• Isla Ometepe
From Costa Rica to Nicaragua… Off we were, Dean, Ali and myself on another bus ride from Liberia, Costa Rica to the Nicaraguan border. A rather small and squishy bus ride, however not that long so it was not too bad! We made it to the border and after finally finding change to pay for our visas to enter Nicaragua we were allowed into the country! Amazing to think that these countries ask you to pay upon entry yet they have no change for a $20 bill! We were then approached by several taxi drivers offering a ride to the ferry terminal for Isla Ometepe, which was about an hour away from the border. When we were told it was going to cost us $10 for an hour taxi ride so we did not even look into the prospect of taking a bus! The first introduction to Nicaragua was a good one, much cheaper than Costa Rica and a lot more authentic. The ride was easy, the roads were fine and we passed loads of wind turbines (check out pics) and before we knew it we were at the ferry terminal. With luck on our side, as it seems to have been most of our trip, there was a ferry at the dock and about to leave! We jumped on and within 5 minutes we were on our way to Isla Ometepe. An easy and very scenic ride!
Just over an hour later we arrived at Ometepe, which is an island formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua. Its name derives from the Nahuatl words ome (two) and tepe (mountain), meaning two mountains. It is the largest island in Lake Nicaragua as well as the largest volcanic island inside a fresh water lake in the world! It is an incredibly stunning natural landscape!
The two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas, are joined to form one island in the shape of an hourglass. Ometepe has an area of about 276 km². It is 31 km long and 5 to 10 km wide. The island has a population of 42,000, and an economy generally based on livestock, agriculture, and tourism.
We had an amazing three full days on this island and made the most of seeing as much as we could. We stayed at two different parts of the island. One day we rented a van and a driver and got a good feel and sense for the island, whilst the other two days we rented our own 4x4 and drove around this volcanic formed island. What a great adventure. This island is so lush and green and has lots of cute little villages to stop at and observe very simple day to day life events. We also enjoyed a hike up one of the volcanoes. Unfortunately we did not have the time or the energy to hike up both! However, we did hike up Concepcion and had a great view and perspective of this island from the top! We also enjoyed some great views and sunsets of the other volcano, Maderas. The three of us really enjoyed our time on the island. Next stop Granada…
We took a ferry ride back to the mainland from the island of Ometepe. We were then told it was a public holiday and there would be no buses to Granada so we had to take a taxi. We were not 100% convinced so I asked the taxi driver if he could drive us to the bus station so we could check to be sure there were no buses. I negotiated a price for the ride to the bus station and another price all the way to Granada. If we were really taken to the bus station it was closed. The driver could have taken us anywhere though, how would we have known where the station was for sure! Anyway, we were off with our very friendly taxi driver to Granada, a little more than an hour drive. The luxury of all these taxi rides instead of local buses! An easy ride and in no time, we arrived at Granada.
Granada is a city in western Nicaragua and the capital of the Granada Department. With an estimated population of over 120,000, it is Nicaragua's fifth most populated city. Granada is historically one of Nicaragua's most important cities, economically and politically. It has a rich colonial heritage, seen in its architecture and structure. Granada was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, the first European city in mainland America. Over the years Granada has been in fierce political battles with its arch rival, the city of Leon. Both Granada and Leon were engaged in power struggles for hundreds of years with the political centre of the nation often shifting between each city, until it was decided to make Managua the capital of the nation!
It was very hot but that did not stop us from walking our feet off! We all enjoyed walking the gorgeous streets of this old colonial city. Ali organized a wonderful walking tour of the city and we enjoyed seeing the cathedrals, old colonial buildings and shop fronts, walking by the river and we found a wonderful courtyard restaurant with amazing tasting vegetarian food and juices. We loved it so much we went back twice! Thanks Ali for treating us to dinner on the second occasion – it was a lovely gesture and greatly appreciated!
Before leaving Granada that day we enjoyed a very cheap and filling Almuerzo for under $2. Masaya was a short 40 minute bus ride from Granada and we ventured out to this small town one day to visit the well known local market. It did take us awhile to find the “famous market”. Once we found it we enjoyed seeing all the colorful handicrafts and buying a few local gifts. We enjoyed a stroll along the main street in Masaya, visiting the main square, market, doing a little shopping and having a great fresh juice. We then ventured back to Granada on the bus. All in all a nice experience being able to see local people living day to day life trading goods at the market!
The capital and biggest city of Nicaragua is Managua. What a strange city! We made a pit stop here for a day and night. Firstly because Ali was flying out of Managua, her last stop with us and we thought we might as well spend at least a day visiting the capital, and a day was enough! It was a strange city in the sense that we walked and walked and when in the city center we were trying to understand where the city center was and what there was to see?!?! It was all very confusing because there were not many building around, but it all became clear when we saw pictures of what the city looked like before the destructive earthquake of 1972. Put simply, there are only 2 buildings remaining in the center of town, the Cathedral and Palacio. Nada mas, no more, nothing else except these two buildings. The rest of the city center is like a ghost town. From pictures we saw it was evident that pre 1972 the city center was something of 20 blocks / cuadras! It is not surprising that they have not taken the time to rebuild it as the old center of town is right on the fault line and about ever 40 years the town is hit with a devastating earthquake! The last one was in 1972 so in theory another one should have hit around the time we were there! Luckily we left in time and I guess an earthquake will be on its way one day...
