Few travelers make it to León, Nicaragua which is just one reason why León was our favorite city in Nicaragua. Even fewer people travel to the northern Pacific coast north of León, but they should. In fishing villages like Mechapa and on beaches like Aposentillo you’ll find great beach bungalows, perfect pizza, and the best road in the country.
Mechapa, gateway to Nicaragua’s northern Pacific coast
Thanks to the completion of a fantastic new paved road, replacing one of the most notoriously brutal dirt roads in the country, you can now drive yourself to Mechapa from León in 1.5 hours or 3.5 hours from Managua (it’s tricky and slow by bus because service is limited and stops are many).
There are around 600 people living in Mechapa, most of them involved in fishing or working on the area’s sprawling peanut farms. There are a handful of closet-sized shops in the dirt-road-town and they peddle the basics. There are no restaurants or coffee shops or nightlife or tour companies of any kind but there is one friendly and comfortable beachfront hotel and, really, that’s all you need.
The Redwood Beach Resort was originally built in 2000 by a man from Managua who planned on building 32 bungalows, a large swimming pool, and 16 condominiums. Only a handful of bungalows every got built and he never opened the property.
In 2006 Mike and Stacy Vogelsang, a metal worker and psychologist from Illinois, bought the 22 acre (9 hectare) property, sold everything in the US, and became hoteliers. There was no running water, no electricity and no plumbing.
Today the Vogelsangs offer a full restaurant and six homey, comfortable beach bungalows (from US$65 per person per night including three meals a day). All are just steps away from the beach (#4 has the best view) with hammock strewn porches.
It’s the perfect comfy castaway base and your hosts can arrange horseback riding, kayaking, boat tours, fishing, and more. Sea turtles also nest here between November and January. Cold beers are abundant and thoughtfully served in beer cozies.
The best road in Nicaragua
While Nicaragua’s roads are far superior to those in many of the neighboring countries thanks to the fellow-socialists in Venezuela who provide cheap petroleum (asphalt is made from a mixture high in petroleum), we took one look at the 15 mile (24 km) long wide, flat, hard-packed black sand beach in front of Redwood Beach Resort and asked one question: can we drive on that?
Come along on our epic 30 mile (48 km) beach drive in Mechapa in our seven minute high-speed recap video.
Turns out, the owners enjoy a good beach drive too and assured us that as long as we timed the tides right we could drive for miles. Which we did, driving all the way down to the largest estuary in Central America. We saw plenty of birds along the way and no more than five other people.
This is yet another reason to explore this part of Nica in your own vehicle.
Perfect pizza by way of Paris
Tipped off by Stacy and Mike from Redwood Beach Resort we made a point of stopping at Al Cielo Cabañas & Restaurant just above the surf breaks at Aserradores Beach while we were in the area. It was created by two friends from France, Xavier and William, who decided to ditch the pace in Paris for the surf in Central America.
The pair were traveling and surfing along the Nica’s northern Pacific coast when they fell in love with a patch of land above Aserradores Beach which had been used to grow cotton. They bought it, cleared it, and did much of the construction themselves.
Al Cielo has eight basic but comfortable wooden cabanas, some with shared bath (from around US$30 per night). All have views of the Pacific and breezy porches and there’s a pool. One of the country’s top surf beaches is just a few minutes away. However, the best thing about Al Cielo is the restaurant.
Xavier trained in the culinary arts in Paris and, thankfully, he did not want to abandon his chef whites entirely. The restaurant at Al Cielo is now one of the most exciting casual restaurants in Nicaragua, attracting locals from the nearby city of Chinandega who make the 20 minute drive to the place just to enjoy the food and the views from the open air, thatch roof dining room.
The menu is small, featuring one pasta dish, one fish dish, one meat dish (like pepper steak for US$8.50), a real salad (for around US$5), and pizzas. And what pizzas! Thin crust made using a slightly modified recipe given to Xavier by a mentor in Paris before he left, real Italian cheese, inventive toppings, and all cooked up in a real pizza oven for around US$7. No wonder Al Cielo made our list of Best Food & Beverages of the year. Oh, and don’t miss their Flor de Caña rums infused with goodies like hot peppers, vanilla and ginger.
Here’s more about travel in Nicaragua