Last Updated on February 22, 2018 by Audrey Scott
Have you ever returned to a country and felt you were visiting for the first time, the experiences and locations so utterly different than before?
That was our recent visit to Nicaragua.
During our first visit to Nicaragua in 2009, we aimed to climb volcanoes, chill out in quaint colonial towns and relax in hammocks on Ometepe Island. We'd been “beached out” from Honduras (not possible, you say?) and chose not to seek out any of Nicaragua’s famous surfing outposts or coastal vistas.
This time around, just a couple of weeks ago, we visited Nicaragua with fresh eyes. We spent time on its Pacific Coast for the first time. The country – its landscapes, nature, and people – surprised me. Sure, I enjoyed our first visit, but I honestly didn’t remember Nicaragua being quite this beautiful.
Here are just a few of the memories from our twelve days in the western part of the country — most of our days on the Pacific Coast at Morgan's Rock Ecolodge with two days on an isleta on Lake Nicaragua at Jicaro Ecolodge.
Fourteen Memories from Nicaragua's Pacific Coast and Lake Nicaragua
1. Sunset: Mother Nature's daily show
I know, I know. Sunsets are often overdone, but really, the ones in Nicaragua – whether on the Pacific Ocean or Lake Nicaragua – were stunning each and every night. It was as if someone flipped a switch, and the show began. Even the Costa Ricans we'd met admitted that the sunsets were better on the Nicaraguan side…although they'd never make such an admission publicly.
2. Taking to the hills on horseback
Dan and I have done quite a bit of adventurous stuff these last six years, but getting comfortable on horses has not been one of them. But when the views are like this and the horse isn't trying to sit down in a puddle with you on it (I have flashbacks to Kyrgyzstan), it's easy to forget one's fears and just enjoy the ride. Literally. Yes, even when the horses begin to gallop across the beach.
3. Walks on the beach
Morning, afternoon or evening, I never tire of this view. Therapeutic, relaxing, mind-expanding.
4. Fresh lobster ceviche right on the boat
Need I say more? OK, maybe I will. The captain's first mate dove for lobsters along our morning sail.
5. Meeting a howler monkey family on the way to breakfast
One early morning, as I walked the suspension bridge to breakfast, I looked up to see a momma howler monkey sleeping in the tree with her baby tucked behind her. Reminds me of how moms keep a tight grip on their young ones, right across the animal kingdom.
6. Boogie boarding competition on the beach
Well, the competition was really only between Dan and me. If you know us, you know that our marital rivalry occasionally runs deep. Now, I'm not going to say who won…(hint: not in the photo above).
7. Morning coffee with a view
Now this is something to get your day started on the right note – this view paired with a delivery of freshly brewed coffee. Only thing this photo doesn't convey: the sound of waves crashing below.
8. Learning to milk a cow
Now, I get that for those of you who grew up on or near a farm, milking a cow is old hat, a complete non-event. For the rest of us, however, this is pretty exciting stuff. Getting your hand on a cow's udder and learning the tug and squeeze motion to yield milk may be a bit bizarre for the unaccustomed, but it does teach something about rhythm and touch. We were motivated, ultimately on a mission: fresh milk for our morning coffee.
9. Purisima celebration and Nicaraguan hospitality
This visit to Nicaragua happened to coincide with Purisima, a Nicaraguan celebration for the Virgin Mary. Festivities include local families fashioning altars in their living rooms. On the final day (December 8), many families open their homes at 6 PM to allow people to view the altar, sing songs and in return for their participation, receive candy, food and gifts. When we showed a little curiosity outside of a local home in San Juan del Sur, we were whisked in and invited to share in the celebration. When we left, the family literally ran after us insisting we take our Purisima gifts — maracas, noisemakers and lots of food. Generosity of spirit at its finest.
10. Nicaraguan Food
I'd be lying if I said you should go to Nicaragua for its cuisine. It's not bad, but it just doesn't feature the culinary diversity or flavor of Mexican or Peruvian food. While much Nicaraguan street food is fried, when you take a step up, you can get a lot of fresh seafood, beef, fruit and vegetables. So while we did eat our fair share of gallo pinto (beans and rice) — a Nicaraguan staple eaten morning, noon and night — we also chowed down on as much seafood, fruit and salads as we could. Don't expect much on the spice front. Keep your Spanish handy and ask often for salsa picante.
Another thing that surprised us on this visit: the quality of Nicaraguan beef. If you're a meat eater, give it a try, especially churrasco style beef served thinly sliced, grilled and often with a chimichurri sauce.
11. Early morning kayak ride on Lake Nicaragua
When you're on a quiet lake framed by a two-volcano backdrop and scattered with over 2,000 little islands, it's worth an early rise to hop in a kayak. Water birds, big and small, keep you company on shore and overhead you as you quietly paddle your way through caches of water lilies and scrubby isletas (small islands). This is their territory.
12. Bird puns
While getting close to the egret below during our kayak ride was memorable, what I'll recall most from this bird is Dan's commentary:
“I've done a lot in life. Although not everything has gone quite as I had planned, I can say I have no egrets.”
Groans. Smiles and laughter, too.
13. Catching my first tuna, old school style
I can count on one hand the amount of times I've gone fishing in my life; and even fewer fingers counting what I'd actually caught. So imagine my surprise (yes, there was a squeal) when my traditional fishing contraption — a flat wood spool wrapped with fishing line — almost jumped out of my hand. The result? This beautiful, though admittedly not enormous, tuna fish.
Maybe I should try fishing more often.
14. Oh, and did we mention the sunsets?
Yup, they're really that spectacular.
