During our honeymoon in Costa Rica, my husband and I decided we wanted to hit up Nicaragua for a quick change of scenery. We booked a day tour through Mardigi Tours (highly recommended, btw) and were on our way a few days later.
From our resort in Playa Hermosa, we were picked up at 5:00AM sharp, in a fancy, air-conditioned tourist bus and driven into the nearby city of Liberia. Here, we stopped for breakfast at a luxurious Best Western. The open-air dining area instantly put me into vacation mode with its grass roof, cool breeze, and selection of fresh fruits and juices. Surrounded by lush Costa Rican plants and trees, as well as crystal clear swimming pools, part of me was ready to just park it on a beach chair, but the prospect of this adventure day tugged me back into the van.
We all know of my love/hate relationship with road trips, but I happily watched as the thick green forests gave way to vast sugar cane fields. Volcanoes in the distance loomed over the landscape. My eyes were glued to the sights outside the van windows. If I had to pick one word to describe Costa Rica, it would be GREEN! Or hot. Either one describes it perfectly.
A little over an hour later, we were at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Our driver zoomed back and forth between the cars and the crazy number of semi-trucks that were waiting to enter. The van was parked in a small dirt parking lot, lined with market stalls, and we were escorted into an office where our passports were stamped for exiting Costa Rica. We waited a few minutes inside the building, happily soaking up the cool air conditioning.
After our van was cleared by customs, we piled back in and headed to the office for Nicaragua. Once again, we handed over our passports and were cleared for entry into the country.
For the next hour and a half, I was content watching Nicaragua pass by. As we passed through small towns, I found myself watching the people going about their day, fascinated by the similarities and differences I noticed.
Soon, we came to the town of Granada. I excitedly watched as the colorful buildings passed by, wondering where we would be stopping. I was impressed by our drivers ability to navigate the streets, as there seemed to be very few distinct landmarks to help guide the way.
The side-by-side buildings gave way to a small park area along the coast of Lake Nicaragua. Here, our van stopped and we unloaded at a small bar/restaurant. We were helped onto a small wooden boat, where my husband and I chose seats along the sides. The boat started up and slowly headed out into the open water.
As we passed by locals fishing in the lake, our tour guide, Marvin, pointed out different birds and notable islands.
Each island we passed seemed to have its own little story. One was a resort for westerners. One was a fancy restaurant. One was a large home rented out for vacationers. One was a small Spanish fortress-turned-monument.
Our boat pulled up close to an island where a few other boats congregated. In the trees we could see movement, as small fuzzy monkeys jumped from limb to limb. Our boat floated beneath an overhanging tree limb, where a small Capuchin monkey sat.
Our tour guide, Marvin, handed a small piece of fruit to me and asked if I wanted to feed the monkey. As soon as I stretched my arm out, the monkey scampered closer, snatched the fruit away, and scrambled back up the tree to enjoy his treat.
A few other people in our group were given a chance to feed the little monkey, and our guide told us the story of how the monkeys came to be stranded on this island. (Read the story here!)
After we finished toying around Monkey Island, we headed back to the shore. The day had gotten much hotter, and I was sad to leave the cool breeze of the boat. In the van once again, we made our way back to town, where we made a stop at the bright yellow Cathedral of Granada. I was excited by the architecture and the sunny yellow and white color scheme of the building. We got to stop and take photos, but the moment was a bit tainted by the children who ran over to us to force banana-leaf origami into our hands and beg for money- Not totally unexpected, but irksome nonetheless.
The van then took us a short distance to another large church: Iglesia La Mercad. This gorgeous old church looks practically abandoned with its blackend towers and old wooden doors. Inside is another colorful, well polished cathedral, but the highlight of this church is the bell tower. For just $1 a person, you could climb the windy steps up to the top of the tower for some pretty incredible views of Granada.
We weren’t about the pass that up. Check out these photos we got from the top:
After totally nailing my head on a cement beam and making my way back down the staircase, I was all too glad to return to the van again for some much-needed air conditioning.
Others in our group had expressed interest in making a stop at a local cigar manufacturer, so the all-knowing Marvin knew just where to take us. It was interesting to watch them roll the tobacco leaves, but cigars aren’t really in my interest bubble. I just kind of waited for people to make their purchases and move on. I wish we would have had more time to check out some of the other things to do in Granada, but we had to keep moving.
From there, we moved on to the Masaya Volcano National Park. As we slowly crept up the side of the volcano, we followed the hardened streams of molten rock- a result of the last eruption.
We parked at the top, just feet away from the mouth of the volcano. We were informed we would only be here a short time, due to the fumes. At first I didn’t think it was all that bad. But as soon as I peered into the caldera and allowed the steaming sulfur to ride down my throat and into my lungs, I understood. I stayed long enough to take some photos and marvel in the fact that I was on a real live volcano. (Read more about it here!)
We spent some time looking out in the opposite direction at the path we had just ventured. The distinction between what was grass and what was claimed by hot lava was very clear. After more photos and several coughing fits we were back in the van.
In the town of Masaya, we were taken to a restaurant and served lunch. We were happily greeted with pico de gallo, chicken, and fried plantains- a meal we had grown accustomed to while in Costa Rica. As we finished eating, we were given a brief introduction to the market that was set up next door. The tour group entered together, but we quickly broke off to pursue our purchasing interests.
My husband and I ended up sticking with a bilingual local to guide us through the market. It ended up being a great decision, as he helped translate when we wanted to find certain items.
A little over an hour later we were back in the van, winding through the streets of Nicaragua. I did not know where we were headed, only that we were going up and up and up. Several minutes later our van parked in a small town square. We piled out and followed Marvin to an incredible lookout over La Laguna de Apoyo (Apoyo Lagoon).
Several photos later, we were back in the van once more- this time headed back towards Costa Rica. Our time in Nicaragua was done, save for one last stop:
These two volcanoes situated in Lake Nicaragua were so incredibly picturesque that we had to make a stop. The clouds were clear enough to see both peaks perfectly. Locals swam in the waters and we were all grateful for a bit of a leg stretch.
The sun was just about down by the time we got back to the border. We were stamped out of Nicaragua and then back into Costa Rica. It took everything in me to stay awake for the remainder of the trip. It was well after 8:00PM by the time we got back to our resort. Exhausted, but fully satisfied with our day in Nicaragua, we thanked our guides and sleepily walked to our room.
Do It Yourself
We booked this day tour with Mardigi Tours. We highly recommend this company, as their guides are extremely knowledgeable and strive to ensure their guests’ wants and needs are satisfied. This tour includes transportation (with air conditioning!), pick up and drop off at your Guanacaste lodging, bottled water, breakfast, lunch, snacks, entry fees, and incredible bilingual guides! Book your tour here.