Trip Coach: August 5, 2008

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Joshua Berman, freelance writer, trip leader, and co-author of "Moon Handbooks Nicaragua," answered your questions on Nicaragua.

Joshua Berman: Hi everyone, I'm the co-author of Moon Nicaragua and Moon Living Abroad In Nicaragua, as well as co-webmaster of GoToNicaragua.com. I'd like to acknowledge my co-author, Randall Wood (therandymon.com), who lives in West Africa with his Nicaraguan wife and will not be joining us today. Randy and I have been exploring Nicaragua since 1998. These days, I visit Nicaragua a couple times a year, and I work as a freelance writer, editor, trip leader, and Spanish teacher, based in Boulder, Colorado, the rest of the year. For more on me, please visit joshuaberman.net

You can also always reach me and Randy at our website (above) where we field readers' questions daily—in case you forget to ask something today.

Also, I'm happy to announce that the new Third Edition or our book, Moon Nicaragua, is now available for pre-order—either through Amazon or direct from me (see my website for more).

Bueno, pues! (Alright then!) Let's begin.

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Bostston, Mass.: I am possibly going to Nicaragua for my honeymoon in October. I know that is the end of the rainy season, but how rainy is it in Granada at that time? Also, I want to do things that aren't as touristy. Off the beaten path. All my research turns up the same things: Leon, Masaya, Volcanoes, Cloud Forest, Granada, Isletas, etc....What are some other things to do that you can suggest besides these?

Joshua Berman: How about starting with something slightly traditional like a stone cottage at Selva Negra in Matagalpa, then go farther into the field from there, visiting coffee farms and driving through the gorgeous, green mountains? Or you can consider a week-long expedition down the Rio San Juan, that's really getting off the beaten path.

As for Granada (and the rest of Nicaragua) in October, you should definitely be prepared for rain—umbrella, lightweight rain jacket, flexible attitude—and then you'll be pleasantly surprised if the weather is nice. You may get lucky and get cool overcast days, or October can be very rainy. It is still hurricane season. The biggest storm to hit Nicaragua in its history (Hurricane Mitch, 1998) hit at the very end of October.

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Middlebury, Vt.: Hello! My fiance and I are leaving on our honeymoon to Nicaragua on August 16th through the 24th. We're spending 2 nights in Granada, 2 nights on Ometepe, and 4 nights at San Juan del Sur (and 1 night in Costa Rica before departing from Liberia). We already have a few things planned but my question is regarding Ometepe. We are not sure about transportation throughout the island, the ferry lands in the early evening and our hostel is on the other side of the island in Merida. What is the best way to get from one side of the island to the other? We're also thinking of renting mountain bikes to get around and sightsee—is this a good idea considering it's the wet season and may have too much mud for enjoyable biking?

Thanks,
Julie

Joshua Berman: Regarding transport on La Isla de Ometepe, the public buses run regularly and are quicker now that the road across the island is paved, but if you are getting in that late, I would definitely recommend arranging private transport from Moyogalpa to Merida. I'm sure you can do this through your hotel; if not, you can hire a driver and car there at the ferry as you get off.

Regarding the mountain bikes, you'll have to assess how muddy the roads are when you arrive. Late August can go either way with rain—sometimes you get a 2-week dry period during this time (called "la canicula" by farmers who use it to time their second planting). Sometimes, it rains right through August though.

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Saint Paul, Minn.: My Husband and I have a time share. We can exchange it to go anywhere in the RCI network. For the past 5 years we have gone to different places in Mexico. We are now ready to explore other countries but are not sure which we should choose and which are safe. We enjoy the beaches but also enjoy the different cultures and tend to go to the local markets. My husband loves to shop. Any ideas?

Joshua Berman: Sorry, I'm not familiar with the RCI network but I highly recommend a visit to Nicaragua regardless.

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Chicago, Ill.: What is the best way to get to the Caribbean coast (either Bluefields or Puerto Cabezas) from say Managua? I understand that in the past, flying was the only practical option, but can one drive or take a bus?

