Like most travelers, Managua was my point of entry into Nicaragua. Even before my flight touched down, all I had to do was look out the window and I was already impressed! Along Nicaragua’s western coast where Managua is located are 19 active volcanoes, with two visible from the capital. From the airplane Managua looks like a endless suburb rather than Nicaragua’s largest city. The photo on the right shows the heart of Managua along Bolivar Avenue.
While Managua is relatively safe, the majority of the the city is in poverty with some sketchy parts here and there. At first glance it might not seem like the best travel destination, but there is still plenty of entertainment in this city! I saw several fire dancers in Managua such as this guy on the left, and even saw a fire dancer standing on the shoulders of another person as they walked down the street. Above is a common sight of some locals in Managua, who probably didn’t appreciate having their photo taken.
I didn’t realize this until I visited, but Nicaragua is actually the poorest country in the entire western hempisphere after Haiti. Having been to Haiti before, I can say Nicaragua looked much better, but it certainly is not up to par with other countries in Latin America. The photo on the left was an aerial shot that shows what the majority of Managua looks like, flat and made up of small humble houses. There are many homeless people in the streets like these two guys above. One of the sadder scenes I saw was a family living by an intersection on some cardboard boxes who were raising an infant, while cars and smog were only a few feet away.
To get around the country taking the bus is the cheapest thing to do. I actually rode the bus multiple times while in Nicaragua; traveling a few hours from one city to another one literally costs an entire dollar! While you’re in the city you’re better off taking a taxi since they are cheap as well. Nicaragua might be one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, but they still have some good travel infrastructure and you won’t have a problem finding several options to get to from A to B.
Many parts of Managua are pretty poor, but the city does actually have two modern shopping malls. Like most third world countries, when you step inside the mall, it looks like it could be anywhere in the world. I came to the mall mostly because I could walk here from where I was staying, and it was much easier to have a taxi take me to the mall rather than a guest house he had never heard of. Both malls I visited had Christmas decorations even though it was late November. After the American Thanksgiving, I noticed lots of “Black Weekend” signs that I assume is their longer version of Black Friday. The photo on the left is from the larger mall that had some type of beauty pageant or dance going on. On the right you can see the Christmas there in the heart of another mall.
Outside the second mall that I went to, known as Mall of the Americas, was small outdoor area with several nice restaurants and a club or two. I’m not sure when this area was built, but I feel like it must have been bran new. It had a ton of security and police here, so they government obviously cares about keeping it safe for the public. Inside the mall was a bunch of nasty chain restaurants, such as American McDonalds, Canadian Burger King etc. Outside seemed to be mostly local restaurants that I had never heard of.
If you need something specific like a charger or new camera then the mall is the place to go. Otherwise it’s seriously just like any other mall found around the world, I only went because the second time I was in Managua it was right next to my guest house. The most interesting place to visit in Managua is right off Bolivar Avenue, called Independence plaza. Here you’ll find the country’s national museum, memorials, and the city’s old cathedral. The formal name of the old Cathedral is Catedral de Santiago. It was built in the early 20th century and survived the devastating 1931 earthquake, but didn’t fare as well during the 1972 earthquake. Though the cathedral is still standing, it’s been abandoned for decades. From a distance, you actually can’t tell there is anything wrong with it, but it must have some serious structural damage. After more than 40 years, the building has deteriorated and is starting to crumble more from age and weather rather than the earthquake. On the right is a photo of a statue that shows some of the details of the condition of the cathedral.
With the old cathedral of Managua destroyed in 1972, it took nearly 20 years for a new cathedral to be built. The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was built in 1991, and is often simply called the new cathedral by the locals. The new cathedral definitely has a unique and modern design. The new cathedral was built a mile or two from Independence Plaza further inland. I was actually within walking distance of the cathedral my first day in the city, but didn’t recognize this as the new cathedral. I flagged down a taxi and after negotiating a price he drove me a block or two and dropped me off here. The photo on the upper right shows the inside of the cathedral. Below is an area of prayer that was in this dome shaped room.
Back to Independence Plaza and just off to the side of the old cathedral is Nicaragua’s National Museum. This museum is filled with pre-Columbian artifacts, details on Native American lives, and lots of history of the Spanish settlers to more recent times. I found myself most interested in the pre-Columbian and native American artifacts shown above. The pottery on the right, is hundreds of years old actually. They also had a large section on some smoking pipes that all featured different animals native to the area, similar to what natives in the Great Plains of the USA used to do.
