A Year to Discover Nicaragua

It’s time to forget everything you think you know about Nicaragua, and prepare to discover a new world that is emerging as an exciting and enticing destination. The country still possesses raw natural beauty and passion for life, but that timeless and mysterious appeal is now combined with a vibrancy that makes it Central America’s emerging jewel.

This is the New Nicaragua, an unspoiled paradise that is being discovered by thousands of visitors each year and embraced by adventurous investors who recognize the opportunities that abound. Over the last two decades, Nicaragua has transformed itself into one of the safest and fastest-growing countries in Latin America, with a strong democratic government. As a result, it now possesses one of the most dynamic economies in Central America, experiencing substantial increases in private investment and exports. Direct foreign investment has seen double-digit increases annually, and the number of tourists visiting the country over the last ten years has grown consistently.

For those inclined to mix business and pleasure, Nicaragua displays the same opportunities and possibilities that marked the beginnings of economic upswings in Costa Rica, Belize and Panama. The country is reveling in its ever growing stability and becoming a leader in Central America with its progressive government, rapidly improving infrastructure and strong incentives for investors.

Nicaragua has always had opportunities to experience  the elements that have always attracted the curious and daring: pristine natural settings, tropical weather, a strong  fascinating history and culture, tons of recreational and tourism opportunities, colonial cities and picturesque towns and, perhaps most important, a warm and welcoming population renowned for its hospitality and receptiveness to visitors.

For the adventurous, the country is full of endless possibilities, including canopy tours through forests, diving and snorkeling along living reefs, surfing and kayaking, exploring volcanoes and crater lakes, hiking mountain trails, or just relaxing on one of many beautiful and relaxing beaches.

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The capital city of Managua possesses a strong urban energy with many of the features expected from a metropolitan area, including expansive shopping and entertainment, a state-of-the-art medical center and international airport. Most major air-lines offer daily service to Nicaragua, including non-stop flights from major U.S. cities. Other cities, such as the colonial city of Leon, offer outstanding opportunities to experience the history and culture of the country.

All signs indicate that the “New Nicaragua” is poised to become one of the world’s success stories as it emerges from the past and embraces its future.

 

Whether you’re traveling in Nicaragua here are five rules for keeping your kids happy.

Katie Quirk-LA Times

I had my doubts when we first stepped off the bus in Granada in January. Judging by their wrinkled foreheads, our kids did too.

My husband, Tim, and I saddled our sons’ (Liam, 6, and Reid, 9) already sweaty bodies with their overstuffed backpacks and directed them to leap over a fetid gutter.

Had I really booked us seven nights in this city?

But when our family of four entered the cool lobby of Hotel la Polvora, one of Granada’s many remodeled colonial homes, with a friendly host offering fresh orange juice and a teal pool beckoning us from the garden courtyard, I remembered what I had been thinking.

Eight months into a family gap year in Central America, after painful restaurant waits on evenings when our kids were exhausted, after dragging them from one hostel to the next, and after trying to shame them into expressing interest in what was a pretty dull museum, Tim and I have settled upon a few hard-earned rules for traveling with young children.

These rules work, whether your destination is Nicaragua or Nevada.

Rule 1: Invest in a good base

Choose lodging carefully, and plan to stay awhile.

Our year abroad has taught us that our kids appreciate routine. Lodging with kitchen access allows for easy meals in, and a living room or common area in which the kids can play has proved critical. A pool, of course, never hurts. Our hotel in Granada fit the bill.

Rule 2: Stop for parrots

Don’t get your heart set on specific activities. Little finds such as spinning roadside parrots often leave everyone happier than expensive tours.

A vendor selling fried plantains and other treats squeezes through the aisle on one of the many chicken buses that Katie Quirk and her family rode during their stay in Granada, Nicaragua.

We dedicated our first day to exploring Granada on foot. With the maroon domes of the city’s cathedral lining the horizon ahead of us, we coaxed the kids down streets checkered with brightly painted houses — unabashed orange, mint green, royal blue with yellow accents, and a split-level red and purple.

