Nicaragua trip ‘delightful’ 

By Philip A. Shart
This item appears on page 30 of the September 2016 issue.

I wanted to visit Nicaragua but found it difficult to find any tours that went there. I finally discovered an 8-day tour, “Wonders of Nicaragua,” through the travel department of the American Automobile Association, or AAA ( It was run by Alexander+Roberts (Keene, NH; 800/221-2216,

The cost for a single was $3,099 ($2,699 per person, double). Airfare and insurance cost extra. The tour included breakfasts, five lunches and, if air was purchased through AAA, transfers to and from the airport. Because I booked the trip through AAA, they added a complimentary hotel night prior to the start of the tour.

I left Miami on Avianca ( for the 2½-hour flight to Managua on Jan. 22, 2015. The service on board was very good, and they served a great meal. When I arrived in Managua, I paid $10 for the required Tourist Card.  

The escort for our group of 10, Guillermo Rocha, was outstanding in every way. Erudite and extremely articulate, he had an amazing knowledge of Nicaragua and a great sense of humor.

Over two days, our group visited both old and new Managua. We had a fantastic view of the city from Tiscapa Historical National Park, toured the ruins of the once-grand presidential palace and saw the remains of the old Cathedral of Nicaragua plus the new, very modern cathedral. I found the inside of the new cathedral to be rather austere and uninviting.

Leaving Managua, we passed fields of bamboo, sugarcane, bananas, mangoes and papayas. The road was smooth and well paved. In the distance, behind the lush, tropical vegetation, we could see mountains and volcanoes.

At San Jorge, we transferred to a ferry for the 1½-hour trip on Lake Nicaragua to Moyogalpa on Ometepe, a unique, culturally rich island formed by two volcanoes.

We stayed at Hotel Villa Paraíso ( on Santo Domingo Beach. All of our rooms faced the lake, and from the porch we could see different types of rare tropical birds. I wish we’d had more time there to enjoy the beach and tropical surroundings. 

During our stay, we drove to the forested slopes of the Maderas volcano. The path to the crater was a steep incline, with steps of narrow rocks often covered with leaves. It was an arduous 2-hour climb, so if you’re not surefooted or in good physical condition, don’t try it. I was disappointed when we reached the crater, as it was covered and filled in with trees and shrubs.

We had lunch at Hotel Charco Verde, inside a nature reserve containing wildlife such as monkeys, armadillos and anteaters.

The next morning, we caught the ferry back to San Jorge and drove to Granada, one of the oldest colonial cities in Latin America, where we visited Iglesia La Merced and the San Francisco Convent. We also had a relaxing boat ride on Lake Nicaragua.

We stayed at Hotel Plaza Colon (Parque Central, Granada;, an elegant, old colonial house that had been restored to its original style of architecture. By the way, these small hotels we visited didn’t have bellhops, so we carried our own luggage.

Back in the van the next day, we drove through a dwarf forest to the top of Mombacho Volcano. Smoke from the crater obscured the view, but there was a wonderful view from the leeward side.

We made a stop at a picturesque coffee planation surrounded by rainforest, Café Las Flores (, where we learned about the coffee cultivation and roasting techniques and even tasted samples.

After seeing the Masaya volcano, we visited the busy Masaya Crafts Market, a great place to find handicrafts and art of Nicaragua. And, yes, they do expect you to bargain.

Along Lake Managua, we reached the ruins of León Viejo, established by the Spaniards in the 16th century. We visited the home of native poet Rubén Darío and toured the colonial-era Catedral de Santa María de Gracia. Off the main square was a wall with a mural showing the turbulent history of Nicaragua.

The last day in León, we rode in a motorboat to a mangrove forest and barrier island where there was abundant animal life.

The next day, Jan. 30, I was to be picked up at 6:50 a.m. for a 10:22 flight to Managua. I kept saying we were cutting it short, but I was assured that there was enough time.

We left León on time, but the 2-lane highway to Managua was full of trucks, carts, cars and motorcycles, and police were stopping cars to make spot checks. After our car was pulled to the side, the police found something wrong with the driver’s papers, so they wrote him a ticket.

We arrived at the airport at 9:05 a.m. and the Avianca counter was about to close out the flight. I got busy filling in forms and dashed through passport control and security. By the time I got to the gate, they had started boarding. I made it by the skin of my teeth!

It was a delightful trip. I always felt safe in Nicaragua and found the people to be very friendly. 

The dry season in Nicaragua is from November to April, and the wet season is between May and October. It has a tropical climate, but is somewhat cooler in the highlands.

The country has so much to offer. It’s just waiting to be discovered.


Tamarac, FL