Nicaragua: Travel from Mombacho to Lake Nicaragua

From the peaks of mountains to the worn away coves that dot the coastline, Nicaragua is a wonderland of biodiversity. Photo: Jacquie Kubin

NICARAGUA, May 17, 2011 — What could a day in Nicaragua offer?  It could be many things  - flying through the tropical forest treetops, walking on the edge of an active volcano, waking surrounded by the largest fresh water lake in the world or cantering astride magnificent horseflesh along the Atlantic Ocean.

From the tops of the mountains to the shores of the sea, these and many other adventures await courtesy of the vast ecological diversity of Nicaragua.   Central America is a “Land Bridge” that joins the North and South American continents together and that formed as the Caribbean Plate and the Pacific Plate collided, some 135 million years ago, resulting in the creation of a number of islands.

Satellite image of Nicaragua showing Lake Nicaragua in the lower left hand corner.

Satellite image of Nicaragua showing Lake Nicaragua in the lower left hand corner.

The island’s gaps were filled in with pieces broken off from both North and South America and the continued volcanism that resulted from the lands emergence from the sea. Thirteen Ma, or millions of years later, that land bridge was complete as the Isthmus of Panama filled creating a single land mass, the Americas named after 15th century Florentine merchant Amerigo Vespucci in 1507.

Orienting this area, Lake Nicaragua, the 19th largest body of freshwater in the world, sits to the east and the Pacific coastline to the west. 

The “tourism golden triangle” is an area from the western border of Costa Rica and San Juan del Sur to the south, to the dry tropical forests of Leon in the north; Strides are being made to increase awareness and encourage tourism to this, Central America’s largest country.

The youngest of Mother Earth’s continental children, Central America is geologically active and the earth here seems to vibrate with relative youth even as you walk down the ancient streets of Granada or journey into rainforests unchanged, except for man’s destruction, for eons. Traveling from the moist cloud forests of Mount Mombacho to the tropical forests of the lower lands, dry during the winter, it is not hard to image their lushness after the spring rains.

From the peaks of mountains to the worn away coves that dot the western shore, Nicaragua is a wonderland of biodiversity that enjoys a combined coastline of 910 kilometers or 565 miles.

Lake Nicaragua is an alive eco-system (Image: Jacquie Kubin)

Lake Nicaragua is an alive eco-system (Image: Jacquie Kubin)

Between these coasts, there is literally something for everyone.

The country has over forty-six thousand square miles of land and 3,568 square miles of fresh water, most of which is courtesy of Lake Nicaragua a massive, tetonic freshwater lake that is home to bull sharks that one normally assumes would find their home in the waters of the seas.

The bull shark is an example of how animals can adapt to an environment that remains constantly changing. 

The 19th largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Nicaragua is home to Ometepe, an hourglass shaped island that is home to the Concepción and Maderas. This island is its own habitat and home to a native people with their own arts and crafts,

Traveling with our guide, Juan Carlos Mendoza of Careli Tours we heard the most lovely story of the twin mountains in that there were lovers of warring kings and when they died, ala Romeo and Juliet, they became volcanoes for ever near but never touching each other.

The waters of Lake Nicaruga are said to be the tears of Concepción forever saddened by being separated from the one she loves.

There is a line of volcanoes, nineteen in all, that run along the coastline acting as Nicaragua’s most defining feature. They are majestic as they jut toward the sky creating vastly different habitats and adventures for tourists of all levels. 

Mombacho, near the capital city of Grenada, at 1344 meters high is visible not only from Lake Nicaragua but from much of the areas through which we traveled. From a distance, her most defining feature is the crown of clouds that stand over one of the world most interesting eco-systems, the cloud forest.  

Mombacho as seen from Jicaro (Image: Jacquie Kubin)

Mombacho as seen from Jicaro (Image: Jacquie Kubin)

An active volcano, Mombacho’s last eruption was over 500 years ago, in 1570 

The Mombacho Cloud forest is home to more than 700 known plants including rare species of orchids and a vast number of ferns, lichens and other endemic plants only found in the cloud forest.

It is interesting to note that only 1% of the global woodlands are covered by cloud forests and luckily the volcanoes, and cloud forests, of Nicaragua are protected within National Parks.

Visit Hacienda el Progreso and the Café Las Flores Company and learn of the groups ecologically sound coffee bean production, which produces the most delicious coffee – coffees that are “Rain-Forest Alliance” certified. 

Planting, growing, harvesting, drying, packaging and shipping coffee from Nicaragua, Café las Flores earns more than $1.5 million a year for their efforts. The operation is incredibly interesting as you walk on the large concrete drying beds that offer incredible views of the treetops and miles and miles of countryside.

Step around, walking past the mulch bed that creates the gas used by the group for cooking and other natural gas needs, and step onto the ziplining platform for a leap of faith that takes you gently over the coffee plants and through the upper leaves of the tropical rain forest.

Listening closely you can hear the howler monkeys off in the distance.

The coffee drying pads at Cafe de Flores (Image: Jacquie Kubin)

The coffee drying pads at Cafe de Flores (Image: Jacquie Kubin)

With such diversity, eco-travel is a draw for Nicaragua, and at the end of a day zipping around the countryside, a cleansing shower followed by a healthful dinner and a clean and comfortable nights sleep at the Jicaro EcoLodge is a decadent luxury.  

