This summer I was lucky enough to travel around Nicaragua in Central America with my friend Emily. This is a map of Nicaragua, and if you look closely, the pink splodges are the places I visited:
The route we decided to take led us up to León, out to the beach, south to San Juan del Sur, across to the Isle de Ometepe, and then back up to Managua. Here is my trip diary:
Wednesday 13th July
The moment I had cleared Managua airport and stepped out onto Nicaraguan soil, Emily and I hopped straight into a taxi. There is little to do in Managua, so we decided to start our journey a two-hour-drive North West of the airport, in León.
After a long sleep to get over the jet lag, we set off on our day sightseeing around León.
We found a local shop selling some towels that Emily wanted, and navigated our way around the grid of roads. The town is quite small and it was easy to walk around without needing public transport – but you probably don’t need much more than a day to fit in everything you want to see.
It was really hot in the city and we were recommended a traditional canteen to visit for lunch. You could pick as many dishes as you wanted from a food counter and the price of your meal depended on what you selected. I chose a spoonful of about four different dishes, including chicken fajitas, roasted veg, beans and a fried burrito filled with cheese. I think it cost less than $1.50, and it was so big I couldn’t finish it all!
Next, we climbed up to the roof of the Cathedral. You must remove your shoes to walk on the bright white roof, and you aren’t permitted to climb onto the domes – something that Emily and i were told off for! (Tourist activities are all very safe because you can go to prison if a visitor dies or gets injured on a site that you are running.)
The bright white rooftop was really pretty, and a great backdrop for photos!
We then proceeded to part two of our Nicaraguan culture tour and went to an art gallery. We were only people there… so it was very different to the National Gallery which was the last gallery I went to!
In the evening, we were very much in the right place at the right time. We ventured across the road from where we were staying to Bigfoot Hostel, and were invited to play a game of beer pong with the bar staff there (I’m excellent at beer pong by the way!) The staff then invited us to go salsa dancing with them in a big group that they were assembling.
The bar we went to holds salsa nights, and it was packed full of travellers and locals alike. You could easily spot the locals from the first-timers: the locals were astonishing to watch and moved very gracefully and effortlessly, unlike the first-timers such as myself who were looking at our feet most of the time! I’m pleased to say that I think I mastered the very basic steps, (forwards, backwards, side to side, and being twirled) and had a few good dances.
Friday 15th July
Today we went Volcano boarding up the Volcano Negro. Most hostels run volcano boarding trips where you can have one run down the volcano, but we booked with Quetzeltrekkers, who are a non-profit volunteer-run organisation based in León. With them, you get two trips up and down the volcano, snacks, lunch and two litres of water for the same price as you would pay for one run with a hostel.
Emily and I sat at the back of the truck, so I felt a bit sick from the bouncing motion as the truck rebounded off the bumpy road. Fortunately this passed in time for us to be loaded up with a heavy rucksack and volcano board to trek to the summit of the volcano.
The trek to the top was quite hard work at first, but the breathtaking views made up for it. We had two stops on the way up, one to look at the views and to take a detour to see where the volcano was releasing sulphur, and the second one was to see a crater. It was beautiful and the first time I’ve climbed a volcano!
At the top, we stepped into special volcano boarding jumpsuits. Of course, mine was about five sizes too big for me and the gusset of the suit was down by my knees! This didn’t make a difference when we were sitting down on the boards, and it was probably a good thing that I had surplus fabric to protect me!
There were two tracks and you could board down in pairs. All you needed to know was that you had to keep your feet down flat on the ground and try to sit up straight (or lie back if you wanted to go faster). I wasn’t very good at steering and kept toppling to one side and falling off! I had a few good stretches where I managed to pick up some speed, and gave the others a show with my very dramatic finish where I rolled down the last few meters of the volcano! Fortunately, the worst injuries that Emily and I suffered were just a few scrapes and bruises.
We had a quick snack on the bus, and then set off for round two of the volcano surfing. This time, I decided to try out volcano running, which also meant that I could enjoy the hike more on the way up without the weight of the board and backpack behind me. The hike was much better, and not having the heavy weight meant that I could take in the scenery and get lots of photos!
Running down the side of the volcano was like nothing I’d done before – it wasn’t my average run home from work or jog across Wimbledon Common. I felt like I had more control than I did on the board, but I still wouldn’t have been able to stop if I’d wanted to because I was going so fast! It was an adrenaline fuelled day, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to do it.
Afterwards, we had burritos back at the ranch, and then jumped back into the truck to go back to León.
After the exertion of hiking and the adrenaline of the volcano boarding, we decided to get a taxi 30 minutes out of León to the beach. We found the small hotel on Air B&B, and I think it was one of the best places we stayed. It was right on the beach, with a really cool bar area and hammocks on the balcony next to the room. It also had a lovely sea breeze, which made a big difference from the stuffiness of León!
In the evening, we walked to a local restaurant and had lovely seafood with some fellow travellers.