Río Estanzuela

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    • Day 328

      V. CA Nicaragua/W2, 7d: León-Estelí EN

      July 23, 2017 in Nicaragua ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

      Sa, 22.07. Granada-Managua-León
      Saturday morning I first went from Granada via 1h Colectivo Minibus to the UCA bus terminal in Managua. Nicaragua's capital is another big, supposedly quite dangerous city and was thus only used to change buses - having incredibly nice blue-sky weather we already passed the Laguna de Managua with its impressive Momotombo Volcano which you can also do from León. From the same terminal (that was the reason for which I chose to take the only slightly more expensive Colectivos instead of chicken buses) it was then another 1,5h drive in the 42* super hot and close to the Pacific located town of León.

      León is Nicaragua's former capital with the biggest and oldest church Basílica de la Asuncion of Central America. It is a really pitoresque town but I preferred Granada - it is quieter, not as hectic and above all not as incredibly hot :P Addresses in León are also quite interesting, my hostel was located 'half a quarter from hotel Europa' :P
      Very close you can find the old León Viejo that has been destroyed completely by an eruption of Momotombo Volcano and where I also finally found home-made Nacatamales, written on a small sign on a family's house; well it was also finally Saturday and they were very delicious :)
      After eventually arriving in Nicaragua's main volcanic region I immediately informed myself about my options: with the volcanoes Momotombo, Asososca, El Hoyo, Cerro Negro, San Cristobal and Cosigüina (from South to North) you really have too many choices - but unfortunately you need a guide or tour in most cases which are by far the most expensive here in León. Momotombo Volcano close to the capital Managua was quickly done, being too dangerous and currently forbidden due to its volcanic activity. The two volcanoes Asososca and El Hoyo were not interesting for me as there was nothing special about them. San Cristobal Volcano, with 1,720m Nicaragua's highest and also most difficult one to climb - the reason why I really wanted to do it - was not possible due to my usual problem: in most cases you need at least 4 people or some do it for 2 at double the price but as so many times before there were no more interests in the whole big city :( Cosigüina Volcano on the Cosigüina Peninsula was quite far away and only worth with an overnight stay - something I prefer to do in Guatemala where it is supposed to be better and also cheaper. So there were only the fortunately cheapest but also absolute touri volcanoes left - Telica Volcano for sunset and Cerro Negro for Volcano Boarding :O
      That being said the tour to the 1,601m high active Telica Volcano started around 2pm (the last two eruptions were in 2011 and 2015). After a 2h very bumpy drive through lush green forest we hiked for around 1h 400m up via black volcanic stones to the rim of the crater and I was more than happy as this was not only the very first day after more than 5 months without a single drop of rain but also after so many volcanoes the first one I could indeed fully see and without any clouds and where I also really saw the crater :))) The crater was located at an altitude of 800m with 700m width, 120m depth and a lot of smoke. We spent 2h there, visited a bat cave, enjoyed a nice sunset with view of San Cristobal Volcano and even saw some lava in the crater (apart from Masaya Telica is the only volcano in Nicaragua where you can indeed see lava) ;) We then had a torch 1h night walk back under an amazing sky full of stars with shooting stars and glow worms and then had another 38km/2h bus ride back to León over very bumpy gravel roads.

      Su, 23.07. León: Volcán Cerro Negro & Playa LPeñitas
      After a yummy thick banana pancake with butter and a lot of syrup I had enough energy to start the Volcano Boarding adventure around 8am ;)
      After a 1h drive through already dark black volcanic landscape we reached Cerro Negro, with only 500m Nicaragua's smallest and youngest but also most interesting and active volcano - there is no other place in the world where you can surf down an active volcano with an average speed of 60km/h (the record of 72km/h was made by a crazy Dutch who broke is arm in the end :P) :) Again I could hardly believe how lucky I was with the weather being superb with no clouds, blue sky as well as a lot of sunshine and the tour was worth it alone for the surrounding contrasted landscape with super green grassland and dark black volcanic stones which we could fully enjoy after a 45min hike. Despite steep and loose volcanic stones the way was good, the challenge was rather the board which was quite heavy for me as well as the strong wind almost blowing my weight into the crater :P The volcanic activity could also be felt by putting your hand over the ground and thanks to the eruptions (the last one was in 1991 quite a while ago) the soil is very fertile, there is even eucalyptus growing here.
      After enjoying the view of all the other volcanoes as well as the 3 craters we got ready for our 2min sitting surfing down the 45* steep hill - super sexy in blue overalls, face protection, goggles and gloves; it seemed to be a lot worse from the top and also the bottom but the speed was indeed very manageable and it was an awesome and above all new and truly unique experience :)))
      After a short fruit snack with watermelon and banana we went to a bar having a good papaya juice before I escaped León's heat and spontaneously took a 35mins chicken bus to the Pacific beaches Poneloya/Las Peñitas. Oh the chicken buses, I just love them: being again the only Gringa amongst a lot of locals and kids we even had amazing, already 5months of my travel accompanying Spanish music such as Despacido and Enamorado. The beach itself was super relaxing with high waves where you could watch the surfers - nice and good to relax after my 6 volcano experiences - but unfortunately with a lot of plastic.
      On the way back there was a mum breastfeeding next to me and it was again squeezed to the ultimum - 3 Sabrinas on a bench are fine but usually only 2 Nicas; well or 3 Nicas with a super squeezed Gringa :P

