Get off the Gringo Trail: Welcome to the “Route of the Coffee”—The Green Route of Nicaragua

How green is your travel? Keeping in mind ways to minimize damage to the planet during your travels is becoming more and more important to a growing number of travelers.  Visiting Nicaragua in and of itself, in my opinion, is a great way to have some great adventures while ensuring that your travels have minimal impact to the environment.  Why? Because being in Nicaragua is by and large a way to lessen your carbon footprint since the lifestyle and typical ways to live, travel, and consume are much less obnoxious than in North America or Europe.

For example, most visitors here forego the rental car and take local transportation.  Traveling by “chicken bus” or expresso mini-van has much less impact than renting a car and driving around just by yourselves.  There are tons of other reasons too.  For example, most people travel inexpensively, the so-called “mochileros” (backpackers) are saving the planet lots of wear and tear since you are not staying in air conditioned hotels, you are eating the local food, and by supporting ecological practices and your decision making on where to go, how to spend your money, and what sorts of adventures you will have, you are saving lots of energy, minimizing your waste, and in general just by being in Nicaragua you are using less energy than you would back home.

This is of course not taking into consideration the carbon footprint of your plane flight, but there are ways to offset that too.  Point being, Nicaragua is a great choice for ecologically-minded travelers! Here is one route that gets you off the gringo trail and helps local environmental and ecological systems to maintain and improve the quality of life for the wildlife and the people who live in these somewhat remote areas.  Consider it, won’t you?

Bienvenidos a la “Ruta del Café”: La Ruta Verde de Nicaragua..

(In Spanish)

(In English)…Google Translate

Granada: A Colonial City

Granada: A Colonial city

Located on the shore of Lake Cocibolca, Granada is a Nicaraguan colonial city that with its streets and architecture takes us back to the past. Founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, it was one of the major European cities on American territory and is now one of the most touristic cities in the country. As one of Nicaragua’s tourist destinations, the city of Granada sells itself, and everybody falls in love with its colonial houses and streets. But besides that it offers its guests plenty of places full of history, art and culture. Granada Tourism Sightseeing in Granada is very easy; there are a large number of tour operators offering a tour of the city and its surroundings. For its part, the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (INTUR) also provides information offices with places you could visit. Five star hotels and affordable hostels are available throughout the city. Also this corner of Nicaragua is characterized by specialty restaurants that serve food such as French, Italian, Spanish or Chinese, and especially typical Nicaraguan food. The great majority of these sites are on “La Calzada” (The Roadway) the living center of the city; night or day, this street offers a party atmosphere with hotels, bars and restaurants offering a culinary tour of the world and music for all tastes. Without a doubt the main tourist attraction of the “Gran Sultana” (Great Sultan), as this city is called, are its five colonial churches that besides offering religious services offer museums, religious art and even panoramic views of the city. The Cathedral Church of Granada, located in front of the central park (Parque Colon), is the symbol of the city. The style is distinguished starting with the neoclassical facade and inside the temple there are four fully active chapels. Although it was finished in 1583, it has received big hits on its infrastructure and it has been renovated several times. The most significant damage was in 1856 when William Walker (American mercenary) with his filibusters destroyed it completely. A striking light blue paints the neoclassical facade of the San Francisco church. Like almost everything in Granada, this temple has the scars of history of war and intervention; destroyed three times, it has suffered extensive renovations that have turned it into a combination of neoclassical and in its interior, modern romance. Next to this church is the Museum of the San Francisco Convent that house permanent and temporary exhibitions of paintings, sculptures, a model of the city, popular religious imagery and archaeological pieces dating from the year 300 AD such as clay pots and idols of stone that have been rescued and restored. Most of these pieces come from the Zapatera Island located on Lake Cocibolca which is very close to the city. In the center of the city is the church of La Merced, its construction began in the mid sixteenth century therefore still belongs to the Baroque style and in one of its sides has a bell tower. Because of its height, the tower gives a panoramic view of the city, Lake Nicaragua, the small islands in the lake, and the Mombacho volcano. To the east of Granada, facing the lake stands the Church of Guadalupe, built by Fray Benito Baltodano in 1626. Its facade reveals the passing of time, which makes it a relic. With history on its walls in the west of the city is the Church of Xalteva, its name is taken from the indigenous community that was located there before the arrival of the Spanish, which is an evidence of the imposition of the Catholic religion in the country. It was built in the middle of the colony and due to its strategic location it was used as a military fort on several occasions such as the National War which occurred between 1856 and 1857 during which it was destroyed. The latest reconstruction of the temple was completed in 1921. Still in Xalteva, on one side of the church are located the Xalteva walls, these are the ruins of the old division that was made at the time of the conquest, by one side, toward the lake was the colonists of the city and on the other side, overcrowded, was the now extinct indigenous community of Xalteva. To the west, near the end of the Real de Xalteva Street, lays “La Polvora” (The Gunpowder), a fortress built in 1748 to defend the city from pirates. The building was constructed in a pentagon shape and the five towers located on each side were used as the center of punishment in different wars and dynasties. Now this place just keeps some ancient artifacts that serve to recall the story. Beyond the religious belief that you can profess to get to Granada and not do the tour through the churches would be a real “sin.” The architecture of the facades and interiors, plus the history hidden in its walls is a journey back to the past that you can only enjoy in Nicaragua.

