Jinotepe (Xilotepetl, or “field of baby corn”) is a sometimes-sleepy, sometimes-bustling villa of 27,000 set around La Iglesia Parroquial de Santiago (built in 1860) and a lively park shaded by the canopy of several immense hardwood trees. Thanks to a branch of UNAN, Jinotepe’s student population keeps things youthful and lively, and its outdoor market is fun.
Don’t miss the beautiful two-block-long mural on the nursing school (three blocks west of the park’s northwest corner) and the towering statue of Pope John Paul II in front of the church. While you’re there, enjoy an icy, chocolatey cacao con leche in the kiosk under the shade trees of one of Nicaragua’s shadiest parks.
The Hotel Casa Mateo (one block north of the park and two west, tel. 505/2532-3284, U.S. tel. 410/878-2252, $45-65) has 40 rooms with TV, private bath, hot water, and fan; also laundry service, a guard for your car, a restaurant (called Jardín de los Olivos), conference room, and Wi-Fi. This is a nonprofit ministry hotel run by Glenn and Lynne Schweitzer, pastors and missionaries from Maryland, to help fund Quinta Esperanza, a home for abused and orphaned children, preschool, and vocational center. They offer special group rates ($15–20 pp).
There are dozens of small, decent eateries, but Managua expats actually drive here to enjoy
Pizzería Coliseo (one block north of Bancentro, tel. 505/2532-2150 or 505/2532-2646, open 12:30–9 p.m., closed Monday, $6 and up), a legitimate Italian restaurant run by Rome originario Fausto, who’s been preparing delicious pizzas and pasta in Jinotepe for more than 20 years. Ask anyone and they’ll guide you there.
Not quite as authentic, Pizza To Go (half block east of the BDF, tel. 505/2532-0754, closed Tuesday) is half the price and twice as popular among locals; the place is packed every night and they deliver.
Diriamba’s Festival of San Sebastian in the third week of January is an annual religious, theatrical, folklore celebration uninterrupted since colonial days. Featuring both pagan and Catholic elements, it is without rival in western Nicaragua, comparable perhaps only to Bluefield’s Palo de Mayo.
Visit the Museo Ecológico de Tropico Seco (tel. 505/2422-2129, open Mon.–Fri.), for background on much of the region’s unique dry tropical ecosystem. The MARENA office here ministers some of the local turtle-nesting refuges.
Hospedaje Diriangén (one block east, half block south of the Shell Station, tel. 505/2422-2428, $7 pp with private bath and fan), is clean enough and safe. The Casa Hotel Diriamba (one block east of the clock tower, tel. 505/2523-2523, $11) is more central.
Outside of town on the road to Managua , the Eco Lodge El Jardín Tortuga Verde (tel. 505/2534-2948 or 505/8905-5313, rorappal [at] turbonett [dot] com [dot] ni, www.ecolodgecarazo.com , $25–45) is truly a pleasant and peaceful guesthouse whose six clean, comfortable rooms are built around a beautiful garden filled with statues. They can show you around their converted coffee plantation now rife with lush flowers and vegetation; ask about their beach house in Casares and horseback riding trips.
Every pueblo’s fiestas patronales have something that make them unique, but Diriamba’s celebration of the Holy Martyr San Sebastián stands above the rest as Nicaragua’s most authentic connection to its indigenous roots.
Many of the dances, songs, and costumes are true to traditions that predate the arrival of the Spanish by hundreds of years. But this is no nostalgia act — indeed, the integration of pre-Columbian ritual with Catholicism and the telling of modern history is as fascinating as the colors, costumes, and music.
This celebration is actually three fiestas for the price of one, since icons of San Santiago of Jinotepe, San Marcos of San Marcos, and San Sebastián of Diriamba have been observed together since the three of them first traveled from Spain, landing at nearby Casares beach. The icons are still believed to have the special bond they formed during their journey, and they get together to celebrate this three times a year during the fiesta of each of their towns.
Santiago and Marcos meet up at the tope (end of the road) in Dolores on (or around) January 19, where they are danced around the village to a bombardment of cheers and homemade fireworks. The next day, they reunite with their pal, Sebastián, in Diriamba, where the town has been partying for four days in preparation.
The following day is the peak of activities, the actual Día del Santo, marked by special masses and, sometimes, groups of tourists that come to view the long, raucous procession, famous for its theatrical dances and costumes. The following are the most important acts:
The Dance of Toro Huaco is of indigenous ancestry and features peacock feather hats and a multigeneration snake dance, with the youngest children bringing up the rear and an old man with a special tambourine and whistle up front.
El Güegüense, also called the Macho Ratón, is recognizable for its masks and costumes depicting burdened-down donkeys and the faces of Spanish conquistadores. The Gùegùense (from the old word güegüe, which means something like grumpy old man) is a hard-handed social satire with cleverly vulgar undertones that depicts the indigenous peoples’ first impression of the Spanish — it has been called the oldest comedy act on the continent.
El Gigante is a dance that depicts the biblical story of David and Goliath, and La Danza de las Inditas is a group act, recognizable by the white cotton costumes and the sound of the marimba. Most of the dancers are carrying out a family tradition that has been kept for dozens of generations, and each usually has a grandma-led support team on the sidelines to make sure their costumes and performances are kept in order.
A true believer will tell you that Diriamba’s fiesta begins not on January 19, but on February 2 of the previous year, when the official fiesteros apply for roles in the upcoming celebration; they then begin more than 11 months of preparation, all of which is seen as a display of faith and thanks to their beloved San Sebastián. Those that don’t show their devotion by dancing or playing music do so by carrying the icons or fulfilling promises to walk a certain number of blocks on their knees, sometimes until bloody.
Bring plenty of film, and be sure to try the official beverage of the festival: chicha con genibre, a ginger-tinted, slightly fermented cornmeal drink. Most of the masks and costumes in the productions are also for sale, as are homemade action figures depicting the various dance characters.
Sleek, comfortable interlocal minibuses leave for both Jinotepe and Carazo from the UCA in Managua until 10 p.m. and much slower rutas leave from Terminal Israel Lewites.
From Jinotepe, buses leave from the COOTRAUS terminal—a dirt lot along the Pan-American Highway directly north of the park—at all hours for Managua , Masaya , Nandaime , and Rivas . Microbuses to Managua leave from the unofficial Sapasmapa terminal on the south side of the Instituto Alejandro, 4:45 a.m.–7:30 p.m. ($1). Your most comfortable choice is one of the interlocales to Diriamba and San Marcos queued up on the street in front of the Super Santiago—only the front one will load passengers, departing when the van is full.
From Diriamba, a fleet of interlocales run to and from Jinotepe for about $0.25, 6 a.m.–9 p.m. daily from a spot right next to the clock tower.
Walk east and take your first left to find microbus expresos to Managua’s Mercado Israel Lewites and the UCA for $1, 5 a.m.–7 p.m. A little farther east at the first caseta (booth) on the left, you can ask about all the buses that pass from Jinotepe (Managua: 4:30 a.m.–6 p.m.; Masaya : 5 a.m.–6 p.m.).