This is an absolutely unforgettable experience. Miraflor is a mountain area near Esteli where the farmers have formed a cooperative to preserve the land and mutually support one another in their farming. Numerous families will allow you, for very small cost, to share their homes with them. Guides from the farms will show you the splendors of these mountains, ranging from the golden hills at the lower level to the cloud forest at the top. Go to UCA Miraflor in Esteli and arrange a visit. I stayed with Nelson and his family and later with Juan and Dora in La Pita, using their son Henry as an expert guide. But there are so many other great people and places to visit, too. Don't miss it. My most amazing experience in Central America. Of course, Spanish helps!
The city of Esteli in the north is cowboy country. Coffee plantations are common and Cattle. This is one area where you see very healthy, well trained horses. It is also where we took a week of spanish lessons.
Back in the late '80's there was a great enthusiasm for creating vibrant, colorful murals. You can still find them on a great many buildings and walls; someone told me there are over 100. This one is near the "Iron Bridge."
The Esteli Cigar Factory is a real eye-opener. It was a very interesting experience to learn about production from the harvesting to the rolling. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of cigars. This is not a tour I would have thought of on my own but my Spanish class went there. You should be able to do it on your own.
CECALI: Don't miss this extraordinary place. The massage is great (and at an extremely reasonable price) but you can also have other therapies as well. In fact, take the time to do them all, and then come back the next day for more. It can get addictive. This is the first place I'm coming to when I return, right after I have my yoghurt and coffee next door at La Casita.
You might not expect to get delicious whole wheat bread, yoghurt and yummy juice drinks in northwestern Nicaragua, but this is the place. Pick up some herbs and ornamental plants, as well, or just hang out in the gardens. A great place, just outside of town. Any taxi driver will know it. One tip: if you can't find a taxi back, just walk down the road towards town. Once you approach the hospital there will be taxis. Oh, and you might want to call for times. They do close for a day here and there.
I was fortunate enough to have my Spanish teacher guide me through the dry river bed that runs through Esteli. First she showed me where the old river had been, and then the massive gorge that was carved out by the monstrous waters of Hurricane Mitch. Just go down to the river area and start walking. Imagine that this was once roads and houses, all swept away in the mighty torrent. Or better, find someone who can tell you their own memories of what happened.