Nicaragua - Central America's best kept secret

By Finn McCarthy, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Nicaragua.

Overall rating:4.6 out of 5 (based on 7 votes)
Enjoyable
4.57143
4.6
Useful
4
4.0
Inspirational
4.57143
4.6
Recommended for:
Adventure, Beach, Cultural, Budget, Mid-range, Expensive

Nicaragua is Central America's best kept secret. It offers volcanoes, lakes, culture and beaches. It will appeal particularly to the independent traveller and to all budgets

“You can live like a king here”, said our guide Juan Jose, as we strolled through the dusty village of Boca de Sabalos, which sprawled on the banks of the Rio San Juan. Although we had no intention of becoming part of a modern day colonial power investing in property, where a house could be rented with all amenities and food for US$250 a month, we could see his point. Nicaragua at the moment is good value compared to its more celebrated neighbour Costa Rica, still revelling in historic Spanish towns, sandy beaches, volcanoes, lakes and forestsbut largely undiscovered.

"  Well it's been nice knowing you," was usually the light -hearted comment when friends back home heard of our plan to spend three weeks here. For many people it is still synonymous with civil war, the Sandinistas, earthquakes and the Contras.The reality is that Nicaragua has been at peace since 1990 and many now claim it is the safest country in Central America.

Our trip was also in a way fulfilling a promise to Nicaragua. When we travelled to other countries in this region during the early 1990's we avoided it,  but pledged to return at a later date, intent on dispelling a few myths.

Within an hour of landing at Managua airport you can be sitting in your first rocking chair in Granada. The splendid Hotel Plaza Colon, where doubles cost US$90, is an elegantly restored building with internal courtyards balconies and pool, giving views of Central Park and the Cathedral. To get an even more dramatic perspective, if you clamber up the bell tower of La Merced church at dusk, you get panoramic views of the city’s tiled rooftops and Andalusian influenced, cloistered gardens, flanked by Volcan Mombacho on one side and Lake Nicaragua on the other.

Granada is an ideal focal point of travel in the country and it is worth sampling family-owned accommodation on subsequent visits. Victor and Katya Chamorro extend a friendly welcome at Hotel Terrasol, a small guesthouse at US$40 for a double including a/c. As well as being a team that comprises an award- winning chef and baker, they are a fund of information and can arrange tours.

On their instigation, we travelled by public bus to Leon with its authentic colonial architecture, art galleries and atmospheric Hotel El Convento, where you can dine in style at affordable prices.

Local transport is also available to the nearby Mombacho volcano where we did a trek around the crater through the cloud forest with its profusion of orchids and colourful birds. For those thinking of buying souvenirs especially pottery, they can be bought from Masaya market or directly from workshops but only after experiencing the active craters of the volcano that looms over the village.

Dramatic geographical features are always vying for your attention and it was Lake Nicaragua, which covers nearly seven per cent of the country’s surface area that was to dominate our holiday. Flying over it in a small Cessna to the frontier village of San Carlos you get another perspective on smoking volcanoes and wooded islands. Soon we were speeding in a motor boat up the Rio San Juan towards El Castillo, a delightful village nestling below an imposing Spanish fortress.

This was our base for excursions and guided tours, which can be booked with the friendly Intur office. Canoe trips down shady creeks with iguanas basking on the banks and egrets on sentry duty can be complemented with kayak excursions, taking care to avoid the El Diablo Rapids which were the bane of pirates like Henry Morgan. It was a barrier that also contributed to the scrapping of plans to build a canal here from the Caribbean to the Pacific. The sixteenth century castle also has a fascinating history with the daring exploits of a young Nelson logged in the informative museum.

We also were taken by a guide, Miguel, through tropical woodland spotting toucans and parakeets on our way to the tiny village of El Gavilan. Here, a local woman in her simple home showed us how to make tortillas from first principles. Our versions were pale imitations but it was great fun trying. Lying in a hammock or slouched in a rocking chair on the balcony of the Albergue El Castillo, tremendous value at US$30 for a double room (try to get room nine as it has a private bathroom for two more dollars) it was easy to understand why the few tourists there rated this part of Nicaragua so highly.

