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Sea Turtles to Volcanoes: Exploring Pacific Nicaragua

Special expedition with the Shedd Aquarium

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The Shedd Aquarium invites you to travel with them to one of their favorite destinations, one that has been gaining international acclaim as an “undiscovered” natural and cultural destination in recent years: Nicaragua. Shedd Aquarium's itinerary takes you along the Pacific coast from Juan Venado Nature Reserve and Padre Ramos Estuary in the north to San Juan del Sur and La Flor Wildlife Refuge in the south. These areas provide important habitat for four sea turtle species, and their expedition is timed to coincide with the peak nesting of the olive ridleys. We’ll have the chance to see both nesting adults and hatchlings, and with luck we may see the mass nesting “arribada” of the olive ridleys.

Along the way group members will also visit the colonial towns of Granada and León, enjoy a swim or paddle in a geothermal lake and visit the smoldering Masaya volcano on this adventure.

Trip Dates & Cost

Trip dates: December 1–8, 2018. Optional Granada Extension: December 8–10, 2018

Trip cost: $3,300 per person (sharing). Fee for single occupancy: $695

Optional 3-day Granada Extension: $770 per person (sharing). Single-occupancy fee for extension: $200


Chuck Knapp, Ph.D., vice president of conservation and research, got his start at Shedd as a 17-year-old student in the aquarium’s high school marine biology program. That experience set the stage for his life’s work in conservation science, most notably studying endangered Bahamian rock iguanas. Chuck is an avid traveler, and he’s had the privilege of observing hawksbill, green, leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles swimming and nesting throughout the Caribbean. Still on his bucket list: olive ridley sea turtles in the Pacific. He looks forward to experiencing their arribada event alongside Shedd Adventure travelers!


Day 1: Airport pick up, transfer to the colonial city of Leon (D)
Arrive in Managua and transfer to the colonial city of Leon (~2 hours). Out hotel is located in the central historic area just a block away from the main plaza and UNESCO World Heritage site – the Cathedral of Leon. Orientation dinner.

Overnight at Hotel El Convento, Leon.

Day 2: Leon & Juan Venado Nature Reserve (B/L/D)
We’ll start with a leisurely breakfast and city tour of Leon. If this is a first time visit to the region, the history of Leon parallels the region and is loaded with colonial intrigue. We continue west of León to the Nature Reserve of Isla Juan Venado on the Pacific coast where we will have a boat tour through the mangroves and then take a short hike in the dry forest to visit the turtle nursery project of the hawksbill sea turtle, relax for about an hour on an isolated beautiful beach and with luck we might sea baby turtles hatch. At the end of the day we will head to our next accommodation “Marina Puesta del Sol in Chinandega” which positions us for our visit to Padre Ramos.

Overnight at Marina Puesta del Sol, Chinandega.

[NOTE: we will have a marine expert join us on either Day 2 or Day 3 for discussion on the unique attributes of the NW Pacific Coast of Nicaragua]

Day 3: Padre Ramos (B/L/D)
Our highlight for today’s activity will be capturing adult hawksbill turtles and releasing baby hawksbill turtles accompanied by local biologists, who are working on a hawksbill sea turtle population study.

After an optional early nature walk around our hotel grounds, we’ll transfer to Padre Ramos (~ 1 hour). We will enjoy the impressive mangrove forests of Padre Ramos by kayak, quietly paddling looking for herons, ospreys, flying fish, and little turtle heads popping out. We will round this out with outstanding seafood lunch on the beach. Padre Ramos is a mangrove estuary located on the Northwest Pacific coast of Nicaragua. An area of intense natural beauty, it has been protected as a nature reserve since 1983. The reserve consists of more than 28,000 hectares of mangrove, beaches, and coastal areas. This beach is one of the last two major nesting beaches for the Eastern Pacific population of hawksbill turtles. This area was only recently discovered by scientists and comprises almost half of all known hawksbill nesting in the region. The conservation program at Padre Ramos is managed by a partnership between Flora & Fauna International, ICAPO (local non-profit and our hosts), and local community organizations. The turtle eggs are protected through an innovative program that pays local residents to collect the eggs and bring them to a protected hatchery. We will return to the hotel, stopping at a popular nearby restaurant on the way.

Overnight at Marina Puesta del Sol, Chinandega

Day 4: Pueblos Blancos and Laguna de Apoyo (B/L/D)
Our next biodiversity hotspot destination will be the southern Pacific coast of Nicaragua. We’ll head south and have an overnight visit at the spectacular caldera lake of Apoyo Lagoon. The nearby towns are collectively known as the Pueblos Blancos. We will also have a stop in one of the Pueblos Blancos - small towns full of art, colorful flowers and outstanding views. After Lunch we will continue to the Apoyo Lagoon, a paradise for those who love swimming in natural environments. This is a geothermal heated caldera lake that maintains a perfect swimming temperature. Swimming, kayaking & paddle boarding!

Overnight at Apoyo Resort, Masaya.

[NOTE: Depending on logistics, a marine expert on the SW Pacific Coast of Nicaragua will join us for discussion on the unique attributes of the area either in the evening of Day 4 or while we are visiting the La Flor Wildlife Refuge area.]

Day 5: San Juan del Sur & La Flor Wildlife Refuge (B/L/D)
It’s back to the coast and transfer to San Juan del Sur (~2 hours). This well-known beach town is a departure point for a boat tour observing marine wildlife including sea turtles, humpback whales, dolphins, and usually some surprises. We then continue to our beachfront cabañas located near La Flor Wildlife Refuge. About sunset we begin an evening observing a spectacle of nature – the arrival of thousand of olive ridley sea turtles. La Flor is one of only seven beaches worldwide that have major arribadas – Spanish for the nesting strategy of thousands of sea turtles laying their eggs at the same time. Depending on a multitude of factors, anywhere from several dozen to 5,000+ turtles arrive in one night! We also have the treat of watching the hatchling turtles make their inspiring journey from earlier nests to the ocean. A once in a lifetime experience.

NOTE: Arribadas peak between September – December. Observing nesting turtles is done at night. Red tinted lenses for flashlights and headlamps are required to avoid disorienting turtles.

Overnight at Parque Marítimo Playa El Coco, San Juan del Sur.

Day 6: La Flor Wildlife Refuge (B/L/D)
We have a full day to explore the Pacific coast and dry forests surrounding La Flor Wildlife Refuge. We will have a kayaking trip along the dramatic coast. A beach lunch and then snorkeling with sea turtles in the afternoon. We wrap this day up with our second evening observing olive ridley sea turtles.

Overnight at Parque Marítimo Playa El Coco, San Juan del Sur.

Day 7: Colonial city of Granada (B/L/D)
We say goodbye to the coast and transfer to the colonial city of Granada. Here we will hear the “other side of the story” – meaning the colonial history of this rival to Leon. We will also visit the smoldering active volcano of Masaya, recently highlighted in National Geographic. Granada is famous for its many fine restaurants and we will end the day with a rousing farewell dinner in one of their many excellent restaurants.

Overnight at Hotel Colonia or equivalent.

Day 8: Departure day
Transfer back to International airport (B). Note we are approximately 45 minutes from the Managua international airport.

Trip cost Includes:

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