Anyone planning to stay in Managua on a slim budget should try Guest House Santos, Barrio Martha Quezada. The low quality is compensated by the low cost, around $9 per night, and the interesting crowd that usually stays there. The place is surrounded by low cost places to eat and drink as well as a number of Internet cafes, and is very near the international bus station. The barrio itself is a run down part of Managua and has a reputation for being dangerous at night.
Other places to visit in Nicaragua are San Carlos which is a small chaotic town where most people stop over night before travelling to El Castillo down the Rio San Juan, which is also a must for any visitor to Nicaragua. A real paradise. I read A Nicaraguan Journey: Memories from the Land of Sandino before I visited Nicaragua. It gave me a good background to the country and helped me decide where to visit when I got there.
One block north and 1 1/2 blocks west of Tica Bus, Barrio Martha Quezada
+ 505 222 3713
El Castillo is small town on the Rio San Juan. Getting there is quite a trek but it is peaceful (there are no cars) and the area is stunningly beautiful. The hotel was basic but clean and comfortable and I have great memories of relaxing in a hammock on the terrace to escape the hot afternoons. I went on a guided trek through the jungle and it was truly like being in another world. A definite highlight of two months travelling through Central America!
From the boat dock turn left down the main road, go past the church and it is a couple of minutes further along on the right hand side.
Google map: bit.ly/JjcTtm
Before you dash off for an idyllic holiday on Little Corn Island (Guardian 4/12/10), you may want to consider our recent experience. One of the problems is that a stiff wind blows all the time, but a more serious one is that you have to go to Big Corn Island first . . . and afterwards, too.
Big Corn Island, some 60km off the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast, is a bad joke. The island is littered with rubbish, the people - uniquely in our extensive travels - are surly and dull in three languages — including sign language.
The guide book explains that you must expect to wait an hour or so for your food because “everything is freshly prepared”. But does it really take 25 minutes to make a cup of instant coffee? Apathy is a better explanation.
We were warned several times not to walk out at night, nor to go too far down the only good beach in daytime, because of “the rough guys.” Our surmise is that this isolated island has a drug culture that has somehow enveloped almost the entire population in a miasma of grudging hostility - not just to tourists, but to each other.
But we were delighted by the anxious Alessandro, who ran a ramshackle collection of thatched huts leaning over the surf, an Italian-flavoured Fawlty-Towers-on-the-sea. We couldn’t work out whether it was still a-building or was lapsing into desuetude until he revealed that he had rebuilt a previous establishment from the foundations remaining after it had been destroyed by the 1998 hurricane. Or was in the process of rebuilding. Maybe. Some day. He managed to saw the ends off two planks during the three days we were there.
Little Corn Island, ten kilometres away and reached by a pelvis-jarring journey in an over-powered launch that slammed into choppy seas, was more welcoming. Particularly the lovely lady who runs the best restaurant with her Cuban husband, who prepared the Cuban speciality of Ropa Vieja (Old Clothes) for our Christmas dinner. (It’s a spicy stew of shredded beef.)
Everything is brought in by that launch, and when the island started to run out of beer, we thought it was time to leave. So did a large number of other folk, so the morning launch, which seats 30 people, somehow held 40, including a local woman sitting next to us shielding her two-month old infant against the spray. Fortunately the force of the waves was now behind us, because about halfway between the islands the engine’s roar suddenly slowed to a pathetic belch. If we had been going the other way we would have broached in the waves and capsized. Our skipper, who makes this journey four times a day every day, had run out of petrol.
And so we limped on until he was able to run the boat aground at the nearest beach, a couple of miles from the harbour. And we all clambered over the side. We immediately repaired to the airstrip and confirmed the next day’s flight to Bluefields, but when we returned the next day the same lady told us there was no flight to Bluefields. Unless we waited another day. No apology, of course.
We could not bear another 24 hours on Big Corn Island and so we flew back to Managua, thus missing our planned excursion by steamer from Bluefields through the pristine jungle up the Rio Escondido.
Lesson: Islands are isolated bodies surrounded by water.
60 km off the Carribean coast of Nicaragua
A hidden gem of an island in the Caribbean, in a place you were least expecting it: Nicaragua.
If you're looking for an island paradise but don't have a huge budget or want to get away from the crowds, Little Corn is your answer. The island has no cars, no chain hotels, no swimming pools - all transport is by foot (or helped by a wheelbarrow), accommodation consists of eco-lodges ($20-50) and beach side cabanas ($15-50), and there's plenty of room on the beach as well.
The island has been saved from mass tourism due to its small size and limited fresh water resources, which restrains the number of hotels you can build on the island. The island's character is also shaped by the complete absence of night clubs (and the crowds that flock there), but the flipside is a uniquely relaxed and peaceful atmosphere - you'll feel like you're on another planet.
