region of Nicaragua
North America > Central America > Nicaragua > Northern Highlands (Nicaragua)

Northern Highlands is a mountainous coffee growing region in northern Nicaragua.

The cathedral in Estelí.

Cities edit

Map of Northern Highlands (Nicaragua)

  • 1 Estelí - a revolutionary city with many murals
  • 2 Matagalpa - the northern pearl with eternal spring
  • 3 Jinotega - a coffee growing center
  • 4 Somoto - the city of donkeys
  • 5 Ocotal - the first city in the world to be bombed by airplanes
  • 6 Totogalpa   - with traditional life
  • 7 Ciudad Antigua   - founded by the Spaniards in 1543
  • 8 Wiwilí   - the last town on the Río Coco before its long jungle journey to the Caribbean

Other destinations edit

Understand edit

This is the coolest part of the country where cloud forests are prevalent. The breathtaking nature, the coffee plantations where you can sample a cuppa on the farm where it is grown and murals from the revolutionary era make this region well worth a visit.

History edit

If all you remember about Nicaragua is grainy footage from the 1980s of mustachioed men with automatic rifles, chances are, those images come from here. The inaccessible and rural north has been coffee country for centuries and a hotbed of political uprisings of all kinds for even longer. Augusto Sandino carved out a domain encompassing half the country from bases in this mountains in the 1920s and early 1930s. Fighting against - and beating - the US Marines, no less. After Sandino was shot by Anastasio Somoza, people disgruntled with the Somoza-led Guardia Nacional got themselves weapons and met in the mountains to plan the defeat of the Somoza regime. It was here that Carlos Fonseca founded the FSLN, or Sandinista party. It was also here that he was shot by Somoza's forces in 1976.

When the Sandinistas took over in 1979, disgruntled members of the Guardia Nacional and people who were disappointed with the new rulers got together and attacked the Sandinistas from bases in these mountains. At the same time, the Sandinistas struck back not only militarily but also by bringing new forms of (collective) ownership and a huge literacy campaign to these impoverished mountains. The literacy campaign (or "crusade" as it was known) was transformative not only for students, but also for the teachers. Many city-dwellers saw "rural" Nicaragua for the first time, with all this meant and many a marriage began in those days.

Today the area is mostly cleared of all remnants of its violent past - including almost all mines - and even though the hills and forests won't talk, they have seen quite a lot in the last few decades.

Sports edit

The region is notably better at football (soccer) than the rest of the country, where baseball rains supreme. The Real Estelí football won all consecutive national championships from 2007 to 2014.

Talk edit

Spanish. There are several language schools in Estelí and Matagalpa.

Get in edit

By bus edit

Bus schedule in Estelí.

From Managua, buses leave frequently from Mercado Mayoreo for Estelí, Matagalpa, Jinotega and other cities in the region.

From León and Chinandega there are less frequent bus service to Estelí and Matagalpa. Empalme San Isidro and Sébaco on the Pan-American Highway serve as a change point when there is no suitable direct bus service.

From Honduras, there are three border crossings into the Northern Highlands. From Choluteca and southern Honduras, you can reach Somoto on the Pan-American Highway through the El Fraternidad / El Espino border post. From Tegucigalpa and central Honduras, the Las Manos crossing brings you to Ocotal. The northernmost crossing is at La Apertura / Teotecasinte, which brings you first to Jalapa and then Ocotal. On paper a treaty of free movement between Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala should enable you to cross the border without fees or permits, but in practice you will still be charged some fees in most cases. You should not cross the border outside the designated crossing points.

By car edit

The Pan-American Highway runs through the region, from Managua through Sébaco, Estelí and Somoto to El Espino on the Honduras border. From León and Chinandega on the Northern Pacific Coast there is an excellent highway that reaches the Pan-American Highway between Sébaco and Estelí. There are also roads reaching Matagalpa from Boaco and from Bilwi on the Caribbean Coast.

See edit

Street mural in Estelí.
  • Visit Estelí with its rich revolutionary history and many street murals.
  • Admire the Estanzuela waterfall, eight kilometers south of Estelí.
  • Stay at a coffee farm to learn about the coffee production process from plant to cup.

Do edit

Somoto canyon
  • Explore the Somoto Canyon and jump off a seven meter high cliff into the water.
  • Ride on a horse through your favorite coffee farms after a delicious morning brew.
  • Climb up Cerro Mogotón, the highest mountain in Nicaragua at 2,107 meters.
  • Swim or boat in the beautiful Lake Apanás.

Sleep edit

Consider spending a little more on your hotel to get you a warm shower as the mornings can be a little chilly. Most locals get by just fine with cold showers, however.

Drink edit

Coffee in El Tuma - La Dalia

The famous Nicaraguan coffee that you have been searching all the time but just couldn't get? It is grown here and you can have a cup of marvelous black caffeine water on almost every corner. For more devoted drinkers, you can spend a few days on a coffee farm, such as Selva Negra or Esperanza Verde.

Stay safe edit

Although this is one of the parts of the country where the Contra War hit hardest, it is mostly mine-free. If you should happen upon a place that is not, stay on the main road and ask your guides.

Go next edit

  • León - a colonial city with an enormous cathedral and an excellent art museum. Regular bus service from Esteli and Matagalpa.
  • Bilwi on the Caribbean coast.
  • Honduras There is regular bus service from Somoto to the El Espino border crossing on the Pan-American Highway and from Ocotal to the Las Manos border crossing..

This region travel guide to Northern Highlands is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.