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Nicaragua’s Lively Festivals

International Poetry Festival in Granada

International Poetry Festival in Granada. Image: Jorge Mejía Peralta

Nicaragua’s festivals and holidays are unique and joyful. Their memorable celebrations represent the dynamic history, longstanding traditions, and beautiful culture of a strong, resilient, and friendly country. Nicaragua celebrates holidays, patron saints, historical anniversaries, and loved ones who have passed on. Regardless of when you visit this nation, your visit will surely coincide with at least one festival, holiday or event!

International Poetry Festival

Hosted in Granada since 2005, the International Poetry Festival is the largest poetry event in Central America to date! A beautiful celebration of poetry, creativity and culture, this event welcomes renowned poets from all over the world to participate in the festivities and share their passion at the festival.

Semana Santa

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, marks the week leading up to Easter. It is celebrated by Christian cultures and is prevalent among Spanish-speaking countries, commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus. Characterized by tradition and celebration, Semana Santa is a wonderful blend of religious processions and relaxation.

Día de los muertos

Día de los muertos, or Day of the Dead, resembles North American Halloween and is a popular holiday in Latin America. This holiday, however, is not meant to be frightening. It is celebrated at the start of November and focuses on honoring loved ones who have passed away. It is a time for remembrance, happiness, and love, when families travel to their loved ones’ crypts and clean them, in addition to decorating them with alters of flowers, candy, food, and pictures. This is a special time for families to remember the lives of those no longer with them.

Nicaragua’s Independence Day

Nicaragua, along with the other nations of Central America and Mexico, gained independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. The beginning of September marks the start of the Central American Patrimonial Festivities, initiated by an act of inauguration typically on the 1st. On the 11th, a burning torch begins its journey in Guatemala, reaching Nicaragua on the 13th. On the actual anniversary on the 15th, the Act of Independence of Central America is read in all state schools, capping off the celebrations of this momentous date.

La Purísima & La Gritería

La Purísima is a uniquely Nicaraguan tradition that takes place during Christmastime. Taking place on December 8th, it celebrates the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary and consists of building and decorating an altar in one’s home and providing treats and songs to those who visit it. La Gritería is a more lively and raucous event held in the streets of Nicaragua the evening before La Purísima. La Gritería translates to “shouting” and, at exactly 6pm, a question is shouted among Nicaragua’s churches: “¿Qué causa tanta alegría?” What causes so much happiness? The people respond “La concepción de María,” or Mary’s Conception. After this important call and response, fireworks and firecrackers fill the sky, and the people sing to and celebrate the Virgin Mary by visiting altars and receiving treats for their songs. It’s a celebration that inspires community, joy, and devotion for a special figure in Nicaraguan life.

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Travel Safety during Presidential Elections

managua national palace

National Palace in Managua, Nicaragua. Image: jtstewart

This year, Nicaragua’s Presidential and National Assembly elections will take place on November 6, 2016. Traveling in Nicaragua during the presidential election period is safe given the precautions outlined below. 

The U.S. Department of State issued a Nicaragua Travel Alert on June 29th cautioning U.S. citizens about “increased government scrutiny of foreigners’ activities, new requirements for volunteer groups, and the potential for demonstrations during the upcoming election season in Nicaragua.” The travel alert expires on November 30, 2016.

If you are traveling for leisure and do not hold a diplomat or U.S. official passport, this travel notice does not really concern your trip to Nicaragua. Essentially, this travel notice is primarily directed at U.S. officials, academics, diplomats, NGO workers, journalists, and volunteer/charity organizations who report or work on sensitive political topics. Thus, while traveling for leisure during the presidential election season is safe, we recommend that visitors be sensitive of or simply avoid controversial conversations regarding Nicaraguan politics.  

While a few protests leading up to presidential elections have turned physical in the past, visitors should not worry about harm unless they willingly participate in political protests. Civic protests can be easily avoided. Keep an eye on media coverage of local events and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Protests tend to happen in the capital–Managua–or other departmental capitals, and the few demonstrations that do become violent tend to intensify in the early afternoon. So look to avoid crowds at major roads or intersections in capital cities at that time of day.

On that note, if you are staying at a remote resort, such as Pacaya Lodge & Spa, you will be far from any potential mayhem. Located in the heart of Laguna de Apoyo, Pacaya Lodge & Spa visitors can calmly relax amidst jungle canopies and mountain slopes not only during the presidential election season, but any season of the year.

On the whole, Nicaragua is a safe country to visit. In fact, Nicaragua enjoys the reputation of being one of the safest countries in Latin America. A study done by UNDP shows that Nicaragua’s petty crime rates are much lower compared to its surrounding Central American neighbors. In 2011, robbery rates per 100,000 were 397.6 in Costa Rica, 276.3 in Honduras, and 688 in Mexico, whereas Nicaragua only saw 71.5.

