Text and Photos Copyright © 2001 Mark E. Halliday




My first trip to Nicaragua was in 1993. Traveling by Ticabus from San Jose, Costa Rica, I had only two days in Managua. A day-trip to Grenada convinced me I would return. Finally, seven years later, Continental had a half-price frequent-flyer ticket sale: Managua for 17,500 miles!

The flight from Houston was unusual: no gringos taking a vacation to Nicaragua. There were Rotary Club directors checking their $750K housing project for those displaced by the Casitas Volcano mudslide disaster. There were Moravian church missionaries going to Puerto Cabezas ( they would get a nasty surprise the next week when riots broke out before the upcoming election!). There were botanists going to Bosawas Reserve, Nicaraguans returning for home visits, but no obvious tourists.

The Continental flight arrives late in the evening, I paid $5 for the tourist card, and took a taxi into town. To my surprise all three mid-priced Barrio Martha Quezada hotels I had picked from the Ulysses guidebook were full!

The lady taxista suggested the nearby Ejecutivo. It was OK, in the tourist district, and is especially suitable if you have a car. The next day, however, I learned I had paid $10 above the normal rate - clearly this was paid to the taxista as a commission! Let the games begin!

After checking in, I found the "Shannon Bar", an Irish-style pub with a fun mix of nicas, expats and Guinness. The Shannon is owned by two men (both named Paul), and located across from "Hotel Jardin D'Italia", a budget hotel listed on many tourist maps and guidebooks.


I had an interesting chat with Randy Parent. He is a Vietnam Vet and inventor with a construction business in Managua. His interest is building $2000 houses that won't kill the occupants in an earthquake.

I also met some Peace Corps and American Red Cross workers. I heard interesting stories about going down the Rio Coco from Wiwili to Waspam, and logged that idea for a future adventure.

When the Shannon Bar closed about 2AM, I followed my ears and found a Karaoke bar up past the Hotel Fragata. I had never seen a Karaoke bar in Latin America! Everyone was having fun, these girls sang along on stage. Video monitors showed scenes of the Rio San Juan while Spanish words to the music scrolled underneath.

Managua also has a growing nightlife center, the Zona Rosa. It was Saturday night, and Halloween is celebrated tonight, two days early, to put it on the weekend. A variety of restaurants, bars, and dance clubs fill the area, and costumes and pumpkins were the norm.




After the weekend in Managua, I took a bus to Matagalpa, about 3 hours north. This area was hit heavily by Hurricane Mitch, and many major bridges are still being reconstructed. Matagalpa has a pleasant climate, and is in the heart of Nicaragua's coffee-growing region.

I stayed at the Fuente Azul hotel, pleasantly located next to the river. It was fun to walk around town, easy to find an Internet connection, and I watched Spanish-subtitled movies at the cinema in the evening.

Matagalpa is also a Sandinista political stronghold, and elections were less than a week away. When I asked for directions to a museum, two young men started yelling at me, roughly translated as "Fucking gringo, you killed my father...".



This part of Nicaragua suffered terribly during the Contra war, and I understand that it may take generations before memories fade. It was, however, an unpleasant encounter, and it was repeated later that afternoon with other chicos.

I think people were worked up over the upcoming elections, and I never experienced anything similar over the next three weeks traveling in Nicaragua. But I decided to move on earlier than planned, and will come back here some other time to visit the famous Selva Negra, etc.






Nov 3:

I took a minibus from Leon to Managua. The minibuses on this route depart when full, so service is quick! Buying both front seats again, the fare was $3.

My connection for Masaya in Managua was at at the UCA minibus-station, a new transit point that allows you to avoid the Mercado Huembes bus station. The minibus will drop you about four blocks from the central plaza.

Masaya is one of Nicaragua's top tourist spots, popular with day-trippers from Managua or Grenada.

Tour buses bring visitors to the handicraft market near the center, which is definitely worth a look.

If you want a hammock, Masaya is the place to buy one. The hammock shops are down near the stadium.


