Nicaragua: Land of Wildlife, Coffee and Volcanoes

At the present time EcoQuest Travel does not have a trip to Nicaragua scheduled. The following itinerary is an example of trips we have conducted in the past and is similar to trips we intend to offer in the future. EcoQuest has been leading trips to Nicaragua for many years and we offer many different itineraries to this diverse country – the trip listed below is just one example. If you are interested in Nicaragua as a destination please contact us for further information.

Expedition Nicaragua 2014

Land of Wildlife, Coffee and Volcanoes

11 Day Natural History Trip from April 5 – 15

Optional 6-day Post-trip Extension to bird the Caribbean Lowlands

EcoQuest Travel has been leading trips to Nicaragua for thirteen years and is proud to partner with West Virginia’s Master Naturalist Program on this special ecotourism adventure. Dr. Sheldon Owen, and EcoQuest Travel, invites you to join us as we explore many of the habitats that make Nicaragua such a unique place to visit! Although this will be a natural history trip, we will focus on finding as much of Nicaragua’s spectacular vertebrate life as possible including mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians! We will concentrate our efforts in several locations in the Matagalpa highlands and the dry tropical forests of the Pacific Slope. While in the Matagalpa highlands we will stay at Finca Esperanza Verde and El Jaguar, both award-winning shade-coffee plantations and ecolodges. Located in the central highlands of Matagalpa Province, Finca Esperanza Verde straddles an area where both Caribbean slope and Pacific slope fauna come together. Because of this convergence, bird diversity is relatively high and includes large numbers of neotropical migrants. El Jaguar is located at a higher elevation and protects an area of cloud forest. While exploring the dry tropical forests we will stay at the Hotel Alhambra in the old colonial city of Granada and at Montibelli Private Reserve near Managua.

We will also offer an incredible post-trip extension to explore the spectacular rainforests of the Caribbean lowlands along the San Juan River. This is a wild and remote area of Nicaragua that offers a chance to see an entirely different suite of animals than we will observe on the main trip. Come with us on this adventure to learn about tropical ecology and help the continuing conservation efforts that are so vital to Nicaragua’s future!

Day 1 – Saturday, April 5: Raleigh to Managua, Nicaragua and on to Finca Esperanza Verde

An early morning flight from Raleigh/Durham International Airport takes us to either Houston or Miami for our connecting flight to Managua, Nicaragua. Please arrive at our departure gate no later than two hours prior to our scheduled departure time. After clearing immigration and customs, and gathering our luggage, we will travel up into the Matagalpa highlands to Finca Esperanza Verde. Once we arrive we will settle into our accommodations and have a chance for some late afternoon birding before the sun sets over the mountains and we get our first delicious taste of Nicaraguan food. (D)

Day 2 – Sunday, April 6: Finca Esperanza Verde

We will spend today exploring the forests in and around Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV). The area is beautiful and rich in wildlife, especially birds. Keel-billed toucans, swallow-tailed kites, parrots and numerous tanagers could all be spied from the veranda prior to breakfast. Various species will be attracted to the fruit and hummingbird feeders. Some of the birding highlights could include black hawk-eagle, violet sabrewing, pale-billed woodpecker, royal flycatcher, masked tityra, rufous-browed peppershrike, rufous-winged tanager and blue-crowned chlorophonia. Throughout the day we will hike some of the Finca’s trails in hopes of glimpsing mantled howler monkeys, leaf-cutter ants, and many more species of birds like violaceous and collared trogons, blue-crowned motmots and Montezuma’s and chestnut-headed oropendolas. Various species of treefrogs may be out and about at night. After a full day we will have a great dinner and perhaps a night hike before retiring for the night. (B,L,D)

Day 3 – Monday, April 7: Finca Esperanza Verde and General Nestors Farm

Today we will have the early morning to bird at FEV. After breakfast we will travel from the Finca to General Nestor’s farm. This farm is located in a much drier habitat and the river that cuts through it is home to many species of birds and numerous reptiles. Especially common are several species of hummingbirds, white-throated magpie jays, Inca doves, orange-fronted and orange-chinned parakeets, common tody-flycatchers and scrub euphonias. Basilisk lizards are frequently seen on the river and may even run across the surface of the water as we approach. We will have a picnic lunch along the river and, because it will be very hot, a swim in the river will bring welcome relief. In the afternoon we will return to the Finca and the opportunity to explore more of the well developed trail system. Delving deeper into the forest we may spot crested owls, bat falcons, emerald toucannets, variegated squirrels, helmeted iguanas and either, or both, two-toed and three-toed sloth. After dinner we will enjoy an entertaining evening of traditional Nica folk music. The local villagers always look forward to this fiesta around the bonfire under the stars. It will be a memorable evening of music, dancing and great food. (B,L,D)

