nicaragua’s laguna de apoyo & a wasted trip to volcán masaya

Sunday, January 1, 2003: We started the New Year by leaving León and driving a scenic route south of Managua. During our whole time in Nicaragua, we managed to miss the capital altogether, as planned. I had heard it is one of the ugliest capitals in the world. Adam, however told us that he loved Managua — the energy and the vibe. He loved riding his motorbike through the city and zigzagging in and out of traffic. Maybe we’ll have to check it out whenever we return.

We drove high on a mountain ridge with densely forested mountains all around us. After about two hours, as we approached Catarina, Adam pointed out the spot where he hit a dog on his motorbike and went skidding across the road during his first year in Nicaragua. He was in a daze and kindly Nicaraguans came out to help him. They called for help and got him to a hospital. He was terribly shaken and the love people showered on him was what made him fall in love with the country. He seemed very nostalgic about the whole experience.

Mirador de Catarina

We arrived at Catarina, a town close to Masaya. It is famous for its observation point over the Laguna de Apoyo (Apoyo Lagoon), as well as for its flower nurseries. The Catarina Mirador is one of the highest hills surrounding the Apoyo Lagoon and the view is superb. It has a bit of a circus atmosphere with scores of vendors selling every imaginable thing and musicians serenading people for money.

The Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve protects Laguna de Apoyo, a volcanic lake, and its drainage basin. Laguna de Apoyo is a type of  lake that normally retains water and allows no outflow to other external bodies of water, such as rivers or oceans; drainage converges instead into lakes or swamps, permanent or seasonal. It occupies the caldera of an extinct volcano. The lake is round with a diameter of 6.6km. It is 175m deep and occupies an area of 19.44 square kilometers.

We ate lunch at Rancho Esperanza, an open-air two-story restaurant with a bit of a view. I enjoyed grilled chicken with jalapeño sauce, tostones (smashed and refried plantains), and grilled onions & peppers, accompanied by a delicious salad.

After lunch, we strolled along the mirador where people were promenading on horses. A young girl rode a virtual “unicorn” with a gold horn and a rainbow-colored mane.

The Catarina viewpoint is a popular place among Nicaraguans during weekends; families and friends gather to enjoy the view, nosh on snacks from street vendors or enjoy leisurely restaurant meals. Families were out in droves because it was a Sunday and New Year’s Day.

As we moseyed our way out of the congested mirador by car, I saw a vendor selling miniature paintings, so I hopped out of the car and quickly bought two paintings: one of the Nicaraguan national bird, the mot mot, and the other a volcano with storks at its base. Both cost me $8. The traffic was moving slowly, so I was able to hop back in easily. Souvenir shops and nurseries lined the path and Death personified strolled with his cane along the road.

We then drove onward to Granada, where we would stay for three nights.

Posada Ecológica la Abuela

Tuesday, January 3: On a hot Tuesday afternoon while we were in Granada, we ventured again to Laguna de Apoyo, but this time to a different access point from where we stopped in Catarina. Adam had visited Posada Ecológica la Abuela before, and he convinced us to go there, although there are many such places around the lagoon that are equally enticing. It is a lively bit of paradise and on this day, it was filled to the brim with Nicaraguan families still celebrating the holidays. We relaxed, nibbled on snacks, drank Toñas, the Nicaraguan beer, and piña coladas, and swam in the lagoon. The boys went down a steep slide into the water and jumped off platforms.

Mike swam out toward the middle of the crater lake. Adam said he fears going out too far from shore; there is something about the deep dark water that unsettles him. While swimming, we could see colorful birds in the trees and monkeys hanging and jumping from tree branches.

It was nice to cool off for the afternoon, as Granada had been very hot that morning.

It was a relaxing afternoon until we decided to go to Volcán Masaya to see the molten magma at nightfall. What a complete waste of time. The gatekeepers took $40 ($10/person) without mentioning a 30-car backup in the park; the cars were waiting for a very limited number of parking spots. They would only let in one car for each car that left; we weren’t moving at all. Alex and Adam got out and walked a long way up the line of cars and never found the front of the line. It would have taken hours to see it but we weren’t about to wait around that long.  We did a T-turn and went back to the gate and protested enough that the gatekeepers grudgingly returned our money. What an utter waste of time, because it had taken us a while to get there. I really hate tourist attractions that don’t have a system!

We headed back to our Airbnb in Granada for our last night there.