This weekend, to our great delight, Lauriane, an expert on Central America and theorganization of trips for the mentally and physically handicapped – came to visit us in Leon. As a reminder, we got to know each other through a Facebook travel group (when I was looking for information about Nicaragua) and the trend went well right away.
She proposes us to accompany her to Los Brasiles (where she spent three months in a turtle conservation association) and to Las Peñitas, the famous beach at only 1 hour from Leon. As usual, practical advice is at the end of the article.
Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diary
Lauriane has booked a room at Hostal El Albergue in Leon(link Booking), and we take the opportunity to visit the inside of this nice hostel, say hello to its owner Frank, and see the litter of kittens from the house cat: Gringa. The 5 kittens are really too cute, clumsy and a bit shy.
From Leon to Poneloya by chicken bus
Today, we leave early because there is only one bus per hour and we want to take the bus at 8:20 am. There are several bus terminals in Leon. For this precise route, we have to go to the Mercadito De Sutiava. This market is in an area where the natives still live.
There is only one possible trip from this market, so you just have to get on the only chicken bus present (looking like an American school bus). In a country where rice and red beans(frijoles) are eaten for breakfast, it isn’t surprising that the pizza seller (who sells it by the slice) is successful on the bus from 8am.
He will make a detour through Poneloya before going to Las Penitas. This is a good thing because we have to stop in Poneloya first.
From Poneloya to Los Brasiles
Lauriane would like to go to Los Brasiles, where she spent 3 months, to show us the camp and the infrastructures of the turtle conversation association Sos Nicaragua (it’s not S.O.S but Sos, like “we are….”)
The driver is asked to stop in Poneloya. We then walk to Chepe’s Bar where a sailor takes us by lancha to the other shore
It is the only transport option of the area so the prices are non-negotiable: 30 cordobas/person. It would have been possible to cross on foot at low tide, but there are rays hiding under the sand and if we have the misfortune to walk on them, they might attack us.
We then cross a zone of mangroves on foot. It would have been possible to ask that a cart comes to pick us up, but we prefer walking, we are in the shade, it is very pleasant. It is the occasion to observe birds and lizards.
Sos Nicaragua Project
We finally arrive at the camp. This is where the volunteers who help the turtle conservation association Sos Nicaragua live. The idea is to patrol the beach every night, and find the turtles that have come to lay their eggs on the beach; collect the eggs to keep them in a safe place, before poachers & predators take them away.
Once the eggs have hatched, the baby turtles will be released into the sea.
I show you a picture taken by Lauriane :
There is also a need to educate the population on the spot – to prevent them from killing the turtles, or collecting the eggs to sell on the black market. Already only one turtle survives out of the 1000 baby turtles, and the turtles return to the beach where they were born to lay eggs. So if people systematically collect the eggs, soon there will be no more turtles coming to lay.
Volunteers only pay for their living expenses to be here: including housing and food. Apparently, these expenses are much cheaper than in local countries like Costa Rica or Mexico where this type of association is a real business. If you need more information, want to book a stay, or just want to spend a day, contact Lauriane, she spent 3 months there, and will be able to tell you more than me. At the moment (End of November 2019), they find eggs every day.
The camp is built according to traditional construction methods. Everything is open and the “dormitories” i.e. mattresses with mosquito nets have a direct view of the beach. It’s beautiful and it must feel good to fall asleep with the sound of the waves.
There is almost nobody around, everything is gas and solar powered. Well, the comfort is basic (it is clearly not for us who need our pressure shower and high speed internet), but if you are looking for a real retreat and like turtles, why not. There are dogs and a cat on site, but they aren’t allowed to come up to the dormitory, of course. Soon, a yoga teacher will come to give classes 1h/day.
Right next door (10mn walk) is a more modern, better equipped Surfing Turtle Lodge hostel(Booking link, 7€) – running exclusively on solar panels. It is here that turtle eggs are kept. When the eggs hatch, they ring a bell to warn all guests. However, they do not offer turtle conservation activities.
We take again the opposite way, by walking until the bank from where the lancha leaves. 30 cordobas later, we are in Poneloya and wait wisely for the passage of a chicken bus. We have the chance to wait only 15 minutes (whereas the bus passes every hour) and in hardly 10 minutes, we are in Las Peñitas (10 cordobas).
Along the beach there are only restaurants and hotels. One settles down to a restaurant all the afternoon, without being chased (good, considering the practiced tariffs, fortunately they do not put the pressure to us). I recommend fish (very fresh) and lobsters. Count 12$ to 20$ the dish + 15% tax. It is very expensive for Nicaragua on the other hand.
The waves are too strong, so we prefer not to swim. One of the hotels very well known by backpackers (and Instagrammers) is Mano a Mano eco Hostal(Booking link, 9€). We visited it quickly but we forgot to take pictures hey, I’ll put some official pictures.
