Cruising Reports for Nicaragua: Corinto & San Juan Del Sur

(May 23, 2005) – Feedback for Corinto, San Juan del Sur and Playa El Coco, from Eric Blackburn, S/V Chickadee.

Published 19 years ago, updated 5 years ago


Latitude: 12’ 28.56 N Longitude: 87’ 10.49 W

Corinto is approximately 14 miles south of Aserradores. Few boats are stopping into Corinto now that Marina Puesta Del Sol is open for business. However, Corinto is an authentic Nicaraguan experience that shouldn’t be missed. The same port captain and immigration officers that process your ship’s papers at Puesta Del Sol are also responsible for Corinto’s waters. Therefore if coming from Aserradores, checking into Corinto is not an issue. If Corinto is your first port of entry, the port captain’s office will dispatch representatives to give you clearance into the harbor. Sometimes this can take one or two days. It is recommended that you take the initiative to check in with the port captain’s office located near the shipyard’s front gate. Immigration office is in the same building.

Corinto is Nicaragua’s largest and principal shipping port. The entrance into the harbor is wide and well marked. If arriving from the south, recognize that there is another channel at the south end of Isla El Cardon called Boca Falsa. Do not attempt a shortcut. Boca Falsa is not navigable due to shallow water, surf and a bar over the entrance. The main entry channel is at the north end of Isla El Cardon. There is a small lighthouse at the north end of Isla El Cardon marking the main channel and its right side upon entry.

The inner harbor at Corinto is well protected. Anchorage can be taken in front of Ali Baba’s restaurant located beside a distinct silver colored Petro-Nic fuel tank. The beach is busy with a row of thatched restaurants, bars, palm trees, and people. Anchor in 10 meters (33 feet) of water far enough off the beach to prevent curious swimmers from paying a visit, but not so far out as to hinder shipping traffic entering the port. The sand/mud bottom provides good holding. There is a 2.7 meter (8.9 foot) tidal range that floods and ebbs into the estuary. The current is marginal at 2 knots but can flow contrary to wind direction. During the months of May to October, a southwest swell rolls across Boca Falsa at low to rising tide. These conflicting forces can make the anchorage uncomfortable in a small sailboat.

Anchorage can also be taken deeper in the harbor in the industrial zone of Estero Grande, near a fleet of aging fishing boats. The water is flat and well protected from wind, swell and contrary currents. Unfortunately, noise from a nearby diesel generating plant breaks the peace of this more favorable location. The preferred anchorage is in Paso Cabello.

Historically Corinto had a reputation as a rough and gritty seaport. In more recent times, Corinto has undergone a major face-lift for the better. The current mayor, Senor Absalon Navas has worked diligently with his council to bring about changes to the community. The pride of Corinto is the new museum in the compounds of the neat and tidy central park. The streets are surprisingly clean in the downtown area and for the most part safe to walk around at night. However, as is the case in most places, there are certain areas that should be given a wide berth after dark. Barrio Los Pescadores and Barrio El Chorizo are best avoided by all except the hardiest sailors.

There are two banks in Corinto. Ban Pro and Bancentro, both give advances on VISA and MasterCard. The town’s only internet café, “Corinto Online” is located one block up from the park. Most goods and services are located within walking distance of the park. If you should need a taxi, ask around for English speaking Walter Gomez. Walter is a young gentle giant of a man, born in Nicaragua but lived in the USA since he was 9 years old. Later in years, he encountered hard times on the streets of New Orleans, which inevitably resulted in a government-sponsored one-way ticket back to Nicaragua. Now a reborn Christian, Walter-Jesus has found new hope running his taxi service in Corinto. If you need a driver or interpreter, Walter is the man. His cell number is 3422765 or 3422601.

For the grandest selection of supplies, Chinandega is 35 minutes away by bus and 20 minutes by taxi from Corinto over paved roads.

In Corinto, provisioning can be done at Haitham’s Supermercado. Here you will find a reasonable selection of canned foods, pasta, spices, frozen chicken and a wide assortment of beer and beverages. Farmacia Principal around the corner is well stocked with pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, appliances, and trinkets. Farmacia Principal also provides a photocopy service.

Diesel fuel and gasoline by jerry jugging are available at the Texaco station 3 blocks away from the park. Long distance phone calls can be made from the Enitel building across the street from the port captain/immigration office. Postal service is in the same building as Enitel.


Latitude 11’ 15.14 N Longitude 085’ 52.61 W

Bahia San Juan Del Sur is the southernmost port of entry/exit in Nicaragua and is a popular stopover for vessels entering or departing the country. The cruising grounds in this region of Nicaragua are some of the best. San Juan Del Sur provides a good jump off point for exploring the many hidden coves along the coast.

