WhyDecided to travel to the central america during Christmas to enjoy the sunny weather and to practice my Spanish. In a way, motivation for me to pick up Spanish in a faster phase ;-) Wanted to cover more than one country for this two week trip and the combination of Nicaragua & Costa Rica fell in place. One of the reasons for this choice is the opportunity to cross the border with less trouble by bus.
|Island Ometepe: Volcano Conception and Maderas|
Improving Bus System in North West
|Christmas in Portland|
Plan for the first dayOur flight landed in Managua @ noon and our first night stay was in the Ometepe Island, since I had to coordinate the ferry timings and reaching the hotel before very late, I arranged for a taxi, with the hotel owner in Ometepe, to pick us up from the airport to take us to the ferry dock in San Jorge that's two hour taxi ride.
Trip to San JorgeManagua airport is very small and getting through the immigration/customs was pretty simple. I was expecting a lot of run down buildings and bad roads on the way because I was thinking that this country is out of their civil war just less than 30 years back and it's one of the poorest countries, but to my surprise the roads are very good. Didn't find a lot of shops on the road to San Jorge except a gas stations where we stopped to get some local currency and water bottle. We were looking for some roadside places to eat but couldn't find any.
Taste of Road Side Food
|Street Food near Ferry|
Ferry to Ometepe
Foreigners In NicaraguaMet an American guy aged around 55-60, who moved to Ometepe Island from Hawaii five years back and
|Lake Nicaragua Sunset|
Haridas in Nicaragua
Hari advised us to start the hike after 8am but before 9am to avoid the fog at the top of the volcano at the same time enough time to get back to hotel before dark. He volunteered to coordinate with the hostel manager where our Swedish friends were staying regarding the guide for the hike.
Maderas Volcano Trek
We reached the windy and cloudy top around 130 pm and couldn't see the crater at all, there're no views
Overall, the hike was great in experiencing a different micro-climate at the top of the mountain and good time in the cloud forest. We saw only five people in our trek, so in a way that we had the whole volcano for ourselves that day. Even though, the trails are in very good condition given how much it rains there, it is better to go with the guide because there's absolutely no traffic or trail marking there. The guide mentioned that a young hiker lost his way a few years back and found dead.
Options for Travel in Ometepe
When inquired the horse riding prices, it's little expensive for Nicaragua (but after reaching Costa Rica, we were cursing ourselves for not riding horses with Hari), so we decided to skip the horse riding and decided to leave Ometepe in the noon ferry so that we could reach Granada before night. To catch the ferry at noon, we had the option to take either the public bus, which takes about 3 hours, or take the taxi, that takes about 90 minutes, to reach the ferry dock - we decided to take the taxi and spend the saved time wandering in the village. There's not much to do in the village and if I planned better, we should have hired the Vespa to go around the island.
Chicken Bus RideRide from Moyogalpa ferry dock to San Jorge was uneventful despite the fact that it's the day before Christmas. We were thinking that we got the taxi for the very cheap rate of one-third of the normal price to go from the ferry dock to the bus station, but later on we found out that the normal way of negotiating or quoting price for the taxis in Nicaragua is per person rate (even if you are traveling as family) ;-) The taxi driver dropped us closer to the bus stand and walking through the congested roads to the bus stop reminded me of India. In a way, the Central america reminds me more of the roads, markets and congestion of India.
Once we were in the bus, we were able to store our backpacks inside the bus on the luggage rack and settled down. It was very hot and humid, we didn't know what time the bus would leave. There're a bunch of street vendors selling food, water and snacks in the bus, we decided to try some sweet bread and it was good. The bus was full with standing crowd before the driver decided to start the bus and the ride to Granada took about 2 hours which wasn't bad at all. There're people in the bus with with Chicken and a small dog ;-) The bus made a few stops to pick up and drop people on the way and the price for the two hour bus ride was about $2 per person which is way cheaper than the taxi fare of $15 per person.
GranadaThe walk from the bus stand to the main square was about 500 meters through the main market street - being the Christmas eve, it was very crowded and fun to watch the people and things on our walk to hostel. There were no grand Christmas decorations in town except a giant (artificial) Christmas tree in the town center and at sunset there's a simple Christmas procession.
The hostel was small and really beautiful with a small swimming pool inside the hostel. The hostel is managed by an Irish guy, Gary, who moved to Nicaragua about three years back who bought the hotel property, in a central location, using ReMax real estate company. We met a couple, from Portugal, who stays in this hostel and commutes to Managua everyday (about 90 minute ride) to attend the medical school.
