Must See: Laguna de Apoyo
The Laguna de Apoyo is a tremendous place for a day, half a day, or even few hours relax in a gorgeous natural setting. It is a relatively small volcanic lake, with clear water fit to swimming and some good quality infrastructures for tourists. Photos attached describe more than text the place. There is some public beaches, attended by locals, as well as some resorts, addressed to tourists, which open their doors also to day-trippers. I went in a hot afternoon to a place called "Norome Resort", where the photos are taken; they had a dock, a tiny beach, a pool and a restaurant/bar; it was relaxing and delighting.
It is no easy to get to Laguna de Apoyo and you will need a car or a taxi to get there. Many tours take tourists to the village of Catarina for a view of the Laguna from atop and then they leave. Don't do that and get to the bottom of the lake instead; the best is yet to come.
Granada, Nicaragua - October 2005
"Colonial Granada and the west coast resorts"
I'd spent the previous week helping build a school in the southern Nicaraguan town of San Carlos and on a Monday we headed to the small dirt strip airport there. After the plane finally landed we got to see the Discovery Kids (the Latin American version) who were in Nicaragua to film a show at the Sabalos Lodge down the Rio San Juan. I talked for quite awhile with Yaro, the owner of the lodge where they'd be filming and he invited Bob and I to come visit him and stay in his very nice lodge right on the river, in the edge of the jungle. I'll definitely take him up on that offer! ( http://www.sabaloslodge.com/english/index.html )
After a beautiful flight from San Carlos to Managua, my friend and I parted ways until our flights back to Denver. In route we flew right past Omotepe Island, the largest island in a fresh-water lake in the world. It's actually two volcanoes, one extinct and one not-so-extinct. It has rumbled quite a bit lately I heard. We also passed right over the Granada Isletas which are hundreds of small islands in the lake by Granada. They were formed when Volcan Mombacho erupted and collapses many thousands of years ago. Today they are the home of many beautiful vacation homes, small hotels, restaurants, and a monkey colony. For very little money visitors can either kayak or take a boat around though the islands. I did it about dusk one evening and the sunset was spectacular.
I was met in Managua by Lester, the cab driver and Heberto the manager of the VRBO.com home I was to stay in, listing 57394. The owner, also from Denver had made arrangements for me to be met, which worked out perfectly. After about an hour's drive, we arrived in the beautiful colonial city of Granada, the oldest city in Central America and the scene for many amazing stories of pirates, wars, and American presidents. Mark Twain even visited there once after a trip up the Rio San Juan. It's a very interesting city with a good museum, many good restaurants, cathedrals and nearby attractions like the Isletas, Mombacho, and the city's street market. You might think you were in Spain until you see the street market which quickly reminds you that you really are in Central America. The sights and smells are simply amazing and I wandered through it almost every day. Bottles of vanilla for less than 25 cents and tree-ripened bananas for 1 cent each. You can live cheaply in Nicaragua!
I took the opportunity while there to investigate several different new resorts being built, mostly on the west coast of the country. Rancho Santana has the most done ( www.ranchosantana.com ) but will take the longest to complete. There are no time limits in building, once the land is purchased. Gran Pacifica ( www.granpacifica.com ) will be done first because there is a lot of government support for it so they will be building a paved road to it and Marriott is building a large hotel there along with the many homes, condos, and businesses. There is also a two year limit on building once purchased. Basically, they are building a whole new town there on 2700 acres, right on a beautiful stretch of coastline west of Managua. It should be totally self-contained with cell towers, high speed Internet, and all the other amenities when completed. Most of the early buyers are from the US but there are also a number from Nicaragua and Europe. This is a great way to see the country as the resort owners send a driver who chauffeurs you around and then a local tells you about the resort. Very efficient and very inexpensive.
"Narome Resort and Coyotepe"
There is also a wonderful resort called Narome on the banks of Laguna del Apoyo, a large lake in the crater of an extinct volcano that sits right at the edge of Granada. There is a lot of lakefront property for sale around the lake but it might prove to be a challenge to get to some of the lots, given the state of the road and the regular rain they get. It would be an interesting place to live though with howler monkey, parrots, toucans, and many other types of wildlife sharing the jungle. Norome is in the process of 'paving' the road with paver blocks so much of the road will be very functional, as well as beautiful soon. Getting to the bottom of the crater we passed a magnificent colonial style mansion with a great view of the lake, on several acres. The driver told me it cost $250,000 and couldn't imagine a house actually costing that much. I didn't have the heart to tell them that the average house in Denver costs about that and if it were in a similar location in the states it would probably be 10-12 times that expensive. I just said, 'yes, that's a lot of money.'
One thing that I visited was not so beautiful and not so pleasant as the rest of the country. It was about as different from Narome as two places can possibly be so it's almost wrong to include them in the same chapter. It was a castle built by the Spanish with a commanding view of the entire region. It was called Coyotepe and had been turned into a prison by the Somoza family, former (American-supported) dictators. I wasn't prepared for what I saw. For about $1 a local guide walked us through the subterranean corridors and cells. He spoke very clear Spanish and generally slow enough for me to understand most of what he was saying...not that I wanted to hear about the torture, etc. that went on during the Samoza era and later by the Sandinistas, who more than paid back the Samoza supporters they rounded up. It was a very, very grim, musty, and evil place. There are still hooks on the walls where prisoners were hung by their hands or feet for days on end and blood stains on the walls of the torture chamber. I would love to take some American prisoners and their ACLU compatriots down there to see the facility. I doubt they'd get the significance of their good fortune in being in an American prison but perhaps one or two would get a clue.
"The people I met."
The surfing is fantastic all along the west coast and on the trip to Gran Pacifica we ran into a couple of California surfer dudes stuck in the mud where their truck had slid off the road. It was quite an event. All the locals from farms around the area had turned out to help and watch and they had already attached a couple of oxen to the truck. However, they couldn't get enough traction themselves to pull the deeply buried pick-up out. We were able to drive through a farmyard to get ahead of them and with a long rope, we pulled them out. The crowd clapped and I passed out super balls and candy to the kids. It was better than a circus. I got some great pictures which I've sent to surfer dude Ted.
I met a lot of people during my week in Granada. There are many Americans living there now and an increasing number of American and European visitors are 'finding' Nicaragua. I chatted with a Dutch guy that owns a nice restaurant and hotel there and he expressed an interest in putting one of his homes on VRBO.com. I also passed out cards to several realtors and property owners I met. One (the owner of Gran Pacifica) mentioned that he'd just found out about VRBO.com and was interested in getting to know more about what we do. Guess I can write the trip off on my taxes now...grin. As I mentioned in an earlier email, I spent a lot of time talking with young Nicas and was really impressed with their optimism and drive to succeed.
I can't wait to see what comes next in that interesting and complex country.
restaurant at norome
view to norome restasurant