Nicaragua | Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com Trip Ideas, Itineraries, Maps & Area Experts Sat, 18 Nov 2017 00:01:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9 https://deathstar-650a.kxcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cropped-moon_logo_M-32x32.jpg Nicaragua | Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com 32 32 125073523 Visiting Chontales and Nicaragua’s Cattle Country https://moon.com/2016/11/visiting-chontales-nicaraguas-cattle-country/ https://moon.com/2016/11/visiting-chontales-nicaraguas-cattle-country/#respond Tue, 15 Nov 2016 18:20:29 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=37562 Chontales is Nicaragua's cattle country. Travelers who tire of the Granada hype and the overwhelming presence of other foreigners will be amply rewarded with a trip to Chontales.

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Visiting Chontales and Nicaragua's Cattle Country

East of Lake Cocibolca lie hundreds of thousands of hectares of rolling hillside in a broad ecological transition zone where undulated, scrubby pastureland gradually unfolds into the pine savannas and wetlands of the Caribbean coast. It’s less populated than the Pacific region—Chontales and Boaco residents are easily outnumbered by their cattle. It’s the cattle that make this area famous. Chontales ranches produce more than 60 percent of Nicaragua’s dairy products, including dozens of varieties of cheese and millions of gallons of milk.

Chontales and Boaco residents are easily outnumbered by their cattle. It’s the cattle that make this area famous.The flavor of Chontales and Boaco play no small part in the flavor of Nicaragua as a whole, from the cowboys, to the wide open sky, to the pre-Columbian relics and the small-town lifestyle. This entire region is firmly off the beaten path, so expect to be the only tourist for miles in most of the towns and sights. Boaco is known for its exceptional dairy products and makes a reasonable base for treks or drives into the hills between Boaco and Matagalpa Departments. Juigalpa is a much bigger and more economically active urban center that remains an overgrown cowboy town. Here you’ll rub shoulders with cowboys and campesinos (country folk) sporting their cleanest boots on their twice-a-month trip to the city to pick up supplies, strike a few deals, and do their errands.

Juigalpa’s patron saint celebrations in mid-August are among the best in Nicaragua and draw a crowd from as far away as Managua to enjoy the elaborate bull-riding competitions, horsemanship contests, and traditional dances, all under the magnificent backdrop of the Amerrisque mountain range. Originally settled by the Chontal people, these mountains remain little explored, and the continual discovery of ancient statues and sculpture imply the grandeur of the mysteries this area still retains.

Travel map of Chontales and Cattle Country

Chontales and Cattle Country

Planning Your Time in Chontales

Many travelers treat this region as an uninteresting and unavoidable expanse to be traveled through as quickly as possible en route to Nicaragua’s Río San Juan or the Atlantic coast. But travelers who tire of the Granada hype and the overwhelming presence of other foreigners will be amply rewarded with a trip to Chontales.

How much time you’ll need depends on your inclination for adventure and ability to forgo some creature comforts. You could easily spend a day and a night in one of many quiet agrarian towns like Boaco, Camoapa, and Cuapa. The attraction is simply a bucolic, rural lifestyle. Most towns in the area have some basic accommodation and small local sites of historical, cultural, or geologic interest. Add an additional day if the bouldering and hiking opportunities in Cuisaltepe or Cuapa whet your appetite, and another day on horseback in San José de los Remates (you can even continue on the little-traveled high road to Matagalpa).

Public buses connect most of the region. In some of the smaller towns there are only a few buses that run daily, and it’s best to ask around because they don’t always run on schedule. If there isn’t a bus at the time you want, you can get a ride or take a taxi out to the highway (empalme de Boaco for Boaco, empalme San Fransico for Camoapa), where buses pass constantly between San Carlos, Rama, Juigalpa, Boaco, and Managua.

Boaco

Nestled snugly in a 379-meter-high notch in the Amerrisque mountains, Boaco is a departmental capital and an agriculture center whose soil struggles to support both cattle and corn. Modern Boaco (the city’s name is a combination of Aztec and Sumu words that mean “land of the sorcerers”) is the third incarnation of the city. In the 18th and 19th century, two previous Boacos were built and destroyed in the same place.

The modern city of Boaco began on a hilltop and crept down the hillside into a valley. It literally has two different levels, the elevated city center and lower commercial sector, which earned it the nickname The City of Two Floors. (The fact that, compared to the rest of Nicaragua, Boaco has an unusual number of houses that have two or more floors reinforces the moniker.)

During the Contra War, Boaco was spared from direct battles. But in the hillsides that surround, the city violence dislodged countless campesinos, all of whom eventually found their way to the city of Boaco seeking refuge. Many decided to stay, and Boaco has swelled over the past 20 years, faster than it can provide for its new inhabitants, most of whom occupy neighborhoods of small concrete homes around the outskirts of the city.

Juigalpa

The last big settlement on the road southeast to El Rama (or south to San Carlos and the Río San Juan), Juigalpa is a prosperous city of 70,000 cattle ranchers and farmers. Juigalpa bears the traces of its indigenous roots in elaborate statuary and other archaeological pieces still being discovered in the mountains east of town. Juigalpa in Aztec means “great city” or “spawning grounds of the black snails.” Its first inhabitants were likely the Chontal, displaced from the Rivas area by the stronger Nicaraos. They resisted the Spanish occupation fiercely in the 16th century, rising up no fewer than 14 times to attack the installations of the colonial government.

Upon Nicaragua’s independence, the land that comprised Chontales and Boaco was controlled by Granada. In 1858, the Department of Chontales was formed. In the 18th and 19th centuries, travelers bound for the gold mines of Santo Domingo and La Libertad crossed Lake Cocibolca, landed in Puerto Díaz, and spent a night in Juigalpa before proceeding.


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

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4 Best Hikes Near Boaco, Nicaragua https://moon.com/2016/08/4-best-hikes-near-boaco-nicaragua/ https://moon.com/2016/08/4-best-hikes-near-boaco-nicaragua/#respond Mon, 15 Aug 2016 12:21:18 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=37567 The best hikes near Boaco, Nicaragua, are all half-day to full-day events, and the majority are challenging trips. They're also incredibly rewarding.

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The best hikes near Boaco, Nicaragua, are all half-day to full-day events, and three of the four are definitely challenging trips. They’re also incredibly rewarding.

