Matagalpa and the Northern mountains
It's no secret what abundance one can find within Nicaragua, with its one of a kind beauty and communal atmosphere. In the Northern area of this fine destination you'll find exactly this, some of the most popular places to visit in all of the nation. With production and vacation hotspots like Matagalpa, Jinotega, Esetli, and Madriz, one can spend hours marveling at the distinct characteristics that make the northern region one you will never forget. Matagalpa is not only one of the region's largest industrial diamonds, but it is too a city of fun and culture. The mountainous harmony of Jinotega are also quite a popular commodity, filled with history and tales of the past. Estelí is another city that boasts spectacular industry, one of the cigar-capitals of the world. Native agriculture and tourism exist in perfect peace in this eclectic wonderland. Additionally, climate friendly places like Madriz and surrounding real estate are near impossible to resist, making residential and casual visitation a happening activity. To really get a grip of all there is to offer, take a trip to these fanciful parts, you surely will not regret it!
Matagalpa department : friendly and mountainous
If responsible traveling is what you are after when you go to Nicaragua, quickly head to Matagalpa. This northern department of Nicaragua lies on higher grounds that have cool and fresh weather, just perfect to grow coffee and delicious cacao. The friendly and hospitable people who live in Matagalpa will most likely welcome you with open hands and pull you towards the charm of the rural areas that consist of thousands of hectares of coffee plantations and forests, home to various kinds of fauna. Aiming on getting a fresher mind during and after your visit, a start in Matagalpa city is a good one.
The Land of Eternal Spring is stuck to Matagalpa's image and it is not even close to exaggeration. The lush greeneries of dense forests and coffee plantations are encasing us wherever we go. The city is one of the biggest in Nicaragua, sheltering over 100,000 inhabitants whose jobs are mainly on coffee and cacao farming. This part of the country used to be largely inhabited by the German immigrants who pioneered in cultivating the land to grow good quality coffee. Therefore in the south west of the city of Matagalpa lie the cemeteries of the foreigners where these European immigrants from the 19th century were buried. As in any other cities in Nicaragua, the park is the heart of the people's activities. It may be a good idea to visit it and watch as Matagalpinos interact with one another.
A little bit off the city, you will see vast green organic coffee farms extending from one corner of your eye to the other. These coffee plantations are put in a good use as Nicaragua's tourism is awaking. Ecotourism is promoted largely in these areas, giving the abundant benefits to both the travelers and the locals. Visitors will definitely enjoy unique experience of seeing how the farmers live, doing nature hikes and excursions and admiring the beauty of the landscapes and the diversities of the animals. The locals, on the other hand, benefit from the ecotourism, having the profit returned to the community in the form of better health and education accessibility, better infrastructure as well as better wage for the hardworking people. It is a fair give and take situation.
Lodgings in Matagalpa and around are not that different from the main idea of responsible traveling. Santa Maria de Ostuma, for example, has a nice mountain lodge where visitors can rest while enjoying the superb landscape and scenery. The total area of 1428 hectares of land grown with coffee and vegetables is a part of the attraction why people want to spend time here. Other well-known areas like Esperanza Verde that features waterfalls and hiking trails as well as birds watching, La Cumplida with its organic coffee farming, Waslala whose people are extremely friendly and especially culturally interesting with its San Jorge celebration, are all worth a visit.
Jinotega and around : Serene and Peaceful
In the northern department of Nicaragua bordering with Honduras, Jinotega lies in a vast bowl encased by beautiful mountains, making it remote and peaceful. Tourism has to yet touch the department more, but even with the present condition the site has attracted nature lovers to enjoy its simplicity and perhaps purity of the land and people.
The Spanish came to La Ciudad de las Brumas (or City of Mists as Jinotega is referred to due to the fluffy clouds surrounding the bowl) in the 16th century, soon taking over the land from the Indians. Locals said that 5 Spanish families moved from Matagalpa to make a 'dry zone' of Naranjo, located 15 kilometers south from Jinotega city. They put a large cross at the highest point on the western corner of the city, which nowadays is considered to be one of the attractions of the city.
Because of its remote shape and location, the department had to endure many battles in the past. The rebels found it as a perfect hiding haven, where from 1927 to 1934 Augusto C. Sandino broke the war against the American Occupation Troops and from 1970 to 1979 a civil war broke against Anastasio Somoya. Not long after another civil war erupted when the people felt betrayed by Sandinistas.
Apart from the scars, the region is perfect for growing coffee with its cool weather and over 1000 kilometers of elevation. It has been the major coffee contributor across the country. About 80% of Nicaragua's coffee production comes from Jinotega. Nowadays this has benefited the society more as tourism starts to make an entrance. If you are one of the responsible travel enthusiasts, you will find it extremely interesting to come to Jinotega, especially during the coffee season from December to February. The region will come to the point where it looks most alive with the men carrying the coffee on their backs and the trucks coming in and out to transport the harvests.
