Nicaragua: The family plan

We had the great fortune to have our family visit us in Nicaragua for 11 days: son Kyle, daughter-in-law Candice, and grandson Alex (4 1/2).

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Our challenge was to create an itinerary that allowed for some activity, included local culture, was suitable for a child, wasn’t boring but also didn’t try to pack too much into the short time they would be here. With recommendations from the generous folks on the Expats of Granada, Nicaragua facebook group, we planned the following (changes and reasons for the changes are noted):

  • 4 nights in Granada, including time for walking around the city, visiting the market street, kayaking Las Isletas, Masaya volcano, Laguna de Apoyo, and relaxing at our AirBnB accommodation. Changes: We switched the kayaking to La Bella del Mar after noting where the kayaks left from, the wind, and the likelihood of a 4-year-old enjoying the trip. We dropped Laguna de Apoyo.
  • 4 nights in San Juan del Sur for kayaking, swimming, SUPing, surfing lesson. Changes: We ended up in Masachapa instead, due to an offer we could not refuse.
  • 3 nights in Matagalpa at Selva Negra.

We rented a car (from our Granada AirBnB host), which gave us the needed flexibility and freedom vs. buses, especially when trying to cover quite a large area, in a short time and traveling with a child. Our modified plan was just perfect for all of us. Below are some of the highlights.

Granada

Having a pool, trampoline, and swing set at our accommodation made for some enjoyable cooling off and downtime between all of our hot-weather activities.

Market street

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Las Isletas on La Bella del Mar

We had done this trip on our own, but were thrilled to go again and enjoy it with family. Our water-loving grandson loved the slide and the ability to bob around in the warm water in his lifejacket. The scenery is beautiful, the boat is comfortable, shady, and allows for free movement, and the food is reasonably priced and good. (Tip: If you like ceviche, order it early as it sells out. It’s the best!)

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Vólcan Masaya by day

Though many recommend seeing the volcano by night for the higher impact of bubbling lava in the dark, La Bella del Mar owner, Marty, recommended a visit in the daytime to avoid the crowds (which can mean hour-long waiting times and shoulder-to-shoulder viewing) and to take in the views. Considering the impatience of a 4-year-old, we took his suggestion to heart, and headed up the mountain at about 10:00, close to opening time. If you go, buy tickets at the gate ($3 per adult?), stop at the museum to sign in and see the exhibits (worth the visit and enjoyed by the 4-year-old who was quite excited about seeing a real volcano), and then drive up to the top. You are only allowed to spend about 5 minutes there due to the gases. We were very lucky to be able to see the whole volcano, including the bubbling magma, during our five minutes (which we probably stretched). Since we almost had the volcano to ourselves, we could view it from any angle we liked. Though a short visit, it was definitely a highlight.

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Photo credit: Kyle Pearce. Click to view video

Masachapa

Our original plan was to visit San Juan del Sur, but a wonderful turn of events caused us to detour to Masachapa, and spend a glorious 4 nights in a beautiful home with pool out front, and beyond that the Pacific Ocean. Added bonus: The cost for this paradise for all 5 of us was about 15% of our original SJDS booking!

The drive to Masachapa took not quite two hours. The terrain, villages, and markets we passed entertained us the whole way.

We whiled away our time in the hammocks, pool, and rocking chairs and explored the area.

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Family Harry Potter reading time
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Alex and Sherling, the caretaker’s daughter

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Masachapa is a fishing village: the beach and waters are sprinkled with brightly colored boats and the swarms of people who support them. The fish market opens early at the edge of the beach on a road into the village, with fish piled in neat rows, scales swinging in the breeze, and maybe a ray or two down on the ground being filleted.  Scattered about the beach are individuals riding along on bicycle trucks carrying buckets with flopping tails protruding out the top, selling their wares wherever they can.

We walked on the beach to Pochomil for a sunset dinner one evening, and made our way back in the (almost) dark. There wasn’t much going on there, but there are several places that look like they can accommodate large crowds during busier times. Another night we walked into Masachapa and ate street food, including the best chicken any of us had ever tasted.

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Matagalpa

We were all sad to leave the beach house, and worried a little that Matagalpa and Selva Negra would be a letdown. Our experience was the opposite: the mountains are beautiful and lush, and the cooler temperatures were a nice reprieve. We stayed in a rustic, comfortable 3-bedroom cottage.

We visited La Cascada Santa Emilia

and El Mirador El Calvario.

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We attempted a visit to El Castillo de Cacao, but when we got there found that, though open, the chocolate factory was not in operation that day (it is closed on Sunday, but in full swing Tuesday to Saturday).

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The chocolate factory, and reason it is called “the chocolate castle”

There are many trails in the Selva Negra cloud forest, and three of our group thoroughly enjoyed conquering several of the most challenging ones (while Mimi took advantage of some special time with Alex).

A gorgeous chapel with green roof and surrounded by vegetation must make for some beautiful wedding photos.

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Going to the chapel …

Since we did not have cooking facilities in Matagalpa, we drove down into the village for our meals, except for one breakfast and dinner, which we ate at the Selva Negra restaurant. We tried, and can recommend:

  • Lunaflor
  • Coffee Shop Barista
  • Happy
  • El Balcón
  • and a little Nica breakfast place recommended by Salvador at Lunaflor – it’s on the same street, same side, as Lunaflor, one block south (ask if you’ve found Coco’s place)

We have soo many happy memories of what turned out to be a wonderful family vacation.

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