La Cebadilla

Around the turn of the 20th century, a farmer from the mountain town of Cebadilla was surprised to see the Virgin Mary appear before him amongst the rocks where he was tending his cattle. The site has been treasured by locals ever since. La Cebadilla is no easier to get to than it ever was. This is an out-of-the-way corner of the region. At one time a small chapel was erected in honor of the Virgin, and there was a small well where it was said the water was blessed. Today, the chapel has mostly fallen to bits.

It’s imperative that you find a guide in Asedades to take you up the mountain to La Cebadilla.The day hike starts 1.6 kilometers east of Empalme de Boaco, where on the south side of the highway there’s a dirt road leading south to the community of Asedades and a steel sign with a picture of the Virgin Mary and the words La Cebadilla. The road leads south one kilometer to Asedades, a community of adobe houses, flower gardens, and rocky fields. It’s imperative that you find a guide in Asedades to take you up the mountain to La Cebadilla. There are many small footpaths that lead up the hill, but they intertwine and none is more obvious than the others.

The walk up the hill takes 3-4 hours. Take water and food (and make sure you have something to share with your guide). The walk back to Asedades can take 2-3 hours. Your guide will recommend that you stay at the top of the hill through midday and do your walking in the cool of the afternoon.

At La Cebadilla, you may or may not have visions of the Virgin Mary, but you will certainly have a fantastic view of the valley below and the hills of Boaco to the east, sometimes all the way to Lake Nicaragua.

Hiking Camoapa Mombacho is significantly easier than hiking Cuisaltepe and offers a beautiful view of Camoapa’s open ranges.

Hiking Camoapa Mombacho is significantly easier than hiking Cuisaltepe and offers a beautiful view of Camoapa’s open ranges. Photo © José David Barrera.

Camoapa’s Mombacho

In the early 1900s, Nicaraguans from Granada transferred their homes and possessions to Camoapa to try growing coffee on the area’s hillsides. They chose the slopes of one mountain in particular because of its rich soils and named the peak Mombacho, in memory of their Granada homeland. Camoapa’s Mombacho is a forested mountain with a rocky protuberance jutting out of the top. It is lined with several coffee plantations and a handful of radio towers and makes a pleasant day hike from Camoapa. Long ago, Mombacho was the site of a moonshine distillery, the products of which were sold under the name Mombachito.

Hiking the hill is significantly easier than hiking Cuisaltepe and offers a beautiful view of Camoapa’s open ranges. From Camoapa, the road to Mombacho can be accessed by the Salida de Sangre de Cristo (Sangre de Cristo is the name of a church found along the first part of that road). From Claro in the center of Camoapa, walk six blocks west, crossing over a small bridge and arriving at the public school. Turn right at the school and head north until you see the Iglesia de Sangre de Cristo. Continue on that road until you reach Mombacho. The hike from town takes 3-4 hours. There’s a dirt road that leads up Mombacho from Camoapa to the radio towers. In Nahuatl, mombacho means “steep,” so be prepared.

Peña la Jarquína

At the entrance to Camoapa on the southeast side of the highway (to your right as you head toward Camoapa) is a broad, rocky cliff face at whose base is a hardwood forest. This is Peña la Jarquína, named after a prominent local family. It’s an easy 90-minute hike from the entrance to Camoapa, around the backside of the hill to the top. Skilled climbers might find it makes a suitable technical ascent. The rock is solid and has plenty of cracks, and is almost assuredly unclimbed.

Cuisaltepe

Unless you breezed by it on the midnight bus to El Rama, Cuisaltepe inevitably caught your eye: a massive, rocky promontory that juts out of the hillside between San Lorenzo and the entrance to Camoapa. Approaching it from the west, its silhouette resembles the tip of an upturned thumb, pointing in the direction of the highway. In Nahuatl, Cuisaltepe means “place of the grinding stone”; it was a good source of the volcanic rock the indigenous peoples used for making long, round stone implements with which to grind corn into dough. Cuisaltepe was the home of the last cacique of the region, Taisigüe.

Hiking Cuisaltepe is no casual endeavor. More than 300 meters high, much of the south side of the rock is a series of vertical crevasses and overhangs and much of the rest of it is prohibitively steep. However, there is one summit approach—from the north side of the rock—that you can reach from Camoapa. Hike with caution. The climb takes six hours round-trip, but adjust that estimate according to your own hiking ability. Wear good shoes, as much of the route is loose, slippery gravel.

Your point of entrance is the road to Camoapa. Any bus traveling between Managua or Boaco and the east will take you there, leaving you at Empalme de Camoapa (also called San Francisco) along the highway. A better option is to take a direct bus to Camoapa: 10 leave daily from Managua (5 on Sun.). From the highway, the road that leads to Camoapa climbs 25 kilometers. Get off the bus before you reach Camoapa at Km 99, where a small turnoff to the west leads to the community of Barrio Cebollín with a little red bus stop at the entrance.

Access to the summit is neither obvious nor easy, and involves climbing partway up, crossing the small forest in a notch in the hillside, and then climbing the ridge to the summit. You can find guides in Barrio Cebollín in the first house on the left after you pass the school (the house nearest to the utility pole). Euclídes and brothers know the mountain well and climb it periodically.

Travel map of Chontales and Cattle Country

Chontales and Cattle Country


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

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Visiting El Castillo along the Río San Juan https://moon.com/2016/08/visiting-el-castillo-along-rio-san-juan/ https://moon.com/2016/08/visiting-el-castillo-along-rio-san-juan/#respond Fri, 12 Aug 2016 13:23:47 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=37568 Located on the southern bank of the Río San Juan, the Nicaraguan town of El Castillo has neither roads nor cars—reason enough to visit.

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Located on the southern bank of the Río San Juan, the town of El Castillo (pop. 1,500) has neither roads nor cars—reason enough to visit. The town’s not accessible by land, so most folks can’t drive a car, but nearly all of them can drive a panga. Residents make their living principally in the tourist industry, in addition to working on cacao farms in the surrounding hills, fishing the river, commuting to the sawmill in Sábalos, the palm oil factory up the Río San Juan, or one of the resorts along the river. El Castillo celebrates its fiestas patronales on March 19.

The old stone fort on the banks of the San Juan in El Castillo, Nicaragua.

La Fortaleza in El Castillo. Photo © Rafal Cichawa/123rf.

What to See in El Castillo

Built in 1675, la Fortaleza, the fortress of El Castillo de la Pura Inmaculada Concepción de María, was strategically placed with a long view downriver, right in front of the torrent Raudal el Diablo (still a navigational hazard). At the time, it was the largest fortress in Central America with 32 cannons and 11,000 weapons. Now dark, moss-covered ruins, la fortaleza is one place you should not miss.

