Three weeks in Nicaragua was just enough time for us to take in the sights of Leon, Somoto Canyon, Granada, Ometepe and San Juan del Sur. We wanted to add in a visit to the lovely Corn Islands, but ended up running out of time at our leisurely pace. While some tourists rush in and out, we wanted to take our time to really get a feel for this country, and as a result, Nicaragua ended up being our favorite country in Central America so far (we still have Guatemala and Belize to visit). The highlights of our time here would definitely include volcano boarding down Cerro Negro, camping overnight at Telica Volcano, jumping into pools at Somoto Canyon, falling in love with the colorful colonial city of Granada and partaking in food and drink on Calle La Calzada every day at sunset, driving up to Masaya Volcano (perhaps the world’s most easily accessible lava lake), chilling on the laid back island of Ometepe, witnessing a howler monkey munching on leaves right next to us at Charco Verde Lagoon, and admiring the view of San Juan del Sur from the gargantuan Christ of Mercy statue.
However, our time in Nicaragua was a bit like being in the twilight zone. Everywhere we looked, we would often be the only tourists around and we kept wondering “where are all the tourists?” Mystery solved as countless new Nicaraguan friends told us about the protests that kicked off on 18 April 2018 and resulted in nearly 450 people killed to date. The protests started off as a demonstration against the social security reforms proposed by President Ortega, and had the unforeseen consequence of visibly crippling Nicaragua’s booming tourist trade. Everywhere we went, tourism numbers were down. Hotels, restaurants, and tourism agencies are all struggling to make ends meet and we felt so bad for the people as they have suffered economically as a direct result. The lack of tourists made for a fantastic time for us to visit though, as we got incredible deals throughout the country – motorbike rentals from $15 a day, hotels from $10 a night, cocktails for $1, etc. Fingers crossed, tourism numbers will rebound soon back to their pre-2018 levels. We will definitely be back to spend more time in this amazing country…Corn Islands is beckoning.
Poco a Poco, Leon: $24.4 a night for a double, private bathroom, cold shower, WiFi, shared kitchen. The first room we were put in was VERY hot (Room C). It had two fans which didn’t make a big difference. AC cost an extra $6 a night. The room itself was big and spacious, but the bathroom plumbing was a problem, with the smell of sewage coming into the room. Not good value when we compared this hostel to other hostels in Leon, because the other hostels offered free breakfast ($1 per person extra here), and some of the other hostels had a swimming pool. In retrospect, we would have stayed at Hostel Tortuga Booluda instead since it had high reviews, included breakfast and swimming pool and was much cheaper. The second room we got (after we returned to Leon) was the quad room (Room F) and it was a huge improvement. No smelly bathroom, large and spacious, bunk bed and double bed with 2 fans. Not hot at all, so it was a mystery why Room C was so stifling hot and uncomfortable. The price for Room F is normally $30 a night, but we were given it for $25 which was a nice gesture from the friendly staff. We were able to book tours and shuttles here. The tours are partnered with Volcano Day and we did the Telica overnight volcano tour ($55) and the Cerro Negro volcano boarding tour ($30). If you book 2 tours, you get $5 off the second tour, and you get a free t-shirt and beer with the tours.
Hostel Mariella, Esteli: $10.8 a night for a double, private bathroom, cold shower, WiFi, shared kitchen. Run by a very nice family, our room was spotlessly clean and comfortable. The room came with a fan which made sleeping at night feel a bit chilly with only a thin sheet! The family allowed us to use their kitchen (fridge) to store some groceries but it was in their house so we didn’t feel comfortable cooking food there. Having cereal/fruit in the morning was fine though. The hostel is in a great location for using the local chicken buses (midway between the north and south bus terminals). Lots of cheap restaurants, fruit stands and supermarkets nearby. Very good value.
Selina, Granada: $23.27 a night for a double, ensuite bathroom, incl breakfast, AC, WiFi, shared kitchen, free drinking water, swimming pool, dance club, library, movie room, and collaboration work space. This hotel is in the best location in Granada, right on the town square facing the cathedral. It has a lovely porch with swings to relax the afternoon away. We were upgraded from our original room to a deluxe double with private bathroom and nice view after we discovered our shared bathroom had an issue with the toilet (it wouldn’t flush). We were very impressed with the staff’s excellent customer service skills! Our new bathroom had hot water showers and toiletries provided. The hostel has a big dance party every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night so bring earplugs if you don’t want to join the partiers until 2 am every morning. Breakfast each morning is very nice with fruit platter, and beans/rice, eggs and toast with coffee. Every day from 5 – 7 pm, the bar offers happy hour specials. We loved this funky boutique hotel…great decor, great location, great price, it was perfect!
Casa Romano, San Juan del Sur: $22.44 a night for a double with private bathroom, AC, WiFi, shared kitchen, free drinking water. The family running this hostel is very nice and friendly and the rooms are spotlessly clean. Our room was the cleanest in Central America so far. No complaints although it was a bit awkward asking to use the luggage storage for our big bags. Because we weren’t returning for 4 days, we were asked to pay (in advance) for the first night of our second stay. We had no problem doing that but thought it was a bit bizarre as there was slight hesitation on whether to accept our bags for storage or not. This is not a party hostel and all guests are asked to respect quiet time from 10:30 pm onward.
Santa Cruz Hostel, Ometepe: $12 a night for a double with private bathroom, fan, WiFi (in common area only). Fantastic view of Conception Volcano from this hostel. We were shown to our room and were upgraded from a queen with shared bathroom to a queen with private bathroom for free since it was low season. Located on the other side of the island from the port town of Moyogalpa, so a motorbike/scooter is necessary if you want freedom to go places and see things. Staff here is friendly and helpful. Excellent value and a great base to explore the highlights of Ometepe.