The island is a haven for divers and snorkellers in particular, with over twenty dive sites within 15mins by boat and two dive shops with three to four dives every day. The diving is also among the most affordable in the Caribbean with 'fun dives' costing $35 (and multiple dive discounts available).
You'll need a flash light to walk home at night, as there are few street lights as you walk home through the jungle (don't worry - the creature you're most likely come across there is a hermit crab!), but when you get there, the night sky seems limitless because of the lack of artificial light on the island.
To get there, fly to Managua and catch either the morning or afternoon flight with La Costena, the Nicaraguan airline, to Big Corn Island (flight prices are fixed - return costs $164), and catch a 45min water taxi ride from the municipal port to Little Corn ($6). It may sound complicated, but once you arrive on Little Corn, you won't want to leave.
Information on the islands: www.bigcornisland.com/
Wikipedia page for Little Corn Island:
Little Corn Beach & Bungalow:
The largest most pristine rain forest in Central America.
Take a boat from San Carlos and journey a few hours down the river, stay at on of the riverside lodges.
The wildlife is too diverse to list in full but you'll almost certainly see monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, caimans and perhaps manatees.
From the slightly too image concerned surfer hangout town, San Juan Del Sur on the South West coast of Nicaragua, you can catch a shuttle bus (an enormous zebra-striped all terrain shuttle bus at that) over some pretty bumpy roads and tracks to one of the best waves in Nicaragua at Playa Maderas. Don’t stop here - if you walk about half a mile north over beautiful sands and a rocky outcrop you come to the beach dubbed Playa Matilda, after the fantastic beachside accommodation. You can choose simple but comfortable cabanas or the ‘dog kennels’ that just fit in a mattress and your bag or even set up a tent (or just a hammock) in their camping area at the back – all right on one of the most beautiful and unspoilt beaches in Central America. There are kitchen facilities but better is to go to Maria’s shack tucked around the back where you can mix and match different seafood, fish and meat with her three different sauces, all served of course with gallo pinto (rice and beans). That is of course if you’re not barbequing the fish caught by one of the eclectic mix of travelers that tend to stay a while here. A backpacker hangout that attracts a slightly more mature crowd – expect nights round the fire sippinging the delicious but cheap Flor de Cana rum and keeping an eye out for turtles crawling up the beach to lay their eggs. Swimming, surfing, rock pool discovering and a lovely vibe will ensure your two-day stay could turn into weeks.
Nearest town - San Juan del Sur. Get shuttle bus from one of the big backpackers to Playa Maderas - then walk! Or get a taxi all the way there.
Google map: tinyurl.com/2u5znwc
La Sombra is an eco lodge up in the Bosawas, three hours drive north of Matagalpa. It is a three storey wooden lodge with views from the hammock on the balcony over the mist covered forest. $30 per person per day gives three home cooked meals, twice daily guided hikes over the property's beautiful coffee plantation and forest and waterfalls. The lodge produces its own coffee which we were given a bag of as we left. The people who run it are lovely (no English spoken) and the place is relaxed with no phone, no TV and just a few board games to play - fantastic. The drive up goes along potholed roads through fantastic forests up to La Dalia from Matagalpa for three hours and then the drive then gets really gets hard going. Wonderful place
A 177 km de Managua, Tuma - La Dalia, Matagalpa, Nicaragua
Do the Masaya 'combo' tour which takes in Masaya Volcano, Masaya Artisans Market, Laguna de Apoyo and the pottery making town of San Juan de Oriente.
Contact Maria Jose firstname.lastname@example.org
She's from Masaya and speaks English.
Las Isletas - you can go down to the lake in a $2 taxi ride from Granada, get on one of the boats for a tour - you don't need a guide.
Another option is to see them on a kayak tour, lots of people in Granada do this tour.
Mombacho Volcano has a beautiful cloud forest at the top, well worth seeing for the wildlife and flower and fauna but take a sweater.
When you first get into Granada there are horses and carriages in the central square which will take you on a quick tour round the town for about $5 plus tips.
A private luxury eco-resort in a private bay next to San Juan del Sur, Morgan's Rock is the perfect romantic hotel in Nicaragua. My partner and I stayed here in October; we initially booked for two nights, and it was so amazing we stayed an extra two.
Reached by travelling several miles up a dirt road, only accessible to people who already have a reservation, and with only 15 private bungalows within 1,800 hectares of private reserve including a private beach and mangrove tributary, this is always going to be a quiet, exclusive and totally romantic resort.