We made the most of our day walking around the city, visiting the Estadio de beisbol de Dennis Martinez, what is left of the city center (2 edificios!), walking along the Malecon, having a drink on the water front, visiting the footprints at the Museo Arqueologico (Huellas de Acahualinca) and meeting my brother’s friend and his gorgeous puppies! Check out our pictures.
Ali sadly left us in Managua to fly back to the UK, but we continued on our journey to our next destination, the wonderfully charming colonial city of Leon. Thanks so much for joining us Ali we loved having you around and catching up!
After seeing our dear friend Ali off we had a 3 hour bus ride from Managua to Leon and a rather scary ride at that! Our driver was so impatient and overtaking on hills and on corners! What a lunatic, but we are still here to tell the story!
Another gorgeous colonial town. A little more built up and commercial than Granada, however, as easy if not easier to walk around the streets and admire all the old cathedrals, buildings and markets.
We also went and visited the Museo de la Revolucion, learning all about the history of Nicaragua that we knew nothing about! We learnt about the atrocities of the Somoza dictatorship and also the US funded Contra War, both major events in shaping the nation into what it is today and a very sad part of Nicaraguan history. The people are supremely resilient considering all they have been through and are incredibly friendly. We feel fortunate enough to have been explained the story from the Sandinista side of the fence! The Sandinista National Liberation Front or FSLN is today a social democratic political party in Nicaragua led by Daniel Ortega. Its members are called Sandinistas and the party is named after Augusto Cesar Sandino who led the Nicaraguan resistance against the United States occupation of Nicaragua in the 1930s. The FSLN overthrew Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979, ending the Somoza dynasty, and established a revolutionary government in its place.
From Leon we took three buses out to visit Leon Viejo, the old Leon, well in fact the original Leon now known as the old! We did not realize it was as far as it was and that we would have to take so many buses to get there. It was well worth it in the end as we got to visit the old historic sites of Leon and had our own private tour guide. The best part of our day trip for me was the journey back. We missed the last local bus back to Leon so we ended up hitching a ride with our guide in the back of a delivery truck! It was so much fun as we drove through a few villages delivering groceries and merchandise to the locals. After our delivery rounds the truck broke down on the way back, so we had to wait for the truck driver’s brother to come and pick us up on the side of the road. From there we were dropped off to get a tuk tuk and finally a bus form the main road to get back to Leon. A rather long journey back, however, well worth it. Those are the type of real experiences you do not forget and live with you forever!
We also managed to meet up with Ciro, another couch surfer, who could not host us but could meet for a drink and to share travel stories! What an interesting guy! Ciro has been travelling for some five years, speaks loads of languages and had so many great stories to share. Nice to meet you Ciro. Hope you are well and still enjoying your travels wherever you may be now.
Leon is one of the coolest and most interesting colonial cities in all of Latin America (along with Sucre, Cuenca, Granada, Villa de Leyva, Popayan) and is definitely worth visiting for a good few days if you are in the region. Excellent!!!
Leon to Esteli, the cigar capital of Nicaragua (and only if Foxy had known we were there then we could have met up with the famous Cigar family he knows in Esteli!). We couchsurfed with the lovely Costa Rican family; Priscilla, her husband Ivan and their gorgeous daughter. We also got to meet Ana who was a German girl CouchSurfing at their place. We shared many great meals, chats and learned a lot about photography, as Priscilla is a professional photographer. Thanks for the lesson on how to take photos using the manual setting. Dean is now an expert at taking pictures on manual thanks to the two of you and thinks we have to start our trip all over again to take even better pictures now! Lol jajaja
We Enjoyed the chilled out nature of Esteli, walking around the streets and we also got to meet Alex from Trinidad through couchsurfing. Thanks for the great stories and chat. It was really cool to hang out and laugh a lot. Great to have met you and hope life in Esteli is treating you and your roommates well.
Our last stop in Nicaragua was Somoto. A short and easy bus ride. We made it to Somoto early evening and met up with a friend of our next couch surfer to get the keys to his place as our couch surfing host was on a trip. We were kindly greeted given the keys to the office/ room we were going to stay in for the night. We set up shop in our room/ office, went to get a bite to eat and then hit the sack as we were planning on getting an early start to see the town of Somoto and then go canyoning down the river. This is the main reason one stops in Somoto, to go canyoning down the river. It actually is definitely worth the stop. We walked part of the way, got a paddle boat other parts and in more deep and narrow parts we swam and floated. The water was a little chilly, however, it was well worth the trip out and the scenery was gorgeous!
Our time in Nicaragua was wonderful! The country was a lot better than we thought it would be. It was cheap, the people were very friendly and it was a purely authentic and raw experience. It is not built up or westernized at all and we thoroughly had a fabulous time! Probably one of our highlights in all of Latin America in terms of an original and humbling experience.
Hope this finds you all happy, healthy and well. Next stop Honduras...
Lots of love,