24 Jan: Shuttle from La Ceiba, Honduras to Leon, Nicaragua
25 Jan: Leon
26 Jan: Day trip to Cerro Negro for volcano boarding, followed by beach time at Playa Las Penitas
27 Jan: Depart Leon for a hike and overnight trip to Telica Volcano
28 Jan: Return from overnight trip at Telica to Leon, afternoon bus to Esteli
29 Jan: Bus from Esteli to Somoto, 6 hour Somoto Canyon tour. Return bus to Esteli
30 Jan: Return from Esteli to Leon, sightsee Leon
31 Jan: Shuttle from Leon to Granada
1 Feb: Merced Church for sunset, Granada
2 Feb: Malecon for sunset, Granada
3 Feb: Day trip to Lake Apoyo, Masaya Market, Masaya Volcano, El Cayotepe Fortress, Granada
4 Feb: Old Hospital, Gunpowder Fortress, Cemetery DIY tour, Granada
5 Feb: Granada
6 Feb: Granada
7 Feb: Shuttle from Granada to San Juan del Sur
8 Feb: Bus from San Juan del Sur to Rivas, ferry from San Jorge to Moyogalpa, Ometepe. Rent motorcycle and ride to Santa Cruz, Ometepe
9 Feb: Ride and hike to San Ramon Waterfall. Visit petroglyphs. Santa Cruz, Ometepe
10 Feb: Ride to Finca Porvenir’s petroglyphs, soak in the natural pool at “Ojo de Agua”, ride to Altagracia’s petroglyphs, lunch in Moyogalpa, sunset at Jesus Maria point. Santa Cruz, Ometepe
11 Feb: Ride to Charco Verde ecological park, lunch at Playa Santa Domingo, relax at Santa Cruz, Ometepe
12 Feb: Ride to Moyogalpa to return the motorbike, ferry to San Jorge. Collectivo taxi to Rivas and collectivo taxi to San Juan del Sur
13 Feb: Hike to Christ of the Mercy Statue for lookout over San Juan del Sur
14 Feb: Shuttle from San Juan del Sur to border, exit Nicaragua and enter Costa Rica
24 Jan: 16 hour travel day. Reached Poco a Poco by midnight. The security guard let us in and showed us to our room. Got the WiFi code and stayed up till 1 am before we were able to fall asleep. It was very quiet at night and super hot. AC costs an extra $6 per night so we made do with just the fan.
25 Jan: Up by 8 am and went to chat with the staff at the hostel. A nice girl showed us around the hostel and explained their activities each night. The tour ended in the kitchen where for $1, a breakfast would be prepared (alternating days of pancakes or eggs). We opted for the breakfast and got pancakes today which were good with syrup. We needed to plan out the rest of our time in Nicaragua and figured we had plenty of time to explore Leon later, so hung out at the hostel for most of the day, researching Somoto Canyon and volcano boarding, and sleeping overnight at Telica Volcano. We shuffled our itinerary around to minimize our travel days and calculated we would be able to spend a bit extra time in Granada, so Becky’s dental appointment could be bumped up by one day. Hungry by lunch time so looked on tripadvisor for recommendations and decided to go to “Del Norte” since it looked good. Sadly, a local told us it shut down. Boo! So off to our second pick, “El Desayunazo”. It looked like it was under renovation so we asked a waiter standing next door and he assured us it was the right place. The menu here was ridiculous with all meals starting at $10 and higher. Becky had seen a lunch special posted by the entrance and asked about that….score! 85 Cordoba for chicken, pork or beef. We opted for the pork in garlic cream sauce which was extra tasty. Definitely the right call and the right price. Afterwards, tried to walk over to Volcano Day but it looked like the shop had moved so we returned to the hostel and made our bookings for the upcoming days. Did a bit more coordination for our onward plans in the afternoon and had dinner at a place Sofi (Dutch girl working at the hostel) recommended, a Cuban restaurant called “Tacubaya”. It was excellent, although we were worried when we first walked in and saw a menu with no prices listed. All mains were 180 Cordoba and cocktails were only 70 Cordoba. Good value meal considering we both ate like kings for $8 each including alcohol and tip.
