Swap San Juan del Sur for Beautiful Playa MaderasView from the pool area and putting green at Hulakai Hotel in Playa Maderas Nicaragua.

My final stop in Nicaragua was the sleepy surf town of Playa Maderas. I decided to skip the popular destination of San Juan del Sur and opt for this quieter option, just 25 minutes down a mostly dirt road. For this stop, I decided to treat myself to a stay in an ecopod at Hulakai Hotel for $65/night (including breakfast). There are two main reasons this splurge was worth it for me. First, I liked that Hulakai has “family dinner” where everyone eats together at one table. I figured this was a great option since I was travelling solo. Second, well, these views speak for themselves. They just may have the best sunset view in the area. (Fun Fact: You can apply to live as a resident at Hulakai if you want to work in exchange for a place to live.)

Image of sunset as seen from Hulakai Hotel's pool in Playa Maderas Nicaragua, near San Juan del Sur.

Hulakai Hotel is Just a Short Walk to the Beach

Image of sunset view from my ecopod at Hulakai Hotel in Playa Maderas Nicaragua.I arrived in late morning, before my room was ready, which wasn’t a problem because there was plenty to explore on the property. Hulakai’s pods are built into the side of the hill and each one has wraparound views of the ocean. When I first got to my room, I heard a loud noise outside my window. When I went to see what it was, there was a whole group of howler monkeys literally right outside my window in the trees munching on leaves. In case you didn’t know, monkeys are my absolutely favorite animal. This was seriously the best surprise I could’ve asked for. I must’ve watched them for 30-45 minutes.

From Hulakai, you can walk for about 10 minutes down a steep hill to the beach (Playa Maderas). If you prefer to stay on the beach or grab a bite while you’re down there, there’s a few hostels and restaurants. Playa Maderas is a popular surfing destination, but the beach is enjoyable even if you don’t surf. The north end of the beach is the perfect spot to take in the view.

Image of surfers at Playa Maderas in Nicaragua.

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An Unexpected Evening 

I learned that Hulakai is owned by Tyler, originally from the Portland, Oregon area. It just so happened that I was there during a down period and the Tyler’s family and a friend were all visiting and staying at the resort. As a result, unfortunately, there was no family dinner as I was literally the only guest staying there! At first I was bummed, but it turned out that the owner’s friend knew the area and offered to take me to another restaurant.

So, the friend asks if I would mind if we take the “house” motorcycle to dinner. It wasn’t far, but the walk was uphill so this would be easier. I didn’t mind, so I hopped on. Now, let me tell you, this was not a finely oiled machine. We had to sort of do a running downhill start and then pray a little bit (It’s all part of the adventure, right?) I expected a small basic local restaurant, as is common in Nicaragua. Well, we pulled up to an enormous home on a hill overlooking the ocean and valley. Inside was a boutique hotel and a restaurant called Arte Sano. Despite not being the local experience I was anticipating, the food and conversation was great! I didn’t make it there for brunch but I hear the daytime views are spectacular from their pool area. From there, we ended up on a friend’s patio sharing drinks and stories before heading back to the top of the hill at Hulakai. The motorcycle barely made it up the hill 🙂 I laid near the pool and watched the stars for a while before going to bed, you know, since I had the place to myself and all.  

An Afternoon Exploring San Juan del SurImage from the back of a motorcycle on the long dirt road to Playa Maderas from San Juan del Sur.

On the second day, the same friend told me he was heading into San Juan del Sur and asked if I wanted to check it out. Of course, I said yes! You guessed it, same motorcycle, same issues, but the ride there was so much fun. The long dirt road took us through the countryside and a few small towns. San Juan del Sur is as expected. There’s loads of hostels/ hotels, tourist shops, and a beach area. Definitely skip all of the restaurants at the beach as they are way overpriced. Also, most shopping is closed on Sundays, so plan accordingly. After walking around a bit, we stopped at San Juan del Sur Cerveceria. The beers were unique and delicious and, from what people told me, the food is the same.

Image of pint of beer from San Juan del Sur Cerveceria.