Of course coffee farm tour is not the only thing you can do in Jinotega. Horseback riding, birds watching, and even playing soccer with the locals could be interesting. If you fancy swimming, you can head to Lago de Apanas, the most artificial lake in Nicaragua. It was built in 1964 in order to generate hydroelectric power for the country. Located only 10 minutes from Jinotega, the lake could be a great start to your Jinotega adventure. The water is not the cleanest, but the surrounding view is amazing. There are also some nature reserves nearby where you can do your hiking and enjoy the diversities of the flora and fauna. Several interesting hiking trails can be found in El Jaguar Reserve, as well as some basic lodging loved by the eco-tourists. Another reserve called Bosawas Biosphere offers the most humongous reserve, taking about 14 percent of the whole country, which naturally is home to so many species of plants and animals including harpy eagles, toucans, pumas and jaguars. Bosawas is located near the border with Honduras and the inhabitants include Mayangna and Miskitos.
All those above makes Jinotega another interesting place in Nicaragua to visit.
Estelí : Cigar town
Located very strategically as the entrance to the northern regions of Nicaragua, Estelí enjoys quite a lot of visits. Some go there for business, some for resting before going ahead to the other amazing destinations in the north or even to Honduras, and some just want to stop to get a taste of the pleasant climate of the mountainous region and get in close touch with the tobacco farmers in the area.Yes, unlike the neighboring northern regions that are big on coffee farming, Estelí is proud of its high quality cigars. The difference in the type of the cultivation of the land was inspired by the Cuban cigar makers when they fled to Estelí from the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Having absorbed the necessary knowledge of tobacco farming, Estelí is now an award winning cigar town, making it famous as one of the most important cigar producers in the world.
You may see different kind of crops in Estelí, but its tourism promotes the same responsible travel as the other northern regions. Activities are similar with those offered in the departments of Matagalpa and Jinotega; i.e. horseback riding, visit to the nature preserves, and the wonderful ecosystem while socializing with friendly locals. However, since Estelí is always widely associated with cigar, a visit to one among hundreds cigar factories could be quite a different experience. This is where you can see when the cigar leaves are brought outside of the city to dry then brought back so that the factory workers -most of who are women- roll the dried leaves until they become high export quality cigars.Another interesting thing is actually in the city of Estelí itself. Like León, Estelí features and preserves its history in form of wall murals. This city has been long pro Sandinista and they are proud in displaying the red and black flags all over the city. The murals tell educative stories of how the history was like in 1970's when they were fighting against Somoza's dictatorship.
If nature is more of your thing, there are some nice nature reserves in the area such as Tisey Estansuela and Miraflor. Tisey Estansuela is located about 6 kilometers south of the city of Estelí. It sits at the elevation of 1300 meters above the sea with a magnificent view from the top. You can see the volcanic range of Cosiguina stretching out to Lake Managua from there. In the same reserve, there is a waterfall with a refreshing swimming hole. Miraflor nature reserve is also an interesting place to visit and even to spend the night at. There are some cabins managed by Nicaraguan families where you can stay and socialize with the locals as well as admire the diverse beauty of flora and fauna.
Although Estelí is not as famous as Granada or León, it has quite a lot to offer for tourists who enjoy nature and good quality cigars. So if you are just about to get to the northern part of Nicaragua, staying in Estelí for a day or two could be a great idea.
Like the other areas in the northern Nicaragua, the department of Madriz enjoys cooler temperature. Situated near Honduras border, Madriz can be categorized as a small department. It sits on mountainous area, making the soil and weather just perfect for coffee to grow. As far as eyes can see, there are vast coffee farms side by side with pine and oak forests. The name Madriz is taken from the 50th Nicaraguan President Jose Madriz. It has 9 municipalities with Somoto as its capital. Although small, Madriz has some attractive places to visit. They are still yet to gain more media pressure, but the potential is there waiting to be discovered.
The city of Somoto is about 216 km away from Managua. A journey to the capital of Madriz could be either relatively short or very long depending on what vehicle you are using. The shortest is about 3 hours long and the longest is 6 hours. Fortunately the land route between Managua and Somoto is connected by the ever so smooth Pan-American Highway. This means no bumpy uncomfortable journey to reach the town. The name Somoto can be literally translated as the Valley of Geese. It is considered as one of the least wealthy places in Nicaragua, mostly due to employment, illiteracy and child malnutrition. In the past recent years the condition was made worse with the long drought and the hurricane Mitch in October 1998. Apart from that, the city of Somoto features some interesting places to visit; i.e. Piedra Pintada Museum where archaeological remains found in the area are featured, bakeries where the traditional rosquilla bread is made with artisanal method (the making of the rosquilla is open for public to see), and a parochial church with a colonial design dated as far back as the 17th century.
Outside Somoto, there is an area as large as 170.31 hectares, most of which comprise of gigantic geological walls towering up to 200 meters. This amazing place is called Somoto Canyon or Cañon de Somoto, located 12 kilometers west of Somoto city. Although the canyon has been there as long as 5 to 13 million years, it was only in 2004 when it was discovered by a group of scientists from Nicaragua and Czech. The Canyon was quickly declared as Nicaraguan national monument one year later and included as one of the 78 protected areas in the country.If you are interested in stopping by Madriz for its canyon and nice weather and view, it will be great to come during the festivity times. You can either go there in the beginning of May where the Saint Patron celebration is held or in the end of November when there is a big carnival which is often attended by the neighboring Honduras residents.