ATV Tour of San Juan del Sur

This morning we were at the ATV tour company office promptly at 0900. We think they were surprised to see us on time, expecting us to be late. We waited a few minutes while they got the vehicles ready and then we headed out. Here is Eric getting ready to go.


It was just the two of us. We love it when we get private tours! At first we followed a main road that headed out of town, riding in traffic along with all the regular cars. We stopped at a gas station and filled up, then continued on. It was another gorgeous day. On the outskirts of town, the main road was lined mostly with small bungalow style houses on good size lots, but not too far out the landscape changed to mostly undeveloped.

We turned off onto a steep, winding dirt road that took us up a big hill to a radio tower on the top. The road was dry and dusty, and the wind only aggravated the dust. From the top, there was a stunning 360 degree views. Facing south we could see the town of San Juan del Sur and the bay. Facing north we could see Lake Nicaragua and its two volcanoes.



Right now it is the dry season, so the scenery was pretty brown. But in the rainy season, this area becomes a lush jungle with lots of monkeys and other wildlife around. Right now most of the wildlife has retreated inland where there is more food. The wind was really screaming up here.

The tour guide wanted to relax for a while and enjoy the view, but being as we were in a hurry to leave town, we insisted on moving on as soon as we were done snapping pictures. We hopped back on the ATVs and followed the main road back towards town. While still on the outskirts, we turned off on another dirt road that also winded up a hill. It wasn’t long before we came to a neighborhood of high end residential homes. Here the road suddenly was paved. Most were custom, but there were a couple small track home developments. We wonder if these are the ones we saw from the bay.

The upscale neighborhood came to an end. We knew exactly where the neighborhood boundary was when the road went back to being dirt. Beyond it, there was an agricultural area with quite a few cows. It looks like they also grow crops here, as well, but we couldn’t tell what kind. Beyond the farm, the land became mostly undeveloped, dotted here and there with an eclectic mix of houses and a few hotels. Just like in town, some of the houses were really nice, but most were small, average quality bungalows that were well maintained. We made a turn and a minute later came out at a pretty beach.


We think he said the beach is called Matilda’s, but Matilda’s isn’t listed as a real place in Lonely Planet, so we could be confused. It may have been Bahia Majagual. There were only a few people there and the guide said it is never crowded, so it is one of his favorite spots. Normally, the tour takes ½ hour break here so everyone can go for a swim, but we insisted on leaving as soon as we took photos. The guide was taken aback, saying he’s never had anyone in such a rush before. Didn’t we want to enjoy the scenery and give our behinds a break?

We hopped back on the ATV’s and followed a different road that headed southeast and paralleled the coast. We couldn’t see the water, though. From where we were, in the middle of a dense forest of mostly leafless trees, you’d never even realize the beach was so darn close. Actually, one species of tree was in full bloom, bursting with colorful flowers. We didn’t see very many of them, but every time we did, we appreciated the sharp color contrast.


This road was pretty bad. It was especially steep and bumpy, and was totally rutted out in some spots. We gingerly maneuvered our way down the road until we emerged at the popular surfing beach called Playa Madera. We mentioned that San Juan del Sur is a popular vacation destination for Nicaraguans, but it is also a popular destination for surfers, specifically for this particular beach, which apparently has awesome waves. Visually speaking, it looks almost the same as the last beach we were at, except there were a lot of people here, some surfing and some laying out.

The guide again tried to entice us to rest, but we were raring to go. We navigated down the bad road and made a turn onto a much better road. After a few minutes we came to the gate of a private community. The road became paved right at the gate. Our guide went to talk to the guard, and a minute later, the gate was opened and we made our way inside. We realized we were on the northwest side of the bay. The assessment that we initially made that the houses on this side looked to be expensive was right on. Every house in the community was custom built, and they were all the kind of thing you would see in Beverly Hills. Ralph had told us that most of the houses in here were second homes for wealthy Nicaraguans, and our guide confirmed it. Wow. It looks like the lots were all pre-graded with utilities already in, and thus are ready to build on. Less than half the lots actually have homes on them.

We stopped at an empty lot with a pretty view of the San Juan del Sur bay.



The giant statue of Jesus was on a small peak just above where we were standing. His body was mostly completed, but he is still missing a head and half an arm. From there, we headed back down the hill and back to the ATV office. The tour normally lasts a solid 4 hours, but because we cut every stop short, we finished in only 3 hours. We really enjoyed it and are glad we delayed leaving this morning to do it. We were absolutely filthy, covered in a thick layer of dirt.

Renda and their friend Jorge had wanted to see Kosmos, so we went by the hotel to get them and bring them back to Kosmos with us. Ralph wound up driving all of us over to the Port Captain’s office. We can’t believe he let us in his car when we were so dirty. Eric checked out with the Port Captain, which only took a few minutes. Then we all piled into the water taxi and went over to Kosmos. We gave them the super quick tour and said our goodbyes. Kosmos was super filthy, so we were a little embarrassed as we walked them around the exterior. When we had arrived, she was already encrusted with salt from the rough passage. And in the few days we had been here, the wind had blown a thick layer of dust all over her.

We did a few last minute “get ready to go things”. One of them was rigging up the paravanes. Not going to make that mistake ever again! We have to say that getting ready to go is so much easier when you don’t have to deal with the dinghy. Getting the dinghy up and secured takes a lot of time. We were hesitant about leaving because the wind was absolutely screaming, still in the low 30’s. This bay is part of a wind tunnel from the Atlantic, and Ralph had assured us that once we had gone out a few miles, the wind would dissipate. At 1600, we finally pulled up anchor, which was again a little bit of a challenge. When we turned around and headed out, we were moving with the wind and were comfortably flying along.

As promised, once we had gotten around the corner, the wind died down. There was almost a visible line that we crossed where suddenly the wind was light and the seas were flat. It was kind of weird that it was such a sharp change. From there on out, it was a pleasant run. We saw dozens and dozens of dolphins frolicking in the water all the way around us. About a dozen were playing along the waterline, but many more were entertaining themselves further away from us. They are the spotted variety.

While we were getting ready, Eric had turned on the generator and started making water. Not too long after we were in the calm water, Eric noticed the salt concentration was going up on the AC water maker, so he turned it off and turned on the DC water maker, instead. All seemed to work fine with the DC system.

As it does in the tropics, the sun set at around 1800. It is a new moon tonight, so it is completely and totally pitch black outside right now. The conventional wisdom for this area is hug the coast for protection from the strong wind and ugly swells that are typical through here. But we were uncomfortable with being close to shore, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to see the little fishing pangas that don’t always show up on radar. We decided to move away from the coast. Given that the conditions were so mild, we still had a good ride. Even out so much farther than recommended, we still are running closer to shore than we normally like to.

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