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Omepete Island, Nicaragua – Photos

Friday, May 13th, 2011

April 2011 – Isla Omepete, Nicaragua

Within Lake Nicaragua, which is the largest lake in Central America, lies Isla Omepete. It is a small island shaped like an hourglass – both sides of the hourglass are volcanoes (Conception on one side, Maderas on the other) which are joined together by a narrow isthmus.

We stayed at Totoco Ecolodge on the Maderas side of the island. It was phenomenal. The views towards Conception volcano were great in the day and spectacular at sunset. The sunsets at Totoco were one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in all my travels.

On the 2nd day I hiked up Maderas volcano with a guide (Melvin). It is about 6 hours at a fast pace and quite grueling. It was a disappointment however. The best part of the hike was seeing the howler monkeys in the first hour while still in the lowlands. After that it is a sweaty, dirty climb up poor trails towards the top – which I wouldn’t have minded if there were great views. But there were none, the trees covered everything. The best view I got was when I climbed a tree and took a picture looking down towards the lake (see the photo below the monkey). So it wasn’t a great hike – BUT, it really was a good workout! I was sore for a couple of days after.

Apart from the hike, our time was spent laying out by the swimming pool and enjoying the nature. I would recommend this place to anyone and I would come back here with Lissette for a more romantic kind of vacation. The food at Totoco was fantastic! One thing – bring earplugs! I couldn’t believe the NOISE at night from all the bugs and animals, it was unbelievable. There is one bird, a small grey bird that seems to only appear at night, that constantly hung out right next to our lodge calling out what sounded like “fuck you” all night. I’m not kidding, that’s what it sounded like. When the noise from the night animals finally starts to die down (close to dawn), then the howler monkeys start up. There is no peace and quiet in the jungle – so bring earplugs!

Below: the family-sized lodge at Totoco.

Unfortunately we only spent a week together in Nicaragua. My mother stayed on in Granada for her Spanish courses and I had to go back to work.

It’s nice to have money and to be able to travel in Nicaragua – everything is relatively cheap. Since I was travelling with my mom I booked private transport (with Oro Travel) for all our transfers. We travelled in style. But Nicaragua is a poor country and you can’t help but feel bad at times – I saw a boy who couldn’t have been more than 10 on a horse tending to a herd of cattle. In Canada kids that age are playing nintendo and getting fat. Skinny horses pulling carts are still the principal mode of transport. You can see that most Nicaraguans, especially in the countryside, live a very basic existence on very little.

A few Nicaraguans I spoke to in the travel industry expressed their frustration that Nicaragua was portrayed as a dangerous country, especially in the US (see the Bureau of Consular affairs website). In actual fact, Nicaragua is known as the safest country in Central America, safer even than Costa Rica. I never felt in danger – the flip side of few tourists is that locals aren’t overwhelmed by foreigners and are so much friendlier because of that. And I always say; in the end, it’s the people that make a difference between liking or disliking a place. Based on that, I would definitely come back to Nicaragua.

Granada, Nicaragua – Photos

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

April 2011 – Every year I plan a one week trip with my mother – this time she surprised me by announcing that she’d like to go to Nicaragua and that she planned on staying a few months to study Spanish.

I wasn’t at all familiar with Nicaragua (except that it’s very poor) and I’ve never been to Central America. But after having read up a bit, I was excited by the idea – one of the things I’ve never seen was a volcano. I was to see many in Nicaragua. I was also hopeful of seeing some of the wildlife; scorpions, monkeys, birds, even snakes.

We only had a week together, so we decided to stick to the area south of Managua; Granada, Masaya, Lake Nicaragua, Isla Omepete – a manageable area that wouldn’t require too much travelling around.

Our base was Granada, which is known as a city rich in colonial history. It was founded by the Spaniards in 1524 and was named after the city of Granada in Spain. It was chosen primarily for it’s location; on Lake Nicaragua with river access to the Caribbean as well as close proximity to the Pacific coast. Today it is the 4th largest city of Nicaragua. It is also the most touristy city in Nicaragua (“touristy” is relative – this is Nicaragua and not that many tourists come here. After having visited Europe the last few years I found it a relief to escape the tourist hordes…).

We spent three full days in Grenada. On the surface, Grenada is not that impressive; it’s not so much a city as a village, a bit of a sleepy place made up on one or two-storied pastel buildings, a few nice but weathered churches, and some modest colonial buildings. But it is when you step inside some of the buildings that you see the attraction of Granada – high ceilinged buildings with huge interior courtyards (many with fountains), tiled floors, intricate woodwork. Many of the buildings have been restored as luxury hotels with interior pools and are quite opulent. In many ways it reminded me of Cartagena – what was frustrating however in Granada is that the exterior of buildings are much more modest than in Cartagena and you would never know of the treasures inside. I know my mom discovered many interesting places after I left that we never knew existed when visiting the city together.

Laguna de Apoyo and Volcan Masaya

Within 30 minutes of Granada are the laguna de Apoyo (Apoyo Lagoon) and the Masaya volcano.

The Apoyo Lagoon (below) was created about 23,000 years ago when a huge volcanic blast left a hole measuring 6 km in diameter. With time this crater was filled up with rainwater and underground springs (Many Nicaraguans like to come here to swim)

Nicaragua is known as “The country of Lakes and Volcanoes” and has a chain of active volcanoes that run from north to south. One of the most active is Masaya volcano (below). You can drive right up to the crater of this volcano and look over the edge right into the crater, it’s pretty cool! (they have night tours as well and apparantly you can see the molten lava at the bottom of the crater). The volcano is always smoking in varying degrees (they call this “passive degassing” – the opposite of the explosive degassing I get from eating vindaloo). I was lucky to see the volcano when it wasn’t degassing too heavily, it seems that tourists are sometimes given masks and have to limit their stay at the crater to 20 minutes.

Below: Rudy from Oro Travel (I used Oro Travel for this tour of Masaya and the Laguna de Apoyo as well as for some private transport – they were great).

We stayed at the Hotel Con Corazon while in Granada and it was absolutely fabulous. The hotel is actually a foundation where all the profits are invested in local education projects. Besides being for a good cause, it is good value – very nice rooms, great breakfasts, super service, a nice swimming pool where you can enjoy a Marguarita at the end of the day. The bill came out to about $50/night. I give it a 4 ½ out of 5. We really enjoyed our stay in Granada and relaxing around the hotel was one of the highlights.