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Nicaragua with Kids

From its troubled history to its progressive renewable energy policy, it’s stunning lakes, bays, beaches and wildlife and its cobblestone streets filled with Spanish-style colonial architecture, Nicaragua has everything. In our nine unbelievable days, we barely even scratched the surface of this tropical treasure. With more jungle and volcanos than its neighbouring Costa Rica, and at a fraction of the price, I would rate Nicaragua as one hell of a family destination. After much debate it was also the origin of our favourite day of the trip (Apoyo Lake/Masaya – day 38!).

One amazing thing that set Nicaragua apart from its neighbours is that on top off all the above, the majority of Nicaraguan highlights are found in the toddler-sweet spot of 2 hours apart by car – ideal for a lunchtime nap on the road. The country is very drivable, with good quality roads and with low fees for car hire return at a different location to collection (we first checked out this guy’s amazing C.A driving blog and pretty much followed his advice with regards to driving).

Doing this trip as part of our 2-month Central America backpacking adventure (more here) sadly left us too time-strapped for the islands or more rugged Caribbean coastal areas of this beautiful nation, so we stuck to the pacific coast trail. Unlike most other nations in the sub-continent, the main hit list destinations on this side are in a nice straight line, which meant constructing the itinerary was fairly straight forward…

Day 1: Leon (Day 36 Overall)


After a fairly rubbish boarder crossing from El Salvador to Managua, we spent the night at the cheap and cheerful Airport X Managua before collecting our car in the morning for our first stop, Leon – the seat of the national revolution of 1979. The USA tend to love the party line of being all about democracy, but Nicaragua is one of quite a lot of examples in the region of the USA propping up corrupt dictators when it suits their interests. After the populous revolted and overthrew their oppression, rebel leaders mobilised thousands of teachers and illiteracy fell from 50% to 11% in six months! We learnt all about it at the Museo de la Revolucion. This involved a private tour (in Spanish, Nuestra española tiene muy buena!) led by a gun wounded ex mercenary where he cajoled us into climbing up to the busted tin roof (which was terrifying!) for some lovely photos. The streets are filled with revolutionary murals and graffiti as well as a random bouncy castle during our visit! As the sun began to set we climbed the Basilica Cathedral to scale another roof - less terrifying – and stunningly beautiful and peaceful. What a first day!

Day 2: Leon & Granada (day 37 Overall)


After a lush and cheap breakfast we decided to spend the morning visiting something called the “Myth and Legend Museum” in Leon, where among more revolutionary artifacts we found everything from spooky boggyman type stories to folk heroes all personified in terrifyingly bad papermache figures. Set in a 150 year old creepy prison, we all laughed till our sides ached at characters named “grab your tits” (a mythical woman sex pest, thankfully the figures were just funny when the kids can’t read the text!)) and “small-big-head”, a random circus clown. Random doesn’t even cut it.

We then set out on our lunch-nap and car picnic drive to Granada. Not to be confused with the Caribbean island, Granada is a beautiful colonial town on the coast of lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. Another day, another cathedral, but they never get old! The main square was really peaceful; some kids playing a version of rounders and a few people dotted about but really quiet, and cleaner than most too, albeit absolutely scorching at 39 today (it’s the 90-100% humidity that gets us!). Later in the afternoon we popped into (another) chocolate museum but with purpose - to buy loads of chocolate liquor, which we then polished off in the evening.


Day 3: Apoyo Lake/Volcan Masaya, (Day 38: Overall)

This combination of trips was up there with the best if not THE best day of the trip so far. We had opted to go with a well-researched trip to a smaller volcanic lake (Apoyo) occupied by just one hostel with a private black sand beach. The water was beautifully warm and clear and the kids had the best day jumping off a wooden pontoon for genuinely three hours without stopping. This left me and Andrew to drink some fancy Caribbean rum cocktails for £2 each Great food (though on the expensive side), sun loungers, rubber rings and friendly dogs – I would absolutely recommend a trip here!


We eventually tore ourselves away for a well-timed sunset hike up Volcan Masaya which is quite unique in our experience. It’s one of the only calderas in the world where you can lean over the edge. Not as challenging or tall as the others we’ve done and yet, it is the first time either of us have seen the red glow of molten lava. We kept the kids up late so we could see it in the dark and it was worth the wait! What a ridiculous place.

Day 4: Arrival on Ometepe Island (Day 39 Overall)


Thanks to our pilot-road trip-blog we got a car ferry in the morning over to the amazing Ometepe Island. The island was created by two volcanos in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, one of the largest lakes in the world (which can be seen from space). The weather was unfortunately terrible on the first day (but Quinn still loves any excuse for the dinosaur coat!) with lashing rain so painful we couldn’t really bare going outside or driving in it. The kids were happy to have some rare screen time but we were pretty gutted knowing we’re not here long enough to complete the hit list and we’d have to start cutting things. There really isn’t much in the way of indoor excursions here, it’s all nature based activity and we were a bit worried it wouldn’t stop. When we planned this trip we knew it was hurricane season and we knew we’d been very lucky so far. Still, I managed to write up some Guatemala blogs as I’m a few weeks behind so that’s good at least! And I did so in our beautifully colourful and very cheap little hostel with lovely local food - as a bare minimum we’re not cooking, so that’s nice!

