By , April 8, 2012 3:41 pm

The first time I tried a pupusa, I knew I had just discovered something special.  It was made by a Salvadorean lady in San Pedro La Laguna on Lago de Atitlan in Guatemala.  Before and since then, I’ve eaten some incredible street food… but nothing quite compares.  As I figured out on our travels through Central America, it’s rare to find them outside of El Salvador, unless you’re near the Salvadorean border.  I don’t think I’d be out of line in saying that one of the biggest reasons we wanted to go to El Salvador was for the pupusa.  You can judge me if you want, but please not until you’ve tried one.


The pupusa is El Salvador’s national street food.  It is basically a thick, hand-made corn tortilla, stuffed with beans, cheese, meat, vegetables, or some combination thereof, and fried on a flat griddle. It is typically served with curtido (a slightly fermented spicy coleslaw) and salsa roja (a watery tomato sauce).

The most common flavours seem to be queso (cheese, usually a soft cheese called quesillo) and revueltas (a combinations of queso, frijol (beans) and chicharron (cooked pork meat ground into a paste, not to be confused with fried pork rinds of the same name in other countries)).  Our personal fave is frijol and queso.  It’s nice having a favourite that’s not super popular, as we always get freshly made ones right off the grill.

Pupusas in Juayúa

There is a lot of variation in the flavour and quality of the dough, fillings, curtido, and sauce, but luckily there’s a pupuseria on just about every block to experiment with.  We’ve paid anywhere from 25 cents to 60 cents (at a pricier beach community) per pupusa, with 30-40 cents being the most typical prices.  It takes 2-3 pupusas to make a meal for one person.

Our time in El Salvador was limited, so we tried to make the most of it – we ate pupusas for 2-3 meals a day when we could, supplementing our nutrition with bags of mangos for snacks.

All in all, in our first 7 days in El Salvador, we consumed 57 pupusas (not each, but between the two of us… how gluttonous do you think we are?).  While they made for ridiculously cheap meals (think $1-2 for both of us), it wasn’t just the price that kept us coming back – it was the absolute satisfaction we felt from eating something that’s so delicious.  And if we were without a kitchen for a week, we would do it all over again.

I’ve heard rumours from other travellers that there exists a pupusa wall – a theoretical point where you just can’t bring yourself to eat another one – but I just don’t believe it.  My body would never betray me like that.

Viva La Pupusa!

Note: When Mike found out I wrote a post called “Ode to the Pupusa” and it wasn’t a poem, he was quite upset.  So here’s his version of “Ode to the Pupusa,” written and recorded immediately after a delicious pupusa lunch.

By , April 6, 2012 2:07 pm

Playa El Tunco is a small little town made up of as many restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops as could be fit between the beach and the main road.

This town has one purpose in life, and that’s surfing. The waves come rolling into the stone-littered black sand beaches day and night, and the surfers are there to ride them.

The Rock Littered Shores of Playa El Tunco

Not knowing anything about surfing, we thought it was high time we learned the basics and indeed that’s the sole reason we found ourselves in this surfing village. It had previously been recommended to us as a good/cheap place to take lessons, and since cheap is our middle name…

Originally we had intended to spend 4 nights in El Tunco, taking lessons on the first day, and honing our surfing skills for the rest of our time there. Things didn’t start out quite as planned however. I started the week off with a rough sinus cold and a harsh cough that seemed to sap all the energy from me. Instead of surfing, I spent the first three days in El Tunco eating pupusas and composing terrible poetry (more on this in our next post!).

Fortunately, near the end of our time on the beach – the last day we had available to us – I started to feel better. It was time to surf.

After careful consideration, we decided to part with some cash and take surfing lessons. We paid $15 each for a 1 hour 1-on-1 lesson with board rental included (had we just wanted to surf, boards could be rented for $5 to $10 per day).

We started our lesson on the beach in the same manner you do for many sports, with stretches. Very important when you get to be our age. After we were all limbered up, we laid the board down on the sand and practised pushing ourselves up from the laying position to the surfing position. It’s accomplished with one quick action pushing hard with your arms, and popping yourself up onto your feet. If all works out well, you should be standing with your legs spread wide, balanced and ready to take the wave.

