San Juan del Sur – Isla de Ometepe – Laguna de Apoyo – Masaya Volcano – Granada – Leon – Esteli – Somoto Canyon
Nicaragua… it’s a beautiful country with kind and welcoming people, despite its complicated political and social situation (if you’re interested, the UNHCR report on Nicaragua from 2022 explains this better). It took us ages to cross the border from Costa Rica to Nica, but after 4 hours of walking from one immigration officer to another, we headed for the beach and went to see what is the fuss about San Juan del Sur, the touristy city close to the border. Apparently it used to be kinda hippie town that attracts young (and beautiful, they say) backpackers and surfers. It was okay for a day or two but we didn’t really get what the hype was about. There is a nice-ish beach but nothing compared to the beaches we have visited until then. In all fairness, we didn’t bother to visit the beaches around. Rusty went to a mechanic for a little check, we went to see some nice bars and restaurants and that was kind of it for us.
We decided to move on to a more laid-back and more nature-surrounded place, Isla de Ometepe. Island of Ometepe is the largest island on a lake (Lake Nicaragua) and it is basically comprised of two huge volcanoes that provide amazing views all around the island. We decided to leave Rusty on the mainland, on a ferry parking lot, since it was a lot cheaper too to park it there than transporting it to the island with narrow and bumpy roads. Now, Ometepe is not a small island so if you wanna see it, you gotta get yourself a ride. Few minutes upon arrival we already hopped on our small rented scooter and went to see Punta Jesus Maria (below on the pic), a beautiful place to see the sunset and the volcano while having impression you’re walking on the water (therefore the name, I guess).
We originally planned to stay for 3 nights in Ometepe but we decided to stay extend our stay very quickly. We moved around on our scooter and stayed in different nice and cheap hostels, waking up with the sound of lake waves and views of surrounding volcanoes. Moreover, everything we ate was so yummy. We especially enjoyed Nica breakfasts composed of eggs, gallo pinto (rice and black beans mix), cheese, avocado and banana: a great fuel for the entire day. We got to chat with locals cooking food in their simple, outdoor kitchens, and were even more impressed with the kindness and generosity of Nicaraguans.
But, as usual, we didn’t stay lazy (too much). We also got back into our hiking spirit and decided to hike to the waterfall of San Ramon (we didn’t dare to hike the volcano – for the lack of physical readiness and the equipment: we basically had brought one shorts and 3 t-shirts with us). It turns out, this hike, which was supposed to be an “easy” 4 km uphill was absolutely crazy, the trail was destroyed after the storm and it was impossible to approach the waterfall even though we were like 10 minutes away from it. As many times before, here’s Jorge’s smiley face since the hike was much easier for him and then there’s mine… It was worth the sweat, I saw some more monkeys on the way and monkeys can make any day happy for me 🙂
Ometepe is nature lovers’ heaven. You take the kayak out on the like in sunset and it feels almost surreal, spiritual in a way. You go swim in the volcanic pool and sip on “coco loco” and observe the forest around you. You talk to people and eat Nica food. You see magical rainbows. You touch butterflies. More than enough to fully enjoy life. I mean, look at this:
Ometepe left some sweet feeling inside: some places just have that power. We knew then that we will love the rest of Nicaragua and that’s exactly how it was. We felt safe and welcome, the roads were better than in Costa Rica and the camping spots, even more scarce, were beautiful. We felt safe even in the wild camping. This was especially the case at the Laguna de Apoyo, the volcanic lagoon with warm and crystal clear water, perfect for swimming and chillin’. We stayed on a public parking for a night but finding (cleanish) toilet turned out to be tricky at night so we moved to a parking lot of a popular hotel. The views from there to the lagoon were absolutely amazing and we could use kayaks for free and chill in the hotel’s lounge areas. We had amazing 4 days in this spot enjoying playing cards, swimming and playing with our new furry bestie. I think we were so chill there that I forgot to take pictures, so there are only these two below (I only made videos, it appears LOL).
Things were getting better and better and then the time had arrived for us to see, for the first time ever, real volcanic lava at Masaya Volcano. This experience was surreal! The viewing deck is super small and you can imagine that a bunch of tourists had the same idea of seeing boiling lava, but nevertheless the experience was absolutely incredible. That night we stayed the parking lot, in front of the entrance to the national park of Masaya volcano and slept really really well.
The next day we took off to Granada, one of the oldest and prettiest towns in Nicaragua. With its colonial, colourful architecture, pretty squares and a fun chocolate museum, Granada did leave a nice impression on us. We got to learn about cacao plantations and production and taste cacao tea and liquors, all yummy. But again, we never stay in the cities too long. Two days in Granada was enough so we headed towards the beach again but only after visiting a small town of San Juan del Oriente, the center of ceramic art in Nicaragua and region. We were lucky enough to talk to many artisans, see how they produce their art and got some very nice pieces for us. We met Mr. Helio Gutierezz, a well known artist whose ceramic pieces are in museums around the world; even Pope himself got one from the Nicaraguan government. Great experience, learning and exchange. Bag full of goodies, too ;).
The ocean was already calling us so we wanted to see how is the Nica’s Pacific coast. We went to Peñitas beach but it was tough to find a spot to sleep and it was impossible to swim because the waves were crazy and violent and might have taken my swimsuit away at some point (LOL). We slept in the backyard of a very kind family and had a long and very insightful conversation with them. But it was hot, full of mosquitoes and no way to refresh in that crazy ocean so we moved to Leon, one of the prettiest towns in Nicaragua. Pretty it is but it was so damn hot that we couldn’t stay too long.
We then moved north towards the Somoto Canyon, one of the best things we have done in Nicaragua. I read a lot about this place and I knew I really wanted to see it but I admit I was a little scared knowing that I will be in the deep water most of the time (deep water being my crazy fear). We booked a tour with a really nice local family that let us stay at their finca and assured me I will be fine and with life jacket all the time. Let’s do this then. I didn’t regret for a second! I quickly relaxed and swam and floated with my pretty little life jacket and felt super zen until… the guide explained that the only way forward was to actually jump from the rock into the deep water. Well shit then, I had no choice so I did it. I did it!! That jump was ridiculous for Jorge (as you can see in the pic, he jumped from much higher rocks) but for me it was a big achievement, even though I hated those 3 seconds being drowned in the water. LOL. But yes, overcoming fears, or at least trying to overcome them is another amazing thing this trip gave us. So, Nica and Somoto will stay one of my favourite memories. I don’t even need to talk about the visual pleasure it gave us:
The family we stayed with was so kind and welcoming, they showed us how to cook local food, gave us some spices and sauces for the way, fed us very well and gave us the best goodbye to Nicaragua.
Ah, before I forget… Jorge really found himself in Nica LOL
Somoto is only 4 km from the border of Honduras which was our next stop. I know, I know, everyone said Honduras was dangerous. Is it really? We will tell you soon.
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