Nicaragua! What a wonderful country this is to visit! It is easy to get just about anywhere without much trouble, the people are friendly, and the place has some stunning scenary! It also is a pretty inexpensive place to visit, so if you haven’t been to Nicaragua, you should add it to your future travel plans.
As is true with all Older Women, Cheap Travel trips, we have a general itinerary but then things always seem to change a bit and sometimes we do something quite different and always more than was planned. I will show the original itinerary and then what actually happened so you can see how our trips pan out.
Day One: “Arrival day.” This pretty much is what happened! Everyone was met at the airport by the hotel limo and brought back to simply relax.
Day Two – “After breakfast, we will head to the bus station and catch a short bus ride to the lovely colonial city of Granada. After we tour the city, we will grab a bus to go visit the markets of Masaya and do a night tour of the volcano….so cool! We will see lava and then tunnels of bats!”
Well, we had quite a change of plans, but we still had a great time! We stayed an extra day in Managua, the extra day I planned at the end of the trip for that city…I had to move it to the beginning for reasons of scheduling travel.
First we went to a high point where we could look down on the city of Managua. Pretty cool view. Then on the way down the hill, one of the ladies noted an interesting looking cathedral out of the taxi window and said she would like to visit. So we did! And it turned out that this would be my favorite cathedral I have visited in my life. I don’t know what it was – the Byzantine archetecture and murals or the charming peaceful prayer chapel with Jesus inside a glass dome.
Then, we went to the Oriental Market, the place every tour book and blog urges you NOT to go to because it is SO dangerous! I have no idea what they are talking about. We went with our driver and he led us through the twists and turns of the largest market in Central America. There were families with children everywhere and everyone was very friendly. Along with seeing just about everything for sale, we saw the live iguana area (so sad, the poor little tied up things were getting their heads chopped off before being bagged for someone’s dinner) and then we had a delicious seafood stew prepared right there in the market. If this wasn’t a true slice of Nicaraguan life, I don’t know what is!
After lunch, our driver took us to the Plaza de la Revolucion and the palace where we had an amazing tour of Nicaraguan history and culture with a wonderful English speaking guide, a women who really shared with us her understanding of her country and also of women in Nicaragua. Then we went strolled down to the lake and saw the remaining Christmas decorations that lined the streets. We visited “mini Managua” a really cool pre-earthquake 1970s miniature version of the city where you can walk down the street and feel like Godzilla! Right next to that is a 747 you can walk through….the Nicaraguan children loved that! After we saw enjoyed this area, we walked down to Puerto Salvador Allende and had a great meal in an upscale outdoor restaurant. We had the driver then take us back through town to see the Christmas decorations in the dark…so amazing! And he took us around the Hugo Chavez traffic circle with the huge lit rendition of Chavez and tall lit trees…for that matter, I had him drive us down the boulevard just so we could see all the Trees of Life at night, huge fake artistic trees lit with so many bulbs that it is costing the country way t0o much money – some think they should be removed – but, no! I love those gorgeous trees….so what if the education budget for children suffers! (Did I just say that out loud?) We return to the hotel and have some beer in their outside bar and hit the hay.
Day Three – “In the morning, we will head to the town square where we will catch a ride to the jungle where we will stay in a treehouse built into the side of Volcano Mombacho! We can sleep in the treehouse or a hammock in the trees! Can you hear the howler monkeys roar? This is going to be a fabulous experience!”
We are still in Managua, so our driver takes us to the bus station where we catch a van to Masaya. Originally, we were going to go to Granada and take a side trip to Masaya but it made more sense to stay in Masaya for one night and then go on to Granada. We arrive at our hotel, check in and then we go visit a fort that once was a prison where the prisoners went blind during a horrific two decade or more imprisonment due to having no light in their cells! It was dreadful to imagine anyone suffering through that. The scenery, however, from the fort itself, was very nice! (If you were lucky enough to only be visiting it). We then went on to the volcano where we were going to see those bats, they told us they restricted the tours to so few people we had no hope of getting a night tour. Whatever. We enjoyed seeing the volcano smoking and there was a beautiful sunset there. We returned to Masaya, went out for a really delicious Nicaraguan style Chinese dinner and took a swim in our hotel pool afterwards.
I think the sign by the pool in hysterically bad English was the real hit of the day!
Day Four – “We grab a bus and then a ferry to the stunning Isle of Omotepe, an hourglass-shaped island of volcanoes in the middle of the lake.”
