Jinotega was exactly what we had been looking for! This quaint little town is nestled deep in a narrow valley surrounded by the steep slopes of forested mountains. Set in the highlands of northern Nicaragua, Jinotega is the highest altitude we have stayed at so far, at about 1000m, which makes for a noticeably cooler climate than the coastal towns. It is called the “City of Mist” because of the clouds that often linger in the valley and provide higher than average amounts of rainfall.
We came for the views and small town feel, but were pleasantly surprised to find that Jinotega is a busy little place. It has a sprawling market selling everything from pots and pans to shoes, clothing and school supplies (and of course tons of fresh fruits and vegetables). Like most Nicaraguan towns, Jinotega is centered around a monumental old cathedral and beautiful central park, a place that is always bustling with activity.
After a long day of travelling (Jinotega is fairly remote) we were excited to have arrived but had no clue which direction to head. With no map or pre-booked accommodation we were left to wander the streets from where the bus dropped us off. Finding the central park was easy enough (just look for the towering white cathedral) however, there weren’t any hotels right on the square so we tucked into a cool Bavarian-looking tavern to grab a beer and put down our packs. Tyler ventured out to find a hotel minutes before the rain started. An intense downpour lasted for a good 40 minutes or so before a wet yet victorious Tyler reappeared.
We settled in to Hotel Bosawas, a simple little hotel with plenty of common space and friendly staff (and a lovable old German Sheppard). As more rain came down we sat in the lobby sharing beers with a few new amigos while watching Blue Jays game (the only Canadian baseball team, who were finally in the playoffs!), then called it a night.
We spent our first day in Jinotega walking around the cobbled streets, scoping out places to eat and getting to know the town a bit. At one point a familiar accent yelled across the street “Did you watch the game last night?!” and we were unsure if we were hearing things or not (there’s not too many other travellers in Jinotega). A lovely woman from Ontario had recognized Tyler’s Jays shirt. We chatted a bit about what she was doing in Jinotega (she has lived there for years working for an NGO) and what made us come all the way out here. It was great speaking to someone who actually knew where we were from – London Ontario isn’t the most popular place on the map – and whom we could share our analysis of the Jays big win.
The following morning we set out on the big climb up to Cerro de la Cruz. The main draw for us to Jinotega was the panoramic views from a top the mountains. There is a huge cross that sits on the pinnacle of the highest mountain overlooking Jinotega (the original was placed there around 1610 by a Franciscan friar). To get to the trail up the mountain you have to go through an enormous cemetery on the west side of town. We could have spent half a day just wandering around the cemetery! The graves are colourfully decorated and elaborate, ranging in size from modest to regal. It was one of those places that seems impossible to capture properly through a lens. At the back of the cemetery is where the trail begins with a steep hike up a road; then the steps start. Hundreds of them. There are steps all the way up to the top of the 800m high ridge which is both a blessing and a curse. We stopped frequently to catch our breath and snap some photos of the view that stunned us every time we turned around.
Along the climb we came across some amazing birds, multiple armies of ants carrying leaves across our path and a squirrel. There must be almost 1000 steps and it took us about 40 minutes to reach the top where Momma Nature gifted us with a cool breeze. When the stairs ended there was a short path to the gazebo, the cross…. and the view! We had a 360 degree panorama of the surrounding area. Lake Apanas sparkling in the distance, coffee growing on the nearby hills, many more mountains and of course, beautiful little Jinotega. I did some yoga while Tyler took photos and we spent some time alone with nature. As I practised some yoga and found time for a short meditation, Tyler climbed the final hill up to the cross and balanced precariously on a cliff edge to soak it all in.
We spent quite a while up on that mountain and it was so rewarding. It took us days of travelling from Utila, Honduras to find this slice of heaven and it was absolutely worth it.
Seeing some dark clouds rolling in on the other side of the valley we decided it was time to leave. Thankfully, the climb down was much less strenuous than the climb up, until that final hill near the cemetery. Our shins were burning from the descent and our legs were shaking as we continued through the cemetery and returned to our hotel. Days like this remind us of why we are here, doing what we do – seeking the roads less travelled.
We stuck around Jinotega for another day before departing. Northern Nicaragua was a wonderful place to start our time in this country and we look forward to more of the hidden gems that lie ahead of us.
Getting to Jinotega: From Esteli, there are a number of buses heading towards Jinotega. The earlier you arrive to the north bus station, the better. We were able to catch a bus to San Rafael and quickly change to a bus continuing on to Jinotega. Heads up: the buses make many stops, can get very crowded, and the roads are windy.
Leaving Jinotega: From the main bus station (near the market), the first bus to Esteli is 9am and it will stop in San Rafael but you won’t need to switch buses. There are other buses that leave for Esteli each day, check with your hotel for times. Esteli has many transfers to other cities.
Accommodation: We stayed at Hotel Bosawas which was fine for us but may not meet the expectations of others (based on a few negative TripAdvisor reviews). Luckily there is a broad range of hotels to choose from; the locals will definitely be able to point you in the right direction if you ask for help.
Eating and Drinking: We never fully understood what was open and when but there are a variety of Comodors open at various times of the day. There is a huge food court at the market with about 20 Comodors to choose from that are open the majority of the day. There are also a few smoothie/juice bars around town that offer delicious snacks or small meals and some fritangas set up around park central in the evenings.