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A Little Too Active – Masaya Volcano National Park, Nicaragua

Masaya Volcano National Park, established in 1979, is Nicaragua’s first national park. Its centerpiece is an infamous volcano which has intimidated Spanish conquistadors and provided a macabre dumping ground for dictators.  Masaya is also a very active volcano–perhaps a little too active–as we found out while traveling in Nicaragua.

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The very active Masaya Volcano, fuming and spewing in the distance, is a mainstay of the southern Nicaraguan landscape.

Masaya erupts and sputters

The most recent full eruption of Masaya Volcano happened in 2008. In April of that year the volcano sent a massive plume of ash more than a mile (two kms) into the sky. Less spectacular eruptions continued throughout that year.

The volcano emits gas and steam pretty much all the time as we could easily see whenever we caught glimpses of the 2,083 foot (635 meter) tall volcano from vantage points around Managua including the Pueblos Blancos and from neighboring Mombacho Volcano.

panorama Masaya Volcano National Park, Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s Masaya Volcano emits gas pretty much all the time and it became dangerously active (again) in 2012 prompting the closure of Masaya Volcano National Park for two months.

Masaya has seen other kinds of activity too. The volcano was dubbed “The Gate to Hell” by Spanish conquistadors and Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia took that nickname literally, using the volcano as a dumping ground for his many enemies.

On a cheerier note, Masaya is also one of the few active volcanoes in the Western Hemisphere where you can drive to the rim and we certainly wanted the chance to look into the “Gate to Hell” for ourselves.

The volcano, however, had other plans. Not long after we arrived in Nicaragua it started rumbling and grumbling back to life prompting the closure of the park for safety reasons after she spewed out some hot rocks which damaged cars parked at the rim and started a brush fire. The park was closed for nearly two months but finally re-opened near the end of our time in Nicaragua.

Masaya Volcano

You can drive right to the rim of Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua unless it’s erupting or spewing out hot rocks or too much poisonous gas.

Looking into the “Gate to Hell”

Like all national parks in Nicaragua, entry to Masaya Volcano National Park, located just a few miles south of Managua on the road between the capital and Granada, is US$4 per person. There’s a large and fairly engaging visitor center near the entrance which we visited before driving right up to the rim via a paved road.

La Cruz de Bobadilla, Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua

“Obey the park rangers recommendations” is good advice when you’re standing on the rim of a very, very active volcano.

You’re required to park facing out to facilitate a quicker escape should things get dangerous at the top. Just for good measure we parked as far away from the rim as possible. Park employees at the top warn you not linger near the rim if the wind is blowing the volcano’s noxious sulphur dioxide gas your way.

rim of Masaya Volcano

Karen in a hard hat per park regulations.

Smoke and gases inside inside Masaya Volcano

It’s recommended that you don’t spend too much time enjoying the view from the rim of the active Masaya Volcano especially if the wind shifts and bring all that sulphur gas your way.

There are a short trails at the top of Masaya. A couple require a park guide and you can make reservations to take guided night hikes too. One of the most popular trials, which leads up to a large cross on a lookout point with views into the crater, was closed when we visited but we got plenty of walking and gawking in on other trails around the impressive crater.

Poisonous gases rise from Masaya Volcano

Masaya Volcano is beautiful in a menacing bottomless pit kind of a way.

Clouds swirled overhead, occasionally augmented by a puff from the volcano which seemed absolutely bottomless. Our ears became attuned to every rumble and grumble. We couldn’t shake our visions of hot rocks flying out of the gate to hell and soon returned to the parking lot to drive our truck back down to safety.

Damage from eruption of Masaya Volcano

Roof damage to a shelter near the rim of the Masaya Volcano inflicted by hot rocks spewed from the volcano during its most recent burst of activity in 2012.

 

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Hotels in Managua Travel Guide – Managua, Nicaragua

You will not want to spend a night in Managua. It’s a sprawling, unattractive, hot, dusty, sometimes dangerous town, much of which is still in ruins from a 1972 earthquake and general malaise and mismanagement. You may, however, need to spend a night in Managua in order to catch your flight home or fly out to Big Corn Island or because you’re a serial completionist like us. Whatever the reason, you’ll need the vital details in this travel guide to hotels in Managua.

