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Published: October 22nd 2013
Last minute planning for an international summer trip left us with little option. Flighting to Peru, Bolivia or Argentina was too expensive, so we turned our attention to Central America. Voila!! Nicaragua became our destination.
This small country isn't on the popular vacation radar for most, but what a mistake this is. Nicaragua has hidden jewels to be discovered at affordable cost and it is probably the safest place in Central America. Put behind whatever you know about its political/civil war history and open yourself up to discover what Nicaragua has to offer today.
DAY 1 MANAGUA
Capitals usually don't attract me. I don't favor big cities, but a quick look I can always handle. And so it was in Managua: just a day, enough to see that the city isn't particularly attractive but that "Nicas"(short for Nicaraguans) are very friendly and welcoming.
An acquaintance picked us up at the airport, and boy was he committed to proudly show us his country! He gave us just enough time to drop our bags at the hotel, and dismissing the fact that we're exhausted, started a super packed tour of
Managua and its surroundings.
A driving tour of the city let us see that poverty and riches intertwine, like in a typical Latin American fashion. We passed by the area devasted by an earthquake in 1972. The old downtown was completely destroyed and the area remains an empty huge lot, as it isn't wise to build right above a known fault on the earth.
Monuments are scattered around the city, most depicting political figures involved on the turmoied history of the country. Our host told us first hand stories of the time of the civil war, as he was an young soldier in the jungles himself. PARQUE NATIONAL MASAYA VOLCANO: The gates of hell MASAYA
is an active volcano
and we could drive up all the way to its top, from where we could stand at the edge of the fuming and steaming gigantic crater, really up close. This volcano erupted in 2001 and last year (2012) as well. As it can erupt unexpectedly, cars have to be parked facing the exit, just in case a frantic escape is needed. As another precaution, visitor are only supposed to
stay at the crater for 10 minutes because of the toxic fumes and the risk of eruption. We stayed there for exactly 11 minutes, the last one spent running to the car, coughing, as the stinking fumes started to blow our way. TOWN OF MASAYA
This is a town famous as the epicenter of "artersanias"(handcrafts). We stopped at a clothing store, at the central plaza, and then at a neat little and quaint nursery. PUEBLOS BLANCOS
We drove through the charming little villages, lined with small craft shops, and up to CATARINA
. From the mirador we had sweeping views of LAGOA DE APOYO
(lake). Many locals hung around, chatting and listening to the many pairs of musicians, who went around playing serenades to anybody willing to pay them a few cordobas, the Nica currency. We ended up seating at a bar overlooking the lake and Granada town beyond it, while 3 locals played Nica music with 3 instruments, including an enormous xylophone.
As the night fell, we could admire the flickering lights of Granada far away. Back to Managua
, we went to one of the many
restaurants on the Lake Managua shore
, together with 10 members of the Nica family we know. Fish, shrimp, steak, torones (fried thick chips of smashed green plantain). We got to try sparkling water the Nica way: with lime and salt added to it! As time passed we learned that salt is added to many foods, particularly to fruit, like leech (pitomba)!
So, we started the day in Orlando, stopped for connection at the airport in Panama, toured Managua, Masaya park and volcano, Pueblos Brancos, Mirador de Catarina, visited Walter's home, and had dinner with his whole family, all in one single day
. Wow!!! I call that a super PACKET day. We were happily exhausted by the time we hit the pillow, already certain that Nicaraguans are incredibly welcoming and the country very easy to navigate. DAY 2
After the packed first day in Managua and surrounding (previous blog) and a good night of sleep, we started the day with a typical Nica breakfast
: gallo pinto (rice mixed with black beans), tostones (fried green plantain chips), fried local cheese chuncks, papaya/mango/orange juice, fried ripe plantain pieces.
Next, it was time to jump in
the car and venture beyond Managua. GRANADA
The drive to Granada was relaxing. The roads are in good condition and the landscape very lush, as this is the raining season. Mango trees lined the way and mountains stood tall on the background. I recognized most of the vegetation, as many plants and trees are also found in Brazil, Hawaii and South East Asia.
Granada is a very charming colonial town, and I fel in love with it for it immediately. Nicely restored, colorful buildings line most streets. Locals and visitors gather at the buzzling central plaza, under the shadows of the impressive orange painted cathedral. The architecture of the buildings was very pretty, and their multicolor painting brought the town to life.
The vibe of the town is wonderful. It's peaceful, slow paced, yet not necessarily sleepy. I found myself very comfortable and at ease here. Walking the streets was delightful, just as it was lounging at one of the hammocks at the lovely courtyard of El Patio hotel. At times I feel as if I had been transported to another time, at another universe, where I had not been
diagnosed with a rare cancer just 3 months ago. This place has been good for me to detach, relax, learn to move on.
There are tourists around Granada, but they consist mostly of other Latin Americans or foreigners speaking in Spanish. Just a few "gringos" (Americans). Foreigners seem to be here to learn Spanish or to be engaged on volunteering/charitable activities.
During the day visitors seem to disappear from town, only to show up at a particular street lined up with trees and restaurants at night. All restaurants and bars have outdoor tables. Music, chatting, mariachis, break dancers... You get the picture. The vibe is very much alive but the food is, let's say, predictable at most place. However one can find, Mexican to Middle-Eastern food, the later at The Camello, which I highly recommend, if you have tired of local food. There is a panaderia (bakery) which serves delicious fruit smoothies and sandwiches.
There are some colonial catholic churches scattered around town, a market, chocolate museum, coffee shops, local gyms, one even offering Zumba classes, and massage places, one offering blind massage (I tried it in China... Very nice and
with an unique touch). I had the toughest massage ever at "Pure", a gym/yoga/massage spot here in Granada. An hour of massage goes from $12 to $24. AROUND GRANADA: LAS ISLETAS
After having lunch at the shore of Lake Nicaragua, we took a boat to the canals around some of the 350 tiny islands formed 10,000 years ago by an eruption of vulcano Mombacho. Some of the islets are inhabited by modest fishermen while others by super wealthy Nicas and foreigners. We saw an island with a big home on sale for $320,000. There was one inhabited by some monkeys and another which housed a cemetery for the locals. Isla Zapatera is 2 hours from Granada but we decided we didn't have enough time to go there. MOMBACHO VOLCANO
The slopes of this volcano house vegetation and wildlife, including a cloud forest. We opted to be adventurous and see the canopy of the florest while zip-lining
going over a 1700meter course and 16 platforms. I didn't permit myself to be scared and enjoyed the adventure fully, even braving to zipline on the super-Chica position (with arms open).
El Patio is a truly lovely hotel. Great ambience, friendly and efficient staff, hammocks, garden, pool. Delightful stay indeed. DAY 3 SAN JUAN DEL SUL BEACH:
We drove to the beach town on the Pacific coast. Nothing extra special, but the bay was very picturesque, particularly seen from the top of the hill with a huge statue do Crist.
The food at one of the restaurants by the beach was okay: fish, rice, salad. FINCA by Mombacho Volcano
Our friend took us to his weekend place. Over 100 fruit trees, 2 horses, some chickens. Simple and relaxing time eating "pitombas". We drove by another small village, from where we had superb views of the crater lake. DAY 4
The time to say goodbye to Nicaragua arrived too fast. We caught a bus which took us to Costa Rica, our next destination.
Nicas (Nicaraguans) and Ticos (Costa Ricans) are neighbors who don't get a long very well. But we are here to enjoy what both countries have to offer.
See u in Costa Rica
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