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Published: March 4th 2014
The third Central American peak on my tick list was Pico Mogotón in Nicaragua situated directly on the border with Honduras. During the 1980s Nicaraguan Contra War the Sandinista government, fearing a US invasion from Honduras, heavily mined the area. The Nicaraguan army has since cleared the area of mines and a handful of trekkers have been tagging the peak ever since. A guide is still an excellent idea not only because of the possibility of a stray mine but because the trail is mostly unmarked, very indistinct, and difficult to follow in places.
I was nearly snubbed not because of the trek itself but because I could not find the farm where the trail starts and guides are procured. By the time I found the farm with the assistance of a logging truck driver it was quite late and the last bus back to Ocotal would pass the nearest village (Achuapa, a brisk 2 hour walk away) at 17:00. But Favio, the driver, told me he would pass the entrance to the farm again at 16:00 and would take me all the way to Ocotal if needed which gave me plenty of time to complete the objective. When I
first rode the truck down to the farm, I had to stand on the passenger's side running board because Favio's wife and daughter were also occupying the cab. The road was a little steep and very windy so the truck couldn't go very fast but it did give me reason for concern if I were going to ride back to Ocotal in a similar fashion for an hour on the highway. Fortunately I got another ride so riding back on the running board holding on to the door for dear life did not come to pass. Details below...
$US ≈ 26 Nicaraguan córdobas
OcotalAccommodation and food
I was still traveling with someone from Austria whom I met on the bus out of León so we split a room at Hotel Mirador across the street from the bus terminal. The room ran C$200 with private cold water bathroom, fan, TV, and good WiFi. My roommate bolted the next day and I could not weasel a lower price from the administration. There is a basic comedor
next door but many more places in the center, about a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel. Great breakfasts at Comedor La Esquinita
and Llamarada del Bosque (cup of java C$10). Had a C$50 pollo asado
at a street stand so can't comment on dinner options but places close ridiculously early in this town. There are also several places to crash in the center but I don't see the point as the bus terminal is the only attraction in Ocotal which isn't a bad place, just nothing to see. Transport
Direct buses to Somoto, Estelí, and Managua leave frequently from the terminal. See below for getting to Honduras. Pico Mogotón
With the help of Evelyn at the INTUR office I was able to plan my trip to the mountain and back in one day. I took the first bus leaving from Ocotal at 5:00 that would pass Achuapa just after 5:30 (C$13). Our tour operator in Somoto told me that the road to the start of the hike at Finca Los Jiménez was 8-10 km but Evelyn told me it shouldn't take much more than an hour, incongruous statements if there ever were. Had I not passed the farm on the way up (no sign), I'm guessing it would have taken me 2 hours to reach and was probably about the
reported 8-10 km. I must have walked for nearly 2 more hours before I ran into Favio who graciously took me back down to the farm but only after some minor repairs on the truck, I think to keep the transmission from dropping out which was kept secured with a beefy chain.
Down at the farm I met one of the Jiménez brothers who introduced me to Santos, my guide. We quickly settled on C$400 for the hike (which is what Evelyn had suggested) and were off at 9:55 first down the road then through a coffee plantation and finally on the trail which criss-crossed a creek and ascended a series of gentle waterfalls for a couple kms. After an hour we hit the trail to the summit and began one of the slickest, steepest ascents of my life. I'm not sure this hike would be possible in the wet season. We reached the crest after another hour or so and this was the Nicaraguan-Honduran border as delineated by several small concrete markers. The trail meandered along the crest, rose some more, and at 12:42 we tagged the summit marker and posed alongside the Nicaraguan flag.
