After two months of sweltering heat and constant sweating Eli and I confirmed that if we were to stay in the heat any longer we would melt. So the four of us, Eli, Siobhan, Lamar, and I, decided to take a hiatus from the beaches and the sticky humidity and enjoy the fall weather in the Blue Mountains of Nicaragua. I’ve always thought, without a doubt, that I was a summer girl. I love sunkissed skin, long summer days, and warm summer nights. Having been in eternal summer in Central America I’ve discovered that I’m not as devoted to summer as I thought I was. I miss the changing of the leaves, the crisp fall air that warms in the afternoon, hot chocolate on rainy days, cozying up with a good book, and most of all Halloween festivities. Yep, I’m defintely stuck in limbo between summer and fall.
With sweat dripping down our backs we hopped on the bus out of Rivas and towards Managua where we caught a bus towards Estelí. This was seriously the happiest bus ride I have ever been on. As you know from my last post The 411 on Catching the Bus in Nicaragua the vendors who sell their goodies on the bus are my favorite people and this bus was the jackpot. They sold mangos, lichi, sweet bread, refreshments, corn, and other things I didn’t know the names of. Upbeat music sprang from the speakers at a reasonably loud level as we jarred and bumped along the dirt roads. People sang along, ate, chatted and laughed with their bus partners and neighbors. Everyone was so cheerful and friendly you could feel the good vibes pulsing throughout the bus.
We arrived in Estelí and were soaked to the point of looking like drowned rats and for the first time I was excited for a monsoon. We made big breakfasts and drank hot tea while listening to the beating of the rain. In the morning of our second day we adventured out, rain jackets packed, to hike to La Estanzuela. We were lucky and the bus just happened to be passing by as we got to the Pan-American Highway – we flagged them down and climbed in hoping we were headed in the right direction. The bus dropped us of at the beginning of the road leading to La Estanzuela and we began our 5 km trek. Our “hike” turned into a hitchhike as we got lazy about 20 minutes in and rode in the back of a truck to the entrance. We spent the day picnicking, swimming in the shallow pool, and relaxing in Mother Nature’s beauty.
While in Estelí we stayed at hostel Sonati and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It was shelter, had a kitchen, and a pretty backyard but that was pretty much it. We stayed in an eight bed dorm with its own private bathroom for $8 (plus tax) a night. The dorm was fairly clean but the mattresses were horrible – they felt like springs with thin sheets over them. Though the bathroom was “cleaned” it smelled horrific like someone had died while on the toilet. I even asked them to change the trash bin, the cause of the stench, but instead they just poured fresh smelling cleaner on the floor which helped for a whole two seconds. They did have wifi but getting anything to load was mission impossible. So if you are looking for shelter that is mostly clean I would stay here but don’t expect much else! It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t awesome either.
Our second day in Estelí contained mucha adventura (a lot of adventure). We woke up at the insanely early, for us, hour of 5:30, packed our day packs, ate breakfast and caught the last bus (at 7:30) to Somoto Canyon. We were all pretty grumpy and we tried to catch a short nap on the bus ride over. We booked our tour of Somoto Canyon with Henry from Somoto Canyon Tours who met us, along with one of our guide Josúe at the bus stop. They gave us a ride in the back of their truck to the tour office which was also Henry’s house. After kicking off our flip flops, very unreasonable, and putting on the hiking shoes provided we were on our way. We walked down a country road and through farm lands – our guides showed us the Honduras/Nicaragua border and the Guatemalan national tree which to the Maya represents earth. We saw horses and the babies, natural jade, and took a road that people use to cross the borders illegally. Once we got to the river my nerves kicked in. I’ve floated rivers and cliff jumped many times, it’s a regular past time at home, but I had never floated rapids as big as these with only a vest on, they were the size of rapids that I’ve gone whitewater rafting on. We got to a little grass area and took a quick snack break while Josúe tested out the first rapid. He decided that it wasn’t safe enough, he hit too many rocks, so they had us climb the side of the canyon. “Climbing” the side of the canyon was like scaling an almost vertical wall with the water quickly rushing below. As the first rapid approached my fear spiked. Josúe went down first and we waited with Ulices for the go ahead. We heard Josúe’s whistle and one at a time we were off. Eli went first and I went second. I tried to concentrate on everything they had told me: bottom up, arms crossed, and feet out in front with toes pointed up. I bounced and bobbed with the current, water splashing up my nose, and the rapids pulling me under for short seconds. The current carried me towards the canyon walls and I did the one thing you aren’t supposed to do, swim against the current. I forgot my bottom up, feet out position which caused me to flip forward and head for the canyon wall face first. I shoved off the wall as hard as I could and was ripped along until I came around the corner where I grabbed Josúe’s hand and he pulled me to calm waters.
