If you find yourself in the western part of Costa Rica, don’t miss the chance of spending a day exploring Lake Nicaragua and the Managua area. Sure, you’d have to wake up at 4 am, and ride the bus to Nicaragua for about four hours, but I promise it’s all worth it. When you’re standing on the edge of the gaping crater of an active volcano, you will be wide awake.
We were picked up from Tamarindo, but you could start the trip from Liberia, Guanacaste, or anywhere along the red route above. There are plenty of companies that offer a day in Nicaragua, but we used our favourite Xplore Costa Rica.
Our guide was amazing, very knowledgeable and funny. While we were waiting to cross the border, he told us all about the history of Nicaragua, painted a vivid picture of the political struggles in the last century, and even revealed some stories from the private lives of a few presidents, including Violeta Chamorro, who became the first female president in Central America in 1990.
We stopped off for breakfast in a nice roadside restaurant, where we were served plantains and pico de gallo, a traditional meal with rice and black beans. We then continued on our way to the sprawling shores of Lake Nicaragua, the biggest sweet water basin in Central America. We took a short break in a village square looking out on the lake, and it was stunning to behold.
Our trip through history continued with a drive to Masaya volcano – a very much active, smoking volcano, which last erupted in 2001 with a sudden explosion of rocks from the bottom of the crater, reaching the nearby parking lot. The excitement started building up long before we reached the crater itself, as upon entering Masaya park you can see the remains of a massive lava river dating back to a much more destructive eruption in 1772. But the thrill reached its peak when we actually stepped on the mouth of what seemed like a giant prehistoric fire-breathing beast…
Once we had finished wow-ing at the sheer size and raw beauty of the volcano, and when we realised we were finding it exceedingly hard to breathe with all the sulphur in the air, we got back on the bus and started the descent towards the lake.
Lake Nicaragua is dotted with close to 300 isles ranging in shape and size, and some of them have actual human inhabitants, while others are the homes of playful monkeys. We took a boat trip around some of the isles close to the north-west shore, and I was thrilled to find out that we were very likely to encounter inhabitants of the adorable, furry kind around there.
With one last view of the volcano, we said our goodbyes and boarded the bus for the final part of what had proved to be a fantastic trip so far. When we arrived in the colonial town of Granada, we had some time to shop for souvenirs in the bustling, colourful handicraft market. Naturally, I bought a few magnets, a little painting of the shores of the lake, and even a small maraca because … well, why not.
Our guide offered us to ride a horse-drawn carriage around the streets of Granada, and tired as we were, it turned out to be a good idea. We got to see a lot more than we would have on foot, and as a bonus we stopped off at the chocolate museum for some out-of-this-world choc liqueur tasting.
It was a great day and we had learned a lot. But if you only remember one thing from this post when you go to Central America, let it be this:
¡Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa’ dentro!
Gather in a circle with friends, pour yourselves a glass and do the Salud.
Arriba (means “up”) – glass held high, clink rims.
Abajo (means “down”) – glass held low, clink bottoms.
Al centro (means “center”) – glass held out in front, clink middle parts of glasses.
Pa’ dentro (means “inside”) – Drink! Bottoms up.
A toast to your health, and all your travels!