Day 4 – Tuesday, April 8: Finca Esperanza Verde to Selva Negra and on to El Jaguar

Today we will pack up and travel from Finca Esperanza Verde to Selva Negra. This spectacular primary forest is a little higher in elevation than FEV. Selva Negra is home to some specialty birds that we are unlikely to see elsewhere during our trip including the spectacular resplendent quetzal. We will also search for three-wattled bellbirds, collared forest falcons, bushy-crested jays, and hopefully some of the antbirds and woodcreepers that follow army ant swarms. The forest is also a great place for mammals and we could see agouti, troops of mantled howler monkeys and perhaps even collared peccaries. After our hike at Selva Negra we will have a picnic lunch before departing for El Jaguar. El Jaguar is a shade coffee plantation and ecolodge located in Jinotega Province. The lodge is situated above 4,000 feet and protects a significant area of cloud forest. Along with a great variety of resident birds, the Matagalpa highlands are an important area for neotropical migrants. Just like Finca Esperanza Verde, El Jaguar has significant populations of wintering neotropical migrants and it will be great to watch some of “our birds” mingle with the resident species in mixed foraging flocks. Once we arrive at El Jaguar we will settle into our accommodations and should have the late afternoon to bird. (B,L,D)

Day 5 – Wednesday, April 9: El Jaguar

We will have a full day to bird the misty patches of cloud forest that drape the hillsides of El Jaguar. El Jaguar is home to a spectacular variety of birds including many that are difficult to observe elsewhere during our trip such as highland guan, barred forest-falcon, green-breasted mountain-gem, white-bellied emerald, white-winged tanager, blue bunting and blue-hooded euphonia. We will hike some of El Jaguar’s many trails in the morning before taking a break for lunch. Because of the elevation it will be cooler and, although bird activity may drop a bit at midday, some activity should continue even in the heat of the day. As a result we will continue to explore El Jaguar throughout the afternoon until we break for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Day 6 – Thursday, April 10: El Jaguar – The Highland Oak/Pine Forest

Today we will travel from El Jaguar to a special ecosystem located even higher in elevation – the endangered oak/pine forests at the very top of the mountains. This ecosystem provides a real mix of species including those more frequently found in the US and Mexico as well as those which occur primarily in Central America. Some of species we could observe includes: acorn and hairy woodpeckers; spot-crowned woodcreeper; tufted flycatcher; scaled antpitta; crescent-chested, Grace’s, hermit, golden-cheeked and olive warblers; painted redstarts; cinnamon-bellied flowerpiercer; flame-colored tanager, black-headed siskin; and red crossbill. Once we have fully explored this unique area we will return to El Jaguar for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Day 7 – Friday, April 11: El Jaguar to Granada and Volcan Mombacho

This morning, after breakfast, we will depart for the colonial city of Granada. Along the way we will make a brief stop to bird Las Playitas (a shallow wetland area) in hopes of viewing fulvous whistling ducks, least grebes, northern jacanas and numerous herons. After our stop at Las Playitas we will continue on to Granada and our accommodations at the Hotel Alhambra. The Hotel Alhambra is a beautiful old hotel located directly across from the main plaza. After settling into our rooms we will have lunch at a colonial restaurant before we travel to the slopes of Volcan Mombacho and transfer to one of the Park’s trucks for the steep climb to the summit. Once we reach the summit, we will hike the caldera trail and explore the diverse cloud forests that make Volcan Mombacho so special. These high altitude forests are a haven for plants and animals. A wide variety of bromeliads and orchids festoon the tree branches and some of the orchid species grow only on the slopes of Mombacho. The dormant volcano is also home to an endemic salamander and many higher elevation birds such as mountain elaenia and purple-throated mountain gem. If not obscured by clouds, the views of Lake Nicaragua from the summit are fabulous. As the sun sets we will descend Mombacho, return to Granada and have dinner at Bistro Estrada restaurant. (B,L,D)

