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Crown Cruise Vacations | November 28, 2020

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Dispatch: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Dispatch: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

One of the pleasures of finding yourself in a place that you know nothing about is that, every so often you’ll find out something special that your guide book never clued you in on. When I was in Southern Nicaragua, this happened to me. San Juan del Sur barely registers a page in the Lonely Planet Central America guide book, but it was my favorite spot on my vacation – and nowhere do they mention the turtles.

But they are there. Well, not in San Juan del Sur proper but just south of the town. Olive-Ridley turtles come to a beach every year to lay their nest of eggs by the hundreds of thousands. And they always come back to “La Fleur.” It’s not for the ambiance but more of a homecoming. According to our tour guides, these turtles were born here.

The Olive-Ridley turtles, like most sea turtles come to lay their eggs at the same place that they were born. It’s not necessarily a conscious thing on the turtle’s part, but rather an in-born homing signal or GPS. It’s worked for them for a long time. Hundreds of millions of years in fact. But now, populations are declining. Environmental concerns shape this problem as do humans. With the breeding grounds limited (for all the thousands of miles that a turtle swims in a year, they only stop at seven unique beaches in the whole world), overfishing and hunting has become a serious problem. Most of these beaches are in decline for the sea turtle population, with the exception of “La Fleur.” Thanks to Nicaraguan preservation efforts, turtle deposits are actually increasing, now with about 200,000 turtles coming by annually.

When our tour group hit the beach, in early December, the nesting season was in full swing with 90,000 turtles at the beach, and 5,000 alone arriving the night before. My visit to Nicaragua, was again a happy accident. I had come to the town during a turtle “Grand arrival” which means I would get a very good chance to see a turtle making her nest during the day. A big bonus for me, because truth be told, a 4AM departure time to see a turtle lay an egg? That’s not going to happen. Our 3:00 visit would mean a good likelihood of lots of turtles, better light for photos – a perfect storm. Well almost. It was also low tide….

There were a couple turtles making the trip on their own but the grand arrival we were waiting for was several hours off. Low tide makes their job twice as hard because the land travel doubles. A 50 meter journey quickly becomes a 100 meter journey. Pursued by natural enemies the whole time, its not uncommon to see flocks of vulture waiting behind the turtle for her to lay her nest of eggs.

The journey and work is a sight to see. After digging a hole a foot deep, Mama Turtle drops what has to be a most satisfying load, about 100 eggs. These eggs sit buried in the sand and if the nest is left undisturbed, hatchlings pop out of the sand about 50 days later. Sometimes, old nests get dug up. That’s bad news for both sets of eggs, because it usually means contamination for both nests and death for all the hatchlings.

At “La Fleur” they are big on nature taking its course. They let the vultures go after the eggs, and the only one predator that they keep away from the nest are humans. They’ll also give limited protection for the hatchlings. If they discover the hatchlings popping out mid-day when they sand will scorch them, they’re picked up and kept cool until night time when they’re set free. We were given this opportunity to do so which was quite incredible.

After dark, during our visit, the park rangers brought us about 75 or so turtle hatchlings to set free. The odds against them were steep. Of all those hatchlings, only one or two were expected to make it to adulthood. So our group decided to name the hatchlings we set free. Why not? A name gives an identity. Identity breeds character. And that’s what makes you tough and a survivor. I thought of my four hatchlings as a family. So I named them after another family that faced adversity but after several TV seasons of trying finally got out of the inner city. They were named Florida, JJ, Michael and Thelma. This way they can always have Good Times.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua is a port of call on many trans-Panama Canal sailings, including several on the Coral Princess in fall 2012 and winter 2013. Visiting by land? It’s approximately two hours from the country’s capital, Managua. Roads are still pretty primitive so the ride can be rough and slow going. For more information on this port of call, and the cruises that take you there, visit our website at