A twenty-minute over water journey to a small island filled with verdant green growth and pleasing tropical winter breezes and you enter the lake-island world of the Jicaro Island Ecolodge.

Here, in the midst of Lake Nicaragua, the winter’s drought does not touch the brilliant emerald greens and colorful splash of the flowers.

Individual cottages that face the lake offer incredible views and sounds of the many birds and wildlife that share this space. The spaces are beautifully designed with a sitting area looking out through expansive screened windows and a clever shower that while fully enclosed makes one feel as though they are showering amongst the trees.

The property has been developed with an enhanced sense of the space it inhabits. Every surface, every dish, every color and every interaction with staff is done with a sense of calm and calming.  It becomes impossible to even remember the stress of your real life.

Wood slats hang from building sides to create privacy screens that are natural and non-intrusive. Light levels are kept low, the shower is a series of beautifully finished boards that the water easily runs through, while natural light comes floods the area for a truly relaxing shower experience.

Amenities are not individual bottles but dispensers not unlike those seen at the gym. This is simply a sensible environmentally friendly trend that should be in all hotels.

Bedrooms on the second floor are open to the breezes, important, as the rooms are not air-conditioned; however the green of the trees, the breeze across the water and the lazily revolving fan keeps one very comfortable instead of artificially chilled.

Netted beds are extremely comfortable and the sounds of the lake and diminutive island are lulling.

Birding, kayaking, hiking – Jicaro strives to teach through experience with knowledgeable guides ready to take you out for as much adventure as you wish.

If your wish is to just be still, commune with the land and water, a surprisingly lovely pool is perfect for sitting by or in. There are numerous meditative spots, including the hammocked front porch of your casita.

A health spa includes a full menu of body, facial and soul uplifting services.

Staff members Rogelio and Alex who work under the supervision of Chef Jose Lopez create the food, which is simple but with a locally inspired creativity. Deviled eggs take on a new dimension when made with a touch of spice and just a bit of local tamarind. The eggs are served with slices of deep red, flavorful sausage and thick disks of boiled organic potato garnished with the smoky tamarind.

Welcome to Jicaro Eco Lodge (Image: Jacquie Kubin)

Welcome to Jicaro Eco Lodge (Image: Jacquie Kubin)

The menu includes many standout dishes breakfast through dinner. A sweet roasted onion and tamarind soup is recalled for its velvety smoothness and smoky flavor.  A vegetable gratin is a tower of potato, red pepper, and eggplant with a flavorful basil cream sauce.

Each dish is simply prepared in the outside kitchen and served beneath the frond thatched roof as the geckos chirp to each other.

Technology, while available, has a hard time intruding here at Jicaro.  That is just perfect for almost everyone, though you can find the wi-fi hotspots; however, they seem less annoying sitting on the patio with the wonderful breeze and tropical drinks served in cleverly hollowed out coconuts that have been beautifully finished and artfully filled. 

For a first day, this one was perfect. 

Central America | Maya 2012 is being written by Lisa Ruth, Jim Picht and Jacquie Kubin from the Communities at the Washington Times.

Check back frequently for more articles on Central America, Belize and Nicaragua including:

Kinche Art Festival, Belize by Jacquie Kubin

The foods of Belize - native flavors steeped in history by Jacquie Kubin

Riding the wilds of Nicaragua – horseback adventures with Rancho Chilamante’s Rural Nicaragua and Beach Tour and the fabulous Orquidea del Sur by Jacquie Kubin

Finding wellness in Central America: The Shamans of Belize and Hope Edelman’s adventure to find wholeness for her daughter Maya. (Read Hope’s book the Possibility of Everything) by Jacquie Kubin

Dancing in the waves of the Pacific and Ecolodge life at Morgan’s Rock and AquaNicaragua by Jacquie Kubin

The Barrier Reef of Belize - protecting the waters and reefs of the Caribbean by Jacquie Kubin

The cities of Nicaragua - touring Granada and the Contempo Hotel, San Juan del Sur and Pelican Eyes and Leon, the La Perla Hotel and Cerre Negro, a volcano to climb up, and ski down by Jacquie Kubin

Mayan astrology and ancient influences on today by Jim Picht

Belize Homestay Program by Jim Picht

Plus many more articles about the food, chocolate, eco-tourism, scuba-diving, politics, economic future and Maya 2012 - what will it mean? 

Jacquie Kubin is a 15-year, award-winning veteran of travel and culinary writing. Today, Jacquie edits and directs a staff of writers for Donne Tempo Magazine, where you can read more of her entertainment, travel and culinary reviews. Jacquie is always looking for new talents who want to expand their horizons.

E-mail Jacquie with ideas, questions or to share your writing dreams.  Follow Donne Tempo on Twitter and Facebook.



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Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award winning journalist that began writing in 1993 following a successful career in marketing and advertising in Chicago.  She started Communities Digital News in 2009 as a way to adapt to the changing online journalism marketing place.  Jacquie is President and Managing Editor of Communities Digital News, LLC and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times Communities as well as a member of the National Association of Professional Woman, New American Foundation and the Society of Professional Journalist.  Email Jacquie here

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