For more information about safety in Nicaragua, take a look at these sites:

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Learn about Zika in Nicaragua

Boats in San Juan del Sur Nicaragua

Boats in San Juan del Sur. Image: Céline Colin

Compared to other countries like Brazil, Colombia, and Puerto Rico, few confirmed cases of Zika have occurred in Nicaragua. Nonetheless, it is important to inform yourself about Zika and prevention if you’re planning a trip to Nicaragua.

Here is a list of informative resources that can help you better understand Zika and prevention:

Essentially, pregnant women, women that are actively trying to get pregnant, and heterosexual men that are planning to have children with their partners in the next three to six months should not be travelling to countries with Zika travel notices. 

That being said, if you are not planning on having children any time soon, Nicaragua can still be a great travel option. Featuring rich biodiversity, top-notch surf beaches, stunning colonial cities, vibrant nightlife and more all at reasonable prices, Nicaragua is becoming a top travel destination in Latin America.

If Nicaragua is your next vacation spot, be sure to take precautions so that you do not bring Zika back with you. Because Zika is spread primarily through mosquitos, CDC recommends that Nicaragua visitors protect themselves from mosquito bites. Again, take a look at the resources provided above for more information on Zika prevention.

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Travel Responsibly: Stay at a Nicaragua Ecolodge

Pacaya Lodge and Spa

Pacaya Lodge & Spa

While vacation is the time to escape routine and forget daily stress, it’s also important to be conscious of how your travels can impact the environment and the culture of local host communities. Especially in a country like Nicaragua, where a very high level of biodiversity can be found, ensure that your stay leaves the least possible impact on the environment. A great way to travel sustainably is by staying at an ecolodge like Pacaya Lodge and Spa.

What is an Ecolodge?

An ecolodge is a travel accommodation designed to reduce environmental impact to a minimum. Equipped with energy-saving technologies, ecolodges protect the environment from pollution and degradation. With an emphasis on conservation, visitors are provided with an enhanced nature based experience and information on the value of a healthy ecosystem. Distinct from hotels, ecolodges are usually located in natural areas untouched by noise, traffic, or pollution and have less than 30 rooms. The small size not only ensures minimal environmental impact, but also allows quality, individualized attention to be given to each guest. Another goal behind sustainable ecolodges is to ensure that the business benefits the local host community. For instance, ecolodges tend to provide employment or training opportunities.   

Pacaya Lodge and Spa: Your Choice Nicaragua Ecolodge

Dedicated to sustainability, Pacaya Lodge and Spa is a great choice when it comes to Nicaragua ecolodges. Situated within Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve and near Volcán Masaya and Lake Nicaragua, Pacaya Lodge’s 26-room boutique resort is enveloped in nature.

Aerial view of Pacaya Lodge and Spa

Aerial view of Pacaya Lodge & Spa

The lodge’s commitment to conserving surrounding natural environment is evident in its design. The buildings, grounds, and operations were developed in accordance with the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria for hotels and tour operators–the gold standard for responsible tourism practices. For instance, Pacaya Lodge is equipped with on-site solar panels for clean energy. Ingredients used at Pacaya Lodge’s restaurant are locally sourced and sustainably grown in their own organic garden. And, the lodge is designed to maximize air-flow and thus reduce air-conditioning usage. Pacaya Lodge and Spa also strives to educate guests on opportunities to reduce their environmental impact while staying at the lodge.

On top of adhering to high standards of environmental sustainability, Pacaya Lodge and Spa is committed to giving back to its surrounding communities. In a country where fewer than 10% of rural youth finish high school, Pacaya Lodge and Spa supports the education of 240 students from surrounding communities by contributing a percentage of all lodge revenues to Emprendedora, a technical high school located 10km from the lodge. The school offers students technical education in tourism or agriculture, Nicaragua’s two leading industries. In addition to contributing revenues directly to the school, Pacaya Lodge engages school services such as laundry, sources produce from its working farm, and offers internships and professional development opportunities to outstanding students. Furthermore, Pacaya Lodge’s interior design features furniture, art, and decor created by local artisans. By buying and showcasing local handicrafts and artwork, Pacaya Lodge helps bolster local economy and arts communities.

Come experience it all for yourself at Pacaya Lodge & Spa! Book your visit here.

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Must-See Cultural Sites in Nicaragua

León Nicaragua

León, Nicaragua at dusk. Image: Corbis

Exploring important cultural sites in Nicaragua is key to better understanding the nation’s extensive history and rich culture during your visit. Pacaya Lodge and Spa offers many different packages, tours, and day excursions to significant Nicaraguan sites. Check them out below!

