Masaya: Be Mindful, Go Local -Secret Spot in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is known for its beaches, surf and yoga retreats. Fast becoming an alternative to Costa Rica, especially for Canadians.
For me, this type of vacation travel is trite and dated. I’m not interested in being put in a tourist bubble and merely experiencing something cheaper, somewhere else, off the backs of locals so I can “destress” at a massive cost to the environment and economy. It’s not to say I don’t end up doing this type of travel, cause sometimes it’s all there is available for an outsider like me; but I try hard to do as little as possible.
Pick your battles people.
Now that I’m a mom, I am even less likely to do the bubble type travel even though as a single parent, it’s even easier to do and there are even less options available, effectively forcing parents into the shit lane.
Here’s the thing about travel: it’s really fucking awful for the environment. And I’m not talking about jet fuel, I’m talking about all the imported food, the exorbitant water waste in building, maintaining and keeping with foreign tastes. Tourism increases crime since it clearly rubs in the faces of the have-nots just how much the haves have and all on their turf. Also, single use plastic – how much are we really gonna use and then turn around and complain that the roads outside of the west are littered with plastic? Who’s garbage do you think that is?
It’s important for me to travel with my daughter more mindfully. And we’re not perfect. I get the to-go cups and the Quinoa and goat cheese bowls filled with imported overpriced food. But I try to make these my treats, and I reuse those to-go cups and bring my own bag. I’m a guest, and I try to act like a guest like my mother taught me, and like I am now teaching a tiny human.
We recently took a trip to Nicaragua, and although it’s easy to be mindful on an island like Ometepe where you can’t buy plastic water bottles at most hostels, but you can refill everywhere, spots like San Juan Del Sur are basically a plastic wrapped faux paradise of tourism on high. I was really proud of us for using one straw, one cup and one bag the whole time we were there (and it was HARD, cause every place wanted to load us up with single use everything). But what about being culturally mindful?
Nicaragua was the first Latin country I have traveled through with my daughter that had such a huge division between locals and foreigners that we couldn’t even find one high chair in a restaurant, not even local comedors. And I speak Spanish and take local transport, and STILL, we were pushed back to our childless tourist group over and over.
I couldn’t leave Nicaragua without living like a Nica for at least a couple days. Finally, we found Masaya (against everyone’s advice to skip and go to Granada). It was the sleeper hit of the trip for us.
In Masaya we were the only tourists. Sure they didn’t have Quinoa bowls with goat cheese and smoothies made with Acai and Goji berries, but at this point, I’ve had as much of that as I ever need to. They did have cheap street food in Central Park (and free Wifi in the park too) and families and high chairs and parks for kids and hikes and great activities and I could go on and on and on. If you have kids, or you want to see something less overrun by tourists, or maybe just pay homage to a country for hosting your tourist ass for a month, then choose Masaya!
It’s safe in Nicaragua. Call me crazy, but I don’t find this country unsafe. Maybe in comparison to rural Canada but what isn’t? If you are from the USA, then Nicaragua is safe like Vermont. Yes, people get hurt in the capital, but other than that, it’s safe. Masaya is KNOWN for being safe and clean. Just don’t be stupid and start flashing all your tech and money in the street. TBH, if you do, you sorta asked to be robbed. As a woman on my own, I didn’t feel unsafe for one minute walking down residential streets and anywhere I wanted, alone, with a baby, clearly foreign.
For the Kids/The Malecon:
There are more kids parks in Masaya than any other city I’ve ever seen in my life. For real. It was like every time I turned around, I saw another one.
The Malecon is a walkway along the crater lake, Lake Masaya, with a gorgeous view. the whole strip is dedicated to children with park after park, plus it’s got a free exercise machine area and it’s a decent track for runners too. My daughter was like a kid in a candy store here, they even had a special area with a jungle gym for children under 5. It’s walking distance from Central Park, about 6 blocks from the Pali. Just ask for directions or take a cab.
This is the only volcano you will ever visit with people who have limited mobility, or children. We were unable to go because they don’t allow children in under 5 when the air is thick cause of the gases. You can take a taxi up to the top and peer into an active volcano with lava. It’s a half hour trip in total, just a drive up and a look and drive down. For kids this is really damn cool and for people who don’t want to hike for a day up a volcano to complete against their personal best, even better. It’s in the national park, although you are not allowed to hike in the park at the moment. My suggestion is to contact them on your trip and see what is available.
It cost us a dollar (USD) to take a cab to the base, we walked 30 minutes up the steep hill to the famous Coyotepe Fortress. This is where the famous battle of 1912 took place where the resistance lead by Benjamin Zeldon fell to then President and US backed, Diaz. This was then the set up for the Sandinista rebellion against the US later. Plus this fortress was used a lot for torture and the chambers are still dark and they invite you to go and take a look so you can learn about the dark as well as the light. It costs $2 and then another $1 to get back and I loved the hike. It’s 100% safe and many locals use this as a place to exercise, running up and down the hill alongside you.
Where to Eat:
We ate at the park and around the park, almost everything is walking distance. It’s not a culinary heaven but there are simple meals and a lot of cafe’s with good coffee and deserts around. We loved the ceviche, the tipico lunches and a chocolate cake called, Selva Chocolate, that seemed to be on every menu. I never paid more than $8 for a meal including drinks for me and my daughter.
Where to Stay:
We stayed in a family run hostel called Hostel Central, it was a nothing place with just a bed, fan and TV. They provided coffee in the morning and there was a shared bathroom but the location was incredible and the couple who owned it were super family oriented and gave us lots of intel on where to do. If I was going to stay longer than two nights, I would book an Airbnb.
Granada and the Craft Market:
Most people stay in Granada, only a half hour from the airport either on their way in or out of Nicaragua and they take a day trip to Masaya for the Craft Market. I saw people on these trips and I guess if you want to travel in a big group, slowly with your fancy retirement DSL cameras and take pics of trinkets in a market, then this is not the blog for you.
Granada is overpriced and overrun with tourists. It is, however, very beautiful. If you want a more authentic experience with less tourists, cheaper prices or more things to do with kids, stay in Masaya and go to Granada for the day trip.
Masaya is also a half hour from the airport and a half hour from Granada. Go for the day, get your tourist fix, and comeback to sleepy sweet, cheap Masaya by night.
The tour books are geared towards single young travellers looking to find themselves and see the world, It’s also for solo travellers (especially women) looking to socialize and for people who want adventure and nightlife. I’m a 38 year old single mom who’s partying days are thankfully, behind me. I like day life, I like chill, I like getting away from my culture. If you are not interested in anything that the average tourist is doing, then don’t go to the places set up for them.
The craft market is exactly what it sounds like. A market filled with trinkets you don’t need to take home to people who already have too much. I will recommend hitting the food stands inside and if you are looking for a beautiful hammock for your house, Nicaragua has some of the best. Note: you have to put it under the plane, so factor that in when you buy.