04 Jun Vacations in Nicaragua: five alternative touristic destinations
There are two ways of spending your vacations in Nicaragua. The first, in which you will visit traditional destinations (volcanoes, beaches, colonial cities) where you will usually find other foreign tourists like yourself. And the second way, in which you distance yourself from the crowds of tourists and venture into less frequented spots. In this post we will talk about five spots that you should visit if you are interested in truly enjoying Nicaraguan food, speaking more Spanish in the process, stepping away from the humid heat of the pacific and discovering the rural side of our country.
1. Macizo de Peñas Blancas (Matagalpa – Jinotega)
The trip will take between four or five hours by bus, and a little less time in a 4×4 vehicle, but it is worth the effort. Can you imagine watching the sunset from one of the highest mountains in Nicaragua (1,745 meters above sea level)? It is a wonderful experience: you can sit on the top, drink a delicious northern coffee and watch the rays of sun bathe the mountainous surrounding.
The Macizo was declared a natural reserve in the 1990s, but it is also part of the Bosawás Reserve, known as one of the “lungs” of Central America. In this place you will find some rural lodging options that have been built by local families or peasant cooperatives that live in the area. Not everyone speaks English, so it will be the perfect opportunity to dust off the Spanish you should have learned in high school.
Although there is little luxury in the Massif, tourists are met by the kindness of people who cook typical Nicaraguan food: for example, a delicious chicken soup cooked in a wood-burning stove. Besides its pure and cold waters, the place is famous for the impressive forests that are still in their natural state, its fresh climate and the possibility of interacting with a fauna that can not be seen in the cities.
2. Apoyo Lagoon (Granada-Masaya)
Although famous among tourists, “La Laguna” – as the locals call it – is little explored for anything other than its beach, with its volcanic sand. However, trekking tours around this extinct crater can be arranged here. In 2015, three trails suitable for national and foreign visitors were enabled: Los Mangos (860 meters), Railway Line (2.1 kilometers) and Pila Pacaya (3.5 kilometers).
To support the local economy and take a tour without getting lost in the area, its recommended to hire a local tourist guide service. You can ask for them at the entrance to the Mirador de Catarina (from where you have breathtaking views of the Lagoon). The guides will give you information about the flora, fauna (including varieties of birds, monkeys and iguanas) and history of this destination, which you will want to visit every time you return to Nicaragua.
In the valley of the lagoon its also possible to swim, kayak, paddle board, dive and sail on a catamaran. All these activities are usually done within the hostels available in the area. Among the most famous are The Monkey Hut, Laguna Beach, Hotel Selva Azul, Paradiso Beach Hotel, San Simián Eco Resort and La Abuela Ecological Inn.
Tourists can reach the Mirador de Catarina on the buses that leave from the Roberto Huembes Market towards the ¨Pueblos Blancos¨ (White Villages), among them Nandaime. In case you are traveling by private or rented vehicle, the driver must take the Carretera a Masaya, from Managua, and turn right after arriving at the department of Masaya; in the area there are several signs that will indicate the way.
To get to the Laguna valley, where the beaches are, you can take a minibus to Granada in front of the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), get off at the “El Puentecito” stop and take a taxi that takes you to this point.
3. El Castillo (Río San Juan)
They say that small towns – with few streets and inhabitants – are often the most picturesque. This is the case of El Castillo, a tourist destination that owes its name to the a fortress called ¨Fortaleza Castillo de la Inmaculada Concepción¨, built by the Spanish settlers to protect their properties from foreign invaders.
From this peaceful place, where in addition to the fort there is a butterfly garden and several hotels of different categories, you can see the waters – generally peaceful – of the San Juan River, which at the same time serves as a natural border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. In the village there are also small restaurants where tourists can watch the alligators that rest under the buildings.
El Castillo is part of a larger circuit that runs across the San Juan River. From here, you can organize tours to the Indio Maiz Reserve, night tours of alligator sightings, trips to San Juan de Nicaragua (a tiny village where the river meets the Caribbean Sea) and the ruins of Greytown, tours where you can kayak over the San Juan river, as well as many other river and eco friendly activities.
4. Somoto Canyon (Madriz)
Swimming among the high, rocky walls of one of the oldest formations in Central America can make you feel as small as an ant. That is one of the experiences offered by the Somoto Canyon, a destination “discovered” thirteen years ago by Czech and Nicaraguan geologists, and later designated as a national monument.
What we recommended here is to take the tour that crosses the entire canyon – a journey that takes about five hours – and which combines walking, swimming in natural pools and navigating in an inflatable boat, led by a local tour guide. The adventure includes the opportunity of jumping from rocks of different heights and plunging into the cold fresh water, very characteristic of the North of Nicaragua.
If you are not so adventurous and prefer a more quiet option, its also possible to tour the canyon from above and observe the surroundings in a series of viewpoints that are arranged for domestic and foreign tourists. The more risky, meanwhile, will coordinate the practice of Rappel in one of the walls of the canyon or will camp for one or more nights in areas built for this purpose.
5. Nature Reserve El Chocoyero-El Brujo
Located 28 kilometers south of Managua, this destination is famous for the chocoyos (green parrots) that musicalize the corners of this nature reserve announcing their departure (in the morning) and their arrival (in the afternoon). These peculiar birds live in hundreds of nests they have “built” near the waterfalls they inhabit.
When visiting this place, its recommended to hire the services of a local tourist guide that has been certified by the Tourism Institute (INTUR). Most of them are young and speak English, so besides providing up-to-date and scientific information about the destination, they will gladly respond to the questions the tourist may have.
The guides will be very helpful in identifying flora and fauna that you would probably overlook if you make the tour on your own. In this tourist destination you can organize different routes, from the simplest – that takes you from the entrance of the reserve to the waterfall – to others of greater length, which involve hiking through a series cliffs and other interesting rocky formations. In addition, it is possible to camp in the reserve.
In recent years, bicycle tours have become available from Managua to El Chocoyero, along roads that run parallel to the city of Masaya and connect with this reserve. At Hostal La Bicicleta we offer information about tourist guides that can accompany you during this mountain bike tour. Don´t hesitate to ask us!