Less than 28 kilometers away from downtown Managua is a little pocket of wilderness so vibrant with wildlife you’ll forget the capital is literally just over the horizon. The Chocoyero-El Brujo Nature Reserve (tel. 505/2276-7810, foreigners $3.50) is a 41-square-kilometer protected hardwood forest that provides nearly 20 percent of Managua’s water supply. In the midst of moist hardwood forest and pineapple farms are two 25-meter waterfalls separated by a rocky knife-edge. El Brujo was named The Warlock because to the locals the fact that no river flows out from the waterfall meant it must be enchanted. The other fall, Chocoyero, was named for the incredible number of chocoyos (parakeets) that inhabit the adjacent cliff walls.
In addition to having well-kept hiking trails, Chocoyero-El Brujo is one of the few places in Nicaragua that encourages tent camping.In fact, this protected area is a naturalist’s paradise, with five kinds of chocoyo and 113 other bird species (including several owls), plus 49 species of mammals, and 21 species of reptiles and amphibians. Sharp-eyed travelers may even spot small cat species, like tigrillos and gatos de monte, and you’ll likely hear both howler and capuchin monkeys in the treetops. In addition to having well-kept hiking trails, Chocoyero-El Brujo is one of the few places in Nicaragua that encourages tent camping, making it a great place to spend an evening in the wild. Conditions are simple: a rustic, wooden base camp where guides will meet you and walk you the remaining way to the falls. The two best times to see the chocoyos are at 5:30am, when they leave their nests, and at 4pm, when the flock returns. To catch the morning commute, you’ll obviously have to spend the previous night there.
Guides, available on weekends, charge a nominal fee ($5-10 for a group of 12). You can rent two-person tents on the premises for $11 each, or set up your own. This is a safe, pretty, and easily accessible area in which to camp for a night. If you call ahead and make a reservation, they’ll even cook simple, traditional Nica fare for you for about $3 per meal. The reserve is actively promoting low-ropes courses, enviro-camps, and more to local schools and church groups.
Unless you have rented a vehicle, you’ll need to charter a sturdy taxi from Managua with a group to take you all the way to the reserve. In a vehicle the trip takes 45 minutes. Otherwise, take any bus leaving Managua’s Huembes terminal bound for La Concepción (called La Concha for short); buses leave Managua every 15 minutes. Get off at Km 21.5, where you’ll see a wooden sign for the park entrance, then stretch out for a long walk. The dirt road that travels seven kilometers southwest to the reserve leads down a series of volcanic ridges and across a broad valley to the falls. It’s an easy two-hour walk, passing through fields of pineapples, bananas, and coffee. Halfway down the road, you’ll find a small community where you can rent bikes or horses to take you the rest of the way (horse $1 per hour, guide $1 per hour, bicycle $0.50 per hour). There also may be some buses from Ticuantepe that take you all the way in—ask around.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.