In January 2010, we rode from Granada to Costa Rica, visiting Isla De Ometepe.
In November 2009, we rode from Estille to Granada.
In November 2007 (Blue Line), Nicaragua
seems to have become the most intriguing biking country in Central America. The roads are good with only moderate traffic. Although Hwy 1, the Pan American, has a shoulder it is but a narrow one. But it is still rideable. Outside of Managua (why go there?), crime is minor and the people are friendly.
In December 1992 (Red Line)Nicaragua was a battered, struggling country. It held few intrinsic rewards for the cycle tourist. Food was scarce, the climate was hot, the scenery was dull, and the people probably anti-Yankee. But there’s a reality here that is of some interest. These downtrodden people have experienced just about the worst political swings of any in the Americas. The biggest redeeming factor was the traffic— tranquil roads!
How We Rate This trip
In 2007, the Pan American highway in and out of Esteli was good with a narrow shoulder. Its busier as you go toward Managua. The paved roads were very good The dirt roads we took were awful.
The roads are basically well engineered but often lacking in maintenance. However the road up to Jinotega was being improved while we were there in December of 1992. The Pan American Highway was in better condition than the other roads in Nicaragua. Potholes were avoidable in that the roads were not completely deteriorated. Also, especially off the Pan American, there were rough sections occasionally. Less mountainous than the rest of Central America.
Don’t go to Managua. In 2007, the Pan American had moderate traffic around Esteli. The other highways were quiet. Into Matagulpa, it was busy on a road under construction.
Generally in 1992, traffic levels are low. Only in and out of Managua was there “heavy” traffic. The traffic levels were definitely a plus for bike touring.
At the end of November, the rains stop and the temperatures drop a little. We wore sweaters at night in Esteli.
Hot! And even hotter and more humid during the rainy season from June to October. The low mountains offer little higher altitude relief from he heat. Nights are also hot.
In November and December, the winds are strong out of the NE. We had both head and tail winds.
The southeast winds will feel cool unless you’re biking with the winds. The run from Sebaco to Leon was downwind so the winds were more for the northeast here. Mostly the winds were not strong.
In the northwest, the scenery is good. The trips to Jalapa and Jinotega were very scenic.
The best scenery was on the side trip up to Jinotega. In the arid desert, between Sebaco and Leon, the scenery was different and good. Otherwise, the scenery is monotonous even around the lakes.
In 2007, we got OK information from the local sources. That being said, the back road from Jingotega to Esteli was reported to be good but was very bad. You can find reliable maps. The Lonely Planet was OK.
The people are not open so information from the locals is hard to come by. Frankly, it’s not great biking, so there’s very little bike specific information available. There was only 1600 miles of paved road so what’s to know. There is a chapter with general information only in “Latin America by Bike” by Walter Sienko. Maps are hard to come by so bring one.
Road Safety: 7
Small shoulders on the main highway and light traffic combined for safe riding. Be aware that the traffic bunches up and there is truck traffic.
Outside the major cities, you’ll find little traffic and drivers are used to bikes, oxcarts, cattle, and pedestrians on the road. Traffic moves slowly and drivers give plenty of room.
General Safety: 5
Stay out of Managua and you’ll be fine. You can walk at night in the smaller cities. But protect your stuff.
It’s very poor, so crime happens. Mostly petty thievery. But it’s not unheard of to encounter armed bandits especially in the mountains. Most thieves are hanging around the bus station so avoid these.
The dollar is down and prices are up (it would be considered cheap for Europeans). Still food and lodging is reasonable and the standards are way up.
This was a moving target. Inflation was so high that prices were gyrating around a lot. It’s not expensive, but value was not great since quality is hard to come by.
All types of fluids are available, even Gatorade. The best buy is the beer. Coffee (grown here) is so-so. Bottled water is always available.
You’ll want a lot of this. Water must be treated. Any ice should be suspect. The soft drinks and fruit juices are a little expensive. You can drink the ordinary beer. Bottled water is sometimes hard to find. Carry a lot.
We ate well. The small cities offered some very good food.
Basically it’s poor food (1992) that is often hard to find. You are basically eating for fuel. The grocery stores were meager.
Every city offers all types of hotels. The middle to upper range hotels were good.
The good hotels in Managua demand dollars or their prices are pegged to the dollar (1992). Outside of Managua, the selection is meager. You’ll be looking to pay a little more and avoid the noisy, smelly, cockroach infested economy hotels or the pensions and hospedajes.
We were treated well. They want tourists so they try to make it user friendly. Again, we needed medical treatment (dog bite) and we were treated like royalty at the free clinic. The people have a certain flare for life.
