After managing to getup early enough for the 5am pickup time, we drove down to Lake Suchitlan in the morning darkness.
And setting off at dawn for some kayaking and birdwatching.
I didn't want to trust my kayaking skills with my DSLR camera and also didn't have a telephoto lens so instead just used my iPhone with some binoculars that we were given.
A grey heron swooping low over the lake.
The man-made lake was host to quite a variety of both local and migratory birds.
The sun beginning to break through the clouds.
And shining over the almost perfectly still water.
Paddling through the bushes to get close to some of the smaller birds.
A flock of six heron flying high above.
A small turtle which we found tangled up in some fishing line and managed to rescue.
A Double-crested cormorant warming itself in the morning sun.
Back ashore while managing to get my shoes wet after clumsily stumbling out of the canoe!
Some juice and Oreo's for a morning snack after a successful and very enjoyable morning of kayaking and birdspotting.
On the way back we stopped at a local hotspring for a bit of a dip.
And filling up with on some more flapjacks and bacon back in Suchitoto.
Just after 10:30am we loaded back up into the minibus again.
Today's plan was to head south-east to the sleepy beach town of El Cuco on El Salvador's Pacific coast.
With no border crossings today we quickly made good time on the road.
At about 1pm we arrived in the city of San Miguel where we stopped to stock up on drinks and snacks for our stay at the beach.
And grabbing a tasty pollo quesadilla for lunch.
Just after 3pm we arrived at La Tortuga Verde for our two night stay at Intipuca Beach in El Cuco.
My clean and comfortable room complete with ice cool aircon.
Complete with hammocks in the sun room.
A couple of the resident single wing pelicans who had been rescued and rehabiliated from being tangled up in fishing nets.
And the beautiful sandy beach just in front.
The plan for our 36 hours at Intipuca Beach was just to chillout and relax and which I was really looking forward to.
It was quite an idyllic piece of paradise and a great place to do absolutely nothing and have some timeout.
Huts stretching out onto the beach.
The coast stretching out to the east.
And to the west.
The sun now beginning to set.
And about to disappear below the horizon.
Conchagua Volcano visible in the distance just after dusk on the south-eastern tip of El Salvador.
In the evening we metup at the La Tortuga Verde restaurant for dinner.
Over drinks I chatted with Mike and his wife Katrina, both from Scotland. They had done alot of travelling including a 3,000 kilometre bicycle tour along the Atlantic coast in Brazil.
Enjoying the special of the day, the tasty filete de atún along with a side of plantains and tortillas.
And enjoying the full moon over the beach at the end of day 6.
After a very good sleep I crawled out of bed just after 7:30am.
And went for a morning run jog along the beach.
Looking down on the beachfront vacation houses.
After the run I couldn't resist a refeshing dip in the Pacific Ocean to cool off.
And back at the beach restaurant again for desayuno típico and some café negro.
One of the resident rescue pelicans patiently waiting for his daily fish fix!
The hotel had a daily yoga class run by a German guy on his world travels. I had never done any yoga before and for only $5 I figured I had to try it at least once.
Over our two hour session we went through some of the beginner poses including the mountain pose, downward facing dog, tree and the child’s pose.
It was quite a both strenuous and relaxing experience, alot of fun and glad I got the chance to do it.
I then retreated to a beach hammock with some fresh coconut juice to recover!
After listening to the very interesting and enlightening Joe Rogan podcast with Colin O'Brady, who had just become the first person to cross Antarctica unsupported, I ordered the sándwich de pollo y papas fritas from the beach restaurant for lunch.
In the late afternoon I fnally summoned the energy to go for a walk along the beach.
The sleepy town of El Cuco.
Sea cliffs replacing the sandy beach further up the coast.
The waves of the Pacific churning over and around the rocks below.
Punta Flores Surf Hotel situated on a small peninsula jutting out into the ocean.
The waves lapping the beach next to a blue boat below.
The sun setting on Intipuca Beach once again.
And the end of our final day in El Salvador.
The very tasty ceviche and a side of fresh avacado for dinner.
It was Kelly from Switzerland 30th today so we made do with a tray of brownies and some candles to celebrate the holiday birthday.
And a beach bonfire to finish a relaxing day 7.
A long travel day today so we were up before dawn and on the road to begin the journey to Nicaragua.
This morning we would drive to the town of La Unión to catch a boat across the Gulf of Fonseca to Nicaragua.
After the one hour drive we arrived at the immigration office in La Unión. We were their only customers at the early hour but the sole immigration officer on duty took almost 90 minutes to finally stamp us out of El Salvador.
