Day tour to Nicaragua

Masaya Travel Blog

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Sunrise in Costa Rica

A bus picked us up at 6:00 this morning.  It should be a 2.5 hour ride to the Nicaraguan border.   At least is was all along the Pan-American Highway so it’s paved, but still lots of potholes. 

As we pulled up to the border crossing there was a line of semi trucks over 2 Kilometers long.  Those truckers will be waiting for hours and sometimes multiple days just to cross the border.  As we got out of our van it was pure chaos.  People everywhere trying to “help.”  One man came up and started filling out papers for us to cross.  This was great, but of course there is a price 2,000 Colones ($4).  Another man wanted to exchange US dollars for Nicaraguan Cordobas.  Exchange rate was $1 for 21 Cordobas which was accurate, but we didn’t even know if we would need Cordobas, everything was included in our tour price.

First view of Lake Nicaragua

                Luckily our Nicaraguan guide met us at the border on the Costa Rica side so he could help us through the madness.  Later we’ll find out he is not suppose to be there but if you know the migration officers you can bend the rules.  He had given one guy a coke cola so he could meet us on our side.  On the return at night they don’t accept wrinkled bills to pay the border tax, but because our guide did not ask for a receipts they accepted our payment. 

                In order to leave Costa Rica we needed to wait in line for an exit stamp.  However our guide pulls through and gets us at the front of the line ahead of a big tour bus that just arrived.

Rivas, Nicaragua
  After the stamp our taxi drove us 100 meters to the gate we would walk through and to Nicaragua customs.  Again more lines and our guide getting us through.  The tax to go to Nicaragua will cost about $26 per person and you can only pay in US dollars no matter what side of the border you are coming from.  Once through we had a regular taxi waiting for us and only had to show our passport three more times.

                Our guide was a well educated, biligual guide from Rivas, Nicaragua.  He was excellent to have, knew lots of history of Nicaragua and the towns we visited and could answer most questions.

Cantena, Nicaragua. Water Volcano behind us.
  He was also very respectful.  He would pay for all meals and tours would wait to keep us company but then would leave when food arrived so we could have some alone time as well.  He said he was very surprised to see us because he was told he had two American tourists and normally for the time of year (very slow) he may get an old couple every now and then.  But to find a young couple he was very excited about and we were able to connect with quite a few things.

                After making it through the border we drove to our first destination, Rivas.  Along the way we could see the difference in the two countries.  Geography was still very similar; Volcanoes, mountains, rainforests etc.

Masaya Market place Che's painting and other souvenirs
  The difference was we were driving through some plains converted to pastures on the Nicaragua side.  The road was much better as well.

                It also appeared that Nicaragua had more visible poverty than Costa Rica.  We say many more people using horses for transportation and ox carts rather than cars.  When we arrived in Rivas there were a lot of tricycle taxies (I don’t remember the name of them but I’ve seen lots of pictures from travbuddies traveling in south east Asia).

                Rivas was a good sized town.  Our guide also explained that it was the birthplace of Nicaraguan nationality.

Masaya Volcano. See the toxic gas?
  Legend talks about the two tribes living on the coast of Lake Nicaragua, both had escaped the Mayans of the north and were now fighting over the land.  The chief of the original tribe’s name was Nicarua.  They negotiated peace to live together, the people chose for the leaders to share leadership and they named their land Nicaragua (the feminine version of the Chief’s name).

                We stopped for breakfast at a Cuban restaurant.  We were starving, it was about 11:00am.  I still ordered the Nicaraguan breakfast (I had to, I’m only here for one day) which was very similar to Costa Rica; rice, beans, eggs, plantains and coffee.  It was pretty good, salty but I think that was just the individual restaurant.

Warning, you are breathing in poison. Leave after 20 min!
 

                Back into the car and off to Masaya.  Maybe a 40 minute ride with a couple stops.  1stwe stopped in Cantena, an Indian village on the edge of a volcano.  However this was a dormant water volcano, meaning the cone had caved in and it was now a large lake in the crated.  Around the village were many stands of souvenirs, but we saved our shopping for later.  It was a very cute little town but with a one day tour there was much to do, much to see and so little time.  So onward we go.

                We arrived in Masaya around 12:15 and had a buffet lunch.

The cross on top of Masay Volcano
  We were told that Nicaraguans’ eat very large lunches and little for dinner, which was difficult for us since we just filled up on breakfast a little more than an hour ago.  But it was lunch time, so we filled our plates with rice, beans, chicken and plantain and stuffed ourselves.  I definitely felt like the stereotypical American overeating.

                At 1:00 we made it to the Masaya market.  The market was outdoors but fenced in with walls that looked like they were from a castle.  We had one hour to find our Nicaragua souvenir.   There were a lot of great items including clothing, carvings, paintings, weavings, pottery and the token shot glasses, etc.

the cross
  Quite a few things had images of Che Guevarra in his famous revolutionary pose.  Brenda got a pretty woven shirt and I got my postcards for my classroom and patch for my backpack.  Together we spent maybe $16.  The market was cool but lots of alley ways that could be confusing if you were not careful.

