El Salvador to Costa Rica with a Stop in Nicaragua

Taking on water

After more than enough time in El Salvador we made our escape.  But not before taking on some water.  Tap water in El Salvador is not potable so you must purchase it from a truck.  To get the water to the boat, the truck backed up to the pier where water was transferred into open 55-gallon barrels sitting in a panga (small open utility boat).  The panga then came out and tied alongside our boat and used a small electric pump to transfer the water.  Fifty gallons cost $12.50 US, which is a good deal considering it was delivered to the boat.

Water loaded, and official exit papers in hand, we all followed the pilot boat out over the bar for the 115-mile run to Nicaragua.  We left in company with three other boats:  Runaway an Islander 36 with three Taiwanese men onboard, Adagio, a Cheoy Lee 41 with Mike and Katie aboard whom we have been traveling with since Zihuatanejo, and Wakuna 1, a Canadian flagged Hans Christian 38 with an Irishman, his French wife, a dog and one crew aboard.  Cruisers are a varied bunch…  The bar crossing was a bit more sporting then when we entered, but we made it out unscathed only burying the bow once.  We would not do it again though.

No bueno

We motored through calm seas until about 1 in the morning when as we approached the Gulf of Fonseca, the wind went from 8 knots to 18 knots in less than 5 minutes.  By the time we had tucked the second reef in the main the wind had increased another 10 knots, and we went straight to the third reef.  These winds are known as the papagayos, and are the result of strong winds in the Caribbean pouring over Central America.  Unfortunately, they come from the direction you want to go, which means beating into it.  By dawn the seas had built to impressive heights and it was quite uncomfortable.  We had water coming over the dodger and into the cockpit – no bueno – it’s the sickest I have been in a long time.  But once across the Gulf the winds died, and we motored into Bahia del Sol, Nicaragua later that afternoon.

Marina Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua

Bahia del Sol is another estuary with a bar crossing, but a peninsula which blocks the swell makes it an easy entrance, at least at high tide.  The channel is well marked with buoys, and a relatively nice marina with hotel, swimming pool and bar waits just inside the entrance.   But at $1.25 per foot per night, it is not a bargain.  That and the fact that like our El Salvador stop it was an hour-long bus ride to the nearest town, meant a short stay for us.  We caught a ride into the town of Chinandega to visit the grocery store with some cruisers who had rented a car, and found the countryside to be much cleaner and prettier than El Salvador.  I am sure there are some lovely places to visit, but I think we are suffering from third-world fatigue.  I am tired of the poverty, the endless roadside trash, the scarcity of potable water, and petty theft.  At least three of the boats we have been traveling with have had shoes stolen off their boat while in the marinas in El Salvador and Nicaragua.  I hate to begrudge people a pair of shoes that they probably need worse than I do, but when paying top dollar for a secure place to park the boat I would like to think my shoes were safe.

Beautiful, calm anchorage

So with a calm weather forecast we departed Nicaragua with our traveling companions for the 140-mile run down to Costa Rica. It was a blissfully calm motorboat ride to Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica.  The stars must have been aligned because immediately upon entering Costa Rican waters we caught three fish, and spotted whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.  We dropped anchor in the very beautiful Bahia Santa Elena, a nearly landlocked bay just a few miles from the Nicaraguan border.  The water was flat calm without a hint of ocean swell, and teeming with sea life.  At night the phosphorescence was intense, and there were glowing trails when fish swam by.  This is a don’t miss spot if you come this way. 

But in order to be legal, we needed to check into the country at the nearest port of entry, which is about 40 miles from Bahia Santa Elena at Playa del Cocos.  Checking in involves a visit to the Port Captain, then a visit to immigration, then another visit to the Port Captain, then a visit to Customs which is located at the airport in Liberia.  This is typically an all day affair requiring several bus and taxi rides, but only 15 minutes into our journey we were approached by a taxi driver who offered to take us everywhere we needed for $40 (which we split with the crew of Adagio)- he also took us to a great lunch spot, and to a grocery store where he bagged our groceries and carried them to the car.  And best of all, there are no fees associated with checking into Costa Rica – we paid about $150 to check in and out of Nicaragua for our 4-day visit.

Mata de Cana anchorage

Once checked in you are free to roam the country.  We anchored in a sweet little spot called Mata de Cana with a nice white sand beach and clear water.  Howler monkeys can be heard in the morning and evening, and pesky capuchin monkeys patrol the beach looking for unwatched backpacks and coolers.  Green macaws squawk overhead and literally thousands of fish circle the boat.  Days have slipped by where the most important thing to decide is whether we should snorkel, swim, or go the beach.  One of the most entertaining things isto just hover in the water near the boat – if you are very Photo 7 still, the small bait fish will surround you as they hide in the shade of the boat hull.  If you are really lucky you can see the tuna tear into the bait fish – just like on TV, but you’re in it! I have missed this part of cruising.

Bait ball around the boat


2 thoughts on “El Salvador to Costa Rica with a Stop in Nicaragua

  1. S/v Paradisea here…enjoy reading your blog and following your travels through Central America.
    We’re planning the same itinerary for next year. Your suggestions are very helpful. And, likewise,
    we too enjoy those calm, quiet anchorages, clear seas and the cruising lifestyle. Gracias.
    Bob and Maureen


  2. If you get a chance check out Manuel Antonio Natural Park. The marina in Quepos is hideously expensive and I k ow they anchor in the bay at Manuel Antonio. Gorgeous country.


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