During the summer of 2014, I went on my first solo backpacking trip to Costa Rica for 6 weeks.  Ten of those days I spent in Nicaragua- and loved it.  It felt like what Costa Rica might have been 15 years ago.  I wanted to see more.  So about a year later, I headed back to Central America to pick up from where I left off.


July 23-26, 2105

After spending two uneventful days in Managua, where I landed from the U.S., I made my way to Playa Gigante, a small, sleepy fishing village along the Pacific Coast.  

Atop The Giant's Foot, a steep cliff that juts into the Pacific

Overlooking Playa Gigante from The Giant's Foot

Stellar spot for sunset

To my surprise, I was the only hostel guest for the first night and that had me slightly concerned.  I was anxious to meet other travelers and despite the unpopularity of this coastal village, surely there would be at least one other hostel visitor?  Where was everyone?  Was I missing something? Fortunately, the next day, Alicia and Julio arrived. Alicia hailed from NY and Julio was a local Nicaraguan.  Sharing a desire to explore the area and take photographs, we all quickly became friends.  Bonus: Julio had a car and so we could easily take back roads to see more places, like the private beach, La Flor, and the surfing hot spot, Popoyo.

Alicia and Julio in Rivas, Nicaragua

La Flor, a turtle refuge and nesting ground

Turtle returning to sea after laying her eggs

Alicia catching the last bit of sunlight over Popoyo beach

After a day of visiting nearby beaches, we spent the rest of our time back in Playa Gigante swimming, reading and relaxing at our beachfront hostel.  Most of the local men worked as fisherman and throughout the day, we'd watch the boats depart and then return later with the catch of the day. 

After an uneasy first day, this place grew on me.  It was a quiet and peaceful spot off-the-beaten path and that's exactly what I had been looking for.  


July 26-29, 2015

Alicia and I decided to stick together and head to the next destination we both had in mind: Ometepe.  She only had two weeks to travel and was willing to move fast. I was willing to move fast with her.

Ometepe is a massive island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua formed by two volcanoes: Volcán Maderas and Volcán Concepción.  

We found a hostel at the co-op Finca Magdelana, an organic farm comprised of 24 families. 

My own room, with a mosquito net, for $6/night!

The co-op was situated at the bottom of Volcán Maderas.  We partnered up with an Australian couple and a German guy and hired a guide to take us to the crater lake at the top of the volcano- a 7 hour round trip hike.  The hike was steep, muddy, slippery, and wet. 

Within the first 20 minutes, I was already having doubts.  Screw this, I thought.  I was already wet, muddy, and tired.  Almost 7 more hours of this?!  The worst part was that I felt like this would be exactly like the hike I did in La Fortuna, Costa Rica the year prior, when I hiked Cerro Chato in the pouring rain.  Feeling satisfied with already experiencing the steep-hike-up-a-volcano-in-the-rain once before, I just wanted to go back to my hostel, cuddle up with a book and sip on hot coffee, or rent a bike and explore the town, or walk around the farm and take photographs.  ANYTHING BUT THIS.

But I didn't want to quit. I felt like I'd be disappointing the others. And myself.  Plus I didn't actually know what the hike would be like because, even though it felt similar, it wasn't the same one.  I was in an entirely different country.  Maybe I would be surprised: exotic wildlife, breathtaking views, maybe I would see a crater lake this time rather than it disappearing into the fog? And I could swim in it?

Nope.  Turns out the lake still disappeared into the fog.  And it was too cold and uninviting to swim.  And yes, the hike ended up being almost exactly how it was before and how I imagined it would be- physically and visually at least.  But mentally, it was entirely different experience.  Once I accepted my fate, I was surprised by how much I was able to go within, reflect on several things that were on my mind, and just enjoy the sounds of the wind rustling in the trees or the rain gently falling.  In between long periods of silence on the trail (we were either too tired to talk or too focused on not slipping), I also got to know my new friends a little better.  We endured, we bonded, we conquered.