26 Jan: “Today is going to be a Volcano Day”. That is our motto for today! We were all set to go volcano boarding down Nicaragua’s newest volcano (Cerro Negro) this morning. Pick up was scheduled for 8 am, so we got up at 6:50 so we had time for breakfast (eggs). Erick from Volcano Day was on time at 8 am and whisked us over to pick up another group of 3 girls from Germany and Netherlands. After stopping by the office to pick out our shirts and make payment ($30 each), off we went to the base of Cerro Negro. The tour was fantastic, as Erick patiently explained what we would be doing, how we were going to be doing it, and it was relaxed and fun. We had the option of carrying our boards or hiring a porter to do it for $5 and we all opted to lug our own boards to the top of the volcano. It was an easy 45 minute hike to the rim, and we stopped frequently to take photos and admire the views. Erick was patient and relaxed and it made the tour that much more enjoyable. When the moment of truth came, he had us don our protective gear and showed us how to properly balance on the board, keeping our feet just outside of the board, flat to go faster and heels dug in to slow down. Becky was the most nervous one of the group and ended up being the fastest one, barreling her way down to the base of the volcano at speeds up to 50 kph! Awesome fun and none of us got hurt or injured. On the ride back, we stopped to check out a baby rattlesnake sunning itself. The guys felt bad for it (wondering what the heck it was doing so close to the volcano) and they wanted to rescue it. That was when they discovered it had been run over and was dead…must have just happened because its tail was doing a death rattle. Poor little guy! Back in Leon, we grabbed Tona beers at Via Via (courtesty of Volcano Day) and chatted it up with the group. Great morning so far! We had about 90 minutes to grab lunch before linking back up for the 3 pm shuttle to the beach (Playa Las Penitas), so we ran over to the supermarket so Becky could buy some glue to fix her boot soles, and bread for lunch. We had been lugging around 4 cans of tuna since Roatan and figured it was time to consume them so tuna sandwiches for lunch…yum, especially with olive mayonnaise. At 3 pm, Erick was back to pick us up and we went back over to Tortuga Booluda to pick up other passengers also going to the beach. 9 of us were stuffed in the back, so we had to squeeze together to make room for everybody. It was 3:30 pm by the time we pulled up to Mano a Mano hostel and it was hot. We walked along the beach before cooling down in the ocean. The waves were strong and we were being pulled down the shoreline by a current so we didn’t stay in too long. Relaxed on the beach and tried to stay covered from the strong sun. Had a pina colada (massive drink for 100 Cordoba) and an ice cold beer just before sunset. Volcano Day was back at 6:30 pm to pick us up and transport us back to Leon. Had tuna sandwiches for dinner and took a proper shower to get the last of the volcanic dust off.
27 Jan: Got up and had cereal for breakfast. Since checkout wasn’t until 11 am, we wanted to linger in our room for as long as possible. Finally had to pack what we needed to take with us to the volcano and store everything else in the lockers. Settled the bill with Poco a Poco and hung out in the kitchen area until 2 pm. Erick (our Volcano Day guide from yesterday) picked us up at 2 pm sharp and on the ride over to the main office, Robby realized he didn’t have enough cash on him to pay the tour. Rather than backtrack, Erick told us we could pay up tomorrow. Picked up a group of 7 Polish tourists who had been drinking vodka and it was seeping from their pores. Thomas, their ring leader, was a goofy jovial fellow. It appeared that the rest of them only spoke minimal English. We dropped by the main office and saw that there was camping gear we had to lug up the mountain (tent, sleeping bags, cooking utensils). Decided to buy 4 Liters of water since Erick didn’t think we had brought enough. Then drove out towards Telica Volcano, stopping once enroute to take a photo. One of the Polish girls was feeling sick so she sat in the front. It was a rough ride to the base of the volcano. Shockingly, we passed by a wedding party venue in the middle of nowhere. Someone is going to be partying hard tonight! At the base of the mountain, we sorted out our gear and Erick volunteered to carry our 4 liter bottle of water. It was 4 pm by the time we started hiking and even at that time, the heat was intense. Sweat dripped everywhere as we trudged up the volcano. We made it to the top in less than 40 minutes and had time to take photos of the crater. One of the Polish guys decided to risk his life by scaling up the rim of the caldera and Erick panicked, telling us that if he fell, he would be dead for sure. He begged us to stay put as he ran after the idiot, and we quickly determined we wanted to separate from the group and join the overnighters. After Erick got the Polish under control, he led them towards the seismic monitor and we decided to head towards our campsite to drop off our bags. Along the way, we ran into the gang that was doing the overnight trip (the trio of French tourists from yesterday, Damien and the cute couple), Canadian girl named Peyton, and our tour guide, Wilber. We quickly dropped of our gear and ran back up to join them at sunset point. Beautiful color as the sun was setting, and we got some nice photos. The Polish contingent joined us briefly before rushing off, since they were planning to go to El Salvador tonight. A lone hiker joined our group just as the sun was beginning to set, a French guy named Jeremie. He chatted with Wilber before attaching himself to our group. Hopefully he gave Wilber a decent tip but doubtful as he has been traveling the world for 17 months based on others’ generosity (couch surfing, hitchhiking, etc). By 6:30 pm, Wilber led us back down to the campsite and we quickly set up our tent in the dark. Dinner was a team effort, with everyone helping to chop or gather firewood. A tasty vegetarian pasta meal was whipped up in no time and we hungrily wolfed down dinner, followed by marshmallows at the campfire for dessert. Wilber broke out a bottle of rum to share with everyone and had a great mix of music on. It was a pleasant night chatting until 9:45 pm and we decided to call it a day since we had to be up by 5 am for sunrise.
28 Jan: Our alarm sounded at 4:50 am and we were up. Not the best night’s sleep since a hungry horse had been munching just a few feet away from our tent. He kept circling back in his quest for food, and woke us up in the process. But no matter, we now had sunset to check out! Wilber led our group up the volcano to the lookout point and we watched as the sun slowly rose from the cloudy mist. It was a lovely sunrise and well worth the early wake up! Breakfast was cereal and oatmeal with banana and we broke down our campsite immediately afterwards. Wilber advised us that the hike back down would only take 2 hours and it was pretty easy, since it was all downhill. Our ride was waiting for us at the scheduled pick up point and we happily loaded up for the ride back to Leon. First stop was the Volcano Day office where we had to unpack all our gear. Then we walked over to Via Via for a celebratory drink. After saying goodbye to everyone, we walked with Peyton and Wilber back to the hostel since Robby had to get money out to make full payment. After thanking Wilber for a great trip, we rushed to take showers and repack a bag for Somoto Canyon. We weren’t entirely sure what time the direct bus from Leon to Esteli departed (12:30 or 12:45) but we managed to hail a taxi and made it with mere minutes to spare. The fare was only 90 Cordoba per person for a 2 hour ride on a school bus…comfortable ride since we each had 3 seats to lounge on. Had the bus been crowded, it would not have been as enjoyable! Our guesthouse, Hostal Mariella, was about 700 meters away, so an easy walk from the bus station in Esteli. Vendors were selling massive papayas and we bought one for 30 Cordoba. At Hostel Mariella, we were shown to our room (super clean and comfortable) and settled the bill before asking our hostess a ton of questions. She told us where the closest supermarket was located and advised us of some places to eat. Since we were starving, food was priority number one. We found a cheap asado (BBQ) joint and there was meat on the grill. After being assured it would be ready in 20 minutes, we killed some time by shopping at a nearby supermarket for some groceries. Dinner was delicious (pork asado with rice and beans and plantains) and a bargain at only 184 Cordoba for 2 meals and 2 drinks. Back at the hostel, our hostess showed us where the kitchen was, and we put our milk in the fridge. Managed to get some work done before crashing for the night.
