Coffee ready for roasting at a cooperative. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

La Ruta de Café: Nicaragua’s Coffee Cooperatives

Both international coffee merchants and café-turistas can travel a circuit of coffee cooperatives scattered through the mountains of Jinotega, Matagalpa, and the Segovias. As a participant in this Ruta de Café, you can stay for a couple of hours or a couple of days, living and eating meals with the families, picking coffee, and learning about all stages of the process.

View of the city of Matagapa. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Planning Your Time in Nicaragua’s Highlands

East of the Pan-American Highway is a rugged region of blue-green hillsides, thickly forested mountains, and small farming villages of adobe homes and clay-tile roofs. Unlike anywhere else in the country, these are Nicaragua’s Highlands. Draped over the curves of rolling hills, Matagalpa is the more elegant of the region’s two big cities, while Jinotega remains a cowboy town and feels like the end of the road.

A sulphur lake lies in the crater of a Tecapa Volcano near Alegria, El Salvador. Photo © lanabyko/123rf.

Planning Your Time in Northern and Eastern El Salvador

Northern and eastern El Salvador remain largely untrodden, especially the eastern parts of the country, where heavy fighting took place during the civil war. These remote areas may take a little more effort to get to, but they are the gateway to authentic Salvadoran culture, uncorrupted by tourism and relatively unfazed by American influence.

View of Lake Izabal from Castillo de San Felipe de Lara. Photo © Stuart Gray/123rf.

Planning Your Time in El Oriente and Izabal

The Izabal region features a unique kind of Caribbean experience not at all like Cancún or the West Indies but nonetheless beautiful. Meanwhile in El Oriente, Copán showcases some of the Mayan world’s finest ruins and the surrounding mountainous countryside is becoming increasingly popular with travelers exploring coffee farms, a jungle bird park, and hot springs.

El Brujo Waterfall in Chocoyero-El Brujo Natural Reserve. Photo © Tomas Benavente/123rf.

Spend a Night at Chocoyero-El Brujo Nature Reserve

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 a naturalist’s paradise; among hardwood forests and pineapple farms, you’ll find waterfalls, hiking, and camping alongside numerous species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Rio Celeste Valley in Volcan Tenorio National Park, Costa Rica. Photo © Joerg Hackemann/123rf.

Hiking Tenorio Volcano National Park

Volcán Tenorio, rising southeast of Upala, is blanketed in montane rainforest and protected within Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio. Local hiking is superb, albeit often hard going on higher slopes. Cougars and jaguars tread the forests, where birds and beasts abound.

El Mercado Viejo in Masaya. Photo © Carles-Amalaric Navarro Parcerisas/123rf.

Sights in Masaya, Nicaragua

Soak in the culture and people-watching of Masaya’s plazas, especially the throbbing social and commercial heart of the mostly indigenous Monimbó neighborhood, peruse crafts markets where find all manner of delightful surprises: locally made leather shoes, brass, iron, carved wood, and textile handicrafts, plus paintings, clothing and hammocks, and cool off after an intense morning in the market on the windswept malecón.

Jaguars have spots within spots, or rosettes, and are larger than leopards. Photo © brezina123.

Balam: Jaguars in Guatemala

The Maya had great respect and reverence for the jaguar, which they called balam. Jaguars were a symbol of power and strength and were believed to act as mediums for communication between the living and the dead. Scientists have been studying jaguars in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, but luckily, you don’t need to go traipsing through the jungle to see one: Guatemala City’s excellent zoo has jaguars, as does Petén’s ARCAS wildlife rescue center.