Through Nicaragua we basically headed from North to South along the low flat Pacific coast. The heat was pretty intense and we could only imagine how unbearable the hot season would be here. Because the capital of Nicaragua was pretty sketchy, we quickly decided to head out to the tourist mecca of Granada and base ourselves out of there for a while. Granada was safe, friendly and well organized for tourists with many nice walking streets, cafes, restaurants and bars. We indulged in a massage and enjoyed some great (western) food.
We visited the Masaya Volcano where the ranger-run afternoon/night tour included the bizarre combination of crater viewing (in gas masks) and bat caving. Another neat day trip was an afternoon and sunset boat cruise which took us around some of the 365 islands nearby Granada on Lake Nicaragua. The lake is huge and unfortunately quite polluted with the water a muddy brown, foul smelling and full of plastic near the Granada end. The bird watching was great around sunset but thankfully we didn’t get to see any of the more dangerous inhabitants of the lake: snakes, crocs and sharks! Our favorite day trip was to the Apoyo Lagoon which was a pristine lake formed in an old crater. We spent the day lakeside in luxury; swimming, kayaking, eating and relaxing. The water was warm and clear, although you could taste the sulfur, and I swear it was easier to sink than usual (may have been all the food).
Our next adventure in Nicaragua was halfway down Lake Nicaragua on the island of Ometepe (the largest lake island in the world). It is a crazy looking island that has formed from two volcanoes rising out of the water and joining together. There is not much in the way of infrastructure once you get there and any bus ride is sure to be bone jarring, totally over-crowded and painfully slow. But it gets you there! On Ometepe Island our major accomplishment was a hike up the Maderas Volcano. It was some 1,400m straight up through fields, coffee plantations, dry forest and then cloud forest. Four sweaty and puffing hours later we got to the top and I must say that the view of clouds was amazing. The view of the crater lake, the other volcano and everything else we wanted to see was non-existent. What a piss off. Apparently, the volcanoes are so high that they create their own (cloudy) microclimate and are hardly ever clear. I guess the guide didn’t want to tell us that before we paid him. Still, we had some great views below the clouds and the two days of painful legs following were worth it. Also on Ometepe we enjoyed some kayaking and monkey watching on the island. The wind was strong and consistent and the swell was huge for a lake- we felt like we were just about capsized in the small boat coming back to the mainland.
After Ometepe we headed to the beach town of San Juan del Sur where we spent the rest of our time in Nicaragua. This chilled out little place is located in a bay surrounded by cliffs with many restaurants along the wide beach front. We spent a lot of time on the beach and checked out the sights around the town and some good surfing beaches north of town. A major turtle nesting beach is south of town and we took a night tour there to watch some sea turtles come up on the beach, dig holes and lay their eggs. The turtles did a great job of ignoring us and getting on with their business as we stood around them watching and shining flashlights on their backsides.
We had a great time in Nicaragua and are now looking forward to Costa Rica and Christmas!