Cows, pigs and a lot of beans and potatoes: the rustic countryside of Miraflor, Nicaragua

Imagine greener than green hills, a blue sky and a grazing cattle in the valley below. Birds flying by, you hear a horse neigh from somewhere behind you. For a second I found myself in the mountains of Switzerland or Austria, however, we were hiking the Northern Highlands of Nicaragua.
If you want to clear your mind, get rid of the tourists in the colonial cities of Nicaragua, Miraflor is where you will have to go.

Miraflor is situated about 30 kilometers from Estelí, in the north of Nicaragua. It is a National Reserve in which you will find some communities of organic farms settled along an idyllic curling unpaved path. Travel guides would probably describe it as “a hidden gem”. I don’t like that popular slang, I would rather say: a great place for some serene silence, beautiful views and a lot of fresh air.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IN MIRAFLOR?

What to do in this green countryside postcard scenery? You hike and enjoy the cloudforest around you. There are several ways to do so, depending on the time you want to spend in the area and your budget.

1. Hike the Miraflor National Reserve for a day with a guide

  • Costs per person: $17
    • $15 guide
    • $2 (C$55) transportation back and forth
  • Time:
    • 1.5 hour bus drive (x2)
    • 4.5 hour hiking

We found a couple of travel agencies in Estelí offering daytrips to the Miraflor Reserve. You will have to arrange the transport yourself, but once you get there a local guide will be waiting for you at the bus stop. You pay $15 dollar per person for a guide. The benefit of a tour is that the guide knows a lot about the nature and the agriculture in the area. He – unfortunately didn’t meet a female guide in Nicaragua yet – is familiar with the country life. Besides, having a guide helps you to cross a couple of private lands that are not accessible when you travel your own.

The hike will take about 4.5 hours and will take you to a nice viewpoint and a small waterfall (which you can also visit without the guide, so read on)

2. Hike the Miraflor National Reserve for a day without a guide

  • Costs per person: $2.30
    • $2 (C$55) transportation back and forth
    • $0.30 (C$10) waterfall entrance per person
  • Time:
    • 1.5 hour bus drive (x2)
    • 3.5-7.5 hour hiking

We had this hike in the (quite undiscovered) cloudforest on our Nicaragua wish list, however, since we are traveling on a budget we decided to organize a trip ourselves. We figured out where the bus would take us (can’t live without Google Maps nor Maps.me) and decided to hike from the upper part of the Miraflor Reserve in south-west direction to a lower point where we could catch the bus at noon.

Since the weather forecast predicted thunder in the afternoon, we decided to go for the bus to Estelí of 11:45, which left us with about 3.5 hour hiking time.
If you take the afternoon bus, you have more time to explore the trails.

Missed the last bus in the afternoon? No worries. There are plenty of fincas (farms) around that can offer you shelter and some delicious meals for a couple of cordobas.

Our hike lead us from a bus stop north-east via a small waterfall to a bus stop a little more downwards/south-west. Surprisingly, we passed at least 3 small schools along the way! About as much as fincas we counted. Besides, we enjoyed beautiful views on the valleys, with Spanish moss covered trees and plenty of cows, pigs and chickens.

Miraflor Hike - Where you go next

 

3. Enjoy a homestay and track through the area for a couple of days

  • Costs per person: from $47
    • From $45 (guide, homestay and 3 meals)
    • $2 (C$ 60) transportation back and forth
  • Time:
    • 1.5 hour bus drive (x2)
    • 4.5 hour hiking

As mentioned above, there are many fincas in the area. They cooperate with the travel agencies in Estelí and offer guides, homestays, home cooked meals with local fresh ingredients (from their own fields), horse rides and a great countryside experience. We already enjoyed a homestay in the Somoto canyon, so we decided not to stay over. However, from our experience I can say it is a great way to learn a lot about agriculture and the local lifestyle. Besides, it will safe you some money, since the prices of the meals and rooms are lower than in the city.

The guide will lead you through the mountains and valleys and show you various trees and plants and their traditional uses. You will hike towards the house of a local family, who will – from our experience – live in a basic and simple house and are completely self-sufficient. You can learn a lot from them! You can decide how many nights you sleep in the reserve, you will hike from finca to finca through different areas before you catch the local bus home.

HOW TO GET TO MIRAFLOR NATIONAL RESERVE

It is probably the easiest to travel to Miraflor from the city of Estelí. Estelí is a good base from where you can visit several reserves and the Somoto canyon in the Northern Highlands of Nicaragua. The city itself is not that special, and certainly not ready for mass tourism yet, but you will find some hostels and a couple of travel agencies as well.

Estelí has two big bus stations; Cotran Norte and Cotran Sur.

In order to go to Miraflor you will have to go to Cotran Norte. This is about 1.5 kilometers walking from the zone with the hostels (taxi about C$12 per person).

Look for the bus to Yali. It leaves at 6:00 in the morning.

The bus will make several stops along the way, under which at cafeterias where you can buy coffee or tortillas (if you are really quick). If you are heading towards the upper part of the Miraflor Reserve the journey will take about 1.5 to 2 hours. A one-way ticket costs C$ 30.
Get out at community La Rampla and walk towards La Cebollal.
I don’t know why, but we always had the experience that the return trip is somewhat cheaper in Nicaragua. The return ticket will cost you C$ 25. You can choose to get back from the same spot you got off, or walk in South-West direction and head to the bus stop there. The timetable of the bus is painted on the wall of the bus shelter. And the bus will drive down towards Estelí while honking non-stop, making it very hard to miss it.

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