The Schumacher Family – Peter, Liz and kids traveled to Nicaragua this summer along with the Tan-Alpers – Jonnie, Liz, kids and extended family to explore a new country and bring soccer ball and school supplies to children in the area, via the Jean Brugger Foundation. Here’s their story.
The beautiful coastal town of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. It’s a small, beach town located on the southern Pacific coast of Nicaragua, just above Costa Rica. Our friend Dhruv Gulati is developing some property there and gave us the name of the hotel, Piedras y Olas which translates to “Rocks and Waves”. As we were considering whether to go, we found articles in Travel & Leisure and GQ about the “hidden gem” of San Juan del Sur and traveling in Nicaragua which won us over, so we immediately booked our summer trip. piedrasyolas.com // elencantodelsur.com/
The hotel Piedras y Olas supports a non-profit organization called the Jean Brugger Foundation. The nonprofit foundation is devoted to assisting Nicaragua through education and development of one of the country’s most valuable and treasured resources: its young people. Their mission is to provide critical educational opportunities and vocational training for the residents of San Juan del Sur and surrounding communities.
The people who run the foundation can provide a list of school and sports supplies, local needs and even animal care donations. The hotel also runs a veterinary clinic that provides a safe-haven for local wildlife and domestic animals.
Through the hotel staff or website, the people who run the foundation can provide a list of school and sports supplies, local needs and even animal care donations. We packed extra suitcases or bags filled with donation items and handed them over at the front desk. The Foundation followed up with a thank you note to us.
Piedras y Olas is an amazing hotel with large, clean, air-conditioned casitas that can easily house a family of 4-6 people. San Juan del Sur is a special place right now with very few American “tourist” families, mostly surfers and young men and women traveling across Central America. The variety of restaurants and food from around the world surprised us. There is everything from American and Mediterranean to Chinese, Italian or nuevo-Californian cuisine, and of course the local Nica fare which often consists of fresh fish with gallo pinto (rice and beans). All the restaurants we went to were clean and the water and ice were safe for travelers, and once we got over the apprehension we were able to relax and enjoy the local flavors.
The Pacific coast of Nicaragua is peppered with beaches and each one is a little different, ranging from the big-wave surfer beach of Madras, to the “family” beach called Coco. Getting to the beaches can be like Disney’s jungle safari ride if you take the open-air “zebra” bus from the local hostel, Casa Oro. The beaches were beautiful, and best of all, empty! The water was warm, the waves surprisingly gentle and everyone surfed, or took at least took some lessons
Sailing trips and zip-lining are also fun ways to pass the time, take a look at our pictures! The zip-line in San Juan del Sur has 17 “jumps” or zips and a couple of them are over 400 feet long! Even the youngest can go attached to one of the guides. The Piedras y Olas hotel has its own large sail boat and crew who whisk you away to remote, deserted beaches! Whether you’re flying through the jungle canopy or bounding along on the waves, we found the Nicaraguan people to be warm and friendly, always helpful and very proud of their country.
Safety-wise we were fine, we had read glowing travel reports, and trusted our friend who was developing the property, but the revolution and Sandinista troubles of the 70s lingered in our minds prior to booking the trip.
Otherwise, the ‘challenges’ were minor such as, the multiple flights of stairs at the hotel, which kept us in shape but were a bit rough after a full dinner of wine and wonderful food! And deciding between pancakes, eggs Benedict or any of the other full-service breakfast offerings.
It was surprisingly easy to get to San Juan del Sur. Each of our families took a different route from SFO to Managua on American Airlines through Miami or on Continental through Houston to Miami, the flying time was about the same either way; two legs of about three hours each. The hotel has a shuttle that will pick up at the Managua airport and take you to San Juan del Sur. It takes about two hours one way and costs around $100-200 for the van depending on the number of passengers.
Who would you recommend this experience to?
This is a trip for families or adults who like a bit of adventure. The country is poor, there is very little electricity or water amenities outside the city. The people are proud, live very simply and work hard to care for their families. We wanted our kids to see another side of life that they are not often exposed to.
This is also a trip for young adults as there seems to be plenty of hostel-hoppers. Instead of Europe, they are in Central America. While we may have lived on $400 a day, many of the kids we talked with were living pretty well on less than $40 a day.