When an old friend from my Washington, D.C., days invited me to his wedding, I was caught off-guard for two reasons: 1) I’d never met his fiancée — they began dating after I moved to Minneapolis — or his family, and we had no mutual friends. 2) The wedding was in Nicaragua. My friend’s family hails from this Central American nation, and his fiancée lived there briefly for work, but for me, the destination meant a bigger time and financial commitment than typical nuptials. (Frankly, “Nica’s” storied history of political unrest, economic upheaval, and drug trafficking never crossed my mind; I knew it had made great headway in its recovery and expected it to be a safe and hospitable environment.)
I know you won’t know anyone, my friend acknowledged. But as my former workout partner, he knew how to sell me on the trip: There’ll be volcanoes for you to climb, jungles to run through, and you can learn to surf. So you should come.
Volcanoes, jungles, and the ocean? And wedding cake at the end of the trip?
Yes. Deal. Done. When do we leave? I asked.
In July, I spent a week in my friend’s ancestral home. I flew from Minneapolis to the capital city of Managua (via Houston, Texas), then spent one night in Granada, a city founded in 1524, rich with history and the awe-inspiring ecology of nearby Lake Nicaragua. From there, the wedding guests all met up in San Juan Del Sur, a surfing town on the Pacific coast and home to the wedding site: Morgan’s Rock Ecolodge, a sustainable compound of bungalows built into the bluffs and jungles overlooking the ocean. “Paradise” doesn’t quite do the scene justice.
I’ll be writing about my stay at Morgan’s Rock as part of an article on eco- and geo-tourism — getaways that prioritize sustainability and earth-friendliness — for Experience Life’s April 2017 issue. Meantime, here is a behind-the-scenes peek at photos and stories from my visit to Nica, which was nothing short of magical.
Local artists have left their imprint on Granada’s colonial past.
Nicaragua is pockmarked by numerous volcanoes. Masaya is one that is still “active” and visitors can look down into the crater at roiling magma. (It was hard to capture the fiery red flows under the noontime sun; evening tours are available if volcano photography is your jam.) In pre-Columbian days, native Nicas believed that a female “hag spirit” presided over Masaya, and offerings were regularly made to her. After the Spaniards and Christianity arrived, the volcano was baptized and a cross was erected in what missionaries deemed “the mouth of hell.”
According to folklore, Ometepl was an ancient princess who fell in love with a prince from a rival tribe. Realizing they could only be together in death, the couple roamed into a valley in southern Nicaragua and slit their wrists. It is said that their blood pooled to form what is now Lake Nicaragua, a giant and vibrant freshwater lake. It is also said that as the dying Ometepl arched her back in pain and despair, her breasts formed the peaks of two volcanoes on Ometepe island: Concepción and Maderas. Geologically speaking, the volcanoes formed in the Holocene period, some time after 9,700 BCE.
Visitors to Ometepe often hike the volcanoes’ jungle-strewn paths. We climbed what I would consider one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever done — difficult for its gnarly and at times unmarked trails, steep incline, intense humidity, and the plethora of plants and animals that wanted to sting us.
In Lake Nicaragua are dozens of isletas, forming an archipelago that boasts incredible wildlife (including monkeys, horses, cows, and colorful flora) as well as the modern-day conveniences of power lines from the mainland and sewage, making the isletas comfortably habitable.
It’s often said that saltwater is the cure for everything, and waters along Nica’s Pacific coast are no exception. I spent most days immersed in the cool surf — activities ranged from floating to swimming to stand-up paddleboarding to (failed) attempts to teach myself how to ride a wave, depending as much on my mood as on the force of the current.
Cliffs and caves dotted the area surrounding Morgan’s Rock ecolodge — where bungalow walls are made of mosquito netting and howler monkeys lurk in the acres of jungle outside — making the site perfect for exploring.
Follow senior fitness editor Maggie Fazeli Fard on Instagram at @maggiefazeli for more travel-related adventures.