Joshua Berman: Flying is still very much the only practical option, especially for Puerto Cabezas, whose 24-hour rutted highway trip is like a double-black diamond for masochist backpackers. The highway and boat trip combo to Bluefields can actually be quite pleasant, depending on what time you do it (the overnight bus ride is a bear but the dawn boat ride is unforgettable).

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Carlisle, Pa.: How safe is Nicaraugua? How corrupt? Can one find Cuban cigars in Nicaragua and bring them to the U.S.?

Joshua Berman: Contrary to what most people would assume, Nicaragua has been considered one of the safest countries in Central America for a few years now. I need to check the current stats, but I believe Nica has far fewer crime incidents than Costa Rica.

However, as tourism and foreign property ownership continue to rise, a parallel rise in petty crime (and occasionally worse) is the norm in any country. Corruption is about standard for Latin America (i.e. there is lots of it) but not enough to scare off the recent waves of foreign visitors and investors.

Most Nicaraguan cigars are grown from Cuban seed and many Nica puros are ranked among the best in the world. You'll also find plenty of Cubanos in the tourist markets but I cannot speak about their authenticity. Remember to take the labels off before returning to the U.S.

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Anchorage, Alaska: Besides Granada, what city/town would you recommend if you wanted to see historical architecture, eat good food and stay in decent places? Best Pacific beach towns?

Joshua Berman: Granada's historical political/economic rival, León, has a very different feel and fits all your criteria. From León, it is a very short drive to excellent Pacific beaches, nature reserves, and half a dozen volcanoes. You'll love it.

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Hammond, Ind.: Is there good snorkeling? If so, can it be done from the shore?

Joshua Berman: There is excellent snorkeling and diving off of Big and Little Corn Islands and also near a few other remote islands on the Caribbean side (like the Pearl Cays). Otherwise, there is no coral reef in the country and Nicaragua is much less of a dive destination than, say Belize or Honduras.

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Boulder, Colo.: Is there a good place in Nicaragua to go with a 7-year-old? Some place where we can snorkel and do other fun stuff? We are looking for a reasonably priced place with good amenities. We actually would like to travel around Thanksgiving. How is the weather that time of the year?

Joshua Berman: As I just mentioned in a reply, Nicaragua is not much of a dive/snorkel destination, though there is excellent coral and fish to see in the Corn Islands. However, kids love hiking in the cloud forest, peering into live volcanoes, going boating, etc. all of these activities are accessible from your hotel in Granada.

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Santa Monica, Calif.: Does Nicaragua have a retirement visa? What are the advantages of retiring to Nicaragua? Thank you.

Joshua Berman: Randy and I included a whole chapter on different types of visas and how to obtain them in Living Abroad in Nicaragua (see GoToNicaragua.com). Basically, you'd be looking at a "permanent resident" visa, and the process to obtain it is do-able, but not easy.

Before you apply for a visa however, you should spend at least a few months, if not a year living in Nicaragua on a tourist card (which are given automatically when you enter the country and are good for three months at a time) before you should consider moving there. Living in Nicaragua is usually not what people expect, so please try it out and learn some Spanish (if you don't know it already) before committing.

Advantages to living in Nicaragua are many, but so are the disadvantages, and it's all pretty personal.

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Huntington, N.Y.: When I went to Nicaragua 8 years ago, I brought peanut butter just in case I couldn't find food I'd feel comfortable eating. Would this be the case today?

Joshua Berman: There are plenty of modern supermarkets in Nicaragua with a wide assortment of imported peanut butter and all kinds of processed food treats.

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Rockport, Tex.: Are there many RV parks in Nicaragua?

Joshua Berman: Nope, not in any traditional sense. There are probably a few beaches where you can park, but nothing developed that I know of.

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Georgetown, Del.: What kind of places and activities in Nicaragua would be interesting for an elementary school student?

