Nicaragua ¨De a Cachimba¨
First things first. What is ¨De a cachimba¨? This a Nicaraguan expression to say something is awesome, and as you will read next, my experiences in this beautiful country has been just that!
I have travelled to Nicaragua two times, i have seen the biggest cities, the main touristic spots, i have drank Toña and Victoria (the two main local beers) and i have learned that there is still a lot for me to see and do in this beautiful country.
Nicaragua is the biggest country in Central America, and with in you can find the largest lake of the region with more than 400 islands inside, including Ometepe (more info later) a great place to visit. Like pretty much every country in Central America and like few in the world, Nicaragua makes boarder with two oceans: Pacific and Atlantic (Caribbean sea). Also since it belongs to the Pacific Ring of fire, through the country goes a big mountain and volcano system (19 of them active last time i heard) giving you amazing views as you travel. Last but not least, when the region was ruled by the Spanish Empire, León (a major city) was the capital of the Province of Nicaragua-Costa Rica, making it a very important colonial city and as a result it shows a beautiful colonial landscape.
Where am i going with all of this? Well the fact is Nicaragua has a little bit of everything: volcanoes, mountains, lakes, islands, pacific, caribbean, forests, historical cities and even places few people have ever seen, but what makes a place special is the people in that place.
Since it is a low income country everyone has to go out to the streets and hustle to make ¨ends meet¨, because of this everything is happening on the streets. And you get to leave between fried chicken in a plastic bag (as a meal to go), chicken buses, and markets, but all of this just makes you get a really authentic experience in the country and brings the tourist closer to the locals. So if you want to meet the locals and get socked buy the nicaraguan culture you are going to want to go to the markets, travel on the cheap buses, eat at ¨sodas¨ (cheap restaurants) and why not check out a local baseball game.
I mean of course you can always find the pretty buses, eat in fancy restaurants and take the tourism tours, because in a country so cheap, even when you are getting ripped off you are still getting really low prices.
How to get there
Basically like any other place in Central America, you can get flights from the states (cheap from miami or LA) and via Panama or Costa Rica coming from Europe or South America. On my website under Useful links (http://www.passport-republic.com/useful-links/) you can find direct links to other websites that provide services usufull for flights and other means of transport.
I leave in Costa Rica so i will tell you about coming to Nicaragua from my country, so if you are flying or coming from another place skip this.
To Nicaragua, from Costa Rica
As i said before, you can travel on nice buses that are not expensive with companies like Tica Bus (https://www.ticabus.com/) or TransNica ( http://transnica.com/new/ ) witch will take you directly from Capital to capital stoping by on the main cities along the road. So going from San Jose (Capital of Costa Rica) to Managua (Capital of Nicaragua) it will stop in Puntarenas and Liberia on the costa rican side and on Rivas and Granada on the nicaraguan side. This companies offer a bunch of different schedules through day and night, some stops along the way, bathroom on the bus and help while crossing the border. It will take from 7 to 10 hours and will cost from 50$ to 120$ round trip, depending on your departure and arriving cities and offcorse: the season.
Another way of making the trip is going on different short distance busses. So you can take a bus from San Jose to Liberia (around 4 hours and 10$) and from the place that you will arrive at, take another to Peñas Blancas; the border (around 2 hours and 6$). Or you can go straight from San Jose to Peñas Blancas (around 6 hours and 20$). The company has very good buses and a lot of different departures from the city. It is called Pulmitan ( http://grupocaribenos.com/pulmitan/#1448923253868-f1bef501-ceef )
Once you are in the border you must pay the tax to leave Costa Rica (there are some offices outside the main building that charge 8$), then you fill out a form go through costumes and walk to the nicaraguan side. If you took the direct bus they will help you with crossing. There aren’t really any signs so you just follow the cars and the other people crossing, also you can just ask the policeman.
There will be people selling córdobas, the nicaraguan currency (1$ is 28 cordobas), at the border even if it is not recommended to buy from them, if done it twice and never had a problem, you get to negotiate a better rate and get cash right there, but it is always a risk. Also Nicaragua has new bills circulating but have not withdrawn the old ones yet, so don’t get scared if you see to different 10 cordobas bills going around.
On the other side of the border, you must pay the tax to go in and some other thing (5$ or so) on the main building that’s on your left. From here you can just walk to the bus station (less than 2 min) and there take a bus to Rivas (should be between 20 and 30 córdobas depending on the company) where you can connect to any place you want to visit: Managua, Granada, León, San Juan del Sur and Ometepe Island. This is the main hub in the area, but basically it is just a big market.
Moving around in Nicaragua
The easiest way would be to rent a car with a gps and go where ever you want. Toyota, Alamo, Dollar and Thrifty are some of the companies over there. Other option is by taking buses and taxis.
The tourism industry in Nicaragua is basically a new thing, so everyone will tell you different information regarding bus prices and schedules, even more if you ask a taxi driver who will tell you that there are no longer buses running to your destination to try to persuade you into taken the cab. But all of this is just part of the adventure. As a general rule the bus services start early in the morning and the last ones run around 6pm (depends on the destination) , it should cost around 30 cordobas wherever you are going and you will always pay when you are already on the bus to a guy that will come to collect along the way.
Nicaragua: What, how and where?
I’m going to take this city by city so you can go straight to the one your are looking forward to.