Day 8 – Saturday, April 12: Las Isletas and Granada

This morning will begin just before dawn as we head to the shores of Lake Nicaragua for our early morning boat trip through Las Isletas. The 365-island archipelago of Las Isletas was formed 20,000 years ago when Volcan Mombacho erupted, hurling its top half into the lake and forming dozens of small islands. Today Las Isletas are covered in lush vegetation and provide a haven for birdlife. We will wind our way through the many meandering channels separating the islands and could see snail kites, pinnated bitterns, ringed kingfishers, bare-throated tiger herons, and numerous other water birds. We will take a packed breakfast with us and will return to the boat dock by mid-morning. After our boat trip we will return to Granada for a city tour. Granada is the oldest continuously occupied city in the New World and is rich in colonial architecture and cultural sites. We will visit these important sites and have lunch before having the rest of the afternoon free to relax, shop or to continue exploring. We will meet in the hotel lobby this evening and walk to La Gran Francia for dinner – a really nice restaurant with incredible food. We will stay overnight once again at the Hotel Alhambra. (B,L,D)

Day 9 – Sunday, April 13: Montibelli Private Reserve

This morning, after breakfast, we will check-out and travel to Montibelli Private Reserve. Montibelli is a fantastic dry tropical forest reserve located fairly close to Managua. Situated in a remote valley, Montibelli is home to a huge variety of birds including many species we are not likely to see elsewhere, such as plain chachalaca, northern potoo, painted bunting, Pacific parakeet, rose-throated becard, dusky antbird, and yellow-billed cacique. It also has plenty of lekking long-tailed manakins if they prove elusive at Selva Negra. It also is home to many mammals and reptiles. Once we arrive we will have a chance to settle into our accommodations and watch birds coming to the water baths before lunch. In the late afternoon we will have our first chance to explore the reserve. After a full day we will have dinner and take a night hike to look for nocturnal birds and mammals. We could see northern potoo, Pacific screech owl, and several species of opossums. After our night hike we will settle into our comfortable bungalows for the night. (B,L,D).

Day 10 – Monday, April 14: Montibelli Private Reserve, Shopping, Masaya Volcano and Bats

This morning we will have another chance to explore Montibelli. When the morning bird activity dies down the reptile activity just begins. Montibelli is home to a diverse reptile community – especially lizards and we will be on the lookout for rose-bellied swifts, black iguanas and ameivas. After a full morning of exploring we will have lunch. After lunch we will depart for the town Masaya and their artisan markets. After some shopping time in the markets we will depart for Masaya National Park. Masaya NP is named for the active volcano whose lava flows and slopes dominate the landscape. We will be able to drive right to the rim of the volcano and look down into the caldera. The noxious gases emanating from the crater are carried away from the parking lot by the prevailing winds. After viewing the crater from the rim we will begin a nocturnal tour of the area by observing the Pacific green parakeets flying in to roost within the crater walls. After watching the parakeets we will work our way down to a cave to watch the mass exodus of bats as they depart for their nightly foraging. Finally we will be able to view a recent vent into the crater that glows eerily from the lava hidden below. After a great evening we will return to Montibelli for a late dinner. (B,L,D)

Day 11 – Tuesday, April 15: Montibelli to Managua and Our Departure for the US

This morning we will have the early morning to explore Montibelli before breakfast and our departure for Managua and the airport. Those departing for the US have any early afternoon flight to our US gateway city and those continuing on the Caribbean extension have an early afternoon flight to San Carlos. Once in our US gateway city you will transfer to your flight home. (B)

* Please note that EcoQuest Travel will make every effort to adhere to this itinerary, but dates, times, activities and prices are subject to change depending on scheduling and availability.

<2>Optional Post-trip Extension: the Caribbean Lowlands and the Rio San Juan

Day 11 – Tuesday, April 15: Fly from Managua to San Carlos and on to Refugio Bartola

