We used Esteli as the base for our time in northern Nicaragua. It’s a city that quickly grew on us after not necessarily meeting our expectations at first glance.
Esteli is noisy, political, and buzzing with creative energy. It is home to many schools/universities which explains the youthful feel of the entire city. Our initial impression was “this isn’t what we thought it would be” but as we wandered the streets and the hours passed Esteli found a happy place in our heart.
It took us 4 days to get from Utila, Honduras to Esteli, Nicaragua (three of which were bus-filled days along with one horrific boarder crossing) so we took advantage of staying in one place for a few nights. We spent the better part of our first afternoon in a cafe on our laptops catching up on the blog. A gusty storm came through town and we welcomed the misty rain that cooled us down for a short while. We have quickly learned that the weather of Central America at this time of year is unpredictable at best. However, the rain can move out as quickly as it rolls in and the sun is always happy to poke through at it’s earliest opportunity.
Once we had achieved what we wanted with our “work” we had some decisions to make. Since Esteli had grown on us we weren’t ready to leave too soon. The extremely helpful staff at Treehuggers organized a day trip for us to the Somoto canyon the following day. They also provided plenty of information about the region and clarified our decision to continue further off the beaten path to Jinotega where we hoped to find the quaint and rural Nicaragua we thought Esteli would be.
Esteli certainly has a lot of character and if you have time, it’s absolutely worth a visit!
Have you ever come across a place that wasn’t what you thought it would be? Did it grow on you or did you leave as soon as possible?
Getting to Esteli: Essentially, we came from the border. FYI the border crossing at Los Manos can be painstakingly sluggish so allot a few hours to get across. Once you get into Nicaragua there are buses that can take you to Ocotal and many connections from there. The bus to Ocotal is about 30 minutes, the bus to Esteli is about 2 hours.
Leaving Esteli: The north bus station goes to most places including Leon, the south bus station has less activity but has more connections to Managua. Ask at your hostel or Treehuggers for more detailed bus times.
Accommodation: We stayed at Luna Hostel – $9/dorm bed, private rooms available for $25. It was a great place to stay and just like Treehuggers, is not for profit. They are currently under a bit of construction building a kitchen and laundry room for guests to use in the future. There are plenty of other hostels around Esteli as well, likely because of the large student population.
Eating and Drinking: Cafe Luz (also associate with non-profit Luna and Treehuggers) serves free coffee/tea for Luna guests. They have a diverse menu that is reasonably priced. We ate at a great Mexican restaurant (Mexicanos Beverly) one evening, it’s right behind the cathedral in the heart of the city. There are many comodor’s serving up pollo frito, empanadas etc. Just like hostels, there is no shortage of great food in Esteli. There are also a few smoothie/juice spots on Ave Centrale for a refreshing snack.
BONUS – Esteli boasts many colourful murals depicting the Sandinista revolution which was heavily supported by the city. You certainly won’t miss them while walking around town, but if you’re looking for more, Treehuggers offers guided walking tours. There are also several cigar factories around the city and tours of these are available.