      I really enjoyed León as an absolute volcano region where I even saw them all thanks to good weather - it was just a shame that I couldn't do San Cristobal and as the heat was getting too much for me I needed a cooler region again and thus decided to move on to the mountain region Matagalpa located in the north the next day.

      Mo, 24.07. León-Matagalpa: Selva Negra
      With an extremely luxurious chicken bus incl big luggage storage, seat numbers and even flatscreen I continued to Matagalpa the next morning.
      Known as 'la Perla del Septentrión', the Pearl of the North, the Nicas like the city above all because of its relatively cool climate in a country usually having 30* plus temperatures and often also name it 'tierra fria' (cold land). It is a small quiet town located in blue-green mountains and surrounded by many coffee farms and thus immediately also cooler and windier. The region is also not that touristy with only a few hostels, a bit dearer but rather poorer with a lot of plastic in the streets. On the main square Parque Morazán you can also find with Catedral de San Pedro an unusual built church with the tower and entrance facing away from the park and Parque Darío is also quite nice. The region is above all known for its coffee, cacao as well as corn cultivation and exists of the 3 towns San Ramón (where everything began with a butterfly and frog house), Jinotega with Peña del Cruz and Matagalpa itself with Apante viewpoint.

      However and by far the best excursion here is 'Selva Negra' (Black Forest named by German immigrants due to its similar landscape and climate) located half an h north of Matagalpa towards Jinotega - the German influence is just everywhere :P It is unique with a nice climate, 80 types of orchids as well as a lot of birds, mountain lions, deers and even monkeys and slots. There is even a hotel and restaurant with Nica and German food as well as nice short to long hikes which you can group together.
      So what do you do when you miss home? You drive to the Black Forest, first walk totally romantic and then super exhausting with Peter & Helen to or rather through Bavaria before heading back to the beaches of the lake via the fountain of youth with typical houses and Austrian Franz & Sissi in the background :)
      Some km within 2.5h through amazing forests but via super muddy paths - of course with at least 3 difficult ways, one medium one and 3 easy ones as relaxation. It was also quite deep and up to 1,536m high and the name is quite right - it was super dark in the forest so that I could really understand the recommendations about taking a torch and being out before 4 or 5pm :P I then still visited the orchid garden and bird path before heading back in the evening.

      Tu, 25.07. Matagalpa: Cerro Apante - Estelí
      On Tuesday morning I went to Cerro Apante with a French girl, a viewpoint with a roughly 1-1.5h cross path located in a Nature Reserve only 10min from the centre south of Parque Darién and with 1,150m one of the region's highest mountains. As a result the way was quite steep and especially slippery but in the end was definitively worth it with a nice view over all the mountains, coffee region, Matagalpa with the cathedral being super white illuminated by the sun as well as Mirador Cerro El Calvario.
      Around noon I took the unfortunately super packed chicken bus at the beginning even standing 2h further north to Estelí, already located quite close to the Hondurian border. The city was surprisingly warmer than expected with a nice market and main square but for me it was only about organising and hammock that day :O