The bungalows are built into the cliff side, with totally private and unbroken views of the bay. Luxurious and private, and only reachable by walking over a 100m suspension bridge (we loved having to cross this; it made the bungalows seem even more remote), each bungalow is built out of sustainable wood and has an amazing amount of romantic individual features, including king size swinging day beds on the terrace. None are overlooked by any of the others, and each has private outdoor terraces, as well as impressive unique design features. You can look out and watch the sun set or rise over the pacific ocean, before enjoying the day or night at this amazing resort.
Get fresh organic coffee delivered to your room to drink when you wake up, sitting on the terrace overlooking the bay. Fill the day on the beach in one of the private lounging areas; each with a hammock and sun loungers whilst staff from the hotel bring you fresh juices and snacks, indulge in some of the relaxing activities (like kayaking through the mangroves or walking through the forests) or complete relax yourself at the massage area, before filling up on fresh, organic 3 course meals, made entirely of food produced on the estate.
The resort is owned by a French family who also own a sustainable furniture company in Managua; the forest within the grounds provide the wood for their furniture, many of which are designed by the same designer who designed the hotel. The family invests heavily in eco-touristry, including investing in the local community via employment and training, so whilst indulging yourself and your partner, you are also investing in Nicaragua, and in sustainable forestry and tourism.
An added bonus is that in the off season the place is quiet; my partner and I ended up having the place to ourselves for two days. In many places this would seem strange, but at Morgan's Rock, it was an amazing experience that totally indulged us and totally left us loved up!
Rosa's is a restaurant owned and run by Rosa. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The food is cooked fresh when ordered and there is a wide variety of vegetarian food, which I found limited elsewhere on the island.
On the path at the turn off between Casa Iguana and Grace's Place.
Set in a gorgeous colonial building next to Granada's market, you will get rooms that may be a bit dark, but in beautiful surroundings. They provide a kitchen, but most of all it is a safe place.
The couple that owns this place, and knows every customer, will be on their rocking chairs, with their radio. Somehow in a city where other places have armed guards, their presence is a better protection.
Calle Atravesada in front of the market.
While you are in Granada and if you are tired of Gallo Pinot, the ever present rice and beans, maybe you should try Pususas from Don Ramon.
It is a typical dish from Salvador that Don Ramon and his wife dish out from a grill located in the main street, Calle Atravesada, one and a half blocks up from the market.
At around 50 pence these pancakes can be served with a traditional filling of cheese, frijoles, or chicharon, or more modern ones such as spinach.
If you ask nicely they will explain to you how to make it, from scratch, and you will make your own one if they don't have many customers waiting.
Two of Nicaragua’s finest natural features are within easy reach of the travellers hub of Granada. Volcan Masaya National Park is home to two volcanoes with five craters, one of which is still active and emits dramatic but noxious clouds of steam. The remaining craters provide safe walking and bird watching territory and grant amazing views over the park. Laguna Apoyo, meaning ‘healthy water’, is a beautiful and quiet spot for swimming and walks on the surrounding paths. We had lunch at one of the simple local restaurants on the shoreline to a soundtrack of howler monkeys eerie calls.
Volcan Masaya is 20k north of Granada and Laguna Apoyo just 4k north, both along the main road to Managua. If possible hire a taxi as these are both rather remote. You can take a bus headed to Managua and look out for the signs at the turn offs but be prepared for a wait for a local bus or a long walk.
We took one look at the restaurant prices in central Masaya and were heading back to the hotel when we found Mariskeria, a permanent kiosk in the Parque octobre 17. Their ceviche was A1 and the prawns a plancha were the best we'd eaten since being in Spain in the 70s. The proprietor let us try a concha negra for free as we'd never eaten it before... more like a clam than an oyster, but we'll include them on our menu next time we visit Masaya.
Parque de octobre 17
A spotlessly clean, reasonably priced hotel in the town centre. Nothing is too much trouble for the owners or staff.
It is well sited for exploration of northern Nicaragua by bus and, being in town, means you are not hostage to some over priced so called eco lodge or hotel miles from anywhere and can take full advantage of local restaurants and food stands.
Great little town with superb Sandinista memorial.
Frente Supermercado Matagalpa
tel 00 505 772 3140
San Juan is the most popular beach destination in Nicaragua,but the nearby beaches of Majagual, Gigante and La Flor are much nicer.
Base yourself in San Juan del Sur and visit these beaches for the day.
Managua despite its reputation is probably the safest city in Nicaragua.
While it lacks the attractions of colonial towns like Granada, it still has enough to keep any visitor interested for 24 hours.
Between Managua and Granada, Masaya is an overlooked town for visitors.
If you're there in Nov/Dec the town has almost daily festivals, the best is San Jeronimo. The rest of the year you can visit a volcano, arts market, baseball stadium and the enjoy the view from nearby Catarina which is one of the best in Nicaragua.
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