During a decade-long civil war in the 1980s, Nicaragua‘s mountainous northern regions saw violent clashes between government Sandinista revolutionaries and U.S.-backed Contra forces. These days, people living in the country’s highlands, southern Bosawas and the Segovias enjoy a far more tranquil existence that has helped in the welcome growth of a variety of successful community-based tourism projects.
North of the cities of Matagalpa and Esteli, local responsible travel initiatives are gaining ground and improving the livelihoods of local mountain residents. For travelers, these new projects are a means to an end, often serving as the perfect base from which to get involved in regional agricultural practices or to explore the incredible countryside by foot or on horseback.
A Local Farmstay in Southern Bosawas
Nicaragua lays claim to the largest stretch of continuous rainforest in Central America and one of the hardest-to-reach wilderness regions on the entire continent. It is here, along the southern frontier of the Bosawas Rainforest, that community-based ecotourism is helping to provide an invaluable and sustainable source of income for local residents.
My introduction to the spectacular “gateway” to the Bosawas region came with the help of Alvaro, my guide at Northward Nicaragua Adventures. With his intimate knowledge of the region, I was able to find one of the best homestays in the community of Peñas Blancas. North of the twin town’s of El Tuma-La Dalia, local farmer Don Chico welcomes visitors to his family’s farm with simple guest cabins.
During a stay, travelers can get involved in the local coffee harvest, take Spanish lessons, hire local trekking guides and even pitch in with preparation of meals and the care of livestock. Arguably the biggest draw to this incredible region, however, is the steep network of interconnected pathways up the towering cliffs of Peñas Blancas. Don Chico can tell you where to locate the near-vertical trail (he put it in himself at age 70), but your best bet for reaching the summit is to hire a reputable guide.
Contact the staff of Northward Nicaragua Adventures to arrange for responsibly minded tours of Bosawas and spectacular Peñas Blancas.
The Mountain Community of La Garnacha
Southwest of the cowboy town of Esteli, the 9,344-hectare wilderness preserve of El-Tisey-La Estanzuela boasts an exciting range of hiking trails with summit views of the mountainous Segovias, the volcanic peaks of San Cristóbal and Momotombo, and Lake Managua.
At the center of the reserve lies the tiny village of La Garnacha, a community that supports itself though farming and small-scale agritourism (travelers can arrange for stays in log cabins and village homes). Year-round opportunities also abound, including participation in local horticultural practices, coffee production and the village’s well-known artisanal cheese-making practices that produce a variety of Swiss-style and Parmesan cheeses.
From Esteli, buses run twice daily to La Garnacha, where guides can arrange for tours of the reserve’s spectacular Cueva del Duende, Apaguajil mountain and surrounding agricultural fields.
To plan travel in advance, contact [email protected] about overnight stays within the farming community of La Garnacha.