We then headed down to the port to meet up wth our chartered boat for the journey across the gulf. It was possible to travel to Nicaragua overland but by taking the boat meant we could avoid having to transit Honduras on the way and save 6 hours of additional travel.
After crossing the Gulf of Fonseca and landing in Potosí in Nicaragua we would meet our new minibus driver and continue on to the city of León.
Passing Isla Zacatillo as made our way out of El Salvadorean waters. Thankfully the gulf was relatively calm today for our boat ride to Nicaragua. Juan said that a few weeks ago the sea was quite a bit rougher and everyone had ended up completely soaked!
And wading ashore at Potosí in Nicaragua and my first time entering a new country barefooted!
Luckily there was a local porter waiting for us who waded out to the boat to carry our bags to our minibus.
I had carefully hidden my drone deep inside my laundry bag and put the controller at the bottom of my toilet bag. Luckily the customs guy, casually dressed in shorts and blue football shirt was good friends with Juan and he didn't bother to check our luggage for any contraband though.
Juan said that since the unrest in Nicaragua in April last year the immigration checkpoint had received a total of 300 visitors. Hence the sole immigration officer was a bit overwhelmed today and it took just over an hour to process our fifteen passports.
In the city of Chinandega where we stopped for a break and a bite to eat.
And finally in the city of León, the second largest city in Nicaragua after the capital Managua.
At Hotel Hellenika in the city centre.
And my room for our one night stay in León.
Party City. We then headed for a walk through the city.
Parque Central De León next to León Cathedral in the centre of the city.
Pigeons flying inn front of the Cathedral. After paying the $3 entrance fee we headed inside for a guided tour.
In the northern bell tower with our local guide.
The cathedral was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011.
Heading up to the church roof.
Our local guide next to one of the 34 white-washed domes that help to provide both ventilation and light.
A statue of the Virgin Mary crowning the central pediment of the facade.
Worshippers in the cathedral pews below.
Jesus consuela a las hijas de Jerusalem (Jesus consoles the daughters of Jerusalem).
Enemigo de la Humanidad (Enemy of Mankind).
After the tour of the cathedral we headed to the rooftop Bar El Mirador, a popular hangout for the local univerisity students.
A cool Toña cerveza to relax with along with the setting sun.
A colourful mural on the street of Augusto César Sandino, a Nicaraguan revolutionary and leader of a rebellion between 1927 and 1933 against the US occupation of Nicaragua.
Outside the Via Via Hotel where we went for la cena / dinner.
And a tasty trio of cheese covered tacos at the end of day 8.
Beans, rice, cheese, scrambled egg, toast and coffee for breakfast at Hotel Hellenika.
Señora con bolsa. We weren't leaving until 10:30am this morning so I headed out for a walk around the city again.
Señor y libro.
Niña y leon.
Caballo y carruaje.
Alto. Just after 10:30am we were in the minibus again for the drive out of León.
The plan today was to first go to the outskirts Managua and then head to the city of Granada via some sightseeing on the way.
Coca-Cola sin azúcar and some chocolate for a morning snack on the road.
A short while after passing through Managua we arrived at a beach club situated on the shore of Laguna de Apoyo.
Laguna de Apoyo is a 19 square kilometre volcanic lake.
The lake was formed approximately 23,000 years ago in the volcano caldera.
In the distance to the west is the smoking Volcán Masaya, which we would visit later in the day.
And Volcán Mombacho visible on the horizon to the east.
Kids below on a swimming platform in the deep blue-green water of Laguna de Apoyo.
Of course I couldn't resist taking a cool dip in the volcanic caldera too!
And enjoying a hamburguesa de queso for lunch in the shade.
At 3pm we made the drive to the top of the caldera rim, and were treated to an awesome panoramic view of Laguna de Apoyo
In the town of Catarina. Unlike in the cities and larger towns, most of the population in Catarina were indigenous Nicaraguans.
At a local pottery workshop.
And I couldn't resist buying a few souvenirs to take home.
We then drove onto the town of Masaya. At the local Mercado.
At our last stop of the day, Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya, looking into Santiago crater of Masaya Volcano.
And with the carpark situated mere metres from the crater it was definitely much easier than the arduous treks I made to visit Mount Nyiragongo in DRC and Erta Ale in Ethiopia!
Masaya Volcano continually emits large amounts of sulfur dioxide gas from the lava-filled crater and last erupted in Janaury 2016.
We then made the 30 minute drive to the city of Granada and checked into Hotel El Club.
It was the last night of the Intrepid trip so Juan took us for a walk into the city centre.
At Restaurante La Hacienda for our final dinner of the trip.
And enjoying the very tasty Surtido, a feast of chorizo, chicken, beef, pork and plantains, all of which I couldn't resist devouring!
Over a few Toña cervezas I thanked and said goodbye to Juan for an amazing trip through Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua!
After a good sleep I managed to put on the running shorts and head out for a bit of a jog down to Lake Nicaragua.
Breakfast of tasty omelette and fresh fruit back at the hotel.
I then headed out to see some more of Granada.
Iglesia de Guadalupe.
Kids playing Saturday morning baseball, the most popular sport in Nicaragua.
Enjoy with your family.
The city of Granada from above Lake Nicaragua.
Las Isletas, a group of small islands just off the shore of the lake.
On the horizon upper-right is Volcán Zapatera on the island of the same name.
The small islands are apparently home to both million dollar vacation homes along with families living on subsistence.
After the excursion out over Lake Nicaragua I walked back into town and had a papaya and banana smoothie at Pinta Café.
At 2pm I headed to the Choco Museo & Café.
A wide range of everything chocolate inside for sale.
And with my guide, Nicolás, for my bean-to-bar workshop. We first started in the courtyard garden when they had a handful of cacao trees. He explained that the cacao pods are intially green, red, or purple but then ripen to yellow to orange.
Once ripe the pods are picked and the beans with pulp are removed and placed in boxes for fermentation. The process takes up to seven days and allows the production of ethanol, acetic and lactic acids and several flavor precursors that give the familiar chocolate taste. The beans are then dried in the sun for 5-7 days.
We then began the hands-on part of the workshop, roasting some cacao beans over a hot pan. The beans crackled away as I cooked them, almost like popcorn!
Once roasted we peeled off the shells with our hands to extract the nibs.
With liberal amounts of elbow grease we then used a mortar and pestle to crush and grind the nibs into paste. The nibs are >50% fat so the paste began to slowly glisten as it became raw chocolate liquor.
Nicolás with a chocolate melanger where the raw chocolate liquor is mixed with ingredients such as sugar and vanilla.
Before making the final bar there was the option to add some more ingredients such as chili or nuts. I opted to keep it simple and went for coffee.
And with my very own handmade chocolate bar.
As a self-confessed chocoholic the bean-to-bar experience was a lot of fun and definitely recommended!
I then retreated to the neighboring café to enjoy my coffee chocolate with a cappuccino.
In the late-afternoon I went for a wander again around Granada. Outside the Cathedral of Granada, Iglesia Catedral Inmaculada Concepción de María beside the Plaza de la Independencia.
Worshippers paying their respects in front of the altar of the immaculate conception.
A family on a park bench in Parque Central De Granada.
For dinner I headed to El Burrito Loco on Calle La Libertad and enjoyed the tasty Chilaquiles for my last meal in Nicaragua; fried tortillas dipped in red salsa, chicken, cheese and sour cream.
After a good sleep I showered, packed up and made the short walk at dawn to the Ticabus stop to catch the bus for the 8 hour journey to San José.
The bus today would depart from Granada just after 7am, cross over the border into Costa Rica and then terminate in the capital San José.
Windmills out the window as we got close to the border.
About 90 minutes after leaving Granada we arrived at the border. The bus conductor had earlier collected our passports along with $12 for the exit tax so we just had to wait around while they were processed.
After getting our passports back we then drove over to the Costa Rican side, queued up for immigration and then had our luggage X-rayed. It was relatively efficient for a land border crossing and we weren't waiting too long until we boarded the bus again to continue the drive to San José.
We arrived at the Ticabus station in San José just before 4pm. It was about a mile walk to my hotel so decided to get some exercise and walk.
And inside my room at the Exe San José Center Hotel. The ceiling was almost comically low but it was clean and modern and for $72 a night including breakfast it was still a good deal.
I then went out for a walk to explore downtown San José.
After only surviving on a packet of biscuits for both breakfast and lunch on the bus I was hungry for some comfort food. I hadn't had Taco Bell in ten years so decided to indulge in some very American fast food. It was just as tasteless as I had remembered it but it definitely killed my hunger!
Looking across the city as the sun begins to set.
Templo de la Música in Parque Morazán.
And enjoying an ice cream in Plaza de La Cultura at the end of day 12.
Outside Estación de Ferrocarril al Atlántico after a short walk from my hotel to meet up for my tour to Cartago.
After meeting up with my guide for the day, Jesús, we grabbed some breakfast at the station café.
