by Phil Mines, UK, Janv 08


Somoto Nicaragua

General description: Small sized Northern town. Clean, pleasant & famous for corn rosquillas. A newly "discovered" canyon is beginning to bring visitors otherwise a great place to stop before/after crossing the border.

How to get there: Buses from/to Esteli hourly. The bus station is one of the most relaxed I have visited. To reach the town walk out from the bus station cross the road towards the petrol station and head towards the church tower. It is an easy 10min stroll

The Town: One bank no ATM. Central Plaza, church, basketball court. Probably only 3 or 4 blocks either way.Not much to do more a stop over than a specific destination unless you are visiting the canyon but pleasant enough.

Where to stay: Only 2 places Hotel Colonial south of the Plaza/church overpriced (up to $35) but the most upmarket in town. Better value and nicer is Hostal Panamericano on the Plaza. Up to $12. Very friendly & helpful can arrange guides etc but rather sad monkey at the back along with racoons and a happier smaller monkey).

Where to eat: Quite a few fritangas for such a small town set up in the evening. Comedor El Bambu is good value when open. Also on the same street as the bank another reasonable comedor.

What to do: Visit the canyon (get a guide), buy/eat rosquillas, watch the kids play basketball opposite the Church.


Esteli Nicaragua

General description: Reasonable sized Northern town with strong Sandinista roots.

How to get there: Buses from Managua every 30 minutes. Also expressos from and to Leon (a regular one leaves about 9.30 am from the north terminal). There are two bus stations both on the Pan American about 100m from each other. The southern is smaller and better organised but more buses come and go from the north.Most main destinations are served by both though so you will need to check both for times etc. The north terminal is not easily visible from the road and you need to walk behind what appears to be a derelict office.
Both stations are a little out of the main town (C$15-C$20 in collectivo to the Parque Central). You could try a long dusty walk along the Pan American turning left at the only set of traffic lights on the road until you bump into the main south/north route to the plaza.

The Town: Working town with a good feel to it.The town itself is centred away from the Pan American. There appears to be a one way system to the Parque Central/Plaza/Cathedral. The South to North (in) has the most restaurants, bars etc and arrives at the south western side of the Plaza.There is a bank with an ATM in this road. When you arrive you will not be greeted with the best aspect of the town.Head to the plaza/cathedral area.

Where to stay: Plenty of accommodation and all relatively cheaper than further south. The accommodation on the highway near the bus stations are overpriced and pretty ropey.Try Hotel Nicarao & Hotel Esteli on the main south/north street or others to the south of the Plaza.East from the plaza 1 block is El Chico. More expensive 1 block north of the Plaza but nice is El Meson also the first "backpacker" style hostel on the opposite corner (looks like a posh coffee bar).

Where to eat: Plenty of soup restaurants, comedors, fried chicken bars and a few fritangas around the main square in the evening. Definitely worth a beer or more time at Bar Rincon Legal, 1 block west of the main north/south street at about calle 8 or 9. It's like a Sandinista theme bar.

What to do: Visit Bar Rincon, buy cigars if that is your thing, visit a science park (no really) wander around taking in Sandinista murals.


Laguna de Apoya

How to get there: By Bus from Masaya, 3 buses a day, 1 is very early about 6am the other is at 10.30 am and another mid afternoon. There are more frequent busses to the crater rim and you will need to walk down the hill.You could get a shuttle bus from Hotel Oasis or the Bearded Monkey in Granada. You can apparently walk from Granada cemetery approx 2 hours. I met a Texan who did this.

Where to stay: From the bottom of the hill clockwise. Monkey Hut, this is on the LP package tour and fun if you like that kind of thing.Dorm $10 upwards with rooms up to $75. Takes day trippers. Craters Edge, this is for the grown ups. Rooms $20 to $45, a great dorm at $11also takes day trippers. If you are lucky you will be here when they serve their famous "Canadian banoffee pie" your mouth will love you for ever.Free internet. Both places have websites. Moving on take a right at a children's playground down a slope and past 4 or 5 comedors to the Spanish school which apparently also rents rooms. There are two other more expensive options.

Where to eat: Either where you stay or there are a few comedors by the lake towards the Spanish School. The last one (not surprisingly) is probably the best and cheapest.Despite being in the middle of nowhere there are touts outside the first two, ignore them.

What to do: The area is often visited at weekends by locals from Granada best pick other days. Hang out in hammocks, walk, swim in a warm lake in a jungle in the crater of a volcano.Wake up to howlers, watch wildlife, kayak. Watch the locals fish in the morning they sit astride planks and use lines. The method looks like they are waving for help they are probably not. A nice place to stop for a night at least you could end up staying longer.


Poneloya/Las Penitas

How to get there: By Bus from León Leaving from El Mercado in Subtiava (western side of León). Departures every 30-60 minutes from 4:30 AM to 6:00 PM. Approximately 45 minutes to the last stop in Las Peñitas. (Do not get off during the 5 minute rest stop in Poneloya). You will pass Oasis on the right and the last stop is right in front of Barco.

Swim/Surf: Seems fine at Las Penitas although there is a rip especially as the tide turns out. I suspect that the majority of drownings happen Sunday afternoons when the locals come from Leon and drink too much. I surfed (and swam) here and I am not a great surfer and a few years past my best (at 47). As ever if nobody else is in there may be a reason.

Where to stay: Most gringos stay at the fishing village of Las Penitas (it is much nicer). Prices have jumped but there are a number of places. "Oasis" is on the beach with a backpacker/surfer crew, French owned. foam mattresses.& possibly overpriced at up to $25 . La Samaki 50 yards on around the corner $20 has website Canadian owned (lots of "Canadians" in Nicaragua) looks a little uninviting but clean. Barco Oro is also French owned up to $20 and the nicest deal. 20 yards further on is Patricia's which is work in progress but has potential.

Where to eat: There is a shortage of options other than those places above. Oasis probably has the cheaper menu, Barco the better. there are a few bars that may or may not be open. You will probably eat where you stay. La Samaki would be nice for a drink or two if only they made the place a little bit more inviting. Tell them if you visit.

What to do: Hammocks, surf (there is a surf school but they were more keen on lessons than renting boards both Oasis and Barco have a couple to rent ), visit the wildlife reserve, walk along the beach, watch wildlife especially birds watch the local kids play baseball on the beach in front of Barco in the evening, watch the fishermen launch their boats between the rocks or help push the boats over the sand when the tide is out.It's the kind of place you could do nothing for a while and really enjoy.


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