Nicaragua - Is it a boring country?

Nicaragua is not boring
The short preparation time for this country made it almost impossible for me to plan for big undertakings, but I was glad having survived the Covid test in Costa Rica, found the bus and have arrived here at all.

Expectations remained low after arriving. "What a deserted, rainy and dirty country", were the first impressions after crossing the border from Costa Rica left a not very enthusiastic foretaste of what may come next. 

Is Nicaragua boring?

The first negative impression has changed quickly and "What a wonderful country!" was my opinion after just a few hours.

If I had known this earlier before planning my trip, I would have spent more time here. The drive through the country is anything but boring with the many small towns and spectacular lakes and volcanos in it, sometimes even still smoking. 

So in my opinion, this country is among the most beautiful in all of Central America. (I also liked Guatemala).

So why is Nicaragua not famous?

It has some Russian imprints, like Cuba. And everyone knows Cuba is disliked by the USA, so the USA does not promote Nicaragua as a travel destination.

Compared to the surrounding countries, Nicaragua is a bit different, but this meant in a good way.

Even though it's bulking up with McDonald's and Pizza Hut, it is not yet that extremely manipulated by western influences and commerce like its direct neighbors, the countries Honduras and Costa Rica. What a precious quality that is nowadays, many countries all over the world lost that characteristic.

Even if the time of the Russian influences was long ago, it's not difficult to see that back then there were architects at work, trained by the big communist empire. Especially in the capital Managua. But more about that later.

Wednesday - With the bus to Nicaragua

Time passed slowly while waiting for the bus at the hotel in Costa Rica. The bus arrived delayed but I was happy that it arrived at all and also not just passing by but even stopped for me, the only passenger entering at this point. It's a 2 hours ride to the border of Nicaragua. 

Costa Rica allowed me to leave

First, everybody on the bus had to get clearance to leave Costa Rica whereas every passenger got checked twice by different officials if the test result is negative and not manipulated. To my surprise, they did check each and every single test of every passenger thoroughly. 

Those Covid Test Results checks are done precisely and if someone is positive, they won't let them leave the country.

Entering Nicaragua - what a procedure.

Once arriving at the border post the first officer entered the bus and checked the PCR Test results of each passenger. Minutes later a lady entered in a white coat, she looked like a doctor. 

Listen, everybody. I'm the doctor. Everybody hand over the PCR tests. Now.

She collected all the passports and the test results and then left. 

Minutes later another person entered the bus and distributed all the passports and results to the passengers. Now we were set to leave the bus in person and go through customs, whereas on entry to the building another officer checked the test result. At the border police officer checked the test result another time before putting a stamp in the passport. 

7 persons checked those Covid test results along the whole journey since the departure in Costa Rica. So there is no chance to get through there with a manipulated result.

The whole exit and entry process took an hour, even as there were no other buses or cars trying to cross the border.

It was raining the whole journey and my window at the bus was dirty and full of raindrops. It made it impossible to capture some really nice sceneries along the 5 hours long ride from the border to the capital of Nicaragua, Managua. 

Thursday - With the rental car to Léon

The hotel was near to the bus station where I needed to buy a ticket for my onward journey to Honduras, but I will write about this later.

After picking up the rental car at Alamo car rental I started the 3 hours drive towards the city Leon. Leon and its surroundings are famous as it is old, with old houses and streets, all in Nicaraguan architecture and "ancient" traditions. 

The ride out of Managua sparks joy as the hassle and traffic decline and the volcano-loaded landscapes appear, even with active volcanos along the road.

Volcano Momotombo 

This particular volcano is called Momotombo and is visible from hundreds of kilometers away. 

Momotombo Nicaragua
HillMomotombo arrivalHorse for sale in NicaraguaBicycle at MomotomboStreets in NicaraguaMomotombo erruption

Beside is the little version called Momotombito (the one on the right). The best view I found was from a town at the shore of lake Xolotlan.

Xolotlan Momotombo Shore
Puerto Momotombo NicaraguaNo tourists because of CovidMomotombitoNext to Bar MomotomboBoat at Lake XolotlanRstaurants at Lake Xolotlan

Malpaisillo has the chicken ready

From the volcano, there is something like a huge ring road around the Volcano Cerro Negro. A small town Malpaisillo with many old Nicaraguan shops and restaurants is there along the road. 

It's a good city to have some "pollo assado" (chicken from the BBQ grill), whereas this is a normal lunch in Nicaragua. In these kinds of Nicaraguan restaurants, they only serve grilled BBQ chicken. 

Yes, we almost go here daily. A half chicken from grill and a tortilla is our normal daily lunch in Nicaragua. 

So I selected between the grilled BBQ chicken and the grilled BBQ chicken, whereas the grilled BBQ chicken was a good choice.