29 Jan: Got up early for breakfast before catching the 7:30 am bus from Esteli to Somoto (42 Cordoba for the 2 hour bus ride). It got packed quickly and the seats were cramped, making for a long journey up to remote Somoto. We were happy to see that Somoto Canyon Tours had sent a guide as promised, a young guy named Joshua. He greeted us and grabbed one other client, a German named Alex and the three of us set off towards the office so we could get ready for our canyoning adventure today. We were told to bring water, sunscreen, and a camera and to leave everything else at the office. Our shoes were swapped out for some well worn sneakers which looked perfect for a day of water activities. Then we were off, driven by Henry (the owner of Somoto Canyon Tours) towards our starting point. From there, it was a short hike towards the Tapacali River, where we walked along the river until we got to our first jumping point. Apparently we were visiting during low season, so the water levels were quite low. This didn’t dissuade us from jumping though! The first jump was 3 meters and it was easy so all of us did it twice before moving on. The canyon itself got more beautiful as we continued downstream, and our GoPros got a workout trying to capture the sights and sounds. Swimming, scrambling, hiking, and jumping the full 14 KM trail took us under 6 hours as we moved pretty quickly. We were back to our starting point by 3 pm where a lunch of grilled pork, rice and beans and salad awaited us. Yummy! We had enjoyed Alex’s company and conversation throughout the day and promised to send him video of his jumps when we had decent internet. Our bus pulled up at 3:40 pm and we pulled into Somoto Bus Station a few minutes after 4 pm. Thankfully, the bus from Somoto to Esteli was waiting for us, and we were the last two to get on the bus! The return ride cost 40 Cordoba and took another 2 hours, so the sun had already set by the time we got back to our hostel. We told our hostess that our plans were to leave early in the morning, and asked if it would be OK to use the kitchen at 5:30 am. She readily agreed, and we relaxed in the room for the rest of the night. Another nice day in Nicaragua!
30 Jan: Up way too early to have breakfast before our ride to Leon. Thankfully, our hostess was awake and let us into the kitchen. Such an amazing guesthouse! After granola and papaya, we set off to the bus station and get there 30 minutes before the bus departed, so plenty of time to buy our tickets, relax and score good seats when the bus (direct express from Esteli to Leon) pulled up. The ride was decent as we had 3 seats to share between the 2 of us. Music videos played all ride long, making it feel more like a dance club than a bus! We pulled into Leon at 9:05 am, too late to join the free walking tour. So we decided to do our own tour, checking out the compact center of Leon on our own. However, since we were lugging our bags with us, we eventually thought it would be easier to check in at Poco a Poco and see if our room might be ready early. The cleaning lady still had to work on it, but we left our stuff with Sofi and walked around, getting tickets ($3 each) for the rooftop of the cathedral and withdrawing money at the ATM. Robby didn’t feel comfortable walking around with a huge wad of cash so back to the hostel we went to drop off our cash and check into our room. Our room upgrade, a quad instead of a double, was in Room F and was far superior to Room C (which we had the first time we stayed here). For one thing, the toilet didn’t smell, and the room was much cooler in the daytime heat. With the fans on, the room felt downright chilly. So happy we got an upgrade here! After peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, we had a small siesta before heading back out at 3 pm to explore the city a bit more. It was time for churches, so we wandered around town checking them all out, and spent sunset on the rooftop of the cathedral, getting some nice shots. We were parched from the heat, so a beeline to the supermarket was in order. Cold drinks and spag bol was on our shopping list and we were the first ones back at the hostel to start cooking dinner. The staff had put up birthday decorations everywhere and we wanted to cook and eat before the big party kicked off. Luckily, we were able to prep dinner and chow down in no time before the kitchen got super crowded. Our cold water showers felt amazing, and it was a much more comfortable night at Poco a Poco thanks to the room switch. Tomorrow we are off to Granada!