Then we got in the water. We walked out until we were about waist deep and got right to it. The first bit of instruction was identifying the proper wave. The wave needs to be uniform and perpendicular to the shore. There were plenty of them, so we didn’t have to spend much time waiting.

Less than a minute after getting my toes wet, I was laying on the board, with a wave coming up behind me, pushing me towards shore. I jumped up, fell, got up again, and walked back out to the waist deep water where my instructor was waiting for me.

For the next hour, we kept repeating that pattern- we laid on the board pointed towards shore, caught a wave, jumped up, fell, and waded back out into waist deep water. In the end, I pretty much was at the point that I could ride the wave in a straight line all the way to shore. Ashley could probably have used another lesson…

I’m the guy taking the photo, not the guy surfing.  One day though…

To me, it seemed that the price of the lessons and the experience of the instructors (they had been surfing for about 12 years) was really good value at Playa El Tunco. Talking with some experienced surfers, I’m not sure that the beach itself is the best for a learner, as it does drop off quite quickly. Apparently, the best thing for a learner is a shallow sloping beach that allows you to ride a small wave a long long ways so you can really practice your balance. But I didn’t feel that learning at El Tunco was overly challenging either.

All tallied, I can see how surfing could be a lot of fun. But it’s going to take a lot more than a single one hour lesson before we start calling ourselves surfers.

Will we try it again? Yes, I think so.

Surfing ’til the sun goes down


By , April 4, 2012 7:00 pm

Lonely Planet describes the Ruta de Las Flores (Flower Route) as the “wildflower of Salvadorean tourism… a 36-km long winding trip through brightly colored colonial towns famed for lazy weekends of gastronomy and gallery-hopping, as well as more adventurous pursuits like mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking to hidden waterfalls scattered throughout the glorious Cordillera Apaneca.”  What doesn’t sound great about that?

What’s a Flower Route without some flowers?

Mike seemed pretty up in the air about the whole thing, but I insisted we needed to check it out.  I didn’t care so much about exploring the entire route, but wanted to experience at least a town or two.

We ended up making the beautiful town of Juayúa (who-ah-you-ah) our home base, since it’s famed for it’s weekend fería gastronómica or food fair.  The fair happens every weekend, so we arrived on a Friday so we wouldn’t miss out on anything.

Weekend market

Juayúa is definitely set up for tourism, but it was interesting to notice that we were some of the very few foreign tourists there.  It seems that most of the tourists that visit are Salvadorean, which leaves the authentic cultural experience intact.  Everyone was incredibly friendly and helpful, and we met quite a few people that just wanted to chat.

Market stalls lining the street

We spent most of Saturday wandering the cobbled streets of Juayúa, enjoying the beauty around every corner.  The town is one of the “greenest” we’ve encountered in a long time, with trees and flowers bursting out from every yard and fence.  Every street offers a view of the volcanoes and mountains in the distance.

The Saturday food fair was up and running, though it was a little more low-key than the one described in the LP (no barbecued iguana, guinea pig, or frog skewers to be seen and the live music was a woman singing karaoke-style in the food tent), but it was still busy and full of options.  We decided on sharing a $5 USD steak platter, which included a large, juicy and tender steak with chimichurri sauce, a grilled potato, a “sandwich” of what we think was mashed yucca and cheese between two really thick corn tortillas, some spicy coleslaw and a grilled green onion.  We figured that the really interesting stuff would come out on Sunday.

Food fair

Yuca frita (fried yucca) from the food fair

Alas, our timing was off.  It turned out that Sunday was election day in El Salvador and, as a result, no food fair.  You might think this was enough to turn us off the town (we did, after all, come to the Ruta de las Flores specifically for this food fair), but we were so enamoured with the charming town and its surroundings that we couldn’t be disappointed.

Church at sunrise

Rather than hiking out to the nearby waterfall, we decided to spend Sunday morning exploring another of the route’s towns, Ataco.  Ataco is a brightly coloured town, with murals painted on several of the buildings.