                We moved on to an extra side trip that was not included.  We had to pay $10 to go to the top of Masaya Volcano.  This was very cool.  Its last (big) eruption was in the 1700’s but it is still active throwing rocks out rarely and toxic fumes continuously seeping out.  We were allowed to drive right up to the crater and look inside.

cruising by the archipelagos in Lake Nicaragua
  We also tried climbing up to the cross (replica) that was put in the ground at the peak but the fumes were too strong and we started choking.  There are many signs warning you to stay no longer than 20 minutes because of the gasses.

                Historically the natives would offer human sacrifices any time it started grumbling.  They called the volcano the “gates of Hell” believing that the noises were sounds from a horrible demon.  They would sacrifice young children or maidens by throwing them into the volcano.  When the Spanish arrived and heard the stories they had a cross placed at the peak over the cone to “exercise” the demon.

Old church building in Grenada
  There has been no major eruption since.

                On the drive down you would notice the rock from old lava flows on either side of the road and in the distance you could see Lake Managua which has the capitol city on its shores. 

                Twenty minutes away was our last stop, Grenada.  Like Rivas, Grenada is located on Lake Nicaragua.  Grenada is the oldest colonial town still settled in all of Central America.  Leon in Nicaragua was settled earlier but was moved because of too much destruction from earthquakes.

                Grenada is also the location of the old capital when William Walker (from the US) came to Nicaragua in the 1850’s.

  He declared himself president and wanted to return slavery to Nicaragua.  This sparked a Civil War fought in the areas we visited and we also saw his home in Grenada.  There were pictures of him, Cornelius Vanderbilt and another American; I assume all three were connected in this historical event.

                As we came into Grenada we drove by a few historical buildings, but otherwise straight to the lake.  Lake Nicaragua is the second largest in all of Latin America behind Lake Titicaca.  It is filled with hundreds of islands from volcanic eruptions and is unique because even though it is a fresh water lake it contains salt water fish like barracuda, hammerhead sharks and jellyfish.

300 year old hospital

                The water in the lake was warm.  We took a boat ride and of course their were seats for maybe 20 people, but we were the only ones on the boat.  We cruised around one of the archipelagos and saw some of the richest homes in Nicaragua.  One was for sale along with the island for $5 million.  It was currently owned by the former President of Nicaragua.  During the week the homes are cared for my maids (a few of which were in the lake washing their laundry on a few rocks with the water).  We also went up to “monkey island” which is home to about 12 spider monkeys.

                The boat ride was very nice and calming, although it was also short.

Our friendly drivers.
  Next it was to our last activity of the day, a carriage ride in a horse drawn buggy.  It was just Brenda and I on the ride (our guide stayed back to give us some space) however as the driver gave us all the history of the historic buildings surrounding us, my limited Spanish was not able to stay caught up and I wished our guide was their to help us out.  We did go by a 300 year old hospital and other cool buildings.  We also learned anyone can build in the city as long as they preserve the historical structures around them. 

                At about 5:30 it was time to drive back to the chaos of the border and things were just as chaotic as we left it.  However this time it was only $5 to leave Nicaragua.

heavy traffic in Grenada

Nicaragua Reflections

For only one day Nicaragua left a good impression on me.  Unlike Costa Rica tourism is their #3 industry but they are trying to improve it as they see how ecotourism can benefit them and help fights their war on poverty.  The people were very nice and once we were away from the border there was never a moment we felt unsafe.

Baseball is their #1 sport and anyone who wants a better opportunity should learn English in the country.  However there were still fewer people with English skills in comparison to Costa Rica.

Kids attended school for 5 hours per day, 7-12 or 12:30-5:30.

Why is it the currencies in Nicaragua and Costa Rica are named after Spanish Conquistadors.

  I would think the history that Columbus and Cordoba brought to Central America would be looked down upon by so much of the population that they would refuse to use a currency named after those explorers.  I think I’m missing something.

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Sunrise in Costa Rica
Sunrise in Costa Rica
First view of Lake Nicaragua
First view of Lake Nicaragua
Rivas, Nicaragua
Rivas, Nicaragua
Cantena, Nicaragua.
Water Volcano…
Cantena, Nicaragua. Water Volcan…
Masaya Market place
Ches paintin…
Masaya Market place Che's painti…
Masaya Volcano.  See the toxic gas?
Masaya Volcano. See the toxic gas?
Warning, you are breathing in pois…
Warning, you are breathing in poi…
The cross on top of Masay Volcano
The cross on top of Masay Volcano
the cross
the cross
cruising by the archipelagos in La…
cruising by the archipelagos in L…
Old church building in Grenada
Old church building in Grenada
300 year old hospital
300 year old hospital
Our friendly drivers.
Our friendly drivers.
heavy traffic in Grenada
heavy traffic in Grenada
bouts on shores of Lake Nicaragua
bouts on shores of Lake Nicaragua
Enjoying our carriage ride
Enjoying our carriage ride
Masaya Volcano
Masaya Volcano
Masaya
photo by: keef_mon