Managua: As i mentioned before, this is the capital and the biggest city in the country. Coming from another central american country whose capital isn’t very impressive i have to be honest and tell you i haven’t been in the city for more than a couple of hours and this was only because i used it to go from one place to another. But i have read about some people that really like it so if you have time after the colonial cities and the beach and volcanoes you might aswell go. And if you do, be sure to visit the Centro Historico or Historical center.
León: As the capital for the Province of Nicaragua- Costa Rica as part of the Spanish Empire this is a very nice city with a lot of colonial architecture buildings. Down town is quite small and you can walk around anywhere. In the central square you will find important historical buildings like the cathedral and the Museum of the Revolution. You should know the country was under a dictatorial domination for over 40 years and this is still very present in the people.
The city also is the main connection to the North Atlantic of the country, so this is where you would get a bus to Poneloya beaches.
But for me, the main thing about León is that from here you can visit Cerro Negro Volcano, one of the 14 active volcanoes in the territory, but one that happens to be the birthplace of the extreme sport known as Volcano Boarding. Here you can pay for the tour, and they will take you to the Volcano where you can ride down its side on a board. Big Foot was the creator (http://www.bigfoothostelleon.com/#!volcano-boarding/cp6c) but now you can get different companies that offer different things for different prices.
Whatever you do, there will be a bus that takes you to the volcano, you will have to pay to go inside the national park (around 3$), but the tour guides will let you know in advance. Then you will walk up to the top of the volcano with your board, and here they will tell you how to go down, which will depend on whether you are sitting or standing. Its nothing like surfing or snowboarding, but i still recommend that you do it standing up! The drop isnt long because its 400m at a 45° angle but it is definitely worth it!
Masaya: The big thing about Masaya is the Handicraft Market, it is a very nice, very touristic targeted market, where you can basically buy souvenirs, leather products and other stuff that you can find in all the other markets in the different cities, but without the chicken, fish or pork heads laying around. The bad thing is that you will pay with tourist prices, the good thing is that they are still very cheap.
Granada: In my opinion, this is the most beautiful city in Nicaragua. Its main street, ¨la calzada¨ is a pedestrian street, that goes from the lake to the central park and it is full with coffee shops, bars, hotels and restaurants, almost all of them are old colonial buildings that were restored for that purpose, so they remain as they were once built: full of live and color. In the nights you can see all type of artisans selling their handicrafts, dancers, musicians and all type of street performers that bring the street to live and that make those ¨Toñas and Victoria’s¨ (local beers) taste even better. Warning: Like any nice place it can be a bit touristy.
Rivas: This isn’t more then a connecting point, simple as that. If you are going from one city to another you will probably end up passing by. My advice is just do the connection and move on to the next place. Rivas is basically a big market that just turned into a hover point. If you have done all the other cities and are thinking of spending time here, i would just recommend doing one day trips to somewhere else like ¨Laguna de Apoyo¨ or hiking in national park or volcano.
Ometepe: This is the name of the biggest island inside the Lake of Nicaragua. There are two ways of going to the island, by plane or by a ferry boat which will go from San Vicente (5 min from Rivas) or from Granada (takes a lot more time, is less often and more expensive ). As you get closer to the island the view of the two volcanos is incredible. It doesn’t matter if you arrive at Matagalpa (the most common access point) or Alta Gracia (the most touristic one), the view will be amazing and the things to do will be the same, go up the volcano, enjoy the hike and the views. Also visit different beaches around the island and going to ¨Ojo de Agua¨ a natural pool in the middle of the jungle between the two volcanos.
San Juan Del Sur: This is the place that is getting more attention on the past years, it has become a very hot tourist spot and in fact here you will find a lot of tourist that came to stay. This area has a little bit of everything. It has party at San Juan and nice restaurants with a lot of international food. Also from here you can visit ¨El Coco¨ that has a very calm ocean so you can take nice walks along the beach. It has good surfing at ¨Maderas¨ and ¨Hermosa¨ that attract beginners and Advanced surfers and brings them all together for a cold cheap beer for sunset.
The tourism industry has been growing here so it’s easy to rent cars, bikes, atv’s and surfboards. Also you can go on different types of tours that will go from whale and turtle watching, or hikes in the mountain, to fishing; depending on the time of the year. This is also the most expensive area of the country, but even then it is very cheap. Another side effect of the industry is that burglary has grown on the area, so beware of you belongings and don’t go to the beach in the night.
Also if you happen to be on a sunday in San Juan, and you are thinking there is nothing happening you are SO WRONG. This city is a good party every day, pub crawls, ladies night, happy hours or whatever, how could it not when drinks here are so cheap. But Sunday is the most famous day for partying here in this city. There is a pub crawl called ¨Sunday Funday¨ that goes from one Party Hostel to the next one, and ends up in a Hostel that use to be a Drug Lord house on the top of the mountain (Naked Tiger Hostel) where you will party until 4:00am (if you can).
This far that’s what i got, might have to do a couple more trips to this beautiful country. I hope my information is helpful to you or at least entertaining. Maybe out of this you will get the inspiration you need to go out there and make an experience for your own, doesn’t matter if you travel with your friends and family or completely alone and on the way to make best friends out of complete strangers, Nicaragua should be on your ¨To do List¨. Keep on moving!