The Bride of Xolotlan
Our next country in this tour, Nicaragua, and base in its capital city of Managua for the next 5 days. With this we mark the country visited number 76, a whooping increasing number, although it is becoming harder and harder to raise the number, unless we start doing some cruising by the Caribbean, Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, and the biggest “unknown” Africa which I must confess I am not too confident because of the safety there.
While not many years ago Nicaragua ranked as a dangerous country to visit, with their civil war troubles, troubled government, poverty and overall instability; it has recovered from everything to the point of being the safest country in Central America out of the 7 that form it. Of course, like everywhere in the world, minding and caring for your staff and knowing where you go and where you should not is a prime rule, but indeed and after coming from El Salvador where we were having eyes even in our backs, Nicaragua was very pleasant anywhere, and Managua quite a relaxed place to be.
The only downside of the city comes since the 1972 earthquake. It was 23rd of December with everyone in Christmas spirit celebrations when the fate changed forever. Almost everything was lost, an entire city flattened with very few buildings surviving, some of which in a poor state and crumbling and not possible even to use them up to this date. The old cathedral is the best example, left as a monumental reminder of what once was a historical city with beautiful buildings, and the few that is left here today.
It is one of the very few capital cities in the world without a city centre. A new city had to be built farther inland from the lake shore at safer areas, but there is nothing of interest. The former city centre area and the port area are the only places worth visiting anyway.
Questioning with locals about why the old buildings were not reconstructed or even why the old cathedral was not restored came to a clear answer. Managua actually lies on top of 3 tectonic plaques that meet under Managua Lake, almost at the point where the city of Managua is, hence the likes for another catastrophic earthquake are highly likely. The former old city centre is a no construction zone, and bearing the new presidential palace and the buildings that survived the 1972 earthquake, it is all that can be there for enjoyment of the people. The regeneration of the port is the only project the city has seen in the area within the past 4 decades and was really a great decision. At evenings, when temperatures drop a bit, hundreds of people come around to this ever growing thriving area.
As for how long time you need to explore the city, you will need a day for everything. It is no more than 4 hours at most for the city itself, walking all the from the New Cathedral passing the Tiscapa Lagoon and down to the Malecon by the lake. Then the Acahualinca footprints for what you need to get a taxi to go and back will be another hour and half. And totally recommended after having a rest in between (ideally at the hotel’s pool if you have one), coming back in the evening to the port and stay around for dinner. Do never plan any longer than a day for the city as it will become a waste of a day and precious time.
When looking for places to have food, this is quite challenging anywhere around the former old town centre. There simply aren’t any restaurants at all! The only places where you can find are either at the shopping centres or the port area. Both Metrocentro to the south or Plaza Inter near the Tiscapa Lagoon and old town itself have a wide choice at good prices, for instance the chain Tip Top since we discovered it, had dinner the last 3 nights there and ate in other cities while in Nicaragua. Do not judge from the look as if it would be a KFC with deep pan-fried chicken. They have really nice fresh salads with chicken from the grill just made, and many other good options. The port area in the other hand, although with a good choice too, prices are quite steep up.
For more information about Managua check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The currency of Nicaragua is the Cordoba. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Managua
- Malecon This is the waterfront of the city and the Managua Lake. Recently revamped it is a great area to go out for restaurants, bars, cafes and general shopping and entertainment. A big public plaza separates the 2 different areas:
-Puerto Salvador Allende Is the main restaurant and bars area. There is an entrance fee of 5 Cordobas.
-Paseo Xolotlan At the opposite side of the main plaza, also with an entrance fee of 5 Cordobas. This is more a family entertainment area, with nice gardens and walkways.
- Revolution Square Formerly known as Republic Square was the core of the old town until the 1972 earthquake where almost the entire city was flattened and lost. It is some meters inland from the Malecon.
-Saint Jame’s Cathedral Known as the Old Cathedral, is one of the few buildings to survive the earthquake although only the structure was spared and cannot be visited inside for its instability. Built entirely of concrete on a metal frame was designed and shipped from Belgium in 1920.
-National Palace of Culture Built in 1935 is also a survivor of the 1972 earthquake. It houses the National Archives, Library and National Museum of Nicaragua. 138 Cordobas to enter.
