At the beginning of my trip, Esteli definitely wasn’t on my Nicaragua hit-list. However after a suggestion from my travel buddy and reading a few blogs we decided we definitely needed to add it to the itinerary. And I’m so glad we did. Real life cowboys, amazing activities in the Somoto Canyon and incredible hikes in Miraflor. Esteli is an awesome place that you just can’t miss. Here’s what to expect if you find yourself off the Gringo Trail in this totally unique location in northern Nicaragua.

Getting in

somoto canyon miraflor esteliI won’t lie, the chicken bus from Granada to Esteli was an eye-opening experience. We took one bus from Granada to Managua, then a taxi to a different bus station, and then finally another bus all the way to Esteli. In total the trip should take you about 4 – 5 hours and will give you an authentic look at bus travel for locals. From washing machines being loaded on the roof, to snacks being passed down the bus from person to person. If you want more information on the trip, check out my article on Getting from Granada to Esteli for less than $8.

where to stay

After a rather lengthy bus journey we were very happy to see the doors of our hostel for the next two nights – Luna International Hostel. The hostel was cosy and quiet, the perfect spot for getting an early night before a big day of hiking.

booking your tour

While I’m not usually one for an organised tour, it seems to be a must-do for the Somoto Canyon and Miraflor Esteli. However, the tours are so affordable I don’t think doing it yourself would be much different in price. As soon as we’d checked into our hostel we pootled over to the nearby office of Treehuggers who will organise your entire time in Esteli for you. Simply chat with one of their super friendly reps and tell them your interests and they’ll curate a tour just for you. We were looking at one day canyoning in the Somoto Canyon. Following by three days hiking in the Miraflor region.

In terms of price, for the Somoto Canyon you’re looking at about $25USD which includes a guide, lunch, life-jacket, wet shoes, a dry-bag to store your valuables and the entrance fee. Our three-day hike in the Miraflor region with a private guide each day, three meals, accommodation and a day on horseback cost us just under $30USD per day. An absolute bargain if you ask me.

the somoto canyon

The Somoto Canyon contains an eight km river and is best explored by hiking, swimming and scrambling through it. We were up bright and early to jump on a 7:30am bus from Contran North Bus Terminal to the town of Somoto (a 1.5 hour trip). Once we arrived in Somoto our guide met us at the terminal and we spent the rest of our journey standing on the back of his ute taking in the incredible sites. Yup, safe I know.

After a quick snack and a change into your provide ‘water shoes’. I use this term lightly as we were all handed wet runners. It’s time to jump back in the ute to be taken to your starting point in the canyon.

The five-hour journey through the canyon contains some incredible sites with the sheer rock face ascending 100 meters above you. You will swim, clamber over rocks and jump off five, eight and (if you’re game) twelve meter ledges and plunge into the emerald-green water.

somoto canyon miraflor esteli
The colourful boats that transport you out of the canyon

Once you finish the canyoning section you will board a colourful boat and be rowed back to where you started. A calm way to finish what has just been 4 hours of absolute madness.

hiking miraflor esteli | day 1

somoto canyon miraflor esteli
Some of the sights along the way

There are three zones in Miraflor – low, intermediate, and high all housing around 6,000 people making their living from coffee farming and tourism alone. We decided to visit all three regions starting with the intermediate. I definitely recommend the itinerary we took as it was stunning. Here’s what you can expect.

Day 1 started bright and early with a 6am wake-up to catch the bus to the Intermediate region. Our first night was spent in a hostel called ‘Linda Vista’ which means beautiful view. This was not a lie. The view was stunning and there were multiple hammocks where you could chill out, relax and take it in. After a quick breakfast with our host mother, our private guide for the day arrived and we headed off for a hike around the region. Coffee farms, waterfalls and lots of cows were on the agenda for the hike. Which finished at the top of a beautiful viewpoint where we could take in the scenery.

After that, it was back to ‘Linda Vista’ for lunch and an afternoon chilling in the hammocks.

HIKING miraflor esteli| day 2

somoto canyon miraflor esteli
Our gracious host Donna Rafaela with her Granddaughter Maria

The second day was spent entirely on horseback. Darwin our guide arrived at 7am. And we jumped on our horses and began our six-hour ride to the Alto Zone. I’m so glad we didn’t have to walk it. As it seems it was hard enough for the horses to climb the steep hills we encountered. Along the way we didn’t see a single tourist. Which was pretty incredible having spent the last month on the Gringo Trail. Around 2pm we arrived at the house of our host family. After a huge lunch the children took us on the tour of the village. It was pretty amazing to be dropped smack-bang in the middle of such a different culture. The locals all ride around on horseback and it’s a very rural farming community.

We spent the evening playing with the four children who live on the property. Watching a local baseball game and enjoying a HUGE dinner prepared for us by our host Donna Rafaela.

hiking Miraflor esteli | day 3

somoto canyon miraflor esteli
Our host family with their horse that they ride to school

We awoke early to the sounds of roosters, pigs and people chatting loudly in the kitchen. After some more games with the children, it was time to say goodbye and head off for our last hike in Miraflor Esteli. Once again we had a personal guide who walked us from Zona Alta to the lowest zone. It was really interesting to see the grand scale of difference between the three. From starting in the dry highlands to finishing in the tropical rainforest.

Our guide was really informed about the rainforest wildlife and took us right into the centre to watch huge lines of ants carry gigantic leaves around the forest floor.

Finally, after another huge lunch, it was time for us to get on the bus and head back to the town of Esteli.

Looking for more places to adventure off the beaten track? Check out the best tourist free travel destinations for 2017.

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