Matagalpa and around

From Sébaco a road leads to Matagalpa, and some of the best walking country in Nicaragua. Matagalpa has an old church, and while it is about the only colonial-style building left, the town retains a simple agrarian charm. It was badly damaged in the Revolution but all war damage has now been repaired. A coffee boom in the late 1990s benefitted the region greatly, but the crash in coffee prices in 2001 has subsequently decimated the fragile local economy. The
local festival and holiday on 26 September celebrates the
Virgen de las Mercedes

Matagalpa is a small town, the main focus of the surrounding agricultural land and the birthplace of Carlos Fonseca, one of the founder members of the FSLN. The house he was born in, now the
Museo Carlos Fonseca
, looks certain to remain closed for the foreseeable future, but the local FSLN office has the keys. It's a busy town with just the
and the
Galería de los Héroes y Mártires
, in the main square to the north, to consider as sights. The
Centro Popular de la Cultura
is 2½ blocks north, four blocks east from the northeast corner of the cathedral plaza.
Matagalpa Tours
, is an excellent source of information, with a thorough knowledge of the city and the surrounding mountains; staff speak Dutch and English.
, has limited, patchy details on local attractions. You could also try
, next door to Matagalpa tours; and
, in the coffee museum; but none of them speak English.

Coffee, the region's main source of employment, is harvested from November to February and can be seen drying in the sun at the southern edge of town. There is a
coffee museum
devoted to its history and cultivation.

A 32-km road runs from Matagalpa east to the Tuma Valley. Matagalpa, with its beautiful mountains and diverse scenery, is one of the best hiking areas of Nicaragua. A nice way to discover the area on your own is with
Treasures of Matagalpa
, a brochure describing five one-day hikes ranging from four to eight hours, including a detailed map, instructions and a description of the history of the area. You can buy the brochure at
Centro Girasol
. All profit goes to supporting
with disabled children. You should also visit the centre if you're interested in volunteering.

Jinotega and around

A rough road spirals north from Matagalpa to Jinotega rising out of the valley and into one of the most scenic paved highways in the north, lined by highland farms, virgin cloud forest and breathtaking views of the
surrounding valleys and mountains. At Km 143,
Diparate de Potter
, serves beef and chicken dishes and is worth a stop to sit do
wn and enjoy the scenery.

Jinotega is a pleasant, friendly town which has famous images in the church; if it's closed, ask around. The jail, which was used in the years of the Somoza dictatorship, has been converted into a youth centre. There are several banks near the main plaza.
Alianza Turística
, has good information on the town but staff speak Spanish only.
, is
less useful, but worth a try. A beautiful hike, which starts from behind the cemetery, leads up to the cross above the city (1½-hour round trip). As with Matagalpa, excellent coffee is grown in the region. One road leads from Jinotega to El Tuma power station (18 km); another, unpaved and picturesque, goes to Estelí, through La Concordia, but there's very little transport between La Concordia and Estelí.

Eight kilometres east of Jinotega is the beautiful
Lago de Apanás
, an artificial lake created by the damming of the Río Tuma. The lake is used to produce energy in a hydroelectric plant and is great for fishing, full of
(perch) and
. Small enterprises lining the lake will fry fish for visitors and it's possible to rent a small boat and fish on the lake; ask the locals.

The paved highway north of Jinotega leads to
San Rafael del Norte
. There are some good murals in the local church, and a chapel on the hill behind, at Tepeyak, built as a spiritual retreat. The town was involved in the Sandinista struggle and its recent history is very interesting. The
Museo General Sandino
, is where Sandino used to send off telegrams to his troops in different parts of the northern hills. The young woman to whom he dictated his messages became his wife and the town has claimed him as their native son ever since.

North of Sébaco

From Sébaco a 134-km journey to the border at El Espino takes you through sharp hills with steep climbs and descents, but it's smooth and quite well banked. A reasonable road leads off the Pan-American Highway 10 km northwest of Sébaco, near
San Isidro
, to join the Pacific Highway near León (110 km). If travelling south, this is an attractive route to Managua through the Chinandega cotton-growing area, past the chain of volcanoes running west from Lake Managua, and through León. Buses run from Estelí to San Isidro and San Isidro to León.

After San Isidro, the Pan-American Highway continues through
La Trinidad
, an attractive mountain village set in a canyon, before reaching Estelí.

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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