National Palace Palacio de la Cultura Managua Nicaragua

The National Palace of Culture is one of the very, very few sights to see in Managua, Nicaragua.

Sandino statue and Lake Managua

This metal cut out silhouette of Augusto César Sandino, who lead a Nicaraguan rebellion against US military occupation in the late 1920s and early 1930s, is located on a hilltop above Managua, Nicaragua.

Budget hotels in Managua

The Marta Quezada Barrio in Managua is full of budget hotels and hostels. We chose Hotel Los Felipe (US$20 for a tiny double room with private bathroom) because it has a huge and secure parking lot. What it doesn’t have is a very good maid. However, we stayed here on four separate occasions and never caught anything and there seemed to be new management the last time we checked in. The caged birds in the surrounding garden are weird. Ask for a room close to reception if Wi-Fi is important to you. There is a pool. An awesome cheap (around US$2.50) breakfast can be had at Cafe Myrna around the corner and Fritanga Dona Pilar serves up big plates of fresh-grilled meat, gallo pinto and tajadas from about US$3.

Monument to the True Heroes of the Revolution Managua Nicaragua

The Monument to the True Heroes of the Revolution in Managua, Nicaragua.

Mid-range hotels in Managua

Many of the mid-range hotels in Managua are to be found in neighborhoods in the outskirts f the city in renovated homes. Boutique Hotel Villa Maya is no exception. The place is run by Vilma, a Guatemalan woman who went to college at UC Berkeley then married a Nicaraguan and moved to Managua. She’s turned the family’s huge home into a serene nine room guest house decked out in gorgeous Guatemalan textiles, huipiles (traditional Mayan blouses), hand-made Guatemalan wooden furniture and museum-worthy Mayan pottery. There’s a pool and the staff is so friendly you can’t help but smile. Unlike some homes-cum-hotels, this one feels well-thought-out not willy-nilly. The most remarkable thing is the peace and quite just a few miles from crazy-making central Managua. We were lulled to sleep by the sound of frogs in the enormous garden and awoken by birds in the trees. Full breakfast is included in room rates and served on a spacious patio.

Volcanic crater Tiscapa  lake Managua

This volcanic crater lake is the Lake Tiscapa Natural Reserve, located in the middle of sprawling Managua.

More centrally-located is the Hotel Estancia La Casona, from US$40 per night including breakfast. This home, built in the ’70s, has been meticulously converted into a comfortable and homey place to spend a night or two. You’ll feel like you’re crashing at your aunt’s house but with more privacy. Owner Maria Teresa also owns Cafe Hotel in Jinotega.

Old Cathedral of Managua, Nicaragua, destroyed in 1972 earthquake

The Old Cathedral of Managua was destroyed in the 1972 earthquake and has never been rebuilt. It’s now a fairly sketchy shell.

High end hotels in Managua

In addition to a few luxury business hotel chain brands which never, ever interest us, including Hilton and InterContinental, Managua also has a handful of locally-owned hotel that are doing their best to be stylish boutique hotels. Contempo HB is one of them. Don’t let the hotel’s website scare you. The hotel itself is much more stylish even if they’re channeling a Miami vibe a bit too hard.

Dennis Martinez Stadium Sandino Managua Nicaragua

Two Nicaraguan heroes are immortalized here: baseball player Dennis Martinez has his name on this stadium and revolutionary Augusto César Sandino is depicted in a statue out front.

 

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Simply Charming – Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

The fact that there’s no direct way to travel from mainland Nicaragua to Little Corn Island, about 45 miles (100 kms) east of the country’s Caribbean coast, acts as a kind of natural barrier. You have to really, really want to get this simply charming island. You also have to pass through Big Corn Island to do it.

Little Corn Island,  Nicaragua beach

A “crowded” stretch of beach on Little Corn Island in Nicaragua.

Getting to Little Corn Island

Once you’re on Big Corn Island (find out how) you’ll need to catch a water taxi (essentially a very long, very exposed motor boat) for the journey to Little Corn Island which costs around US$6 and takes 30 to 60 minutes depending on how rough the passage is (heading to Little Corn is often rougher because you’re gong against the current). Bring some large plastic bags to cover your luggage. If you forget to bring bags you can buy some from general stores near the dock.

