Being Nica

Nov 09, 2014

I found Nicaragua to be the biggest surprise of Central America. I did not expect much of Nicaragua prior to leaving home and even just before leaving Honduras. Knowing I only had 11 days left on my CA4 visa (US citizens only get 90 days split between time spent in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, which I had already extended by a month to get extra time in Utila) I figured a handful days would be plenty for the second poorest nation in the hemisphere.

Here is a quick overview of my time and experiences in Nica:




León is a charming colonial Spanish town near the Pacific Ocean. It is noted as the hottest place in Nicaragua as well as all of Central America. I did not find it as hot as advertised. I was by no means as cool as I would have liked it to be, but I found our time on Utila more oppressive in terms of temperature.


León has several things going for it.  First it is absolutely surrounded by volcanoes. That would usually sound like a bad thing and that León would be in line for some sort of Pompeii-esque disaster, but what it really means is that you can take advantage of any number of volcano related activities. You can hike several of the volcanoes by either day or night with an evening hike giving you the chance of seeing the glow of magma.


Conversely you can hike up a volcano with the express purpose of going down it. Fast. Very fast. On a homemade sled. This phenomena is known as Volcano Boarding. We went with Big Foot Hostel and it was easily in the top five things I have done thus far.


The hike up Cerro Negro was not terribly pleasant while carrying both your plywood sled and a bag containing your thick orange coveralls. The hike takes just about 45 minutes, but the guide breaks it up into 15 segments and anyone can do it. If you want to lighten your load you can hire a local to carry your stuff up for like $5.

The views from the top were excellent. Even the one looking down while I was attempting to catch my breath. Luckily according to a Volcano Boarding regular, the day we went was perfect. Not too hot (it was easily 80 degrees), overcast (which admittedly it was) and no bees. BEES. Evidently there are usually lots of bees on top of the volcano. Why the fuck would bees want to be on a vegetation-free volcano? I digress.


Once at the top the five minute tutorial on how to ride the sled and what to do should you spill out of it took place and then we got to it.

When it is your turn, you sit down and look out, but you cannot come close to seeing the bottom. It looks like you will be sledding down a volcanic cliff it is so steep. But you go nonetheless and when you do it is AMAZING!!!



(Check out Elissa's trip down Cerro Negro)


You end up filthy with thousands of tiny rocks everywhere, but you realize you just slid down a fucking volcano reaching like 30mph. So much fun.


 (Jen is unpleased with the amount of volcanic rock in her teeth)


Plus on the way back, you get beer and snacks, plus a free mojito upon arriving back at Big Foot. Throw in the complimentary tank top and it was the best $29 you could spend.


Back in the town of León you can spend your time traversing at one of their two awesome food markets. Fresh fruit for a few cents or a plate of long simmering meats and yucca for a dollar or two.



Should you want to fancy it up, head on over to Pan Y Paz and enjoy everything the little French bakery has to offer. I highly suggest the fresh juices, which ranged from Pineapple and Mango to Calala and Pitahaya. I also really like their miniature quiches and cheese plate.



León is also home to nine colonial churches including the largest cathedral in Central America. Each one is totally unique and equally pretty.




As for all the places we went to in Nicaragua, León was easily my favorite. A good sized city that had a very friendly vibe, plus... Volcano Boarding!!!







Granada is another colonial Spanish town set further south on the banks of Lake Nicaragua. It has similar architecture to that found in León. In many ways Granada was like León redux. However I could not help but think it was inferior in virtually every way.

It was dirtier, grittier, less welcoming and lacked the awesome volcano based adventure activities. The churches in Granada were not nearly as numerous or as nice as those in León. The best part of town was tourist row set up specifically for gringos with severely inflated prices and zero character.

It also doesn't help that we arrived directly after their running of the bulls had just ended. That may have helped. Although the after party was fun, but still seemed sketchy.



This is not to say Granada was a total loss. The hostel we stayed at (for most of the time there) was excellent. One of the best. Situated near the “market” Oasis is huge with good beds, free breakfast, plenty of places to socialize, and a lovely pool. It is also quiet at night allowing you to sleep without having to tune out house music.


We were also fortunate/smart enough to win a Pub Quiz at one of the Irish pubs in town, winning a 375ml of Flor de Caña.


We were then unfortunate enough to try and have our shit stolen by a bunch of locals. Even the brief scuffle that ensued accomplished nothing for them except breaking a pair of my glasses (always bring two pairs boys and girls – you never know when you will get sucker punched while some other asshole drunk motherfucker is apologizing for his friends (Stop worrying Mom – everyone was and is fine)).


Besides the accommodations the other excellent part of the Granada area was Apoyo Lagoon - a lake in the crater of a volcano. A day spent in the clear water and the volcanic sand shore was absolutely delightful. Totally worth a visit.


This certainly didn’t help Granada shed its gritty image, but I am not one to base an opinion of an entire town on the actions of a few punks. That being said I did not enjoy Granada as much as others I have met.


Poste Rojo


I typically do not write reviews of single hostels. I stay in so many hostels, reviewing them all would take forever. That being said Poste Rojo will get a couple lines. Namely because it is a legitimate tree house hostel. The hike in is a bitch. It is up hill the whole way up, which in parts is nothing but bounding from rock to rock. Not terribly fun while wearing a pack.


The common area is in a tree house. Where we slept in hammocks – a different tree house connected by a suspension bridge. We met some cool people and took a night trip to a great natural spring.



The only issue with Poste Rojo is that is it considerably more expensive than other hostels in Nicaragua.


San Juan del Sur


A surf town near the Costa Rica border, San Juan del Sur is known for two things: near perfect beginner breaks and Sunday Funday.


As for the town itself, it is a typical seaside town. This one just happens to be full of expats. The expat factor can go one of two ways: lots of douchebag retirees driving up prices or a lot of people from other countries who happened to find a nice spot to set up shop. This is definitely the latter. Plus the shops they all set up seemed to be restaurants. Which is great. San Juan del Sur had a huge selection of really good, pretty cheap places to eat. So much so Liss mentioned we should stay longer just so we could eat at more restaurants.


As for the surfing, you’d have to ask Jen or Teague. They are the surfers. I just enjoyed the wide-open Maderas beach by jumping waves and occasionally convincing Elissa to body surf with me.


That leads me to SJdS’s other claim to fame – Sunday Funday.


Sunday Funday is a pool crawl. Like a pub crawl but each destination has a pool to enjoy. But really it is an excuse for 300 gap year travelers (plus some old farts like us) to drink a lot and splash around in pools of hotels we are not staying at with zero repercussions. It was a hell of a lot of fun. What big traveling pool party wouldn’t be? My only complaint was the cost. It was $30 just to get a ticket, plus you had to buy undiscounted drinks. It would have been much cheaper to buy some beers and go to the beach to play in the water. But it was still a fun day spent with new friends, mostly remembered by all.


So I guess that’s it. My suggestion? Go check out Nicaragua. You won’t regret it. Even if you get punched in the face. (Seriously Mom, it was no big deal!)

Category: Places

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