Greytown to Bluefields – Nicaragua – Journey

Greytown - Boat to Bluefields

DECEMBER 2017:



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OVERVIEW:

I spent several days making my way from Granada to San Carlos via Costa Rica so that I could take a trip down the Rio San Juan to Greytown.Greytown to Bluefields Map

I wanted to experience the Rio San Juan villages and the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve … but, still get to Greytown in time to catch the once-weekly (Wednesday) boat from Greytown to Bluefields.

My ultimate goal was to get out to the Corn Islands.

I have heard some bad things about the Greytown to Bluefields boat trip – so, I wanted to find out for myself (and for you – my readers) …

I arrived in Greytown Tuesday afternoon … ready for my Wednesday morning 5-6 hour boat trip to Bluefields.


ABOUT GREYTOWN:

You can read more detail in my Rio San Juan post. But, in summary …

Greytown is a small place made up of a network of footpaths.Greytown - Walk - 2

There is very little to do here – unless you want to spend a lot of money on chartered fishing trips.Greytown - Hosedaje Familiar - Restaurant

There are only 3-4 places to stay and the same number of places to eat.Greytown - Hosedaje Familiar - Room Entry

I stayed at the Hospedaje Familiar in a Fan Double with Private Bathroom: US$15 / N$450 per night for single occupancy (US$20 for double occupancy).


GREYTOWN TO BLUEFIELDS BY BOAT:

I arrived in Greytown on the Tuesday ‘Rapido’ Boat with 2 other tourists. We all wanted to go on the boat to Bluefields the next morning.Greytown - Boat Dock

We all checked several times with the hotel / locals / boat dock and were told that the boat leaves at 8am and that we were to be at the Boat Dock to buy our tickets before 7:30am (US$45 / N$1,350 each).Greytown - Boat to Bluefields

The boat is a small 8-10 seater. The boat had been cancelled the previous Wednesday (which happens regularly depending on sea conditions). But, we were all told that it WAS going the next morning.

We all turned up at the Boat Dock at 7:20am … and waited. Our boat came and docked.Greytown - Boat to Bluefields Docked

The captain wandered off (presumably, to get clearance from the local authorities for the journey). 8:00am passed. At 8:20am a woman came to tell us that the boat was ‘delayed’ until 10:00am. At 9:00am we were told that it was cancelled. We could feel the wind kicking up so, we guessed that, it was due to dangerous weather for this sized boat.


GREYTOWN TO SAN CARLOS BY BOAT:

Greytown is not a place where you want to be stranded for 1 week. All 3 of us decided to head back to San Carlos and make our way to Bluefields by land.

Boats from Greytown back up river to San Carlos only leave on Thursday (the Tuesday boat from San Carlos), Saturday (Thursday from San Carlos), and Sunday (Friday from San Carlos). We had no choice but to return to the Hospedeja Familiar for 1 more night.

As we walked back along the waterfront path to our hotel a small group of locals in a smaller boat asked us if we wanted to go to Bluefields. There were 4-5 of them in the boat. There was only just enough room for 3 more people … and little space left for our luggage. They offered to take us to Bluefields for US$400 (total for the 3 of us). If the regular boat was denied transit to Bluefields, there was NO WAY that we were jumping in this one. We declined.

Fortunately, the Thursday boat back to San Carlos was the same boat that we arrived in: a ‘Rapido’. We were told that it left at 5am and that we needed to be at the Boat Dock before 4:30am to buy our tickets.El Castillo - Boat to Greytown

I was told the same thing in El Castillo when trying to book the boat from there to Greytown. I turned up at the El Castillo boat dock in the morning without a ticket to find the boat full. I was lucky to get on.

So, in Greytown, on Tuesday afternoon we all checked again … this time we found one of the boat workers working on the boat. He said that we needed to reserve a seat and took our names down on his manifest. We just needed to register. We did not need to pay until the following morning. It was worth us double checking!

The ticket back to San Carlos is US$20 / N$610 … the same price that I was charged to go from El Castillo to Greytown – even though the trip between San Carlos and El Castillo is another 2 hours!

I was at the boat dock at 4:25am. The Police were there to check Passports and luggage contents (no photos of the Police were allowed).

Greytown - Waiting at Boat Dock

Baggage is stowed at the front of the boat … it was over-flowing … and many people had to sit with their smaller luggage on their laps.Rio San Juan Luggage Storage

We set off on time at 5am. As we motored up river, we stopped every hour for a Police Check. Before each one, we all had to fill in our names and Passport details on a new register. The Police boarded the boat and checked Passports and Identity Cards.

At 7am we stopped for 15 minutes at a small dock where we could buy food and refreshments.Rio San Juan - Stop at 7am

This was a Costa Rica border town and we took on more passengers.Rio San Juan - Boarding at 7am

At 10:30am we arrived in El Castillo where we stopped for 15 minutes.El Castillo from Boat

We arrived in San Carlos at 12:30am.San Carlos - Boat Terminal to El Castillo

There was (yet another) Police Checkpoint and luggage search in San Carlos.


ABOUT SAN CARLOS:

For more information about San Carlos, read my previous post on Rio San Juan. In summary …

San Carlos is on Lake Nicaragua at the start of the Rio San Juan.San Carlos Town Map

The boat dock for Greytown is next to the Bus Terminal.

Life revolves around the Central Park where you find cafes and children playing in the evenings.San Carlos - Central Park

It is a pleasant little place that is not (yet) over-run by tourism.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

On my first visit I stayed at Don Frank’s.San Carlos - Don Frank - Frontage

Don’s is good value for money at N$350 / night. I went straight back there.San Carlos - Don Frank - Room Entry San Carlos - Don Frank - En Suite

Alas, it was full.

I headed back to the Bus Terminal area and took a room at the Hospedaje Nando (which is located opposite the Bus Terminal).San Carlos - Hospedaje Nando - Frontage

I took a Fan Double with Private Bathroom at N$350 / night.San Carlos - Hospedaje Nando - Room Entry

The room was small and typical of what you find around San Carlos for US$12 / N$350.San Carlos - Hospedaje Nando - Room

The ensuite was small too (and needed a clean).San Carlos - Hospedaje Nando - Ensuite

I was only going to be there for 1 night so I didn’t care … it was near the Bus Terminal … and it had good in-room wifi. Nandos was a bit noisy late into the night and early in the morning.

MY ADVICE: In this rice range, try and get into Don Frank’s (if you can).


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


EAT & DRINK:

You can get a Desayuno Tipico down at the Bus Station / Market for N$70. In cheap cafes elsewhere it costs about N$90.Las Penitas - Los Cocos - Desayuno Tipico N$100

In the kiosk on the square, you can get an excellent Chicken Soup Lunch filled with lots of vegetables for N$120 (sorry but, somehow, I lost the photo).

A Fish Dinner down in the square at a cheap cafe (like La Fortaleza) costs about N$120. The fish fillet was a bit small – elsewhere in Nicaragua you can get a whole fried fish meal for the same price.San Carlos - Main Square Cafe - Fish Meal N$120

Beer in the Central Square cafes is N$25 for a 350ml Tona. Up the hill, one block from the waterfront, you can find local bars that sell 1L Tonas for N$55.


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:

There is at least one bank and ATM in San Carlos.


SAN CARLOS TO RAMA:

There is one bus each day that leaves at 9am. I was down the Bus Terminal early at 8am and had a Desayuno Tipico (N$70).

The bus to Rama was parked up and waiting from 8:30am. At 8:45am I got on and claimed a seat. My suitcase went underneath in the luggage compartment. The cost to Rama is N$150.San Carlos - Bus to Rama

I am glad that I claimed a seat. Just before we left at 9am, the bus filled up and a few people had to stand in the aisle. On the 3-3.5 hour trip between San Carlos and Acoyapa the bus was jam packed with some people standing all the way.

This is a Chicken Bus … the seats are very basic with no leg room … I am 6′ 3″, I had to sit slightly sideways with my left leg spilling out into the aisle. I was jammed in like this for over 3 hours with people knocking me and leaning on me the whole way.

MY ADVICE: Get on early and claim a seat. The seats are not all the same distance apart. Look around and pick one that has the most leg room.

The driver played loud Latino music all the way to Acoyapa to relieve the monotony. The landscape was pleasant but not anything special.Rama - Landscape

At Acoyapa, the bus cleared and everyone got a seat. With people, now, being able to see the TV at the front of the bus, the driver put on a movie (dubbed in Spanish). We arrived in Rama at 3:30pm.

The first stop was at the boat dock to connect people with the boat to Bluefields.

I got off at the last stop – which was in the middle of the street.Rama - Bus Terminal


ABOUT RAMA:

Rama is an old settlement named after the Caribbean indigenous Rama.

It has a population of about 50,000 people and, through the Rio Escondido river, has a port that services the Caribbean.


PHOTO GALLERY:

This is Rama:Rama - Walk - 1 Rama - Walk - 2 Rama - Walk - 3 Rama - Walk - 4 Rama - Walk - 5 Rama - Walk - 6 Rama - Walk - 8

The Central Square is now one big playground.Rama - Central Square

Some people on the internet don’t rate Rama – many pass straight through to Bluefields and don’t see it at all.

I quite liked Rama. It has a port – so, it is slightly ‘rough around the edges’ – but not in a way that makes you feel unsafe (see Bluefields, below). There are a few drunks staggering around the streets – both day and night.Rama - River Boat

It had a very natural, non-touristic feel to it – which I liked.Rama - Night Street

When I was there, they had a concert on all weekend. On Friday night they played Spanish Rock. Saturday was more for families.Rama - Weekend Concert

It had lots of places to eat at Nicaraguan prices and several nice little bars for a beer in the evening (see, below).


MY ACCOMMODATION:

Google maps shows several hotels.Rama Hotels

And BOOKING.COM shows a couple within GRANDPAcking price range.Rama Booking

I decided to just turn up without a booking.

On arrival, I sat down in a small bar for a beer and got on the internet … there were no ‘last minute’ deals. I decided to head to the Oasis Del Caribe.Rama - Oasis del Caribe - Atrium

The Oasis was reasonably tidy. It has 30-40 rooms.Rama - Oasis del Caribe - Rooms

I booked a Fan Double with cold-water Ensuite for N$300 / night.Rama - Oasis del Caribe - Room Entry

The room was small but adequate and came with Cable TV (Spanish speaking channels only).Rama - Oasis del Caribe - Furniture

The bed was comfortable and the in-room wifi was good enough to stream videos.Rama - Oasis del Caribe - Bed

The ensuite was clean.Rama - Oasis del Caribe - Ensuite Toilet

There was no rose on the shower … you, basically, stood under a tap.Rama - Oasis del Caribe - Ensuite Shower

There is a 2 table cafe downstairs but don’t expect to eat there. I ordered a Desayuno Tipico with coffee one morning. They served me the coffee and, 1 hour later the cook left without serving me my Breakfast.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


EAT & DRINK:

A Desayuno Tipico with coffee in a Comedor Economica costs N$70.Rama - Comedor - Desayuno Tipico N$0

At the Comedor La Mita, a Grilled Chicken Meal with a coke costs N$110. It was good value for money.Rama - Comedor La Mita - Grilled Chicken Meal w Coke N$110

A dozen bananas down the market costs N$20.

A 350ml Tona beer is N$25 … everywhere around town … even in the popular Sports & Karaoke bars.

Rama - Bar 1Rama - Bar 2

One exception was the Disco Bar. I went down on Sunday and their beers were only N$20. But, I don’t know if they are this price every day of the week.Rama - Disco Bar


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:

There are several banks and ATMs around town. They dispense Nicaragua Cordobas and US Dollars.

Again, I found that the Lafise ATM allowed me to withdraw N$20,000 in a single transaction.

There is no Foreign Money Exchange.


RAMA TO BLUEFIELDS:

Google Maps shows 2 ways to get from Rama to Bluefields: by boat down the Rio Escondido or by road. I doubt if many tourists attempt the journey by road (you, probably, need a 4-Wheel Drive). Almost everyone goes by boat.Rama - Boat Dock Entry

The boat dock is located opposite the Hotel Dona Luisa.

PLEASE NOTE: Hotel Dona Luisa have basic Fan Double rooms with cold water Private Bathrooms for N$200 / night (without TV) and N$250 / night (with TV).Rama - Boat Dock Location

You buy your boat ticket in the Hotel Dona Luisa (not at the dock). I arrived in Rama late Friday afternoon and wandered down to the boat dock mid-day Saturday to enquire about a boat direct to Bluefields. I just missed one! The Escondido left on Saturday morning. My only option, now, was to get to Bluefields and catch the Wednesday 9am boat to Big Corn from there.

Bluefields is a poor Commercial Port and gets mixed reviews. I decided to stay in Rama and head for Bluefields on Monday.Rama - Boat Dock - River View

There were showers every day whilst I was in Rama. I noticed that it rained at night and early into the morning but cleared up between about 8am and noon. It rained again in the afternoon and evening. I read online that the boat to Bluefields got wet in the rain and that (when it did rain) everyone had to hold a big plastic sheet over themselves. I decided that my best bet was the 9am boat …

On Sunday I went to the Hotel Dona Luisa and bought my ticket for 9am (N$250). They said that the time wasn’t exact and that it left when it was full.

I was down the Boat Dock at 8:20am. I had to pay N$5 Municipal Tax to enter.Rama - Boat Dock - Access

There were people already queuing for the next boat to Bluefields. I joined the queue.Rama - Boat Dock - Waiting

At 8:30am they started loading and asked for tickets. Mine had #1 written on it … everyone else had #8 written on theirs! A man told me that the #1 boat left hours ago at 6am! … but, I had asked for the 9am boat? I went back to Hotel Dona Luisa … it was their mistake, they changed my ticket to #9.

I returned to the Boat Dock and started a new queue. My boat arrived at 9:15am.Rama - Boat Dock - Boat

We started embarkng at 9:25am. All of the heavy luggage went up front under a plastic sheet. I kept my backpack with me and held it on my lap. I was expecting to get wet … and my backpack had all of my electronics (and passport) in it. We set off at 9:30am.Rama - River - Underway

The scenery was ‘average’ but, as we approached the coast, you could see an increasing number of palm trees. At 12:15pm we passed a ‘boat graveyard’ at the river mouth.Rama - River - Boat Graveyard

Shortly after, we caught our first glimpse of Bluefields.Rama - River - First Sight of Bluefields

By 12:30pm we were approaching the Bluefields Boat Dock.Bluefields - Approaching Boat Dock Bluefields - Boat Dock

It didn’t rain during our trip. We arrived nice and dry.

We disembarked and made our way up a small alleyway to the waterfront road.Bluefields - Docking


ABOUT BLUEFIELDS:

Bluefields was named after the Dutch pirate Abraham Blauvelt who hid in the bay’s waters in the early 17th century. It has a population of 87,000 (2005) and its inhabitants are mostly Mestizo, Afro-descendant Creoles, and indigenous Miskitu … along with several other smaller communities.

Bluefields is Nicaragua’s chief Caribbean port. Bluefields was a rendezvous for English and Dutch buccaneers in the 16th and 17th century and became capital of the English protectorate over the Mosquito Coast in 1678.

Bluefields was destroyed by Hurricane Joan in 1988 but was rebuilt.

The consensus is that black Africans first appeared in the Caribbean coast in 1641, when a Portuguese ship that transported slaves wrecked in the Miskito Cays. English subjects arrived in 1633 and from 1666 they were already organized into colonies. In 1730 the Kingdom of Mosquitia allied itself with the British government of Jamaica – which enabled the Mosquitia to dominate the region.

In 1740 the area yielded to British sovereignty and remained a British Protectorate until 1796 (when Britain finally recognized the sovereignty of Spain on the Mosquito Coast); soon afterwards, British subjects abandoned the islands.

Slaves originating in Jamaica (that sought freedom on the Nicaraguan coast) continued arriving during the greater part of the 19th century.

Bluefields remains a deeply impoverished city with extremely high rates of unemployment … and a high crime rate.


PHOTO GALLERY:

This is Bluefields:Bluefields - Walk - 1 Bluefields - Walk - 2 Bluefields - Walk - 3 Bluefields - Walk - 4 Bluefields - Walk - 5

And, the British influence can be seen in the design of the church.Bluefields - Church


MY ACCOMMODATION:

Google Maps shows several hotels to choose from.Bluefields Hotels

BOOKING.COM showed some within GRANDPAcking price range.Bluefields Booking

I read that many of the cheap hotels near the Boat Dock are brothels, so I decided to just turn up without a booking so that I could check the hotels out first.

(Using Google Maps) I identified the Mini Hotel y Cafetin Central (MHCC), found their email address, and enquired about a room directly. They had Single rooms listed for US$10 and Doubles for US$14. They did not reply.

I went straight there and asked if they had a room. They did. I booked a Fan Double for 2 nights at N$400 / night (US$13 / night).

The MHCC has a nice Cafetin at the front.MHCC - Cafetin

You walk down a corridor to get to the rooms … they have quite a few (about 20-30).MHCC - Rooms

My room was smallish but adequate.MHCC - Room EntryMHCC - Room Bed

It even had a small wardrobe.MHCC - Room Wardrobe

It came with Cable TV and in-room wifi (fast enough to stream videos).MHCC - Room Furniture

The cold water Ensuite was a reasonable size.MHCC - Ensuite Shower MHCC - Ensuite Toilet

OK for US$13 / night … and, it wasn’t a brothel.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


EAT & DRINK:

The prices are normal.

The MHCC does Breakfasts for N$120 and an excellent coffee for N$20. I only had 1 Breakfast in Bluefields. I chose AppleGirl Kitchen. Here, I had the best value Breakfast that I have had so far in Central America. I had a Fried Fish for N$70 and a coffee for N$10. It was a BIG fish with lots of meat.Bluefields - Applegirl Kitchen - Fish Breakfast N$70

The N$120 Breakfasts at the MHCC were poor value for money. The Omelette was just a 2-egg plain omelette with a couple of slices of toast.

There are plenty of places to grab a cheap lunch for under N$70.

Expect to pay N$150 for a cheap Dinner with a drink. Again, the Dinners at the MHCC were poor value. The N$150 Pork Ribs meal came out with the meat still cold at the bone (they must have used frozen pork ribs!). I had to send it back to the kitchen. They got me back by sending out shriveled up, burnt ribs.Bluefields - MHCC - Pork Ribs N$150

In the cheap cantenas (which can get a bit rough with drunks as the night goes on) you pay N$25 for a 350ml beer and N$55 for a 1 liter. You pay a little more in nicer places.


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:

There are several banks and ATMs around town. They dispense Nicaragua Cordobas and US Dollars.

There is a Lafise ATM opposite the MHCC where you can withdraw N$20,000 in a single transaction.

There is no Foreign Money Exchange.


BLUEFIELDS SUMMARY:

I liken being in Bluefields waiting to catch the ferry out to the Corn Islands to being in La Ceiba, Honduras waiting to catch the ferry out to the Bay Islands (Utila and Roatan). As with La Ceiba, Bluefields has an ‘undercurrent’ that feels unsafe. It is not the sort of place that you would want to be staggering around in drunk late at night.

It also has a Belize City type feel with the local Creoles calling out ‘Hey Gringo’ and ‘Hey Whiteman’ at you as you walk down the street. It doesn’t make you feel very comfortable.

Bluefields is not the sort of place where I would want to stay for very long … you just know that, sooner or later, you are going to get into trouble.


INTERNET / WIFI:

I bought a Movistar SIMcard in JiquililloI top it up as and when needed with N$100 and buy a new 7 Day MegaPack which comes with 500MB of data, 20 minutes of call time, 20 SMSs, and unlimited Facebook / Whatsapp.Bluefields - Fishermans Hut

I had a signal all of the way down Rio San Juan (except in the most remote places), similarly between San Carlos and Rama, and the same between Rama and Bluefields.

You get a good signal in San Carlos, Rama, and Bluefields.

PLEASE NOTE: Movistar run regular promotions (usually at least 2 per week) that can as much as Quintruple your top up credits. This only applies to call and text credits – not to data. Try and top up on a Promo Day. If you are a sports fan, they also do regular N$30 Promos that give you unlimited 4G internet for 24 hours … great for streaming weekend sports from back home.

PLEASE NOTE: When you top up in a store / tienda they usually charge you a 10% fee. If you top up for more than N$100, they usually charge you a flat rate fee of N$20. To avoid these charges, try and top up at a proper Movistar Store or a Movistar Stall found on the street.


HEALTH & SAFETY:

There is no reason to feel unsafe. But, take particular care in Bluefields.

Exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target. Don’t display anything valuable (watches, jewelry, electronics, branded clothing, etc).

The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Central America.

Drugs are illegal in Nicaragua – if you have 5 grams or more of Marijuana you can face a prison sentence of up to 10 years. If you are found with less than 5 grams on you, it is 5 days in custody, a fine, and a criminal conviction.

When I was there, mosquitoes were around but they weren’t a problem.

Don’t drink the tap water.


WHEN TO GO:

 The Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast has a tropical rainforest climate.Nicaragua Caribbean Coast Climate

There is a drier period from February to April, but the trade winds ensure that, unlike the Nicaraguan Pacific coast, rain still falls frequently during this period. For the rest of the year, when tropical low pressure dominates, rainfall is extremely heavy.

In my 1.5 week trip from San Carlos to Bluefields via Greytown, we had showers every day.


GETTING AWAY:

From Bluefields I go to the Corn Islands for 1-2 months. I leave tomorrow morning.

I will tell you more about that trip in a future post.


GRANDPAcking COSTS:

There is no point in going into any details … this was a ‘journey’ rather than a destination.

For your information, I spent US$200 (over 8 days / 7 nights) which covered accommodation, food, drink, lots of transport, and a couple of beers each night.


CONCLUSION:

If you are trying to get to Bluefields, DO NOT go via Greytown. Yes, it is has a ‘weekly’ boat to Bluefields that leaves each Wednesday morning. In reality, it is totally unreliable.

If you include the necessary 1 night’s accommodation in both San Carlos and Greytown along with food, drink, and transport … the COE for 2 GRANDPAckers is about US$135 (excluding entertainment and tours).

If the weekly Greytown to Bluefields boat is cancelled, you have 3 choices:

  • Stay in Greytown for another week (with NO GUARENTEE that the boat will leave the following Wednesday); budget another N$1,000 / day COE for 2 people in Greytown
  • Charter a private boat to Bluefields for US$400
  • Make your way back to San Carlos (7-8 hours) on Thursday morning, stay overnight in San Carlos, and catch the 9am Friday bus to Rama (6-7 hours)
    • If you are lucky, you can stay 1 night in Rama and catch a Saturday morning boat from Rama to Big Corn (12-18 hours)
    • If not, you can catch a boat from Rama to Bluefields (2 hours) – and spend 5 nights in hotels across the two

Even worse, if you are trying to get from Greytown to the Corn Islands, the Wednesday boat from Greytown is useless … it gets to Bluefields too late to make the connection for the Corn Islands ferry. The Corn Islands ferry leaves at 9am each Wednesday morning … you won’t arrive in Bluefields until mid afternoon. Ideally, the Greytown boat should change its schedule to every Tuesday.

If you include 1 night’s accommodation in Greytown, San Carlos, and Rama and another 4 nights in Bluefields (waiting for the Wednesday boat) along with food, drink, and transport … the COE for 2 GRANDPAckers is about US$280 (excluding entertainment and tours).

MY ADVICE: If you are heading for Bluefields, take a bus from either Managua or San Carlos to Rama and a boat from there to Bluefields.

MY ADVICE: If you are heading for the Corn Islands, fly. The return trip from Managua is less than US$200 each.

TTFN


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