The Big Ditch

The Nicaraguans may be itching to build a trans-isthmus waterway (and Nicaragua may have been the site of the very first plans for an inter-oceanic canal); but it was Panama who got there first.  And a trip along the Panama Canal gives me a good look at the world’s most famous shortcut, plus a glimpse of the extremes of Panamanian urban life. Continue reading

A Walk in the Park

At 16 square kilometres, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica’s smallest national park. And as it’s also one of the country’s popular tourist destinations, one of the busiest, too. But considering that Costa Rica is famous for its protected areas (25% of the country is protected, the largest amount in the world as a percentage of territory), and its biodiversity (5% of the world’s biodiversity in 0.05% of the world’s landmass), the country’s parks’ popularity is understandable. And wandering along the trails, through the jungle and down to the park’s picture-postcard beaches, I can understand why – the forested hills full of animals, the white-sand beaches, and the regular ocean views, all make for a lovely setting. Continue reading

Cloudy with a Chance of Quetzals

Costa Rica is famous for its jungles and forests, its clean, green landscapes, and its eco-tourism credentials. Parks and reserves cover over a quarter of the country’s territory, and many tourists come here to walk through the jungle and look for the wildlife. And two of the most famous of its many protected areas are the Cloud Forests of Monteverde and Santa Elena. Continue reading

Turtle Blues

Every year, up and down the Pacific coast of Central America, female turtles come to lay their eggs. And later, the resulting baby turtles hatch out of those eggs, crawl up through the sand, and make a dash for the sea. From Leatherbacks and Olive Ridleys to Greens and Hawksbills, and from Guatemala to El Salvador and Nicaragua, there are turtles nesting and hatching every year from July to December. All of these reptiles are either endangered or critically endangered, so seeing them in the wild is quite a coup, whether in the sea or on the land. Continue reading

The Nicaraguan Canal

One year ago this month, to considerable fanfare, a Chinese consortium who are planning on building a canal across Nicaragua started their initial work. But today, there seems to be no further signs of progress, beyond a few dirt paths that the construction company has carved out near the mouth of the Brito River, near the city of Rivas and just north of the surfing mecca of San Juan del Sur, on southern Nicaragua’s Pacific coast. Continue reading

To the Top of Nicaragua – Part 2

Nicaragua’s Maribios chain of volcanoes stretches from Cosigüina (in the far north of the country) to Momotombo (just above Lake Managua). And south of the lake is the Darien range of volcanoes. This includes extinct crater lakes, like Tiscapa in Managua and Laguna Apoyo; dormant cones, like Mombacho and Maderas; and gas-belching active peaks, such as Masaya and Concepción. Continue reading

To the Top of Nicaragua – Part 1

Nicaragua is sometimes known as ‘The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes’. And looking at a map of the country, it’s easy to understand why. There are numerous lagoons and lakes (including the two largest ones in Central America), and a chain of over 20 volcanoes, including 6 active ones. Some of them have huge, smoking craters; while others erupted centuries ago, leaving behind tranquil crater lakes. Like Guatemala, Nicaragua is perfect for volcano bagging, with activities like hiking, swimming, jungle-trekking, wildlife-watching, and just gawping at the views (when there are no clouds, that is). You don’t have to be a geologist to appreciate the power and beauty of these natural beasts, and the fertile volcanic soil around them is one of the reasons for all the diverse flora and fauna here. And like Guatemala, the convergence of all these tectonic plates causes plenty of instability (there are 10 seismic fault lines under Managua alone, which probably accounts for all the earthquake-ruined buildings in the capital). Continue reading