The packaging says ‘made in Cuba’, but all these cigars are really made here in Esteli. This vibrant Sandinista town might not be the most beautiful place on earth, but the relaxed vibe makes it a perfect base to explore the region.
The northern Nicaraguan highlands are fertile grounds. The weather is still nice, but more moderate than on the Pacific side. Matagalpa is known for its coffee, Esteli is perfect for growing tobacco leaves. But there is much more to discover in the area.
Food and drinks
In the evening, Tipiscayan serves some good traditional national dishes. Closeby is also Peppers, an unassuming place with not-too-expensive options. Walk around the streets of Parque Central and you will also find plenty of low-brow alternatives, and even several places where they fire up the coal barbecue in the early evening.
Activities / things to do
- Just walking around the Esteli streets is a good idea to get a feeling for the relaxed vibe. What makes it even better is that it is an epicentre for graffiti / street art. Especially the walls around the Colegio Guillermo Cano school are one long string of colorful graffiti. Elsewhere you will also find more politically-charged street art and murals, and an educational street art project against violence against women
- Museum-wise, there is not too much going on. The Gallery of Heroes and Martyrs depicts the recent history of political violence and the Sandinista uprising, but I never found it open. That though led me to the Casa de la Cultura Leonel Rugama, which had a nice exhibition of paintings that was free to watch (at least no one stopped me when I entered…)
- The best things to do in and around Esteli are almost all by guided tours, most of them arranged by Tree Huggers, an NGO. A tour through a cigar factory is an absolute must-do, and takes around two hours. It shows the entire process inside the workshop. Tour guides are in Spanish though
- Another must-see is Somoto canyon. This gorge was only discovered internationally around twenty years ago by photographers from the Czech republic. Their photos actually gained interest in this canyon, literally on the border with Honduras. You have to take a chicken bus to get there, then Mr Henry will pick you up and take you to the starting point. At a certain moment, you just have to jump down in the water and swim your way through the gorge. Unforgettable, inspiring, but only during the dry season!
- The last highlight is the natural reserve of Miraflor. it might be wiser though to stay in that area as well. Miraflor is a cloud forest with an incredibly vibrant nature. It is very similar to Monteverde in Costa Rica, though much cheaper and not nearly as well-organized of course 🙂 You can even stay with the locals to get a better idea of how they live in and with nature
Getting to Esteli and getting around
- Esteli has two bus stations, along the main road on the east side of the centre, quite close to eachother. The southern one mainly serves Managua, the northern one all other destinations
- As I came to Esteli directly from Ometepe, it turned out to be a stupid idea as it is a full day of traveling
- Much better and easier are the connections to Leon and Managua. Both take around 2,5-3,5 hours in chicken buses or minivans. When traveling to and from Managua, be careful to pick the right bus stations. The Centrocoasting site has all relevant info, as always
- There is also an option to come from Honduras, through the border crossing near Somoto canyon. No idea though how exactly it works, as there are apparently only 2-3 buses per day
- Weather: volatile. Which means that it can rain throughout the year. Temperatures are mild, but rarely burning hot as on the Pacific side