Juan del Sur for their tourism or fish plant jobs. The rural communities we passed reminded me of how important it was to be grateful for everything you have, even running water. In this countryside homes often did not have a toilet and were constructed of in roofs, mud floors and an outhouse which served as a bathroom. Life was harder but you couldn’t tell it from the well dressed and fresh faced passengers who boarded the bus. If there is one thing I know about Nicaraguans, it’s their great pride they take in their appearance.
On the hills Danilo pointed out beans and plantains growing abundantly, but it seemed vegetables such as greens and tomatoes were in short supply. He told me it was most likely the rocky soil. My boyfriend spent his childhood in Nueva Guinea, the breadbasket of the country and he could plant most crops even yucca and cassava. We hadn’t eaten any vegetables ourselves with our meals only a cabbage salad with a bit of carrot and chile pickle. While fruit was in good supply, other fresh products such as milk and dairy products had not reached the beach area.
In less than two hours, we were back in the town of San Juan del Sur to take a $15 US tourist shuttle to Granada. It would have been worth it to take the private car, but we had really seen the area and gotten to know the people. While many Nicaraguans can be shy and reserved, others are keen to practice their English and find out more about where you come from and why you have chosen to vacation in their country. While they can be direct, they are generous warm-hearted and funny. We’ll be back to Playa Escameca.
The Costa Dulce Hotel is a new development, and the building is underway on many of the seafront villas. Check out more about their retreat center –https://www.costadulcebeach.com
Need Information on the Best Beaches in Nicaragua?
Check out this website and their comprehensive review of beach towns and destinations along the Pacific Coast:
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