Mural on one of the local businesses

Mike and I spent some time debating which town was prettier – Juayúa with it’s greenery or Ataco with its murals – but it was an impossible decision to make.  They are both lovely.

Without a doubt, I could easily spend a month or more taking in everything the Ruta de Las Flores area has to offer – waterfalls, nurseries, fresh fruits and veggies, coffee farms, furniture building, etc, etc.  Unfortunately, we had upcoming plans to volunteer with an organic farm so were limited to two and a half days in the area.  The charm of the area has left its mark on me, however, and I would definitely recommend a visit to the Flower Route to anyone travelling through El Salvador.

View from the streets of Apaneca, another town along the Ruta de las Flores

By , April 2, 2012 9:13 pm

After saying goodbye to my mom in San Jose, we headed back up to Nicaragua with a plan. We were working our way back north to Guatemala to celebrate Semana Santa in Antigua. There were a couple of Nicaraguan destinations we missed out on with mom, so we hit them up on our way through second time.

This roundup covers both legs of our Nicaragua journey. Anything posted in bold is from our most recent trip through, but we thought you, the reader, would appreciate a total country summary as well.

Somoto Canyon

Nicaragua Summary:

Note – Statistics from this visit are in bold. Overall averages for the country are given in [square brackets].

Length of Stay: 6 days [22 days]
Average Cost per Day for Two People: $31.95 CAD [$31.84 CAD]
Cities Visited: 4 [10]
Distance Traveled: 430 km in 7 automobiles [1209 km in 19 automobiles and 2 boats]
Days Sick: 0 for Ashley, 0 for Mike [0 for Ashley, 1 for Mike]
Number of Items Lost: 0
Biggest Tourist Traps: none [touts at San Juan del Sur]
Exchange Rate: $1 CAD = 23 Cordobas

For more great stats, check out our statistics page!

Our Route:

1st trip (southbound, in blue): Honduras border – Managua – León – Las Peñitas – Granada – Isla de Ometepe (Moyogalpa, Merida) – San Juan del Sur – Costa Rica border

This trip(northbound, in red): Costa Rica border – Managua – Esteli – El Tisey Reserve – Somoto – Honduras border

Nicarauga Route


  • Seeing my mom!!!
  • Full moon lava hike at León
  • Fried yuca at the market in Granada
  • International Poetry Festival in Granada
  • Hiking through El Tisey Reserve (and snacking on the Swiss cheese made there!)
  • Cliff jumping in Somoto Canyon
  • The towns of Esteli and Somoto… they helped us find that love of Nicaragua we were looking for

Tisey Reserve


  • The food at Hacienda Merida on Isla de Ometepe (it was exceptionally tasty, and expensive to match. The alternatives were likewise cheap, and not so delicious)
  • The “typico” Nicaraguan meal from a mall food court in Managua… should have known better
  • We couldn’t stay in Granada long enough to experience more than a night of the International Poetry Festival
  • Troubles with chicken buses… it seems some of the “schedules” are more of a suggestion that an expectation

Tisey Reserve


  • Nicaragua is supposed to be the poorest country in Central America, but we didn’t really get that impression… there were a lot of cars everywhere we went.
  • We had heard Nicaragua would be cheap. While the prices were definitely reasonable, it wasn’t as cheap as we were expecting.
  • There is good cheese to be had in Central America… you just have to go to the middle of nowhere to find it!

Tisey Reserve

Lessons Learned:

  • Travelling quickly through a country makes it difficult to fall in love with a place. We easily could have spent more time at nearly every town we were in, but were limited by our visas.
  • If your gut tells you to go somewhere because it sounds like your cup of tea, trust it. It likely will be.
  • Always reapply sunscreen after playing in the surf. Ouch!

Refrescos: Cacao(left) and Cocoa(right)… we just had to figure out the difference

Nicaragua Journal – Where Did We Spend Our Time?

For a detailed summary of each of the cities on our first trip through Nicaragua, check our original roundup.