to dawdle or take any chance at missing my ride we left the summit after only 10 minutes which was fine as the top is completely covered in trees so there was no view whatsoever. The descent route was different, just as steep but much more direct, and we were back at the farm (or in my case the gate to the farm as I did not want to miss the truck) at 14:50. After a little while one of the farm hands told me I could ride back with them which sounded infinitely more appealing and safer than clinging to Favio's door. Favio was late but totally cool with me passing on his offer and the pickup drove by just after 17:00. I was over optimistically expecting a seat but the bar surrounding the pickup bed would suffice for the 1½ hour trip back to Ocotal. Normally my trasero
is not sore after a brutal hike but this was to be the exception. The other passengers turned out to be huge Red Sox fans (baseball is muy popular
in Nicaragua) and their favorite player is Dustin Pedroia. Solid choice but I went with Big Papi (a.k.a., David Ortiz, certainly
Cañon de Somoto
the most clutch Sox player ever and possibly the greatest) but my mates did not approve of his purported drug use (steroids, NEVER PROVEN). Border Crossing From Ocotal to Honduras
Buses leave from Ocotal's terminal about 1-2 times an hour starting ~5:00 for C$14 (accurate schedule for all buses posted at the terminal) and arriving ~45 minutes later. There is a $1 municipal exit tax in addition to the $2 Nicaraguan exit fee which the official asked for but did not collect from me in the confusion of a shift change. Cha-ching! Entering Honduras there is a L70 entry fee (alternatively $3 + L1) and I had to pay this one. The immigration official was very careful about figuring the number of days I would be allowed in Honduras based upon the CA-4 (agreement among Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala limiting visits to the 4 countries to a combined 90 days) and how many days I had already spent in Nicaragua. I got 70 days which was more than enough as I'm not planning on much more than a week.
The border formalities were very fast and took less than 30 minutes most of which was taken
up waiting in the wrong line where 3 Argentines were laboriously trying to process the paperwork to bring a car from Honduras into Nicaragua. Official business finished, I was able to change dollars into Honduran lempira at an excellent rate of L20/$ and also unload my last bit of Nicaraguan córdobas for the official rate as reported on xe.com. I then had to wait 45 minutes for a bus to El Paraíso which, upon briefly passing through, most definitely did not resemble my idea of paradise. The chicken bus took 20 minutes from the border to El Paraíso for L17 where there was a nice Danlí/Tegucigalpa bus waiting to whisk passengers away from paradise. L20 to Danlí, probably ~L100 to Tegus. Last bus from the border to El Paraíso is ~16:00 but there is a posada
about a half mile down the road if stuck at the border. Plenty of comedores
at the border for a chow.
On the way to Ocotal and Nicaragua. Small town famous for the canyon and apparently not much else. Accommodation and food
Split a room at Hotel Colonial for C$300 with private cold water bath, TV, and WiFi. Quiet place and awesome
beds, best night's sleep I'd had in weeks presumably due to the absence of roosters. Around the corner is a basic comedor
where plates run C$70, tamarind refrescos
C$10. Across the street from the hotel is a restaurant serving huge breakfasts for C$50. Transport
Frequent service to Ocotal (C$14, 1 hour), Estelí, and the Honduras border at La Espina. Cañon de Somoto
We paid $20 thru Namancambre tours for the guide, entrance, life jackets, dry bag, transport there (chicken bus to the border) and back (share taxi), and a short boat ride. It can be done independently but difficult if you are going to run the whole canyon because the trail is not marked and you may also miss the places where it's safe to jump off the rocks into the deeper parts of the river. Middle of the dry season is not the best time of the year as the river is not running very fast and about half the ~5 hour trip is walking. Early dry season (i.e., December) would rock.
Pleasant climate in an otherwise unremarkable town. Should have pushed thru to Somoto same day. Accommodation and food
I met an Austrian on
the bus from León and we split a room at Hospedaje Chepito for C$200 which was nothing more than a place to crash for the night. It was actually quite difficult to find a decent, inexpensive place to stay. We were looking for SONATI but no one had heard of it and Nicaragua has a disconcerting absence of street addresses. Near the hotel was a stand serving enchiladas
under an alias) for C$6 a pop and glasses of cool cacao en leche
(like chocolate milk but not super sweet) for C$7. Transport
We left early the next afternoon for Somoto at 13:30, taking 1½ hours for C$14. Two bus terminals in Somoto, the northern terminal serves southern destinations and vice versa. Odd...
