Three nights on Ometepe proved enough for us. Ometepe is an island with two volcanoes, greedy I know, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America and 19th largest in the world.
Unfortunately for us, climbing either of the volcanoes was out, Otto and Jess can walk a few miles at 2&4yrs but there's no way they could scramble up to 1600 metres altitude up loose volcanic rock. So that, plus the fact we were getting eaten alive by bugs in Playa Santa Cruz made us move on fairly quickly to Granada (one of the most beautiful cities in Central America).
The highlight of our Ometepe stay was the day we spent at the natural swimming holes of Ojo de Agua, which are so pure you can swim with your eyes wide open. It was here we met the Everitt’s from Devon, who we were later to see again in Managua (not the most beautiful city in Central America). Graham, Cheryl and their two kids, Stan and Molly provided some much needed company as we all whiled away a couple of nights in the capital. We couldn't have asked to meet a more uplifting, funny and caring foursome as this lot. And to all those people who think travelling independently to exotic locations with children is too tricky, they should definitely take a leaf out of the Everitt's book who make it look easy despite Molly and Stan both suffering from spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Wheelchairs didn't stop them from exploring the Rio San Juan by river taxi (one of the remotest parts of the less travelled Caribbean coast of Nicaragua).
Granada, is a beautiful looking city. It is the oldest European founded city in the Americas (dating back to 1524 apparently) and it remains full of charm, with the main square a well preserved, colourful collection of colonial architecture and around the city even the run down buildings still retain some charm and are photogenic - if you can pause long enough in the sweltering heat to get your camera out. In fact if you steer clear of the tourist park by the lake, the city takes on a magical old world feel and has a super safe, relaxing feel to it. The tourist park by the lake was not quite so serene, we visited it on a scorching Saturday morning to be greeted by banging techno music loud enough to set your ears ringing (Mikey loved it!)
We spent six days in Granada in the beautiful Vista Mombacho apartments and settled into family life: swimming in the pool, cooking Aunt Bessie’s chocolate brownies, crafting windmills and rockets out of cereal boxes and empty plastic bottles. All the adventurous stuff you'd expect from travelling Nicaragua. Sometimes you just need to lead the normal life for a change!
Our one excursion from the city was well worth the trip; the Masaya volcano is a short ride from town and you can visit via minibus tour by day or night. We went on the night tour where you can fully appreciate the splendor of the molten lava bubbling and splashing below you. Again, we avoided the temptation to climb into the crater, that one time we did fall in, at Mount Bromo, was in the daytime and there was merely sulphureous smoke billowing out of the crater. At Masaya, in the pitch black you can hear the ferocious bubbling before you even see the fiery rock; we were staying solidly outside the wall!
You are limited to ten minutes viewing time which was long enough for our youngest to ask us on about ten occasions as he was looking into the lava “Were's the volcano?" My best efforts to impress the kids by informing them there was only a few places in the world you can actually see into the centre of the earth like this fell on deaf ears, they'd have been markedly more excited by a swing or a slide. Even showing them the clips from Ice Age 3 where Sid the Sloth gets stranded in the lava didn't help, they just wanted to watch the rest of the film. Anyway, Mikey and I were impressed enough for all of us and one day we can tell them they've seen it!
Our kids were far more impressed by Laguna de Apoyo, where we headed after Granada. The Laguna is a huge crater lake of 175 mtr deep water surrounded by steep tropical forest full of howler monkeys and iguanas on all sides. All the hotels here have floating pontoons, free kayaks and stand-up paddle boards so there is no excuse for not getting out on the lake. It was simply breathtaking. We wish we could have stayed longer but we have vowed to return.
Our two night stay was so short only because we had to rush off to Managua to attempt our trek overland to the Corn Islands. I'm currently penning this in Bluewater, halfway there. We've so far just about survived the trip which was a 5am start in Managua on a bus for 5 hours to El Rama where the road ends and you have to get a panga (small and vastly overloaded river taxi) for 2 hours down river to the port town of Bluefields.
The bus was fine. The panga was horrid.
Actually it was quite ridiculously funny at first. Picture 30 people huddled under a flapping tarpaulin holding on to it over our heads whilst it repeatedly thwacks us over and over again in heavy winds and driving rain. Couple this with two tired and hungry children demanding biscuits and water. It's hard trying to explain over the noise that your two hands are occupied trying to protect their heads from being staved in by the thwacking tarp and you can't reach the biscuits! My humour ran out after the first 90 minutes when my fingers and arms were numb from clinging on and my head was banging from the thwacking and Otto decided to have a meltdown. And we thought this bit would be straightforward!
You can also fly to the Corn Islands but at over $200 each, our family of four's flights would have cost almost as much as our flights back to the UK, so it's the hard, slow, cheap way for us. Fingers crossed the ferry tomorrow will be better than we're expecting. Due to take anything from 5 hours upward it's also reputed to be less than comfortable. I hope our first taste of a Caribbean island will be worth it!
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Kelly and Mikey (but mostly Kelly). We sold up in the UK to travel with our two littluns for a year or so. If you want to know more click the about us!