      We, 26.06. Estelí: Cañon de Somoto
      After a free typical Nica breakfast = Gallo Pinto (rice and black beans with scrambled eggs and tortilla) included in the hostel price I was ready to take the 2h chicken bus to Somoto located in very green lush mountains pretty close to the Hondurian border and then from there another half an h chicken bus to the famous Cañon de Somoto - an unbelievably nice gorge perfect for canyoning. Equipped with just a bikini, life vest and water-suitable running shoes we first hiked almost 2h through stunning scenery to the canyon where we then started with climbing over stones, rocks, rivers with swimming, floating and up to 20m high cliff jumps (well, only the guide was that crazy :P). Despite the cool weather the water was surprisingly warm but due to my missing weight and body temperature regulation I was freezing and quite happy about the sunbathing at the end and the nice boat ride and hike back where a really delicious lunch was already ready and prepared for us (cooked chicken with finally a lot of vegetables but for sure still the obligatory rice with beans and tortillas).
      The gorge itself and the canyoning were amazing - but that was my first tour where the transport was not included and had to be paid and even organised on my own with public transport. Moreover, the presumably so amazing guide was so under pressure that this was so far my most stressful and exhausting tour ever; even the food had to be eaten within 5mins. I am really happy that I don't let anyone stress myself anymore and take my time to take pictures and to enjoy it in general - in contrast to the guides I am only here once in my life , there has to be some time and well, the others have to wait then :P
      To sum up: amazing canyon and scenery but for the price of $25 badly organised and way too rushed.

      Th, 27.07. Estelí: Reserva Natural Miraflor
      What do you need after a super stressful and sporty day? Right, a good change with a lot of relaxation.
      I thus decided the next day to head to the Nature Reserve Miraflor, located only 28km north-east of Estelí with a size of 206ha and super cold at an altitude of up to 2,300m and to spend a night at a local family's home near La Rampla in order to have a nice ending and cultural exchange of my 2 weeks in Nicaragua.
      Miraflor was created by volcanic activity in a mountain region with 4 micro climates and is known for a rainforest-like scenery with many waterfalls and rivers. It is a protected area and there are around 6,000 people living in 53 communities in the region. The very fertile soil is especially used for the cultivation of corn, red beans, potatoes, yuca, sugar cane and coffee; there is a lot of milk production with the many cows and most people have horses. There are chicken and pigs freely walking around, many cats and dogs as well as unfortunately bugs and also snakes and skorpions - so better double-check the bed in the evening and thoroughly shake the shoes in the morning :P
      It was a 28km chicken bus ride via very poor and super steep gravel roads which also explained the 1.5-2h ride; but it was worth alone for the landscape. I was picked up by the 50y old Carlos incl dog and horse and had a quite luxurious horseback ride to his small stone house where he has been living self-sufficiently with a fruit and vegetable garden, fishes, chicken etc together with his wife and the 3 kids 15y old Carlos, 13y old Blanca and 9y old Juán for 5 years now (like many people in Northern Nicaragua they are originally from El Salvador). The ground in the house was pure soil with an outside toilet and shower; no running but only cold mountain water, hardly any electricity via solar panel (without sun), no Internet or WiFi and kitchen with open wooden fire - the pure rural experience ;)
      For only 300C/$10 I got a night and 4 meals as well as free organic coffee and water here and the money went completely and directly to the family. The food was fully self-made and consisted of beans, scrambled eggs, cheese, 2 tortillas (breakfast), rice, potatoes, vegetables, tortilla (lunch) as well as rice, beans, eggs, cheese, tortilla (dinner). In the morning I went with Blanca to the school and fincas and in the afternoon had a waterfall hike to Poza de Pila with Carlos and his youngest incl horse - again on private ground, i.e. 30C entrance fee and only possible with a $10 guide :P After that I saw how to do coffee and tortillas before relaxing in the hammocks well protected against the wind and with warm clothes - for me also really necessary as I already had a small cold due to the many climate changes within the last few days.

      Fr, 28.07. Estelí: Reserva Natural Tisey-Estanzuela
      Typical for rural life the evenings end quite early around 8/9pm and start super early around 5am in the morning - I am usually used to it but I really don't know when was the last time that I slept longer than 5:30/6:00am :P However, there are only 3 buses going back to Estelí per day so that I could really only take the one at 7am. After a typical breakfast like the day before with again Gallo Pinto, scrambled eggs, cheese and tortilla I took the 2h chicken bus back to civilization :)
      Back in Estelí being only 28km away but immediately a lot warmer I then visited the 35m high waterfall La Estanzuela in the same named nature reserve Reserva Natural Tisey-Estanzuela with a Mirador you can even see the volcanoes of El Salvador, good weather provided.
      After that it was just an orga day (El Salvador preparation, bank, (super-)market; pictures, collages, travel diary; washing, cleaning, packing) as well as hammock and finally relaxing :)

      Talking about finances Nicaragua is one of the cheaper countries in Central America so that these two weeks and especially after Costa Rica and Panama were finally again better for my budget. In total I spent around 383€ in the 14 days roughly 20€/d, was thus with 13€/d below my budget and could kind of equalize the higher expenses I had in Costa Rica and Panama ;)
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    You might also know this place by the following names:

    Río Estanzuela, Rio Estanzuela

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