For some reason, people don’t often think about visiting the Central American country of Nicaragua. This made me very curious about it. I love visiting countries that don’t have much tourist pull. So I thought, why not check out some love and volcanoes in Nicaragua! Okay, maybe I just went to check out the volcanoes and the love followed me. Confused? Read on and all will become clear.
Getting to Managua, the Nicaraguan Capital
After spending a lovely, albeit cold, couple of days in Vancouver catching up with some friends, I’d hopped on an overnight bus to the airport at 2am. I had a 5am flight to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, via Denver, Colorado and Houston, Texas. It was going to be a long day. So imagine getting to the airport at 3am, only to find that the first flight had been cancelled due to a snowstorm in Denver. Fantastic!
Luckily, the airline had already put me on another flight, to Chicago at 6am. Well, that’s not exactly on the way, but I was still going to make it to Houston in time for my flight to Managua.
Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua – Managua
It was still dark when I landed in Managua, very early the next morning. After crossing 3 time zones and having 2 delayed flights. I was glad to finally be in Central America!
The Managua International Airport was fairly small, but not so small that there wasn’t a lot of taxi drivers trying to get me in their cars. But after a whole day spent in airports or planes, I wanted to enjoy the fresh outdoors. Or the slightly polluted outdoors. Managua isn’t the least polluted city I’ve been to. Nor is it the most, but it certainly had its fair share on the day that I arrived. On the way out I saw a rather interesting road sign.
Managua definitely wasn’t a glitzy city. If I had to describe it, I’d say it was raw. While walking along I could see a fair bit of rubbish around. Especially in streams by the side of the road.
The city showed it had a penchant for giant colourful trees as well.
Apparently, the city knew it wasn’t doing the best it could and promised that it would be better soon.
Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua – Leon
With almost no Spanish ability and a wonky map, I’d managed to get myself to a collectivo station. From there I had to wait about 30 minutes for the next collectivo (shared taxi) bound for Leon. I had to battle for my life to get into that van and secure a seat. 20 people were waiting for 10 seats, so no one was trying to be polite about it.
The little town of Leon, 2 hours northwest of Managua had drawn me in with the promise of adventure. A somewhat unique adventure that could not be had anywhere else. Volcano Boarding! On an active volcano!
When I arrived at my accommodation, I used my best Spanish accent to ask, “¿Dónde está el volcán?”. Luckily the staff at my hostel, which doubled as the volcano boarding tour operator, spoke English. They also humoured me and told me that my Spanish accent was good. I’d missed the tour for that day, as it was after midday by the time I got in. I booked myself a spot for the next day and decided to have a nap. Crossing 10 time zones in the previous 4 days had caught up with me.
Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua – A Love Story?
Unfortunately, that late-afternoon nap turned into more of a full-on slumber. A slumber I woke from at around 3am. To my surprise, the bar at the hostel was still open. I went and joined the 3 other people at the bar and started chatting. It was at that point that I became the love of someone’s life. The bartender had recognised my inner awesomeness and wasn’t afraid to let me know about it! Thankfully, he did it in the non-creepy way.
I was feeling kind of awake at that point, so I stayed and talked to the guys propping the bar up. They had been there a while and were at just the right level of inebriation to be hilarious. It took a while, but they finally noticed I wasn’t drinking, which prompted Ricardo, my new Nicaraguan husband, to say, “It’s 4am, where’s your beer?”. Then a local beer magically appeared in front of me.
I decided that it was best to go to sleep after the beer because I had a volcano adventure to experience less than 5 hours after that. Now that I’ve covered the love part of the trip, let’s move on to the volcanoes.
The next day, around 20 adventurers were piled into the back of a truck for a very bumpy 40 minute ride to the start of the hike to Cerro Negro, the volcano that we would be throwing ourselves down.
Cerro Negro, which means black hill, is part of the Cordillera de los Maribios Mountain Range. At the tender age of 169 years old, it’s also the youngest volcano in Central America. We were assured that there was no chance of an eruption, as the hill is carefully monitored and they have plenty of forewarning of eruptions. Plus, the last time it erupted was in 1999.
Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua – Hiking Cerro Negro
Although the hike itself wasn’t that long, we had to carry horrible orange jumpsuits and the boards up with us. The boards were old and rickety. And not all that light. There was an option to get them taken up to the top, for a fee. I’d decided that it’d make the experience much better if I did it myself. I’m sure it must’ve been amusing to some of the guys to see me trying to carry a board almost bigger than me up the hill. In fact, many of them offered to take it for me, but I’m stubborn.
I started to regret my choice when the winds that our host warned us about, kicked in about halfway up. It was a mission trying to position the board in a way that the wind wouldn’t catch it and blow you off course. It was definitely a struggle that slowed the group down considerably.
Luckily there was some great scenery on the way up. The basaltic gravel of the volcano contrasts beautifully with the surrounding mountain range. Of course there was time to stop for pictures too!
Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua – Volcano Boarding
Once up the top, we had to change into the horrible orange jumpsuits we’d carried up with us. Then our host gave us a briefing on safety and how get the most speed out of the descent. She then rushed down the slope, with a radar gun in hand, to record our speeds for us. Cool. I had a theory that letting some people go before me would give me a more compacted and defined trail to follow. That would lead to more speed. I wanted to be the fastest!
Watching the people in front of me, I started to get worried that my dream of a fast descent was not possible. Everyone was struggling to get started, but I was learning from their mistakes. Once I had a pretty good handle on what I needed to do, I decided to give it a go. I launched myself down the hill at 40km/h, one of the fastest runs of the day. Although I definitely felt like I had achieved something that day, I was disappointed with the speed. It really didn’t feel that fast. I will return one day to feel the wind of a faster speed in my hair!
The Unexpectedly Quirky Town of Leon
After all the excitement died down, I decided to explore the town of Leon with someone I’d met at the volcano. We ended up at El Museo de Tradiciones y Leyendas, or the Museum of Legends and Traditions. The museum is housed in an old early 20th century jail, where some horrible torturing is said to have taken place. Despite how somber that all sounds, this may have been the most amusing place I visited on my whole trip through Latin America!
To be honest, some of the exhibits were kind of horrendous, probably partly due to the terribly-put-together figurines used to depict them. The place is full of a lot of weird stuff. I don’t wanna give too much away, because you should really get there and visit yourself. So let me just whet your whistle a little. Here’s Dead Cheerleader Man.
Perhaps one of the craziest and most amusing legends explained in the museum was the one about the woman that roamed around putting her nipple in men’s mouths. That in itself sounds rather odd, but the figurine depicting it just added a whole other element to it. It was hilarious.
After laughing so hard our throats hurt, we headed back into the town just in time to see it at sunset.
I would’ve liked to have stayed in Leon for longer but it was time to head south to Granada. Yes, it was named after the Granada in Spain by the conquistador who ‘found’ it in the 16th century. It is situated on Lago Cocibolca, or Lake Nicaragua, which is the world’s 20th largest lake.
The place has a lot of colonial history and once vied with Leon to be the capital. Managua was eventually founded when neither could agree to the other being the country’s major city. Due to Nicaragua’s shakey economic history, some of the colonial buildings, like the Guadalupe Church in La Calzada, fell into disrepair.
Granada still has a lot of narrow streets, owing to the fact that the infrastructure for the city was put in place centuries before the advent of motorised vehicles. The city has boomed in recent years, which has caused a lot of new areas to be erected to deal with the influx of foreign investment.
It was all a little more touristy than I was prepared for. Although it was a nice town, there was nothing about it that really grabbed my attention to make me want to stay. So with that I started heading south to the Costa Rican border, where my next adventure awaited.