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Sightseeing in Nicaragua

July 15, 2011

Nicaragua isn’t just hard work and poverty, but it’s easy to get that impression after a week of service in one of the poorest municipalities. For this reason, our local contact — Maria, an incredible woman on a determined mission to reform schools in favor of children’s rights — planned one day packed with sightseeing.

At first, it was hard for me to reconcile this sightseeing with the Nicaragua I was familiar with — large lakes in a country where children continually ask for ‘agua,’ prosperous colonial cities in a country where many people sleep in salvaged shacks.

But then I realized that it’s not so different from anywhere in the world, including the United States. Just across the river from my house, in my own city, is devastating poverty that while different from the need in Nicaragua, is no less valid. And yet it doesn’t cross my mind on a daily basis or impede my enjoyment of this city.

And so I was able to accept that Nicaragua is a gorgeous country. Its lush, green landscape reminds me of Costa Rica, with huge lakes and small volcanoes keeping things interesting. Sunset at Lake Managua cast a golden hue on the water and stilled my fellow travelers during our time of evening reflection.

Another adventure took us to Masaya Volcano — this is now my third consecutive trip to involve hiking a volcano! — Nicaragua’s oldest and first National Park. This giant crater was impressive to see — it’s impossible to capture on camera in the same way the Grand Canyon is — and is home to a unique breed of green parrots that live nowhere else in the world.

The whole group:

(I have to admit that I was wary about traveling with a group since my last trip was backpacking Down Under and in general, I’m a very independent traveler. While I wouldn’t travel en masse to many other places, this trip was fantastic and I’d highly recommend traveling with a group, or at least a guide, when visiting Nicaragua, especially if you’re not fluent at Spanish.)

A boat ride onto Lake Nicaragua made me a few new friends:

Monkey Island: creepy idea that may be animal torture, yet also provides great photos. I’m torn.

Undoubtedly, the jewel of Nicaragua is Granada. One of the first European cities in the Americas, Granada is where most tourists visits. Whereas the capital, Managua, is crowded, dirty and difficult to navigate, Granada is a slice of Spain in Central America.

I could have easily spent a week or a month in Granada, soaking up the culture while exploring museums, churches, shops and restaurants. Instead, I spent 15 minutes there.

Granada was packed with tourists and I can see how tourists could come to gorgeous Granada, where brightly colored buildings fill your heart with joy and feed your eyes, and assume all of Nicaragua is like this.

That wouldn’t be true. Nicaragua’s nickname is La Tierra de Lagos y Volcanes (The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes), but I’d call it The Land of Contrasting Identities.

Because Nicaragua is this:

and this:

and this — which I didn’t get to see but hopefully will next time:

So when you go to Nicaragua — and I hope you do — please see more than just the touristy areas. Sightseeing is great and I definitely want to do more of that next time, but also take some time to see how the average person lives. This trip reminds me to do that everywhere I go because there’s more to England than London, more to Kenya than Nairobi, more to Argentina than Buenos Aires…

Have you ever done a service trip/volunteer vacation either in the U.S. or abroad? I’d love to hear about it and get ideas for a trip my former roommate and I are planning!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2011 11:00 am

    I’m the same way about traveling, I like to be independent but in certain cases I feel like a tour group can be the way to go. My husband and I did an awesome 3 day tour of the Scottish Highlands 5 years ago and we never would’ve seen everything we did if we did it alone.

  2. July 15, 2011 1:34 pm

    What a beautiful place — and not just the touristy landscapes, but the heart and soul of the people. Thanks for painting so many of their pictures for us through your words 🙂

  3. July 16, 2011 12:13 am

    I haven’t done any tripes like this…but it looks amazing! Love all the photos!

  4. July 16, 2011 11:42 am

    Very cool! I’ve never done anything like that before.

  5. July 17, 2011 12:57 am

    Sigh… My last trip to Central America was when my son was 9. We did do “some” volunteer work, but we mixed it up too – living with a family, studying, helping open up libraries. On the plane he said, “Mom, all my friends are going to Disneyland. Why are we going to Guatemala?”
    Well, he moved off to college – the bed is gone and everything – and I’m feeling the Central American pull.
    Thank you for sharing! It so reminds me of a few trips… love the kids… love the villages… love to travel!

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