We spent 2 weeks in Nicaragua. Although it wasn’t our favourite country for cycling, we loved the colonial cities of Leon and Granada and had a great time on Little Corn Island and Ometepe Island with David’s cousin Simon and his girlfriend Paty.
Friday 8th May: La Union, El Salvador to Leon, Nicaragua
We had decided to skip Honduras and catch a boat to Nicaragua, as we needed to be in Leon by the 9th May, to meet up with David’s cousin.
We had organized a boat from La Union, El Salvador to Potosi, Nicaragua online through Ruta Del Golfo. We met our boat captain at 8am outside the La Union immigration office, along with the other passengers – all tourists. In total, there were 5 passengers, all with extra luggage. There was one other cycle tourer from New Zealand (Ben), who we became fast friends with, and two cool surfers from Denmark. After our passports had been stamped, we made our way to the port and helped to load the bikes and panniers onto the boat after it arrived. The boat ride was lovely and the bay was uncharacteristically calm; we travelled through the Gulf of Fonseca, passing volcanos, fisherman and little islands.
After about 2 hours, the port of Potosi (really just a jetty) came into view. The captain and crew helped us unload our bikes and panniers onto the beach (not the jetty) and then we had to push our fully loaded bikes through the black sand up to the immigration office – this was really tough, because the bikes kept sinking under all the weight. But eventually we found ourselves in front of the immigration office.
The Danes were already at the immigration office and were arguing with the cranky border official who was demanding that they pay him a USD2 tip, in addition to the entry fee. The border official was the grumpiest that we have yet to encounter and seemed really put out that he had to deal with any of us. We couldn’t see any point in arguing about his tip, so we just filled out the forms, paid the money and got our stamp.
Unlike Ben, we had arranged to be dropped off in Leon after the boat ride. From our research, we were under the impression that the road leading from Potosi was very rough (apparently the road was so bad that you needed a 4×4) and I wasn’t sure how I would go on a road like that with my ribs, which still hadn’t fully healed. But, the road really wasn’t as bad as we imagined and we probably could have cycled it after all.
Nevertheless, by the time we got to Potosi and passed through immigration and customs it was after 12pm and we had sweat running down our backs just standing there! The thought of getting on my bike in that oppressive heat, at the hottest part of the day, to cycle over 100kms, really wasn’t appealing. So I was very happy to get in the air-conditioned van that was waiting for us. I felt really sorry for Ben, so we took some of his luggage, to make his trip a bit easier.
We arrived in Leon around 3pm. We had planned to get a room at Via Via, but they wouldn’t let us put our bikes in our room, so we found a room at another nearby hostel. We spent the afternoon exploring Leon and ended up having dinner at Via Via Café with Ben later that evening.
Saturday 9th May: Rest day in Leon
David’s cousin Simon and his girlfriend were meeting us in Leon that night, so we had a rest day in Leon. David and Ben had signed up to go volcano boarding on Volcano Cerro Negro (I would have liked to go, but didn’t think it was a good idea for someone recovering from a rib fracture! :)), so I spent the morning relaxing in a lovely French bakery café, catching up on emails.
In the evening, we met up with Simon and Paty for dinner and drinks at Via Via Café. It was a long awaited reunion and we had an awesome night catching up and planning our trip to the Corn Islands!
Sunday 10th May: Leon to Nagarote
This was a relatively short day of cycling, with minimal climbing, but the heat was brutal. It probably would have been ok if we had started early in the morning, but we didn’t get started until around 11am (thanks to our late night reunion the night before! :)).
We followed Highway 12 out of Leon and then turned onto Highway 28. This highway was pretty awful for cycling. Even though it was a Sunday, there was a lot of traffic (including lots of huge trucks) and the road either had a non-existent or completely crumbling shoulder. We had a pretty constant headwind the whole way, which slowed our progress, but made the heat a little more manageable. We passed through some very impoverished areas (in particular, a brick manufacturing area) – it was quite confronting and my heart was heavy seeing the starving horses. When we stopped for drinks, we were approached by beggars, which hardly ever happened in Central America. It was really sad.
On a brighter note, the scenery was quite nice – mainly agricultural farmland, with views of Momotombo Volcano, which erupted in 1610, forcing the inhabitants of old Leon to move their city to its current location.
Unfortunately, David broke another 2 spokes on this day (which brought our total up to 6 (5 for David and 1 for me).
We spent the night in Nagarote, which seemed to be quite an affluent ranching town (there were cows lining the streets the whole way into town!).
Monday 11th May: Nagarote – Granada
We cycled from Nagarote to Granada on this day, bypassing the capital, Managua. It was another tough, hilly and hot ride, with a strong, never-ending headwind.
I really enjoyed the stretch from Masaya into Granada, which was largely downhill, with minimal traffic and beautiful scenery (although David broke another spoke on the way into Granada, which brought our total up to 7). But the ride from Nagarote to Masaya, was HEAVILY congested with traffic (especially around Managua, as you would expect) and it was not particularly nice (although, we did get some nice views of Lake Managua in the early morning).
Cycling around Managua was further complicated by the complete lack of street signs. Even major turn offs like the one to Granada, were not sign posted. Thankfully, we had google maps, and the locals helped us as well.
When we finally reached the beautiful colonial city of Granada, we made a bee line for our Hostel – Casa Del Agua. It was a wonderful, deluxe hostel, with a pool in the centre of the building, run by a very friendly Irishman, Jerry. Jerry looked after our bikes and panniers while we went to Little Corn Island. We can’t recommend the place highly enough!
