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Nicaragua Real Estate

The New Costa Rica? - February 2009

Things are lots quieter nowadays - it's still a poor nation, but the crime rate remains a fraction of that in neighboring El Salvador or Honduras. And while in late 2006 the Sandinistas somewhat sneakily slipped back into power, this time around president Daniel Ortega has somewhat tempered his hoary "anti-imperialist" boilerplate (especially since Barack and Michelle moved into the White House) with vigorous bids for damn yanqui investment and tourism.

Even the recent spots of unrest, as well as countrywide elections that many observers consider rigged by the Sandinistas, will not get in the way of your discovery of a country that's a truly splendid diamond in the rough, like the Costa Rica of yore. In Nicaragua, however, not only will you find amazing biodiversity, lots of compelling stuff to see and do and friendly people; you'll also find a very affordable destination, the sort that will appeal to anyone looking to stretch their vacation dollars in times like these. Essentially, just about everyone.

That doesn't just go for when you're on the ground - it goes for getting there, too: Recent round-trips to Managua out of LañGuardia (not nonstop, of course) were going for as little as $250.

While the capital does have its share of interesting nooks and crannies, you'll really want to spend most of your time out on the coasts and in the rainforested interiors.

Out here, away from Managua's more business-travel-oriented hotels, there's not yet much in the way of what you'd call "luxe" or large-scale development, with occasional exceptions such as the Spanish-owned Barceló Montelimar all-inclusive resort, roughly midway along the Pacific coast (just $100 daily per person and $144 for two, incidentally).

The beaches still have an unspoiled vibe - plus some wicked Pacific surfing and Caribbean-side snorkeling, unlike some of the increasingly overbuilt coasts in, say, Costa Rica and Panama.

Meanwhile, eco- and soft-adventure tourism's on the rise, with a menu including whitewater rafting, birding, canopy tours, hot springs, and of course a bevy of volcanoes. Some are quite active - the sulphurous fumes of Masaya, at Cerro Negro, will nearly blow out your sinuses. Here, you can "volcano surf" down the dunes of black sand lining the crater.

Could Nicaragua become another Costa Rica in the foreseeable future? It could, but it won't.

Yes, there's a growing gringo expat community, and some development both recent and in the pipeline. There's the 2,300-acre Gran Pacífica condo-resort on the Pacific coast less than an hour from Managua that just came online - they aim to add a golf course this spring. By the end of '09, a cruise port is slated for Puerto Cabezas on the northern Caribbean coast. Right now, the country has yet to explode as a cruise destination.

For the most part, though, things are likely to stay fairly small-scale. As much as the government may covet all that tourism dough, "sustainable" has become the watchword and the powers that be claim to be trying to avoid the anything-goes overbuilding that's marred significant swaths of its neighbor to the south (a country and people, by the way, disliked by many Nicaraguans, interestingly).

"We offer a completely virgin country, and we're trying to distribute development intelligently throughout," tourism and infrastructure minister Mario Salinas says, emphasizing, "We want to avoid the mistakes of others."

And about all that recent anti-Washington jawboning, pre-Obama? Never mind.

"Americans are very welcome - we love the American people," Salinas said.

"Besides," he offers, "most Americans weren't too thrilled with Señor Bush, either."


Colonial cities: On Lake Nicaragua an hour south of Managua, Granada is the country's star, with a mix of colonial Spanish and New Orleans-style architecture (Confederate mercenary William Walker grabbed power down here in the 1850s). Meanwhile, locals go about their business alongside growing numbers of tourists who flock to adventure outfitters and gorgeous historic restaurants and boutique hotels like the Darío and the Gran Francia. Rival burg León is also well worth a visit for similar reasons.

Rainforests, Java 'n' Stogies: The gorgeous highlands, rainforests, and cloud forests of Matagalpa, Chinandega, and Estelí, north of the capital, are home to producers of some of the hemisphere's finest coffee and tobacco, and you can visit bio-reserves, farms, and ecolodges large and small (I highly recommend the organic Selva Negra and the smaller, more remote Finca Esperanza Verde, both in the Matagalpa area). Along the way, pay a visit to the birth home of famous poet Rubén Darío.

Pacific Terrific: Central America's west coast boasts some of the hemisphere's gnarliest surfing. That's what helped turn it into the "Gold Coast" and transform San Juan del Sur from a funky, sleepy fishing village into a funky, much less sleepy fishing village. Now there are dozens of beachfront eateries and bars and a bevy of bunking options from cold-water hostels to the historic Posada Azul inn, the boutique Palermo Resort, and the elegant, internationally famous eco-lodge Morgan's Rock.

Those Islands: Over on the opposite coast, Corn Island and Little Corn are known culturally for their Jamaican-descended, Afro-Caribbean, English-speaking locals and otherwise for fishing, snorkeling, and the reggae-flavored, barefoot simplicity of the pre-Sandals Caribbean. Plenty of digs on the beach, too - for example, simple but comfy at Ellery's B&B, midrange at Arenas Beach, or with a touch o' luxe at Casa Canadá. Crack a cold one at sunset and watch the manta rays at Anastasia's Bar, out on stilts over the water. And the fresh fish? To. Die. For.

The Lake Effect: Speaking of volcanoes, as long as you're in Granada, consider hopping a ferry out for an overnight or two on Ometepe Island, an hourglass-shape bit of business covering just over a hundred square miles. Essentially a pair of volcanoes connected by an isthmus, it's got cute little towns, nature reserves, beaches, horseback riding, natural springs, and indigenous petroglyphs; lodging options include camping and simple but charming inns like El Encanto, La Omaja, and Villa Paraíso.


Source: New York Post

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