Celebrating 500 years in the Americas, the government of Spain restored the fortress at great cost, building an historical museum and lending library, plus the nearby school and Hotel Albergue. The museum (Mon.-Fri. 8am-noon and 1pm-5pm, Sat.-Sun. 8am-noon and 1pm-4pm, $3) is small, but interesting, showing the history of the fortress and a collection of arms and other items dating as far back as the 1500s, including a pile of cannon balls and early rum bottles. Most signs are translated into English. A nearby butterfly farm, Mariposario El Castillo (tel. 505/8924-5590, $3 foreigners, $2 Nicas, $1.50 students), was also built by the Spanish, although much more recently.

Recreation and Tours in El Castillo

Run by municipal tourism cabinet, La Caseta de Información Turística (in front of the main dock, Mon.-Sat. 8am-12:30pm and 3pm-6pm) is the first stop for most tourists. The attendant can help with directions, lodging options, renting kayaks, and organizing tours of the surrounding area with local guides who are part of the cabinet. Prices keep rising as El Castillo becomes more popular. The most popular tours promoted at La Caseta are jungle hikes or chocolate making at a nearby cacao cooperative ($75-85, up to 5 people). Unfortunately smaller groups pay the same minimum price. They offer a variety of other options including horseback tours and nocturnal caiman watching. Charter a fishing boat ($140/day). Rent a kayak for three hours ($15 pp). If you plan to hike in the nearby reserve at Bartloa, buy your pass here first ($3).

There are plenty of other guides who advertise along the main road offering similar tours. Your host can certainly help arrange tours. It’s best to shop around a little to compare tours and prices. Juan Ardilla (tel. 505/8938-8552) offers a five-day camping tour from San Juan de Nicaragua to El Castillo. Alfonso at Agencia Tropical (in front of El Chinandegano, tel. 505/8431-2389), a member of the local cacao co-op COODEPROSA, offers chocolate tours of his land parcel ($15 pp, minimum of 2 people).

Nena Lodge & Tours (1 kilometer west of the dock, tel. 505/2583-3010 or 505/8821-2135) offers tours of the Indio Maíz Reserve ($70-80 for 2 people, $80-90 for 4 people) as well as night tours on the river ($45 for up to 4 people). Check out their sister’s handmade artesenía store a couple houses down, Artesanía y Manualidades Yorleni (daily 8am-7pm). It’s a little space with a lot of variety of artisanal crafts, most made by Yorleni herself.

Maps - Nicaragua 6e - Solentiname and the Río San Jaun

Solentiname and the Río San Jaun


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

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Things to Do in Juigalpa, Nicaragua https://moon.com/2016/07/things-to-do-juigalpa/ https://moon.com/2016/07/things-to-do-juigalpa/#respond Fri, 08 Jul 2016 17:21:43 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=37563 The last big settlement on the road southeast to El Rama, Juigalpa bears the traces of its indigenous roots in elaborate statuary and other archaeological pieces still being discovered. Spend your time in its incredible museum and enjoying its many city parks.

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The last big settlement on the road southeast to El Rama (or south to San Carlos and the Río San Juan), Juigalpa is a prosperous city of 70,000 cattle ranchers and farmers. Juigalpa bears the traces of its indigenous roots in elaborate statuary and other archaeological pieces still being discovered in the mountains east of town. Juigalpa in Aztec means “great city” or “spawning grounds of the black snails.” Its first inhabitants were likely the Chontal, displaced from the Rivas area by the stronger Nicaraos. They resisted the Spanish occupation fiercely in the 16th century, rising up no fewer than 14 times to attack the installations of the colonial government.

Upon Nicaragua’s independence, the land that comprised Chontales and Boaco was controlled by Granada. In 1858, the Department of Chontales was formed. In the 18th and 19th centuries, travelers bound for the gold mines of Santo Domingo and La Libertad crossed Lake Cocibolca, landed in Puerto Díaz, and spent a night in Juigalpa before proceeding.

Check out a rodeo during Juigalpa’s fiestas patronales.

Check out a rodeo during Juigalpa’s fiestas patronales. Photo © José David Barrera.

Museo Arqueológico Gregorio Aguilar Barea

Juigalpa’s most interesting attraction is the Museo Arqueológico Gregorio Aguilar Barea (from the central park, 2.5 blocks east, tel. 505/2512-0784, Mon.-Fri. 8am-noon and 2pm-4pm, Sat. 8am-noon, less than $1), an airplane-hangar-like building housing a collection of more than a hundred examples of pre-Columbian statuary uncovered in the folds of the Amerrisque mountain range. Ranging 1-7 meters tall, the pieces are reminiscent of totem poles, elaborately carved in high- and low-relief, with representations of zoomorphic figures and humans (the latter often clutching knives or axes in their hands, or presenting their arms folded across their chests). The statues, thought to be 1,000 years old, were the work of the Chontal people, driven to the east side of Lake Cocibolca by the more powerful Nicaraos some 1,500 years ago.

Unlike the Nahuatl and Nicarao, relatively little is known about the Chontal culture and its statues, more of which are continually being discovered in the Amerrisque range. The museum was built in 1952 by the well-loved former mayor of Juigalpa, Gregorio Aguilar Barea. It also exhibits Nicaraguan coins from across two centuries, gold figurines, original paintings by the museum’s namesake, and several historical paintings and photographs. The building has an open front, so even if the gate to the museum is locked, all the statues can be seen from the street.

Pre-Columbian statuary in the Museo Arqueológico Gregorio Aguilar Barea.

Pre-Columbian statuary in the Museo Arqueológico Gregorio Aguilar Barea. Photo © José David Barrera.

Parks

The view from Parque Palo Solo (at the north end of town) is elevated above the surrounding streets, giving the impression of looking over the bulwark of a fortress. The fortress feeling isn’t entirely accidental: Juigalpa was built at the top of the hill to offer it some means of defense from the Miskito and Zambo peoples who once raided it from those same mountains 200 years ago. The park was built by Mayor Aguilar Barea in the 1960s and named after the one tall tree that dominated its center. The tree has since been replaced by a fountain adorned with images of the mainstays of the Chontales economy: corn and cattle. A restaurant at the edge of the park serves fancy lunches and dinners.