We were warned about the latent hostility you, as gringos, experience in everyday encounters. They have suffered much and often blame the Yankee. But, in a time of need when Sally needed medical attention after falling off her bike, the local people were overwhelmingly helpful and the hospital staff offered her great, although rudimentary care. We’ll never forget this kindness.
In the Northwest, the cities and towns have little to offer. The music is borrowed, Mexican and Cuban but good. They have good cigars, rum and some crafts.
Today, Nicaragua’s interest for travelers is the vestiges of the decade-long experiment of military socialism. Managua is run down and dilapidated. Nothing has been maintained. Even Leon and Grenada offer a Spanish colonial character.
In 2007, war, earthquakes and storms have left little to be seen in the northwest. I look forward to Granada and Leon.
It’s the recent history that’s the most observable. These people have been dragged down for decades. First, the American backed strongman, then the reactionary leftist. The colonial period was manifested mostly in Leon and Granada.
TOTAL SCORE 69
Route Descriptions and Maps
Nicaragua 2009 – November
Esteli to Junction 35Ks
(see from Esteli to Matagulpa)
Junction to Leon 108Ks Hwy 26. Good 2-lane new road. No shoulder. Light traffic. OK scenery. In November strong NE (tail) winds make for easy riding. Some minor hills, at 45Ks out of foot hills and onto the flat coastal plain. New, straight highway. Fast. Volcano views. Gradually climb between volcanos from 81Ks. Top at 88Ks. You can see the coast. The down gradually to plain. Even a bike path but more traffic. At 97Ks junction left on on Hwy. 12. Heavy traffic but a wide shoulder into town. At 105Ks, urban roads and traffic. the center at 108Ks.
Leon to Las Pinitas 23Ks (the coast)
Out on urban streets to west then a new 2-lane highway with a shoulder. Quiet. OK scenery including volcanos. NE wind (tail). Good ride, rolling hills. At 20Ks., left. (Right to Poneloya). Along the beach to 23Ks and end of paved road.
Leon to Masachapa (Beach) 96Ks.
Out to Highway 1K. Left on Hwy. #12. Good 2 lane road with a drop down good shoulder. Flat. Dull scenery. Moderate traffic moving fast. Some trucks. Cross winds. At 25Ks, junction. (left to Managua by better and busier road) straight on Hwy #12. Now, old broken blacktop. often washed out dirt. Rideable but slower Hilly. Desolate. Very Quiet. After 50Ks, flatter and the road improves. Headwinds. At 61Ks, right to the beach on Hwy. 10. This is a brick road so the ride is chattery. Rolling hills OK scenery. Side to following winds. At 93Ks, junction Hwy #8 (from Managua)and asphalt road that feels soooo smooth. Flat to Masachapa at 96Ks.
Masachapato Jintepe 65Ks
(33Ks of tough climb)
3Ks to Hwy. #10 junction. Continue straight on Hwy. #8. Steep hill to 5Ks. Good ocean view back. 2-lanes, old broken asphalt road , narrow. Light traffic. Cross to head winds. After 15Ks, its a continuous moderate to steep climb all the way to the junction (crucero) with Hwy. #2 at 33Ks. Great vistas back to the ocean for the last 10Ks. Very tough. Top out at 750 meters. Very windy at the junction. Cross to following wind. Gradually down mostly. Moderate traffic but lots of trucks. A drop down shoulder that at times is broken or bumpy but it keeps you off the road. At 65Ks, Jinotepe.
Jinotepe to Granada 39Ks
Out to Hwy. #2. 2-lanes and no shoulder. Moderate to light traffic. Rolling down. Cross winds. Somewhat following at 17Ks, a glimpse of the lake. At 19Ks turn left on Hwy. #4 to Granada. 2-lane road. Less traffic. On and off broken shoulder. Gradually climb to Junction with Hwy. #18 (left to Masaya) at 27Ks. Go straight for Granada on Hwy. #4. Again less traffic. 2-lanes, mostly no shoulder. Nice gradual down hill all the way to Granada at 39Ks, the center.
Granada to Caterina circle trip trip 48Ks
Out on Hwy. #4 (toward Managua). 4-lanes with a shoulder, following wind. Moderate traffic gradually climb to 9Ks. At 14Ks, 2-lanes with a narrow, broken drop down shoulder. At 15Ks, a traffic circle just before Masaya. Left. Hwy. with a cycle path on the right for 1K.. Then 2-lanes, narrow shoulder. Moderate to heavy traffic. Cross winds. Moderate climb to 20Ks. Nice views. Steeper climb to 22Ks. Still climb to 24Ks. Left to Catarina and beautiful Lake View. Out to Highway at 25Ks. Down moderately then gradually to Hwy. #4 at 35Ks. Now on same road we came into Granada on from the junction after Jinotepe. Left. 2-lanes, no shoulder but light traffic. Slightly climb to 37K then gradually descend into Granada. Center at 48Ks.