These two pictures show some more recent history, the story of the Spanish Conquistadors and the religious leaders that they brought. Of course the Spanish Empire killed vast numbers of the native Americans, and many who survived were forced to convert to Christianity or die. In Mexico I saw a very similar painting to this one on the upper right. The one in Mexico was a painting of a Spanish priest for sure. This one could be of priest as well, or maybe a governor or other leader. The paintings both almost look like they were from the same artist, as they show the person looking cold and almost evil. A telling sign that these people were feared by the average person back then.
A less visted museum in Managua is Huellas de Acahualinca, which shows some ancient footprints preserved in the heart of the city. The foot prints run side by side and belong to family people, likely a single family that lived here six thousand years ago. The female’s footprints are deeper, which shows they were caring more weight. At first it was believed these people may have been fleeing a volcanic erution, but because of the distance in between the footprints, it was proven that they were walking at a normal pace.
The museum has two small areas that display information and artifacts about the area. For some reason I didn’t quite understand, the people at the museum did not have they key to one of the rooms. They explained the artifacts to me outside by pointing through the window. It’s difficult to photograph things from outside, especially when they are contained in a glass box that provides lots of reflection, so this was the best I can do. You’ll have to take my word for it, that the two photos above show the remains of a skeleton that belonged to a pregnant woman. It’s easier to see the body as a whole than the sections I was able to capture from outside. The only decent photo I got going through the window is this vase that dates back several thousand years ago. I was told the skeleton above had been found with vases over her body.
For some reason the museum also had a room that showed photographs of the devestating earthquake that hit Managua in 1972 and the earlier earthquake from 1931. The 1972 earthquake literally destroyed the entire city, which took decades for it to recover. Above you can see some before and after shots of the earthquake that leveled the entire city.
After Independence Plaza and Bolivar Ave, one of the nicest parts of Managua is right in the heart of the city, the Tiscapa Lagoon. The lagoon is the result of volcanic activity and is about 10,000 years old. The lagoon is an important place for Managua, as at the top of the hill are many monuments and important government buildings. It’s also a popular place to visit for locals and tourists. You can get an excellent view of the city from here, and locals seemed to enjoy the location as a place for family picnics or a romantic evening. The photo on the upper left is the view from the lagoon, which shows Managua’s highest building. One unexpected activity here is zip-lining. For less than $20 you can get an aerial view of the lagoon; the photo on the left shows me beginning the decent. You do this in three sections until you’re driven back up to the top of the hill, with the final section taking you over open water.
After the zip line, I returned to the top of the lagoon and took these three photos of memorials and the statue. Starting from the left, I never understood the story behind this headless statue, but it’s definitely significant. The statue was located up a long flight of stairs, and I believe it may be representing the Nicaraguan Republic. The center statue for sure is a silhouette of Augusto César Sandino, the rebel who was credited with fighting the United States influence in the 1930’s. He eventually drew the US military into fighting, which lasted until the US military withdrew due to the Great Depression. Sandino still had problems with his own government, and eventually was killed by the Nicaraguan National Guard. His silhouette above is a major symbol of Managua. Lastly on the right, is a memorial to the contra war that took place during the 70’s through the 90’s. The memorial has writing on all four sides in Spanish dedicated to those who lost their lives. While walking down from the lagoon I passed by a military base that seemed to be the headquarters of the Nicaraguan army. Along both sides of the street here, where signs showing Nicaragua’s military history from past to present. The photo on the lower left shows some contras leaders from the 1970’s.
From the lagoon, I was able to walk back to Bolivar avenue. I made coming back here a priority after I passed by it in a taxi and saw there that were so many things going on. This trip was at the end of November where they seemed to be gearing up for Christmas. You can tell what a major event it is because of all the effort they were putting into the holiday. Unlike the United States and Canada where Christmas is more of a commercial event these days, in Nicaragua it’s very much still a religious holiday. Instead of Christmas specials and discounted merchandise being set up along the main street, it was instead a full mile of nativities. Most were similar in design like the two above, but a few had more local tropical themes like the one on the lower left. For some reason in the midst of all this was a large portrait of the late Hugo Chavez shown on the lower right.
The Christmas festivals kicked off the last weekend I was in Nicaragua. These pictures weren’t on Bolivar Avenue, but in the same neighborhood as my guest house. At first I didn’t know what was going on; after taking a taxi back to my place we found the roads to be blocked off. I got dropped off a few blocks away and walked back where I came across live music, parades, and lots of people. It seemed like a Christian themed Mardi Gras festival. After taking the picture on the right, the lady standing on the right hand side of the picture came up to me and jokingly told me not to photograph her anymore. I had just returned back from a mini road trip and sadly felt to lazy to go back to downtown Managua, so I missed the first night of celebrations!