Local Spotlight: Q&A with our local expert in Nicaragua
By Kati Taylor
A land of colossal volcanoes and mirrored lakes, dotted with colourful cities filled with colonial charm and an infectious energy. Nicaragua is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered and our local experts at Vapues Tours know all of its secrets. Driven by a passion for innovation and sustainability, our experts in Nicaragua have been creating unique and memorable trips since 2002; helping travellers to discover the spirit and wonder of Nicaragua. We had a chat with Floris, one of our local experts, and asked him to tell us a bit about this versatile country.
Q. What is life like in Nicaragua? What is your fondest memory?
A. Generally, life is slow-paced and people are very friendly. I have many favorite moments, but one that springs to mind is travelling by kayak and staying in a small hotel on the shores of Rio San Juan, then waking up to the sounds of the jungle. Who knew the jungle was so loud!
Q. What is your favorite place in Nicaragua? Why?
A. Ometepe, hands down. It’s a volcanic island sitting in Lake Nicaragua with two volcanoes and beautiful nature, I love spending time there. Life on Ometepe is so tranquil, it gives a whole new meaning to the word “relaxed”.
Q. What three words most represent Nicaragua for you? Any why?
A. Warm: Not only the climate, but also the people who are just so friendly and welcoming. Surprising: This country never ceases to surprise me, there are so many hidden treasures. Humor: Nicaraguan people like to laugh, even when things are going south they are always joking.
Q. What is the Nicaraguan culture like?
A. Socially, there is a strong sense of community. People rely on relatives and stick together, you often see three generations living under the same roof. Religion is also a big part of Nicaraguan society and religious events are often celebrated within the communities. As in most Latin American countries, people love music and dancing and it’s an integral part of the culture. Celebrations are full of colour and movement and sharing with loved ones. Nicaragua has had a troubled history, but if anything it has led to a remarkable lust for life.
Q. What is your favourite Nicaraguan food?
A. Nacatamal, a tasty dish made with masa (corn dough) mixed with vegetables and meat which is wrapped in banana leaves and boiled – my favorite breakfast.
Q. Do you know any cool facts about Nicaragua that most people wouldn’t know?
A. The famous Panama Canal was almost constructed in Nicaragua. The country had to do some extensive lobbying, which included sending a stamp that featured the fiery Momotombo volcano to the US senators deciding on the location, thus “proving” Nicaragua’s dangerous environment. They eventually chose Panama.
The stamp that moved a canal:
Q. What are the experiences people travelling to Nicaragua definitely shouldn’t miss?
A. There are so many, but I would definitely include a visit to a volcano - at the moment the Masaya volcano is spewing lava which is a unique and spectacular sight. Then there’s Volcano boarding. It’s an extreme sport that can be done only in a few spots in the world and the Cerro Negro near León is one of them! Also, Ometepe Island as I mentioned before is unforgettable; it’s the perfect place to unwind and rediscover nature.
Q. Do you have any top tips for any TravelLocal customers thinking of visiting Nicaragua?
A. Many tourists only visit Granada and the beach which I think is such a pity – there is so much more to see and to do. If you want to see wildlife, visit the Rio San Juan area. I’ve never seen so much wildlife than during a boat ride on Rio Papaturro, on my way to Los Guatuzos. If you enjoy hiking, the north is a must with its rolling hills, vast reserves and fresh climate. Also, people tend to go to Granada but skip León completely. At first sight León may be less pleasing to the eye than Granada, but it is a vibrant town with a large student population and beautiful surroundings.
Q. What is the story behind your company? What inspired you to start the business?
A. Vapues Tours started operating back in 2002, when tourism in Nicaragua was still virtually non-existent. While its neighbour, Costa Rica, was already a well-developed adventure destination. We started to promote add-on packages to Nicaragua from Costa Rica and found out that clients were extremely happy with the product. People found that Nicaragua was a perfect complementary destination to the impressive nature and adventure in Costa Rica, with its charming colonial towns, colourful markets and indigenous heritage sites. Our name, Vapues Tours, was well chosen, as it puts a smile on all the faces of our providers and Nicaraguan staff. The expression ´Vapues´ is widely used in Nicaragua in various different contexts, it has a positive connotation of agreement and activity. For our international clients the name is a real tongue-twister, which in turn brings a smile to our faces.
Q. What have been your favourite and most memorable experiences as a tour operator?
A. Without a doubt the wonderfully positive feedback from our clients, and our own constant and never ending sustainability efforts. It has proven to be very rewarding for both our office and operations staff, it’s the drive behind our daily work.
Q. What’s next for your company?
A. Nicaragua is still largely undiscovered, a rough diamond if you like. Tour Operators and guidebooks tend to highlight the more popular tours, but one of our aims at Vapues Tours is to continue to develop new products so that we can offer destinations off the beaten track, with a little something extra. We want to create trips with unexpected turns that give our guests a completely different experience, and contribute to economic, cultural and social development of the communities of our local partners.
Q. And we’ve got ask – do you have a dream holiday destination that you want to visit?
A. There are so many! But if I must choose one: I have always wanted to visit Iran.
Fancy kayaking on Lake Nicaragua and tucking into a Nacatamale? Or just want to learn a little more about this incredible country? Head over to our Nicaragua destination page for itinerary ideas and extra interesting information.