Juigalpa’s parque central (in the center of town) is a green, orderly, and clean place, whose statue of a boy shining shoes was made by a former mayor who spent his early years earning money as a shoe-shine boy. The statue bears the inscription: “Hard work dignifies a man.” The walls around the base of the park are covered in lovely mosaics. In front of the park sits the town’s simple Catedral de Juigalpa, constructed in 1648. Stop in for a look at its pretty stained-glass windows.

For the best view in town, visit the Mirador Sandino de Tamanes, a newer park located on the edge of town. To the east, there are breathtaking views of nearby mountain ranges. To the west, a huge silhouette of Sandino frames a birds-eye view of the city. This is a nice place to sit on a bench and have a quiet moment along with the whispering couples with whom you will most likely share the space.

Zoológico Thomas Bell

Zoológico Thomas Bell (tel. 505/2512-0861, Tues-Sun. 9am-noon and 1pm-5pm, $1) is a popular attraction for local tourists, especially during Juigalpa’s fiestas patronales. Here you will find an impressive collection of native animals as well as animals from around the world. With a focus on conservation and saving local endangered species, the zoo is home to 58 local species, including different species of macaws, parrots, and toucans. You can also see jaguars, the peccary (a pig-like mammal), and wild cats.

It is difficult for the zoo to maintain the budget it needs to properly maintain the animals, so keep in mind that you won’t find the standards you are used to in North America zoos. Due to lack of resources, the animals are sometimes underfed, and access to specialized veterinary attention can be difficult.

Maps - Nicaragua 6e - Juigalpa

Juigalpa


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

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Things to Do Near Matagalpa https://moon.com/2016/05/things-to-do-near-matagalpa/ https://moon.com/2016/05/things-to-do-near-matagalpa/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 15:10:43 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=37118 North of Matagalpa you’ll find plenty of things to do in fantastic opportunities to explore the incredible landscape. For where to stay, take advantage of the area’s ecolodges and farming co-operatives to get to know and support the locals.

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The department of Matagalpa is the most mountainous in Nicaragua. Travelers prize the capital city of the same name as a welcome respite from the heat of the lowlands, plus a chance to sip the best coffee in the world while plotting forays deep into the mountains. North of Matagalpa you’ll find plenty of things to do in fantastic opportunities to explore the incredible landscape. For where to stay, take advantage of the area’s ecolodges and farming co-operatives to get to know and support the locals.

Santa Emilia and El Cebollál Waterfall

Follow the trail into the caves behind the waterfall for a more intimate experience of its natural beauty.It’s an easy day trip to the farming community of Santa Emilia (marked by a left turn at about Km 145). A bit farther, you’ll find a 15-meter waterfall spilling impressively into a wide hole flanked by thick vegetation and a dark, alluring rock overhang. The falls are known alternately as Salto de Santa Emilia and Salto el Cebollál. With the new establishment Ecolodge Cascada Blanca (tel. 505/2772-3728 or 505/8966-2070, $30-50 d), it’s increasingly being referred to as La Cascada Blanca. During the dry season, white water gushes into the river below, creating a pleasant swimming hole. After heavy rains, however, water blasts wildly over the rocks, splashing visitors watching from the metal hanging bridge. Follow the trail into the caves behind the waterfall for a more intimate experience of its natural beauty. Entrance for day-trippers is $2.

The ecolodge has a restaurant (daily 9am-5pm, $3-6) serving local fare and vegetarian options. They also offer lodging options, including camping in the aforementioned caves ($4, bring your own tent). Access is just beyond the Puente Yasica, a bridge at about Km 149; look for a small house and parking area on the right, where a soft-drink sign reads Balneario El Salto de Santa Emilia. You’ll be asked to pay a $1 parking fee unless you’re just jumping off the Tuma-La Dalia bus.

A hammock on an open air porch at La Sombra EcoLodge.

Photo courtesy of La Sombra EcoLodge.

El Tuma and La Dalia

Intimately connected to the Contra War of years past, El Tuma and La Dalia are local commercial centers serving the local farming region. Both host resettlement camps where Contras gave up their weapons in exchange for a piece of land to farm. La Sombra Eco-Lodge (tel. 505/8455-3732 or 505/8468-6281, sombra_ecolodge@yahoo.es, $45-55 pp, or $15 for the day) is an ecotourist facility set in a private forest reserve on about 200 hectares of shade-grown coffee and hardwoods. Stay in their enormous, wooden lodge house, with spacious balconies overlooking the greenery, where the price includes three meals and coffee, tours of the butterfly and frog farms, hiking, and swimming in Cascada El Eden. They also lead guided trips on horseback.

About 10 kilometers (15 minutes) southwest of La Dalia in the Río Tuma, Piedra Luna is a rainy season-only swimming hole formed by the waters of the Río Tuma swirling around a several-ton rock sitting midstream. The swimming hole is easily seven meters deep, and local kids come from all over to dive off the rock into the pool. How did the rock get there? Ask the locals, who will relate the fantastic legend of the spirits that carried it there from someplace far away.

Find buses to Tuma-La Dalia at the Guanuca terminal in Matagalpa ($2). You can take a taxi from town to La Sombra ($5). From Managua, take a bus from El Mayoreo bound for Wasala, which passes by these towns.

White-water rafting on the Río Tuma.

White-water rafting on the Río Tuma. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Whitewater Rafting

The Río Tuma starts at the Apanás Lake outside of Jinotega and turns into the Río Grande before emptying into the Caribbean Sea. Along this waterway are class 3 rapids (sometimes 4) and miles of untouched forest. Matagalpa Tours (tel. 505/2772-0108 or 505/2647-4680, $130 or less depending on group size) is the only tour operator that offers white-water rafting in the country. They offer a five-hour paddle starting at El Tuma-La Dalia for up to 10 people. Cost includes transport from Matagalpa, lunch, and all necessary equipment.

El Macizo de Peñas Blancas

Located in the department of Jinotega on the road that leads between El Tuma-La Dalia and El Cuá, the cliffs of Peñas Blancas (1,445 meters) are several hundred meters high and carved out of the top of a massive hillside. This is unquestionably one of the most stunning natural sights in northern Nicaragua and the widely respected Gateway to Bosawás. At the top of the cliff is the Arcoiris (“rainbow”) waterfall, gorgeous and little known. The cliffs and waterfall are easily visible from the highway.

