Nicaragua: Leon & Montibelli Nature Reserve
For our travels through Nicaragua we decided to do something a little bit differently. That was to book everything through a tour company… and the company we chose was TOURS NICARAGUA. We didn’t have to worry about where to stay, what to see, whether it was safe or not. It was the easiest way to see a new country & to treat ourselves. And treat ourselves we did! Tours Nicaragua was fantastic. Right from the moment we arrived in Managua Airport where we were greeted by our private transport until 2 weeks later when we were dropped off at the same place, we were taken care off and had absolutely nothing to think or worry about. Everything was top notch and handled with professionalism and outmost care. Since we love wildlife, mountains, hiking, volcanoes, oceans and beaches, we custom designed our two weeks by taking two of their 1 week tour itineraries and modified them slightly to suit our style of vacationing.
As we were approaching MANAGUA, I was somewhat surprised with the dry landscape and all the agriculture everywhere. But we heard later that they haven’t had rain in months.
There are many volcanoes in Nicaragua and a few are active, sticking out of the ground like giant smokestacks. We flew by VOLCAN MOMOTOMBO here on Lake Managua.
Upon arrival at Managua airport, we were greeted by a very friendly, happy-go-lucky, english speaking Roberto, who would be our lead guide for the entire 2 weeks, along with our driver, Frank. Immediately we felt at ease and we were laughing and carrying on as if we knew each other. They whisked us away in a big air conditioned new van that was meant only for the two of us.
We had a two hour drive north to the SPANISH COLONIAL CITY OF LEÓN, where we would stay for the following 2 nights. Along the way, we stopped at points of interest and Roberto eagerly gave us tons of information about the area. He also took the time to stop for us at a convenience store so that we can load up on water/beer/wine and anything else we needed.
We stopped for close up views of LAKE MANAGUA and Volcan Momotombo.
We arrived at this beautiful restored 17th century Franciscan convent called HOTEL EL CONVENTO in the colonial capital of León. Extremely unique and gorgeous.
It had a small but beautiful pool area.
After Roberto made sure that we were settled in & had our itinerary for the next couple of days, he departed with Frank and we were left to spend the afternoon and evening exploring Leon. LEON IS THE SECOND LARGEST CITY, next to Managua and was founded by the Spanish. It has many colonial Spanish churches, buildings and private residences. I loved the bright colors of the buildings and especially the unique doors.
We were surprised how lively and busy the city was for a Sunday night. There were many people out, many eateries and lively music bellowing from the entrances as we walked by. Everyone was out… young and old.
We walked everywhere and never once felt uncomfortable or threatened. People went about their business enjoying the evening with their friends and families & just chilling out.
We spent the rest of the afternoon back in Leon. Had lunch at EL SESTEO, a gringo packed place but a great view of the square. We sat and enjoyed some gorgeous sunshine, cold drinks and small appetizers to share. The food was delicious.
We spent the evening scouring the city again, walking around, watching a live band in the street and dinner at another well rated restaurant by Tripadviser, called EL NICARAGUITA CAFE. A successful couple of days in Leon… and then on to the next adventure for a couple of days.
All our breakfasts were included on this tour, some lunches and a few dinners. So after our fantastic typical American breakfast the next morning, a new driver and guide arrived for an 8AM sharp pickup. We were whisked away again by a jeep over to the coast, only about 1/2 hour drive. In was fantastic to watch the active life in the city. People selling goods in the streets. Horses pulling buggies full of items. Cars, buses & people all making their way around the city doing whatever they needed to do for the day.
We arrived at the small seaside fishing village called Las Peñitas. It reminded me a bit of Tamarindo, Costa Rica but on a much smaller scale. A lot of signs were in English and there were hostels & eateries.
We were then greeted by a new driver & captain (who joined our guide) and were boarded onto an old fibreglass fishing boat where we were taken to ISLA JUAN VENADO & up the river and through the mangroves searching for wildlife.