Granada to Laguna de Apoyo (San Simion) Round trip 44Ks.
Out of town on Hwy. #4. 4-lanes with a shoulder, following wind. Moderate traffic. gradually climbing to 9Ks. Left.brick road, 2-lane, no shoulder. Quiet. Mostly gradual to moderate climb to view point at 5Ks from Junction. Steep 5K down to the lake at the bottom of the hill 9.5Ks, turn right. Rolling down toward lake 2.5Ks, 1K of rough dirt road. San Simion at 22Ks. (San Simion is a resort where you can swim in the medicinal waters of this volcanic lake)
Granada to Rivas 77Ks
Out of town on Hwy. #4, junction road to Catarina at 13Ks. Pan American Hwy. at 23Ks, left. Now a narrow shoulder. More traffic and trucks after 10AM. Now flat. Cross to head winds here. So-so scenery. At 66Ks circle. Right 1K to Rivas at 67Ks
Rivas to San Jorge Ferry 5Ks
1K to circle on Hwy. #2 then over Highway and straight to San Jorge. Flat, straight and quiet. 5Ks.
Ferry to Moyogalpa on Isla De Ometepe
Round trip Moyogalpa to Playa Santo Domingo 50Ks
On brick highway, quiet, gradually rolling. Good scenery. Volcano views but no lake views. At12Ks. start 5.5K moderate climb. Now you can see the lake , good views. At 17.5K moderate descent. Strong NE winds (head). At 21Ks junction.** right to Santo Domingo on a rough road, rocky, hilly and slow. The beach and hotels at 25Ks.
**At 21Ks, straight rolling down into town Altagracia at 25Ks.
Altagacia to Moyogalpa via dirt road on the north side, 16Ks.
Rough choppy hills. The loose rocks make for a slow ride. The circuit around the volcano Conception is 40Ks.
The circuit around volcano Maderas is 30Ks. This dirt road is even rougher. Loose rocks. Very isolated. Take plenty of water.
The full circuit is 70Ks around both volcanos.
Rivas to San Juan Del Sur 31Ks.
To Hwy.#2. right at 1K. 2-lane with shoulder. Moderate traffic. Slightly rolling. Volcano views to left (Isla De Ometepe) Cross winds. At 11Ks, right on Hwy.#16 (signs to San Juan Del Sur) New highway built in 2007. 2-lanes. Good road. Little traffic. OK scenery. Rolling hills. Tail wind. Occasionally narrow shoulder. At 23Ks a moderate 2K climb then down into San Juan Del Sur. Proceed straight through town to ocean front at 31Ks.
Side-trip around San Juan Del Sur 18Ks (36Ks round trip)
1K out of town, just before Pali store, right on road to El Osteonal, it;s paved for 2Ks. Its rolling for another 3Ks then very steep ups and downs on a variable but rideable dirt-road all the way to El Coca Beach at 18Ks.
San Juan Del Sur to Penas Blancas, 43Ks
(Border with Costa Rica)
Back out to Pan American Hwy. #2, 19Ks. Turn right, gradually rolling. Moderate traffic but lots of trucks. Strong NE winds (cross). Lake and Island views. At 43Ks, the border.
Northeast Nicaragua 2007
Honduras border (EL Espino) to Somoto 20Ks
Down steep for 3Ks then rolling hills. At about 8Ks, the turn for Somoto Canyon. 2-lanes, no shoulder. Good road. Light traffic. Few trucks. OK scenery. Strong head winds (NE).
Somoto to Esteli 70Ks
Easy rolling hills for 11Ks to junction (left 17Ks to Ocotal)* straight toward Esteli. Now 2-lanes with a narrow (1/2 meter) shoulder. Easy rolling. Light traffic (on a Sunday) but trucks come in convoys (better to pull off and let them pass) good scenery. NE winds ( sometimes following, from the side or head) not a big factor here. At 27Ks, climb 1K then easy rolling. At 47Ks, a long moderate climb to 51Ks then rolling hills up to 54Ks. Gradual descent to 60Ks then straight and flat into Esteli. More car traffic in the late afternoon on Sunday.
