Around Estelí

Miraflor

Miraflor is a 5675-ha nature reserve 28 km northeast of Estelí in the Department of Jinotega. It contains the
Laguna de Miraflor
and has a wide range of flora and fauna (including the quetzal). The
Unión de Cooperativas Agropecuarias (UCA) Miraflor
, www.miraflor.org
, operates in the reserve, has a tourism project and is in charge of environmental protection. The cooperative can provide wooden huts, basic facilities and accommodation, meals, horse hire and guided walks. It is recommended for a visit to see rural life and is a beautiful area for riding. Travelling to the region at night is not recommended due to crime, although police have been installed at the entrance to the Miraflor reserve.

El Sauce and around

A very poor gravel road just north of Estelí runs to El Sauce where there is a large 16th-century church (burnt down in 1997 and refurbished in 2002). It's a place of pilgrimage and people come from all over Central America to visit the black
Christ of Esquipulas
, celebrated in a giant festival that culminates 15-18 January. After 20 km, an equally rough road branches north to
Achuapa
, beyond which an unmade road continues through the
artesanía
town of
San Juan de Limay
(one
hospedaje
), famous thoughout Nicaragua for its great
soapstone carvings
. The artists are happy to invite you into their house to watch them carve. Further on,
Pueblo Nuevo
(two basic
hospedajes
) is near an archaeological site. From here the road goes on to join the Pan-American Highway just east of Somoto.

Condega

From Estelí, the Pan-American goes north to Condega, a quiet town. Its name means 'pottery makers' and the indigenous village was once known for its ceramics.
Some of the country's most beautiful pottery is still made here and visitors are welcome at the
Ducuale Grande Ceramic Co-operative
, a women's co-op that makes attractive red-clay earthenware; there's a small shop attached. Condega has a small and well-kept
archaeological museum
,
with permanent expositions of discoveries from the region.

Somoto

Continuing along the highway you reach Somoto, a pleasant town in a lovely setting. Recent excavations have uncovered unusual pre-Columbian remains which are on display at the
Museo Arqueológico de Somoto
. The town is famous for the best
rosquillas
(a traditional toasted food, dry but tasty, made of egg, cheese, cornmeal and butter) in Nicaragua. Try the
viejita,
which also has pure cane sugar in the centre. Some 15 km north of Somoto is one of Nicaragua's most impressive canyons, a national monument well worth visiting. It's a moderate and slippery 3-km hike from a highway exit, best reached by taxi. A guide is recommended, but not essential.

Ocotal

From Somoto a road turns off right to Ocotal (18 km), a clean, cool, whitewashed town on a sandy plain and well worth a visit. It is near the Honduran border, to which a road runs north (bus marked Las Manos), and the scenery is wonderful. From Ciudad Sandino - formerly Jícaro - 50 km east from Ocotal, you can get to
San Albino
, where there are many gold mines and the nearby Río Coco is used to wash the gold.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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