The kids ran ahead of us singing “ding” — a video-game reference — as they did spin jumps and kicks off the city’s famously ornate wooden doors.

We didn’t have to yell at them to wait at the street corner. The horse carts and “chicken” buses stopped them in their tracks.

We had started our gap year in Antigua, Guatemala, Granada’s sister colonial capital to the north.

Granada felt much less commercial than Antigua — gritty and very much lived in, with laundry hanging to dry, kids playing in the streets and homeowners, rather than professional street sweepers, cleaning the sidewalks.

MORE: Learning Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala »

The city has seen hardship, most recently amid Nicaragua’s economic collapse in the 1980s. But perhaps its greatest setback came in the 1850s with the brief presidency of U.S.-born William Walker, who dreamed of ruling a slave-holding, English-speaking Central American empire.

By the time we had meandered our way to Parque Central, everyone was hungry. The square was abuzz with vendors hawking ice cream, women in frilly aprons smacking tortillas into shape, and locals filling cafe tables to enjoy the city’s delicacy: vigorón, a banana leaf filled with cooked yuca, a vinegary cabbage and fruit salad, and fried pig skin.

Tim and I chose quesillos, a cheese-filled tortilla topped with pickled onions; the kids happily gobbled hot dogs.

After lunch, we wandered down cobblestoned La Calzada to Lake Nicaragua. I had my eye on a boat tour, but the kids were fading so we stopped at a roadside cart to sip from coconuts.

The owner’s parrot chased Reid around a wooden cart, squawking territorially. Much to the kids’ delight, when Reid spun, the bird did too.

“Today’s destination seems to be parrots, not a boat tour,” I said to Tim. He smiled knowingly.

We settled into the vendor’s chairs to quiz fellow sippers about Nicaragua’s Sandinista president, Daniel Ortega, who had recently changed the constitution so he could run for a third consecutive term with his wife Rosario Murillo as vice president.

Rule 3: Don’t forget downtime

Bring games and honor the need for creative, playful downtime.

The next morning we woke early to the neighborhood’s exuberant church bells. My proposal for a volcano hike was met with vociferous disapproval by the kids.

Their idea of a good day seemed to include swimming in the hotel pool, jumping between our two queen beds and — let’s be honest — extracting iPad time from us.

Instead of venturing out, we lay low, reading aloud “A Wrinkle in Time,” drawing “Star Wars” characters, swimming in the salt-water pool and playing travel-sized games — Guillotine, Hive Pocket, Kanoodle and Sleeping Queens that have proved to be our silver bullet for downtime during family travel.

For meals, we ate in, cooked in the shared kitchen and practiced our Spanish with the staff.

We adhered to this pattern for the rest of the week: a day of adventure followed by a day of rest.

Rule 4: Day trips work well

Limit travel to day trips rather than frequent hotel changes.

Liam searches for a way past pineapple vendors in Masaya Market.
Liam searches for a way past pineapple vendors in Masaya Market. (Katie Quirk)

We ventured out to the market town of Masaya, wandering through alleyways lined with blocks of gamy cheese, garishly frosted cakes covered with pastel pandas and round-bellied boy and girl piñatas.

When the kids’ energy waned, we told them they could each buy one thing. Liam scored 18 packs of knockoff Pokémon cards for less than $2, and Reid perused the handicraft section of the market for half an hour until he found just the right chess set — a wooden board painted in black, white and neon colors with Andean-themed pieces. The knights were llamas, naturally.

We retreated to a bakery to play games until dusk, at which point we hitched a ride in the back of a priest’s truck to Masaya Volcano, where we peered at bats hunting for insects above the red glow of flowing lava.

Other days, we swam in the Apoyo Lagoon, attempting flips off a raft and kicking around the geothermally warmed waters in inner tubes.

We indulged ourselves with a chocolate-making Beans to Bar class at the Choco Museo.

We took a horse-drawn carriage tour of the city with a driver who knew kid audiences: taking us by the gunpowder fort; explaining that “Granada” is the name of one of their favorite fruits, the pomegranate; and pointing out that Granada’s oldest house — the setting for a film about William Walker — now reeks of urine.