  1. Los Pueblos Blancos

Los Pueblos Blancos, or White Towns, are known for their strong pre-Columbian traditions, picturesque Spanish architecture, and unique artisanal craftsmanship. Traditional whitewash made from water, lime and salt is used on all the houses, making Los Pueblos Blancos a pristine landscape of white buildings. The series of rural communities are located around Granada and Masaya and consist of the small towns: Nindiri, San Juan de Oriente, San Marcos, Niquinohomo, Masatepe, Catarina, Diria and Diriomo. Each town manufactures town-specific artisanal handicrafts ranging from hammock-making to stone carvings to leather work. Pacaya Spa and Lodge provides opportunities to visit the towns of Catarina and San Juan de Oriente.

Catarina is renowned for its beautiful nurseries filled with a diversity of local flowers that travelers and locals alike come to buy. A botanist’s dream, you can find everything from small ornamental plants to large palm trees to unique flowers that thrive in Catarina’s higher altitude and cooler climate. People visit Catarina not only for its plants, but also for the vista from El Mirador de Catarina. From here, you get wonderful views of the Apoyo Lagoon, Granada, Lake Nicaragua, and Mombacho Volcano.

Sitting upon clay deposits from past volcanic activity, San Juan de Oriente has been a center for ceramics since pre-Colombian times. Today, San Juan de Oriente is still home to renowned ceramic workshops, cooperatives, and artists. Throughout town, you can find an array of vases, bowls, and other pottery pieces glazed with beautiful, intricate patterns.

2. Masaya

Masaya, also known as “The Cradle of Nicaraguan Folklore,” is the cultural heart of Nicaragua. As a cultural destination, traditional dance, music, street theater and colorful processions are common in Masaya. The city is also famous for its large Mercado de Artesanías, which is located inside a 1900s structure that used to be the mercado viejo, or old market. The market has been revitalized and set as a tourist spot where visitors can find local handicrafts. 

3. Granada

With a rich colonial heritage, Granada is historically one of Nicaragua’s most important cities. Granada was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba and ostensibly became the first European city in mainland America. One of the oldest and best preserved cities in the New World, Granada features a plethora of Spanish colonial architecture as well as Moorish and Andalusian-influenced buildings. A visit to Granada with Pacaya Lodge and Spa will include a horse-drawn carriage over cobblestone streets to popular attractions such as the San Francisco Museum, vibrant city market, churches, and monuments. Your private guide will relate Granada’s storied past and introduce you to the best shopping and dining available in the bustling city.

4. Zapatera and El Muerto Islands

Zapatera is an archaeological site where many statues, petroglyphs and pottery were found that suggests the area was an important pre-Columbian ceremonial centre between 800 and 1350 CE. Discover the island’s history and explore ancient archaeological sites with local experts who know the island’s best secrets and folklore.

5. Isla de Ometepe

Another archeological hotspot, Ometepe Island is the place to learn about pre-Columbian history. Ceibo Museum on Ometepe has a collection of more than 1500 archaeological pieces including petroglyphs, ancient native tombs, tools, spearheads, ceramics, and more.

6. Managua

Managua’s rich political history, architectural features, and recent modernization makes it a must-see for visitors. As Nicaragua’s largest city and capital since 1852, Managua is Nicaragua’s main political, social, cultural, educational and economic hub. On a tour with Pacaya Lodge and Spa, guests will notice the contrast between Old Managua and the emerging “new” Managua city. A series of earthquakes, hurricanes, and economic troubles have harmed many parts of the city in the past. Now, newly developed governmental buildings, galleries, museums, squares, promenades, monuments, and commercial spaces have reinvigorated Managua’s downtown. Managua’s historical center located on the shores of Lake Xolotlán has been partially rebuilt and refurbished. There, you can find important buildings that survived the earthquake of 1972 such as the Catedral de Santiago and the National Palace which houses the National Archive, the National Library, and the National Museum.

7. León 

León rivals Granada in the number of historic Spanish colonial churches, monuments, and historical places. León was previously the capital of Nicaragua in colonial times, and for some years the capital shifted back and forth between León and Granada before Managua was named Nicaragua’s capital. Home to Nicaragua’s largest universities, museums, and the largest cathedral in all of Central America, León remains one of Nicaragua’s most important cities. An excursion to León with Pacaya Lodge and Space will include visits to the Ortiz-Gurdian Museum, which houses a wide range of sculptures and paintings and the Rubén Dario Museum, to learn about Nicaragua’s most famous poet.

Click here to read more about Pacaya Lodge’s tours & excursions, and make sure to check out Pacaya Lodge’s travel package options.

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