Day 5: Ojo de Agua and Punta Jesus Maria (Day 40 Overall)


Suns out funs out on Ometepe island at last! One thing we couldn’t cut from bad weather was Ojo de Agua (eye of water), a natural swimming hole, complete with rope swing! Another five-plate meal for under £10 at a local commodore set the tone for a successful teatime, after which we headed to an interesting sand bar I had read about (Punta Jesus Maria) and took some lovely photos of the sun going down and volcanic backdrop. This place certainly is uniquely beautiful with its double volcanoes, both of which looked like they had cotton wool hats on most of the time This island is certainly is one of the special ones.

Day 6: Charco Verde Nature Reserve (Day 41 Overall)


We spent an outstanding morning at the butterfly and botanical gardens of the Charco Verde Nature Reserve, again the only people in the place. Taking full advantage of having our car, we headed back to the hostel for the baby’s lunch nap to avoid the scorching 35 degree burning sunshine We returned to walk around the lagoon at 3pm and find a spot down the beach of lake Nicaragua. We had the place for ourselves and honestly from every direction there was no sign of civilisation at all. It felt like one of the most remote and undisturbed places in the world. We could generally pretend we were the only people on earth it was so quiet, not a single boat, building or person anywhere (except for our squealing kids!). Our noise didn’t seem to bother the wildlife however as we saw cranes and storks, cormorants, vultures and loads of funky bugs. The highlight was a howler monkey which popped down from the trees – we heard it coming from what felt like miles off and actively seemed to come towards us and climb down to check us out - stunning stuff and one of the top memories of the trip!!


Day 7: Travel to San Juan del Sur (Day 42 Overall)


Today we said goodbye to the gorgeous, laid back Ometepe island (and Andrew’s swimming shorts!) and headed south west to the surf capital of San Juan del Sur. The coast is lined with wind turbines; it always bothers me when anyone tells me they blight the landscape. No, coal fired power stations and smokey chimneys blight the landscape, turbines are a beautiful sign of progress! They genuinely make me happy to see, especially in developing nations where environmental damage is often rife at the cost of progress.


We stopped in the town for lunch and replacement shorts from one of the many surf shops. We arrived with total shock-surprise for the kids by staying at our first nice resort-type hotel (only our third actual hotel of the trip but certainly the first decent one ). They were over the moon!

There was only one other group in the place, a family from Colorado who sold everything and on their way to a new life in Costa Rica. They put their kids in a Spanish speaking school and set up a hostel on the beach – inspirational! We spent the afternoon drinking, snacking and picking their brains for advice on the region while the kids enjoyed playing together.

Day 8: San Juan del Sur (Day 43 Overall).


A violent storm overnight and into the morning threatened to ruin our stay at our splash-out hotel. Firstly, it drove two palm-sized tarantulas to hide in our door frame for the entire day - I’m not ordinarily scared of spiders but our swimming stuff was out there and as far as I was concerned it was gone forever We had big beach plans at one of the surf capitals of the world called off, our climbing wall sessions cancelled and we had some high stakes driving to contend with too! Once the rain subsided we decided to try and salvage at least a walk on the beach. However the resort was surrounded by (what was on the way here a shallow) river and unpaved mud roads. When we tried to exit, we ended up grounding the car in the mud and bailing at the sight of the now fast-flowing river. This meant a cancelled morning entirely, but thankfully the sun changed things and in the afternoon thing we managed to drive up one of the tallest Jesus statues in the world for a nice view of the beautiful (yet cloudy) bay of San Juan del Sur. It always feels rather special when you have a town thriving unimposingly between jungles hills still stretching right down to the water. Once we got down there, we celebrated our first ever glimpse, and subsequent dip in the Pacific Ocean; two solid years of travel and never been near it before! Best skimming stones ever (Andrew managed a 7 bounce for his all-time record, impressive!), and a cheap BBQ commadore dinner as well. So glad we managed to turn it around!

One more adventure - so worried about it raining overnight and not being able to leave on time for our border crossing into Costa Rica the next day, we decided to abandon the car on the exiting side of the river with all our stuff in it, and had to walk through it in the dark to get back for the evening To be honest, the hotel was such value for money and a treat for the kids I probably would still recommend it – just bring a 4x4!!


In Summary:


This Central American gem is a vibrant and exciting paradise waiting to be explored, offering a mix of natural beauty with stunning wildlife, rich cultural heritage and world-schooling potential, and thrilling outdoor as well. From the colonial charm of Granada to the volcanic wonders of Ometepe Island, Nicaragua ticked boxes in street food, local culture, monkey-laden hikes through lush rainforests and outrageous coastline with beautifully warm water. When preparing for this trip, I read a lot about the controversial Nicaragua Canal, set to turn Lake Nicaragua into a major shipping channel connecting the Atlantic and Pacific and rivalling the nearby Panama Canal. Since Lake Nicaragua is the biggest source of freshwater in Nicaragua, this is a huge concern for people here. I first heard about the project after seeing Simon Reeve discussing it during his BBC “Caribbean” documentary (highly recommend). He showcased interviews with politicians claiming “growth and development” vs the opinions of locals claiming the Chinese immigrant workforce pushed them out of their communities while offering no jobs. A complex situation indeed, and one I will continue to follow with keen interest, because Nicaragua totally captivated us and created some unforgettable family memories - I can’t thank them enough for that!


Total spend: coming soon

Total distance: 480 km

Number of taurantulas: 2

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