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Ecotourism activities very close to San Juan del Sur

Nancie L. Katz | Mar 23, 2017

Lulu next to a sea turtle nesting in La Flor. | Photographer: Nancie L. Katz

Ruta del Sur: turtles, wildlife, unspoiled beaches, food and community contact as tourism experiences.

Most visitors may associate Nicaragua's southern Pacific Coast with the quaint, seaside tourist town of San Juan del Sur, a cruise port and popular surfer spot.

Now, Paso Pacifico, a women-run conservation organization has a special, multi-faceted strategy to protect the forests, ocean and endangered wildlife. Ecotourism! Enjoy their delightful off-the-beaten-track tours away from foreigners and discover Nicaraguans who cherish their rustic surroundings.

If you're ready to be adventurous, want to get close to nature, meet and greet locals and help save the planet - just by visiting - these are the tours for you. Forget shopping for trinkets. Head along the Ruta del Sur for safe, child-friendly tours.

A turtle nesting in La Flor.
Think turtles! This coast is an important nesting place for endangered species. Paso Pacifico offers a tour with their guides to visit Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor, just a half-hour (20 km) from San Juan del Sur. Here, visitors can approach these gigantic reptiles and their new babies. But don't touch! The refuge draws thousands of olive ridleys, hawksbill, leatherback and green sea turtles every year. If you get there between July and December, the beaches are flooded with mama "tortugas" and newborns. Paso Pacifico guides -even children- can tell you why their existence is under threat from humans, what they do to save them, and the turtles' crucial role for millions of years in maintaining Central America's earth-saving biodiverse ecosystem. Both leatherbacks and hawksbills are critically endangered. You also receive a special ranger guide and visit to an on-site interpretation center.

Paso Pacifico also goes out to sea - to swim with turtles and maybe dolphins! Yorlin Vargas, a skilled diver from El Ostional, conducts a snorkeling adventure on a motorboat. This veteran fishermen knows just where to find marine life. A refreshing dip is followed by lunch served on the pristine, deserted Guacalito Beach. If there's time, he also stops by the La Flor turtle refuge. My teen and I had a magical experience going out to sea with Yorlin in February. Even though it was off-season for nesting, Yorlin scanned the horizon to find us a "tortuga". When the small leather heads of the giant turtles emerged, my daughter, Lulu, 17, and I delightfully jumped into the water, equipped with snorkel and fins. What a thrill to see the huge flappers of these marine animals through our masks - as they disappeared into the depths of the sea.
Those who prefer land over sea have even further options:  hiking, horseback riding or mountain biking into the dry forest. We chose to ride with Don Miguel at the Lomas del Bosque, who has spent much of his adult life replanting thousands of trees to replenish the forest surrounding his land. We trotted past small farms of grazing cattle, where busy hens dodged playing children. Above us in the swaying trees, howler monkeys jumped from limb to limb, the quiet punctuated by the tweets of exotic, colorful birds. Imagine seeing a bright yellow parrot on a branch, rather than in a cage! Some locals, like Don Miguel, can perfectly imitate a monkey howl - triggering a cacophony of thunderous responses from the furry neighbors above. For those who prefer wheels to hoofs, mountain biking tours are also available, hiking, too.

Tostones with cheese.
Want to get a taste of rural life and climb aboard an ox-driven cart? Just minutes from the turtle refuge is the Hacienda La Flor, run by the Jose Adan Calderon cooperative. The hardy can hike up a nearby hill to get a panoramic view of the sea, the refuge and southern Nicaragua. Back at the ranch, the farmers gently tie their oxen to a wooden wagon. Bumping along a packed dirt road, led by the gentle horned beasts, we rolled past scattered cattle, mother hens trailed by fluffy baby chicks, and goats and horses happily crunching in the fields. Suddenly, we turned into a clutch of trees, and step off into a forest floor transformed into a natural carpet of sea shells and broken pottery of past civilizations - a major find for archeologists. Back at the ranch, we were greeted by steaming coffee and a popular Nicaraguan dish, plaintain tostones topped with fresh, local cheese. 

Paso Pacifico is seeking to lure visitors to Ruta del Sur so the friendly rural residents can earn a living through eco-tourism. Treasuring turtles cuts down on theft of precious turtle eggs, considered a delicacy. Tourism enables parents to pay for uniforms and school supplies for children to go to school and avoid cutting trees to farm for food. They are not forced to destroy nature to eat - but can partner with it, offering unique adventures for delighted foreign tourists.  

Women and girls are central to their mission in an initiative called "Project Ellas". Homestays are available for as little as US$12 a night per person with private bath, in a village where everyone greets each other with a smile. They are basic, clean accommodations, just a short walk through the forest with flush with chattering monkeys and birds to the pristine El Ostional beach - a true getaway.

Check out our Good Green Travel Facebook page to meet the women of the sleepy beachfront village of El Ostional, plus the Junior Rangers, children specially trained by Paso Pacifico as biodiversity protectors, guarding turtle nesting sites and ensuring no one litters the pristine beaches!

Oh! Food! Enjoy simple dining at women-run eateries in El Ostional, featuring fresh fish or chicken, farm-fresh eggs, beans and rice, fruit. For a cold drink, a beachside thatch-roofed bar offers beers for US$1; your view: a cascade of pelicans plunging into the waves for food as fishermen unfurl their nets along the shore.

Their excursions are new, and cheap! So, if you have a sense of adventure, can escape luxury for a bit, and want safe, educational, earth-saving family fun, contact Paso Pacifico at

Nancie L. Katz is a New York-based investigative journalist, writing about pristine, ecotourism destinations where travelers can experience unique forays into nature with friendly locals - and save the planet at the same time!
Join her on Facebook at Good Green Travel.