Managua – 1 night
León – 2 nights
Las Peñitas – 2 nights
Granada – 3 nights
Moyogalpa, Isla de Ometepe – 1 night
Merida, Isla de Ometepe – 3 nights
San Juan del Sur – 4 nights

Managua – 1 night
Again, Managua was just a layover on our way to other destinations. We crashed here for a night and started out early the next morning.

Esteli – 1 night
We really enjoyed walking around the town of Esteli and people watching here. This was our home base for our trip to El Tisey Reserve.

El Tisey Reserve – 2 nights
We took a chicken bus out to the Eco-Posada at the reserve and rented a private cabin. It was really beautiful here and we hiked around much of the area. We probably could have spent more time, but alas we had to move on.

Somoto – 2 nights
We splurged on a tour to Somoto Canyon that included hiking, swimming in the canyon and cliff jumping. It was an incredible day spent in a stunning environment!

Tisey Reserve

By , March 31, 2012 5:40 pm

It’s not every day that we pass up the opportunity to explore something for ourselves in favour of a guide, but the Cañón de Somoto seemed like a good place to splurge. And we’re glad we did.

Somoto Canyon

The Cañón de Somoto, located 15 km north of Somoto, Nicaragua, is a beautiful 3 km long gorge cut into solid rock by the Rio Coco. At places, the granite ridges are less than 10 m apart. It’s possible to hike along the upper ridge yourself, or even explore the lower reaches, but we found our guide invaluable here.

Our guide, guiding

We booked our tour through the guide recommended by our hotel (Maudiel, cel. 8699 8426), and were given three options: 3 hours, 4 hours, or 5 hours. We chose the longest tour, as it seemed to be the best value at $25 USD per person, versus $20 pp for the 4 hour one. The three hour tour didn’t even go to the bottom of the canyon, so we didn’t bother to learn its cost. The price included return transportation from our hotel and rental of water shoes.

Mike’s stylin’ water shoes… our guide cracked up every time he looked at them

At 8:00 am, our Spanish speaking guide, Maudiel, met us at our hotel and we took a taxi to the “house of the guides.” Once there, we shared a typical breakfast (an extra 40 cordobas, or $1.75 CAD) of gallo pinto, eggs, fried plantain, cheese, and tortillas. We met up with a couple from Spain and Argentina who would be joining us, then took another cab to the canyon entrance.

Somoto Canyon

From there, we walked along and through the riverbed of Rio Tapacali, which has cut itself a small canyon. There were several small caves to poke our heads into along the way.

We continued until it met with the Rio Coco (Central America’s largest river), stopping to check out a small waterfall along the way.

The waterfall

The scenary was spectacular and we were able to document it all through a combination of our waterproof camera case and the guide’s waterproof container. We worked our way down the rivers through a combination of walking along the edge, wading through ankle/knee/waist/chest deep water, and swimming. On many occasions, I would just stop and float and look up at the canyon walls around me.

Wading through the river

Just enjoying the scenery

The highlight of the tour, besides the magnificent canyon we walked and swam through, was the cliff jumping. We started with a small jump… a mere 3 metres or so.

This jump was no problem!

Later, we climbed up onto the canyon wall and wet our feet with a 10 metre jump into the river below. All four of us took the plunge, though not without a little apprehension. Then, Maudiel challenged us to try the 20 m jump that he had been talking about the whole way there. Mike was the first to agree, and after a little more rock climbing he stood shivering (he says it was because he was cold… but I don’t believe him) 20 metres above the water’s surface. With a yell and a loud splash, he earned the applause of everyone on the cliff. He told us he screamed, ran out of air, and still hadn’t hit the water – that’s how high it was.

Mike, jumping off the 20 m cliff.  Can you find him?

Not to be outdone (though it took a little coaxing), I climbed up the 20 m cliff too, and became just the second female in Maudiel’s five year history of guiding to complete the jump.

Oops… I just looked down

Like Mike, I let out an excited “wooo!”, paused, realized I was still only halfway down, and had time for a more frightened “ahhh!” before I hit the water. In an uncharacteristic manner, I even held the right body position and didn’t slap or crash into the water. I surfaced elated. After a quick damage assessment, I discovered I had only lost a contact… which I managed to salvage and return to its rightful place with the aid of a life jacket Mike tossed down.