31 Jan: Up by 7:30 am to have leftover spag bol for breakfast. We were ready to go well before our scheduled 9:15 am shuttle pickup to Granada and good thing too because our ride came at 8:55 am. Robby scrambled to settle the bill at Poco a Poco while the shuttle got loaded with our bags. We picked up 2 more travelers and 5 of us were shuttled door to door from Leon to Granada, for the price of $12 each. Bargain, considering we arrived at 11:30 am, and were dropped off at the “central park”, where our lovely hotel, Salina Granada, was located. Despite check in not being until 3 pm, we were quickly shown to our room and given a quick tour of the hotel. Amazing find…the decor was super quirky and cute and we loved the location. Plus WiFi seemed good and all rooms came equipped with AC. Robby quickly discovered our shared bathroom’s toilet did not flush, so we reported that to the reception on our way to the supermarket. Got some groceries and by the time we reached our hotel, the receptionist (Christopher) told us that we had been upgraded to a deluxe room with private bathroom. Score! Our new room was lovely, double in size, with a spacious bathroom and balcony view. We love Salina Granada! Becky’s dentist appointment was at 2 pm and we arrived 10 minutes early. The husband/wife dentist duo saw her right away and did work on her tooth for about 90 minutes. We paid half now, and the remainder balance will be paid at the next appointment, currently scheduled for Wednesday, 6 Feb. Back in town, we wandered around taking photos of lovely Granada, and ran into a British backpacker we had met at Copan Ruinas, Honduras. We chatted for a bit, before finally breaking away and having a dip in the inviting pool at 4:30 pm. An hour later, we walked down the “drinking street” (Calle La Calzada) which had nice views of the gorgeous sunset. Granada is such an impressive town! Our free welcome drink was given on the terrace, and the “Nicalibre” was a bit heavy on the rum, light on the coke. Dinner was at La Frontera, a hard rock burger joint that lived up to the hype. Good food here for cheap. We were the last two guests to leave at 8 pm, and to our surprise, the staff locked the doors behind us when we left! Enjoyed the comfort of our AC room for the rest of the night. Good times.
1 Feb: Got up for our free breakfast at 8 am. Very surprised to learn that they only served coffee here (no tea), but no matter. Breakfast itself was a fruit plate and traditional meal of beans and rice, eggs, and toast. A pretty hearty breakfast considering it is free! We hung out in room until lunch, and then went to the local market to grab tomatoes, onions, garlic, avocados, and peppers which came out to 98 Cordobas for everything…not bad! Made pork fajitas for lunch but the kitchen had zero spices which sucked as a bit of salt and pepper would have made a big difference. Back to room to chill in the AC for a few hours before heading back out for a bit of sightseeing. On our agenda today was a 4 pm walk to a church followed by a climb up the bell tower for sunset at Merced Church. We saw the French guy (Jeremie) again but Robby gave him the cold shoulder for some reason. Back at Selina and we had to partake in happy hour. We got 2 pina coladas and 2 beers for 220 Cordobas and while we were enjoying our drinks, ended up buying 2 hammocks from a 15 year old kid named Michael. Cute kid and good salesman, especially since he probably took advantage of our merry state! Went to eat pizza at the #1 rated spot on TripAdvisor and it was OK. Price was good (260 Cordoba for large pizza and 2 drinks, and we tipped the waiter 40 Cordoba which made him happy). Music blasting all night long…you can tell it is a Friday night here. Selena hotel is a party hotel!
2 Feb: We awoke to cannons sounding at 5 am. Granada is a noisy city! Since we couldn’t sleep in, we had breakfast at 8:30 am, and worked on admin stuff until noon. Lunch was tuna sandwiches but the oil in the tuna didn’t taste good. Took advantage of our swimming pool for an hour to cool down in the midday heat. In the afternoon, we decided to take a stroll down to the malecon. It was very buggy out there, with tiny gnats flying around our eyes…not pleasant! The malecon area was nice but not lively. Very sad to see such a major hit in tourism…the locals are suffering big time. Back on Calle la Calzada, we had 2×1 happy hour cocktails on the main strip and then dropped off our camera gear. In the square, some locals were performing folkloric dances in traditional outfits…very cool to see. We ended up backtracking to Calle la Calzada and had dinner on the main strip which consisted of buffalo wings. Selina’s night club was pumping by the time we got back. It is going to be another rough night tonight! Saw Christopher running the desk and extended our stay by 1 night.
3 Feb: Had breakfast at 8 am and decided to walk around taking photos of churches in the morning light. We were keen on finding a tour to Masaya Volcano and started asking around for a shared tour and the going rate for an evening tour was $25 each (including the $10 entrance fee). We got the best vibes from a friendly guy at a small tour office who was willing to work with us to create a custom itinerary for the day: Lake Apoyo lookout point, Masaya market, Masaya Volcano, Fortress lookout point for sunset and return to Masaya for evening photos. Cost for 2 was $80 and we agreed to start at 1 pm. The guy we booked the tour (Wilfred) with ended up being our guide for the day, and he called his buddy to be our driver, a jovial guy named Juan Carlos. Since they knew we wanted to practice our Spanish, we chatted the whole drive from Granada to Catarina, our first stop. The lookout point in Catarina overlooking the crater lake of Lake Apoyo is not to be missed with great views over the pretty lake. Wilfred took us down a path to look for howler monkeys as we could hear them in the distance, but we couldn’t see them. Next up was a visit to the Masaya market where handicrafts were on sale. Surprisingly, this market wasn’t geared for tourists but for locals. There were hammocks, wooden carvings, cowboy hats, traditional dresses, leather shoes, and trinkets for sale, and we wondered how many locals actually end up buying this stuff! Wilfred recommended we trying eating “baho”, considered a cornerstone of Nicaraguan cuisine. Made with beef, plantains and yuca, it is wrapped in banana leaves and slow cooked (steamed) over water in a large pot. It was delicious with amazing flavor! We eagerly devoured one massive serving (120 Cordobas) which was more than enough to feed two people. Next up was a quick stop at the “malecon” in Masaya for a vantage point of Masaya Volcano, our next stop. We had to pay 100 Cordoba for entrance during the day, and stopped by the museum to get a layout of the area. Masaya Volcano is actually one of 5 craters inside a massive volcanic crater. Today we would only be allowed access to 2 of the 5 craters. Back in 2015, when the volcano became more active, the hiking trails to the upper 3 craters were cut off. Sad for us but the park rangers were trying to keep everyone safe. The view in the daytime was quite nice, and we were glad that we did make the effort to visit here during the day. From here, we drove to El Cayotepe Fortress which had nice views over Masaya Volcano and Lake Managua. Wilfred gave us a tour of the fortress’ underground torture chambers and we watched sunset from one of the domes. Robby did a neat time lapse video of sunset, and then we piled into the car for the drive over to Masaya Volcano. Unfortunately, there was a flat tire, so Juan Carlos and Wilfred worked to change the tire and then rushed us over to the Masaya Volcano to check it out in the dark. Entry fee at night is a whopping $10, and sure enough, we were able to see the magma bubbling in the crater’s lava lake down below. With Wilfred’s binos, we were able to distinctly see the lava bubbling and hissing. Very cool! We took a few photos here before heading back towards Granada, with the music pumping and our spirits high. Wilfred and Juan Carlos both seemed to have enjoyed themselves today as well, and we exchanged WhatsApp numbers so we could swap photos later. We were back to the city by 7 pm and had a late dinner of cocktails and chicken wings at Isa House II. Our waiter from Isa House I came running over, wondering why we didn’t give him business again. We didn’t realize that there were 2 different Isa Houses in town, right next to each other! The Patriots were playing the Rams and we watched them win the superbowl. Great day today!
