Back in September, Justin and I took this fantastic trip to the northern part of Nicaragua with our friends, Sarah and Baldo. The four of us had been planning this trip for close to a year before we were finally able to take it. It was well worth the wait. The northern part of Nicaragua is stunning and everyone who visits should take the time to explore this corner of the country.
We began our journey on a Friday afternoon, driving thru Rivas, Nandaime, Catarina, etc. and circumventing Managua by passing thru Tipitapa (the route to the airport). We spent the first three hours of our drive salivating about the upcoming stop in Sebaco for güirilas and cuajada at Tipico Daisy.
A quick stop and “lunch” to go, and we continued on our way to La Ecoposada el Tisey in the Reserva Natural Meseta Tisey-Estanzuela, located about 25 minutes outside of Esteli. This place is wonderful! They have a small, traditional kitchen, an outdoor dining area, and a handful of simply appointed cabinas (just a bed and a bathroom). After a tasy dinner, a media of rum, and some cards, we all retreated to our rooms for a cozy night of sleep, nestled under blankets. The northern part of the country is much cooler and sweatshirts and jeans are highly recommended! In the morning, we awoke to a mist-covered landscape of orange trees and coffee plants. We ate a fresh breakfast of homegrown eggs, gallo pinto, cheese, and coffee and then changed into sneakers for a hike up to Mirador Segoviano which gave a great panoramic view of the Valley of Esteli, the volcanoes of Los Maribios, Lake Nicaragua and all the land up until the Gulf of Fonseca. From there, we ventured down the road from the ecoposada in search of the elusive Alberto Gutierrez, an eccentric recluse who lives in Cerro Jalacate. A self taught sculptor, he carves animal themed reliefs into the cliff-face overlooking his house. Unfortunately, we walked in the wrong direction and got caught in a massive downpour! So, instead of meeting the talkative hermit, we returned to the ecoposada, packed up, and made our way to Salta Estanzuela, a 36 meter waterfall that feeds into a small, refreshing swimming hole.
From there, we drove thru Esteli and stopped at Restaurante Pullaso’s Ole. Pullaso, we learned, is a certain cut of beef that is incredibly tasty and full of fat – yum! The thick slab of meat is accompanied by none other than…more meat…your pick of sausage from around the world. Plus, they throw is some gallo pinto, some ensalada, and you can eat yourself into a food coma.
Stomachs fulls, we drove into Condega where Baldo’s family owns and operates Pension Baldovinos, a small hostel in the center of town. That night, we ate awesome taquitos and other street food from the vendor just down the road, wandered the small town, and relaxed in the garden of the pension. The next morning, after breakfast, we journey onto Somoto Canyon. The Somoto Canyon was relatively unexplored until a group of scientists from the Czech Republic and Nicaragua discovered the canyon in 2004. The canyon is believed to have formed 5 to 13 million years ago. After its discovery in 2004, the Somoto Canyon has been developing into a tourist attraction, further helping the growth of tourism in Nicaragua.
There are no formal tour guides at the canyon, but there is a family that lives along the highway just before entrance signs to the park. They are adept at identifying slowing cars in search of the canyon and will flag you down as you go by and offer to take you thru the canyon. Try to find Bayardo, a nimble guide, well-informed on the history of the canyon and, more imporatantly, on the location of rocks throughout the river. He is well outfitted with life jackets and a plastic bin to put your valuables in while floating down the river. You can leave your car at his house while you journey thru the Canyon. He will first guide you on a 45 minute walk into the canyon where you will then walk another 10 minutes along the rocky river until it becomes deep enough for floating. From there, you can put on your life jacket and float the length of the canyon in the river’s gentle current. This is an experience not to be missed! The water is refreshing, the canyon is incredible, and the float is peaceful. Be sure to ask about good diving spots. At the very end of the river, there is small rowboat that takes you along the final leg of the trip. Some guides also rent inner-tubes, but we found the natural float perfect.
Tired and hungry after a long day on the river, we pulled over at a roadstand fritanga and chowed before continuing onto Miraflor. The plan for the afternoon and night was to stay at another house owned by Baldo’s family, within the reserve. However, we all know what happens to the best laid plans…Miraflor is a unique natural reserve located about 30 kilometers outside the city of Estelí. The reserve is over 250 kilometers squared, which means that it is giant! Confident that we would arrive at our location in plenty of daylight, we took our time driving thru the unique landscape of the reserve. Two hours later, in the dark and pouring rain, we still had not found our house, so we pulled over at a small posada to ask for directions. When we explained, to the owner, where we were headed, his face told all and we made the decision to stay there for the night. Finca Neblina del Bosque turned out to be a great find! Set in the middle of the cloud forest, this small eco-friendly posada offered comfortable bamboo huts, an organic farm, vegetarian meals, and tasty coffee. The owners, a local Nicaraguan and his German wife, spent a lot of time designing their guest houses to make them eco-friendly – right down to the bicycle-powered water pump! Our only regret was that we didn’t have more time to spend there, as they offer hikes, horseback tours, and more. But, having arrived late at night with an early departure the next morning, we only had time to take in the beautiful view before heading out. The next morning, we began thr 2 hour journey back to Esteli and then hit the road south towards San Juan del Sur.