La bebida de los Ticos. I asked Jesús what Ticos are and he said it was an affectionate name Costa Ricans call themselves after the tendency to add “tico” to the end of each word.
The 8am train to Cartago arriving into the station.
And aboard for the 45 minute train ride.
Looking out onto the tracks. With an elevation of 1,172m in San José and 1,435m in Cartago the temperature was also quite abit cooler than Granada.
Passing coffee plantations on the way.
After arriving at Cartago we headed to the Mercado Municipal de Cartago. At a food stall in the market run by a brother and sister.
Corn being ground up for dough.
The freshly made torillas.
We would be returning for lunch later so I chose pork for my stuffed tortilla almuerzo.
Passing a stall filled with local herbal medicine as we continued our walk around the market.
Jesús buying some fried casava chips. Not quite potato chips but still very tasty.
Outside a soda, a Costa Rican restuarant that serves “typico” or typical Costa Rica cuisine.
Sandwich de jamón.
Huevos de tortuga.
After the walk around the market we hopped on a couple bikes and went for a ride on the city's bike lanes.
The city was home to the Costa Rica Institute of Technology and hence had an extensive network of bikelanes and rental bikes.
Outside the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles.
The church was built in 1639 after a little girl found a small statue of the Virgin Mary and took it home. It has since been destroyed and rebuilt many times due to earthquakes.
Catholic amulets for praying for good health due to eye, hand, leg, arm, heart ailments etc.
And sporting medals people had given to the church as thanks for god's blessing. Along with the amulets it was quite interesting to see the use of such iconography for religious purposes.
We then headed in a car for the drive up to the summit of Volcán Irazú.
Arriving at the very wet and windy Parque Nacional Volcán Irazú. With an elevation of 3,432 m it was also pretty cold too!
Taking in the clouds obscuring the view of the Irazú Crater. Irazú is the highest active volcano in Costa Rica and has erupted at least 23 times since 1773 with the last being in 1994.
And the view on the few days of the year the volcano is not covered by clouds! Apparently it is possible to see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from the summit sometimes too (Photo by Rafael Golan, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).
Retreating into the park souvenir shop to warm up with a hot cup of coffee.
After the anticlimactic drive up the volcano we drove back down to Cartago.
And enjoying the fried and stuffed tortilla with a glass of hot sugar cane juice con leche.
Back in San José where I thanked Jesús for the enjoyable tour to Cartago. After crashing out at the hotel for a bit I headed to the meeting point for an evening tour of San José.
Lottery tickets for sale on Calle Seis.
As well as our guide Simón, on the tour also was a couple from North Carolina who had just arrived in San José for two weeks of vacation in Costa Rica.
Costa Rican coffee beans at Café Trebol.
The beans being freshly roasted. Simón said as they were using an old school coffee roaster fuelled with charcoal they had limited temperature control and hence the dark roast. We then got to taste a cup of their café negro; rich and very bitter!
Continuing our walk through the bustling heart of San José.
On the middle shelf left was another Costa Rican delicacy for sale, bull testicles!
Christ looking down on us as we venture into Mercado Borbón.
The market on Calle Ocho specialised in fresh fruit and vegetables.
Máquinas de juego.
A florist at San José Central Market, established in 1880 and the largest market in the city.
Por la hora.
At the Edificio Correos (Central Post Office).
Simón explained that when Costa Rica was a sleepier, more rural country postal workers knew where everyone lived, with typical postal addresses including descriptions such as “where the old fig tree was” or “from the barking dog 500 meters south”. As San José grew in size however this system gradually brokedown. Hence many city-dwellers had to resort to using post office boxes.
Parque Central San José.
Inside the beautiful chapel at the Metropolitan Cathedral of San José.
The statue La Danza (The Dance) from 1894 by the artist Adriatico Froli as we stopped in the foyer of the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica.
Simón giving us another dose of the San José history in the checked concrete expanse of Plaza de La Cultura.
On Avenida Central looking up at the fortress-like Costa Rican Legislative Assembly building under construction.
Designed by local architect Javier Salinas, the 17 story windowless concrete monolith has unsurprisingly caused alot of controversy and even compared to a concrete trash can.
A colourful mural on one of the walls outside the Costa Rican Parliament.
And a monkey supposedly representing politicians and with the neighbouring gate periodically 'locking' him up when it opens.
For dinner we headed to Café Otoya on Avenida Siete.
Enjoying the Arroz guacho along with a glass of Chilean red wine.
And the Yuca postre at the end of a busy but amazing day in Costa Rica.