We were told there was a plan to start sea plane service from the mainland to the Corn Islands but the sea plane is currently “parked” on Lake Nicaragua near Granada and no one in the area expressed much hope that the service would ever materialize.

Once you’re on Little Corn Island you’ll be walking or taking smaller water taxis everywhere. There are no roads and absolutely no motorized vehicles on Little Corn Island. We expected that there would be a few sneaky exceptions to this rule but over our five-day stay we never saw so much as a moped.

As you can imagine, the carelessness creates an instant luscious disconnect from the noise and pace of the rest of the world. If you can’t relax here there’s nothing we can do for you.

Casa Iguana beach Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

The view down to the beach from Casa Iguana on Little Corn Island in Nicaragua.

What to do on Little Corn Island

Snorkeling and SCUBA diving are the big activities on Little Corn and there are many more dive shops here than on Big Corn. When we were on Little Corn a group of guys was also getting ready to open a windsurfing business on the island, so check into that if that’s your sort of thing.

Or you can just let the heat and the slow, Caribbean pace of the place work their relaxing magic. We certainly heard the siren song of the hammock.

beach dogs Little Corn Island,  Nicaragua

The “entertainment” at Farm Peace & Love on Little Corn Island.

Where to eat on Little Corn Island

There is an extraordinary amount of good food on Little Corn Island. They’re not the cheapest meals you’ll have in Nica, but for around US$10 a plate you can eat very, very well at stylish beachfront places like Cafe Desideri and the nearby Tranquilo Cafe where expats (mostly Italians for some reason) have created tasty hang outs. We also heard rave reviews of the authentic Cuban food at Havana but at more like US$20 it was too spendy for us. Some dishes, like their famed ropa vieja, need to be ordered in advance.

There are cheaper eats as well. For example, we loved Rosa’s, a tiny open-air place on the south end of the island near Casa Iguana for breakfast. About US$3 got us fruit salad, coffee, eggs, bread…the whole shebang.

A disappointment was the three-course dinner, served family-style, at Casa Iguana which cost US$15 per person and was really nothing special.

beach Little Corn Island,  Nicaragua

This beach was just steps away from our little bungalow at Farm Peace & Love on Little Corn Island.

Where to stay on Little Corn Island

When we arrived on Little Corn Island a man named Bing was waiting to ferry us to the other side for our stay at Farm Peace & Love in his boat. We cannot imagine a better introduction to the charms of Little Corn Island.

Bing Farm Peace & Love boat

This is how Bing, co-creator of Farm Peace & Love on Little Corn Island, commutes to work.

Bing’s lancha is named “Peace & Love” and that’s what he and his partner, Paola, are all about. Paola, an Italian journalist and avid horsewoman, arrived on Little Corn years ago with her saddle. Bing had the only horse on the island. The rest is  history.

beach Farm Peace & Love - Little Corn Island

Bing’s water taxi, the Peace & Love.

In 1996 they opened Farm Peace & Love on the still sparsely developed northern end of the island just a few steps from one of the sweetest little beaches on the island. The place is powered by solar energy and a wind turbine fashioned out of an airplane propeller and wood. Like Farm Peace & Love itself, the thing is half art, half tool. Bing and Paola live in a hand-crafted two-story home on the property and offer just two extremely private stand-alone casitas to guests.

bungalow Farm Peace & Love - Little Corn Island

This the larger of the two casitas for rent at Farm Peace & Love on Little Corn Island.

Each has its own well-equipped kitchen and eggs and fruit from their chickens and organic garden plus coffee, homemade jam, house-pressed coconut oil, basic condiments and Paola’s delicious coconut bread are supplied. As other things ripen (basil, beans, limes, plantains) they magically appear on your porch (you’ll need to bring all other ingredients from the general stores near the dock in Big Corn Island which have the basics and not much else).

breakfast Farm Peace & Love - Little Corn Island

Paola’s famous coconut bread, homemade jam and more produce from the farm made breakfast a treat at Farm Peace & Love.

We stayed in the smaller of the two casitas (which sleeps three and is called The Suite). It had an outdoor shower stocked with homemade coconut oil soap and a breezy porch with built-in wooden seating and a table. Ocean views were blocked by a wall of jungle but the soothing sound of the waves made it through.

Rules Farm Peace & Love - Little Corn Island

The house rules at Farm Peace & Love on Little Corn Islands.

