The Costa Rican national hero, drummer Juan Santamaría, sacrificed his life here in 1856 when setting fire to a building captured by the infamous William Walker. On the town's Parque Central is a lovely old basilica (in need of repair). In the dome you can see the fresco of the sea battle against the ships of Protestantism and Communism. The Parque has some old, arcaded buildings on one side, but also some new buildings.

Rivas is a good stopping place if in transit by land through Nicaragua. The bus station, adjacent to the market, is on the northwest edge of town about eight blocks from the main highway. The road from the lake port of San Jorge joins this road at Rivas; 11 km beyond Rivas, at La Virgen on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, it branches south to San Juan del Sur. The
tourist office
, has good maps of Nicaragua and general information.

Refugio de Vida Silvestre Río Escalante Chacocente


Between Nandaime and Rivas are various turnings south that lead eventually to the Pacific coast (all are rough; high clearance is more important than 4WD). One of these turnings (89 km from Managua if going via Diriamba and Jinotepe; 61 km from Peñas Blancas), just south of the Río Ochomogo bridge, is signposted to the
Refugio de Vida Silvestre Río Escalante Chacocente
. This 4800-ha reserve of forest and beach is the second most important turtle nesting site in the country and one of the biggest tracts of tropical dry forest in the Pacific basin. The forest is full of mammal, reptile and birdlife and the beach is long and empty. Bring your own hammock and shade. The rough dirt road to the coast (45 km) goes to Las Salinas. Turn right here to
, which has a fishing cooperative, and continue to the reserve. You will probably have to ask directions several times and cross a number of rivers, the last of which is impassable after rain without a very
strong 4WD). Camping is safe and you can buy fish from the co-op. At
, there is a
office, a government-sponsored
turtle sanctuary
(signs say 'authorized personnel
only'; don't be put off, they welcome visitors). The
wardens protect newly hatched turtles and help them make it to the sea (a magnificent sight from November to December). Unfortunately, turtle eggs are considered to have aphrodisiac properties and are used as a dietary supplement by the locals.
is virtually powerless to prevent egg theft, although for two months a year the reserve is protected by armed military personnel.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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