4 Feb: After breakfast, we walked over to the old hospital. Public access has been blocked off, but the kind security guard let us pop in for a quick sneaky photo. Three horses were running wild in the street, and we watched as traffic slowed down in an effort to avoid an accident. Only in Granada will horses take over the road! From here, we went over to the Gunpowder Fortress which is closed to the public. Lucky for us, a delivery man pulled up and the security guard opened up the locked gates for him. We snuck in behind him and asked if we could take a few photos. The security guard agreed if we were quick and we climbed up one of the turrets for a quick view and thanked him with a 20 Cordoba tip for his kindness. A striking church caught our eye and it was the Chapel Maria Auxiladora. It had impressive ceiling arches and a very peaceful and serene feeling. One of our favorite churches in Granada! Last but not least on our morning sightseeing tour was a visit to the cemetery, which was well worth a quick visit for its amazing tombstones. On our walk back to the hostel, we took photos of the other churches since the morning light was much nicer than the afternoon light, and we bought some chips for our guacamole for lunch. Spent the afternoon recuperating from the midday heat and didn’t venture out until dinner time. Back to our favorite street (Calle La Calzada) for a meal at Grill House. The wings here are fantastic with the buffalo sauce, so we each ordered a batch even though the drinks were more pricey here (80 Cordobas for Becky’s 2 for 1 macua cocktails, and 35 Cordobas for a small Tona beer). Worth the premium though just for the tasty wings!
5 Feb: Slept in and had breakfast at 8:30 am. This morning was laundry day. We wandered around until we found a place to do our laundry (9 lbs which was 240 Cordobas), and then we walked over to the nearby Convent of San Francisco. It costs 140 Cordobas for entry, which grants access to 5 museums. We added this to our “to visit” list for tomorrow since it looked worthwhile. Off to the market to get some chips, salt, and avocados, and also to hunt for a seamstress to fix Robby’s shorts. Back at the room, we relaxed in the AC until 2 pm when we cooked up the rest of our pork for fajitas for lunch. It was 3 by the time lunch was over, perfect time to pick up our laundry. Everything was clean except our socks, 2 shirts and Becky’s hat so Robby went to see if they would honor their 100% satisfaction guarantee. The guy reluctantly agreed to rewash the items, and told him to come back at 11 am for pick up. Dinner was our nightly routine on La Calzada. This time we went back Isa House since they have the best cocktails/beer. There was a 20 wing special with 4 beers for 330 Cordoba, so we had chicken wings again for the 4th night in a row! The macua cocktails were delicious as usual and Becky downed 4 of them. We need to get out of this city or we will both gain 10 pounds!
6 Feb: Last full day in Granada! After breakfast, Becky picked up the laundry that we had kicked back to “redo” and came back with clean clothes. We relaxed until lunch (guacamole) at 1 pm and Becky’s dentist appointment was at 2:30 pm. By 3 pm, the work was done so it was a super quick appointment. Robby managed to find someone to fix his shorts for only 100 Cordoba (new zipper and velcro). Went to La Frontera for dinner and the ribs were amazing. This place is popular and deservedly so, even though it is not on the tourist strip. We tried to book our onward shuttle to San Juan del Sur with Wilfred, but he wasn’t in his office so we ended up using Salina to coordinate a 12:30 pm pick up tomorrow.
7 Feb: Last breakfast at Salina…we will sure miss this place! Back to the room to pack before checkout at 11 am. Robby had to go pick up his shorts which had been repaired overnight. After checkout, we lounged by the pool until 12:30 and our shuttle was on time to pick us up. It was a full van with 7 of us headed to San Juan, and 2 stragglers trying to get to Tree House. Apparently, the driver didn’t know how to get there and he eventually found his way there, but dinged up the vehicle in the process. Some of our fellow passengers were freaking out because they told him there was no way the van was going to make the journey and that the 2 guys should just walk there with all their gear. They weren’t having it and we did make it there in the end, but the van did take a lot of abuse in the process. Probably not worth the fare! In San Juan, we were the last ones dropped off at our hostel (Casa Romano) and we checked into our room (immaculate, very comfortable with AC which was a bonus). We quickly wandered around town for a happy hour/dinner quest and settled on #1 rated cheapie restaurant, Dale Pues, which served up cheap burgers and Nicalibres for $1. Afterwards, we ran into the Japanese and British backpackers that we had met back in Copan. They had reunited again and it was funny that we kept running into them in various countries. We found a beach restaurant that served up 2 for 1 pina coladas and settled in for sunset which was nice. Topped off our night with gelato ice-cream which was a nice treat.