We steered clear of tourist shuttles and instead chose chicken buses to leave the city. The young male conductors leaped up and down the aisle, and hearty women hawked tamarind juice in plastic bags with straws, fried plantains and junk food we usually wouldn’t allow the kids.

We played 20 questions but limited our search to the many stickers that plastered the interior of the bus.

The obvious first question became, “Does the sticker have anything to do with Jesus?” If the answer was no, you had ruled out more than half.

Rule 5: Become treasure hunters

Travel is a quest for novelty, and children’s ability to find play in the mundane makes them worthy travel companions.

We pulled out the big gun, our rule No. 5 for travel with young children, on our final day in Granada.

It’s more of a tool than a rule, and one we use sparingly, but in Guatemala it had bought us three hours in the stunning Casa Santo Domingo museum with nary a complaint from the kids.

“You guys want to do a treasure hunt?” we asked.

“Yes!”

This time we visited Granada’s Centro Cultural Antiguo, housed in the lovely San Francisco Convent.

We split into teams of two — a parent and kid in each — and used our children’s assumption that a museum is where you devise tricky questions to stump or entertain your brother.

A half an hour later, Liam and I were scanning colorful native paintings dating up to the Sandinista-revolutionary era, pre-Columbian statuary, Catholic iconography and a scale model of the city to answer the questions Tim and Reid had devised for us: How many baseball diamonds are in Granada? (Answer:Four.) What makes Granada’s Stations of the Cross unique? (Answer: They’re aquatic.)

They had stumped us with, “What does butaquiarse mean in Spanish? A docent finally answered the question for us: It means to rock in a rocking chair, especially on the sidewalk, as everyone older than 50 seems to do in Granada after dusk.

On our walk home, the kids moaned at the mention that this was our last day in the city.

“What will you remember about Granada 10 years from now?” I asked, fearing they might mention the obscene number of hours we allowed them to play with iPads on our down days.

“That William Walker was a bad guy, but the house they used for the movie about him got peed on,” Liam said, laughing.

“Finding my chess set in the market and hitchhiking up the volcano,” Reid said.

I will remember the rocking chairs on the sidewalks at night, and the slow pace of life Granada and our children afforded us.

Nicaragua’s Popular Foods

TODAY NICARAGUA – Nicaragua is an interesting place, with a tumultuous history and a relatively peaceful present. and even if many things can be better, many people live happy lives there.

If there is one thing that unifies all Nicaraguans is the love for their tradition and their culture. Nicaraguans are proud of what they have. And one of the things they have is their local food.

The Nicaraguan cuisine includes a mixture of the indigenous Miskito people, Spanish cuisine and Creole cuisine. Despite the blending and incorporation of pre-Columbian and Spanish influenced cuisine, traditional cuisine differs on the Pacific and the Caribbean coast.

Many of the local dishes are based on corn, and some of them are cooked on banana leaves for a unique taste.

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A mixture of rice and beans (appearing above in breakfast), most Nicaraguans eat this almost daily and it is considered a national symbol. It’s delicious but I ate this so often that after a few weeks I asked if I could have my rice and beans “separado”  for some variety.

Quesillo

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A medium sized tortilla topped with molten cheese, pickled sliced onions, sour cream, rolled into the shape of a burrito. Very convenient for eating on the run. It has become a staple of the Nicaraguan cuisine (although it may have its roots elsewhere)

SOPA DE QUESO

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It’s a tomato – chicken broth topped with crispy fried cheese-balls. The cheese taste comes from the fact that the cheese-balls disintegrate into the broth at the moment you put them in. Again, there may be similar dishes to this one in Latin America.

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Nacatamales is the local take on the traditional Latin America Tamale. It’s big. It’s tasty! It’s made of corn flour, and filled up with as many as 20 ingredients, which may include: pork, chicken, peas, carrots, onions, peppermint, sour orange, peppers, and many others. This is one of the meals that is cooked in banana leaves. An average Nacatamal may have 1000 calories. It is a very popular dish in Nicaraguan cuisine.