There’s nothing to do at Farm Peace & Love except swim in the warm, clear water, play with the dogs, watch the land crabs do their crabby thing all over the place (mind the holes), nap, read, repeat. The “relaxation now” vibe was so intoxicating that Karen finally did the crossword puzzle she’d been carrying around for 10 months. Those feeling more energetic can go fishing or horseback riding with Bing.

On our final night we splurged on dinner prepared by Paola and Bing (about US$18 per person) which included pasta with a sauce made from tomatoes, basil and cashews followed by fresh jack fish caught by Bing with rosemary potatoes. The best part was the grounded, spiritual company of Paola and Bing who are content with what they’ve created, as they should be.

Farm Peace & Love - Little Corn Island,  Nicaragua

Much of Farm Peace & Love is made by hand, including this sign.

We also stayed at Casa Iguana which is a brightly painted Caribbean version of every backpacker ghetto hostal you’ve ever stayed at. Guests turned into staffers or volunteers run the place, clothes dry on railings, books are exchanged, dive reports shared and well-worn flip-flops pile up outside the lounge/restaurant/bar area.

Casa Iguana - Little Corn Island,  Nicaragua

Casa Iguana welcomes you on Little Corn Island.

Yemaya Island Hideaway Resort & Spa opened after our time on the island and is, by far, the most luxurious (and priciest) resort option on Little Corn Island.

Corn Islands know how

  • English is spoken almost everywhere
  • Don’t count on finding a working ATM (there are no ATMs at all on Little Corn)
  • There is no corn on the Corn Islands and there never was. The name is possibly a bastardization of Islas del Carne (islands of meat) since the islands used to be a common stop over for ships needing to re-stock on things like fresh meat.
  • There are eight baseball teams between the two sparsely populated islands. Learn more about why Nicaraguans love baseball.
Bottle building - Little Corn Island,  Nicaragua

We walked past this shop, constructed with hundreds of empty beer bottles, every day on Little Corn Island.

 

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Bigger is Not Always Better – Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

The Corn Islands, about 40 miles (70 kms) east of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, are not the easiest places to travel to but your effort will be rewarded. Everyone asks “which island is better?” Spoiler alert: we, like most travelers, prefer Little Corn Island which manages to be more pristine while still having a wider and more interesting array of places to stay, stuff to eat and things to do than it’s bigger, more developed sibling. Even if you’re ultimate goal is Little Corn Island you’ll have to stop on Big Corn Island on your way there, so here’s our travel guide to Big Corn Island.

Snorkeling Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

Big Corn Island style: First class snorkeling to the left. First class snorkeling guide to the right.

Getting to Big Corn Island

You can get from Managua to Big Corn Island by taking a bus from 9 pm to 3 am to the town of Rama then catching a water taxi at daybreak for a 1.5 hour ride to Bluefields. From there you get on another boat departing for Big Corn Island twice a week (subject to change without notice) for a five-hour long ride that is often rough. The total cost for this multi-day, multi-craft journey is about US$35 per person.

But there is another way.

For around US$230 round trip per person La Costeña airline will get you to the quaint little airport on Big Corn Island in a puddle jumper from the international airport in Managua. Our flight made a pit stop at the airstrip in Bluefields where cargo and passengers were swapped before continuing on to Big Corn Island. Make reservations well in advance as this is the only airline servicing Big Corn Island and their tiny planes fill fast.

Flying into Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

Our first view of the coastline of Big Corn Island in Nicaragua from our La Costeña flight from Managua.

When we landed we noticed a suspiciously swank looking helicopter under heavy guard at the airport. We later heard a rumor that it was President Daniel Orgeta’s ride and that he was in the ‘hood because of a pretty big drug bust that was taking place in Bluefields and other towns and regions that have become part of a connect-the-dots that drug traffickers use to get the goods north.

If you’re tight on time we’d recommend that you go directly from the airport on Big Corn Island to the small dock area in the center of town where you can catch a boat for Little Corn Island. They leave twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Las Costena Airlines - Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

Our boarding passes for our La Costeña flight from Managua to Big Corn Island were these clipboard-sized pieces of plastic.

If you’ve got time to explore Big Corn Island, read on.