Big jumps make big splashes!

After climbing back up, we all repeated the 10 m jump (no one else attempted the 20 m), before swimming to the next cliff. There, Mike did a 15 m jump while I enjoyed being a spectator (my left ear was full of water and in some pain from the last small jump, so I decided to sit – or should I say float – this one out).

The tour ended with a 400 m swim, a quick boat ride to the end of the canyon and a 2 km hike back to the guide’s house.

An easy ride back out of the canyon

Our walk back

We arrived there at about 1:45 pm, changed into dry clothes, and headed back into Somoto for some delicious rosquillas (baked corn biscuits).

The tour was something I would wholeheartedly recommend to any traveller wandering through Nicaragua. It was a chilly day though, so plan to have a nice hot chocolate when you’re done.

Just a little cold

Oh… and for all you female travellers out there… try the 20 m jump – you won’t regret it!

By , March 29, 2012 11:51 am

Estelí is located on the Pan American highway in the north of Nicaragua near the Honduras border. We skipped over this place the first time through on our way to Managua to meet up with Ashley’s Mom and her boyfriend Terry. When we skipped past it and nearby Somoto the first time, we were about 80% sure that we would be headed back north to Utila and scuba diving, so we weren’t too concerned. Our plans changed, as always, and we won’t be headed back to Utila in the short term, but we are still headed north!

So, was Estelí worth the extra miles it took us to get back to it? Absolutely. In just a short while, Estelí became one of my favourite places in all of Nicaragua, not that we’ve seen the whole country, but still. It’s a small city in the heart of a largely organic farming centre surrounded by mountains, farms, and nature reserves.

Northern Nicaragua.  Click this photo to zoom in!

Probably one of the most outstanding things about Estelí and area, are the people. Everyone is very friendly, almost overwhelmingly so… the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Yucatan in Mexico. Some of its other endearing features include cheap accommodations ($6/night for private rooms), and a good bakery with low low prices (I have to feed my addiction).

In Estelí itself, there are world renowned cigar factories that you can tour, a fresh fruit market, decent street food, and the standard park/cathedral combination. Around Estelí, there’s lots to do as well. If we had more time, I think I I could have easily spent a month or more roaming the lands between Estelí and Somoto, another awesome town just north of Estelí with a beautiful canyon (and its own story that Ashley will tell in a couple of days).

But, we didn’t have the time, because the current plan of the hour is to pass through El Salvador, a small corner of Honduras (twice), and finally arrive in Antigua Guatamala for Semana Santa (holy week, AKA a really big week long party).

I better get back on track, or this post will never end… ah yes, I was talking about what there is to do around Estelí. There are two nature reserves, which are more of a community banded together to protect the lands and water, while carrying on organic farming, and promoting tourism than they are the traditional uninhabited natural park reserve that I’m used to in Canada. Of the two, we chose to go to the Reserva Natural Cerro Tisey-Estanzuela.  We stayed at the Eco-Posada, a restaurant/farm/hotel for two nights. There was no kitchen, but their meals were some of the most delicious that we’ve had, and were reasonably priced. The country side is stunningly beautiful, and we spent the better part of two days just walking around. There is a Mirador (or lookout in English) right next door to the Eco lodge with a beautiful view of the countryside. We also visited the nearby village of La Garnacha, where we walked a couple of short interpretive nature trails, wandered through a gated park area filled with lookouts and stone carvings, ate at the local organic restaurant, and finally visited the cheese store.

The Mirador

There is a cheese factory in La Garnacha that offers tours (we didn’t take the tour, but we did visit the factory briefly). They make cheeses from both goat milk and cow milk in the Swiss tradition and sell it for just over $4 per pound. I hope you pay attention to this next bit, their Swiss cheese is the best cheese I’ve had in Central America. It was absolutely delicious. To be honest, the cheese alone could have been enough to make this place my favourite spot in Nicaragua.

Tasty Cheese Makers

La Garnacha also offers several tours, both walking and on horseback, ranging from $5-$40 each per person. There’s a mountain that can be summited, bat caves to visit, a carved stone cliff, and more. They also offer workshops in cheese making! Everything can be arranged at the artisan office / cheese store.