Malpaisillo city overview
Good restaurants in MalpaisilloMalpaisillo MarketLunch time MalpaisilloSupermarkets MalpaisilloEmpty streets during LunchtimeChicken restaurant

Back on the road towards Leon. Interesting Landscape along the way. 

The entrance to Leon comes out of nowhere. The streets only get a bit more crowded and suddenly I found out that I was in the middle of the center.

Around Cerro Negro
Arriving in LeonNear Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin MaryNear Iglesia El CalvarioMany Cethedrals in LeonSven at Real e Insigne Basílica de la Asunción de la Bienaventurada Virgen María

A hot afternoon when I arrived in Leon and went for a stroll through the old town. It was hot but I had no time to hide in the shadow somewhere, as there are so many corners with interesting objects to see.

The sun is going down early in this area of the world and I had also the plan to visit the beach later.

Leon chaos
Normal house in LeonSmall houses with high securityCoffee Shop in LeonCathedral broken NicaraguaFamous church Leon NicaraguaShops in Leon Nicaragua

Leon has its own traffic rules, whereas as a tourist it's not clear at all on which intersection I can drive or where I need to give way.

Every 50 meters is such an intersection and every time I hear other drivers honking from behind.

Graffity Leon Nicaragua
Nicaraguan BalconyTraffic jam NicaraguaStatue near Leon

Las Peñitas, the beach of Leon

After the city visit, I continued to the pacific coast and the beach.

It is 45 minutes from Leon. There I went for coffee and enjoy the beach with the incoming sunset. Dinner was finished and I returned back to Leon to the guesthouse.

Las Peñitas during Covid
Pacific Coast Beach NicaraguaSurf Spot LeonEmpty beaches because of CovidSharp rocks Nicaragua BeachNicaragua dog at beachSunset Leon Beach

Friday - Along the pacific coast of Nicaragua

My goal of the day was to get back to Managua. I drove towards the south along the pacific coast and then back to Managua. Why back to Managua again already? Well because of Covid. I needed to make another PCR Test for my onward journey to Honduras.

The test is to be taken tomorrow morning and I expect it to be chaos, but I will see that tomorrow.

The city and the beach both are called "El Transito".

El Transito beach Nicaragua
Beach El TransitoDrug boat NicaraguaDruglord House NicaraguaPacific beach NicaraguaBeach between Managua and LeonFishing people do their job

The ride along the pacific coast, not just in Nicaragua, but almost everywhere in Central America is among my favorite activities while traveling.

There are several small towns with fishing boats and huge waves, which makes it nice to just look at it.

Graffity Nicaragua
El Transito PaintingSchoolbus of USA in NicaraguaNicaragua chicken country

A day without seeing a Volcano in Nicaragua?
Almost impossible.

Time passed and Managua appeared on the horizon. As I wasn't late in time I thought I should squeeze in another place to visit and this time it was, not surprisingly, another volcano. 

This volcano is called "Apoyeque". 

It contains a huge volcano lake, but the way up there is rough. Google Maps shows that it's almost a normal street up there and that's why I drove there with the rental. Three attempts I needed to find the correct intersection from the main road and this fact slowly started to ring the alarm bells, that google maps navigation might not be perfectly accurate in this part of the world. 

Sandy roads with ugly potholes made me feel a bit uncomfortable, especially when I thought of the harsh cash deposit stored at the car rental company. However I continued for a while, but the road became worse and at one point so steep, that I wasn't able to move further. I needed to roll back down the way and was sure this cant be the right way up to the volcano.

Some farmer walked up the road and looked surprised seeing me on the side of the road. 

Volcano? Yes just continue driving, it's this way and no problem. All good!

The farmer pointed in the direction, which I was rolling down backward with sweaty hands on the steering wheel. "You are joking, right? You see that I only have a 2wd car?", asking for reassurance.

He clarified that I should be fine after mastering this steep piece of road. And he was right, even though I needed two more attempts to master this steep increment (which the photos do not show). 

Apoyeque crater
Closest Volcano to ManaguaDirection to ApoyequeCows of NicaraguaApoyeque RestaurantBest view on NicaraguaView on Managua

Saturday - Continue to Granada

There is solely one (1!) test Covide center in the whole country. It requires an appointment and costs 150 USD, which is a lot of money, especially for locals. 

Covid testing in Nicaragua, only one Test center

Due to the long weekend with mothers day incoming, the big number of people at the test center was to be expected. To my surprise the open roof test center was well coordinated and no skipping the line activities visible. Also social distancing was followed meticulously. 1 hour of waiting and the test was done within seconds. 

We guarantee the results will be online today, at least they should.

So they give a semi-guarantee that the result will be online available on the same day later this afternoon. Well, at least that's not an empty promise.

To Granada

I continued with my rental car towards Granada, whereas many say it's the nicest place in Nicaragua. I was excited.