Top Five Managua Day Trips for Adventure Travelers

Managua is the name of the capital of Nicaragua. The usual story about it is that the city was founded on the site of a little native village located on the shores of Lake Xolotlán (now Lake Managua).  The political angle that led to its designation as a capital is that it is located approximately halfway between the two major rival cities of Leon and Granada.  But frankly, the city itself will never be confused with other world capitals, most people just stay one night when first arriving in Nicaragua and again on their last night, depending on flight times. So let’s get you out of town and into some great adventures! What about the day trips you say?

Let’s assume you have a few hours to do something fun and exciting, but you are staying in Managua. Here are my top five day trips in no particular order. Enjoy!

  1. Mombacho Canopy Tour: This is a great tour for real adventure and tropical vistas. You go to a coffee plantation on the side of a volcano overlooking Lake Nicaragua (where you can learn about how coffee is grown, harvested, and processed). The real adventure starts with an awesome canopy tour in the huge trees of the plantation. You’ll find yourself rappelling, boomeranging, and double-crossing. 2.5 hrs driving, 2.5 hrs tour.
  2. Cave Hiking Masaya Volcano: There are over 100 caves located around the Masaya Volcano.  This is a new night hike that begins with you walking down a lava tube tunnel.  It ends at a crater opening revealing the glowing hot lava in the “Boca del Infierno” down below. 1 hr driving, 2 hrs tour.
  3. Kayaking Tour of Lake Nicaragua: Enjoy the little volcanic islands and volcano views on one of the worlds largest lakes. 2 hr driving, 3 hr tour.
  4. Masaya Volcano National Park & Craft Market Tour:
    First up on this tour is a stop at the Interpretive Center, then you go up to the main crater and take a little hike while trying not to be overwhelmed by the sulfur smells! Afterwards is a tour to the fabulous artisan’s market in the city of Masaya, just up the road. This is a great place to buy your souvenirs for the folks back home. 2 hr drive, 3 hr tour.
  5. Chocoyero – El Brujo Natural Reserve: This is a private reserve where you can take a great hike where you will take in the gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains, view several species of birds including the famous green parakeets, and finish up with seeing the two waterfalls, Chocoyero and Brujo. 30 minute drive, 3 hr tour.

Taking Buses to and from Managua

Regarding the bus situation, the deal is that there are at least three different official bus stations that I know of for inter-Nicaraguan trips.  Mercado Huembes for points South, Mercado Mayoreo for points North and East and Mercado Israel Lewites for points Northwest. So if you are coming from the South but heading further afield, you likely need to get yourself to the appropriate market. Taxi is really the only way to go between the different bus stations, especially if you have baggage and such. Another reason to travel light!

