Peaceful, Beautiful Nicaragua
Nicaragua had been on my list for years. I think I saw an eco resort in a magazine or something....all I knew is that I wanted to go :) Nicaragua didn't disappoint. I flew into Managua, which is the main international airport. There are non-stop flights from several cities in the US (Miami, Houston and Atlanta to name a few). I took a car service to Granada, one of the colonial cities. My destination was an island in the huge Lake Nicaragua---accessible from a marina just outside of Granada. There are several eco-resorts and they are all about a 10 to 20 minute boat ride from Granada. Pretty easy commute for the tranquility I experienced.
From my casita at the resort I had unobstructed views of the volcano Mombacho. There were more birds than people....by a long shot....and the stars were amazing at night with almost no light pollution.
Many of the eco-resorts have all of the creature comforts (electricity 24/7, hot water, well prepared food, spa services) that you would want on vacation. My massage therapist came over on the boat from Granada and I had my service in a small open area palapa. Very relaxing. My favorite meal were tacos made from homemade tortillas with fresh avocados and salsas accompanied by a fresh mango beverage (can be made with or without alcohol). My lodge also made homemade teas, ginger beers and smoothies.
After all that relaxing, I was ready to explore. The resort accommodates last minute requests and an hour or so after I asked for a guide to show me Granada, I was shaking his hand. Ishmeel took me to see the highlights of Granada--the museum, cathedral, bell tower, central square and the town market.
Just FYI...that is not a bag of rocks at the market. Those are cacao beans....what is used to make chocolate. Nicaragua is known for its coffee and chocolate...I can attest that both taste amazing!
Granada is a vibrant city, but isn't very big or very congested. If I had more time, I would have spent one night in town so I could explore the city some more. It was nice to come back to the tranquility of the island and know that I didn't have to go anywhere. Dinner is about a 2 minute walk away.
My second day, I chose to hike Mombacho. The top of Mombacho is part of a cloud forest eco system and as the name implies, is often under cloud cover. I got incredibly lucky---that day there was hardly a cloud in the sky and I could see for miles and miles. There are several options to get to the top---hike the whole way (a 4 to 5 hour hike), take a truck half way up and hike from there ( 2 to 3 hours) or take the truck to the top and walk along the crater and up to the summit. I chose the last option....I wanted to see the scenery, but didn't want to spend the entire day. There are also tours available where you tour a coffee farm on Mombacho and/or do a canopy tour via zip line. I didn't do either as I was more in the mood for a tranquil walk.
I seemed to stop every few minutes as my eyes were drawn to a flower or bird or some beautiful view. At the summit there were a few fumaroles (vent holes for the volcano) and the wind was quite strong (thus the photo with my hair standing straight up).
One last photo that isn't of Nicaragua, but it is what I brought with me. The resort works with local communities living on the islands of Lake Nicaragua and has a small suggested donation list. I only brought a carry on bag for my 3 nights stay, but I managed to find some space (I will always prioritize donations over another pair of pants!). I post this to show the impact this small donation could make if we all tried to put a few extras into our luggage. The impact could be huge!
Nicaragua is a destination that has something for everyone. Please get in touch if you are interested and I would happy to plan your journey.
Dreaming of Provence
Those of you that know me, know that I love France. I love the pace of life and focus on the local....and of course the food (and wine!). I have visited more than a dozen times and I am dreaming of seeing Provence again next month, but in a completely different way. I have been planning more river cruises in Europe and I have never experienced one (other than little day trips...). I think it is important to have first hand experience to help you plan if it is the right choice for your travel. My river cruise is booked from March 25th to April 1st on Uniworld Boutique Cruise Lines. I'm very excited and will share all of the details once I get home.
Looking at my itinerary made me reminisce about some of my previous travels. Provence is a great area to travel independently. The small towns are within easy driving distance of one another and you can reach the Mediterranean easily for a combination beach and culture (or hiking or foodie) trip.
This is a photo of Apt. It is a small town that comes alive on market day--something true for most of the Provincial towns and villages. The towns are very walkable, so you can park the car for your time in each city (thankfully as many of the streets are tiny....so narrow that one car can hardly fit...I had many nerve racking moments!). I enjoyed moving from one place to another chasing markets. Each area is known for a speciality...and the offerings are mostly local and seasonal. As such, the markets in the Summer are larger than they are in the Winter.
The Provence area is also a great place to visit wineries....maybe not as famous as the Bordeaux or Champagne regions, but there are excellent vintners. If you favor reds, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the town to visit. These wines have a history back to the 1300's when Avignon (a nearby city) was home to a Pope....if the wine was good enough for the Pope, it is probably worth a taste :) This town isn't far from the Rhone River and is in between Avignon and Orange...two larger cities with lots to offer. That combo tour would be great for a long weekend.
Many people associate Provence with lavender. The area is one of the world's largest producers and in the summer the fields are purple. This is also the peak season and the traffic jams can reach from one city to another. Although I would love to see the lavender in bloom, that is too stressful for me. Lavender is a year long highlight in Provence....your sheets will likely be sprayed by a bit of essential oil to relax you into sleep and treats like honey and ice cream all come in lavender options in Provence.
I would happy to share some other suggestions for what to see and do in Provence. Please get in touch if you are interested in a visit (email@example.com).
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent (thanks to the recent visit to Antarctica!