The Horse Cart is still typical local transportation in Masaya


There are no fancy hotels, but a few moderate choices downtown.

I stayed at the Montecarlo Hotel $27 single/ $37 double, cable tv and a/c.

Nearby is a cheaper alternative, the Hotel Regis, $5 s or $10 d.

Close to the Regis is an excellent Internet service located 15 Varas south of the Curacao shop. Just try to figure out what a Vara is!



One of my favorite Latin musicians,


Carlos Vives from Colombia,


played a concert in Masaya stadium.











Saturday Nov. 4

The morning after the concert, I took a taxi to Grenada from Masaya for $4, about 20 minutes.



William Walker's house in Grenada

OK, who is William Walker?




Iglesia de San Francisco, built in 1529

An excellent museum is attached , with a stunning gallery of large carved rock figures from Isla Zapaetera.







Sunday November 5: election day has finally arrived throughout Nicaragua.

Like many Latin countries, all bars and liquor shops closed at least 24 hours before election time.


These two election observers, from Atlanta and Sao Paulo, were sponsored by the Carter Center in Atlanta.









Masaya Volcano

from Interamericana highway





transportacion de puerco!










San Juan del Sur beach and boats in the harbor.





Boat Parking on the main street










Sunset at Majagual






Majagual Beach












Day-visitors head the boat into the waves,







Then depart for San Juan del Sur at sunset.








On Tuesday, the resort has a day party, with DJ and dancing in the bar.


Between the Bar and Beach is an area for a campfire at night.






Paul McAuliffe, a friendly Aussie who runs the Majagual Beach Resort.


Paul used to work as a geophysicist, so we had lots of things in common to talk about.

Click here for Mark MaMahon's story about Paul







South side of Bahia Majagual












Horse Cart in Rivas








Iglesia de San Pedro, Rivas






Front Facade of San Pedro Church.












Interior view of the dome in the San Pedro Cathedral, Rivas.

The mural in the dome has some amazing scenes,

such as the boat of Catholicism

sinking the boat of communism!






This is the end of the road at San Jorge, just 5 km or so from Rivas.

Volcan Concepcion on Ometepe Island in background.




There are two crossings of this car ferry each day, so it is best to make a reservation. I just took my chances, it worked.

If you have a tiny little car like I did,

don't take it to Ometepe Island.

The roads really require a high clearance vehicle, if not 4WD.



Cars and Trucks packed into the ferry

to Moyogalpa, Ometepe Island







Volcano Concepcion, Ometepe, in afternoon light








Ometepe Museum, in Altagracia,

with carved stone figures in front.

Omtepe Petroglyph Project





This is the road that Somoza built

so that he could travel more quickly

from Managua to his Beach resort.







This is a scan of a post card I bought at the tourist market in Masaya.

It is labeled the "Mark Twain", Rio San Juan and Los Guatuzos


Does anyone know if this boat still operates, and who operates it?

please email!






I bought this stamp at the Correos in Leon. It appears to be a 100-year commemorative issue in honor of (perhaps the first?) Nicaraguan stamps of 1862.

My original interest in these stamps was the story of how the "Nicaragua Canal" was dropped in favor of the Panama route. History books refer to a campaign where each member of the US Congress was mailed a letter with the "Volcano" stamps affixed.

The question was thereby posed whether the Nicaragua route, passing by these dangerous volcanoes, was wise. Shortly thereafter, the Panama route was approved by congress!

Also interesting are the thirteen numbered markings around the volcano stamps. The post office staff had no idea about these markings. I assume they are postmarks from the various departments of Nicaragua, i.e. Rivas, Grenada, Jinotega, Masaya, Matagalpa, Leon, Chinandega, etc. However, there is not an exact match between the postmarks and departments, so if anyone out there has a better explanation, please let me know!





Text and Photos Copyright © 2001 Mark E. Halliday


some interesting links:

Savage Shore: Life and Death with Nicaragua's Last Shark Hunters

"Dry canal" across Nicaragua breathes new life into old dream

CASKE 2000: Central American Sea Kayak Expedition 2000