A trip to Nicaragua not was not originally part of our travel plans. But with it only being a short distance from our hotel in Costa Rica, (The JW Marriott Guanacaste) the opportunity just seemed like one we could not pass up.
The trip started off at 5:00 a.m. We got on a bus and headed for the Nicaraguan border.
The border crossing is fairly lengthy, so we had to get an early start to get through it twice in one day (there and back) and still see what we wanted to see.
It took about 45 minutes to get through the border crossing.
As a part of the border process, everyone is required to get out of their vehicle (cars, tour buses, trucks) to present passports and go through immigration, prompting a lot of the locals to set up stands to sell handmade goods and food to people coming through.
After the border crossing we drove for about 1 hour to the city of Granada, giving us a chance to get a feel for the way many of the people in Nicaragua live.
We drove through the city of Granada and went on a boat tour of Lake Nicaragua (one of the largest fresh water lakes in Central America) to see some lake homes and wildlife.
After the boat tour we were off to Granada for lunch at Tranvia, which is a nice little restaurant in the Hotel Dario. Lunch was great, so it was now time to see the markets in the city center.
Due to the very low cost of labor in Nicaragua, there are a lot of markets set up by local artisans with beautiful handcrafted wood items, clothes and furniture that can be bought at very low prices.
The city of Granada was very clean and the people were extremely friendly.
After spending some time in the city center, we were off to visit Masaya Volcano, the only volcano in the Western Hemisphere where you are actually able to drive right up to the rim.
Our final stop was in a little village called Catarina, filled with little shops from local artisans and overlooking beautiful Lake Apoyo.
Overall, this was a great experience. I have always thought of Nicaragua as a very poor and dangerous place, but this trip changed my perception. It is definitely poor (the second poorest country in the Americas) and not very developed, but it is filled with friendly people and appeared to be very safe.
One of the interesting facts we discovered about Nicaragua was that they do not have street names or traditional addresses. Nicaraguan addresses are based of reference points and landmarks. A typical home address would be something like…
From the Calvario Church, 1 block south, half a block east.
I can't imagine how their mail system works????
The other interesting thing that my kids (ages 9 and 11) immediately picked up on what how happy the people seemed. They lived in little shacks for houses and clearly had very little money, yet everyone seemed to have a smile on their face. They clearly did not need money and material items to find happiness, just some sunshine, friendship and family.
That was it, now we're off to the border and back to Costa Rica!