Latest posts by Philip Santos Moreira (see all)
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Traveling to Central or South America was something I had always wanted to do. The desire was mixed though because of what I had heard most of my life growing up; between rampant disease, kidnappings, murders, and guerilla groups, those countries were apparently very dangerous.
The opportunity to challenge those notions was presented to me sometime in late October of 2014 after meeting a lovely girl by the name of Sarah. She was already a veteran traveler and was shooting for a departure date of March 2015. On our very first meeting when she said her traveling partner skipped out on her I said I would be the replacement. No one would probably ever take this seriously.
Indeed, it sounds insane after only having met someone for the first time. But, she didn’t really know me at the time. March started to come around and in that time I had purchased the gear I would need and the backpacking/camping trip through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia was set.
Only a few days after our arrival in Nicaragua my impression of this part of the world was flip-turned upside down! (Word of caution: Be wary at night like in any city around and always mind your surroundings). I cannot for the life of me understand now why such bad things are ever said about this part of the World.
The USA in general is probably far more dangerous. The people in Nicaragua are amazingly helpful and friendly. Avocados are the size of your head. A full course meal with rice, beans, fried plantains and chicken is equivalent to $2.00 USD. If you decide to pass through and stay at hostels the prices will almost never exceed $10 USD and in fact usually hang around $7 USD range.
The beaches are devoid of tourist hordes and you will usually find them all to yourself. Some of their towns are cloaked in magical beauty. They have volcanoes you can either hike or board down and they can be found all throughout the country. Cloud rain forest hikes that take you through unbelievable nature are plentiful. There is even an island in the middle of a massive freshwater lake that boasts two volcanoes and some great eco lodge camp sites.
My recommendations for Nicaragua are as follows:
This town has a dazzling display of colonial architecture. You will find streets near La Catédral de Granada to be the most quaint to wander. However, even if you venture outside this area you will still stumble upon many cute and colorful streets. In Granada you can tour the islets in Lake Nicaragua or take a guided trip through the cloud rain forest of Mombacho Volcano. To read more on Granada click here.
I would probably list this as the number one thing to do or see if La Brisa Finca Natural had not been sold by the owner, Nacho. El Zopilote purchased the property and based off reviews rather than my own personal experience, El Zopilote was the place to stay. I did have the chance to see the property so I do recommend El Zopilote for a unique experience.
From this general area of Ometepe you can walk to the nearby beach which you will have mostly to yourself. There are some great little places to eat for spectacular prices. The island also has two volcanoes that you can hike in addition to horseback riding or visiting the Oho de Agua which was said to be great. To read more about Ometepe click here.
My initial impression was that this city was very rundown. Western standards would agree with me but, for a developing country this city is doing well. There isn’t much to see in the city itself besides the El Calvario Church, the Catedral in the main square, and the Recolección.
The main draw is most certainly the accessibility to Cerro Negro and a few other volcanoes in the region. At Cerro Negro you can hike for a spectacular view and go on top of a volcano for an unforgettable experience. To read more on Leon click here.
4. San Juan del Sur / Playa Madera
This is strictly a beach area and is one of the prime places in Nicaragua to surf. The town is actually fairly developed and there are many decent places to stay. An array of food options is there as well. I enjoyed one of my best meals there while waiting to catch the shuttle-truck to Playa Madera.
While San Juan del Sur is heavily developed, Playa Madera is not, except for the one hostel / surfers pad. Walking further down the beach of Playa Madera you will find only one building renting out rooms for basically pennies, or you can just camp. A food shack is around the corner serving fresh fish which was absolutely delicious.
My advice: bring lots of snacks and food if you plan to stay out in the more remote area of the beach. To read more on San Juan del Sur and Playa Madera click here.
A Note on Transportation:
Transportation is always a question when you cannot find bus schedules or trains. Rest easy. You don’t need that planned for Nicaragua. Buses leave from designated places that the locals will tell you how to get to (and it’s easy). They leave frequently and even when full – you’ll be traveling with the locals who are nothing but kind and curious.
And as a bonus – if you speak any Spanish you can enjoy some interesting conversations with them. The transportation is surprisingly very efficient and you won’t have a problem getting anywhere on time. Just be a little brave and trust that you don’t need any transport booked in advance.
Note: haggling for prices is okay. Just keep in mind that if you are coming from a developed country your currency is likely very strong compared to theirs. In the end, you might win yourself the equivalent of only a few dollars or the usual of less than a dollar.
Finally, I would like to send a special thanks to a once upon a time best friend. Thanks for inviting me on this amazing trip, Sarah. May only good fortune follow you on your travels of the world.
Photography by: Philip Moreira Photography