Day tour to Nicaragua
Masaya Travel Blog› entry 13 of 16 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.