The rest of our adventure through the canyon consisted of “floating”, for me it was half struggling and half drowning, down more rapids, lots of scaling, and a eight meter jump. The eight meter jump was un poco (a little) frightening because we had to jump right in front of a little waterfall so the water was churning. Siobhan and I looked over the edge nervously and jumped before we could think twice. Towards the end of the canyon we took a peaceful boat ride through the slow moving waters and then lazily floated the rest of the way. The best part was we knew we had a huge lunch waiting for us and we were all starving! We gorged ourselves on typical Nicaraguan food: rice, beans, salad, chicken, tortilla, and Jamaica juice. It was such an awesome and fun day.
If you’re planning on floating the Somoto Canyon I would 100% recommend Somoto Canyon Tours! Our guides Josúe and Ulices were super friendly and super fun. I really liked them because they were the perfect mix between cautious and daring. One of them would go down before us to make sure there weren’t any huge rocks and they literally held Siobhan and I’s hands as we scrambled across the canyon wall. There was one other group floating the canyon and their guide threw them down every and any rapid – we were happy our guides tested things about before hand. The whole experience was very laid back which I loved. Henry didn’t once ask us to pay – he got us prepared for our adventure, sent us on our way, and made sure we had lunch afterwards. We didn’t feel pressured to tip and they genuinely cared about our time, they even helped us catch our bus home! It was one of the cheaper tours we could find, $25 each, and the only one that included lunch and shoes which was good for Eli and I because we only had flip flops. So if you want a day full of adventura and awesome food you should definitely check out Somoto Canyon Tours.
Selva Negra was a refreshing haven from the Nicaraguan heat. The mornings were crisp, the afternoons warm, and the evenings were perfect weather for chocolate caliente. The two days we spent at Selva Negra were full of relaxation, reading, and exploration. On our second day we decided to hike to the top of the crest which overlooks the valley below. While making our way to the trail we walked past the most picturesque chapel that looked straight out of a fairytale (yes ladies, they do weddings here).
We started out our hike in high spirits – we trekked through the Indiana Jones like landscape marveling at Mother Nature, chatting, and laughing. However all did not remain peaceful for long. We hiked along the designated trails and found that the trail La Mazquita quickly dwindled. With pressure from the boys to “get a move on” we trekked onward and that’s when I saw them, the spiders. There wasn’t just one, there were hundreds. Crawling over the ground, the plants, trees, up shoes and legs. I did what any normal person completely terrified and grossed out by spiders would do – I ran. I ran screaming a warning to Siobhan as I crashed through the woods hearing her join me in the hysterics. “It’s biting me, it’s biting me! Get it off!” she shrieked as she danced around while Lamar swatted at her leg. You know that seen in Harry Potter? The one where Ron and Harry on in the Forbidden Forest in the spider’s den? I may be exagerating just a little but that was pretty much my life at the moment. In my panic to get away I didn’t think twice about my friends and left them as spidy bate. The trail had overgrown and it took me a minute to realize that running dead sprint into the woods is way more dangerous than the spiders I was running from, or so I hoped. After easing off the panic button we (as in Siobhan and I) got ourselves together enough to flee the creepy crawlies and scramble back onto the manicured trail. We decided that we had done enough hiking for the day and spent the rest of our time sitting by the pond reading, much more relaxing.
Selva Negra is the perfect place to escape the heat and do some hiking. They also offer tours of their finca, coffee plantation, horseback riding and tons of other fun activites.
The Skinny on Selva Negra
Some aspects of La Selva Negra are definitely a little expensive for the backpacker’s budget but for just a few days it’s doable.
ACOMMIDATION: We stayed in a private room with a double and single bed and a private bathroom (with hot water) for $30, $15 each, a night. They have dorms there as well but they are the same price as the private rooms – so if you have a travel partner I think the private room is a better deal.
TOURS: They have multiple tours such as a night walk and a tour of the coffee plantation ranging from $7 – $15 depending. Guests get cheaper tours as well!
FOOD: This is where we spent most of our money. Their dinners range from $6 – $15 but there are cheaper options such as a soup for $3. They have two different types of breakfast. The first morning they had a breakfast buffet, the only option, for $7 a person but the second day they had a menu with a typical Nica breakfast: gallo pinto, egg, toast, and coffee, for $3.50. Now looking at the menu that doesn’t seem bad but they have a 15% tax and a 10% propina voluntaria (voluntary tip) on top of that. That’s an extra 25% on your food. They have no kitchen so their food is the only option. Its actually pretty good, all farm fresh, just beware it adds up.
GETTING THERE: Getting to La Selva Negra from Matagalpa es muy fácil. There are buses that leave every hour from the south terminal heading towards Matagalpa. Once you arrive at Matagalpa there are buses that leave every half hour for Jinotega. Hop on this bus and tell them that you are going to La Selva Negra and they will yell out once the bus has arrived. I don’t remember how much each bus costs but we paid a total of $3.
If your looking for a place to relax, escape the heat, and enjoy nature’s beauty the blue mountains of Nicaragua are perfect!
Adiós desde San Juan del Sur!