The rest of our stay on Ometepe Island was leisurely, partly due to the fact that our legs felt useless.  Alicia and I spent one afternoon at Playa Santa Domingo, strolling the beach and reading in hammocks.  

On our way back, we indulged in some delicious street food: freshly cooked empanadas. 

After empanadas, we met a woman who was part of the co-op farm.  As her kids played around her, she gathered mamóns from a tree by knocking them down with a long branch.  She gave us some mamóns to try, which you eat by sucking the orange pulp.  She told us that she sells bundles for the equivalent of about 5 cents.

Vanessa, holding up a bundle of mamóns

Paula, a bit on the shy side

Final moments at Finca Magdalena.


July 29 - Aug 2

Remote and unfamiliar with tourists, these islands are an archipelago in the south part of Lake Nicaragua.  To get there, you either have to take a day-long bus ride around the lake to San Carlos then catch a boat, or you can fly to San Carlos in 20 minutes. 

Alicia already had her flight booked from Ometepe.  When she told me about this archipelago teeming with wildlife and with a reputation for being both an artisan and fishermen community, I couldn't resist the temptation to join her.  I booked my flight and less than 48 hours later, we were on our way.  

Alicia wasn't too thrilled with the small plane

Tight spaces

Adios Ometepe...

Hola Solentiname

We caught aerial views of the archipelago from the plane but flew to San Carlos since Solentiname doesn't have an airport.  Upon landing, we quickly made our way to town and boarded the last boat departing that day to the islands.

Our home for the next several days was an island called Isla de Mancarron, the largest of the 32 islands that make up Solentiname.  The tiny community had an infirmary, a library, a school, a playground and a church.  Besides a small over-the-counter shop where you can purchase items like toothpaste or onions, no stores existed.  Restaurants didn't exist either.  If you were a local, you ate at home.  If you were a tourist, you ate at their homes...and stayed there too.  There were a couple hotels, although calling them "hotels" is quite a stretch.  

Dinner at a hospedaje (guesthouse): fresh fish caught that day topped with onions & tomatoes, side of rice and spongy quajada cheese

The Church

Playground overlooking the lake

Soccer field

Library, the only place to access the Interweb

The school consisted of 3 classrooms, although it appeared that only one was in active use.  

Traversing the small paved pathways that connected the homes, Alicia and I noticed one of the island's craftsman.  He was building a small fisherman's boat with his father.  We approached to see their work and meet his family.  They graciously welcomed us into their home. Alicia, fluent in Spanish, helped to bridge the communication gap.

Daily life was pretty slow and quiet here.  We took a boat tour to see some of the other islands and met more artisans.  When we weren't venturing out of our hospedaje, we were reading, journaling or conversing with the only other two tourists staying on the island.  

Abandoned home

Inside the abandoned home

Esperanza, one of the island's artisans, paints; her husband carves the wood

After 3 days on the islands, we decided to return to the mainland.  Alicia was heading south but I wanted to head back north.  It was time to say goodbye, but I was grateful to have had her a part of my journey.   On to the next adventure!

Adios, mi amiga!


August 7-9, 2015

A bustling colonial town, Leon has much to offer: markets, churches, museums, Spanish lessons, salsa dancing, a variety of restaurants, wild nightlife and on the outskirts of town: volcano boarding.

Unfortunately I didn't take full advantage: it was so hot that I was constantly tired and often found myself on a hammock recovering from heat exhaustion.

However, for the short time I was there, I took Spanish lessons, went salsa dancing, dined out, and usually just killed time by wandering the streets.

My shadow: always following me, because it was always sunny, thus I was always hot.

Old & New

Nicaragua wasn't my only Central America destination: I was also planning to visit Guatemala.  At this point in my journey, I felt ready to see another country, so I bid farewell to Leon. However, rather than going straight to Guatemala, I made a quick trip to El Salvador.

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