The entrance into Bahia San Juan Del Sur is half a mile wide. As you enter, you will see a lateral navigational buoy off to your port side. The buoy marks the outer edge of a reef and its breaking surf. Enter in the middle of the channel keeping the buoy to your port side. If you do find that you are caught entering in the dark, the lateral navigational buoy is equipped with a WHITE LIGHT, GROUP Fl (6) every 3 seconds. Making landfalls at night is never recommended.

The best place to anchor is as close to the south side of the bay as the swinging room will allow, however local pangas and fishing boats take up the prime spots so you will have to anchor north of them as illustrated. Do not anchor anywhere within 91 meters (300 feet) of the shoreline as a swell can roll into the bay between the months of May to October. Good anchoring can be taken at the 10-meter (33 foot) line. It is essential to lay sufficient scope and that the anchor is well seated. Care is needed when anchoring in the vicinity of other boats to prevent swinging into them during tidal changes.

After you have anchored, expect to be boarded by personnel from the port captain’s office. Usually, one or two polite representatives dressed in naval uniform will be ferried out to your boat to conduct the first stage of the check-in procedure, which on occasion may include a light-hearted search of lockers and cupboards. The Port Capitan representatives will process your Zarpe. There is no cost added for the entry zarpe. There is only a $25. fee upon exit for your international zarpe. The port captain’s office is currently located in an A-frame Bavarian style building on top of a hill overlooking the bay. If San Juan Del Sur is your first Nicaraguan port of entry, the cost of a tourist visa per person when arriving in the country by bus, plane or boat, is US$9.00.

Winds in Bahia San Juan blow 90% of the year out of the east. Between November and April, the Papagoyo winds blow strong and consistent for days, sometimes weeks without letting up. Holding ground in sand is excellent. Fetch is minimum so there is no worry of swell building up when the easterlies are blowing. Do keep in mind Bahia San Juan is an open roadstead to the west. During the rainy season, (which coincides with the months of May to October) southwesterly wind and swell becomes more of a concern. The probability of stormy weather rises dramatically in late August. You can be guaranteed 2 or 3 storms in September and October.

Getting to and from boat to shore, on occasion can be a cumbersome affair. You can land a dinghy at the local boat ramp clearly visible at the south end of the bay, within the shipyard compound. The ramp is made of concrete and is within the shipyards compound. Your dinghy and belongings should be reasonably safe from light fingers.

Another alternative may be to tie up at the fishing wharf. However, I would not recommend it since the wharf is often busy with local pangas, wooden trawlers, launches and an assortment of anything that floats. The tidal range can be high. Arrangements to get ashore by water taxi can be made with “Che” who operates a little green tugboat shuttle service.

The beach in front of town is another option to land an inflatable. When the surf is up, you will have to time your landings. A good boat handler can motor in with the surf with little effect. Rowing is more of a challenge. With timing and experience, it is possible to make a landing without putting on a show. BIG WAVE DAVE’s, a popular cruiser’s hangout is in the process of offering a cruiser’s only water-taxi service. BIG WAVE DAVE’s monitors VHF channel 22.

Haul out and dry dock stowage is possible in the local shipyard, though not recommended. The dock at San Juan Del Sur caters primarily to the fishing fleet using two out-of-date Russian hydraulic cranes with extendable booms. Boats with a draft over 2.43 meters (8 feet 1 inch) cannot be hauled out due to the limited depth near the break wall. High tide will have to coincide with scheduling the haul out with Miguel in advance. The dock or muelle (moy-yeh) is run by E.P.N ( Empresa Portuaria Nacional)

The field operations manager is Miguel Granja. Talk to Miguel first regarding haul outs and other shipyard facilities. For diesel, engine repairs ask for Julio Sanchez. His reputation is second to none, known for being the pride of the fleet with many years of overhauling Detroit, Cummings and Volvo engines. Francisco Castro is another recommended diesel mechanic specializing in repairs to Caterpillar engines. Emilio Lopez and his crew can handle any fiberglass repairs.

Javier Morales is the man you want to see about any electronics and computer repairs. Javier received 5 years of technical training in the Russian military. He is now responsible for the computers systems at the new customs facility at the border. For any work associated with VHF radios, short wave or Ham radio repairs, the local fleet go to Wil Serrano. Exotic woods are inexpensive in Nicaragua.

For carpentry work and fine craftsmanship ask for Hector Rivera. He has the most complete shop in SJDS and can be found across the street from the city park. Alberto Sanchez and Juan Noguera are boat builders who specialize in heavy hull construction.