We spent the afternoon looking around Granada and unexpectedly ran into our friend Ben, who also arrived in Granada that morning. We had dinner together at El Camello, a cool Mediterranean / Middle Eastern restaurant and made plans to meet up the following day for a cigar tour!
KMs travelled: 87kms
Tuesday 12th May: Granada
We had a great day exploring Granada. We met up with Ben in the afternoon for a tour at Dona Elba Cigars, which included a sample of one of the cigars that we watched being made! Neither of us had ever smoked a cigar, and it certainly wasn’t our thing, but it was a fun afternoon. In the evening we went out for farewell dinner and drinks with Ben. He was heading off to Ometepe Island and then onto Costa Rica, while we were off the Corn Islands.
Wednesday 13th May – Monday 18th May: Little Corn Island
We spent 5 wonderful nights on Little Corn Island, with David’s cousin Simon and his girlfriend Paty. It was a beautiful island, and we had the most relaxing time! We stayed on the windy side of the island, which was great because we didn’t need a fan or air-conditioning, in a very basic little beach hut at Elsa’s (USD 20 per night). We slept in, sipped cocktails and ate seafood. In between, we tried to add a little activity to our days. We hiked around the island and up to the lighthouse; went swimming and snorkeling, while the boys went paddle boarding and Simon and Paty learned to kite surf. Thanks for a fabulous break Simon and Paty!
Tuesday 19th May: Granada
We didn’t want to leave Granada without kayaking around the Granada Islets, a series of tiny islands in Lake Nicaragua, close to Granada. We hired two double kayaks, as I didn’t think I could paddle one by myself with my ribs (the healing process seems to be taking a very long time). It was nice to have an upper body workout, even though my ribs ached quite a bit. Many of the islets appeared to be privately owned. Some had huge mansions and restaurants/bars on them. Others were covered with lush vegetation and were completely undeveloped. We paddled as far as Monkey Island, where a colony of monkeys resides. We were careful not to get too close though, as they can be quite aggressive.
Wednesday 20th May: Granada to Playa Santo Domingo, Ometepe
This was a great day on the bikes, although not from a mechanical perspective. While we were in Granada, David changed our back wheels over, as he had been getting so many broken spokes. He thought that his back wheel might suffer fewer broken spokes on my bike, as I am lighter and carrying less gear. But, his back wheel seemed to be out of alignment on my bike and kept making strange crunching noises. We stopped a couple of times trying to work out what the problem was and eventually, we decided that it would be best to swap the wheels back. As soon as we did, the crunching sound on my bike stopped.
We had two nice hills to climb on this day, but otherwise the route was quite flat. I especially enjoyed the climb out of Granada in the morning, as the scenery was lovely and green and it was still cool.
Our goal today was Santo Domingo beach on Ometepe Island, where we planned to meet up with Simon and Paty. In order to get to Omepete Island we needed to catch a ferry. Despite our numerous mechanical stops, we made good time into Rivas and the little port town of San Jorge. The port looked a little dodgy, but it was fine. We grabbed a quick lunch by the dock and then set off to find a boat. We were surprised by the number of backpackers – Ometepe Island seemed to be a very popular destination. The next boat to Moyogalpa, Ometepe was about to leave when we arrived (around 1.30pm), and after getting tickets for our bikes (we paid for our tickets onboard), we were ushered onto the boat. Our bikes were wheeled on via a gang plank, fully loaded, and were simply laid down on the deck for the duration of the boat ride – all very easy. The crossing was quite rough and took about an hour.
Once in Moyogalpa, we set off in the afternoon heat to Playa Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo beach). Although the locals tried to discourage us from cycling, saying that it was far too hilly, it was totally fine. In fact, it was probably my favourite cycling in all of Nicaragua! The island was refreshingly undeveloped and quite rural. For most of the journey we had wonderful views of Volcano Concepcion. The road from Moyogalpa to Playa Santo Domingo is totally paved and the locals were extremely friendly.
We ran into Simon and Paty (on a scooter) on the outskirts of Playa Santo Domingo. They had climbed Volcano Maderas and were staying in Moyogalpa. We organized to catch up with them the following day for breakfast. The road into Playa Santo Domingo was very pretty, but quite hilly. I was very glad when we finally reached our destination. We found a nice little bungalow with air-conditioning by the beach for USD 30 (Ometepe isn’t the cheapest place!) and had a lovely dinner at a restaurant overlooking the beach.
Thursday 21st May: Playa Santo Domingo to Altagracia
Thursday 21st May: Playa Santo Domingo to Altagracia
We met up with Simon and Paty at Natural, a vegetarian restaurant in Playa Santo Domingo. After a yummy breakfast, the boys went motor biking around the island, while Paty and I spent a lovely morning overlooking the beach, catching up on some reading and emails.
In the afternoon, we said goodbye and made our way to the port of Altagracia, where we caught the night ferry to San Carlos. It was a short, but hilly ride. We arrived in Altagracia around 4.30pm, and had an early dinner at one of pubs. Ben had warned us that to get from Altagracia to the port, we would need to cycle for 2.5kms on an unpaved, unlit road. I preferred to cycle while it was still light, so we made our way out to the port around 5.30pm. We arrived in time to see the beautiful sunset and then waited around for the ferry until 9pm.
The ferry ride was good, but quite rough. We managed to get a bench each in the air-conditioned cabin on the top deck of the ferry, so we could stretch out and sleep. I had taken sea-sickness tablets, which make me drowsy, so I slept through most of it, which was good because we had a big day of cycling the next day!