Okay, so, we were are actually starting the day in Masaya! We got up in the morning in Masaya and went to see the local arts and crafts market. Then we had a delicious lunch and I hired a taxi to take us to the most beautiful lake I have ever swam in! The volcanic lake Apoyo…just stunning! And we couldn’t complain about the cheap fancy drinks served lakeside either! When we had enough sun, water and drinks, our taxi took us to Granada where we checked into a beautiful hotel right in the middle of town – complete with a stunning courtyard pool and really upscale rooms. We have lunch at a cafe run by the deaf where there is also a hammock factory where the weaving is done by the blind! Two of the ladies decided to simply crash until dinner and one of the other ladies and I decided to visit the cigar factory and the lovely Central Park. While we were there eating our delicious shaved ices, I found a local guy to help me book a morning tour of the lake. Then, that evening we went out and had a great Italian meal in the very energetic night area of the city.
Day Five – “We enjoy all that this beautiful island of Omotepe has to offer. We can swim in sparkling water holes, ride horses, kayak, see birds and animals, walk through splendid scenery, see petrographs and many artifacts of the pre-Columbian past of the region, visit a coffee farm…so many choices!”
Nope, we are still in Granada, so after breakfast we take the boat tour of the lake and see the houses of the rich and Monkey Island and many incredible birds. Then, we catch the local chicken bus to go to a farm in the jungle area where we will stay with a Nicaraguan family for the night (this supports what is known as community tourism). Oh, in case you are wondering what happened to the treehouse we were going to stay in, turns out the treehouse was up a really steep path with many rocks that were hard to climb; plus they were having a big party in the trees which seems to include drugs and rock and roll! Sooooo, well, I cancelled that plan and decided we should stay with the farm family. Yep, that was better.
So, what a great chicken bus ride! I chose this one for the ladies to experience because it was fairly short. It started in the crazy busy market of Granada and we just made it into the back of the bus, standing room only. Then more people got on…and a few more got on.. ..and a few more…and so it went on for another thirty minutes. Finally, off we went and it was a true chicken bus experience, but just for an hour (so the heat and overcrowding wouldn’t do anyone in). It was a fun ride and included some food sellers who somehow managed to squeeze down the aisle of the bus while it was in motion and hand out tasty treats. We left the bus when they told us we had hit the exact mile marker where the road to the farm intersected and from there we grabbed a couple of tuk-tuks (three wheeled motorized rickshaws like in India – now they are popular in many other countries) and they took us down a really rutty road to the farm.
The farm was very cool. We had a lovely four bed room with mosquito nets. We had a tour of the farm and then they killed a rooster for us (yeah, a rooster) and the wife made dinner for us on the outside fire. It was a lovely evening, eating on the porch, being served by the children.
Day Six – “We take the bus to Leon, the intellectual heart of Nicaragua where there is the University of Nicaragua, art everywhere, and wonderful museums including The Museum of the Revolution (about the Sandinistas). The city has a vibrant, youthful air!”
Okay, we haven’t yet gotten to the lovely island of Omotepe but we will head there later today. First we went to walk around the crater of the nearby volcano. We take a tuk-tuk up the mountain and then I pay for our tickets. We get on a truck which takes us to the top where we are going to do the easy walk around the crater. NOT ! That same National Park Service that gave bad info on the night volcano tour ALSO gave bad info on this hike; it was NOT easy and three out of four of us gave up within ten minutes. We went back down the mountain on the truck and I asked for our money back. They refused. I told them to call their jefe (boss) and with the Spanish I learned watching my Mexican narco telenovelas, I cussed him out and got our money back (I think it was the claim that I was a periodista/journalist that finally did the trick)!
They also misinformed us as to having any transportation down the mountain and now we were stranded. But, hey, this is Nicaragua! I set the ladies down for a little lunch in the cafe and I went out to talk to guys standing by vehicles in the parking lot. Sure enough, within five minutes, someone’s cousin was on his way to pick us up. he drove us to our farm lodging, grabbed our luggage and then drove us to the ferry that would take us to the island of Ometepe. After we disembark from the ferry, we take a taxi to the ecolodge we will be staying at and no one is there when we arrive; no caretakers and no guests. I call their phone number and we can hear the phone ringing inside the main house. But, we relax and enjoy the howler monkeys in the trees. Eventually, the owner sees my email and calls me, apologizing profusely. The family was at a funeral and forgot we were coming. They finally show up, make us a fabulous dinner which we ate in the living/dining area in their house and the owner made a trip to the liquor store to bring us wine and other spirits. It turned out to be a very lovely place.
