Part of it was by coincidence. Part by my own doing. But ever since I started writing these travel memories blog five years ago, I started to design my life so I can maximize doing what I find meaningful at the moment: Have great experiences with special people.
This life design led to me taking a break from professional life to go explore new places without any time and money constraints, to meet new people from all walks of life, and to discover alternative lifestyles that I wouldn’t be typically exposed to working a professional job in a large city.
In early March, my friend Elizabeth casually invited me to come visit her in Nicaragua. I looked at the COVID-19 restrictions to travel there and decided spontaneously that it was time to go on an adventure again.
I arrived to Popoyo on April 16 on a hot sunny afternoon. Popoyo felt remote. It is the perfect place to hide from a global pandemic. Seldom would you see people walking on the beach. The only sound you could hear was the waves crashing on the beach. I felt grounded and disconnected as soon as I dropped my bags.
In the two days we got to spend in Popoyo, I got to meet some wonderful people. We all landed in Nicaragua for different reasons, yet we all had key similarities: young, educated, adventurous, minimalists, looking for new, exciting experiences. It felt so good to meet and get to know like minded folks.
On the 18th Elizabeth and I left Popoyo and started our adventure. Most of the places we would visit moving forward would be new for both of us. We started our road trip by heading to San Juan del Sur. Once a sleepy fishing village, now a busy tourist town near the border with Costa Rica.
I wasn’t a big fan of San Juan del Sur. It seemed like a town that grew too quickly to cater towards western tourism. The town has no charm and didn’t feel at all Nicaraguan. Nonetheless, San Juan is surrounded by incredible, secluded beaches, which Elizabeth and I got to enjoy on our three days there.
Having Playa Maderas to ourselves was quite unbelievable. It is a beach 15 minutes from San Juan with small waves, sandy bottoms, and clear water. For hours we baked in the sun enjoying a small corner of paradise.
We also went to Playa Remanso where we again had a beautiful beach all to ourselves. This time, the owner of the hut we were chilling at showed up and made us a bomb ceviche.
Some of our friends from Popoyo came to San Juan and we got to spend a few nights laughing, drinking wine, surfing, and enjoying the sunshine. All of us stayed at Hush Maderas, a really cool hostel overlooking Playa Maderas.
After three nights in San Juan, Elizabeth and I drove to Leon, Nicaragua’s first capital and second largest city. I was excited to learn more about Leon’s cultural significance, but I was more excited about riding a piece of plywood down a volcano.
After a short drive from Leon through some dirt roads, followed by a 45 minute hike, we reached the summit of Cerro Negro, Central America’s youngest volcano. Despite assurances from our guide that volcano boarding was perfectly safe, I did feel a little intimidated looking at our track from the top. That being said, it was an amazing experience.
That afternoon we set out to explore the city of Leon. It is palpable that its residents are very proud of its history. It was in Leon that the Act of Independence from Spain was signed in 1821. It was also a very important city during the Nicaraguan Revolution.
From Leon we continued north towards Somoto, a sleepy town near the border with Honduras. As we drove away from the cultural, commercial, and tourist regions of the country, it becomes very prevalent how humble Nicaragua really is. Of all the countries I’ve visited, Nicaragua is the poorest. It’s economy is mainly dependent on agriculture, tourism and remittances. Due to the protests that began in 2018 followed by the COVID-19 global pandemic, international tourism, a main source of income for many Nicaraguans, has been depressed. This has added to the economic woes of the country.
Despite the precarious economic situation of many, The Nicaraguans I spent time with were some of the most noble, kind, humble, and service oriented people I have ever met. Everywhere we went people were always ready to assist us. I felt very welcomed at every place I visited.
We spent most of our time in Somoto exploring it’s beautiful canyon. Up until 2004, the canyon was only visited by locals. A group of Czech scientists “discovered” the canyon and brought international attention. It is now slowly becoming a major tourist attraction, bringing a source of income to the residents of the area.
The trek through the canyon was quite fun. It was a beautiful day, and the trek involved walking a little and floating down the river a lot. We were alone for 70% of the trek, laughing, skipping rocks, cliff jumping, and lounging in the warm water and the burning sun.
Our next stop was Granada, the first European city in mainland America. I found Granada to be very charming and timeless. Its streets are clean and its colonial houses well taken care of.
In Granada we explored coffee shops, restaurants, museums, and the municipal market.
One of the highlights of the trip for both of us was the afternoon we decided to drive up to the crater of Masaya Volcano, a few kilometres from Granada. After entering the national park, we had a very beautiful, empty road up the volcano. It reminded us of the ring road in Iceland. We had the right tunes playing, the perfect weather, and total solitude. It was a bliss sunset.
We arrived at the crater just as the sun was setting. It was a surreal sight to watch the lava do its thing while the sun gave a us a beautiful vanilla sky sunset.
We stayed until dark, mostly standing in silence mesmerized by the lava flows deep below us. It was hypnotizing. It never crossed my mind that watching lava would be so attractive.
Driving down the same road in the dark, we were blessed by the pink moon. It was a great ending to an unforgettable afternoon.
The next afternoon we drove to Laguna de Apoyo, a natural reserve composed of a volcanic crater lake and its surroundings. It is a great place to relax, ground yourself, and enjoy freshwater rich in minerals.
One of my favorite things about traveling with Elizabeth was that, like me, she is a travel foodie. When I travel, I make an effort to make Anthony Bourdain proud. I purposely seek to eat what is traditional, what the common folk eat, and what is strange. Elizabeth was just as excited as I to try it all. It was awesome.
This road trip was an amazing adventure I will never forget. The COVID-19 Global Pandemic might be the event that defines my generation. I am happy that I will look back at it and remember this adventure as of the of the highlights of a difficult moment in time. I am forever grateful to Elizabeth for inviting me to this beautiful place and for joining me in this amazing adventure.
Can’t wait for the next one.