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It’s only been said of a couple of places in the world…and of course, it’s always subjective.
There’s just something in the air.
What is it? It’s thick, almost tangible. Sweet almost. The languid poison loosens your limbs from a pose to a dance, and before you know it, you’re the happy fool.
Nicaragua is not without its share of problems, including political instability and economic turmoil. But what stands regardless is a resilient people and a way of life that we could all learn from.
It wasn’t simplicity. To me, it seemed very much the opposite.
For those craving an authentic escape, here are 4 tried-and-true ways to rediscover yourself in Nicaragua.
Go volcano boarding down Cerro Negro, an active cinder cone volcano that last erupted in 1999. You know what that means…it’s due to blow any day now.
In 2005, Leon became the only place in the world that you could board down the side of an active volcano. There are several reputable companies that offer volcano boarding, but I chose Bigfoot as they had been voted a top-rated “party” hostel at the time.
First, you’re loaded up into an open-air truck with your fellow volcano boarders, anywhere from 10 to 40 people. Get comfortable and make some friends, because it’s a beautiful 50-minute ride out to Cerro Negro, Central America’s youngest volcano.
The hike to the top is about an hour and considering you’re carrying your board, it’s quite a workout. The boards are made of metal and plywood and can reach speeds of up to 101 kilometers per hour.
After boarding down the volcano, adventurers are taken back to the hostel and welcomed with mojitos, beers, and cookies. If you decide to stick around, you can assist in the volcano boarding in exchange for room and board– and then you get to do it multiple times a week! Or if hiking in the sun isn’t your thing, try bartending or cooking in their kitchen.
One of my favorite breakfasts was right across the street. A cafe called ViaVia Leon offered – for the equivalent of $1 USD – a breakfast combo consisting of a black coffee, a cigarette, and a shot of rum.
Learn to surf in Las Penitas and try not to get too drunk
There are several companies that offer both surf lessons and daily shuttles to the beach, so there’s no excuse not to get out in the waves. The rough shoreline can be a little intimidating, but the water is warm and locals will reassure you that shark attacks are not a thing.
Luckily beers come in liters, so they’re the perfect size to sit over with a friend. Try a shot of local Flor de Cana rum if you’re really showing off. Full moon parties bring young people to the beach in droves. If you’re not keen on traveling solo, sign up for a local surf camp for a more intensive experience including yoga and night hikes.
Get a truck with a mattress in the back and sleep under the stars
Rent a truck and ask a hostel if you can rent a full-sized mattress for a fraction of the cost of a bed or room. Strap the mattress up in the back, buy some rum and bread, and get ready to get cozy.
The average hostel bed costs $5 per night, so perhaps volunteer $2 and leave collateral. You can find a bottle of premium rum for about $8, and bread and fruit at a pop-up stand cost less than a dollar. And with just $15 USD, we were set for the weekend.
Head for Matagalpa, Jinotega, or Esteli to get a taste of mountain life. Finding a safe and secluded place to camp or park is pretty easy with a basic grasp of Spanish. Wake up to fresh fruit and go for a swim in Somoto Canyon. Smoke a cigar in the mountain air of Esteli. There’s less to do, but plenty of time to take it slow.
Rent a motorbike on Ometepe Island
Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanoes in Lake Nicaragua. There’s one main road around the island, and you can make it around the island in about an hour. Fun fact: Until recently, Lake Nicaragua was thought to have the world’s only freshwater sharks.
Rent a motorbike and scoot on over to the butterfly sanctuary. Tour the volcano Conception. Take a barefoot hike in dense rainforests taken right out of the Jungle Book.
If you are looking for a more spiritual experience, try a work-stay exchange on the Corn Islands. Sites like WorkAway and HelpX.net offer various farm and companion jobs. Catch up on some rest and relaxation on a coffee farm in Matagalpa or take a tour of the historic cathedrals in Leon.
Nicaragua is a life-changing experience if you honor the culture and respect its people. The beauty is breathtaking, yet its unassuming attitude lends the place a warmth that is impossible to replicate.