I first passed through Nicaragua in 1975 on a bus ride from Mexico to Panama. At that time, the capital of Managua was still reeling from the devastating 1972 earthquake which left the city in ruins. Yet 3 years had passed, and the dictator Anastasio Somoza, had moved very slowly to rebuild the country. It was rumored that he pocketed the donations and aid given to help the Nicaragua people rebuild.
Fast forward 35 years when on a photo assignment I had the opportunity to explore Central America’s largest country. The Nicaraguans are friendly and happy, and they are proud of the strides the country has made since overthrowing Somoza and ending the Sandinsta-Contra civil war.
I happened to be in Managua on Valentine’s Day, when anyone can be married for free in a civil ceremony in a downtown plaza.
I meandered through the numerous wedding couples waiting for the event to begin. It is the kind of photo op I love–to be up close and document local culture.
These soon-to-be-wed couples were obviously pleased with the gift of not having to pay for a civil wedding ceremony. A romantic Valentine’s Day gift which ends in marriage!
What we love about Nicaragua is that it is mostly an undiscovered, beautiful destination. (Think Cuba 30 years ago.) Nicaragua has a small but growing tourism presence. It is the kind of off the beaten path experience we seek on our Small Footprint Travels journeys.
Nicaragua is blessed with beautiful landscapes and beaches. Its natural resources reveal unexpected treasures: fragrant mountain grown coffee, delicious chocolate, fine rum, and world class cigars that rival the Cubans.
Nicaragua’s coffee is mountain grown on small farms. We visited the Selva Negra lodge in the mountains NE of Managua to explore their coffee farm and enjoy the refreshing mountain altitude of 4000 feet. In addition to tours of their coffee growing and production, Selva Negra also offers cupping classes to compare the tastes of Nicaraguan coffees.
It was my first such experience, and it was amazing to taste the difference in various coffee beans. I was given a form to help me note and remember the different tastes of the various beans.
Also, we visited a local chocolate maker, El Castillo de Cacao, in Matagalpa, about a 30 minute drive down the mountain from Selva Negra. Cacao is grown locally (it is organic) and then turned into delicious Bonbons and Chocolate Bars. For the chocolate lover–which I am–this is a definite stop on our trail of the treasures of Nicaragua.
Another high quality product in Nicaragua are the cigars produced in the Esteli region. When Castro took power in Cuba, a number of the cigar makers and their families left the country. Some came to Nicaragua because the soil and growing conditions are very similar to those in Cuba.
They brought seeds to grow the tobacco, and today’s product rivals Cuban and other excellent cigars–often at a more reasonable price than cost of a Cuban cigar.
Another treasure to be sampled in Nicaragua is its excellent rum. There are two brands produced, Flor de Caña and Mombacho, and after coffee, rum is Nicaragua’s best known export. At the Flor de Caña factory located outside of Leon, white oak barrels which once held Jack Daniel’s is used to age the rum. Most rum is aged just a few years; Flor de Caña also sells bottles of 12, 18 and 21-year-old rum.
When you journey with Small Footprint Travels, you do have the free time to roam and explore, and in Nicaragua, walking along the cobblestone streets in Granada and Leon offers many chances to be a part of daily life.
These two oldest cities in Nicaragua are a treasure trove for lovers of colonial architecture. Founded in 1524, Granada boasts many exquisite examples of Spanish classic colonial architecture. It is like a trip back in time to be in these cities where wonderfully carved front doors which open to interior courtyards with gardens, fountains, and sometimes even swimming pools.
Nicaragua is a country ready for discovery now; we invite you to journey with us through this beautiful country.