What do do on Big Corn Island

Despite it’s name, Big Corn Island has a total area of just four square miles (10 square kms) which means it’s perfectly reasonable and enjoyable to walk around the entire perimeter of the island. If you’re too lazy for that you can flag down any of the numerous cabs on the island and get anywhere you want to go for about US$1 per person.

If the sight of all that Caribbean blue water makes you want to get in it, check out Dive Nautilus where Chema runs the only dive shop on the island. Our dive wasn’t earth shattering, but it was enjoyable and we saw a few lobsters (Nicaragua’s third largest export is lobster and much of it comes from commercial harvesting in this area), a southern sting ray, some barracuda and just a smattering of reef fish despite the fact that the coral coverage was pretty good.

Nautalis Dive - Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

Nautilus Dive Center, the only dive operation on Big Corn Island.

Where to eat on Big Corn Island

It’s easy to spend too much for mediocre food on Big Corn Island but a worthy splurge is a heaping plate of lobster and shrimp for US$12 at Comedor Maris (all the cabbies know where it is) served on a breezy patio.

Finding even mildly interesting cheap eats on Big Corn Island was a challenge. Ingredients and culinary creativity are both scarce. We finally found Cafetin McGowan (not far from the dock area where water taxis to Little Corn Island depart from) where a perma-smiling woman named Vesna plates up huge portions of fresh yellowtail for about US$4.

During our circumambulation of the island we did not see a single waterside bar but you can enjoy a cold one right across the road from the water at Seva’s Dos Milas for less than US$1 or at Fisher’s Cove near the boat dock which is less tranquil but often breezier.

Where to sleep on Big Corn Island

On the south side of the island is Casa Canada with motel-style rooms each with a breezy porch overlooking an infinity-edge pool right above the Caribbean. It’s a peaceful setting and the view from the pool can’t be beat. The hammocks don’t suck either.

On the other side of the island, close to the airport, is Arenas Beach Hotel. Don’t be put off by the hotel’s “Miami circa 1975” website. This place has a nice bit of beach with a bar built into the hull of an old boat, loungers and a bonfire area and they’ve done a lot with concrete and festive paint.

Casa Canada Hotel - Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

Eric got out of this hammock at Casa Canada on Big Corn Island just long enough to take a photo of it.

Corn Islands know how

  • English is spoken almost everywhere
  • Don’t count on finding a working ATM
  • There is no corn on the Corn Islands and there never was. The name is possibly a bastardization of Islas del Carne (islands of meat) since the islands used to be a common stop over for ships needing to re-stock on things like fresh meat
  • There are eight baseball teams between the two sparsely populated islands. Learn more about why Nicaraguans love baseball
Crab Crossing - Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

This is about as stressful as it gets on Big Corn Island in Nicaragua.

 

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Chaguitillo Petroglyphs, Selva Negra Ecolodge & Jinotega – Around Matagalpa, Nicaragua

The mountains north of Managua are home to more than just Matagalpa. Unwilling to leave the cool weather at these higher elevations we lingered in the hills traveling to the Chaguitillo petroglyphs (with an unexpected horse parade thrown in for good measure), Selva Negra Ecolodge (where we narrowly escaped a coral snake and a falling tree limb) and the caffeinated yet somehow sleepy town of Jinotega.

Petroglyphs & ponies

There is a museum in the town of Chaguitillo which displays the many pre-Columbian artifacts which have been found in the area. However, when we visited the town we went straight to the river where we saw large petroglyphs (ancient stone carvings) right along the banks next to swimming children and women doing their laundry. Talk about living history.

Chaguitillo ancient rock petroglyphs Nicaragua

River side petroglyphs in the town of Chaguitillo, Nicaragua.

We probably couldn’t have gotten to the museum anyway since Chaguitillo was busy hosting a major celebration and a huge parade of horses had taken over the streets.

Chaguitillo petroglyphs Nicaragua

River side petroglyphs in the town of Chaguitillo, Nicaragua.

Extreme hiking at Selva Negra Ecolodge

You can visit Selva Negra Ecolodge coffee plantation and farm, about 15 minutes north of Matagalpa, as a day trip for a tour of their coffee operation which produces 400,000 pounds (182,000 kilos) of organic Arabica beans a year, hydroponic and organic garden, flower farm, dairy and cheese making facility and excellent German/Nica restaurant (don’t miss the schnitzel), but why not stay a night or two? That way you get to enjoy Selva Negra’s rambling array of accommodations–from cottages to hotel rooms–on-site chapel, pine forest and network of hiking trails through some of their 400 acre (160 hectare) property.

