Since my last article about Costa Rica I have moved from Montezuma to Monteverde and Santa Elena, from there to La Fortuna, and from there out of Costa Rica at Penas Blancas and across the border to Nicaragua. In Nicaragua I have so far been to Isla de Ometepe, Granada and Leon. Monteverde/ Santa Elena was a great place to do tours, which are sometimes pretty difficult to pick. We have found that if you like the hostel you are staying at they are normally good places to ask, and indeed ours gave us great advice about zip lining canopy tours and horse riding. Tripadvisor is a good back up. We are travelling around by public bus, which in Costa Rica was really very easy and quite cheap. In Nicaragua they are even cheaper although less comfortable and in general busier. After a bus driver told me not to put my bag in the overhead compartment we have kept a close eye on our things while on buses, keeping hand luggage with all our valuables in on our laps. And so far no problems whatsoever. In fact the only issue with travel we have had is a guide book printing incorrect information about a Tica bus and its route. Tica is one of the companies offering private buses in Central America, and their buses are essentially nice quality air conditioned coaches that often provide easier border crossings and take you from one country into the next. They are more expensive and have a fixed route, which our guide book got wrong. Luckily, the night before we were due to catch it we spoke to a local guide in La Fortuna who put us right and told us the real way to get to Nicaragua. Once again, the local advice was the best.
That was also true in Isla de Ometepe, two volcanos in the middle of Lago de Nicaragua joined by a thin strip of land. The thing people really go there to do is hike up one of the two volcanoes, the shorter hike taking around eight hours. Hiking isn’t our favourite activity, so we decided to explore the island from lake level. The buses were irregular and the taxis were expensive, so in the end we rented a motorbike so that we could get to all the places the Nicaraguan who worked at our hostel suggested. We visited a lovely viewpoint and a beach called Playa Bancon by Charco Verde lagoon. Renting something like a motorbike always comes as a surprise if you are from a country with strict road rules and regulations. You needed a driver’s licence, but didn’t need to have driven a motorbike before. Although that is great as it gives you freedom, it is also quite dangerous. We saw one American crash his bike pretty badly as he drove out of the motorbike rental shop. Make sure you have a helmet and drive very carefully, bearing in mind that road laws are very different in other countries.
We then moved to Granada and spent a couple of days relaxing and exploring the very pretty small town, which is particularly special because of its colonial buildings. In fact Granada is a must visit place if you are going through Central America. Unlike many other cities here, the attraction of this place is the city itself: the buildings, the atmosphere, the sites. Leon and Granada are the two colonial cities in Nicaragua, and famously dislike each other after a huge dispute about who should get the title of the 'capital' city. In the end it appears everyone else had enough of their squabbling and Managua was named capital, although for tourists Managua is far less tempting than the two others. For me, Granada wins every time. Leon was also pretty, but should be visited first in order to avoid disappointment after the stunning buildings of Granada. The highlight of Leon for me would have to be volcano boarding...sitting on a piece of wood and sliding very quickly down the side of a very steep, black volcano. Every tour shop in town offers this entertainment.
One of the best things about Nicaragua for travellers on a budget has to be its low prices, especially when compared to other Central American countries like Costa Rica, Belize and Mexico. Food prices dropped enormously and instead of expecting to pay $20 for a double room you can pay $15.