“Why??” That was the question we got from just about everyone we told we were going to Nicaragua for the Holidays. Sure there was the polite: “wow, that sounds so interesting” (likely said while thinking: Why??). But we knew in our guts we would love it and we did. The Sandinistas lost power in 1990 and the government is “democratic” so get with it America! This is not your father’s Nicaragua
We did not know anyone who had ever been there. But amazingly, there is a wealth of information available that my wife/researcher painstakingly obtained about the diverse areas we could visit. Our trip consisted of four totally distinct mini-vacations in one (think salted dark chocolate caramel with coconut in one bite):
- Mombacho Lodge – Volcano in the jungle
- Rancho Santana – Pacific ocean ranch resort
- Ometepe Island – Island in middle of Lake Nicaragua
- Granada – Nicaragua’s beautiful Spanish city
Each of the above was amazing in its own way and I honestly would not rank any one over the others!! this was the PERFECT trip. However, without Lindsay and her ability to communicate in Spanish, we would have had a much harder time.
The majority of time was spent in the southwest part of the country and no drive was longer than 2 hours. The summary feeling we left with; Nicaragua is a beautiful country with few modern amenities. The people are friendly. Most are very poor by American standards but they likely would not see it that way since they have what they need (a roof, their family, food, livestock—I left feeling almost embarrassed how we measure and live our lives). Most did not speak English but luckily mi familia habla Espanol un poquito. I told the Nicaraguans: “Hablas mas despacio por favor” “speak more slowly please” which they always did when asked. Temperature ranged from 70 night – 90 mid-day. Most days we had a great breeze as well. The dollar is really strong, we stayed at nice comfortable places for little money, so once you get there, very little cost. The food is delicious, dinners ranged from $25-$50 for 4 people!! That gets you a lot of food. Getting from place to place is easy and we found a guy named Felipe who runs a car service – we emailed him when we needed to get from destination to destination above, he speaks no English and neither did the guy who drove us, Guillermo, but that just made us work harder on our Spanish which was great fun. Lindsay was our translator and communicated with most folks we met. At one point I decided to give a my Spanish try and needed to ask a guy at our hotel to make us a dinner reservation and direct us to a cash machine. I guess I had the wrong words because he handed me a stapler and his cat and gave me the finger.
Cycle Baby!! (Baby on dad’s lap on moto)
Because we could not easily find great info on how to do this on our own without hiring a tour company, Carolyn had to do a lot of leg work to prepare and reserve in advance. Below is a summary for those who are interested and might wish to take the trip someday. We plan to be back very soon again.
Getting there – easy, we took United from Newark, connect in Houston but others we talked with connected in Panama, El Salvador and Costa Rica. Arriving in Managua is a bit unnerving, a real third world airport feel but safe nonetheless. Guillermo had a sign which is how we found him.
Communication -US calling plans either don’t work or are very expensive. Verizon was $3/minute to talk but you can use face time in the few places where they have a Wi-Fi signal. So we had Guillermo stop at a gas station to buy a local phone ($20). Note, adding minutes is extra and you have to ask the gas attendant to do that (“fill er up” $0.15 per minute) The only reason we bought a phone was that Carolyn had to make surgery arrangements while we were there as she had herniated disk surgery the day after we returned and she was a trooper only able to walk slow and limited but she played hurt and is the true superstar of the trip, she refused to cancel the trip when the injury occurred a week prior to our trip.
Mombacho Lodge – Guillermo dropped us there about 90 minutes drive from airport ($50 charge for the ride). This place was amazing, truly in the jungle, car drives up the mountain and last mile takes 15 minutes to navigate the “road”. When we arrived we looked around but saw nothing, then saw the main cabin. Cynthia, the owner (an American), got government approval to build 4 cabins halfway up the volcano. She ran the place from the kitchen/veranda where we ate meals and just hung out with her dogs Fritz and Alli during the late afternoon – no walls or doors, just a roof surrounded by open air jungle. You hear the howler monkeys early AM and late afternoon and the wildlife sounds are like nothing you hear in the US or anywhere! Waking up in the jungle was amazing, something I will never forget. We loved it here. the cabins were basic, queen bed, table and basic lighting, green powered using solar, hot water or simply room temperature water which was fine by us. Yes, we did see a few spiders and scorpions, but that just added to the “fun” of it. We named this guy “Larry”.
Girls freak out, 12 spiders all large and fast!!
Rancho Santana – 2700 acres on pacific coast was originally a working ranch. The resort built in 1997 and is owned by American company. Gorgeous giant beaches, beautiful resort, not crowded. Surfing, horseback riding, pool, delicious restaurant on the grounds along with bar, pool table, bocce. We stayed in 2000 square foot villa right on beach, huge kitchen, dining room, 3 bedroom, 3 bath for $400/night since it was peak season. Waves are big, so you need to surf or swim well to go in deep. our horseback ride was amazing, beach, village, woods. Food was great, we ate in nearby town at “Yolanda’s” in town, again restaurant has no walls or door just open air with a roof. Yolanda cooked us an amazing meal, $8 per person and each plate could have served 2. She and her waitress spoke not a word of English and she gave us each a kiss on our heads and treated us like family.
Ometepe Island – 60 minute ferry ride that takes you to the Island which is on the biggest lake in Central America. Island has two volcanos, one is active and both are beautiful. We stayed in a Hospedaje (hostel) for $65/night but we chose the extra $10 for A/C, well worth it. big cabin nice basic room, we had a tour of the Island with a bi-lingual guide, fed white-faced capuchin monkeys as they came down from trees to take oranges from us. also spent some time at Ojo de Agua, a natural spring that is enclosed like a pool. both locals and tourists swinging from a rope and jumping in, lots of fun groups of people to watch. I will not mention the two hour horseback ride along the water when I lost both my daughters when I asked the guide if we could cantor a bit, found then after an hour unharmed physically. We had a clean large room with just the necessities. See pics and vids below:
Granada – we checked into Los Patios a Danish owned hotel with only five rooms. Incredible place, we felt like we were staying with the President. Some photos of our Granada hotel and the city. A very beautiful European looking town with lots of culture and great people. We did some volunteer work and toured schools in the local town where we met and played with some kids. See pics and vids from Granada below.
Some volunteer work was richly rewarding for everyone!!
The hotel was outstanding – Los Patios:
Below we see Amanda walking the streets and at dinner with mom
The below videos are of the day we spent on the beach near Granada at Laguna De Apoyo. There were sharks in there but mostly small and since Amanda does not eat gluten there is no risk: