Central America: Nicaragua

Nicaragua & El Salvador are countries that most Americans would shy away from, based upon what most people know Nicaragua is mostly tied to the Contra Arms scandal of the 1980's, and El Salvador is home to the deadly MS13 gang. While there are dangers they are all manageable, and I while I would not recommend the backpacker to go to El Salvador alone, Nicaragua is an amazing country, with great people, good food, and is an inexpensive tropical vacation.

Most of my trips involve driving, and this one did too, however, to really connect with a place you have to really involve yourself in the everyday life of the people that live there. In Nicaragua, the majority of the people travel by bus, wildly decorated former school buses mostly. Depending on the time of day it can be a very close and personal experience as they jam people on these buses.

Heading out of Managua the Capital City to the original colonial capital of Granada, one of the oldest western city in the Americas as it was founded in 1524 by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, he is also the namesake for the currency of Nicaragua.

A few days in Granada is like traveling to Spain for a few days, the classic Spanish buildings, the European style hotels, Church's, and restaurants give it a completely different feel from the other cities in Nicaragua. Granada is a major magnet for Expats so don't be surprised to find Americans, Australians, and Europeans when you go to breakfast. I invited myself to sit with an older couple that had moved from the U.K. and had been living there for about five years. They loved the people, the city, and the low cost of living.

The normal beat cop in Granada, yeah that's an AK.

My group and I were boarding our bus to head to San Jorge, a beach community that is south of Granada along the shore of Lake Nicaragua. From there we would board a ferry to head to the island of Ometepe, a large island made up of two volcanoes in the middle of the massive lake.

Beach at San Jorge

The boat was interesting, old, and overloaded with people, it towed a number of smaller boats behind it full of supplies for the island. I sat on the top deck where I was approached by a young lady who was excited to speak English again to anyone. I recall she had hairy legs and was an artist from Chicago. She was covered with tattooed writing of Friedrich Nietzsche (I believe that is what she said it was). Her trip was a long one, she was backpacking from Panama to the U.S. through all of Central America alone a very daunting task for anyone alone. Once we docked we parted company, she was a very odd young lady, but I hope she made her trip safely.

Fishing Boat off Ometepe

The black sands of Ometepe are striking and the island is clean and unmolested when compared to the congested and dirty city of Managua. The people are much more laid back, surprising seeing as their island home has been disrupted by over 27 volcanic eruptions since the 1800's. (Note: Update 2007 another eruption struck the island). On the island, most of the group I was with wanted to sleep, lay on a beach, and basically be lazy. However, my friend Orland and I decided to rent bicycles and explorer the island. We road for hours and found old ruins and a little country restaurant in the middle of nowhere on an amazing privet beach (photo above of boat taken from beach)

We made our way back to Managua after two days on the island, boarded a Taca air flight, and landed in Managua's sister city of Los Angeles (Managua has a nicer airport it's small but nice). It was a great trip, no matter how many times I have been to Nicaragua I always discover something new.