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Vigorón-

Pork cracklings with tenderly cooked cassava, topped with chopped cabbage and tomatoes. This is one food that can be traced to its origins.

A lady entrepreneur was looking for a way of selling food at a baseball stadium, in such a way people could eat it without using forks, and could easily dispose of the trash. She came up with the ingredients, and the name came from a medicine with the same name, which was used to increase the vigor of people.

The food became a staple of Granada, the town where it originated, but it is eaten around the country and beyond. It is usually served on banana leaves.

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Baho

This one is more elaborate, and it takes dried beef and some vegetables: cassava, plantain, tomatoes, onions, all topped,  with the same chopped cabbage and tomatoes as in the previous plates. This food is popular for lunch, and also served on the people’s plates. Very hearty.

These are just some examples of the food you get in Nicaragua, across the whole country. But there are many local dishes in every city that can be taken advantage of.

Nicaraguans are proud of their country, their culture and their food. Just ask.

What do Nicaraguans eat daily?

Breakfast: Beans, rice, tortilla. Served with water, sometimes flavored with powder.

Lunch: Beans, rice, tortilla. Sometimes chicken on the side. Sometimes cucumber or cabbage on the side. Occasionally soup as an alternative to this meal.

Dinner: Beans, rice, tortilla. Sometimes chicken or pork on the side. Sometimes cucumber or cabbage on the side. Sometimes pico de gallo on the side.

In rural Nicaragua, there isn’t a whole lot of variation between days or between meals.There is also a lot of snacking. Pick mangos and mamon off of trees and eat them when they want is not uncommon.

The Big Move: 10 Things to Leave Behind When Moving Abroad

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1.      Closed-mindedness

First of all, if you can’t let go of what you know, then how can you discover something new? Approach Nicaragua and its new culture with an open mind and respect and you will soon reap the rewards, so leave your inner critic behind. Several studies have shown that people who move abroad and engage in their local environment often increase in their depth of thought and creativity.  Learning to adapt and adjust to a new environment is a vital skill for any expat, so don’t critique and never compare — sometimes things are different, and that isn’t a bad thing at all.

2.      Toiletries

Are you sure that your favorite rose-scented soap won’t be available in Nicaragua? Is it unlikely that you will find argan oil shampoo in Nicaragua? The truth is toiletries can be bought worldwide, with many popular brands being available in department stores. Furthermore, toiletries are extremely heavy to carry and will weigh you down on your journey, not to mention that they often leak from air pressure on planes, managing to ruin your perfectly packed clothes. If there’s something you love and can’t find, the answer is simple — order it online!

3.      Bedding

This is a controversial one. Whilst taking your duvet with you may seem ridiculous, as it takes up a huge amount of space in your luggage, many expats are uncomfortable with their new sleeping situation. Some countries such as Germany have very large pillows, and people in warmer countries such as Nicaragua rarely need or use duvets at all.  MOst Bedding sizes are compatible with beds in Nicaragua, so it’s possible that your own bedding will fit the bed. But decide with the hot climate whether you will need to fly your favorite goose feather duvet to the tropics.

4.      Clothes

Clothes is a tricky one for many expats, as often you are moving to a new environment, and, moreover, a new climate. This makes moving abroad the perfect opportunity to finally clean out your wardrobe and rid yourself of that old jumper which makes your skin itch but you keep “just in case”. Do some good in your neighborhood and give what you don’t need to charity, as clothes are needed for refugees across the globe now more than ever. So be ruthless with your packing, and generous with your donating.

5.      Technical Appliances

So in the New Year, you may think you desperately need your smoothie maker and zucchini spiralizer. However you may not think it’s so vital anymore when you find yourself  paying another extra luggage fee, which probably costs more than the appliance itself. Moving country is stressful enough already, without you having to drag half of your kitchen across borders. Living in a new culture, you can immerse yourself in delicious foods and traditions, and if you really can’t live without something, simply buy it here. If you really want to bring some of your more expensive items, be sure to invest in a lot of bubble wrap!

