Giant fluorescent trees in the main street in Managua, Nicaragua can be seen from the plane
Nicaragua is a temptress. You pay little attention to her but in the end, her natural charms disarm you. I went on a press trip; the country had never been on my must-visit list and I didn’t know much about it.
Nicaragua is one of those places people like to call ‘undiscovered’. Years of political unrest have erased it from many travel itineraries. Around 15 million Brits go to Spain every year; Nicaragua notches up 15,000.
It’s now peaceful and safe and has a pleasantly warm climate most of the year. And is still in that naïve state where they don’t have many tourists, so you often have a place to yourself or share it with the locals.
A ‘chicken bus’, that stops when you hail it.
Why go to Nicaragua?
It’s uncrowded. This is a big plus for me as I don’t like busy places much. I’ve been to Paris countless times but I’ve never been up the Eiffel Tower. The reason? I’m not standing in a queue for four hours. Similarly – and I’m just picking these places at random – in some parts of coastal Spain and the south of France in peak season, you might wait for forty minutes for a taxi and then all the restaurants are full anyway. The beaches are packed and the roads gridlocked. Not my idea of fun.
Lots of variety
It’s varied. You have beaches, colonial towns, street markets, smouldering volcanoes and rain forests to explore, excellent coffee, great cigars, museums, decent rum – all against a fascinating historical backdrop of revolution and discord.
Bright colours everywhere
It’s colourful, vibrant and exciting. If you like steak, you’ll be in heaven.
Easy on the wallet
It’s inexpensive. Beer is about a pound a bottle.
The people are friendly. I know this is claimed for a lot of places yet I only encountered pleasantness. The people are very poor, a bit like India. Possessions and ‘stuff’ have yet to ruin them.
A bit of a mission to get there
It’s a long way to go and there are no direct flights. If you fly via the USA, you need to get a visa (easy online application).
Few luxury experiences
It’s not very polished. This is part of its charm, but on the other side, hotels are still struggling to offer what I would regard as good service. I had issues with showers, air-con and the wait people often seemed untrained and slow.
Beauty spots often have litter; along the main roads, the barbed wire fencing is invariably disfigured with bits of discarded plastic bags.
I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of my story. Remember this is just a snapshot from a week’s visit.
It didn’t take me long to discover the local beers. And very good they are too. Around £1 a bottle.
In a scruffy café, a woman was making guirilas. These are corn pancakes, eaten with a sour cream cheese. Outside, a similar operation was producing them for passers-by. They actually taste rather good.
Simple places to stay
We visited an eco-lodge where they had a fantastic natural pool with waterfall. It was baking hot, so a few of our party decided to take a dip. It was only when we were leaving we saw a sign that said “No swimming”!
The area attracts backpackers from the USA and sometimes Europe. These eco lodges abound and usually offer simple (and cheap) accommodation.
Coffee growing and producing
We went to a coffee plantation and saw the coffee bushes (with white flowers) up close. The beans are sorted by hand and then dried. It’s hard to get a bad cup of coffee anywhere.
This is the garden of one of the better hotels in Leon, a colonial city worth visiting.
Ruben Dario is Nicaragua’s favourite poet. You can see his former home in Leon which is now a museum and the bed were he met his end.
The big smoke
Cigars are big in Nicaragua and cheap, by Western standards. It’s also fascinating to see them being made.
Visit a volcano
A hike around a volcano is recommended. Some of them are not active, but the rain forest surrounding them is interesting. We were lucky to see a sloth. We did go to an active volcano and I saw the molten magma, but I was too scared I would lose my iPhone to take a closer picture.
Beach resorts are delightful
Beach resorts are uncrowded and the golden sand is clean. It was 32 degrees when I took these pictures – with hardly a soul anywhere.
Nicaragua, in conclusion:
If you want neat and tidy, five-star hotels and shopping malls and other trappings of the West, don’t come here. But if you want something a bit different and interesting with a distinctive culture, give it a go.
Luxury? If luxury is a wealth of different experiences, then Nicaragua delivers it, in spades.
Disclosure: Fully hosted trip.
As usual, all views my own. All images copyright of Olivia Greenway and may not be used without written permission.