Volcán Cosigüina Natural Reserve
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Not only does this nationally protected reserve provide incredible views from the volcano’s rim, but the dense vegetation inside the crater is home to a rare scarlet macaw population. Most hikes and horseback trips to the rim begin 15 kilometers past Potosí in the community of El Rosario; the park’s official ranger station, comanaged by a nonprofit organization called LIDER, sits below the volcano and is the best place to begin your exploring.
LIDER links tourists with a community tourism organization called Centro Ecoturístico de Aguas Termales, which offers two-day, one-night all-inclusive visits to the reserve during which you will take a horse ride up to the crater rim, take boat rides past mangrove forests, go on hikes, and cook (yourself) in the hot springs—all for $60 which goes to support the community and the comanaged conservation efforts. Contact Irving Caballeros at the LIDER office in El Viejo (tel. 505/8625-4607, turismocosiguina [at] yahoo [dot] com).
El Hostal Hato Nuevo Private Nature Reserve
North of El Viejo, just past the community of El Congo, but before you reach the volcano is El Hostal Hato Nuevo (tel. 505/8865-9683, www.hostalhatonuevo.com, $69); look for a steep driveway on the right. This totally unique, elegant stone home in the middle of the forest has seven comfy rooms and an old-ranch feel with plenty of shade and hammocks. The owner, Mareano, is a native of Chinandega who has studied art in London and Mexico City and whose custom-crafted paintings and furniture fill the place. He’s a wonderful cook too, so even if not spending the night, try calling ahead for a relaxing meal.
Located on a 600-plus-acre natural reserve, there are nature trails, horseback riding, and wetlands, beach, and volcano expeditions available.
Mechapa Village and Redwood Beach
This tiny fishing village on the Pacific coast of Volcán Cosigüina fronts a long, gorgeous, nearly-empty beach which stretches northwest to the cliffs at Punta Ñata (travel to the cliffs by horseback or car at low tide only). Ask for Captain Odel Yoel Gaitán, an experienced sailor who’d be happy to take you fishing or surfing in his panga.
There are few services in the area and only one place to stay: Redwood Beach Resort (tel. 505/8996-0328, U.S. tel. 800/583-4289, info [at] rbrmechapa [dot] com, www.redwoodbeachresort.com, $135–150), an isolated, American-owned beach retreat especially popular with foreign diplomats and well-off Nicaraguans.
The rate includes three solid meals, most of which are fresh from the sea; cheaper rates with fewer meals or during low season are available. The eight cabanas are wood-constructed, elevated one-room structures with fan, optional air-conditioning, private bathroom, and comfortable porches only meters from the pounding surf. RBR has the only Wi-Fi service for miles around. You can laze around the beach, hunt moro crabs, and a lot more.
A planned sister property will offer campsites with basic services ($5 pp), including a brick grill to cook fish; cheap ($10 pp) backpacker lodging in basic plank and thatch huts. To get there, one bus a day leaves Chinandega at 1:30 p.m. for the three-hour ride to Mechapa; it departs the village the following morning at 4 a.m. A more pleasant option is to travel by vehicle to Jiquilillo then arrange with the Redwood folks to be picked up by boat.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition