As you travel north and up out of the sultry Pacific lowlands, your introduction to Nicaragua’s hilly interior begins with the Sébaco Valley, green with rice, carrot, and onion fields. From there, the Pan-American Highway struggles upward to the pleasant city of Estelí , “Diamond of the Segovias,” then continues through mountains and valleys dotted with rural villages whose inhabitants are proud to call themselves norteños.
Most folks here get along by subsistence farming and ranching, while cash crops like tobacco and coffee also define the land; a few communities boast talented artisans in pottery, leather, and stone. Underneath the north’s gentle exterior of pine trees and tended fields are minor ruins of ancient cities, deep pools and cascades, and rugged communities of farmers and cowboys.
The north of Nicaragua is poorer than the rest, and suffers acutely from drought, poor soils, and deforestation: Nowhere else is the six-month dry season so intense. The challenging living conditions however make for a hardy and hardworking people, quick with a smile or a story.
The curious and unrushed traveler will not regret breaking away from the highway and going deep into this northern countryside.