When telling people our itinerary prior to leaving Canada, we received a lot of negative commentary about Nicaragua. One person even dubbed it the toilet bowl of Latin America. While we are open minded travellers, we of course can be affected by the opinions of others, and naturally these comments gave us pause. These opinions however, are far from the truth. Though we only travelled through a very small pocket in the southwest tourist areas, we’ve come to cherish our time here. Yes, there really isn’t any hot water, and the tap water isn’t drinkable. Yes, there are scorpions and bugs the size of my fist; any of which might join you in bed during your slumber. Yes, it is so humid in certain areas you want to dump a whole bottle of water on your head every half hour and dehydration is real. Your alarm clock undoubtedly will be an overly excited rooster each morning, and he’ll keep you guessing if it’s already morning again, all day long. If you read these statements and are immediately deterred from visiting a beautiful country like Nicaragua, you are really missing out. These set backs are so minor in comparison to the richness and the spirit of the people, the sites, the vibe, and the raw beauty all around.
We made our way to San Juan del Sur as the first leg of our Nic journey. This tiny fishing village turned tourist town is now a popular retiring spot for expats the world over. The hillsides are plagued with constant construction where villa after villa is sprouting. We even daydreamed about the possibility of purchasing our very own little casa in the area. The locals live simply, in stone houses, and keep many pets, which we found really sweet. They all appeared to be treated very well, with lots of love and care. We actually stayed in a tiny apartment attached to one of these family homes, with hens, roosters, dogs, and cats being a few of our neighbours. Aside from the nearby surfing camps, the main attraction in town is the Cristo de La Misericordia. The view of San Juan from the hilltop where this 134 meter (440 feet) high statue of Jesus Christ is situated, is simply breathtaking. Given how safe the area is and with tons of restaurants, shops, hostels, hotels and tour operators around, and even a small amusement park, it’s actually the perfect spot for a family vacation and backpackers alike. We did make a small getaway to Managua on our last day, having rented a car from Budget at the Victorian Hotel across the street from the beach. It was only 38 USD for the day with unlimited mileage and minimum insurance including third party liability, which is a deal compared to renting a car in Costa Rica. It was a nice little reprieve from beach bumming, but Managua isn’t much to see to be honest.
Our next and final stop was Isla de Ometepe; located on Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. The massive island boasts not one, but two volcanoes, the bigger of which is active and most recently erupted in 2007. Entry to “hike” to the tops will run you only $3 USD. The enticing price lead us to a David and Goliath moment trying to conquer the Volcan Concepción. Only 25% of those brave enough to try to climb this monstrosity, make it to the top. The 8-10 hour round trip hike is so steep, you literally have to crawl the last hour, and not just because you’re exhausted. The way down isn’t any more favourable. You pretty much slide and or run the whole way down. Knowing that 8 hours was simply too much to ask, we opted to hike to the 1000 meter mark of the volcano instead (where a lookout point is located). We didn’t even make it; almost, but no cigar. It was still steep and long enough to beat our will to live..never mind climb. The howler and capuchin monkeys were keeping our spirits high on our 5.5 hour roundtrip hike, but it left us so dehydrated (you can bring all the water you want, it’s never enough) that we were starting to hallucinate. By the time we were halfway through our return trip, our legs were so wobbly, we really weren’t sure we’d make it all the way back. If you ever plan to conquer the giant that is Volcan Concepción, probably make sure you’re in the best shape of your life. We sure aren’t. After this major defeat, we opted to spend our remaining days cruising around the island on a scooter. The lack of walking, was....heavenly. Some of the must sees are Playa Santo Domingo, Punta Jesús María (sunsets here are bananas), and Ojo de Agua a wooded site with a natural swimming hole of volcanic-origin water amid native plants & wildlife. The swimming hole carries a $5 USD price tag, and is a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
We believe Nicaragua will remain a major highlight of our trip and we are so glad we didn’t let opinion stop us from visiting this wonderful place. Plus, it’s so affordable it almost boggles the mind. Water and beer will barely even dent your pocket at only about 50-75 cents! Food is also very cheap, as are accommodations, and everything in between. Even our scooter was a bargain at 17.50 USD a day for 3 days. Bargain travellers rejoice! Nicaragua is simply the place to be. Forget about luxuries, or the need to appease your first world needs, and there really isn’t anything Nicaragua can’t fulfill for you. It may even teach you a thing or two about appreciating simplicity; we can all use a little more of that in our lives, can’t we ;)