8 Feb: Slept well and woke up at 8:30 am for breakfast of cereal. Checkout wasn’t until 11 am, and we dropped off our big bags to storage and walked towards the mercado to catch a bus to Rivas. Cost was 25 Cordobas each and we were in Rivas in no time. The taxis tried to extort us so we waited by the bus stop and eventually got a shared taxi to bring us to the port for 20 Cordobas each…score. The next boat to Moyogalpa was at 12:30 pm, which meant we had 15 minutes but it was a “lancha” and the next ferry wasn’t until 2:30 pm. Since we didn’t know what to expect, we agreed to the lancha which was only 35 Cordobas each. What a crazy ride! We thought the boat might sink given the strong waves and wind, and we certainly got tossed from side to side but the seaworthy vessel made it in the end! We sat next to an interesting guy from Israel who was going to work at one of the hotels and he gave us the scoop for the island. In Moyogalpa, we quickly found Dinarte’s Rental where we got a motorcycle for $15 a day for 4 days. Alisha gave us a detailed rundown of things to do and places to see and Robby test drove the bike before we paid up and left $100 deposit. It was either the cash of a passport and we figured cash was better! The ride from Moyogalpa to Santa Cruz was straightforward and we reached our hostel by 3:30 pm. After checking in and dropping off our bags, we were starving for a late lunch/early dinner and headed over to Mediterranean Pizza which unfortunately wasn’t open until 5 pm. So we drove onward to Cafe Campestre which served up chicken wraps and chicken sandwiches in no time. The food here was delicious and the brownie dessert sinful. Ticked all the right boxes. Sunset over Conception Volcano was from our balcony with a Tona beer. Another good day in Nicaragua!
9 Feb: Slept in until 8 am. Other options in Santa Cruz had negative reviews complaining about roosters crowing at 5 am but this hostel is set far back enough for a peaceful sleep. We had cereal for breakfast and then drove over to the San Ramon Waterfall. Entrance was 100 Cordoba each and 70 Cordoba for our motorbike. Even though the rental agency urged us not ride the bike up the volcano, Robby felt confident enough and the two of us managed to get to the upper parking lot, shaving off 2 km of an uphill hike! From there, it was only another 40 minutes to the waterfall. Unfortunately, it was dry season so the falls weren’t gushing with water but it was a nice stop for photos and a refreshing dip. As we were leaving, a dog sauntered up to the falls. Apparently, he had hitched himself to 2 girls and led them on a hike all the way up to the waterfall! We hiked back down and the gloomy/rainy start gave way to sunshine. Good times. Our plan was to drive all the way around the ring road at base of Maderas Volcano, but bad luck as we drove past the hamlet of El Guineo. Our throttle stopped working as Robby tried to accelerate up a hill. Damn it…we had to call Dinarte’s (rental agency) and they wanted to be sure to understand what the problem was before sending out assistance. And reception sucked, so we walked back towards El Guineo for better reception and as luck would have it, a guy pointed out a family run garage just a few hundred meters away. The man of the household felt confident he could repair our throttle for only 100 Cordobas and Dinarte’s told us they would reimburse us the costs. An hour later, we were back on our way, heading towards the off beaten path at the far side of Ometepe Island. And good reason no one visits this side of the island…the roads are atrocious and our motorbike struggled on the very rough terrain. On the drive around, we spotted some petroglyphs to visit (30 Cordobas each) and our guide was a very cute 10 year old boy and his 5 year old sister. We saw a crocodile, monkey, labyrinth stone carving and enjoyed our interaction with the kids. The rest of our ride wasn’t notable. We didn’t see signs for any other petroglyphs even though we were actively searching for them. A late lunch/early dinner was at Bamboo Restaurante where we had smoothies and sandwiches. Perfect since we both were starving. It was 5 pm when we decided to head to Merida Beach’s Caballito’s Mar for sunset. Robby got a tona beer for 35 Cordoba and the sunset was gorgeous. We were back to our hotel by 6:20 pm and chatted briefly with the receptionist before calling it a day. Our cold water showers felt great after our hot and dusty day!
10 Feb: After breakfast, we rode to Finca Porvenir to check out their petroglyphs (40 Cordoba fee which included access to a mirador, 90 minute hike away) There were 2 massive carvings just outside the finca which would have been visited for free but we were happy to pay. One of the massive rock carvings was of a calendar and the other one was a human figure. Pretty neat and we were happy we made the effort to see the pre-Colombian artifacts. From Finca Porvenir, we drove directly to Ojo de Agua, a natural mineral pool that is popular with locals. Entrance for foreigners was $5 each which felt extortionate because the locals pay a fraction of that to enter. The water felt great and it was a nice, relaxing visit until the killer ants decide to attack. Their bite felt more like a bee sting, and we were left with welts…not cool! By lunch, we rode onward to Altagracia, pulling into the first gas station that we had seen since Moyogalpa. The highlight in Altagracia were the petroglyphs near the San Diego de Alcala Church in Altagracia. The carved volcanic statues here were half man, half animal. A fruit shack right next to Central Park whipped up fruit smoothies for us (banana & milk and papaya & orange) which were a treat. Good value at 50 Cordobas for a huge smoothie (plus free refills). From Altagracia, we rode the dirt road towards Moyogalpa. No wonder the rental agency had urged us to take the other road to get to Santa Cruz as this road was very rough in some places. Definitely not an easy joyride. We had lunch at a local eatery (chicken served with rice & beans, plantains and salsa) before a quick visit to the Pali Supermarket to stock up on cereal and water. Our last highlight of the day was sunset at Jesus Maria, which was as good as everyone had promised. Spectacular sunrise and a beautiful vista of the two volcanoes (although Maderas Volcano was shrouded in cloud cover the entire time). It was dark by the time we drove back to Santa Cruz, which took us nearly 45 minutes as we were going slow to avoid hitting pedestrians and animals that were out for an evening stroll. Dinner was at Mediterranean Pizza which was excellent! The owner must be Italian as this was some of the best Italian food we’ve had outside of Italy. Two huge thumbs up and we left stuffed and satisfied. The cold water showers at 9 pm didn’t feel great as the temperature had already cooled down but we needed to get the volcanic particles off (Jesus Maria sunset point has some ferocious winds kicking up volcanic dust). Thus concluded the end to our perfect day in Ometepe.
11 Feb: After breakfast, we drove straight to Charco Verde Ecological Park. Entrance was 160 Cordoba, and it was a self guided tour. First stop was a butterfly sanctuary and we managed to get some nice photos of the butterflies. The soothing music and beautiful garden inside made it a very pleasant stop to spend some time in. From here, we walked the trail around the Charco Verde (green lagoon), and the highlight was happening upon a male howler monkey munching on leaves at the base of a tree. Magical, as he didn’t budge or get bothered by our presence. However, a loud family came around the corner a few minutes later and spooked the howler monkey, who immediately beat a retreat high above in the tree. We took our time wandering around the park, and came upon 13 more howler monkeys in the tree tops, including 2 babies! Originally, we thought the $5 entrance fee was a bit steep, but after our visit we thought it was great value since we had seen so much wildlife here. Lunch was by Playa Santa Domingo at Comedor Gloriana, which was right on the beach. We had front row seats to all sorts of birdlife and made friends with the local dogs who wanted some of our grilled chicken. A German couple that was at the Charco Verde park showed up at the same restaurant, and we laughed when we saw them again. Small island indeed! After our late lunch, we returned back to our hostel and sat on the patio as we had a magnificent view of Conception Volcano. For the first time in days, the cloud cover at the top of the volcano had dissipated, giving us a lovely view of the volcano. After watching sunset, we rode out to Mediterranean Pizza for dinner again. Great choice as we both ordered pizza and power to this side of the island was down. The restaurant soon became packed with hungry backpackers looking for a restaurant that could serve food without power (wood stove behind the kitchen meant this restaurant was going to be stay busy tonight!). Power was finally restored about 90 minutes later. We settled the bill for our 4 night stay ($12 a night) and kept marveling at how cheap it was to stay here.
12 Feb: After breakfast, we finished packing and waved goodbye to the friendly cleaning lady at Hostel Santa Cruz before driving back towards Moyogalpa. We stopped by the airport to take a few photos of the landing strip at the base of the volcano…pretty cool! After refueling the bike, we returned it to Dinarte’s and got our $100 deposit back and 100 Cordoba for the throttle repair returned to us. We had plenty of time to catch the 11 am ferry back to San Jorge, which left on time and cost 50 Cordoba each. The German couple we ran into yesterday was on board our ferry so we got some good information on what to do in Guatemala and Belize. The ferry crossing was smooth (what a difference a big boat makes) and we hopped into a collectivo taxi for 20 Cordoba each to Rivas. While waiting at the bus station for the next bus to San Juan del Sur, a taxi pulled up and offered to drive us for only 50 Cordoba each. Deal! We kept thinking it was a scam but no scam, he just wanted to share the ride for cheap and we had a nice conversation with him all the way into town. Exactly 2 hours after we got on the ferry, we arrived to our hostel…not bad, 2 hours for door to door service! We were shown to our room and had a chance to relax before grabbing lunch at Simpleton’s Fish and Chips (fish burger and fries…ok, nothing special). The owners were from Florida and were quite talkative so we stayed a while chatting with them before getting ice cream for dessert. Relaxed until sunset and then dinner at La Lancha where Robby ordered a massive grilled snapper (300 Cordoba) and Becky got 2 lobster tails for 200 Cordoba…what a bargain! Food here was delicious, which explained the packed tables.
13 Feb: Fairly lazy day today. The only thing on our agenda (aside from food) was to hike up to the 134 meter tall Christ of the mercy statue, which overlooks the beach of San Juan del Sur. We decided to go right before sunset, which still entailed a hot sweaty 20 minute hike to the statue. Entrance was $2 and we stayed until after sunset…fabulous views from up there. Dinner was a repeat visit to Dale Pues, which came out to $21 (making this our most expensive meal in Nicaragua!). Since our shuttle pick up was scheduled for 6 am tomorrow, it was an early night after packing our bags for the journey. We made sure that Casa Romano wouldn’t be locked up in the morning before calling it a day.
14 Feb: Early morning wake up at 5:20 which was a good thing because our shuttle arrived at 5:40 am! Thank goodness we were ready to go! It only took an hour to ride to the border of Nicaragua where we were given a really hard time about how we entered and whether we flew. We told them repeatedly that we had flown to El Salvador, gone to Honduras and crossed over from Honduras. The problem was we had no entry stamp into Nicaragua, and the border officials were reluctant to allow us to depart. Our passports were taken to the back room and then we were questioned again by two different officials before they finally relented, accepted our $2 exit fee and stamped us out of the country. Goodbye Nicaragua! We still like you even though your border officials suck.