What do you do when you only have a 90-day tourist visa for Costa Rica but want to stay 5 months? You take a short trip to Nicaragua. Why not Panama, the other neighboring country? Because Nicaragua is cheaper! This four-day trip, of which we spent almost two days solely with traveling, was probably the most touristic trip I’ve ever been on.
AFS, the organization I’m in Costa Rica with, organized this trip for all the volunteers who are staying in Costa Rica for a semester in order to get new visas. But of course we didn’t just sit around and wait for time to pass in Nicaragua, but we visited a lot of amazing places.
The Drive from San José, Costa Rica to Granada, Nicaragua
After one day of mid-stay orientation at the AFS office, we started our trip to Nicaragua early on Thursday (20. April) morning. We got picked up by a little tourist bus at our hostel. The driver, and of course the bus, would accompany us for the next four days. At the border, we had to show our passports at last 5 times to different officers. But we were able to enter the country without any complications.
In Nicaragua, for a long time, we drove along the shore Lake Nicaragua with its remarkable volcanic island. You can see the silhouettes of the two volcanos Concepción and the Maderas from far away.
We ate lunch at a restaurant from which we had a great view at the “Laguna de Apoyo”. From there it wasn’t far anymore from Granada, the colonial city with its Spanish charm where we would stay for the next 3 nights.
As soon as we arrived in Granada, we checked into the hotel, hopped into the pool for a quick swim before we were picked up by horse-carriages that gave us a ride around town. I apologize for the pictures. Most of them are not mine because I forgot my camera. How could I?
Driving through Granada I almost felt like I was in Spain a couple of times, which is because of its colonial architecture. And they’re working hard to keep their colonial architectural style. In the center of Granada, people are only allowed to build houses in the same style. However, not all Nicaraguans live in houses like that. On the way to Granda, we drove past many rural areas where people live in very simple houses or shacks.
Later that night evening we walked around a little more and visited a church. Just look at this ceiling painting. I’m not intending to make fun of it, but coming from Europe where I’m used to really old churches, this one looks more like a comic book painting to me. And the angel more like a comic book hero than a biblical creature.
A Boat Tour of the Islands of Granada
The first thing we did on the second day of the trip was a boat tour of the islands of Granada. There are about 365 small islands of volcanic origin off the shore of Grandad in Lake Nicaragua. On some of them live people. The interesting thing is the big difference of wealth of the inhabitants of the islands. Close to the shore, we drove past some islands with shacks and people fishing at the shore. Just a few islands away there were mansions of the rich and important. Even the president of Costa Rica owned such a summer house on an island in Granada.
But of course, the houses are not the only interesting thing about the Islands. There is also amazing wildlife and plants you can see on the islands and the water. For example, these two monkeys that were literally posing for our cameras.
Can you see these bag-ish looking kinds of things that are hanging from the tree in the picture above? Those are bird nests. Also some of us, including me, spontaneously jumped into the water for a swim.
Nicaragua – The Country of Volcanos
There is a belt of volcanos stretching all the way from the south of the country to the north. Currently, there are 19 active volcanos in Nicaragua so you can justifiably call it the land of the volcanos. We went to the crater of one of them – the Masaya Volcano. You can drive all the way up to the edge of the crater.
During the day you can see a thick cloud of smoke coming out of the crater and all the way down there you can get a glimpse of lava. You can’t only see the lava, but you can also hear it. It sounds like waves at the beach.
However, the most amazing time to go up on the volcano is definitely at night. Then you can really see the lava glow. It glows so strong that the whole crater is illuminated. I’ve never seen lava before so this was an unforgettable experience for me and probably the highlight of the trip to Nicaragua. Even thought the smoke was making my eyes and lungs burn I couldn’t take my eyes of this glowing liquid.
Managua – The Capital
On the same day, we also spent some time in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. It’s only about a 1-hour drive from Granada. There we learned some things about the turbulent history full of war and struggle. Coming from Costa Rica or Switzerland, both countries with a rather “smooth” past, you can’t even imagine what these people have gone though.
Since it was very hot, we refreshed ourselves by running through the fountains. We were having a really good time enjoying ourselves there when suddenly the water stopped running. As we left a couple of security or military guys came up to us and asked if we were some politically active or religious group trying to make a statement. That’s why they’d turned off the fountain. But no, we’re just some European kids trying to cool ourselves off.
After “the fountain incidence” we drove to a viewpoint on a hill in the center of the city with our wet clothes. In the sinking sun and the win they driedquickly.
This was probably one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever experienced. The feeling of the drying clothes and the warm breeze on my skin. The dull noise coming from the city below us. The sky changing its colors from blue to pink as the sun disappeared behind the hills in the dust. All I did was just standing at the fence and fully absorbing this moment.
Sadly we never got to walk through the streets of Managua. But from up here you could see that it’s a pretty green city with lots of trees and not many big and tall houses.
Shopping in Nicaragua because Everything is Cheaper
The third day of our trip was rather relaxed. After a tasty breakfast at our hotel, we spent all morning at the pool. And if this breakfast looks somehow familiar to you, that’s probably because it looks just like Costa Rican breakfast. There is also Gallo Pinto, which the Ticos are always so proud of, plantain and cheese, eggs, and fruits. Yes, maybe the cheese tasted a little different but other than that, it’s just like the breakfasts I ate in Costa Rica.
In the afternoon we went to do some shopping. At the artisanal market in Masaya, I bought an amazing necklace. Later we stopped at a supermarket to buy everyday things that we could get here for much cheaper than back in Costa Rica. I stacked up on Chewing gum and chocolate.
A Long Way Home
We spent pretty much the whole 4th day of our trip in the bus or queuing at the border. We left Granada at about 8 in the morning and arrived in San José at about 9 in the evening. Of this time we spent about 2 hours just waiting in line at the border in the burning sun. This explains our hats, fans, sunglasses, and water bottle on the picture. This was probably due to the fact that out of 7 border control booths, only 2 were open.
After having overcome the first obstacle on our way home, we also got into some bad traffic. What else would you have expected in Costa Rica? There is always bad traffic.
The last obstacle on our journey home was the thunderstorm that we got into. The storm was so strong that our driver needed to make a stop at a gas station because he was afraid that a tree would fall on our bus while driving through the forest. Whatsoever we all made it home, some on Sunday and some on Monday because they lived further away from San José.
So if you’re in Costa Rica, don’t hesitate to cross the border to Nicaragua and explore some of its beauty! It’s definitely worth it!
This is the 4th part of my post series about the trips and small adventures of my last 6 weeks. Stay tuned for more!