Every Tuesday, Union Times is taking you on a journey travelling North to South, from the small underrated country of Belize to the tip of the continent in Ushuaia. If all Latin American countries thrive with unmissable landmarks, an offbeat experience is what we’re really after. From extreme scuba diving and volcano boarding to Tarzan jumping or high altitude swinging: embark on our weekly series and push your boundaries with once-in-a-lifetime adventures.
After diving the Great Blue Hole in Belize (read here) and bridge jumping in Guatemala (read here), the thrills seekers we are keep heading South, passing by Honduras and El Salvador (currently too dangerous to spend any time in) to end up in Nicaragua.
3rd STOP : NICARAGUA & THE THRILLS ON ITS VOLCANOES
Overlooked through the decades, the largest country of the Central American continent finally makes an apparition on everyone’s bucket list and has become in less than two years, the go-to destination for backpackers, hikers, outdoor sports or beach lovers. Why such enthusiasm? Many are those wanting to escape the overly touristic Costa Rica, its high prices and americanised vibe to instead experience a real off the road adventure.
If the Caribbean Coast and the dreamy Corn Islands are THE idyllic honeymoon spot, most travellers prefer making their way up the Pacific Coast. On that part of the country, many unique experiences await with usually a one or two hours drive distancing them from one another. Surfers and party-loving youngsters will dig the westernised tiny town of San Juan Del Sur (infamous for its ‘Sunday Funday’: all-day poolside party) just a short drive away from the Ometepe Island, its two hikeable volcanoes and peaceful jungle roads inviting visitors to rent bikes and spend the day on wheels only taking breaks to enjoy a fresh coconut water by an hidden waterfall or bathe in the crystal clear waters of the ‘Ojo de Agua‘ lagoon. A welcomed day of rest before taking a boat towards the colonial masterpiece that is Granada. Between the architecturally perfect main square area, the panoramic view from the clock tower and narrow streets bustling with local markets, the city will leave you speechless.
But if Nicaragua has plenty to offer, you’re made it all the way there for something truly different and once you’ve arrived in the busy, tentacular and charmless city of Leon, you’ll get your money’s worth.
Welcome to Bigfoot Hostels and Volcano Boarding. If the name may not ring any bell to you, it’s a true institution within the backpacking community and is brought up as soon as Leon is mentioned. Not so much of a haven of peace, the energetic place attracts youngsters for its thrills seeking experience: volcano boarding. Because is there a best way to spend a day than a morning hike to the top of the world’s most active cinder cone volcano only to sledge down its side full speed ?
Yes you read it right, sledging down (or surfing down for the bravest of them all) the side of the Cerro Negro, the youngest Central American volcano: if that doesn’t make it to the top of your bucket list, then you outdoor lovers are not living your life right. An hour drive on a pick-up through lush forests and sun-dried flatlands will take you to the bottom of the black volcano that you will have to conquer by hiking its side for just over an hour. There, the adventure begins.
Wearing orange suits, thick gloves and sexy goggles, you’ll be part of the small community of travellers proud to announce they’ve sledged down an active volcano, which to unfamiliar ears will sound just as likely as Jamaicans attempting bob sleighing. Expect to pay around 25-30$ (non-including the 5$ entrance in the Cerro Negro National Park but including a singlet that’ll allow you to show off your coolness once back home), enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience and treat yourself to the well-deserved bonus of having a free refreshing beer awaiting at the bottom of the volcano as well as a free mojito back at the hostel, to get you in the mood for the inevitable ‘I survived’ party that will surely happen later on.
When to go: To visit the Pacific Coast, the period being preferred by tourists is the dry summer season lasting from December to April (author’s note: I have spent about 3 months – May, June & July – cruising that said Pacific Coast and have personally experienced only about 5 days of torrentiel rain during what was meant to be the rainy season). The Caribbean coast however is subject to many tropical storms around September / October when the rest of the year is generally hot and humid 24/7.
How to get there: Currently no direct flights coming from Europe. If you’re ready to splurge, the most comfortable options will have just one stopover through the main hub cities in the US when the cheapest (and only cheap-ish option) is to fly with Condor, that will include a first Lufthansa flight from whatever your departure airport is onto Frankfurt, Germany, before engaging on the low-cost Condor journey that will very likely stop by the Dominican Republic and Panama or Costa Rica before landing in Managua.
Cost of living: The price range equals the Guatemalan one which means very affordable transportation, food and accommodation options whether you go for privates rooms or dorms beds (the Nicaraguan population being extremely friendly and welcoming, we recommend choosing homestays over hotels whenever possible)
Next week, Union Times will go up in the Costa Rican air on one of the world’s longest zipline (and will too quickly head back down via the terrifying Tarzan swing)