*From Hwy 1 to Ocotal and then to junction for Jalapa, 21Ks (see reverse description below)
From Hwy 1 junction all the way to Jalapa , 64Ks (see reverse description below)
Jalapa to Hwy 1 64Ks
Rough roads in Jalapa and out for 2Ks then a brick road, good surface. Straight and flat through a valley for 13Ks. Then easy hills to 21Ks. Deep descent to river and climb. Very quiet. NE winds, mostly at back. Generally climb on rolling moderate hills. This is punctuated by steep descents to rough single lane bridges and steep climbs. Generally up to Santa Clara at 33Ks. Then steep short rolling hills thru San Fernando at 42Ks. At 47Ks, the hills moderate and its more down than up. At 51Ks, black top with some pot holes. At 52Ks, a river dive. At 57Ks, another river dive. Very good scenery At 62Ks, road into Ocotal. At 64Ks, Hwy 1.
Hwy 1 at junction for Jalapa to the junction for Somoto 21Ks
From the junction with Hwy 1, 4Ks into Ocotal gradually down. Hwy 1 is 2-lanes with a narrow shouder. Light traffic. Some trucks. After Ocotal moderate 3 and 4K climbs and descents to Junction at 21Ks (17Ks from Ocotal)
Esteli to Matagulpa 73Ks
Hwy 1 gradually up for 8Ks then a long descent to plains. Junction for Leon at 29Ks. Flat to Sebaco at 47Ks. Left. Rolling hills up. In November 2007, road was under construction (it will be an excellent Hwy). Moderate traffic. OK scenery. Head winds (NE) Matagalpa at 73Ks.
Matagula (650 mt) to Jinotega (1000 mt) 32Ks
Climb for 14Ks to 1500 mt, moderate to steep. Then up and down moderate hills and finally at 22Ks down to Jinotega. Good 2-lanes, no shoulder, light traffic. Excellent views. Winds are fluky in mountains and valleys. Jinotega at 32Ks.
Jinotega to Esteli 65Ks
22Ks on a good paved road. Flat then along a lake and then rolling hills to junction. Side winds (NE) good scenery. Very quiet. Left on rough rocky road. Hills then a steep 2Ks down then up again to La Concordia at 30Ks. Tough riding. No traffic. NE (follow) winds. Gradually down a valley to 34Ks. Then gradually up to 55Ks. Very rough all the way. Great scenery. Steep and very rough down for 2Ks then flat through valleys. Still very rough at 64Ks. Hwy 1. Into centro (to the right) at 65Ks. Whew!
Day-by-Day Itinerary Nicaragua
Border with Honduras (Las Manas) to Esteli 103Ks
From the border, it’s 25s to Ocotal. It’s an excellent downhill (3-6% grades) into Ocotal. Good road with some potholes and little traffic. Then 23Ks, 10K climb, then steep down, to the Pan American highway (Highway CA1). Junction to Esteli 55Ks on an okay road with 25K climbs. Little traffic.
Esteli to Sebaco 40Ks
Out of Esteli on CA1. 3-5% climb for 8Ks. Okay road, more traffic but not bad. Then a long downhill to La Trinidad, 15Ks. Then flat, then down to the valley to Sebaco (13Ks before Sebaco, the road to Leon to the southwest—see description).
Sebaco to Jinotega 59Ks
For Sebaco, it’s 25Ks up to Matagalpa. The road is rough in spots. Little traffic. Then 34Ks north to Jinotega is a big climb. (The road was being worked on in 12/92.) Steep grades, 10%. Great views. Tough ride. One of the most scenic ports of Nicaragua. (That’s not saying much.)
Turn off, 13Ks from Sebaco to Leon 101Ks
The road toward the coast starts flat and ends flat with a big downhill series in the middle. This stretch is sometimes a little rough but generally good. No traffic. Good scenery in the style of New Mexico. Following winds (winds here are generally from the north east). It’s 93Ks to the intersection of the main road to Leon. Good riding. From here it’s 8Ks on the main road to Leon. There’s traffic and it’s narrow into Leon.
Leon to Managua 90Ks
Basically flat, boring, and ever increasing traffic. Narrow. Not a good ride. Road is rough in spots.
Managua to Granada 44Ks
Hills, but with good grades. A double highway out of Managua for 5Ks. The last 15Ks are down to Gan the lake. Less traffic after the turnoff (at Masaya, 26Ks from Managua) to Granada on a good road, 18Ks.
Granada to Rivas 55Ks
10K climb out of Granada. Then 5Ks more to the main road going southeast to Rivas. After another 4Ks, this road merges with another road from Managua. Then it’s 36Ks to Rivas. Good road, flat, little traffic.
Rivas to Costa Rica border (Penas Blancas) 35Ks
The traffic diminishes to the border. Some hills, but generally flat. The turnoff for San Juan del Sur is 10Ks out of Rivas (generally down to San Juan 20Ks). Toward border, after this junction, the main highway is full of big potholes to the border.