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Between Nicaragua or Guatemala

Delray Beach, FL
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78 posts
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Between Nicaragua or Guatemala

My husband and I are looking to take another Central American trip and are between Nicaragua or Guatemala. We recently visited Costa Rica which I hear is similar to Nicaragua, but about 20 or so years more developed/advanced. We have also heard many great things about Guatemala that has peaked our interest. We love the outdoors and different cultures. Can anyone shed some light as to the pros/cons to either places.

South Florida...
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1. Re: Between Nicaragua or Guatemala

I have been to all 3 countries and each is quite different. Guatemala is my favorite due to the cultural impact and the beautiful topography. It is a colorful country and in the highlands it can actually be cool.

I just returned from 5 weeks in Nica. All I can say is--hmm, very different. When they say Nica is hot, they mean it! In much of the country it is dry, dusty, and scorching. It reminded me of western Texas, with volcanos. Big cattle country. We thought it would have more Latin influence but the big thing there is country (!) music...lots of cowboy hats.

To me, Nica is like something out of the 50's, except everyone, even the poor, carry cell phones (landline service takes a lifetime to install). There is quaintness, to be sure, but there is a tremendous trash problem there...it's in the streets, on the sidewalks.

Whatever you read or see on TV (Andrew Zimmern) about Nica food is true--the food is bland and without much good to say about it. Again, there is little Latin influence, nor indigenous (Indian) influence. It is plain and unadorned. Everywhere you go, same thing: gallo pinto, protein, white bread (like Wonder), Nica cheese (like a block of Feta),and papas fritas. Steak, chicken, fish, eggs. VERY little fruit, although it grows everywhere and you can see it rotting on the ground! Yogurt only in supermarkets and upscale restaurants...whereas when we were in Peru, for instance, even the poor people in the country made their own yogurt and granola. The other thing is, "diet" has not yet come to Nica, so your alternative to Coke is usually Fanta Orange or plain bottled water. Instant coffee is served everywhere--in a country that grows, I do believe--the finest coffee in the world. I brought some back to the US and compared it to my Kona and Jamaican Blue, and Nica coffee is unmatched. So, why do they drink instant? Hmmm....it's like why they eat white bread: it's the modern thing to do!

There is a definite health problem there, lots of disabetes (on the front page of La Prensa everyday) because nobody is really informed about nutrition. Even the tortillas (flour with cheese and chicken inside) are deep fried and then covered with a smattering of chili peppers and tomatoes. The nacatamales are good, too...I think of all the food I had there, they were the best, as was the cornbread (in the north and western areas). While you are riding the chiken bus the vendors will come on and pass through the aisle serving food...one time I bought what everyone else was buying, it was this white stuff that you eat (suck) from a plastic baggie...it was super yummy...come to find out it was warm thick, cream with salt! Overall, much, much different than say, Mexico, where you find more fresh fruits and smoothies (many carts have blenders) and veggie foods being sold by street vendors.... All of the better foods you can find in the local markets, NOT the tourist places!

Now having said the bad things, I will say the good: because tourism isn't big in Nica (other than Granada) the people there are relatively unjaded and are extremely honest. They are poor, so they know the value of money, and they will chase you down the street to return even 2 cordobas (10 cents) in change to you.

Because the country is untouristy you can get by cheaper--but don't forget, things we consider necessities at home are luxuries there, so the prices will be higher. And trying to find a supermarket in all but the largest towns--Managua, Granada, Leon--is a challenge...you go to the farmacia to buy bandadid, by the piece, 2.5 cents a bandaid, given to you in a little wax envelope....

Much of the country is pristine and untouched, flying over the vast Moskito coast, miles and miles of hilly jungles...All I could see was water, land, potential...such potential...unexploited. Very unlike Costa Rica.

Some places we went that we would return to: El Castillo (down the Rio San Juan by boat ONLY) which we came into via Costa Rica, crossing the river...The Corn Islands (looks like Jamaica but hte music is country and the food isn't spicy) and the Pacific coast. All of those places are hot, hot, hot, but not as hot as we found Managua/Granada/Leon to be...and I am from Florida and I am accustomed to the heat!