Organic Garden at Selva Negra Ecolodge - Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Part of the organic farm at Selva Negra Ecolodge in Nicaragua.

The Kuhl family, a German clan that’s owned Selva Negra Ecolodge since 1975, is serious about the “eco” part of the name with green measures including the use of eucalyptus and papaya as natural pesticides on the farm, bio gas is produced from waste products and used to fuel the workers’ kitchens, there’s a massive earthworm composting operation and they even hope to add a windmill and get off the grid entirely.

chapel Selva Negra Nicaragua

The chapel at Selva Negra Ecolodge in Nicaragua.

There’s a large network of trails through Selva Negra’s hilly property. We spent a morning exploring some of them, hiking up and down extreme, slippery slopes (we may have wandered off trail once or twice in search of the sounds of bell birds and howler monkeys). Then it started to pour making the ground even more treacherous.

View of Matagalpa, Nicaragua from the trails above Selva Negra

The view down to the town of Matagalpa from one of the hilltop trails on the property of Selva Negra Ecolodge.

By the time we’d hiked/slid down the trail to flat ground we were wet and muddy. As we walked along the final stretch of trail leading back to the lodge a five foot (1.5 meter) very venomous coral snake slithered across the trail in front of us.

As our heart rates were returning to normal the wind suddenly picked up and we heard an ominous cracking noise above us. We both instinctively ran as a big tree limb came crashing down on the trail behind us. But, yeah, come and hike. Just maybe not in a rain and wind storm.

Ruined tank Selva Negra Matagalpa nicaragua

You can’t miss the old tank which marks the turn off to Selva Negra Ecolodge in Nicaragua.

The coffee-laced charms of Jiontega

It’s not likely that Jinotega will make it to the top of anyone’s travel hot list for Nicaragua. The area saw intense fighting between the Saninistas and occupying American troops between 1927 and 1934 and in the 1970s the area was devastated again during battles between troops controlled by President Anastasio Somoza vs. a civilian rebellion. Somoza was defeated on July 19, 1979 but in the 1980s fresh battles broke out between the new Sandinistas and CIA-backed contras.

Today Jinotega, which is known as La Ciudad de las Brumas (City of Mists) and La Ciudad de los Hombres Eternos (City of Eternal Men), is calm. What it lacks in major tourist attractions it makes up for in peace, quite and coffee.

Jinotega Nicaragua

Coffee, not Contras, are what Jinotega, Nicaragua is known for these days.

We were surprised to find Hotel Café where owner Maria Teresa, who also owns Hotel Estancia La Casona in Managua, has created a stylish, homey, well-appointed haven in Jinotega. Another pleasant surprise in Jinotega was the town’s tasty, cheap eats.

Don’t miss Soda el Tico which had some of the best steam table fare we had in all of Nicaragua (much of the budget food in Nica is served to you by ladies at a huge steam table full of choices). We had fantastic beef with home made chimichurri sauce, moist chicken kababs and delicious fresh maracuya (passion fruit) juice for just a few bucks. There’s even some good street food in Jinotega and readers of this travel blog know how we feel about street food.

At the entrance to the town cemetery you’ll find La Taberna. Head inside the building that’s adorned with river stones and you’ll find a dimly lit bar with bark-paneled walls, raw wood furniture, an ecclectic sound track (from Lady Gaga to Enrique lgesias) and a lively crowd of locals who come for all of that plus ice cold beer.

Cafe Flor de Jinotega - coffee cooperative Nicaragua

Good coffee and creative decor at the Cafe Flor coffee co-op cafe in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

Of course, there’s awesome coffee in Jinotega too. The department of Jinotega (essentially a county) produces almost all of the Nicaraguan coffee. Our favorite cafe in Jinotega was Casa de Don Colocha which got our vote not for its coffee (which is great and comes out of a real Italian machine and they even have iced coffee) but for serving the best cinnamon roll in Central America.