It’s true that there are plenty of places to take beautiful pictures, the lawn is perfectly mowed, the bar overlooking the beach is beautiful. The atmosphere can however be a little too “gringo”. There are some party tourists coming from Leon who come to spend a few hours here – fiesta atmosphere – before coming back to their hotel for gringos in Leon 😀
The sunset is MA.GNI.FIQUE, you really can’t miss it.
Back to Leon
At nightfall, we quickly take a chicken bus to Leon (16 cordobas).
FYI, here are the departure times of the chicken bus from Las Penitas to Leon: 5h20; 6h30; 7h20; 8h30; 9h20; 10h20; 11h10; 12h00; 13h10; 14h; 15h; 15h40; 16h40; 17h30; 18h; 18h40. There is no official stop, just be in the street parallel to the beach and hail the bus when it passes (it honks its horn when it arrives).
The driver traces and instead of 1 hour, it only takes 35 minutes to get back to the Mercadito de Leon. We negotiate a colectivo cab for 25 cordobas/person (the normal price is 30 cordobas) to downtown Leon.
Festive atmosphere, Christmas atmosphere this evening when it’s the end of November, 30°C in the shade – there are a few stands and street shows. We end our evening at Manana Manana Cafe, one of the cafes I recommend to work in Leon (with plug, internet acceptable, no pressure to consume, however there is music and passage).
The next day, we meet for a shopping session. There are a lot of clothes stores in Leon and the prices are very soft. The clothes probably come from unsold goods from the United States because there are a lot of famous brands. But the price is definitely Nicaraguan: between 4$ and 6$ each. I find a t-shirt for JB, to use as pyjamas because the lavandaria has misplaced his.
We have lunch at the French bakery Pan y Paz (it’s also a great place to work despite the little background music). I recommend their French toast, their quiche lorraine. JB takes a mixed plate of charcuterie and cheese. It’s ok and it’s good to find the taste of cheese 🙂
It’s only goodbye
On that note, we must already say goodbye to Lauriane. In a few days, we already have to leave for El Salvador. It will make us too weird not to see her anymore, we are so used to meet each other regularly. I hope that we will find ourselves very quickly somewhere in Central America. In any case, it was a golden encounter – it’s so nice to meet someone with so much empathy, compassion, common values, so much love for animals, and with whom we love to spend every second < 3
Part 2: Practical Tips
If you have any questions about the turtle project, or about Nicaragua or Central America, please do not hesitate to contact Lauriane. Follow her project to create a home for the handicapped in Nicaragua. If you need follow-up and assistance for a trip to Nicaragua for mentally or physically handicapped people, contact her! She now lives in Nicaragua and works in Managua.
How do I get to Las Penitas from Leon?
Cheap solution: 46 cordobas per person ($2.5) : Taxi + Chicken bus
- Take a cab from the center of Leon to Mercadito de Sutiava: fixed fare: 30 cordobas, but negotiable if you are numerous
- Get on the only chicken bus to Las Penitas (which looks like the American school buses). It leaves every hour (5h20, 6h20, 7h20 etc.). Come a little earlier to get a seat
- Watch out on Google Maps because the bus arrives in Las Penitas and then returns immediately to Leon, it does not mark a long stop.
- For the return : here are the departure times of the chicken bus from Las Penitas to Leon : 5h20; 6h30; 7h20; 8h30; 9h20; 10h20; 11h10; 12h00; 13h10; 14h; 15h; 15h40; 16h40; 17h30; 18h; 18h40. There is no official stop, just be in the street parallel to the beach and hail the bus when it passes (it honks its horn when it arrives). Once in Mercadito, take a cab to downtown Leon
Practical but more expensive solution: privatized cabs
- Cabs will be very happy to take you there. At the beginning, the driver offered to take us there for 300 cordobas, then he lowered the price himself to 250 cordobas (up to 4 people)
- In the opposite direction: Las Penitas – Leon, cabs often leave empty (they bring people here and come back empty), so it is possible to get a better price, between 150 and 200 cordobas the ride.
How to contact the turtle project?
- Transportation :
- Cab downtown Leon – Mercadito de Sutiava: 30 cordobas/person/journey (but as there were 3 of us, we were able to negotiate at 25 per person)
- Leon – Poneloya or Leon – Las Penitas: 16 cordobas/person
- Lancha Poneloya – Los Brasiles: 30 cordobas/person/route
- Poneloya – Las Penitas : 10 cordobas/person
- Las Penitas – Leon: 16 cordobas/person
- Food : Food :
- Lunch at Las Penitas: between $12 and $20 per person + 15% VAT
- Dinner in Leon at Manana Manana Cafe: between 7$ and 10$ all inclusive per person
- French bakery Pan y Paz in Leon: between 70 cordobas and 150 cordobas, depending on the dish