THESE BLACK VULTURES were everywhere.
We saw a ton of birds, spiders and a couple of crocodiles. We loved this very unique bird like the one we saw in the Amazon jungle in Ecuador. So camouflaged & hard to see at first.
After our tour, we sat at a local restaurant where we enjoyed a beautiful view and some nice cold drinks to cool ourselves off. John particularly enjoyed their Toña & Victoria beers…but none were turned down!
One of the local men walked by and he was holding this 10 month old boa. I didn’t have the courage to hold her but I did pet her.
Tuesday, we were up and packed by 8, breakfast at hotel and picked up by Roberto by 10. Off we went back towards Managua and to the other side to the MONTIBELLI PRIVATE NATURE RESERVE & COFFEE PLANTATION. We stayed at ECO-ALBERGUE OROPENDOLA. Its owned by and Italian family, has 200 hectares of dry Tropical Forest & coffee plants. We were greeted by yet another extremely friendly guide named Allan, who was going to take care of us for the next couple of days.
We were shown to our cabin below. Again, a private cabin, with a porch and screened in areas but nestled amongst the wildlife and nature.
Breakfast consisted of rice and beans, along with eggs, salsa, cheese and homemade lemonade. The coffee was delicious and couldn’t get it any fresher then this!
Roberto stayed with us for the afternoon and came along on our first hike with Allan. They took us through the coffee plantation and along the mountainous ridge, with massive trees & thick forest canopy. We encountered howler monkeys, a variety of colourful birds, butterflies, spiders, snakes and even a small toucan.
Roberto left and we settled in for the evening sitting on the porch at the hacienda being served dinner and chatting with Allan. We were the only guests this evening and it felt kinda weird being so fussed over by everyone. Very interesting and different experience then being at a hotel. This was like being in someone’s home. Because its Eco conscious & a protected area it is nothing fancy but I loved it like that. I was a bit surprised when I realized that there was no internet and no cell service! But why would there be!? It was actually good to be forced to just enjoy nature. Something I truly needed to do.
The following morning we were woken before dawn by the very noisy birds & the howlers making a huge racket outside our cabin. We had coffee with Allan by 6:30 and then set off for an early morning hike & scout of the area before the heat of the day.
I am so in love with the gorgeous massive trees. They are so huge, yet majestic, sprawled overhead, providing so much necessity to life in so many ways.
After lunch and a tour of another neighbouring pineapple farm, Allan and a driver took us over to EL CHOCOYERO RESERVE. It was only 10kms away but the roads were so bad, full of ruts and potholes that it took 45 minutes to get there! Chocoyo means “green parakeet” and at this reserve there is a jungle with a cliff where over 800 parakeets live. We had to hike in a couple of kilometres to get to it. We saw some white faced monkeys & more birds. Unfortunaltey we did not see 800 parakeets, but heard them. Almost deafening, they are so loud! But most were inside their homes and the cliff was still a distance away from where we were standing.
And I finally got to see the green and orange frog!! I was so excited! And the biggest bummer, this is the only photo I have of it because my memory card somehow got corrupted and I still cannot get the rest of the photos off it. Sometimes technology sucks!
We spent another evening enjoying the jungle sounds, chatting with Allan and sipping on beer. We learned a lot about the people here, their life and their struggles. The ladies who were serving & cooking for us had to walk for miles in the dark to their homes each evening and had to be there before we were up in the morning. I felt guilty flashing my camera and lens in front of these people as that alone would be an equivalent of them being able to buy a car.
We were woken throughout the night several times again with the annoying ghekos making loud calls in our room, monkeys howling outside and the birds going crazy before dawn again. But all this was part of the experience that I would not exchange for anything!
Roberto and Frank showed up around 9 am & we enjoyed coffee together. We said our goodbyes to Allan & the staff and off we went to our next adventure… THE CITY OF GRANADA & SURROUNDING AREAS.