El Salto Estanzuela and Reserva El-Tisey
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Esteli’s most famous swimming hole, this is a gorgeous 15-meter, rainy season–only cascade you can swim behind, plunging into a cold, shady pool, all smothered in colorful native flora and fauna. It’s just southwest of Estelí. You can hike to the waterfall from the highway.
The road to Estanzuela leaves the Pan-American just south of the new hospital and is sandwiched between two pulperías where you can stock up for the journey. This is the terminus of the urbano bus routes which start at the central park, or take a taxi from the city center for about $0.50.
The five-kilometer walk should take 60–90 minutes each way. It’s an easy hike, but with lots of ups-and-downs. Otherwise, hop a bus for the 20-minute ride (buses leave COTRAN Sur at 6:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.).
Before you reach the hamlet of Estanzuela, look for a gated road on your right; the waterfall is at the bottom of a hill after the first two dilapidated wooden homes of the village. Villagers charge 30 córdobas ($1.50) to hike down to the falls. Head downward for about 10 minutes until the track veers steeply down to the left. If you take one of the side trails to the left now it will lead you to the top of the falls.
Before the road turns to the right again, take the path in front of you straight down to the falls, there is a large sign for the Ministerio del Ambiente. You should now be able to hear the falls.
Down the same road as the waterfall, the 9,344-hectare co-managed Reserva El-Tisey makes available a rustic ecolodge, fields of organic vegetables, a network of hiking trails, and trips on horseback, not to mention spectacular panoramas: From the top of Tisey on a clear day, you can make out the Pacific coastal plain and the entire chain of volcanic peaks from Cosigüina to Lake Managua and Momotombo, the Estelí valley, and north to the mountains of the Segovias on the horizon.
Start by settling in at Eco-Posada Tisey (tel. 505/2713-6213 or 505/8836-6021), which charges $3 per person for communal living, $10 for a double bed and some privacy, and $1.50 per meal. They will find you guides, rent horses, or show you around the organic farm that stocks most of Managua’s supermarkets with fresh veggies. There’s more to see there than you’ll likely have time for, so plan a few days at least. One trail climbs to a lookout (1,300 meters) where you’ll enjoy the phenomenal view and the falls.
The folks here can show you some of the reserve’s other highlights, like the septuagenarian sculptor who picked up hammer and chisel to absorb some of his nervous energy when he quit drinking, or the bat cave, local hangout for more than 10,000 winged friends (hint: bring a hat). Closer to the lodge, taste fresh cheeses and vegetables, or spend a night in the farming community of La Garnacha. To get there, catch a bus to El Jalacate.
La Ganarcha is the heart of Reserva El-Tisey; the only way to get here is to hike or hire a truck from Eco-Posada Tisey. The biological station is the headquarters for the reserve where you can get maps, talk with the rangers, and arrange for guides. There are five-person cabins here with fantastic views of the surrounding forest and hills for $10 per night, or dormitory lodging for $3–5 per night. Food can be arranged with a local family for usually around $5 a day.
There are many marked trails that leave from either the biological station, or the guest quarters—one heads due west from the station and winds through rocky hillsides and pine forest to several highpoints with views of the volcanoes to the west. Winds stir the trees and the smell of pine needles is everywhere.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition