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THE CA4 COUNTRIES:
As I describe in my Roatan to San Pedro post, I ‘struck lucky’ coming back through the Honduras-Guatemala border … Guatemala Immigration gave me a new 90 Day Visa (which they are not meant to do).
This new visa got me into Guatemala and helped me avoid the need for a boat trip to Belize … I had no problems getting into E Salvador with it … I was now on my way to Nicaragua …
You can get shuttle busses from El Salvador to Leon, Nicaragua. They leave from the main cities (like San Salvador) and main tourist towns (like El Tunco and El Cuco). From El Cuco and El Tunco, Gekko Shuttles charge US$30 (if they run).
This journey is said to be long and tiring … the border crossings into and out of Honduras are said to be particularly frustrating. The shuttle journey to Leon is said to take about 15 hours.
The Tortuga Verde Hotel in El Esteron offered a shuttle-boat service from their hotel via La Union to Potosi, Nicaragua for a cost of US$75. It was said to be a 4 hour journey depending on many factors (including how the captain felt, who the boat had to wait for, the tides, and the weather).
I chose the Tortuga Verde shuttle-boat option for US$75 … for 2 reasons … (1) to avoid the long and tiring road trip and (2) because I liked the idea of a boat trip across the Gulf of Fonseca.
LEAVING LA TORTUGA VERDE:
I booked my ticket at the Tortuga Verde office 2 days prior. I was to leave on the Wednesday. They told me that the shuttle would leave at 8:30am (and that I should be in Potosi by about noon / 1:00pm).
On Tuesday afternoon, I returned to the office to check that all was OK. They said ‘yes’ but the shuttle was, now, leaving at 5:30am. I was happy with that … it meant that I got to Potosi earlier … and that I should more easily be able to get to my target location of Jiquilillo that same day.
I was in bed by 8:00pm on Tuesday night. At 9:00pm a flash light shone through my window. A man spoke to me in Spanish … it sounded like he was telling me that the shuttle was now leaving at 9:00am in the morning.
I got up and went down to the office to check. The office was closed. I went to the bar and asked if there was anyone around that I could talk to. A friendly guest who spoke some English went and enquired for me. He confirmed that it was 9:00am … apparently, the first boat had been cancelled because of a problem at the Nicaraguan Immigration office in Potosi.
EL ESTERON TO LA UNION:
I was up and waiting at the office by 8:20am (just in case the time changed back to 8:30am). By 9:15am there was still no sign of a shuttle.
I returned to the office and asked if everything was OK … they said yes and that the shuttle would be another 5-10 minutes. It wasn’t a shuttle that turned up … it was a ute with a driver from the hotel. We jumped in and set off at 9:25am.
We finally hit Highway 2 after about 15 minutes and arrived in La Union at the Immigration Office at the boat dock at 10:10am.
I entered with my passport. They only speak Spanish. He asked me for details that I didn’t have so I returned to my driver who fetched the boat captain (Mario). Mario arrived with the required documents, we cleared immigration, and walked 5 minutes to the boat dock. We were there and waiting by 10:25am.
A man came and collected my luggage and took it out to our boat on one of the carts. My big, red suitcase was locked but my backpack (with my computer in it) wasn’t … I was a little bit concerned seeing my luggage disappear without me with it.
We clambered in and the cart driver put his hand out for a tip; I gave him US$1 for his efforts. We were underway by 11:30am. The first thing that I did on getting into the boat, was to (surreptitiously) check by backpack contents … everything was there.
And pulled up on the beach. One of the passengers got off. We waited until 1:10pm before she returned before setting off again. She, obviously, had some business that she needed to do there (and tipped the captain a little bit extra to wait for her).
It was a 50 meter from the beach to the Immigration Office.
The man in the Immigration Office (the blue hut on the left in the following photo) was very ‘pan faced’ and not very helpful. I think he got a bit grumpy because I couldn’t understand a word that he was saying.
I filled in an entry form … I couldn’t complete some of the information … like the name of my hotel, my Nicaraguan contact number, emergency contact details, etc … I filled in what I could. He asked me a few questions about where I was going and, then, probably just gave in.
Finally, I paid my US$12: US$10 Tourist Stamp Fee and US$2 Potosi Port Fee.
It was 3:00pm. I turned the corner onto the main road just in time to see the last bus out of Potosi disappear into the distance.
This is a ‘One Horse Town’.
I walked in and enquired about a room. She showed me a small room with double bed, fan, and inside open-plan private bathroom. It was ‘grubby’. She wanted US$20 / night. I declined. I had no idea what I was going to do next.
I had no Nicaraguan money yet (Cordobas) and I was surprised that there were no Money Changer Touts waiting for me at disembarkation … so, I couldn’t have caught a bus yet anyway … I looked around for somewhere to change money … I needed to buy a Claro SIMcard and Internet Plan … and get on the internet.
I walked into the place next door to the Brisa who were displaying a Claro sign.
I asked her if she changed money. She said ‘yes’ – but only US$s. I changed US$150 at an exchange rate of US$1 = N$30 (Cordoba). The ‘official’ exchange rate was 30.50 … so, I thought that her rate was reasonable.
She also sold Claro SIMcards and Internet Plans. It was N$20 for the SIMcard and N$235 for a 2-week 1.5GB Internet Plan.
I didn’t fancy washing or showering in this room … so, I didn’t bother 🙂
PLEASE NOTE: I would have felt the same in the Brisa Del Golfo.
A NIGHT IN POTOSI:
I unpacked and sat down in the restaurant to do some internet work … and to check out what I needed to do the next day.
I ordered a Fried Chicken Meal (N$100) and a 1 liter bottle of local, Tona beer (N$55).
By 6pm the place was filling up with groups of young men heavily getting into their beers … the place got louder and louder as the night went on.
I don’t know if Wednesday night was a special night … or, whether this happens every night. But, the Juke Box cranked up with the odd bit of ‘sing-along’ along the way.
One youngster was so drunk that he fell flat on his face. He managed to save the bottle of beer in his hand … but, then, ruined it all by standing up with the bottle up-side-down … and lost all of his beer anyway. I smiled to myself (on the inside) … to be seen laughing on the outside might not have gone down very well 🙂
Bugger it … I wasn’t going to get any sleep until they had finished … if you can’t beat them, join them. I stayed up until 11:00pm and had a few beers too 🙂
POTOSI TO JIQUILILLO:
The busses to Chinandega leave at 6:30am, 7:30am, 9:30am … with the last bus leaving at 3:00pm.
I was in the restaurant by 6:30am for a Tipico Breakfast with a coffee (N$75) … and out on the street to catch the 7:30am bus.
I’ll tell you more about my trip to Jiquilillo in my next post.
The ‘by boat’ route across the Gulf of Fonseca is a nice way to get from El Salvador to Nicaragua. Perhaps a bit over-priced, but it saves a lot of time and hassle.
MY ADVICE: Try and get past Immigration into Potosi town before 3:00pm if at all possible. Tell the boat captain that you are going to Leon (he will, then, know that he has to get you to the last 3:00pm bus). You want to avoid an overnight stay here. If you can’t avoid it, it is not the end of the world.
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