Joshua Berman: I'd start with a couple of volcano visits (Masaya and Mombacho are the easiest to access), then keep going with a boat ride near Granada, exploring churches, climbing bell towers, and a be sure to get a walk in the cloud forest (on Mombacho maybe) to try to see some monkeys. Maybe volunteer at an orphanage or school as well, so your student can interact with Nica kids his/her own age.

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Beaver, Pa.: What about air travel now from Managua to Big Corn, since Atlantic Air ceased operations?

Joshua Berman: I just heard about Atlantic going belly up. I would assume that La Costeña will take up the slack and that regular schedules are still flying to Big Corn.

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Aledo, Tex.: How safe are the cruises that go to Nicaragua?

Joshua Berman: I definitely cannot speak of the safety of cruise ships, but I assume you mean the safety of passengers who decide to go on shore during your one day in Nicaragua? If so, you will be very safe, usually moving around the country in big buses and getting guided tours of Granada and other sites. Or you can choose to get off your boat and explore San Juan del Sur on your own, instead of going with the masses on rushed, canned trips. Walking around San Juan is totally safe and I encourage you to spend a little money at local eateries or shops (instead of just paying the cruise-sponsored tour company more money which does NOT trickle down to the locals).

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Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.: Two questions: any idea why Los Cardones has gotten so expensive; is it because they can? Any information on the Hotel Summer in Masachapa? Rates?

Joshua Berman: Los Cardones is an excellent beach/surf getaway run by wonderful people. You'll have to ask them directly about the rates, but I'm assuming the price hikes are to help pay for the improvements they've done to the property. The current rates, which are only $69 a night for two people, may appeal to the "flashpacker" crowd—the ex-grungy backpackers who still want a remote experience, but have some cash to shell out for nice cabanas.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: Looking at a trip to Nicaragua. (I have a killer Nicaraguense stamp collection and want to see Managua, Leon, and Montelimar.) Are good guided tours available?

Joshua Berman: Yes, there are plenty of package tour companies who can handle all logistics to your trip—from planning the itinerary to booking your hotels. Check out toursnicaragua.com and nica-adventures.com to start. Be sure they take you to the main post office in Managua, where you can stock up on all kinds of beautiful stamps to add to your collection.

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San Diego, Calif.: Hello, Joshua. My partner and I went to Nicaragua for Christmas a few years ago and stayed at the Barcelo Montelimar resort. It was an experience getting to the resort. We enjoyed taking a day trip to Granada and a boat tour on the 'isletas.' We would like to go back, but are wanting to know if there is a nicer resort than Barcelo Montelimar? The people were nice and courteous but the resort itself is somewhat rustic. Can you recommend other resorts or hotels?

Thank you!
Bill & Kevin

Joshua Berman: Montelimar used to be a vacation getaway for the dictator, Somoza, and then for the Sandinista comandantes who eventually sold it to Barceló. Though they keep it up, it is still old and also pretty much the only all-inclusive resort of that size in Nicaragua. I would suggest looking into a smaller, fancier property—maybe Pelican Eyes Piedra y Olas or Morgan's Rock in San Juan del Sur area—for your tastes. Or consider one of the gorgeous renovated colonials in Granada like La Gran Francia and Hotel Plaza Colon. Otherwise, if Montelimar really was too "rustic" for you and you are dead-set on a big, all-inclusive resort, you may want to look in Costa Rica.

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Berkeley, Calif.: What's the best time of year to plan a visit to Nicaragua?

Joshua Berman: I love Nicaragua all year round though you probably want to avoid the months of April and May, which can be unbearably dry, hot, dusty, and smoky. The most rain usually falls in September and October, but given today's uncertain global weather trends, it's hard to say for sure. Most people would agree that you can't go wrong from December to February, which are typically the most pleasant months.

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Joshua Berman: Thanks for participating everyone! Like I said, Randy and I are always available to personally answer your Nicaragua travel questions on the user forum of our site: GoToNicaragua.com.

The brand-new, hot-off-the-presses third edition of Moon Nicaragua is being released this month and you can pre-order it now here.

Again, thank you and have a wonderful trip to Nicaragua!

—Joshua Berman
joshuaberman.net

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