The 9,000 inhabitants of the Tierra de los Alfareros (Land of the Potters) eke out a living raising cattle, corn, and beans as did the Nahuatl centuries before. Truckloads of pre-Columbian pottery have been dug out of area cornfields, and the tradition lives on today with a women’s pottery cooperative in Ducualí Grande.
Before the revolution, only three terretenientes (landowners) owned all the land from Condega to Yalí. Condegans proudly supported the Sandinistas, which led to lots of harassment from Somoza’s National Guard (Commandante Omar Cabezas once hid out for months with his troops in the mountains outside Condega, reportedly in a cave near El Naranjo). In 1979, the Sandinista government confiscated those properties and redistributed them to the locals.
Contra soldiers found easy pickings in the unprotected farms of the Canta Gallo Mountains east of Condega, where several major skirmishes took place during the 1980s. Most locals can tell you some of the horror stories. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch destroyed more than 200 homes and two of the three local industries (a cigar box factory and a tannery).
Toward the end of his grip on power, Somoza took to strafing the northern regions with his air force. When, on April 7, 1979, the Sandinistas downed one of his planes, it was considered a major victory and huge morale booster.
Follow the dirt road behind the cemetery, then 100 meters to the top of the hill to the downed airplane—now a monument—complete with a simulated airport control tower viewing platform. In the course of a recent restoration however, the original blue and red dot, symbol of the Somoza Air Force, was replaced by the stars and bars of the U.S. Air Force. Ignorance or revisionist history? You make the call.
The Casa de Cultura is a former command post of the National Guard. In its musical instrument workshop you can order a custom-made guitar, guitarrón, or violin. Among other attractions, the Julio Cesár Salgado museum (open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., reading room open 1–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri.), named after the town’s first archaeologist, has a collection of pre-Columbian ceramic work that local farmers have unearthed.
Take in some baseball weekends at the ball field just north of town, or catch the fiestas patronales on May 15, traditionally the first day of the rainy season—a double cause to celebrate in this rain-starved region.
A couple of blocks north of the town square and half a block toward the river (east) is a cigar factory, where you can ask to see the process and buy fresh puros cheaply.
The Taller de Cerámica Ducualí Grande is an artisan’s workshop founded in the 1980s with the help of a Spanish volunteer; the 13 workers continue to create charming ceramics using the simplest of wheels and firing the pieces in a woodstove. Pottery costs about $1–7. To get there, take a bus north about two kilometers and get off where a large concrete sign points west to the workshop. Follow that road one kilometer across the bridge and through the community of Ducualí Grande. Turn left when you see the small church, and look for the white sign on the right side.
The Sandinistas created Venecia in the 1980s to house the local coffee cooperative workers. The Contras attacked it relentlessly, burning it mostly to the ground once. These days, the Los Alpes de Canta Gallo is an ecotourism facility with a network of hiking trails that wind through the pines and coffee plantations between San Jerónimo and Venecia.
Two-day, one-night packages ($30 pp including transportation from nearby El Bramadero, local family homestays, and some time on the coffee plantation) are available through the Oficina de Nueva Esperanza Cooperativa (tel. 505/2715-2036, alpes90 [at] yahoo [dot] com) or Julio Cesar Muños (tel. 505/2715-2271, reservalindavista [at] gmail [dot] com).
For simple lodging rather than a homestay, the Estancia El Naranjo near Venecia (tel. 505/2715-2020 or 505/8662-6221) will accommodate you in private cabins with bath and hot water or in three dormitory-style rooms for about $15 per person.
Pensión Baldovinos (south side of the park, tel. 505/2715-2222, $10) has six simple double or triple rooms with shared bath and decent meals. A town landmark for decades, it closed unexpectedly in 2009—perhaps temporarily. Next door, Hospedaje Framar (tel. 505/2715-2393, $4) is newer and clean, offering seven rooms with shared bath; doors close at 10 p.m.
Belgian-Nicaraguan Rincón Criollo La Gualca (tel. 505/2715-2431) has cheap rooms with shared bath for $6, or $13 double with private bath. Hostal and Mirador La Granja (half a block east of the park by the catholic church, tel. 505/2715-2357, $10 pp) has private bathrooms. Their balcony offers a splendid view. Campestre La Granja Hospedaje (from Instituto Marista, one km east, tel. 505/2715-2521, $10 pp) is in a beautiful location with lots of greenery and a pool.
Any bus that travels between Ocotal , Somoto , or Jalapa  and Managua  or Estelí  can drop you off on the highway in front of Condega, a two-block walk from the center of town. Or take the Yalí-La Rica buses from Estelí (5 a.m.–4:10 p.m.). Make sure to ask if the bus goes through Condega, as there are two routes to Yalí. Express buses will let you off on the highway by the cemetery; ordinarios will let you off in front of the park. From Condega, walk out to the Instituto on the highway to try to catch north- or south-bound expresos, or wait for slow buses at the park.