6.      Transportation

It’s true, many of us love our cars, some of us even have names for them. However, it may be time to let go. Consider if it is a particularly safe country to drive in,  The major cities in Nicaragua are very busy and you’d be better off with public transport in many cases Take into consideration the cost of importing your car, the price of gas, taxes,  ease of finding car parts and the licensing fees you must pay. It’s well worth considering your method of transport when choosing Nicaragua as your new home— maybe this is the year for you to go green and get a bike?

7.      Furniture

Many of us have some beautiful furniture and it can be heartbreaking to leave things behind. However, if you can bear to let some things go, your journey will be significantly easier and also lower in cost. Perhaps you can see your move as an exciting opportunity to get some overalls on and enjoy decorating your new home. However, if you do decide to keep your furniture, there are countless international companies who offer overseas shipping of your belongings. If it is not included, it is also worth getting insurance, because transport accidents do unfortunately happen, both at sea and on the road.

8.      Pets

This is a horribly tricky situation for any expat, as moving your pets to another country can be complicated, expensive, and sometimes even risky for your furry friend. If you are only relocating for a short time period, perhaps you could find out if you have a trusted neighbor or friend who could care for your pet while you are away.

Consider whether you will be able to cope with caring for your pet at a busy time of your life, when you will be potentially occupied with long working days, decorating, and adjusting yourself to a new environment. If you are sure you cannot leave this furry family member behind, be sure to find out about your country’s specific requirements needed for pet immigration to Nicaragua such as vaccinations and pet passports.

9.      Food

You might want to bring your favorite biscuits from home, but this will take up a lot of space, and if a packet of food spills out into your bag, it can, like shampoo, wreak absolute havoc. Since you won’t be able to carry most food items with get online and have a look at delivery possibilities, if it’s something you can’t live without. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that you are in a new place and that the culinary delights for you to discover are going to be endless. In Nicaragua, you will find fresh fruits and vegetables and a splendid array of all kinds of luscious delicacies that are uniquely Nica.

10. Your Worries

Of course you are going to be stressed when the time comes for the big move, but what good did it ever do to worry? Your move  is possibly going to be the most exciting part of your life yet, so enjoy the novelty and uncertainty of the road ahead. Follow the Swedish proverb — “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” Good luck!

 

Catherine Bishop-Internations

Why we Love León!

The blue hour (from La hora azul, in Spanish, or L’Heure Bleue in French) is the period of twilight early in the dawn each morning and late dusk each evening when the sun is at a significant distance below the horizon and the residual, indirect sunlight takes on a predominantly blue hue. In our beautiful Colonial city of León, colonial and baroque architecture from our fascinating Cathedrals serve as the perfect backdrop each and every day. A town that will soon celebrate 500 years of existence.

THE CULTURE 

One of the 3 most prominent cities in Nicaragua  León, is a culturally rich city. It has become an important industrial, agricultural and commercial center for the country as well as a historical colonial midpoint. There are more churches and cathedrals in León than anywhere else in Nicaragua. It is truly a didactic city with many influential artists,  and home to various museums that are worth  your visit.

THE FOOD

Nicaraguan food is a mixture of interesting dishes and unusual ingredients. In León you will find a menu for any taste. From the Fritangas located outside the Mercado central or La Estacion serving anything from Chicken to beef to pork to the fancy restaurants located all over the city offering a variety of different menus.

León night life has options for almost everyone. Dancing is an essential part of the Nicaraguan culture and there are several great clubs to choose from that offer chances for you to practice your Salsa or just groove the night away to the latest club beats. The Zona Rosa district offers a  uniquely Nicaraguan spirit to the bar scene. Every day of the week  you’ll find a different spot  for eating, drinking and dancing.

