La Parroquia Santiago de Somoto is one of Nicaragua’s oldest churches. Construction began in 1661, some 86 years before León ’s great cathedral. If you’re around Somoto  on the eighth of any month, consider joining the religious masses on their pilgrimage to the tiny community of Cacaulí, all hoping for a glimpse of the Virgin Mary.
Ever since she appeared to a young farmer named Francisco in the late 1980s, thousands of people have arrived to try to repeat the miracle. They each carry a clear bottle of holy water, which they hold up to the sun at exactly 4 p.m. The Virgin—not parasites—should appear in the water. Whenever the eighth falls on a Sunday, the believers turn out in larger numbers.
Somoto’s fiestas patronales fall on July 15–25, but the town is more famous for the carnival of November 11 (or the second Saturday of the month), when it celebrates the creation of the department of Madriz in 1936. All of Nicaragua’s best party bands make the trip north, each setting up on one of seven stages—plus mariachis, dance parties, and the standard bull- and cockfighting. As for nightlife, try the Hotel Bambú, on the highway just east of the bus terminal.
Pass through the Mercado Municipal 19 de Julio to rub shoulders with the locals, mostly farmers. Or check out the two scenic view overlooks: The first is just west of the city and offers a quick, easy walk and a rewarding view. The second, Mirador de Canopy Castillo (tel. 505/8648-1452), has a small café and a four-cable canopy tour that looks steeper than it should be: Be cautious.