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Nicaragua to Northern Costa Rica

We departed Puesta del Sol early on June 23rd for the 120 mile run to San Juan del Sur in southern Costa Rica, arriving just after midnight. We were able to enter and anchor in the dark, towards the south side of the bay near the port captain's office, though we had to be careful to avoid the 100 or so unlit vessels anchored in the bay! The south side of the bay was clear of boats and buoyed off for what looks like some sort of vessel access to the concrete pier (we didn't see the buoys until morning) so it was easy to anchor there at night and then re-anchor in the morning. There was a very large (also unlit) buoy towards the outside center of the bay, which looks like it could hold a small cruise ship, so perhaps they keep this side of the bay open for ship-to-shore access.

The following morning, we were in the middle of moving over to the north side of the bay where the few cruising boats there were anchored when a panga with the port captain officials came alongside. From our conversations with other cruisers, it appears that the normal procedure is to radio in on VHF ch 16 once you arrive and then for the captain to go ashore to check in, but we guess they saw us pull up anchor and thought we were leaving and so jumped in a panga to insure we completed the paperwork for stopping there. We were able to convince them to hold off for 5 minutes until we re-anchored and then they came aboard to check us in. Neither of the very polite gentlemen spoke a word of English, but once they understood that we wanted to check out of the country at the same time, they asked us to come ashore as there was no official from immigration with them. I gave them a ride back to the pier in our dingy (the panga "taxi" they apparently commandeered having long since departed) and completed the paper work ashore in about 20 minutes, first visiting the immigration office to get our passports stamped and then to the Port Captain's office next door for the International Zarpe (both are right off the dingy landing on the concrete pier loading area).  For those who are interested, the total fees we paid for checking into San Jaun del Sur and checking out of Nicaragua for Costa Rica at the same time were $23 to immigration ($15 for the boat I think plus $2 per person) and $25 to the Port captain for a total of $48. There was some debate between officials in the Port captain's office as to whether the correct fee there was $25 or $40. I did not catch the essence of the debate and I did see some receipts in the receipt book for $40, but in the end it was $25 for us. Additionally, we also paid $15 to check out of Puesta del Sol for San Juan del Sur.)

So, the town of San Juan del Sur is nice but the anchorage sure sucked - at least it did when we were there. Several boats we spoke to later said that the conditions there were better for them at least some of the nights they were there, but the swell was terrible when we were there. The anchorage is completely exposed to the SW swell, which was running high during our stay, the product of a tropical depression south of the equator. In fact, it was close to if not the the worse swell at anchor we have ever experienced. We got very little sleep the 2 nights we spent there, even with our flopper stopper deployed and in the end, we were glad to be out of there for the absolutely flat calm anchorages of northern Costa Rica.

The dingy "landing" in San Juan del Sur also deserves mention as it can be downright dangerous. It's a floating barge tied to a concrete sea wall, so tying the dink to the barge is easy, but climbing off the barge onto the sea wall can be seriously difficult at low tide. We had to be very careful to time our jump at the right moment or we could get squashed!!!

We don't want to sound too negative on San Jaun del Sur. There was a big swell running when we were there and also a full moon with huge tides, so the swell and the barge dingy landing thing were both a bit at the extreme end of what it is normally like I think.  The town and beach were actually quite nice - touristy but not excessively so and the food is great, with lots of little places to eat and drink. If nightlife or hanging with the surfer crowd is your thing, you will like this place. We had really good burger's and a really good, huge salad at "Big Wave Dave's", so we recommend that place although the flies were quite bothersome. Rumor has it that they go away after dark, so most people don't seem to eat out for dinner until after dark.

From San Juan del Sur, we were just a short 20 miles from Bahia Santa Elena in northern Costa Rica, a lovely, completely land-locked natural harbor where the flat water was a wonderful improvement over the rolling conditions further north.  We encountered dolphins along the way (video), as we usually do, and they happily played in or wake for most of an hour. 

Costa Rica is simply wonderful, one of the best countries we have experienced in Central America.  Coming into Costa Rica from the north is like crossing a magic line where suddenly the weather and the scenery change dramatically.  There is more wildlife here for one thing - dolphins, howler monkeys in the trees right in the anchorages, green parrots, huge iguanas, pelicans, boobies, frigate birds and lots and lots of colorful butterflies everywhere (video), in the trees, above the water in the anchorages, even miles from land on the open ocean.  Even the sand is teaming with life as gigantic hermit crabs several inches across prowl the shores (video).   One crab even got Melissa's foot (video)!  The cruising here is simply spectacular, with several large gulfs (each nearly the size of Puget Sound in WA) providing great coastal cruising and many protected anchorages in small bays and coves tucked into the mainland and hidden behind the small islands which punctuate the coastline, a marked change from the beautiful, but rather featureless and rugged Pacific coasts of El Salvador and Nicaragua.

We spent several wonderful and relaxing days in the bay, hanging out with s/v Trinity, snorkeling in the "outer cove", kayaking and even towing the kids behind the dingy on the tube (video).  This video gives a good all around view of Bahia Santa Elena.  Notice that there is no development anywhere along the shoreline!

We finally departed for Playas del Coco on June 27th, the first Port of Entry and hence the first place to officially check-in in Northern Costa Rica, to pick up Eric's mom, who flew down to join us on the 29th.

As always, click on the images to see a larger view.


Sunset off the Nicaraguan coast enroute from Puesta del Sol to San Juan del Sur.

Welcoem to Nicaragua! Concrete pier at San Juan del Sur.

San Juan del Sur bay and anchorage. Note the many (completly unlit at night) local fishing boats at anchor.

Mel and Eric taking a break on the beach walk in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.

Roma and Mel find maragaritas at "Bug Wave Daves" in San Juan del Sur.

Okay, we know this is gross, but the flys were really terrible in San Juan del Sur. We set this piece of pizza off to the side to keep them away!

RJ and Kelsey watching dolphins from the bow enroute to Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica from Nicaragua.

Sula, Wayfinder and Trinity at anchor in Bahia Santa Elena.

Tubing in Bahia Santa Elena.

RJ and Kel having fun on the tube.

Dad driving the dingy, Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica.

Kelsey in the dingy as we head to the outer bay in Santa Elena. Note the tilted layers of strata ashore.

Kel and RJ find soem bamboo driftwood, outer cove, Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica.

Outer cove, Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica. There is reportedly good snorkling here, but visability was poor the day we were there.

Tilted strata outside Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica. You can really see the continental plates here!

Sailing through the Murcielagos islands on the way to Playas del Coco.

Sula under sail, near Cabo Santa Elena.

Olive Ridley Turtle in the Gulf of Papagayo. We seen hundred of these guys.

"Butterfly Tree", Playas del Coco, Costa Rica.

More Butterflys. Be sure to checkout the butterfly video on this page!

Crews from Sula, Trinity, Wayfinder and Unity at the resturant at Playa Panama, Costa Rica.

Semi-wild White-Nosed Coatis in Playas del Coco.

Friendly little guys. Got any snacks in there?

Afternoon downpour, Playas del Coco, Costa Rica.

Kelsey hanging out at Playa Panama.

RJ the mud boy! Playa Panama, Bahia de Culebra, Costa Rica.

Punta Mala and Viradores Norte Rocks at sunset from Bahia Panama, Costa Rica.

Afternoon thundercloud. Big, dark and scary.

School's over party at Playa Panama.

Roma and Eric toasting the end to the school year!

Boys have an end-of-the-school-year sleepover in the forpeak.


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