I had been saving up these airline miles for over a year, waiting for the perfect opportunity. Specifically, I was saving them for Latin America. When the time came, the choice was difficult. Colombia, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Peru….eventually it started to wind down to how little miles I could use to get there. Once the best deals came down to Costa Rica and Nicaragua the competition now was the destinations themselves. Knowing that Costa Rica was very touristy and more expensive, I chose Nicaragua to get that authentic experience every traveler wants while using my conversational Spanish and saving money to boot.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, let me explain that I enjoyed Nicaragua and I DO recommend visiting. There’s one city in particular that I recommend NOT dilly-dallying in. Unfortunately, the country's airport is in Managua, the capital, so there’s no escaping it.
Like all the other articles and blogs I had read in preparation for my trip to Nicaragua, I say to you, GET OUT AS FAST AS YOU CAN.
It hurts to say it, but a lengthy stay in Managua doesn’t offer much, save for a view of the city’s poverty and lack of infrastructure. A short visit to the ruins of the city’s Catedral de Santiago, a mere facade shell, ruined from multiple earthquakes, is the cities most beautiful architectural wonder. The nearby waterfront, a short walk away, is an unkempt, makeshift garbage dump, offering a sobering view of the world's pollution and also distant volcano.
Making your way out of town as you realize your desire to sight see wanes, a taxi ride to the famous chicken bus will complete the experience of Managua’s culture; riding past the overwhelming amount of street vendors, selling everything imaginable under the sun (sun; figuratively and literally). Selling wares by hand seems to be the only form of employment in the city as vendors are situated in kiosks fashioned out of corrugated metal along smog-choked highways, roaming between lanes in crawling traffic, and strung between trees thriving on dusty dirt in the medians. Some even employ themselves as intersection clowns; parking themselves at a red light’s notice in front of stopped cars to put on a minutes length show of juggling or fire tricks!
Luckily, transportation out of the Managua is relatively easy by chicken bus to other neighboring cities. Cabbing it from city to city is even a possibility, like to Granada, for example, costing an affordable $35 or so, depending on your Spanish haggling abilities.
Managua may not be worth your time, but the rest of Nicaragua is at no loss for sights and activities. Within a couple hours you can be sledding down the Masaya Volcano, hiking a puma trail or surfing San Juan del Sur’s famous waves; don’t let the capital scare you away from an otherwise fascinating tropical country!