Off the Gringo Trail: Estelí Nicaragua

My boyfriend and I set off for Estelí, the third largest city in Nicaragua during our last two weeks for a four day excursion. We were unsure of what to expect and were pleasantly surprised by what you could do on a budget. We got there from Granada, this can be done using the multiple public “Chicken” buses that can be used to get to this amazing part of the country.  

Where to Stay and What to Do in the City

The ride up to Estelí itself is gorgeous indicating all there is waiting for you. Estelí itself is not very touristy but a bustling relatively commercial city. There is an old Cathedral, a few souvenir shops, a Cigar factory and a few hostels. This may not be for all people, but I loved it, you could really just be part of a normal city and it got me practicing more of my Spanish than I did in other more touristy places such as: Granada, Leon, Gigante and Corn Island. We chose to stay in an Airbnb, called Chepe’s hostel which was super nice as our hosts were very accommodating, gave us local tips and gave us full use of their kitchen. There were hostels and multiple other Airbnbs in the area, but this was the best fit for us and our budget as it was cheaper than a private room in any of the hostels. I would also definitely recommend trying the Chocolate from Estelí, it is to die for. 

The Cathedral

Things to do  

On our first day we ran errands and explored the city as well as visited a few travel agents to scope out the nearby activities. We went to a travel agents called Tree Huggers, who can arrange tours and homestays in Miraflor. We opted against the tours offered due to our budget and decided we would hack it on our own, after we got more information on bus schedules. 

Miraflor Nature Reserve 

The next day we set off at 5am for the Bus terminal so we could get the first “Chicken” bus out of town. We arrived about half an hour early for our bus as we had heard it was a necessity to get a seat. This turned out not to be true as the bus was nearly empty when we got in. However I will note that we were there during tumultuous times and during the low season for tourists. Once on the bus we paid the bus fare of 40 Cordobas each, which was even less than we thought it would be, to the conductor. We then set off on a two hour rickety bumpy ride in to the hills. The road is pretty horrendous but as you enter the natural reserve the views are stunning. It is also a great way to see rural Nicaraguan life genuinely. We then got off the bus at Las Ramblas, the more tourist acquainted part of the reserve (or so we assume as this is just where we were told to disembark and where the other two Gringos got off). We then set off meandering through the sleepy farmer’s village. There were multiple places offering lodging and food (something we were unaware of before so we came prepared with a packed lunch), however, the first place you will come by is worth stopping by as it has a very convenient map painted on the wall. It also means that pre-booking a tour package or homestay is unnecessary, especially as we saw what was advertised as a hostel in the works, just show up! We meandered through the village, which was at the time harvesting onions, with the companion of someone’s dog who joined us.

Our doggy-friend

It was beautiful with glades and amazing views. Everyone we passed was friendly and hospitable. We walked aimlessly until we saw a sign for a waterfall. We followed the clearly marked directions across a little stream over a (very) wobbly bridge to come to a small gate with a sign asking for a small fee to enter the farmers land.

The wobbly bridge

We paid 10 Cords each and found the beautiful little waterfall, still running despite it being dry season. We took a refreshing swim and had a snack and then set off again meandering down the lanes. We ran in to even more friendly dogs who would accompany us. We then decided to find somewhere to settle for lunch we knew we had to be back for 4 o’clock for the bus so we decided to head back to the waterfall for lunch where the farmer’s wife sold us some drinks. Once we had eaten we set off walking again. We gave ourselves plenty of time as we had come down what seemed like quite a big hill, however it did not take long for us to get back to where we started.

So we went to one of the lodges sat down with our dog companion and had two Toñas and relaxed. We then meandered to the bus stop which came not long after it was due, tearing up the road and coming to an abrupt halt a few metres away from the bus stop. We hopped on paid our 40 Cordobas and set off back to Estelí after a long and pleasant day. I am sure there were longer more interesting tours to go one, but with the time and our budget what we did was enough and very interesting. 

Somoto Canyon  

The next day was a later start (a well-deserved lie in we thought) before we set off for the town of Somoto. There are public chicken buses that run regularly to and from Somoto. We had read online that you could visit the canyon unguided, however it was an old blog post and it is no longer legal to do it without a guide. This was in many ways relieving as it was quite a long day, with a lot of physical activity and swimming, even for the dry season. With the tour came lunch, life jackets, shoes for the trip, and a water proof bag that our guide carried for us. It cost us $20 dollars each which was definitely worth it.

Canyoning with our provided shoes and life-vests

The actual Canyon is about a 10 minute drive away from the actual town, so we went out to Somoto Canyon tours and got ourselves on a tour leaving as soon as we were ready. Our tour guide did not speak much English but it was a good experience for me to practice my Spanish, there are English guides available if you arrange in advance. We started by walking along the Pan American highway for about a kilometre before we got to the entrance of the park. We then walked approximately one more kilometre through fields and pastures until we got to the canyon from which you could see neighbouring Honduras. We then set off for a great time swimming, hiking and jumping for the next one and a half hours. It was such a great adventure and so much fun I’d never experienced anything like it. The jumps were fun but slightly nerve wrecking, I stopped jumping when it got to about 10metres but my boyfriend continued doing ever higher and more daring jumps (this didn’t make me happy). At the end you then climb in to a boat and are paddled to a path that takes you back to the tour agency where your lunch is waiting. 

Estelí: A Summary  

Just go! It was such a great place well off the well-trodden Gringo trail yet still accessible and tonnes of fun. If you are in to nature and adventure and want a break from lakes and volcanoes definitely head north to Estelí, it was one of my favourite place in Nicaragua. 


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