The hike is much easier in the dry season. You’ll pass through a series of humid forest ecosystems of orchids and mossy trees. Near the falls, the wind is full of spray. The hike up and down can be done in two hours but expect to get extremely muddy and wet during the rainy season. Guides (about $5) leave regularly with groups from the Centro de Entendimiento con la Naturaleza (CEN). There’s a longer hike (4 hours) that leads to the top of the macizo (massif), where the waterfall splashes over the cliffs for some unforgettable views.

The Arcoiris waterfall at Peñas Blancas in Nicaragua.

The Arcoiris waterfall at Peñas Blancas. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

There are a few options for hikers that want to stay the night. GARBO-Cooperativa Guardianes del Bosque (tel. 505/8641-3638 or 505/7711-0623) is a cooperative of local coffee farmers who will be glad to give you a tour of their farms ($8-10). The co-op has a humble hospedaje (400 meters from Empalme la Manzana, $6 dorm, $12 private cabin, $3-4 meals). One member of the co-op, Don Chico (tel. 505/2770-1359) has basic rooms available in his home for similar prices. The family restaurant out front is a great spot for a home-cooked breakfast. The CEN (tel. 505/8852-6213, cenbosawas@gmail.com, $100 d cabin, $70 d private room, $27 dorm) is an NGO and research center that works to preserve the surrounding nature. They have creatively-built cabins, as well as rooms and dorms, available for tourists with community dinners open to all ($4-7). Prices include meals and hikes.

Take the El Cuá-Bocay bus from Matagalpa (leaves Guanuca station five times daily 6am-1:30pm). Get off at Empalme La Manzana (about 14 kilometers before El Cuá) in the community of Peñas Blancas. Walk 500 meters along the road and you’ll come to a series of lodging options. A Matagalpa-bound bus passes the entrance to the reserve at 2pm.

Maps - Nicaragua 6e - Matagalpa and Jinotega Highlands

The Matagalpa and Jinotega Highlands


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

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Planning Your Time in Estelí and the Segovias https://moon.com/2016/05/planning-your-time-esteli-and-the-segovias/ https://moon.com/2016/05/planning-your-time-esteli-and-the-segovias/#respond Fri, 06 May 2016 17:01:33 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=37099 The curious and unrushed traveler will not regret breaking away from the highway and going deep into Nicaragua's northern countryside. Here are tips on making the most of your time exploring Estelí and the Segovias.

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As you travel north and up out of the sultry Pacific lowlands, your introduction to the Segovias, Nicaragua’s hilly interior, begins with the Sébaco Valley, green with rice, carrot, and onion fields. Steaming hot sweet corn products will be abundant from here on out. The Pan-American Highway struggles upward to the pleasant city of Estelí, the “Diamond of the Segovias,” then continues through mountains and valleys dotted with rural villages whose inhabitants are proud to call themselves norteños.

View in La Garnacha, Esteli.

View in La Garnacha nature reserve in Estelí, Nicaragua. Photo © John Roney, licensed CC-BY.

Most folks here get along by subsistence farming and ranching, while cash crops like tobacco and coffee reign. 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.

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.

River through Somoto canyon in Nicaragua.

Somoto canyon. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Planning Your Time

It takes 5-7 days to hit the highlights of this area. Spend a day at the gem of this region—the Somoto Canyon—then catch the last bus back to Estelí, Nicaragua’s capital of tobacco. With a second day, focus on nearby attractions like those at El Tisey and Miraflor reserves (the latter of which is worth a second day), or check out the highland border town of Ocotal and its surrounding pueblos (small villages). If you’re really curious, travel the long loops eastward toward Jalapa, and you’ll be rewarded with excellent camping opportunities, mysterious hot springs, and a glimpse into the region’s rich indigenous roots. This region is well connected by buses.

Estelí

Spread across a flat valley 800 meters above sea level, Estelí is an unassuming city whose 110,000 merchants, ranchers, artists, and cigar rollers are prouder than most. In Nahuatl, Estelí means something like “river of blood,” an apt moniker for an area so saturated with Sandinista rebels in the days that led up to the 1979 revolution that Somoza carpet-bombed the city (ask locals where to find la bomba, a relic from the air strikes). But these days, most Estelíanos live a bucolic life of farming and commerce. People are attracted to Estelí for two main reasons: to learn about the city’s revolutionary legacy and to visit the nature reserves that surround it.

Maps - Nicaragua 6e - Esteli and the Segovias

Estelí and the Segovias

Somoto

Located on the south side of the Pan-American Highway as it veers westward toward the Honduran border at El Espino, Somoto is an average-size city of 15,000 and capital of the department of Madriz. Tucked into the Cordillera de Somoto at 700 meters above sea level (the highest point of this range is Cerro Tépec-Xomotl at 1,730 meters), Somoto enjoys a fresh climate most of the year. Somoto is known for its donkeys, rosquillas (baked corn cookies), and blowout carnival each November. A tributary of the Río Coco traverses the city.

U.S. Marines built an airstrip here, three blocks south of the park (now lost forever under a modern development), to try out a military technique they’d just invented: the air strike. They used the base in Somoto to bomb Ocotal in the 1930s in a failed attempt to root out General Sandino. These days, the Ciudad de Burros (City of Donkeys) has not much more to offer than a quiet evening in its quaint and friendly park and a pleasant, village ambience.

Ocotal

Built on a thick bed of red sand and surrounded on all sides by mountains draped with green Ocote pines, Ocotal is the last major settlement before the Honduran border at Las Manos and the unbroken wilderness that stretches eastward to the Caribbean. In the early 1930s, General Sandino and his men were firmly entrenched in the mountains north of Ocotal, and the U.S. government, intent on capturing him, sent in the Marines. Based in Ocotal, they scoured the countryside around Cerro Guambuco and built the country’s first airstrip in Somoto, from which they launched strikes on the city of Ocotal, the first city in the history of the world to experience an air raid.

Since 2000, the city has seen a lot of development and the feeling of Ocotal is one of progress. For most travelers, Ocotal may be nothing more than a place to sleep before hitting the border, but for many coffee growers and subsistence farmers, it’s still “the big city” for supplies and business. Here you are indeed getting close to the frontier, however, and you only have to head a mile out of town in any direction before you are back to the rutted dirt roads, soporific cow towns, and sweeping valleys that make Nicaragua at once so charming and so challenging.