(There are also the areas where TicaBus/NicaBus leaves from for international trips and “la UCA” for minivan expressos to most anywhere.)
File:Bus de Nicaragua Tipitapa a Managua.jpg
As for Granada to San Juan del Sur, see if you can find a bus that goes to Penas Blancas (the border/la frontera).  They would drop you off at the turnoff/empalme to SJdS, and typically a local bus would come by or if you are lucky be waiting for you.  Alternatively there are always taxis at the empalme to take you to SJdS.

I’m not up on whether or not minivans leaving from SJdS would go to “la UCA” where as you rightly say, expressos to Leon leave from.  The buses and expresso vans I am familiar with end up at Mercado Huembes and from there you would need to taxi to la UCA for minivan or Mercado Israel Lewites for regular buses.

Four Essential Nicaraguan Driving Tips

This is in response to a posting on another blog: Watching the Sun Bake

Hey Craig, sorry to hear about the “bum trip” you had. I live here in Managua off of the Carretera a Masaya and have pretty well adjusted my driving, especially to the rotunda lane changing deal.

Couple of reactions to your blog: You come across as someone who had a rough landing in Nicaragua, and that is something that can be tricky to manage your first couple of visits (and I do hope you come back!)
The typical police officers here are really not too bad, definitely not Gestapo. I am way more intimidated of PO’s in the States.

But they really got you with these fines. I follow a protocol and suggest visitors (especially first time visitors going straight to SJdS) driving in Nicaragua keep this in mind too. At least around here, if I get pulled over I try the following:

  1. BE COOL & CALM: When you get pulled over, be nice and respectful.  The old “good afternoon officer” “buenas tardes oficial” routine. Attitude: “I cannot imagine what I have done wrong and am just trying to learn the rules. Have mercy!”
    As the officer starts telling you about an infraction of some sort that you are no doubt guiltyfalsely accused of, verify that they are Agente de Transito—these guys where long sleeved shirts as opposed to regular police who have short sleeves.
    NOTE: If they are NOT Transito THEY CANNOT FINE YOU.  No matter what they say, you must understand that they cannot give you a multa but only give you a warning. They’ll try to say “I’m calling a Transito officer to come over and give you a ticket.” Unless Transito is on the scene and actually witnessed the infraction you should be off the hook.
  3. MORDIDA TIME: If the officer is Transito and begins to write out a ticket and explains how you have to go to court and that Transito in Managua will keep your driver’s license, then it is time to help them financially a bit…i.e. a MORDIDA.
    But please do not pay too much, you’ll ruin it for the rest of us! $10 maximum or 200 or less Cordobas should do the trick.
    The technique I use is to ask the officer to return your registration and insurance cards, then discreetly slip 100 cords between the two card sized documents and give it back to him. This establishes that you know the score and are efficiently giving him a small bribe.  At that point the officer will generally hand you back your documents, warn your sternly, and let you off. Usually the officers are paired up, and the deal is that the officer you are dealing with does not want his partner to see that your transaction is taking place. Whether it is because he or she does not want to share the money, or wants to appear “clean” it is best to be a bit sly.
    Then you are pretty well screwed…sorry to say. Tell the officer that you are going back to your home country in a day or two and cannot return without your license. “Is there anything we can do to get it back?
    Assuming that doesn’t work you have to do the bank and court deal which is a pain in the butt. I have had the pleasurehassle to have to go due to a driving ticket, and once you have gone to the bank to pay the fine, then go to Transito with the receipt to recover your license, you can waste a good half a day. It is no fun, especially when banks and Transito are crowded.
    Transito is located near Mercado Huembes in Managua.

Here is a blog (in Spanish) explaining the process to pay a fine (multa).