There are some details that I should mention for anyone planning to visit. First, there’s no English, so you will want to have at least basic Spanish. Everything was well signed, and there were a couple of English pamphlets that we found, but there was no spoken English. Second, it was cold. Very cold. We both slept in our long underwear, and were more than glad to have them with us. Third, the buses were unreliable. They are supposed to run twice a day, once at about 8:30AM, again at 4:00pm. When the 4:00pm bus failed to arrive, we were forced to spend a second night at the Eco-Posada. After we missed the morning bus the next day (or is missed us?), we made inquiries, and discovered that there was another bus stop about 5km to the east where buses go by every two hours. We had a pleasant walk there, and managed to catch a bus at 11:30 AM. The walk was fine for us, but may not be ideal for everyone.

If we had more time, I would have taken part in the cheese making workshop for sure, and visited the other nature reserve, Miraflor, where they offer home stays, horse rentals, and volunteer projects to keep you occupied.

Time to move on

Have you ever passed through a place that you loved at first sight, knowing that you could easily stay a month, but had to move on because of pre-booked travel plans?

By , March 27, 2012 5:31 pm

Our time in Costa Rica was short as it was mostly a visa run to renew our C-4 visas. We were required to stay 72 hours, but stayed until Mom and Terry had to fly home.

Costa Rica Summary:

Length of Stay: 10 days
Average Cost per Day for Two People: $52.68 CAD
Cities Visited: 5
Distance Traveled: 788 km in 10 automobiles
Days Sick: 0 for Ashley, 0 for Mike
Number of Items Lost: 1 PADI bag with all our divemaster books & slates – stolen while on a bus
Biggest Tourist Traps: Everywhere we went, it was very touristy
Exchange Rate: $1 CAD = 520 Costa Rican Colones

As always, you can check out all our stats on our stats page.

Sunset in Playa del Coco

Our Route:

Nicaragua border – Liberia – Playa del Coco – Monteverde/Santa Elena – Jaco – San Jose – Nicaragua border

Costa Rica Route


  • Seeing wildlife like sloths and armadillos
  • Monteverde Cloud Reserve
  • Canopy Tour with Tarzan Swing

Landscape near Monteverde


  • Getting robbed twice in a week
  • The cost of everything… nothing comes cheap here

Monteverde Cloud Reserve


  • How dangerous it is – we assumed that since it was the richest country in Central America, it would be the safest… not so!
  • This might sound silly, but I pictured the whole country as one big jungle. It’s not.
  • They don’t have street addresses.  Anywhere.  You try to find the hostel that’s one block west and two blocks south of the Burger King.
  • The buses were really nice here… we didn’t see any chicken buses!
  • There’s a lot more English spoken here than in other CA countries.

Mom & Terry, Sunset in Jaco

Lessons Learned:

  • You should heed the advice given to you about travelling in specific places.
  • Don’t put bags in the overhead compartments of buses.

Fishing at Playa del Coco

Costa Rica Journal – Where Did We Spend Our Time?

Liberia – 1 night
What we did here: Not a heck of a lot. We stopped to break up our travel time enroute to the beach. Our timing was just a little off, as they had a major local festival starting the next day.

Playa del Coco – 2 nights
What we did here: We were still sunburned from a previous beach encounter in San Juan del Sur, so we played it pretty lowkey here. Walked through town and along the beach, played cards with Mom and Terry, and cooked some great meals!

Santa Elena/Monteverde – 3 nights
What we did here: We had a busy time here as there was lots to see and do… ziplining, a night walking tour, and exploring the cloud forest in the Monterverde Cloud Reserve.

Jaco – 2 nights
What we did here: More beach… more relaxation. We played in the warm surf, sent a few postcards home, and I helped my mom go souvenir shopping.

San Jose – 2 nights
What we did here: We explored the parks and downtown on foot, eating some tasty street food. Then we let Mom and Terry treat us to a Chinese food meal-for-four and said our goodbyes to them, before catching our bus back to Nicaragua.

Sunset in Jaco