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Baseball, Bloody Marys & the Cuban National Team – Matagalpa, Nicaragua

All of Latin America is cray cray for soccer but in Nicaragua baseball gives futbol a run for the money, as we found out in Matagalpa where a chance encounter lead to bloody Marys, a very Latin take on America’s pastime and a few minutes with the Cuban national team.

Move over soccer, Nicaraguans love baseball

Since 1976 there have been 23 Nicaraguan players on Major League Baseball (MLB) teams in the US including four Nicaraguan players who are still playing.

Most famous among them is Dennis Martinez who pitched for the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, Montreal Expos and the Atlanta Braves during his 22 year career. Martinez was the first Nicaraguan to play in the major leagues and was nicknamed El Presidente by Nicaraguan fans. He helped the Orioles win the World Series in 1983 and in 1991 he pitched a perfect game. He’s still a big, big deal in his home country and a big reason why baseball rules here.

Why the answer is always “yes”

Given the country’s love of America’s pastime we really wanted to see a baseball game in Nicaragua. We got our first chance in Matagalpa when the Matagalpa Indigenas faced off against an inferior visiting team whose name we’ve forgotten.

The match up took place in Matagalpa’s simple concrete stadium with a serviceable baseball diamond where we got tickets in the reserved and elevated area directly behind home plate for US$4 each. Tickets for the general admission covered bleachers were going for less than half that and the game had drawn a medium-sized but enthusiastic crowd of families and couples.

reserved seats Matagalpa Indigenas Nicaragua baseball game

The Matagalpa Indigenas getting ready to cream the visiting team.

We settled into our “fancy” seats with about 50 other people, mostly area businessmen, got a cold beer for a buck and prepared to enjoy our first baseball game in ages. Imagine our surprise, however, when the teams reached the seventh inning stretch and called it quits. Turns out, Sunday baseball match ups in Nicaragua are played out in two seven inning games.

Matagalpa Indigenas Nicaragua baseball game

The first baseball game we’ve seen in years took place in Nicaragua.

The break between games gave us a chance to make some friends and we were soon chatting with Don Chaco (owner of a good cheap eats restaurant in Matagalpa of the same name) and his buddy Don Marcelino Castro. Did we mention that they were mixing bloody Marys?

Indigenas Matagalpa Nicaragua baseball

Baseball, Nicaragua style.

Don Marcelino’s family has grown coffee in the hills around Matagalpa for generations and was one of the wealthiest families in the area. However, during the revolution their land and real estate was confiscated and Don Marcelino and his sons are now slowly bringing their Beneficio de Cafe Las Tejas coffee business back on track and they’ve managed to get some of their confiscated properties back as well.

Matagalpa Indigenas Nicaragua baseball

Soccer should be worried in Nicaragua.

When Don Marcelino asked if we wanted to meet up again when the Nicaraguan national baseball team faced off against the Cuban national baseball team in Matagalpa a few weeks later we practically shouted yes.

Baseball as a contact sport

tickets Nicaragua Cuba National baseball teams

Our wrist bands for the second baseball game we saw in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. This one between the Nicaraguan national team and the Cuban national team.

Despite Don Marcelino’s best efforts he wasn’t able to get us seats in the reserved section for the national team game vs. Cuba game so we settled for general admission tickets. The stadium was packed way past capacity and the crush was exacerbated by a large number of food and drink vendors including ladies selling hamburger, kids hawking potato chips and even pizza (sort of) by the slice sold by a man who announced his wares by making a chillingly authentic rooster call.

pitcher Cuba National baseball team

A pitcher from the Cuban national team does his best against the Nicaraguan national team.

Nicaragua versus Cuba National baseball teams

A Nicaraguan national team hitter making contacts off a pitch from the Cuban national team during a baseball face-off in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

As we jockeyed for position against the chain link fence that separated the crowd from the players it started to rain–at first lightly, but before the first inning was finished the officials called the game with Nicaragua scoring the one and only run.

Don Marcelino barely had enough time for this first bloody Mary.

Nicaragua National baseball team scores against Cuba

The only run scored during the rain-shortened game between the Nicaraguan national baseball team and the Cuban national baseball team.

Random question: Why is it seem like some of the best non US baseball players come from countries that are not fans of the US (Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua)? Feel free to submit your global baseball theories in the comments section…

Read more about travel in Nicaragua

 

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