Day Seven – Jan 11- We have so many options today! Along with seeing the fabulous city of the new Leon, we can visit the old Leon, the ruins of the ancient Spanish city, board down a volcano (yes, really! We probably won’t but cool, eh?) and visit a local nontouristy beach.
Okay, now we are doing Day Five on Day Seven. We toured Ometepe stopping at two wonderful swimming places. One was a lagoon that was just stunning! And the other was a lake that was so warm and peaceful with the volcano soaring up behind it. We had a fantastic whole fish dinner at a local cafe the driver found for us when I told him I wanted really good Nicaraguan food away from the tourists. The beach also was a local beach so we shared it with some young boys and a family and their pig.
Day Eight – Jan 12 – We will bus to Esteli, a mountainous rainforest where we will stay in an ecolodge or, perhaps, with a local Nicaraguan family.
Yeah, we are now taking the ferry back to the mainland and the bus to Leon. We arrive at a very chaotic bus station and grab a couple of bicycle rickshaws to our hotel. That evening we wander down the street until we arrive at a nice restaurant and enjoy a leisurely meal.
Day Nine – “A day in Esteli.We can visit a cigar factory and La Ganarcha, a nature reserve and community where we will see Swiss cheese made and learn about numerous livelihoods with local guides taking us through their world. We can do a night tour of the river and caves and see….supposedly elves (!) along with nocturnal animals.”
We are still a two days behind the original schedule, so this is the day we actual see Leon (we can’t even remember the original schedule; we are having fun!) We go to a couple of very interesting museums (one was fully of bizarre paper mache people representing creepy myths – like the woman who lures men to their death with her boob – and the rest of the museum was about death during the revolution…bizarre!) and see a fabulous church. We didn’t go to the beach (we had a lot of swimming in Ometepe) and no one was brave enough to lava board down the volcano! But a couple of us got hour long massages for only $15; another business of the blind in Nicaragua! Blind masseuses and masseurs! What a brilliant idea! You don’t have to worry about people seeing you naked.
Day Ten – “We bus to the city of Managua. We will arrive by noon, so we have the rest of the day to explore; we can see the palace, the cathedral, the Plaza de la Revolucion….we won’t have a lack of places to see here.”
Now we are busing north but we don’t go to Estelli. We were going to stay in a farming community there but I replaced it with the other one since no one ever answered my emails. So I changed our location to Selva Negra, an ecolodge in Matagalpa. We took another chicken bus which was a bit of a challenging ride (we had seats but they are REALLY close together – not so good for American bodies), but we survived and arrived in time for dinner. We checked into our hotel and walked up the street to a charming little Italian restaurant which was popular with the locals.
Day Eleven – “Today we will see what we missed yesterday and then, join Nicaraguan families in one of their favorite spots, Puerto Salvador Allendo, by the water. To wind down, perhaps, a “fancy” meal, a little wine, and reminiscing!”
Not back to Managua yet! We spend the morning in Matagalpa visiting a coffee museum and a church and have a little lunch and learn a bit more about the Sandinista National Liberation Front as this city is its birthplace. Then we take a taxi up to the ecolodge and settle in. Later in the afternoon, we take a nature hike with a guide and learn about the vegetation and the birds. We have a German dinner in the lodge which is run by ….yes, Germans! There are quite a few Germans in that area of Nicaragua! There is a night hike where we see very cool frogs and a Nicaraguan opossum!
Day Twelve – “Last day in Managua.”
Normally, I like to save our time to explore the city we arrive to and leave from for the last couple of days of the trip. However, I wasn’t to worried about getting back to it from Selva Negra because we weren’t that far away and it worked better to change our plans. So, this morning we were still in the rainforest and we got up and took an amazing coffee plantation tour at Selva Negra. I went on one in Costa Rica and this tour beat that one ten times over! We got to see everything about the coffee process from visiting with the coffee pickers to seeing each step of the coffee bean handling – the washing, drying, sorting, packing. Then, we sampled coffee. When we finished up the tour, we had a taxi take us to the bus station where I found lunch right there on the stands (delicious grilled chicken, tortillas, cheese). Then we boarded our bus (we had first class this time….aaah!) and off we went back to the capital, Managua. Upon arrival, we got a taxi to our hotel and just chilled! We took a swim in the pool, had the lady there cook us a homemade meal, got a bottle of wine, and enjoyed our last moments in Nicaragua. Two of us left that evening and two of us left in the morning. The hotel had a taxi service that took us to the airport and made sure we got there in time.
Oh, wait! Before you go, you just have to look at these beautiful photos of animals and birds I took in Nicaragua! It is a nature paradise!