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

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The Best of Nicaragua in Two Weeks https://moon.com/2016/04/best-of-nicaragua-in-two-weeks/ https://moon.com/2016/04/best-of-nicaragua-in-two-weeks/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 08:52:56 +0000 http://moon.type5.co/?p=770 Nicaragua has a popular, carved-out tourist route based on its principal, most developed attractions. The beaten path is made up of the Granada-Ometepe-San Juan del Sur circuit, which can be done in about a week. Save another week for volcano-boarding near León, wildlife-viewing in Estelí, and relaxing on remote Big Corn Island. Wherever you head, Granada is a good place to ease into things, with colorful surroundings, wonderful cuisine, and a central location.

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Nicaragua has a popular, carved-out tourist route based on its principal, most developed attractions. The beaten path is made up of the Granada-Ometepe-San Juan del Sur circuit, which can be done in about a week. Save another week for volcano-boarding near León, wildlife-viewing in Estelí, and relaxing on remote Big Corn Island. Wherever you head, Granada is a good place to ease into things, with colorful surroundings, wonderful cuisine, and a central location.

Granada, Nicaragua. Photo 123rf

Granada, Nicaragua.

Day 1

Arrive in Managua in the early afternoon, and settle into your hotel. Visit La Loma de Tiscapa and have dinner in the city. Spend the evening listening to live music at a local bar or concert venue.

Day 2

In the morning, hop a bus to Granada. Choose a day trip to Volcán Masaya, Mombacho, or the Laguna de Apoyo, then head back to your hotel in Granada.

Volcan Mombacho. Photo © Nicolas de Corte/123rf.

Volcan Mombacho. Photo © Nicolas de Corte/123rf.

Day 3

Head south for San Jorge and catch a late morning ferry to La Isla de Ometepe. Spend the afternoon lounging on Playa Santo Domingo, or hiking trails in Charco Verde. Sleep on La Isla de Ometepe.

Days 4

Get up early for an all-day climb up a volcano, or visit Finca Magdalena for a coffee tour before heading south for a tour of the Río Istián or a shorter hike up to the Cascada San Ramón. Spend another night on La Isla de Ometepe.

Reserva Charco Verde. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Reserva Charco Verde on Isla de Ometepe. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Day 5

Catch a morning ferry to the mainland and make your way to the Pacific coast. Head for San Juan del Sur for an international ambience, or if you prefer peace and quiet, choose a Tola beach. Spend your afternoon surfing or sunbathing. If the turtles are nesting, plan a trip for the next day. Sleep in a hotel in San Juan del Sur or one of the Tola beaches.

Day 6

Keep on enjoying the sun and surf, or make your way north to León. Spend the afternoon exploring the city and the evening enjoying the nightlife. Check into a hotel in León for the night.

Steam rises from the open crater of the Masaya volcano.

Volcán Masaya. Photo © Balone1988, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Day 7

Try out volcano boarding on Cerro Negro or hike Volcán Telica. If you still have energy in the afternoon, catch a bus to Estelí and stay the night in the city.

Days 8-9

In the morning, head to La Garnacha or Miraflor Nature Reserve. Take a wildlife tour and get to know your hosts who will house you for the next couple of days. Visit a nearby waterfall.

The view from La Garnacha's mirador. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

The view from La Garnacha’s mirador. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Day 10

Catch a bus back to Managua for your afternoon flight to Big Corn Island. Spend the evening relaxing under the stars.

Long Beach on Big Corn Island. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Long Beach on Big Corn Island. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Days 11-14

Spend languid days beachcombing, diving, or snorkeling on either Big Corn or Little Corn.

See the Best of Nicaragua in Two Weeks With this Itinerary!


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

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Diving Nicaragua’s Corn Islands https://moon.com/2016/04/diving-nicaraguas-corn-islands/ https://moon.com/2016/04/diving-nicaraguas-corn-islands/#respond Wed, 27 Apr 2016 19:13:44 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=37666 Three distinct layers of reef, composed of more than 40 species of coral, protect the north side of Big Corn Island. The diving and snorkeling are impressive, and divers regularly see nurse sharks, eagle rays, and lots of colorful fish. The wilder Little Corn Island's delicate reef system is unique for its abundance of wildlife and coral formations, including overhangs, swim-throughs, and the infamous shark cave.

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Eighty-three kilometers due east of Bluefields Bay’s brackish brown water, the Corn Islands are a pair of Tertiary-period volcanic basalt bumps in the Caribbean. Formerly home base for lobster fishermen and their families, the islanders are increasingly turning to tourism for their future. How well the fragile island ecosystem will support it will determine the fate of the islands.

The tops of wreckage emerge from the turquoise water at Nicaragua's Corn Islands.

The wreckage of a sunken ship in the turquoise waters at Nicaragua’s Corn Islands.

Big Corn Island

The mangrove swamps and estuaries that line several stretches of coastline are crucial to the island’s water supply, and the islanders have fiercely resisted attempts by foreign investors to drain or fill them.Big Corn Island is 10 square kilometers of forested hills, mangrove swamps, and stretches of white coral beaches. The mangrove swamps and estuaries that line several stretches of coastline are crucial to the island’s water supply, and the islanders have fiercely resisted attempts by foreign investors to drain or fill them. Of the six sea turtle species swimming off Nicaragua’s shores, four live in Caribbean waters. On land, Corn Island boasts three endemic species of reptiles and amphibians, all threatened by the continued swamp draining. The highest points are Quinn Hill, Little Hill (55 and 57 meters above sea level, respectively), and Mount Pleasant (97 meters).

Diving

Three distinct layers of reef, composed of more than 40 species of coral, protect the north side of the island. The diving and snorkeling are impressive, and divers regularly see nurse sharks, eagle rays, and lots of colorful fish. Unfortunately, the reefs closest to shore have deteriorated over the past decades, victims of overfishing, predatory algae (which grow as a result of increased nutrient levels in the water from sewage runoff), sedimentation, storm damage, and global warming. Blowing Rock is a rock formation with lots of color and dozens of varieties of tropical fish. Any of the island’s dive shops will take you there. A few sandy stretches of beach along the north shore allow you to get into the water. One good one is in front of Dorsey Campbell’s Yellowtail House.

A mother and son from the U.S. co-own a full-service, modern dive shop in North End. Dos Tiburones Dive Shop (tel. 505/2575-5167) offers scuba gear and the services of PADI- and SSI-affiliated dive-masters. They offer an introductory course ($335), a two-tank dive ($65), and a dive at Blowing Rock ($95). The shop’s Dive Café offers fresh-ground coffee and smoothies you can sip from a lawn chair on the beach out back. Corn Island Dive Center (across from Best View Hotel in North End, tel. 505/8851-5704 or 505/8735-0667) is PADI-affiliated and offers similar services: a dive at Blowing Rock ($85), two tanks ($65), and snorkeling ($25). Not sure if you want to get certified? Or, need to brush up on rusty skills? Try it out or do a review ($65) at either shop.

