Spring break in Latin America is an interesting mix of devout Catholicism and beach vacations. While I indulged in both of these aspects during my week off, I also ventured outside of Costa Rica for the first time to experience Nicaragua.
Latin America’s spring break is always the week before Easter, which is called “Semana Santa” in Spanish and directly translates to “Holy Week.” With this religious title for spring break, I expected the devout Catholics of Costa Rica to spend this week in prayer and attending daily church services. Instead, they welcomed the coming of Christ by vacationing at the beach. So naturally, I followed suit with my two girlfriends.
Day 1: Since we booked our tickets so late, we took the 4:30 a.m. bus to Nicaragua’s beautiful city of Granada. Thus, we slept the entire 9-hour drive and arrived around 2 p.m. Groggy from sleep and confused by the new country, we took a $24 taxi ride to our hostel that was only 3 blocks away, not realizing the cab driver had ripped us off until much later when we figured out the currency exchange. After settling in, we walked around until we found somewhere to eat. Like typical Americans, we ordered hamburgers, but could not eat any of the accompanying vegetables nor drink the fruit juice or water we were given since Nicaraguan water is not potable. We struggled to explore the city before finally giving into exhaustion and falling asleep.
Day 2: Feeling much more revived, we decided to actually explore the beautiful Granada. Central Park had a familial vibe since people were constantly playing music and dancing as small vendors sold cheap souvenirs on the corner. Although the architecture is Spanish colonial, Granada seemed to be a mix between the Arabic and Spanish styles.
We explored various churches, including the church next door, La Merced, as well La Catedral de Nicaragua and La Iglesia de Guadalupe During our adventures, we also strolled down to the Lake of Nicaragua and went for ice cream, where we witnessed our first Nicaraguan Easter processional. Watch below!
Day 3: After our daily morning coffee, we explored the rest of the city, which included: the San Francisco convent and its corresponding museum, the oldest house in Nicaragua and even more churches. But the gem of our day was finding a cute little bookstore tucked between a pizza place and a bar. We spent the remainder of our day looking for books to read for the long trip back.
Day 4: We scheduled a cheap tour to see the Masaya Volcano and town market, which was only a 40-minute drive from Granada. We walked around the volcano with our hard hats and masks as protection from one of the most active volcanoes in Central America. We also learned that the volcano was used as a popular killing mechanism: human sacrifices for the indigenous people and later torture for the Spaniards during the Inquisition. Then, we explored the Masaya market, which was a colorful array of purses, canes, sweaters, sandals and everything you could possibly imagine, all made by the indigenous people from the region.
Day 5: We set off early in the morning for a boat tour of the Islets of Granada. These islands contained an amazing amount of flora and many were adorned with fancy mansions owned by wealthy Nicaraguans or rich Americans. We made a quick pit stop on an island where 25 indigenous people lived and drank coconut water before heading to the monkey island. This particular island was the size of a half a football field, but contained at least 10 friendly monkeys swinging from its trees. Our boat guide was lucky enough to feed a monkey a banana from the boat! After this 3-hour boat tour, we biked back to our hostel with sunburns and exhaustion and spent the remainder of the day cooling off in a pool at a nearby hotel, enjoying our last day in Granada.
Day 6: We left Granada early in the morning to hit up our next destination: the beach town of San Juan del Sur. To save some money, we took the local “chicken buses,” which turned out to be a painted school bus filled with people, children and pets inside. After three hours of standing on the bus between countless Nicaraguans, we arrived. Hoping to catch the last few rays of sun, we quickly dashed to the beach as a perfect end to a stressful day. However, our hopes were quickly dashed as we realized the gray sand and dark, cold water was nothing like the pristine beaches we had seen in Costa Rica. So after fighting to keep the blowing sand out of our eyes, we headed back to our hostel for sleep.
Day 7: In the morning, we explored the small town of San Juan del Sur, which resembled Cape Cod with a Latin American vibe. One friend wanted to take surf lessons, however, none were offered that day since it was Good Friday. So we laid on the beach and relaxed, getting a little sunburned and finishing our books. We took a break from the sun for dinner, but headed out again in the evening to enjoy the live music and dancing downtown. That night, we managed to meet two medical students from Dallas as well as 10 University of Chicago students, a refreshing break from the much-too-forward Nicaraguans.
Day 8: Our time in San Juan del Sur came to an end at midday, so we took a taxi back to Granada (which I haggled for a lower price!) for our last day in Nicaragua. Exhausted from the previous night and insurmountable heat, we relaxed and shopped for gifts before finally falling asleep.
Day 9: This was supposed to be an uneventful day spent on the bus back to Costa Rica. However, Costa Rica immigration forced my friends and I to buy $30 bus tickets out of Costa Rica since documentation of your departure of Costa Rica is required to enter. In addition, none of us had thought to bring paperwork of our plane tickets back to the U.S. So we spent the remainder of the bus ride without food or water since all our money was now invested in a little ticket back to Managua, and we finally arrived home with sunburns and exhaustion, but new experiences and lifelong memories.