Archive for the 'Nicaragua' Category

San Juan del Sur

San Juan del Sur sunset

San Juan del Sur at sunset

Nicaragua’s main beach resort at San Juan del Sur pales in comparison to the resort areas in Mexico, but that’s one of the reasons we love it.  From $2500/week beach houses overlooking the ocean to simple $10/night rooms such as ours, there’s something here for every type of traveler.  Located just minutes from some of the finest surfing beaches in the country, it attracts a steady stream of backpackers and vacationers.  The beach is beautiful and in the evenings the sunset lights up the sky in magnificent reds and oranges before disappearing behind the cliffs that frame this picturesque bay.  In fact, San Juan del Sur recently became a popular cruise ship destination when many of Mexico’s beaches were bypassed due to the swine flu outbreak. 

San Juan del Sur beachIt’s impossible to pass up a beautiful dinner overlooking the ocean.  We spent an evening at restaurante El Timón, known to be one of the best in San Juan del Sur, and enjoyed a delicious meal of grilled whole red snapper, seafood rice and lobster tail with fresh veggies.  Que rico!

Here are a couple more pictures of the sunset on our last night in San Juan:

San Juan del Sur sunset 008

San Juan del Sur sunset 012

 

 

 

 

 

And one of us:

San Juan del Sur sunset 013

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Isla de Ometepe

Isla Ometepe

Bouncing down bumpy dirt roads past fields of banana trees and palms, a giant volcano looming overhead and the silhouette of another in the distance, parrots chattering as they dart from branch to branch and the sound of waves crashing against the shore.  This only begins to describe the experience of visiting Ometepe Island.  Formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe is a kind of fantasy-land where the pace of life slows to a near halt and things appear as you imagine they might have many years ago. 

It’s the first place in several months that had me awake before 6:30 a.m. and reaching for my running shoes.  After a perfect night of being lulled to sleep by the rustling of palm leaves in the cool night breeze, my early morning jog on the beach led me past makeshift lakeside laundry stations where women and children were hard at work scrubbing their clothes against the smooth rocks.  We watched each other as I passed, exchanging a wave or a  friendly “Buenas Dias”, though it was pretty clear the sight of me out jogging was just as strange to them as their washing clothes in the lake was to me.

pupsAs mid-day approaches the temperature on the island climbs quickly.  Instead of cooling off in the lake we hiked for several kilometers past small coastal settlements, farms and forests.  We passed boys on bicycles carrying giant bunches of plantains, pick-up trucks jam packed with people and small homes built of concrete and aluminum, most with outhouses.  Life on the island is like nothing I’ve ever known and though Ometepe sees it’s share of visitors these days you’d never know it, especially if you stay outside of it’s two major settlements, on the beach at Santo Domingo as we did.

Las Isletas

Isletas

Las Isletas are small islands just offshore from Granada in the Lago de Nicaragua.  Numbering into the hundreds and easily reached by motorboat from Granada, the isletas are seperated by narrow channels and rich with vegetation and wildlife, particulary egrets, herons and cranes.  Formed some 10,000 years by an erupting Volcán Mombacho, today many are inhabited by Nicaragua’s super-wealthy.  We spotted a ‘for sale’ sign and it seems the going rate for a small island in the lake is around $250,000.

Volcán Masaya

masaya

We visited the Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya on a day trip from Granada.  Located just off the main highway that links Granada with Managua, it’s a short ride from town and any Managua bound bus will drop you just outside the entrance.  From there it’s an additional 6km to reach the summit of the volcano and the Plaza de Oviedo which overlooks Cráter Santiago.  Emiting giant clouds of smoke and smelling strongly of sulfur, this very active crater is the park’s main attraction.  It’s believed that during pre-hispanic times Cráter Santiago was the site of human sacrifices to the goddess of fire.

León

leon

Nicaragua’s other colonial jewel, León, was once the nation’s capital and today remains an important center of culture, arts and religion.  Known to be the most politically progressive city in Nicaragua, it played an important role during the revolution.  León is home to many fine churches and colonial buildings as well as the nation’s first university, the Universidad Autónoma de Nicaragua which was founded in 1912.  The city’s colonial architecture, though not as well restored as in Granada, is equally impressive and the city is home to the largest cathedral in Central America.  Dating back to the 18th century, towering over the central plaza, and surrounded by intricately carved stone statues of lions the cathedral is the centerpiece of León.

Granada

granada

A short bus ride away from Nicaragua’s dusty, sprawling capital city of Managua is the beautifully restored colonial town of Granada.  Founded in 1524 along the northwestern shore of the Lago de Nicaragua, Granada is Nicaragua’s oldest colonial city.  A rich and important trading center until the 19th century, today Granada is the tourism capital of Nicaragua.

Easily one of the most attractive towns in Central America, Granada ranks toward the top of our list alongside towns such as Antigua, Oaxaca and San Cristóbal de las Casas.  A small central tourist zone surrounds the plaza and stretches along Calle La Calzada which is lined with some of the best places to stay and eat in all of Nicaragua, and they’re surprisingly affordable.  Everything is within easy walking distance of the plaza and it’s been our experience that most visitors don’t venture too far outside the town center.     

hostelAfter a full day of travel, our first night was spent relaxing in the cool evening breeze on the hostel balcony, gazing out over an endless stretch of red adobe rooftops and enjoying the sounds of cumbia music wafting up from the street below. Probably the highlight of my visit to Granada and very much how I had  envisioned spending my evenings when we first began planning this trip.

After a few days in town we’ve come to find that the sagranada dogsme scene plays out daily in the Central Plaza.  Vendors set up their stands awaiting the day’s business, stray dogs wander through looking for scraps as old men siesta on park benches and customers dine at the outdoor cafés.  Just before mid-day the tour buses arrive.  Traditional dancers perform in the center of the plaza while artisans approach the crowds hoping to lighten the loads of pottery that weigh down their duffle bags. 

After the dancers arkidse finished and just before the tourists move on to  Granada’s other attractions it’s the kids turn.  A small group of young boys show up to put on a brief show of music and dance.  Taking turns banging on drums and spinning around inside colorfully decorated costumes,  it’s a performance that is oddly reminiscent of the Guelaguetza performances that parade through the streets of Oaxaca.

Strolling around town one of the first things you notice are all of the open doorways where shopkeepers, business owners and residents sit just inside looking out on the street.  It’s not unusual to pass people sitting out in front of churches, their plastic chairs and radios taking up space on the sidewalk while they watch the day go by.  As evening approaches, businesses shut down and the sun begins to set over the colored adobe buildings, friends and family pull rocking chairs out onto the sidewalks alongside their neighbors, strike up conversations and watch the day turn into night.       

In the evenings, the bars and restaurants along Calle La Calzada move their tables outside and prepare for yet another busy night.  Throughout the week a steady stream of residents and tourists show up for happy hour or a good meal, to listen to some live music, watch a soccer game or boxing match as we did this past Saturday, or simply to sit out under the stars chatting with friends and taking in the sights.  On the weekends it takes on a slightly different feel as the crowds increase with visitors from neighboring Managua, mariachi bands, musicians and groups of young breakdancers perform in the streets and each establishment has their own private security guard on hand, keeping watch over the restaurant and chasing away the occasional stray dog.