Borders, at the quayside, is an attractive bolt hole serving scrumptious sandwiches and juices but for the speciality of the area, river prawns, you cannot beat Cefalitos. An item which does not appear on the menu is the opportunity to chat to the local restaurant owners and their families, but this became commonplace and added greatly to the enjoyment of the holiday.

From here, there is a scenic nine hour ferry voyage from the River San Juan at San Carlos to Ometepe, a romantic island with two volcanoes. Undoubtedly, the boat stops are the highlight of the week for the villages and you get a true sense of rural life as the people crowd the jetties. Beyond Ometepe, the adventure continues via Rivas, the Pacific coast beaches of San Juan del Sur and the Corn Islands on the Caribbean side.

The highlights of the trip were Granada and the Rio San Juan area;  travelling independently , we found it very safe and it was a joy to  meet so many friendly and hospitable people. Now that we have discovered the truth behind the myths we would recommend everyone to discover Nicaragua for themselves.

Relaxing in a rocking chair sipping the local rum Flora de Cana and overlooking the central square in Granada, thronging with Easter parades, it is easy to appreciate the attractions of Nicaragua. For now it is still largely undiscovered and having revealed the truth behind the myths, we are busy recommending the country to all our friends.

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More information on Nicaragua - Central America's best kept secret:

Author:
Finn McCarthy
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
4.57143
Average: 4.6 (7 votes)
Total views:
745
First uploaded:
15 October 2009
Last updated:
2 years 51 weeks 3 days 8 hours 39 min 22 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Adventure, Beach, Cultural
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range, Expensive
Free tags / Keywords:
beaches, culture, lakes, volcanoes, Friendly people, Birdlife

Finn recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Hotel Plaza Colon
N/A
2. Hotel Terrasol
N/A
3. Hotel El Convento
N/A
4. Albergue El Castillo
N/A
5. Villa Aller
N/A

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Community comments (8)

Rating:
4
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

What are the women's comments re Grenada/Granada and whether the currency is US dollars all about? There are not mistakes on either of these elements. If the mistakes have been corrected in the copy following the comment, the comment needs to be take down or else it appears nonsensical.

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Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Pleasant and attractive guide. I could feel the curiosity and satisfaction of the writers. They provide a good overall image of Nicaragua, a country that I don't know at all, generate the desire to know more about it, and finally to go there!
Plenty of details about the recommended places, hotels with charm and their precise prices, boat trips and atmosphere.
Thank you to the writers, I wish I could write like that!

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Rating:
5
2 of 2 people found the following comment helpful.

It has really inspired me to jump on the plane - I've never been there but I'm sure I will now. Thank you Finn. Hope to meet you there one day.

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Rating:
5
2 of 2 people found the following comment helpful.

I had no idea what Nicaragua might be like and this guide gave me a flavour of what you can do. I particularly liked the variety of forms of transport mentioned and the idea of rum and rocking chairs was appealing. I was interested to read how safe the traveller found this country and how friendly the local people were. The scenery looks fabulous. I wonder how long the secret can be kept..

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Rating:
5
2 of 2 people found the following comment helpful.

Nicaragua is now on our list of 'must visit' destinations. Finn's interesting and informative account had really whetted our appetites - thank you.

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Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Very good

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Rating:
3
1 of 3 people found the following comment helpful.

A good intro made for a promising start but I think this guide falls down in a number of areas.
First off, the title claims Nicaragua is Central America's best kept secret but at no point is this claim explained in any way.
Although there are some lovely moments of descriptive writing, the guide does tend to jump from one place to the next with no real sense of the flow of the journey. I think perhaps too much ground has been covered in this guide and a more focussed piece on one, or a few, of the destinations mentioned would have been more useful.
Also watch your Grenedas/Granadas - I had to make a couple of corrections.
What currency is being quoted in the guide? If it's US dollars, please make this clear.
Please also include profile photographs - we love to see our writers - and try breaking the body of the guide up by using subheadings. Think about presentation too, some words in bold will draw the eye to key phrases/words.

Let's hear what other people think...add your comments on any guides you like/dislike/find useful etc.

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Thank you for the very useful comments. I have corrected the Granada spellings and added US to dollars. Do you want me to do further amendments now (eg sub-headings)or are you going to edit further?

I have tried to put a profile photo on, but don't seem to be able to do it, maybe you can advise on the method?

Many thanks
Finn