I'm saddened to say that in the months it's taken me to write this post, that the state of things in Nicaragua has taken a terrible turn. Up until April of this year, Nicaragua had been blossoming into a top tourism destination, shedding the dangerous reputation it earned following a bloody revolution in the 1990s. At this time (June/July 2018) all of Nicaragua's hotels have been forced to shut their doors indefinitely, as the country is once again an unsafe place for visitors (and more importantly, its own people).
Jason and I visited Nicaragua in early February of this year, after being in communication with the boutique hotel Meson Nadi about doing photography for the hotel. It was all the incentive I needed to finally make a trip to Central America, and we planned a two week trip split between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Nicaragua is what Costa Rica probably was like many, many decades ago, before all of the resorts and Wal-Marts moved in. Nicaragua is the kind of place where you can find yourself to be the only non-local on an entire beach, volcano, or colorful city street.
From Liberia, Costa Rica we caught a local bus to Peñas Blancas at the Nicaragua border. We crossed the border on foot, which was a fairly straightforward multi-step process not unlike arriving to an airport. Once in Nicaragua we caught another local bus, which was quite a bit rougher than the Costa Rican bus. After some confusion about which bus to take, then being sort of swindled into buying an invalid ticket, then being allowed on the bus anyway... we made it to the station at the town of Rivas. From Rivas we had to take a taxi, which we were skeptical about after the bus ride, but alas we made it to our final destination. Once there the taxi driver tried to swindle us as well, saying that the agreed fare of $50 for the trip was per person, even though we very clearly agreed beforehand the rate for the entire fare.
After that stressful trip from the border, we were in the best imaginable setting to relax and unwind. At last we had made it to Meson Nadi, a beautifully designed little beachside oasis on Nicaragua's pristine Emerald Coast.
I'm always trying to see and do as much as possible when I travel, so I'm always packing up and on to the next place after a couple of nights. Its not often that I have the luxury of spending 4 days at the same hotel, especially one as dreamy as Meson Nadi.
Everything at Meson Nadi is designed for maximum relaxation and enjoyment. The hotel's owners Saskia and Denis obsessively thought out every last detail of their hotel; modern-meets-native architecture that respects the natural environment, indoor/outdoor spaces within the common areas and rooms to bring the outdoors in and the indoors out (like the private outdoor shower in each room!), locally made furniture, soaps and tile, Nicaraguan art, and the cantina with the most gracious staff that cooks up three meals a day (açaí bowls with fresh tropical fruit... yummmm)!
Our first full day at Meson Nadi was dedicated entirely to relaxing and enjoying the hotel and nearby beach, Playa Santana. I wanted to surf while at Playa Santana, but found that the break was a heavy beach break—a bit too intense for me personally (more advanced short boarders were loving it!).
LAGUNA DE APOYO
Nicaragua has lakes within volcanoes, and volcanoes within lakes. I think there may even be a lake within a volcano that is within a lake...
Laguna de Apoyo is a lake in the crater of an extinct volcano. The lake is 4 miles across, 575 feet deep, 23,000 years old, and is today a natural reserve home to many flora and fauna. We visited the laguna as part of a Masaya day trip with our hotel, Meson Nadi.
From the top of the rim, the sight of Laguna de Apoyo was absolutely glorious, with the peak of Masaya Volcano peeking up in the distance (or is it Mombacho Volcano? It's hard to keep your volcanoes in order in Nicaragua, there are SO MANY).
The weather—as usual for Nicaragua this time of year— did not cooperate, and foiled our hopes of paddling kayaks in the lake. We visited the shore of the lake at Paradiso Hostel, where we sat above the beach for lunch. The food was cheap and tasty, but we felt the very strong hostel vibes—I'm not sure I'd seen such a populated hostel before, or such a large congregation of Western tourists anywhere else we visited in Nicaragua... not the vibe I was seeking.
Masaya Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America. On a clear day you can stand on the rim of the volcano, look inside, and see the bubbling hot lava within. We did not visit on such a day, so instead we could see only a thick, grey cloud of volcanic gases rising from within the caldera. Due to the high levels of toxic gases, the staff of the national park informed us that we needed to limit our visit to 15 minutes (I bet that if this volcano was in the states, the entire park would be closed due to the toxicity... these are the joys (and concerns) of traveling abroad. I stood on the rim, inhaling toxic egg and poison-smelling fumes for 30 minutes with hopes of the air clearing for a moment so I could peek that orange lava... no such luck.
LAS ISLETAS DE GRENADA
For our last two days of our Central America trip, I had booked us a stay on a private island in Lake Nicaragua. This sounds like something that might cost a fortune, but instead it was just $145 at the time we visited (it looks like the price has now dropped to just $75, in hopes of drawing tourists back after the political crisis).
The tiny island is just large enough to house the grounds of this little eco-lodge. The common areas (and pool!) of the lodge are perfectly situated on the edge of the island with a framed view of Mombacho volcano, which would provide a varying show throughout the day as the sun rose and set, and as clouds would blanket the volcano and dissolve. The entire island is under the canopy of giant mango trees, which would always be raining ripe, delicious mangoes. When a gust of wind would blow, it would sound like a shower of baseballs were being dropped from the sky. At all times you would have to carefully consider where you were sitting or lounging as not to have your relaxation interrupted by a mango to the head.
The lodge had complimentary kayaks available to use at anytime, so we took a paddle our each evening at sunset. I captured a lovely "dronie" drone video of Jason and me on the lake just as the sun dipped behind the volcano. An absolutely perfect end to our stay in Nicaragua.