The City of Flowers
The last day in Nicaragua, and so the quietest with the most relaxed day trip we’ve done so far while in the country. Visiting the small city of Masaya, nicknamed the folklore capital of Nicaragua, and its volcano nearby, one of the most active in the country. Enough to keep us busy for half a day and enjoy the other half resting at the hotel’s pool and a nice dinner before having to pack the luggage once again and onto the next country the following day.
Not an impressive site, nor too impressive, especially for the city of Masaya. We heard a lot before coming here that it was supposed to be a nice place, with plenty to do and enjoy because after all, it is the folklore capital of Nicaragua. So we though as such only to be disappointed. Really, there is nothing special, and after having been to Leon and Granada the previous days which both are incredibly beautiful, Masaya turned to be a simple vulgar city. Yes, few churches here and there and the Market of the Artisans, but that is all.
In the other hand, the volcano is nice indeed, but for us that we’ve recently been to so many volcanoes while in Indonesia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and days before the Momotombo in Nicaragua itself next to Leon; then seeing another one was a bit of the same. Still, it is worth to come here for sure! The views from the top are pretty cool. Far in the distance you can see Managua and farther beyond, the Momotombo volcano. Only that you need to be aware is that they only recommend you to stay at the top no more than 10 minutes. The sulphur smoke is very strong and irritates the eyes and creates breathing problems, hence why you should be quick at the top.
While it is highly likely you will come to this place by public transportation, (very easy and simple as explained below in the transportation section), to go from Masaya to the volcano or even the Coyotepe Fortress you will need to get a taxi or a driver. Don’t be afraid to be overcharged, everyone seemed to be really decent and quoting the official guide fare. I would NEVER EVER attempt to climb up the Masaya volcano on foot. That is something crazy and health threatening to be honest. We saw people almost dying because of the extreme heat and no shadow at all until reaching the top, something that will take you at least hour and a half! For the little money we paid for a taxi this was the best ever option.
There’s not really much to be said in this brief introduction to Masaya and the volcano, for which I can move on to the next sections below.
For more information about Masaya 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 Masaya
- Parque Central Also known as Parque 17 de Octubre is the centre of the city where all the streets go following the Spanish urban grid.
- Church of the Assumption Darting from 1750 in late baroque colonial style.
- Mayor’s Office Now a small museum dedicated to the Nicaragua’s Revolution.
- Parish of San Sebastian Although of recent construction in 1935 if compared with the Spanish colonial churches, it has pretty much colonial influences in the design.
- San Jeronimo Church Built in 1928 in eclectic style is one of the most important churches nowadays in the city because of the patron of the city, San Jeronimo. Those are the longest patron festivities in Nicaragua.
- Saint John’s Church Is one of the most beautiful Spanish colonial churches in the city and one of the oldest still standing.
- El Calvario Church Combining baroque and neo-classical colonial styles it is one of the most colourful and nicest in Masaya.
- Market of Artisans Built in 1888 is Gothic style building with the look of a fortress rather than a market.
- Malecon This is the waterfront promenade by the Masaya Lagoon, a former volcanic crater. There are nice views of the Masaya Volcano on the opposite shore.
- Coyotepe Fortress Built in 1893 on the Coyotes Hill was also used as a prison. The views from the top are one of the best of the entire city, Laguna de Masaya, Laguna de Apoyo, Mayaya Volcano and other nearby volcanoes. Entrance fee of 55 Cordobas.
- Nearby attractions There is a great choice of activities you could also do when visiting Masaya, being most of them the volcanoes and lakes. Perhaps the best choice you can do is either be on a tour (although this will leave you with very little time for your own sightseeing), renting a car and go anywhere you like, or renting a driver to take you anywhere you want for the day. If you negotiate the price before this is one of the best options, and probably the cheapest.
-National Park of Masaya Volcano It became in 1979 the first National park in Nicaragua. The Santiago Crater is still active and almost continuously smoking sulfur dioxide gas. The best view of it is by the viewing point some meters above the Crater Santiago. Entrance fee to the park 100 Cordobas.
-Laguna de Apoyo Located to the east of the city and middle of the way to Granada is a beautiful large former crater surrounded by pristine nature.
-National Park Mombacho Volcano To the opposite side of Masaya Volcano and on direction to Granada is another of the great volcanoes in Nicaragua.
Being one of the key tourist spots in the country, not for the city itself but the Masaya volcano, it is very easy to reach specially if coming from the capital city Managua.
Coming from Managua is the option I can describe as being the one I did. With extremely frequent buses and microbuses departing every time they get full from the UCA (Universidad Centro Americana) which is near the Tiscapa Lagoon. Simply arrive there and get on the first bus you see heading to Leon. You won’t need to actually even look for the buses as you will hear the drivers screaming out loud the destinations. Or if your accommodation happen to be anywhere near Metrocentro shopping centre and the Carretera de Masaya, then you can stop the buses heading both 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.
It costs 20 Cordobas and takes approximately 1 hour. The arrival point in Masaya is meters from main square. From there you are already in the centre and there is no need for taking any further public transportation to visit the city since distances are small and the sights not far from each other.
Between Masaya city and the Coyotepe Fortress and Masaya volcano the only way is getting a taxi. It is a very fair price as the driver did not rip us off at all. He took us to both places for 100 Cordobas, and drop us off at the entrance of the National Park where the main road Managua-Masaya-Granada runs through. From that point simply cross the road and stop the next bus heading to Managua, making sure you are not leaving later than 18.00pm or otherwise you risk being left stranded since around this time the last buses make their way.
Since we did not stay over in Masaya as our base was in Managua, I describe here about our accommodation in the capital. 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 ran hotels, B&B and hotels, but that is what we are not looking in our holidays unless strictly necessary.
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 due to the very high cost of international brands, we changed it at only 3 days before arriving to Managua because we found a superb deal at Hilton through their official Hilton page. To save you from having to go through property after property reading comments and trying to make your mind, aim to seek for Hotel Los Pinos or Mansion Teodolinda. They both have very good reviews, competitive prices and nice property. This later one was meant to have been our hotel until we changed for Hilton.
Hilton Princess Managua, in kilometer 4.5 Carretera a Masaya is located to the south of the city, 5 minutes away on foot from the Metrocentro shopping centre. It was great in all senses, since the moment we arrived and until we checked-out. Everyone were really professional in every department. The room was nice and fresh, very clean and spacious. Good breakfast with dishes rotating each day with something different, and a beautiful pool. Also as a great plus is being located along the road to Masaya and Granada for what you can get on a bus from there without the need to go to the bus station. Shops, restaurants, cinema or supermarket were all 5 minutes away at the shopping centre.