PLAYA EL COCO – Years before the words “luxury tourist destination” and “Nicaraguan Pacific coast”were used in the same sentence, the Parque Marítimo El Coco opened to the public in the La Flor Wildlife Reserve, 17 kilometers south of San Juan del Sur.
More than a decade later, the somewhat rustic CocoMaritimePark is still holding its own as a popular family vacation spot, despite the stiff competition that has popped up along the coast in recent years.
Tucked into a dry tropical forest that borders one of the nicest white-sand beaches on the Pacific, El Coco offers an eclectic combination of non-uniform homes, bungalows and apartments ranging in comfort, style and price from $89 for a small, boxy bungalow to $300-plus for a larger home.
Four fully-equipped apartments, named after famous Nicaraguan volcanoes, rent for $110 a night and line a small pool with no deep end, which is handy for parents with small children. The rooms have air-conditioning, hot water, a small kitchenette and Direct TV.
A two-minute walk from the lodging is Playa El Coco, a favorite beach for sunbathers and bodysurfers.
During low tide, the beach is a long slope of white sand with gentle surf and enough beach for people to play volleyball and soccer. At high-tide, the beach gets eaten up by some rougher surf that is better for stronger swimmers.
But for book readers and wave watchers, Coco is hard to beat, regardless of the tide schedule.
El Coco’s famous beachfront restaurant, La Puesta del Sol, offers additional encouragement for those who just want to relax and watch the surf while drinking a beer or talking to friends.
The open-air, thatched-roof restaurant is open three meals a day, and usually draws a pretty good-sized crowd in the evenings, despite its remote location. The fish fillet alone makes the trip well worth it.
Just to the north of El Coco beach is the La Flor beach, which in July and January becomes a major nesting ground for paslama sea turtles.
The management of the MaritimePark reports that the brief nesting periods usually bring some 3,000 female turtles that arrive at the beach when it’s raining. The turtles proceed to dig a hole and lay their eggs before returning to sea.
When it’s not turtle season, the Parque Marítimo El Coco offers other ways to enjoy the park, such as bicycle and horse rentals. Boogie boards are also for rent at the restaurant, and surfboards can be rented for the day with 24 hours advance notice.
The park can also arrange boat trips for those who want to get out on the water.
The staff at El Coco is very friendly, helpful and attentive. Any questions, concerns or problems are addressed immediately.
For those who can’t stand to be offline and unplugged for more than a couple hours at a time, a small Internet café with three computer hook-ups is free for guests.
Parque Marítimo El Coco is not the last word in beach luxury, but it is a fun place for families who think a beach vacation should be about beach, sand, crabs, sun and activities, rather than pampering and entertainment.
Having a car with four-wheel drive and a relatively high clearance is a must to get to Parque Marítimo El Coco. The park is located 17 kilometers south of San Juan del Sur, along a road that gets very bumpy, steep and curvy pretty soon after heading out of town.
Right before getting to El Coco, you have to drive across a river, which can fill up quickly if it is raining.
The turnoff to El Coco is right after you enter San Juan del Sur, take a left turn right after the bridge and stay to the left at the fork in the road after the cobblestone ends. After that, follow the signs.
The going is slow; it might take 40 minutes or more to drive the 17 kilometers.
For more information on Parque Marítimo El Coco, or for reservations, call (505) 892-0124 or visit Web page www.playaelcoco.com.ni.