Maps - Nicaragua 6e - Big Corn Island

Big Corn Island

Little Corn Island

A humble, wilder version of Big Corn, “La Islita” is a mere three square kilometers of sand and trees, laced with footpaths and encircled by nine kilometers of coral reef. Little Corn is a delicate destination, visited by an increasing number of travelers each year. There are clever accommodations for several budgets to meet the demand, but rough boat transport from Big Corn—an experience one traveler likened to pursuing a narco-panga across 15 kilometers of open swell—will help hold the masses at bay. Bring a flashlight, your snorkel gear, and a good book.

Little Corn Island is irregularly policed by volunteers and has experienced a handful of violent attacks on tourists in recent years. The security situation is sometimes better, sometimes worse. Ask at your hotel for the latest news and advice on staying safe. Above all, don’t walk alone on the beaches, or at night. For medical needs, you can find a meager health clinic just south of the Hotel Los Delfines. Anything complicated requires a panga ride back to the big island, or even Bluefields.

Diving

Little Corn’s delicate reef system is unique for its abundance of wildlife and coral formations, including overhangs, swim-throughs, and the infamous shark cave. Most dives around the island are shallow (less than 60 feet), but a few deeper dives exist as well. The island’s bigger scuba shop, Dive Little Corn (south of the new pier on Pelican Beach, tel. 505/8856-5888), operates out of a wooden building. They offer morning and afternoon dives for novice through advanced divers, night dives by appointment, hourly and all-day snorkel trips, PADI certification, and kayak rentals. Hotel Los Delfines has Dolphin Dive (tel. 505/8917-9717, info@Dolphindivelittlecorn.com), which offers PADI certification.

Maps - Nicaragua 6e - Little Corn Island

Little Corn Island


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

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San Fernando and the Solentiname Islands https://moon.com/2016/04/san-fernando-the-solentiname-islands/ https://moon.com/2016/04/san-fernando-the-solentiname-islands/#respond Sun, 24 Apr 2016 19:03:21 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=37566 Solentiname’s best-known attraction is the creativity of its inhabitants, so don't expect a lot of tourist infrastructure. Take a fully guided, four-day exploration of the entire Solentiname archipelago and the Río Papaturro in Los Guatuzos, including all its natural, archaeological, and cultural attractions.

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The 36 volcanic islands in southern Lake Cocibolca have a long history of habitation. Signs of its original residents are abundant in the form of petroglyphs, cave paintings, and artifacts. Somoza’s logging companies deforested most of the archipelago, and Boaco cattlemen cut the rest to make pasture. But much of the forest has been allowed to regenerate, and the rebirth has attracted artists and biologists from all over the world. Fishing, of course, remains a mainstay of the islanders’ diet. Today, 129 families (about 750 people) share the archipelago with an amazing diversity of vegetation, birds, and other wildlife.

Sunset in Solentiname. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Sunset in Solentiname. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

The flowers along the path on your way up were planted to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.Solentiname’s best-known attraction is the creativity of its inhabitants, a talent Padre Ernesto Cardenal discovered in 1966 when he gave brushes and paint to local jícaro carvers. Cardenal, recently returned from a Trappist monastery in Kentucky, formed a Christian community in Solentiname and stayed on Isla Mancarrón to work and write for the next 10 years (he is locally referred to as “El Poeta”). Under his guidance, the simple church at Solentiname became the heart of Nicaragua’s liberation theology movement, which represents Christ as the revolutionary savior of the poor. Cardenal’s book, The Gospels of Solentiname, is a written record of the phenomenon.

Cardenal later became the Sandinista Minister of Culture and formed the Asociación Para el Desarollo de Solentiname (Solentiname Development Association, or APDS). Under APDS, the arts continued to flourish and receive much attention from the rest of the world. Today, no fewer than 50 families continue to produce balsa-wood carvings and bright “primitivist” paintings of the landscape and community.

Planning a Visit

Essentially, only the four largest of the nearly three dozen islands are inhabited: Isla Mancarrón, Isla San Fernando (a.k.a. Isla Elvis Chavarría), Isla la Venada (a.k.a. Isla Donald Guevara), and Isla Mancarroncito. Only the first two have services for tourists. Staying on the island requires you to plan your meals ahead, as there aren’t many restaurants in Mancarrón or San Fernando. Ask your host about including food in your room rate.

The best tour guides are folks from the area. Ask your host at your hotel or hostel for a tour of the area. It is possible to get a fully guided, four-day exploration of the entire Solentiname archipelago and the Río Papaturro in Los Guatuzos, including all its natural, archaeological, and cultural attractions.

Maps - Nicaragua 6e - The Solentiname Islands

The Solentiname Islands

San Fernando

In the 1980s, San Fernando was dubbed Isla Elvis Chavarría (“La Elvis”) for a young martyr who participated in the 1977 raid on San Carlos and was subsequently captured and killed by the National Guard. Folks in the area never did stop calling it by its former name. The island has a health center, a school (Escuela Mateo Wooten, named after the Peace Corps volunteer who led its construction in the mid-1990s), a museum, a library, small shop, hiking trails, and a mirador with pre-Columbian petroglyphs. This is the best sunset view in the archipelago. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend grabbing a Toña and taking a dip in the lake at dusk.

El Museo Archipiélago de Solentiname (at the top of the steep path out of town, Mon.-Sat. 7am-noon and 2pm-5pm, $1) was built in September 2000 to preserve and display the natural and cultural heritage of the Solentiname Islands and its people. The flowers along the path on your way up were planted to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Inside, local artists have painted scenes of the islands’ early history. Also find interesting maps of the area, archaeological information, and a display of traditional fishing techniques and the balsa-wood carving process. Behind the museum there’s a model organic avocado and balsa-wood plantation and a weather station. If you find it closed during its hours of operation, ask around for Yelma, the local curator, caretaker, and key master.

Where to Stay

Doña María Guevara has been running the Albergue Celentiname (tel. 506/8503-5388 or 506/8500-2119, $35 d, includes 3 meals) since 1984 on a beautiful point at the western edge of the island. All of the electricity in the hotel is solar generated. The eight cabanas all have private bath. Sit on your private porch and watch the hummingbirds flitting through the bushes while the water laps against the shore below. The picturesque main porch has priceless flower-framed views. Kayaks and fishing gear are available for rent. Make reservations in advance if possible (email is best).

