Along the Pacific coast, in the region known as the Pacific lowland, a succession of volcanoes naturally created millennia ago is becoming a popular destination for backpackers and tourists in search of adventure. There are active volcanoes to climb, dormant giants we can slide down from and others to simply admire as we cruise by. The 2 main lakes in Nicaragua, lake Managua and Nicaragua, are the two largest in Central America. They also provide for the main resource of this nation; water.
We made our route based on these volcanoes and took secondary and tertiary roads as much as possible to get ourselves near those giants. Unlike El Salvador where cobblestones dominated secondary roads, stepping out of the main roads brought us on compacted dirt, gravel and sometimes rocky surfaces. This made for great cycling.
After only 2 full days in Honduras, we crossed the border and entered Nicaragua with the hope of getting on quiet roads. The last couple of days were spent on super busy highways with trucks overtaking us at high speed. We longed for dirt roads with less traffic where we could ride side by side and talk.
Our plan was to ride south before turning left on a tertiary road following a chain of volcanoes. Just before the turnoff, we started looking for a camp in a sugar cane field when a motorbike came from the opposite direction and stopped, asking what we were doing there. After telling him we were searching for a camp, he strongly advised to not stay there as it was dangerous. Instead, we followed us to his house in the nearby village where we could pitch our tent in the large backyard. First night in Nicaragua and already a warm welcome. This looked promising. With a dozen kids observing our every move, we set up the tent and prepared dinner. They were particularly interested in our Helinox chairs. Over time we got up to either fetch something in our bag or deposit something in our tent, a couple of kids would skirmish to grab and sit on the chair. It was funny. Our tent and mattress we also of strong interest. One kid after another laid on our comfy bed preferring Tiph’s mat over mine, making me slightly jealous. One kid, in particular, was more curious than the others, touching everything, asking questions on the utility of every single object including the obvious ones like our hats and gloves.
The following morning was Tiph’s birthday and for the occasion, we were served two freshly cooked empanadas on a plastic plate. We prepared tea and coffee and cooked oats, our breakfast of choice which didn’t seem too appetizing to the rest of the kids gathered around. Then came the baseball bat and gloves, something I couldn’t resist so I joined in with the kids and played catch for a moment. Baseball is Nicaragua’s national sport, most likely brought by Cubans during the 1970 and ‘80s revolutions.
After experiencing Nicaraguan hospitality, we said goodbye to our new friends and rolled on a nicely paved and quiet road following the volcanoes of San Cristobal, Chonco, Telica and Santa Clara standing out amongst a series of mountain peaks. It was superb riding on a road we had been dreaming of for a while.
Before knowing it we approached Leon, a colonial city we would stay for a couple of days. We decided to get to Granada through to mountains in the north rather than staying on the busy highway linking the two cities. And it would give us a different perspective of the volcanoes as well as the country in general. It also meant going in a known coffee region, called Matagalpa. We cycled by large fields used to spread the beans on the ground in order to dry them before packing. Guarded by armed security personnel, the beans are certainly of high value for these companies. The delightful odour filled our nostrils as we zipped by, just like the plantations up in the hills in front of us. And for the first time in a while, we got caught by heavy rain on the way down toward Granada. We intended to take a dirt road on the way down but the rain made it so muddy that we changed our plans and stick to the main road, luckily not too busy.
After a few days of rest and exploration of the ancient colonial town of Granada, we set out for a ride toward the beaches along the Pacific Ocean. Again following quiet but sometimes challenging roads, we were welcomed by a Warmshowers host living right by the beach in Playa Gigante. It was a kind of paradise on earth. Life was indeed very hard. It consisted of getting up when we felt like it, eating and relaxing on the beach in a repetition pattern, day after day. It was hard to leave this place!
Our next stretch was riding around the island of Ometepe. It’s possible to ride around the small island and get really close to the 2 volcanoes present on this path of land. Some sections were rocky and bumpy, but, once again, the riding was sensational. The road followed the base of both volcanoes, giving an unreal view of the natural wonders. Once in a while, we went through small authentic villages with friendly locals. For the first time since arriving in Nicaragua, Tiph wasn’t whistled at of was told demeaning words. If there was one negative aspect of Nicaragua it would be the behaviour of some men towards Tiph, something she didn’t experience anywhere else in Central America.
Back on the mainland after circumventing the island we stuck to the main road until the border with Costa Rica. Back in heavy-ish traffic, we pedalled past a wind turbine field following lake Nicaragua. By 2020, the country aims to use 90% of its energy coming from renewable sources like solar and wind. Those huge turbines were spinning at full speed as we passed by, an encouraging sight for the poorest country in Central America. With the long chain of volcano with its spectacular landscapes it provides and the Nicaraguan friendliness and hospitality now thing of the past, we arrived at Costa Rica border only to see a long queue of people waiting to get their stamps. We would have to wait almost 2 hours before seeing the lush Costa Rican lands.
More photos in Nicaragua Photo Gallery page