Nicaragua - Leon and Granada

Trip Start Jan 03, 2013
Trip End Jul 21, 2013

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Flag of Nicaragua  , Leon,
Monday, February 11, 2013

After crossing the border, we managed to get on a chicken bus direct to Leon, our first stop in Nicaragua. It was our last of 4 buses that day, and 12 hours of travelling, so we were looking forward to arriving. Apart from a police stop obviously looking for drugs (they checked our passports and searched Alexa's bags), we made it to Leon by 7pm. We had met two guys at the border, Tim, an American and Simon from the UK, who had recommended a couple of places to stay but we also had somewhere in mind. We had a look at two and settled on our choice. It was better quality, not so backpackery, cheaper, and the owner (dave from Bristol) made us feel welcome so it was a good call. After a late dinner at a local restaurant we headed for bed, tired from a day of travelling.

After a late breakfast at the hotel, we spent the morning exploring Leon. Our first port of call was the cathedral, the largest in Central America. It was huge and looked like it was being renovated or cleaned so we couldn't see the full impact of the building. We climbed up to the roof and the view over the city. We could see the volcanoes from the Maribos volcano chain that spans Nicaragua in the distance.

After some more wandering around this attractive colonial city, we went into a recommended travel agent to ask a few questions. They mentioned that they had a twilight trek of Telica Volcano, but leaving in less than 2 hours, we had no set plans for the afternoon so we signed up! We had a cheap lunch, and the van picked us up at 2pm. We had a really nice mixed nationality group within Aussies, Dutch, Swiss, Germans and an Austrian. It was a very bumpy ride to the volcano on terrible 'road' or track and we all wondered whether the car would actually make it. We started climbing Telica (a stromboli volcano that last erupted in 2011) on a track at first and then off road, climbing across the rocky slopes. It was steep in sections but not as challenging as other treks, so an enjoyable climb. We made it most of way up, and walked round to west side of volcano and sat and watched the lovely sunset through the smoke of the volcano. We had a stunning view across the Maribos volcano chain, and could see the highest volcano in Nicaragua, San Cristobel, smoking away and the plains in between. After the sun set, we clambered around the top steep slope to the safer side and peered into the vast crator. It was huge and you could see the red bubbling lava way beneath us. It got brighter as it got darker. The noise surprised us, it sounded like the sea with the explosions of gases deep in the crator. We stayed near the crator for an hour, had some coffee and snacks, taking photos and then started a treacherous walk down in the pitch black. We had torches but with the loose and uneven slope and steep gradient it was very tricky and nerve wracking trying not to fall. We had to go a different way down as apparently the side of the volcano we climbed up had rabbits and therefore rattlesnakes at night so we avoided that part! We did however, see a small snake (a volcano python) that we disturbed. It wasn't poisonous though!

Fighting our way in the dark through the thorns and twigs was an experience and we were all glad when we arrived back on the main track for the 30 minutes walk back to the van. We squeezed in the van again and headed back the Leon, again enduring the bumpy track. We were all craving beers so we stopped at some services before being dropped back at the hostel about 10:30pm. We went straight to sleep after a shower to wash the dust off! It was a brilliant experience which we had not anticipated when we got up in the morning, possibly one of the best things we have done so far. The joy of travelling - expect the unexpected!

After a much needed lie in we went in search of some breakfast, only to find the streets empty and not many places open. We had come to the conclusion that they were slow to get going in this city. Eventually we found a little local cafe called El Oasis (it wasn't) that served us some omelettes. We spent the rest of the morning catching up on emails and the blog.

Early afternoon we caught the chicken bus to Ponoloya beach, about 20km west of Leon. Only a few kilometres short of our destination, the bus was shaken by a loud bang, which we soon discovered was a blow out on one of the tyres. The driver and others set about changing the tyre immediately as if it happened regularly, however most other passengers piled onto another bus. We waited and continued the journey once the tyre was changed, arriving at the beach 5 minutes later. We weren't sure exactly where we were, so we proceeded to walk down the deserted beach around the rocky point and towards the surf beach of Las Penitas. It was 45 minutes before we found anything resembling a hotel or cafe where we could get some late lunch/early dinner. It was nearly 4pm at this point and we were both hot and hungry, with the burning sand making it tricky to walk. Our hopes were raised after spotting a few surfers and a bar full of gringos, which we walked past hoping for somewhere else. Straight away we found the hotel recommended by David at our hostel, which was full of locals and some tourists enjoying huge plates of fish. We grabbed a table, ordered, and Sean went for a swim in the surf to cool off.

The food was excellent, and despite being a bit more expensive than we had been paying, it was definitely worth it. It was a great spot, and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon there before catching the bus back to Leon.

Our shuttle bus to Granada the next morning left at a reasonable hour (10am) and we were headed south to central Nicaragua. We arrived into Granada at lunchtime and found a hostel. We spent the afternoon exploring the city by foot and had some local street food in central park. They just refer to their dishes as chicken or carne (meat), but what that meat is we never know!

Granada is a lovely colonial city, with colourful architecture, a large cathedral, and plenty of churches tucked away. It reminded us of Antigua in Guatemala, but is arguably more set up for tourists with pedestrianised boulevards and restaurants and bars on both sides. Despite this, it still retains the local culture. We had a lovely evening meal at recommended cafe called Garden Cafe and filled up on vitamins, before heading back to the hotel.

We headed out late the following morning for a wander and the streets seemed much busier, full of market stalls and people. That afternoon, we had booked a boat tour of some of the islands around lake Nicaragua. We met the group and noted to each other that this was probably the most touristy thing we have done on our entire trip! A special bus took the group of 12 to the lake and we hopped on a boat. We toured around some of the 365 islands in the lake that were formed 20000 years ago by the debris from the nearby volcano, Momobacho, exploding. We cruised past lovely houses built on these exclusive islands by Nicaraguans rich and famous, along with other nationalities. It was very picturesque with fruit trees and palm trees covering the islands surrounding the lovely houses in the huge lake with the volcano in the background. We picked and ate fresh mangoes off the trees which were delicious. There were also lots of bird life with herons and egrets in the water. We enjoyed a nice meal and a few beers at a lakeside restaurant, enjoying the view over the lake as darkness descended. We chatted to a pro-gay marriage, pro-Darwin American (!) father and son couple who were nice and we got the bus back to Granada.

The next morning, we loaded up and walked to the bus station to catch the bus to Rivas. We trudged though the busy market streets selling weird and wonderful things including buckets of unknown meat, complete with flies that looked less than appetising! We were in good time for the bus and boarded it to wait the 30 mins until it left. We were entertained by two cheeky 4 year old local boys who were high of the sugary drinks they had just consumed and were having a great time slapping Sean's sweaty bald head, pulling faces and wanting to have photos with our sunglasses on. They were seriously cute and certainly amused us. The bus left and it was 1.5 hours to Rivas where we would have to change buses to get to the coast where we were heading for some surf and beach action
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