Diesel fuel and water are available at the dock. The water is safe for drinking although heavily chlorinated. Gasoline is available 24 hours per day from the only Texaco station 1 mile up the road. Provisions, canned food, processed foods, coffee, cheese, yogurt, beer, liquor, postcards, clothing, cosmetics, souvenirs and postcard can be found in any of the countless “pulperias” in San Juan Del Sur. The two best stocked are “Sanchez’s Pulperia” and “Calderon Pulperia”. Both are easy to find, just ask a local. There is city market in front of the bus depot where one can buy produce. The market is dirty and run down, but does provide an authentic experience.

Quality fresh fruit and vegetables, farm range eggs and baking goods are available daily at Rosio’s Market. Rosio also offers a prestine clean laundry service. English and Spanish are spoken. Rosio’s Market monitors VHF channel 22.

By far the best place in town to buy hardware needs; nuts and bolts, anti-fouling, paint, SS fasteners, fiberglass resin and a basic assortment of tools can be found at Ferrateria Maria Celeste. Propane bottles can be re-fuelled but you will have to taxi to the tropi-gas plant in Rivas 35 minutes away. Cube ice is available at the Texaco station.

Phone and postal service can be found at the ENITEL building; another beautiful old colonial building one-minute walk from the shipyard.

There is no shortage of affordable restaurants in San Juan Del Sur. The catch of the day can be enjoyed in one of many fish and chip palapas along the beachfront for about US$6.00 per meal. Cheap eats for about US$1.50 can be eaten in the market everyday at noon.

For a more varied European cuisine of vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals try Marie’s Bar on the strip. One block east of Marie’s, you’ll find BIG WAVE DAVE’s specializing in a varied menu to the highest gringo standard. BIG WAVE DAVE’s also provides a wide variety of services to the cruising fleet including showers, deliveries, tours, and water taxi service.

Piedras y Olas Pelican Eyes Hotel offers San Juan Del Sur’s finest dining in decadent style with a stunning view of the bay to match. Pelican Eyes Hotel monitors channel 22.

Ricardo’s Bar, located on the beach, is a popular hang out for backpackers and surfers.

If in San Juan Del Sur and you need to change $US dollars for the local currency of Cordobas, stop by “Sanchez Pulperia” and talk to Sylvia. Currency can also be exchanged at Big Wave Dave’s.

There is a bank across the street from the beach towards the south end of town with an ATM. There is also an ATM at the Casa Blanca hotel just north of the bank, on the same street. ATMs will give you either USD or Cordobas, whichever you choose. In the larger town of Rivas advances and withdrawals on VISA and MASTERCARD are possible at any of the major banks: BAC, BANCENTRO, and BANPRO. There is also an ATM machine in a well-stocked corner store next to the Rivas Texaco Station. The locals know the store as “El Super” ( sue-pair). That ATM (Cajero automatico) only dispenses Cordobas. There is another ATM in downtown Rivas at a bank called BAC. (Banco America Central). BAC’s Cajero automatico dispenses either US dollars or Cordobas. A modern supermarket called PALI is across the street from BAC. They stock just about everything you could ask for. If you need to send or receive money from home, Western Union has an office in Rivas. Or you can sign up with for free and easy internet wire transfers.

There is no shortage of internet cafes in town. Hotel Casa Joxi, Cyber Leos, Casa Oro, and Super Cyber all provide internet service at cheap hourly rates. For those wishing a taxi to the airport in Managua contact Francisco Cantillano at 458-2106 or 889- 9783. Francisco is professional and on time. Stop by his house (see map) or leave a message that you wish to go to Managua and he will be there for you. Ricardo Morales is another very professional, prompt and experienced taxi driver well known, liked and trusted in the community. Contact Ricardo at 882-8368 or 835-7548.


Latitude: 11’ 09.53 N Longitude: 85’48.28 W

This open roadstead indents the coast for 1.5 miles. It is easy to approach and anchor in 8 meters (26 feet) of sandy bottom. In all but the most settled weather, large beach break rollers make landings by dinghy difficult if not dangerous. Between the months of April to October, the Papagoyo winds lay down. During all other months of the year, one can expect strong east winds off the beach. The best place to anchor is 180 meters (200 yards) south of Playa El Coco’s center. Note that to the extreme south end of the bay extending from the southernmost point is a rocky outcrop visible at low and high tides.

Playa El Coco is a favorite spot for vacationers from Managua seeking time away from the city. A quaint palapa thatched restaurant is an easily spotted landmark seen from the water. The hillsides are dotted with luxury white beach homes and small resorts. A reasonably stocked “pulperia” offers basic canned goods, coffee, beer, and other simple miscellaneous items. Transportation by bus passes by the Puesta Del Sol restaurant daily at 05:45, 07:45 and 16:15 destined for San Juan Del Sur.

Eric Blackburn, S/V Chickadee

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