San Juan del Sur On Your Own Itineraries

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A Green Day with Paso Pacifico


By Nancie L. Katz

Cruises are comfy. How we enjoy that colorful cocktail by the pool, a nap on the sun deck, a hopping bar and talented musicians at night! But what about when you get to port? I know my family debated hours over which excursion to take. We were looking for an up-close experience with local people and food, away from all the tourists and maybe even help some of the impoverished citizens not far from luxurious tourist spots to earn money through entertaining us, rather than having to knock down a tree to grow food or send their children to school.

That desire led me to create a series called Good Green Travel: exotic, safe, fun, off-the-beaten track places you can go - with the kids - and know your dollars are saving the environment and wildlife. Just doing good by having fun.

Most cruises stop in San Juan del Sur for at least 10 hours, arriving early in the morning and leaving at sunset. However, the ship excursions tend to whisk you away from the enchanting Pacific Coast to the charming, colonial city of Granada or the live Masaya volcano.

Would you rather go on an adventure in nature, meet friendly locals and know your visit is helping save people and the Earth? Then check out Paso Pacifico, a women-run conservation organization with a special strategy to protect the forests, ocean and endangered wildlife.

Ecotourism! Enjoy their delightful off-the-beaten-track tours away from foreigners and discover Nicaraguans who cherish their rustic surroundings.

If you're ready to be adventurous and help save the planet - just by visiting - these are the tours for you. Forget shopping for trinkets. Head south to the Ruta del Sur for safe, family-friendly fun.


Think turtles! This coast is an important nesting place for endangered species. Paso Pacifico offers a tour with their guides to visit Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor, just a half-hour (20 km) from San Juan del Sur. Here, visitors can approach these gigantic reptiles and their new babies. But don't touch! The refuge draws thousands of olive ridleys, hawksbill, leatherback and green sea turtles every year. If you get there between July and December, the beaches are flooded with mama "tortugas" and newborns. Paso Pacifico guides - even children - can tell you why their existence is under threat from humans, what they do to save them, and the turtles’ crucial role for millions of years in maintaining central America's earth-saving biodiverse ecosystem. Bot leatherbacks and hawksbills are critically endangered. You also receive a special ranger guide and visit to an on-site interpretation center. See what Paso Pacifico does here with turtles.

Paso Pacifico also goes out to sea - to swim with turtles and maybe dolphins! Yorlin Vargas, a skilled diver from El Ostional, conducts a snorkeling adventure on a motorboat. This veteran fishermen knows just where to find marine life. A refreshing dip is followed by lunch served on the pristine, deserted Guacalito Beach. If there's time, he also stops by the La Flor turtle refuge. My teen and I had a magical experience going out to sea with Yorlin in February. Even though it was off-season for nesting, Yorlin scanned the horizon to find us a "tortuga." When the small leather heads of the giant turtles emerged, my daughter, Lulu, 17, and I delightfully jumped into the water, equipped with snorkel and fins. What a thrill to see the huge flappers of these marine animals through our masks - as they disappeared into the depths of the sea.

Those who prefer land over sea have even further options: hiking, horseback riding or mountain biking into the dry forest. We chose to ride with Don Miguel at Hostel Lomas del Bosque, who has spent much of his adult life replanting thousands of trees to replenish the forest surrounding his land. We trotted past small farms of grazing cattle, where busy hens dodged playing children. Above us in the swaying trees, howler monkeys jumped from limb to limb, the quiet punctuated by the tweets of exotic, colorful birds. Imagine seeing a bright yellow parrot on a branch, rather than in a cage! For those who prefer wheels to hoofs, mountain biking tours are also available, hiking, too.


Want to get a taste of rural life and climb aboard an ox-driven cart? Just minutes from the turtle refuge is the Hacienda la Flor, run by the Joseph Adam Calderon cooperative. The hardy can hike up a nearby hill to get a panoramic view of the sea, the refuge and southern Nicaragua. Back at the ranch, the farmers gently tie their oxen to a wooden wagon. Bumping along a packed dirt road, we rolled past scattered cattle, mother hens trailed by fluffy baby chicks, and goats and horses happily crunching in the fields. Suddenly, we turned into a clutch of trees, and step off into a forest floor transformed into a natural carpet of sea shells and broken pottery of past civilizations - a major find for archeologists. Back at the ranch, we were greeted by steaming coffee and a popular Nicaraguan dish, plaintain tostones topped with fresh, local cheese.

Paso Pacifico is seeking to lure visitors to Ruta del Sur so the friendly rural residents can earn a living through eco-tourism. Treasuring turtles cuts down on theft of precious turtle eggs, considered a delicacy. Tourism enables parents to pay for uniforms and school supplies for children to go to school and avoid cutting trees to farm for food. They are not forced to destroy nature to eat - but can partner with it, offering unique adventures for delighted foreign tourists.


Women and girls are central to their mission in an initiative called "Project Ellas." In the charming village of El Ostional, neighbors greet each other with a smile. A short walk through a forest flush with chattering monkeys and birds leads to the pristine beach. There's even a new boarded path through the mangroves.

Check out our Good Green Travel Facebook page to meet the women of El Ostional, plus the Junior Rangers, children specially trained by Paso Pacifico as biodiversity protectors, guarding turtle nesting sites and ensuring no one litters the pristine beaches!

Oh! Food! Enjoy simple dining at women-run eateries, featuring fresh fish or chicken, farm-fresh eggs, beans and rice, fruit. For a cold drink, a beachside thatch-roofed bar offers beers for $1, your view: a cascade of pelicans plunging into the waves for food as fishermen unfurl their nets along the shore.

Who you need to contact:

Their excursions are new, and cheap! So, if you have a sense of adventure, can escape luxury for a bit, and want safe, educational, earth-saving family fun, contact Paso Pacifico at turismo@pasopacifico.org.

What You Need to Bring:

  • Comfortable shirt and pants or shorts
  • Wear your bathing suit under your clothes
  • Towel
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Money for the taxi, tips and incidentals
  • Bring your camera
Nancie Katz

Nancie L. Katz is a New York-based investigative journalist, writing about pristine, ecotourism destinations where travelers can experience unique forays into nature with friendly locals - and save the planet at the same time! Join her on Facebook at Good Green Travel, follow nancielkatz.blogspot.com or by email: goodgreentravel@gmail.com.

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