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The Kindness of Strangers in Playa MaderasImage of the street view in San Juan del Sur while waiting for my shuttle to Managua.

It wasn’t until the day I was leaving that I realized how expensive it could be to get to Managua from Playa Maderas. A few people told me that you can catch a shared shuttle or bus from San Juan del Sur. Just as I was getting a quote for a taxi into San Juan del Sur, the owner’s friend told me that a farmer and contractor that he works with was going to be stopping by and then heading into the city. The guy was willing to let me ride along for free and he’d help me find a good place to catch a shuttle. So, there I was riding shotgun with a complete stranger talking about his farm in the hills as we rode down the dirt road. He negotiated me a great price for a shuttle (at a small tour company next to Casa Oro hostel) but when I offered him a few dollars to say thank you for his trouble, he just smiled and said “it’s been no trouble at all.”

So, Playa Maderas may not be the destination for everyone, but it was absolutely the perfect one for me. Quiet, secluded, beautiful and low-key. If you prefer more action, I’d definitely recommend San Juan del Sur instead. Either way, this area of Nicaragua is beautiful and not to be missed!

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Reflections on Nicaragua

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I booked my solo trip to Nicaragua on somewhat of a whim. I wasn’t sure what to expect. On my last day, I felt incredibly sad to be leaving but positive that I would be returning. The kindness of the people and the diverse landscape have me hooked.

So, when are you booking your trip to Nicaragua?

Image of me looking out at the ocean from Playa Maderas in Nicaragua.

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Pin image of Playa Maderas Nicaragua, near San Juan del Sur.

12 Comments

  1. I love that hotel. The views are amazing and I think the idea of a family meal is so cute. Too bad no one else was there but still sounds like a ton of fun.

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Yeah it was too bad, but 99% of visitors will have the experience of the family meal. Just a unique time when I was there!

  2. It never seize to amaze me how kind people can be to perfect strangers! It seems like you had luck with the people you met there. That motorcycle ride sounds like an experience you’ll remember for years 🙂

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      It will for sure ? There really are kind people in this world! So thankful to have connected with them!

  3. Beautiful stories you shared 🙂 I love reading about the experiences with locals (whether born there or not) and how awesome strangers can be when you’re in need. We need more of these positive stories!!
    Props to you for hopping on that motorcycle 😉

  4. Loved reading your post. I should admit I never thought about Playa Maderas as a travel destination. Nicaragua has never been on my radar (I don’t know really why ?) but now I feel like I definitely need to go. It’s got everything you could want in a proper Americas adventure: gorgeous beaches, beautiful sunset, nice hotel ruins and friendly locals. This motorcycle ride sounds like an amazing experience 😉

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Thanks so much! To be honest, Nicaragua was never on my radar either. But, I’d just quit my job and wanted to go on an adventure… when I asked a few travel friends for advice one mentioned Nicaragua. Next thing I knew I was there and absolutely fell in love with the country! I can even see myself living there at some point ? I hope you get to go sometime soon!

  5. The trips that are more Serendipitous, or not completely planned out are often my favorite. For instance, I had a similar trip to the Yucatan Coast in Mexico. Even though I had been so many times growing up and in my teens and twenties, the first SOLO trip I took to the Coast where I didn’t know anyone but KNEW I had to go, well it changed me from the inside out. Looks like Nicaragua did the same for you and what a gift that you grew so much traveling in the country. I especially love the sunset views from your Ecopod. It’s never a bad idea to treat yourself when you feel it’s right. Cheers!

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      Nicaragua really did change me from the inside out! It was refreshing to just go without a plan and just make it up as I went. Thanks for sharing your experience! (And yes, definitely splurge for the ecopod ?)

  6. Hi! Nice reflections on Nicaragua! I have never been but would definitely consider it after your post – the views just looks amazing! And I’m like you, I opt for the more quiet place to relax 😉
    Thanks for sharing!

    • This Big Wild World Reply

      It really was such a pleasant surprise! I came back fully recharged with a clear mind. I hope you get to experience Nicaragua someday ?

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