In the foothills of the Segovia Mountains, about a 90-minute drive northeast of León , the village of El Sauce (rhymes with WOW-seh) was once the eastern terminus of the railroad that received inland-grown Nicaraguan coffee bound for the port at Corinto .
In the 1800s, caravans of mules lumbered into town, laden with thousands of pounds of cof-fee beans. El Sauce has since faded into a sleepy cowboy village whose pride and joy is a breathtaking colonial church built in 1750 in tribute to the patron saint, El Cristo Negro de Esquipulas (the Black Christ).
El Sauce celebrates its fiestas patronales on January 18 and attracts a massive pilgrimage (as many as 25,000 people!) from all over Nicaragua to view the Black Christ icon.
El Sauce makes a fine first stop on pueblo-hopping routes toward Achuapa, San Juan de Limay , and Estelí . There are a couple of places to eat in town, and several simple hospedajes for lodging: Try Hotel Blanco (tel. 505/2319-2403) or Hotel El Viajero (tel. 505/2319-2325, $3 shared bath, $5 private bath and TV).
If you’re gong to stay here though, a better option is to sample El Sauce’s unique community-based tourism project, administered by the Associación Turistica de El Sauce (one block west of the bus station, tel. 505/2319-2213 or 505/8907-9645, visit.elsauce [at] gmail [dot] com). They can rent bicycles ($5 a day, $2 for two hours), and provide local history tours by teenagers who are forming their own company, Sauce Tours. Ask to see the church, the railroad line (with great views), swimming holes in the river, farm tours, and more. They also manage the Casa Huespedes guesthouse program, where you can stay in a local home for $16 a night (three meals included) or $11 a night with just breakfast.
Their most spectacular offering is an overnight excursion to Los Altos de Ocotal (note: this is a local mountain peak, not the northern town of Ocotal), run by a rural tourism cooperative in Las Minitas, about 17 kilometers from El Sauce (steep road, takes about an hour, four-wheel drive necessary; contact Los Altos at 505/2319-2213 or 505/8907-9645 , or directly at altos.de.ocotal [at] gmail [dot] com). One reader told us that “the most spectacular view I’ve seen so far in Nicaragua” is from El Ocotal.
Stay with a host family for about $6 a night. There are hiking trails, horseback riding, and different tours to learn about the campo lifestyle, coffee production, and forest conservation, all in gorgeous pine forest (tours are only $2–$4 per person). Pick up some organic coffee and export-quality pine needle baskets. You can also go to the cooperative in a ruta (small truck) that leaves the bus station everyday at 2 p.m. and comes back to El Sauce at 7 a.m. for $1 per person each way.