A lot of us are quarantined and few of us are traveling, so how about a trip report that I never got around to writing back when I was a Serious Blogger? This one took place in January 2018 when my wife and I packed up the kids for another voyage to Nicaragua to visit her family. On our previous trip in 2015-16 we figured out a way to go over Christmas and New Year’s on points, but this time around we were not so clever and went in mid-January when fares are cheaper and award availability is better. We were also fortunate that our visit coincided with a Pointsbreak opportunity.
Enough setup, let’s get to the pictures! I always enjoy the approach into MGA airport as you get a nice view of the lake and volcanoes, and this trip was no exception. In the picture below (click any of these to enlarge) you can see the Apoyeque volcanic complex which is just a few miles from Managua. It sits on a peninsula, so Lake Managua is both in front of it and behind it, and the blue body of water in the middle is a volcanic lagoon:
My brother-in-law picked up our entourage from the airport as always. There was a Hugo Chavez memorial on the way in from the airport (the Ortegas are big fans):
Behind Chavez you see some of the ubiquitous ‘Tree of Life’ sculptures the government put up to beautify the city. I’m not sure if they are still ubiquitous as some of them were toppled during the civil unrest that took place after our visit. Anyway, after we unpacked at the hotel we went to the supermarket to stock up on essentials. Foreign supermarkets are fascinating as you see what’s important to the national palate. Nicaraguan supermarkets, for example, have a rum aisle. And lot of fresh, cheap tropical fruit! Pineapples are two for a dollar (the exchange rate was about 30 cords to the dollar back then):
The oranges there are greener (apparently oranges ought to be green) and at ten cents apiece they are much cheaper than in the U.S.:
I also took a picture of this credit card advertisement because I just can’t help myself. 6% savings!
A lot of people think of Nicaragua as an exotic destination but there are (or at least there were; things have changed there in the last two years and I’m not up to date) plenty of fun things do with small kids there. The day after our arrival, we headed to the Nicaragua Butterfly Reserve in Granada. If your kids like bugs, or even if they don’t but they still like butterflys, they’ll have a blast. Up close and personal with a blue morpho:
Butterfly feeding time:
There was a friendly cat too:
After that we headed into the colonial city of Granada, one of my favorite places in Nicaragua. We stopped at a chocolate museum to check out the exhibits. It’s in an old villa you can wander around. Here’s Mrs. PFD on the second floor:
A couple of my kids checking out the street scene outside the chocolate museum:
Afterward we headed over to dinner at Asado Don Pancho, a casual open-air restaurant on the highway between Granada and Managua. This is what they brought to our table:
A few days later, we headed over to Catarina, a small town not too far from Granada. It’s a decent place to buy local arts and crafts…
…but the real reason to go there is that it overlooks the Laguna Apoyo, yet another scenic volcanic blue lagoon:
It was a hazy day and my phone camera isn’t all that great, but you can just barely make out Granada in the distance beyond the lagoon.
You can also ride horses at Catarina. $2 will get you a 10-15 minute ride (led by a handler). The kids loved this:
I took a short video clip of the scene overlooking the lagoon (it’s pretty windy up there). You can see the Mombacho volcano when the camera pans to the right:
After Catarina, we headed over to Masaya Volcano National Park, which I wrote about four years ago if you’re curious. But if that’s not enough for you, here’s a photo of one of my daughters peering into the abyss:
Don’t worry, it’s not as dangerous as it looks. Here’s my mother-in-law taking in the sunset looking across the volcano.
The combination of the sunset, the clouds, and the sulfuric steam from the volcano made for interesting lighting conditions. Somebody with a good camera, good lens, and more know-how than me could have taken some spectacular pictures.
A few days later we headed over to downtown Managua. This is the old Managua cathedral:
It was heavily damaged in the 1972 earthquake and subsequently condemned; restoration efforts have proceeded haltingly since then. You still can’t go inside but it sure looks nice from the outside, which is more than you can say for its replacement.
Nearby is the National Palace of Culture, a museum focusing on Nicaragua’s history and culture:
Here, the kids are checking out an old stone carving from the pre-1492 era:
My wife’s late father was a farmer in Chontales, a couple of hours east of Managua. He’d occasionally unearth things like this and turn them over to the local museum there. I once went to this museum and was randomly interviewed by a local TV news team (I can’t even remember what it was about). This was the first and hopefully last time I’ve had to use my Spanish on television.
This section of the city is right by the water (the same Lake Managua seen in the very first picture of this post), so we headed over to the waterfront promenade:
Looking out over the water, Apoyeque in the background:
There’s also a fuselage there for some reason:
Another day we went to a guava plantation where they make guava jam. We had gone to an orange farm on a recent trip to Florida and that was pretty fun, so we figured we’d check out the guava scene. In the office lobby, they had some artwork that was reminiscent of a certain sugary beverage mascot:
Hard at work:
Out in the guava field:
The guava operation was near Granada, so back we went! This is the Granada Cathedral:
Unlike its Managua counterpart, this one is fully operational, so you can go inside and climb the tower for some nice views. The parque as seen from the tower:
And that’s about all the tourism we did for this trip, though there was plenty of visiting with family. Clearing customs and immigration at MIA is way better in late January than it is on, say, the first Saturday after New Year’s, which is when we’d returned on our two previous journeys. On one of those trips the flight was so crowded that Delta offered all six of us a $700 voucher each to get bumped, but we were so exhausted from packing and corralling the kids (who were younger and more labor-intensive back then) that we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. Regrets, I have a few…
About three months after this trip is when the protests and civil unrest started. It got so bad Nicaragua was actually in the news in the U.S., which is not something that happens frequently. Things have simmered down somewhat but tension remains. Coronavirus doesn’t help, obviously. Hopefully we’ll be back sometime but we don’t know when.
So much of this is hauntingly familiar…
Crazily, on my last MGA jaunt, before the death virus, a random guy offered me a piece of one of the “trees” for 300 cords. I passed.
Hope y’all are well.