I have heard some good things about Esteli, in the north...the whole area up there is in the "mountains" and cooler...still the cowboy culture (hey, it's Nica) yet some cloudforest, so it gives the country a different flavor.

I think Nica is a love/hate relationship. It is terribly inconvenient (power outages, lack of 2nd world supplies, and the food--ugh, I lost 15 pounds!) but you are not removed from the people, you are one of them. Many times the only way to get somewhere is via chicken bus (they are not colorful like in Guatemala, they are plain, like their food) and you are not differnt, you are one of them...you are "hermana" (sister), a common title in this very socialistic nation.

My teen daughter (who has been to over 40 different countries and yearns to study anthropology) came with me on this trip. She summed it up by saying: they have very little culture. She spoke with a lot of NGO workers and Peace Corps volunteers, and they all said the same thing. Unlike in other countries, where there is weaving or painting or clothing or music or native dance, we saw little of it in Nica. The only place we saw real native music--by a high school band who was practicing to be in a regional competition--was El Castillo, in the jungle at the border of CR.

Funny thing is, my daugher loved Nica. She said it forced her to simplify. She said the country felt very RAW (this, from a girl who hiked through the Amazon with me!) and SIMPLE.

Nica is a really baffling country. It challenges you and dares you to return!

Cincinnati, OH
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2. Re: Between Nicaragua or Guatemala

I've been to Nicaragua twice and Guatemala once. We loved both places but I preferred Nicaragua WELL over Guatemala. We're already planning our third trip back to Nicaragua.

While certainly the Mayan tradition is more obvious in Guatemala than indigenous traditions in Nicaragua, overall the Nicaraguan people we just love and we find the country to be more "uninterrupted" by tourism.

As far as the previous poster goes, we saw just as much if not more poverty in Guatemala than we did in Nicaragua, and the food to be very similar, so I didn't understand that. In fact, outside of Managua (which I don't recommend), the people seem more just simple than poor. It's not a desperate poor like Haiti or Mumbai or even a South African township.

Granada, the colonial city in Nicaragua, is much prettier and more authentic than Antigua.

Lake Atitlan (Guatemala) is BREATHTAKING-we stayed in several villages and walked between some of them. That's the best way to experience local flavor as far as I know (in that general part of the country). The people were nice and in the remote villages high above the lake, they seemed pretty unaffected by outsiders. But there's not as much to do in that area.

Lake Colcibolca (Nicaragua) is not quite as beautiful but offers lots of different and cool ways to experience it, from the volcano-created Ometepe Island (probably my favorite place on earth), where it is VERY AUTHENTIC. You can hike volcanoes, visit the little towns or just enjoy some time on the beach. It's similar to a Great Lake in the way that it's a lake that feels like the ocean.

Lake Colcibolca also is adjacent to Granada, which I've said is a beautiful colonial city and prettier than Antigua. Antigua has one small part that's re-done, and that's about it. In Granada, you can tour the old city, take a boat tour of all of the tiny islands (Las Isletas) and more.

Right next to Granada is the town of Masaya, with beautiful crafts, and nearby another GORGEOUS LAKE, Laguna de Apoyo, which offers a more Atitlan-like experience in contrast between heights around you and the depth of the lake (but it's a much smaller lake).

Also, the mountains of Nicaragua offer Esteli, a charming cowboy town that is a jumping off point for hikes into the nearby mountains.

I like Guatemala, but I love Nicaragua. I could go on and on...

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3. Re: Between Nicaragua or Guatemala

Personally I wouldn't go to Antigua if you paid me!

Really seedy town!

Couldn't get fruit juices in Nicaragua??

I drink a different one every day.

I don't like gallo pinto, but the food here is better- and cheaper than Costa Rica!

No culture? Ruben Dario? Carlos and Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy? Ernesto Cardenal, Gioconda Belli and Sergio Ramírez?

The largest cathedral in Central America, the oldest inhabited city in the Americas?

Delray Beach, FL
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78 posts
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4. Re: Between Nicaragua or Guatemala

Thank you all so much for your insights. All very useful in helping us with our destination. We're definitely going to both places, it's just a matter of which is first so I'm very glad to hear that both places are great.

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5. Re: Between Nicaragua or Guatemala

Guatamala and Nicaragua will be a great trip.


6. Re: Between Nicaragua or Guatemala

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