Several hundred meters east, with his own dock on the southern shore of the island, Don Julio rents three rooms in his rustic and comfortable, lakefront homestead called Mire Estrellas ($8-10 each). Don Julio runs trips to other islands, and his brother, Chepe, runs transport to and from San Carlos and can arrange custom trips around the islands as well. Chepe’s family runs a small hostel called Hostal Vanessa (tel. 505/8680-8423 or 505/8740-8409, $10-15 dorm, $25 private).


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

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Planning Your Time in Puerto Cabezas and the Río Coco https://moon.com/2016/04/planning-your-time-puerto-cabezas-and-the-rio-coco/ https://moon.com/2016/04/planning-your-time-puerto-cabezas-and-the-rio-coco/#respond Fri, 22 Apr 2016 16:59:43 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=37669 Isolated from the rest of Nicaragua by vast tracts of inaccessible forest and coastline, the municipality of Puerto Cabezas, its capital Bilwi, and the Río Coco watershed are remote and wild. Tourism is undeveloped throughout this region, which for some travelers makes it all the more enticing.

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Isolated from the rest of Nicaragua by vast tracts of inaccessible forest and coastline, the municipality of Puerto Cabezas, its capital Bilwi, and the Río Coco watershed are remote and wild.

Tourism is undeveloped throughout this region, which for some travelers makes it all the more enticing.Spanish-speaking Nicaragua has always felt nationalistic about its right to alternately claim and ignore this far-off corner of the country. Managua has incited neighboring Honduras over the subtleties of the border, yet the only road to Puerto Cabezas degenerated into bumpy oblivion decades ago, making Bilwi somewhat of an island in itself. Tourism is undeveloped throughout this region, which for some travelers makes it all the more enticing.

Bilwi's main dock. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Bilwi’s main dock. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

This is far and away the most indigenous region of Nicaragua, where Miskito is heard more than Spanish. At first glance, Puerto Cabezas and the Río Coco might have the air of a drowsy backwater unchanged through the centuries. But to the contrary, the area is affected by many modern issues, including drug trafficking, global lobster prices, and international development projects.

The Río Coco is Central America’s longest river and the cultural and spiritual heart of the Miskito people, who live a traditional lifestyle on both banks of the waterway. The whole region burned white-hot during the revolution years, and the scars run deep. These days the rhythm of the days revolves around fishing and farming, as it has for centuries.

Inland, the “mining triangle” is composed of the three pueblos of Siuna, Bonanza, and La Rosita. The area no longer produces the quantity of gold or guerilla warriors it once did, but there is yet a pioneering feel to the area, which is still host to a Canadian gold mining company and a few casinos in the town of Bonanza. This area is one jumping-off point for the country’s most rugged adventure, an expedition into the sprawling and untamed Bosawás Reserve.

Planning Your Time

This region doesn’t figure prominently into many travel itineraries. Though it’s easy enough to hop a puddle jumper in Managua for an hour-long flight to Bilwi, Waspám, or the mining triangle, always plan more time than you think you’ll need when traveling in these areas. Once on land, moving between towns requires ample patience and flexibility. Plan a day or two in Bilwi and a few days to head up the coast or to nearby villages.

Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas)

Far away from everything, Puerto Cabezas (referred to as just “Puerto” or “Port”) is connected to Pacific Nicaragua only by semi-passable, seasonal roads. Most travelers fly to this outpost city from Managua. The city of Bilwi, in the department of Puerto Cabezas, is itself also known as Puerto Cabezas. It is entirely possible that you’ll be the only traveler in this town of about 50,000 inhabitants, but enough foreign volunteers and missionaries have passed through that you won’t draw too much attention.

The Creole Moravian church in Bilwi. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

The Creole Moravian church in Bilwi. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

In Bilwi, most streets are nothing more than streaks of bare red earth connecting neighborhoods of humble wooden homes set on stilts. It’s a glimpse of many worlds, with Miskitos tying wooden canoes alongside steel fishing boats at the pier. It’s an easy walk from anywhere in town to the water’s edge. Fledgling recreational beaches aren’t quite ready for tourists, and the water between them is shallow and rocky. The Mayangna inhabitants named it Bilwi because the leaves (wi) were full of snakes (Bil). These days you should worry less about serpents than the increasing drug traffic slowly impacting the social norms of the region: You are closer to trouble here than elsewhere because of that same remoteness.

Waspám

Waspám, in the far northern reaches of the Miskito pine savanna and at the edge of the mightiest river in Nicaragua, is the gateway, principal port, and economic heart of the Miskito communities that line the banks of the Río Coco. Waspám is not expecting travelers. You will find no package tours here, no one hawking T-shirts, real estate, or their new bed-and-breakfast. Rather, you will be immersed in a very traditional community that retains a strong cultural identity despite growing mestizo influence, and that is prepared to show you exactly what it is, not what it expects you are expecting.

The Miskito people live largely off the river, fishing for small freshwater species, and off their small, neatly tended fields. Their version of the tortilla is a thick, wheat-flour cake that is fried in coconut oil. Starch, including tubers like quiquisque (taro) and yucca, makes up the rest of the diet along the Río Coco. Rondón and gallo pinto are cooked in coconut milk. Wild game also finds its way onto the menu; don’t be surprised to find boar, deer, and armadillo.

The Miskito people are reserved but friendly. Once you’ve broken the ice, you’ll find them helpful and inquisitive. They’re also more conservative than other Nicaraguans. Most Miskito people speak Spanish as a second language and practically no English at all. Foreigners who speak languages other than Spanish or Miskito will inevitably be called Miriki (American). Even Nicaraguans from the Pacific region are considered foreigners.

The chance to visit this frontier—and it is truly frontier—to travel amongst the Miskito people, and to feel the spiritual power of the mighty Río Coco should not be missed.

The Mining Triangle

Throughout the mining triangle (the term refers to the towns of Siuna, Bonanza, and Rosita), roads, power supply, and water systems are unreliable, and the towns are filled with drunks and cowboys. There are cheap places to stay and eat in all three towns, and Bonanza has a working Canadian-owned gold mine and a dozen casinos. Each town has a handful of natural attractions nearby and local guides to get you there. The Bosawás reserve, to the north, is one of the largest expanses of wilderness in Central America.


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

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