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THE OCEAN

Just 20 kilometers from León, there is the Pacific ocean rim with a beach divided into two quaint beach villages next to each other called Poneloya and Las Peñitas. Both towns offer a laid back atmosphere with a wide range of beach activities  like swimming, surfing, sunbathing or watching a truly magnificent sunset. The towns are connected by a long stretch of wide sandy beach surrounded by an array of hostels and restaurants serving fresh seafood. Both areas attract surfers and avid swimmers with their impressive small regular waves. If you love surfing or would like to learn this can be a perfect place to start.

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THE PEOPLE

The citizens are warm and welcoming. Nicaragua has been experiencing an increase in tourism in the last few years as more and more people discover this “undiscovered” gem.   More and more the Nicaraguan people are openly embracing the interest that vacationers, expats, and investors have shown in their country.

Nicaragua is evolving and  ready to embrace tourism.  León’s rich history, friendly people and  Nicaragua’s dramatic landscapes are waiting to be explored. The traveler to this quaint city and fascinating country will be rewarded with unforgettable memories and an authentic Latin American travel experience. Some have called Nicaragua the “Next Costa Rica”, but we have to say it should be called the “New Nicaragua“. Come and Meet León Nicaragua!

Thank You

As 2016 comes to a close we at the León Travel Bureau want to take this opportunity to thank you for your support of our blog. Our heartfelt gratitude for your likes. We have decided that 2017 will be the year we redesign our blog. Starting in January, each month we will be bringing you the faces and places of our awesome city. Meet special places to go, special people we would love for you to meet and lots of other fun things to see and do in our special place called León. We hope you have a wonderful Holiday season and we look forward to taking you on an amazing visual journey through our city soon!

 

Merry Christmas and Happy new Year from The León Travel bureau.WARM WISHES FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON.png

 

Top Travel tips for Holiday Travel

Travel Industry Wire

The leaves are turning, there’s a nip in the air and before long, the holidays will be upon us. For those with a less than rosy outlook, it also means time to back your bags, grit your teeth and endure the long schlep  through countless security lines and airport terminals filled with temperamental travelers.

And because holiday travel brings with it its own set of challenges, to reduce stress be prepared before booking your trip.

Following these tried and true tips can mean the difference between a miserable flight delay and the opportunity to enjoy some of the country’s best travel lounges and maybe even work in a massage or two–because spending holidays with family or visiting a a new country can be stressful enough without the added stress of travel delays.

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 Check and double check. Before you leave for the airport, check to see that your flight is on time. Make it easy on yourself and sign up to receive travel alerts from your airline, notifying you of flight status and changes to gates or flight times.

Plug in, and tune out. Create your own private oasis. Treat yourself to some great headphones, download your favorite tunes, movies and audio books and look at your travel time as some “me” time well spent.  If nothing else, this song has been scientifically proven to reduce stress by a whopping 65 percent.

Pack your A game. When it comes to holiday travel, it’s best to pack as light as possible and wear the bulkiest items on your flight. If you can get it all in a carry-on, all the better. If you’re traveling over the December holidays, a single carry-on bag might not be feasible. In that event, be sure to pack your essentials (medications, mini contact solution bottle, chargers and cords, etc.) in a carry-on lest your bags be lost or your flight delayed. And gifts? Leave then unwrapped in case TSA wants to take a peek or consider shipping them ahead.

Get the 3-1-1. The 3-1-1 rule for liquids still holds. Three ounces. One 1-quart bag.  The rest goes in your checked baggage.

Time is on your side. Allow plenty of time to get to  the airport, plenty of time to check your bags and plenty of time for security. Some savvy travelers allow for additional 90 minutes.

App it to me. There are some great travel apps out there that will give you the location of every eatery, bar, shopping venue and traveler lounge in the airport. Good to know. Even better, some airline apps have a rebooking feature in the event of flight delays and cancellation.

Fly direct. Direct flights, especially those early in the morning are best. Direct because you don’t risk missing or having your connection canceled. Earlier because in the event either of the former two things happen, you still have the chance of getting on a later flight.

Follow the Golden Rule. Be kind. Be generous. Be mindful that everyone else is struggling to get home as well, and in the event of delays, airport employees are also under fire and stressed.