I think I wrote too much but there is much to be said about Nicaragua. Enjoy!
Here's what you do....bring a pocket sized calculator with you.
I believe the exchance rate it 16.5:1 American dollar. The best place to exchance will be on the streets of Granada if that is the town you will be in. You can recognize these guys by the money in their hands standing on a busy street corner....We have been doing this every year for the past 8 years....don't worry. If you want to exchange $100 dollars for Cordobas, it would be 16.5 x 100 or $1650 Cordobas. When you go there, it may be more or less 16.5 to 1 conversion rate. If you wish to go to the banks...that's fine. But you won't get the same rate of exchange. It'll be less....their commission has to be made you know. In the 70's & 80's they called it the "Black Market Exchange!" It was an exotic thought back then. But now it's his job....each town may have a bunch of guys on street corners doing this....they get paid a commission by the banks for bringing in dollars....Capitolism at work!
If after you see what you have planned in Granada and have some free time....go to the docks and take a boat ride/tour of the Isletas. Those are tiny, some larger than others, islands formed by the last volcanic erruption...back in ???? the 1600's I believe. Pick an island, you can buy starting at about 20K.
Masaya offers a great Marcado. It can get a little dicy here. Dirty by the food courts, which are on the parimiter of the market. Venture inside to the shops....you will be approached by a little boy or girl who will ask if you want their assistance in finding something for you. Since you speak little Spanish, find one of the children that is bi-lingual. Barter through this child. Remember to tip this child. They earn their tips cleanly. They are not begging for money. They want to earn your tips.
If you like hammocks....you gotta, I mean gotta go to the factory. They make the best hammocks in the world right there. I mean hammocks that sell for $300 and more over in the states. The factory is Hamacas Esperanza. The owner is Jose Humberto Namendy Lopez. His address in Masaya is
4 Esquinas 1c. al Sur
2 C. arriba y 20 vrs. al Sur
Telephone # is (505) 522-6082.
They make a single person hammock or a double ( I like that one ) hammock w/this long fringe hanging down. In the fringe, Jose can put your name in there at no extra cost. First name, last name, the name of your school ( Ole' Miss, LSU, Ohio State, etc ) I had one made for my daughter last year. She attends Ole' Miss so I picked out the colors of the school and had Jose put Ole' Miss on one side (fringe) and the other side he put Rebels. She and everyone else up in Oxford, Miss. fell in love with it. Jose also makes these hammock chairs that are nice. I purchased one and suspended it from one of the Oak Trees in our yard. Very comfortable to lay back and enjoy a lazy afternoon.
Cigars: In Granada go to Dona Elba Cigars. The owner Silvio Reys will be glad to help you out. Their address is:
Iglesia Jalteva 1c. al Oeste
Telephone # 552-3217
Cell # 860-6715
Get the Cigars that have been fermented in the Flor de Cana.
That's Nicaragua's Rum. Speaking of, you must bring a bottle or two back with you. Even if you don't drink rum. I don't either but my best friend in New Orleans swears by it. I brought him a bottle (he loves rum) about 10 years ago. Every time I go down there he reminds me to bring him another bottle. They have 4, 5, 7, 12, 20 year old stuff. The 7 year old is excellent. A cut above any Caribbean Rum, I guarentee it! I think you can bring up to three bottles back, duty free. You'll see it at the airport. Prices there are compatable with the Supermarkets in Managua. I already checked that out.
Pottery: Go to the white towns or the Marcado in Masaya
Paintings: The Marcado in Masaya
Caution, stay away from the "Fake" Cuban Cigars in this Market
They will try and sell you a box of 20 Cuban's for $80. That same box in Cuba sells for $200. Their either hot or fake!
Artist's at the source: The Archiplego Islands. These islands are near San Carlos & the Costa Rican border. They are Isla La Vernada, Isla Chicaicaste, Isla Mencarron, Isla Mencarroncito and Isla San Fernando. These islands are inhabited by Monks and Artists so I've been told by my driver. I have not been there yet. Hopefully that will change in a week when I'm down there. At least we are planning on the boat ride to these islands for a day or two.
Speaking of drivers, I really admire ours. I'll call him Don (not his name).....he fought w/the Sandanista's against the brutal Somoza regime in the late 70's. When the Sandanista's took control of the country around 1980, it was discovered that is't self appointed leader had ties w/Castro and Cuba. I guess he owed Castro some favors. He imported communism to Nica. by using all Cuban teachers in the primary education levels. They were brain washing the children. My wife's aunt who is a nun down there related to us some stories of how they did this brain washing. Really terrible. Anyway, Don broke away from the Sandanista's and fought against them with the Contra's. He was part of the deligation that went to Washington asking for support to oust the Communistic Regime. Of course they said "NO" and in came Oli North and the rest is history. By the way, Oli North is a true hero to most Nicaraguan's. This country would probably be still communist if not for that deligation. Don is writing a book about the time period of the 70's on throught present. He has related to me many stories that are heartwarming. Some not so nice. My wife lost many relitives during this period. The political climate of Nicaragua today is a direct result of many Nicaraguans standing up for Democracy. Today we have the fortune of being able to enjoy this Interesting Country and it's Beautiful People.