Christmas in GranadaGranada is a small town and we walked around the whole town in a couple of hours, visiting churches and shops, the day we arrived there. The people in the churches were decorating the churches around 8 pm on the Christmas eve for the mid-night mass. Granada seems to be mostly a party town with a lot of bars and restaurants, and there's not much to do in the town other than eating and drinking. One interesting thing about the Christmas eve was that there's a lot of fireworks at night to celebrate the arrival of Christmas day ;-)
We ventured further into the city in non-touristy areas in the morning after having waffles and pan cakes in the Kathy's Waffle house. Most of the shops were open during Christmas day but didn't see a lot of action in town. The town, the parts out side the touristy main square, is clean and safe but the long iron grills at the shops and houses indicated that the safety at night may be different from what we felt at day time. The houses are very colorful around the city. After wandering off most part of the morning around the city and relaxing around main square, we decided to head off to the Laguna Apoya earlier than planned.
Negotiating With Nicaraguans
In the windy weather, wavy waters, it was initially difficult maneuver the kayak and ended up going towards people swimming in the water, after a few minutes learned the technique to stay calm and paddle. It is a nice place to wind-down for a couple of days with swimming, reading books in the hammocks or just lying down in the beach.
Masaya Market and Interesting PaintingsAfter enjoying the sun rise and early morning in the beach, we took the chicken bus to Masaya with a Danish couple who were staying in the hostel and traveling from Belize to Rio by road. Other than the hammocks, we couldn't find any handicrafts that interested us to buy. One type of the paintings that we couldn't forget about seeing in Masaya was that the painting of man or lady sitting in the toilet (especially big size women) and using the toilet paper - not sure why this painting is all over the market !!!
Mini-Bus TravelThe mini-buses in Nicaragua are much better than the chicken buses and they are 12 seat mini vans. They leave as soon as they fill up and costs almost same as the buses. We had to pay for a seat to keep our backpacks and other than that the trip was quick and easy to Managua from Masaya. And in the UCA bus station, we got another mini-bus to get to Leon immediately. The public transportation with the mini-buses is pretty good between the touristy towns.
Reaching Las Penitas
|Las Penitas Beach|
Even though the hostel is advertised as the beach front place, we couldn't see the sea from our room or from the hotel which was a let down and it's was 10 minute walk in the beach to get to the water. After dinner at the hostel, one of the best restaurants in town, we walked around the town but didn't find anything interesting. The next day it was noisy very early in the morning with the dogs barking and vehicles honking.
Practicing Spanish and Getting Beer
Tired of Relaxing
Communicated with Quetzal Trekkers, which is a voluntary organization that raises funds for the local children by providing local tours and trekking services, for our trip to Cerro Negro Volcano. After exchanging emails with them and booking the trip for next day, we returned to the beach for more swimming and to watch the sun set.
|Top of Cerro Negro|
Sharada Rocket Boarding
Quetzal Trekkers gives the option to come down from the volcano the second time if any one interested and most of the people in our group wanted to board or run down the volcano the second time. So whoever wanted to go up the volcano, started the trek after having some snacks at the pick up truck to enjoy the adventure. Sharada and I ran down the mountain which was fun too but Shabina decided to board down. I think that it's the only place where you can do this and we are glad that we did the volcano boarding with the great tour group. The lunch prepared by our guide with simple fajita, guacamole, tomato, refried beans and chips was really awesome, and I got an idea on what to take for our camping trip in Costa Rica.
Time in LeonToured the Leon cathedral and climbed to the roof to get a good view of Leon before heading out to the super market to get the groceries for the Costa Rica camping and rum to take home. The alcohol in the supermarket is much cheaper than the alcohol in the duty free shop, so decided to get the best. After collecting the bags from Quetzals, went to the bus station to catch a mini-bus to Managua around 5 pm.
Panic in ManaguaBy the time we arrived Managua, it was dark a
nd raining, so we got a taxi to go to the hotel that we booked for the night before our flight. I remember seeing the hotel being closer to a bigger mall as well as our friends from LA in the volcano group mentioned that there're a lot of restaurants closer to our hotel but the taxi driver started going in the back roads those were not lit properly, We started to worry but everything worked out and the hotel was in the back streets that's closer to the mall.
ChickensAfter unpacking all of our bags in the Aloha Hotel, we wanted to venture out eat, against the advise from our LA friends not to walk around night. There's not much light or traffic in the back road and after reaching the main road, we didn't want to cross heavily trafficked road so we came back to the hotel room to order pizza from Pizza Hut.
Adios NicaraguaThe time that we spent in Nicaragua was excellent, we really enjoyed meeting very good friends and experienced a friendly culture/country. The taxi to the airport came on time, checking in the bags and getting to the flight was very easy because Managua's airport is small. The following are take away from our trip.
1. Spend a night or more in Laguna Apoya because you will never get a chance to stay inside a crater
2. Leon is less touristy and a lot more things to do than Granada.
3. Ometepe is cool. If possible, rent a Vespa and ride around the island
4. Booze is cheaper in the supermarket than in the duty free shops. Best rum.
5. Public transportation is awesome and safe, use it whenever you can
6. Nice, safe and fun place to travel for less money