So, did Nicaragua surprise you like it surprised us?
19 thoughts on “Nicaragua Vacation Refresh: Fourteen Memories”
Beautiful photos! Loved Dan’s pun. And so glad Audrey could catch a tuna. It looks so beautiful..no matter that it isn’t huge. Who cares? Did you get to eat your tuna?
Wow what beautiful photos! I’m a big fan of Nicaragua myself!!!
The sunset photo is just too amazing…I loved the beauty of sunset always and would like to try Nicaragua next year
I visited Nicaragua five times over the years, the last time back in 1999. I’m returning sometime in late spring and really looking forward to see how it’s changed over the last dozen years.
Yes! It surprised me so much, I decided to stay for 4 months. When before it was barely on my itinerary. Looks like you guys are having a blast. 🙂
@Sutapa: Dan is the master of puns and wordsmithing. Always keeps me on my toes 🙂 I ended up giving the tuna to a Canadian family who was on the boat with us as we had to leave shortly afterwards for Managua. The restaurant grilled it for them and we were able to get a bite before we left – delicious!!
@Andi: We keep finding more and more Nicaragua fans 🙂 I can understand why!
@Rachel: If you like the outdoors, then you definitely won’t be bored in Nicaragua – from volcano climbing to kayaking to surfing. Enjoy it!
@Bob: I’m really curious to hear your impressions of how Nicaragua has changed from your last visit. I imagine some things will be very different – Grenada with its colorful paint and renovated buildings and cute shops. But much will be similar once you get outside of the towns. Enjoy your trip!
@Matthew: Isn’t it funny how that happens? A place that was originally just planned as a stopover just draws you in and keeps you. I can definitely see returning to Nicaragua again…
@Sofie: Glad we could help inspire and influence the ol’ bucket list!
Wauw. You just moved Nicaragua a bit up on my bucket list! Love your elaborate report. Thanks for that!
Thanks so much for your articles on Nicaragua. I’ll be visiting in January and si excited. I liked your article about Cerro Negro so much I plan to do the same trek with quetzal trekkers.
My only concern is the mosquitos. I read on the CDC website there is some malaria in parts of the country including Leon Province where we wanted to go for the hikes. It is low relative risk, but still the first time ill be traveling to any country with any malaria risk at all. Also I read there is risk of dengue fever in all central America now. I kind of started to panic.
My question is, are there many mosquitos thus time if year? I read they are only there un the rainy season so not now, and that was the experience I had in Costa rica last year around this time. Were you concerned about these risks and did you take a anti-malarials? I would really prefer not to take them if I can avoid it, and might even alter the trip plans slightly to minimize risk, but I wanted to get your take on IT since you’re currently traveling there.
@Janna: You’ll have a wonderful time with Quetzal Trekkers – such a great organization!
As for your questions about mosquitos. We didn’t take any anti-malaria medicine when we visited Nicaragua in 2009 & 2012 and didn’t hear of anyone catching malaria. As for dengue, this is more prevalent in the rainy season when there is lots of stagnant water (their favorite breading grounds) around. The rainy season is more in June/July/August so I think you’ll be OK right now with the mosquitos.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you get to Nicaragua and you are concerned, you can always go to a pharmacy and get some anti-malaria medicine – it’s over the counter and inexpensive. And, I believe that Central American countries still can use Chloroquine instead of one of the heavy duty medicines you need for Africa.
Enjoy your trip!
Thanks so much for your response! I feel relieved. That’s what I was thinking but its good to hear from people who were there. I suppose we will spray our clothes b4 we go just in case and bring repellant + long sleeve light clothing, then see what the situation is there if we need to buy a bed net or medicine. I’ve heard about the side effects and would rather not put that in my body if the risks are pretty low based on the country itself and going in the dry season.
I just spent two weeks in Nicaragua at a Spanish school. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see much of the country – only the town my school was in. But looking forward to exploring more one day. The beaches look beautiful!
@Janna: You’re taking the right precautions with long sleeve light clothing, wearing pants at dusk, and using repellant. Remember that malaria mosquitos bite at dusk so you don’t have to worry as much about daytime mosquitos. I believe that Central American malaria still responds well to Chloroquine (we picked up some when in Honduras) which is the least “chemical” of the anti-malarial medicines and side effects are rather limited (unlike larium or mefloquin). Enjoy your trip!
@Rebecca: The great thing is that when you do return to Nicaragua you’ll have some Spanish under you’re belt and you’ll be able to talk with people and enjoy the rest of the country that much more. In addition to the beaches, I’d recommend Leon (and the volcanoes around there), Esteli, Isla de Ometepe.
I love the photo of you on the horse! 🙂 I’d love to ride horses everywhere, it’s so much fun!
Equine & Rally Enthusiast
@Cat: If you like riding horses, then Nicaragua would definitely be a good vacation spot for you. Lots of open beaches to enjoy atop a horse.
@Audrey: Thanks! I’ll put it on the list I’m compiling… “places to go after you quit your job with no plan” (I’m serious even though it sounds crazy).
We loved Nicaragua too! We were beached out too from San Juan Del Sur, so headed to Ometepe for some trekking and farming! Alongside Guatemala its our favourite country in Central America! Thanks for the other tips if we ever return!
@Cat: Nope, that list doesn’t sound at all crazy to me 🙂 I’d also add climbing volcanoes in the northern part of the country to the list as well!
@Barry: Ometepe is a great area. On our last visit we spent a few days on a simple guesthouse with an organic farm. Can definitely see why Guatemala and Nicaragua are at the top of the list for Central American favorites!
Couldnâ€™t agree more about that cold beer to add to the experience. Nice addition