Hot, hot place, not as well restored as Granada but not nearly as crowded either. Leon's cathedral is the oldest in Central America. Accommodation and food
Only spent one night in Lazybones Hostel $8/C$208 in a 10 person dorm with fans about 20 feet up on the high ceilings but it wasn't as hot as I'd been warned. There is WiFi, coffee, and a pool but the amenities are not nearly as nice
as their sister hostel in Granada. Couple nice breakfast joints up the street, Jugos serves wholesome fruit smoothies next to the cathedral, impromptu BBQs set up behind the cathedral for dinner. Transport
Only 2 or 3 buses to Estelí every day. I left at 12:45, arrived at 15:15 for C$70. Microbuses to Managua leave when full from the terminal for C$51, taking about an hour and a half. Crowded passenger trucks between the center and León's distant bus terminal cost C$4.
Probably the highlight for most visitors to Nicaragua. I'd heard it was super crowded and kind of expensive so I opted to spend most of my time in the region in nearby Masaya where there were hardly any tourists and it was definitely not expensive. Climb one of the church's bell tower (C$50, good for repeat visits during the day, i.e., morning/afternoon then sunset) for great views of the city, especially the cathedral. Accommodation and food
I passed through Granada one afternoon on the way back from zip lining at Volcán Mombacho. After walking around for a while I thought I should spend one night to absorb the atmosphere. I checked out Hostel Oasis and was
told I did not have to make a reservation for the dorm ($9 including pancake breakfast, coffee, drinking water, WiFi, towel, and swimming pool - good deal) but when I showed up the next morning the dorms were full and I was S.O.L. Took me a while to find someplace with availability which ended up being Panda Hostel which was not a good deal at $7 for the dorm, no pool, only coffee, lousy beds and furniture composed mostly of bamboo slats with transparently thin or no cushioning. Central market is a good place to grab an economical meal, otherwise there are restaurants all over town, many of them way overpriced by Nicaraguan standards. Transport
Local buses to Masaya leave from the center for C$9 and take ~40 minutes. Microbuses to Managua leave when full from behind the cathedral for C$30, taking about an hour.
Good place to stay to access all the sights around Granada while saving mucho dinero
in the process. El Coyotepe (fortress, C$50 entry) is a short walk from the center and has nice views over the surrounding area. Accommodation and food
I stayed 3 nights in Hotel Regis in a private room
with share bath for $5/C$130. The place is very basic but good WiFi is available. Great meals and juices at Ceviche y Cocteles El Pollo in the park (the place with the massive chairs). Up the street from the hotel is Comedor La Criolla serving C$80 comidas
and C$15 refrescos
. Panaderia Norma serves pastries, cakes, and C$8 espressos. Lots of places on the sidewalk or park to get fruit salad for C$10. Transport
Buses to Granada and Rivas leave from the terminal area near the market. Microbuses for Managua leave when full from near the artisan market in the center. Canpoy Miravelle
Can get to the volcano on any bus passing the highway for Nandaime (get off at Guanacaste) for C$15 and walk ~15 minutes to their office but not before buying a fruit salad on the corner for C$10. Operation starts around 8:00 but best to get there early as big groups have a tendency to show up. The cost is $28.75/C$733 and well worth it. There are 11 cables over a combined length of 1.7 km making it one of the longest in Central America. Volcán Masaya Night Tour
Best to reserve in advance although
I'm not sure how, maybe the INTUR office can help. The tour is $10 plus $2 transport fee and runs from 17:00-19:30. The crater is very active and there is a lot of smoke and steam making it difficult, if not impossible, to see the lava or the parakeets living in the crater walls. Still possible to walk fairly deep into one lava tube and see the bats flying out of another. Take any northbound bus from the highway stop near Pollo Tip-Top to the park entrance for C$10.
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