Expats and tourists looking for a simple and quiet lifestyle should consider traveling to northern Nicaragua. With its lush landscapes, rich local art and crafts culture, moderate temperatures and magnificent vistas, the areas of Esteli and Somoto Canyon offer a refreshingly different perspective from Nicaragua’s popular southern beachfront resorts and colonial towns. See the following article from International Living for more on this.
While historic cities like Granada and Leon and the beautiful beaches of San Juan del Sur have attracted the attention of expats and vacationers in recent years, there’s more to Nicaragua than colonial facades and affordable beachfront property.
Travel a few hours north on the Pan-American Highway and you will experience a more untouched landscape with just as much culture and activity as the country’s southern half.
Choosing to live in this region would mean less tourists and a more rural lifestyle…perhaps an opportunity to start your own organic farm, like one couple I know. But even if you find yourself opting to live in the south, several northern towns offer a beautiful vacation escape.
Estelí is the major town between Managua and Honduras, and has a population of around 120,000 people. With the altitude slowly climbing, temperatures begin to cool, which can be a welcome relief from the heat of the southern regions.
Handcrafted leather products (such as custom made cowboy boots) and local factories rolling high quality cigars make Estelí a worthy destination in themselves. Estelí has most of the amenities you’d want, including a movie theater, banks, grocery stores, a variety of shops and restaurants, and even a holistic health center that offers massage and herbal remedies.
Appreciation for the arts in Nicaragua is undeniable, but through a local art organization, FUNARTE, the residents and youth of Estelí have transformed their community into a city of murals. All over town you can see large-scale murals depicting struggle, hope, peace and beauty that have been put there by artists who care about making a difference in their community.
However, it is truly the natural beauty of the outlying areas that make Estelí and northern Nicaragua worth your time. Located nearly an hour outside of Estelí is the Miraflor Nature Reserve, a protected agricultural area decorated with waterfalls and countless varieties of plant species, including orchids.
Continuing along the Pan-American, the Somoto Canyon can be found a bit farther northwest. Only in the past decade has this national monument been discovered and started drawing more attention to the area. A few miles long and over 300 feet deep, the canyon makes for an excellent place for the adventurous type to hike and swim through the Río Coco. Depending on the season, the water can be deep and have a strong current, allowing you to easily float downstream, or be so shallow at some points that you have to get out of the water and climb over boulders.
Anyone who enjoys coffee (as well as those who don’t) will be blown away by the views from the mountaintop coffee plantations of Dipilto.
With an even chillier climate, averaging 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and more precipitation, this region is covered in lush greenery, and consistently produces award winning coffee; at least one coffee finca in the area exports top quality beans for Starbucks. Visit the “Centro Solar,” about a half an hour south of Dipilto and you can buy coffee beans that have been carefully roasted in handmade solar ovens by members of a local women’s cooperative.
It’s true that the south has a lot going for it—more developed towns, prettier architecture, and a beach at your back door. But the rich biodiversity and magnificent vistas make the towns and outlying areas of northern Nicaragua well worth considering for a more simple lifestyle or at the very least, an extended vacation with ample time to explore all that the northern highlands have to offer.
This article has been republished from International Living.