On the way I noticed hilly mountains within the city range and realized that there are volcanoes everywhere in Nicaragua, literally. Two of them were along the way to Granada and so I went to have a look.

Volcano lake "Lago de Masaya" and the city Masaya around it.

Volcano Lake near Managua
Japan in NicaraguaArchitecture in Lago de MasayaTuktuck Nicaragua

The second one was this one.

Volcano "Laguna de Apoyo" and the city Catarina around it.

Volcano Lake Catarina
Locals of CatarinaCatarina city centerTourist magnets NicaraguaRestaurant near Laguna de ApoyoBest volcano lake near ManaguaVolcano Lake watching

Arriving in Granada

The onward journey to Granada only took me another hour and so arrived there in the morning.

Granada's architects planned well back in those centuries and I realized how easy and its to find along in this nice city with typical Nicaraguan housing and buildings everywhere. To top this the town was built right next to a lake where there are even more volcanoes.

Horses near Parque Azul Granada
Bicycle trip GranadaTemperature Granada is fineIglesia Guadalupe GranadaAncient cars in NicaraguaAncient buildings in NicaraguaModern restaurants Granada

The bicycle offered from the hotel was a good tool to have a look at the city at a slow pace. 

Calle el Comercio Granada
Nicaragua local marketsComercial district GranadaOld Architecture GranadaPresident palace NicaraguaLocal houses in GranadaHorseriding near the central park

The cathedral is visible from all over the city. And it's surrounded by a park which marks the center of Granada.

Catedral Iglesia of Granada
Left side of Cathedral of GranadaCathedral of Granada during middayEntrance to Terminal de Buses GranadaMonumento a la MadreGranada central park

Granadas malecon is quiet but nice.

Malecon of Granada
Restaurant of Malecon GranadaNear Granada PierBoats on the volcano Lake NicaraguaPuerto de GranadaHut at GranadaPolice Granada looks for crooks

Sunday - Managua walking tour

A sunny morning. No question I would have found many other things to do in this nice wonderful country if I had more time. But under these circumstances, there was only one thing left that I wanted to do in Nicaragua and then I was fully ready to continue to Honduras. 

How dirty is too dirty?

But first I had to bring back the rental car and hope they would give me back the full amount of the exorbitant cash deposit. The car was still full of sand from the volcano detour two days ago. Normally car rental companies have small written text in the contract which prohibits detours to sandy or dirty places like beaches, or as in this case, volcanoes. 

We hope to have you back again soon in Nicaragua. Can our shuttle driver drop you off somewhere in Managua?

The deposit changed pockets and I was relieved. They even dropped me off near the bus station "Transporte del sol" where I needed to get the ticket for my onward journey to Honduras.

Sightseeing in Managua

A full day exploring Managua city center. Streets look like Russian streets, too broad and too many lanes for so few cars. Russian architecture reached not only Cuba but also Nicaragua, as it seems. 

Roundabout "Rotonda Hugo Chavez"

The guy exhibited in the middle of the roundabout is the ex-president of Nicaragua. He was the one who spends billions on this architecture which most of the locals hate. But the hatred is not a wonder as it's supposed locals' money, however, which locals didn't receive, to have a bit better life.

Hugo Chavez Roundabout
Sven in NicaraguaHamburgesas NicaraguaCeiba treets NicaraguaMotorbike drugdealer NicaraguaAvenue Bolivar big roadAK47 in Nicaragua

The palast "palacio national" and the old palast

Fully armed police officers observing these streets. An area with no residential housings but lots of security everywhere. Peace seems to be the mission of this area, whereas only a few hundred meters the slums of Managua begin and no police officers can be seen anymore. 

Both buildings are on the Revolution Square. The old house is called "Ruben Dario Monument" and the flat new house the "Palacio national"

Catedral de Santiago Apóstol 2021
Architect of the Santiago Catedral NicaraguaPalacio National in 2021 NicaraguaSven in NicaraguaCatedral de Santiago Apóstol 360Nicaragua police officer drinksFamous statues in Nicaragua

The Malecon (Boulevard)

Money found its destination at the waterfront to lake Xolotlan. Beside the palace mentioned above, there is this expensive newly built Malecon Boulevard. It's considered for the locals to have fun, but slums are also very near, only like two minutes away. 

Malecon Nicaragua
Ceiba trees at ManaguaLake Xolotlan at ManaguaStrange statues in Managua

Puerto Salvador Allende

The whole area is new with many restaurants and it was like that mainly the rich locals come here for special occasions, whereas the poor locals remain across the street in the slums. This means the rich locals built it, so the poor locals get ousted from the boulevard.

From a tourist's point of view, it's a nicely built Malecon and I used this opportunity to spend the remaining time in Managua. Didn't need to hurry, as the bus to Honduras will depart after midnight.

Puerto Salvador Allende
Malecon Managua entrance necessaryNext to the slums of ManaguaRestaurants in Managua

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