-Presidential Palace Of recent construction since the old one was destroyed in the 1972 earthquake is located next to the Old Cathedral.
-Ruben Dario National Theatre One of the most important and largest theatre not only in the city but across Central America. It was one of the very few buildings to survive the 1972 earthquake largely intact.
-Central Park Is the name the small park within the square receives and where you will find some important monuments and statues, as those of Ruben Dario, the grandest Nicaraguan poet of all times or the tomb of Comandante Carlos Fonseca, founder of the FSLN which is guarded by an eternal flame
-Post Office Building To the west of Parque Central is a fine example of art-deco architecture.
- New Cathedral Built in 1993 in order to replace unusable old one severely damaged in the 1972 earthquake. Of questionable design and architecture, the many domes resemble in fact to a mosque rather than a Catholic church. Located to the south of Tiscapa Lagoon.
- Tiscapa Lagoon Is the crater of an extinct volcano and where you’ll find the landmark silhouette of Augusto Sandino, one of Nicaragua’s national hero and other military memorials. Calle del Comercio is the main street going from the old town to the lagoon.
- Acahualinca Footprints Over 4000 years old is a group of footprints left in the mud belonging to around 15 people that were perfectly preserved due to the volcanic eruption that buried them. Open from 09.00am until 16.00pm, US$4 entrance fee, unless it is closed and the security guard lets you in, when he will request some “black money” afterwards which will be still cheaper than the normal US$4, (he asked us 50 Cordobas each). The safest way to reach this museum is by taxi since the neighbourhood is one of the unsafe in the city.
The airport is located to the east of the city right by the Panamerican Highway. I do not know if there is any kind of public transportation serving it nor the timings of it, but by the time we arrived in the afternoon, there was definitely nothing else than prepaid cars and many taxis. Everyone trying to get you to them, negotiate the price well in advance. We decided to avoid everyone balancing on us offering taxi and asked for the cost to our hotel at one of the prepaid booths. Their quotation was well over our expectations, to what they seemed to lower down to almost half the initial cost without hesitation. You really have to work out your negotiation skills or otherwise you will be ripped-off. Just for your reference, we paid 400 Cordobas. Returning from the hotel to the airport, we wanted to stop a normal taxi, but the hotel offered one of their private Hilton taxi to take us for 420 Cordobas.
Within the city there is no need for taking any public bus, unless your hotel is far. If you are based somewhere around Metrocentro shopping mall then you can easily walk all the way to the Malecon, and grab a taxi to get back.
If visiting other cities such as Leon, Masaya and Granada, the key destinations in the country, it is very easy to get on a frequent bus/microbus from the UCA bus station (Universidad Centro Americana). Simply arrive there and get on the first bus you see heading to the desired destination. You won’t need to actually even look for the buses as you will hear from the drivers screaming out loud the destinations. Or if your accommodation is anywhere near Metrocentro and the Carretera de Masaya, then you can stop the buses to Masaya and Granada there in the main road. From our hotel, the Hilton Princess, it was just 5 meters from the door to the road! Any more convenient than that impossible.
Managua came as being the most expensive city to get a hotel in our entire Central America tour. The fact that there are not too many large properties aggravates the chances of finding a good deal. Of course there are plenty of small family run hotels, B&B and hostels, which is what we are not really looking in our holidays, unless strictly necessary. As usual, a good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
While originally we booked a small hotel because of high fares of international brands, we managed to change it at only 3 days before arriving in Managua as we found a superb deal at Hilton booked through their official website only. To save you from having to go through property after property reading comments and trying to make up your mind, definitely aim to seek for Hotel Los Pinos or Mansion Teodolinda. They both have the best reviews, competitive prices and nice properties. The later one was meant to have been our hotel before we changed it for the Hilton.
Hilton Princess Managua, in kilometer 4.5 Carretera a Masaya, to the south of the city, is only 5 minutes away on foot from Metrocentro shopping centre. It was great in all senses, since the moment we arrived and until we checked-out. Everyone was really professional in all departments. The room was nice and fresh, very clean and spacious. Good breakfast with dishes rotating daily, and a beautiful pool. Also as a great plus is the location along the road to Masaya and Granada for what you can get on a bus to both cities from the door of the hotel!. Shops, restaurants, cinema and supermarkets were all just 5 minutes away at the shopping centre.