This morning we have an early breakfast before we depart for Managua and the airport. We will need to depart fairly early in order to catch our early afternoon flight to San Carlos. Our flight will take us across the great expanse of Lake Nicaragua and past the islands of Zapatera and Ometepe. The flight will last about 50 minutes before setting down on San Carlos’s dusty airstrip. San Carlos is situated in the far southeast corner of Lake Nicaragua where the San Juan River begins its journey to the Atlantic. Upon arrival we will transfer to the city dock for our boat trip down the Rio San Juan River. Our journey down river will be very scenic passing small farms, areas of swamp and forest, and eventually the town of El Castillo and its imposing fort overlooking the river. After El Castillo the towns and agricultural lands begin to disappear giving way to the rainforest which envelops both sides of the Rio San Juan. We should have plenty of opportunities to observe birds along the way and if we are lucky perhaps a huge American crocodile along the river’s muddy banks. Eventually the river becomes the border with Costa Rica on the south bank and Nicaragua on the north. Our destination, and accommodation for the night, is Refugio Bartola – a rustic ecolodge located on the edge of Rio Indio Maiz National Park. The gardens and forest edges surrounding Refugio Bartola are full of birds and we should arrive in time for the late afternoon activity period. After a full day we will have dinner under the stars. (B,D)

Day 1 – Wednesday, April 16: Rio Indio Maiz National Park and on to Sabalos Lodge

This morning we will depart very early for an adventure down river. Our goal is the vast and remote Rio Indio Maiz National Park. We will stop at the ranger station in Bartola to register with the national park before proceeding further down river to the Agua Frescas Trail where we will begin our hike. From Bartola all the way to the Atlantic lies the huge Rio Indio Maiz National Park. This park is incredibly rich biologically and still protects jaguar, tapir, white-lipped peccary and other large mammals. We are unlikely to see them, but tracks abound and we certainly will see some of the smaller denizens. Poison dart frogs hop through the leaf litter and monkeys are common in the treetops. With luck we could spot a coatimundi or a tamandua. The birdlife is incredible and we hope see short-billed pigeon, crimson-fronted parakeet, slaty-tailed trogon, rufous and broad-billed motmot, white-fronted nunbird, chestnut-mandibled toucan, purple-throated fruitcrow and black-faced grosbeak. Rarely seen birds like great curassow, crested guan and great green macaw are fairly common in this vast wilderness. Army ant swarms are also common here and if we find one we should see many of the special birds that follow the swarms such as plain-brown woodcreeper, chestnut-backed antbird, bicolored antbird, bare-crowned antbird, ocellated antbird, spotted antbird and black-faced antthrush. After a full morning of exploring the Rio Indio Maiz we will return up river to Refugio Bartola to have lunch. After lunch we will depart for Sabalos Lodge stopping briefly at El Castillo to visit the ancient fort. We should arrive at Sabalos Lodge in time for a late afternoon of birding before dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Day 2 – Thursday, April 17: Sabalos Lodge

We will have a full day today to explore the area surrounding Sabalos Lodge. The area is rich in birds and we could see pale-vented pigeon, white-crowned parrot, black-throated trogon, slaty spinetail, fasciated antshrike, dot-winged antwren, bright-rumped attila, long-tailed tyrant, gray-capped flycatcher, black-throated wren, dusky-faced and tawny-crested tanagers, Nicaraguan seed-finch, orange-billed sparrow and black-cowled oriole. Mantled howler monkeys and both two-toed and three-toed sloth are fairly common. Caiman and green basilisks are easily seen near the river and cane toads call at night. After a full day we will once again overnight at Sabalos Lodge. Sabalos Lodge consists of comfortable thatched, open air bungalows situated on stilts directly above the banks of the San Juan River. Each bungalow has an attached bathroom and gives the feel of living in a tree house. The mosquito netting draped beds are very comfortable and each bungalow has plenty of space. Sabalos will provide a rustic yet comfortable and thoroughly unique retreat while we explore the Rio San Juan area. (B,L,D)

Day 3 – Friday, April 18: Sabalos Lodge to the Solentiname Archipelago

Today, after an early morning of birding and breakfast, we will depart for the Solentiname Archipelago. Our journey will take us back up the Rio San Juan to San Carlos. The islands are located ten miles from San Carlos in Lake Nicaragua and after a refueling stop in San Carlos we will continue across the lake to Isla San Fernando. We will have a packed lunch with us. Once we arrive at San Fernando we will transfer to the Hotel Cabanas Paraiso. The Hotel Cabanas Paraiso will provide rustic, but comfortable accommodations for the next two nights. (B,L,D)

Day 4 – Saturday, April 19: Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge

Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge is sandwiched between the south shore of Lake Nicaragua and the Costa Rican border. The refuge is ribboned with rivers, dotted with swamps and full of wildlife. We will access this extraordinary ecosystem by private boat which will depart before dawn. After a six mile journey from Solentiname, we will arrive at the mouth of the Papaturro River. From here we will wind our way slowly through the meandering channels looking for wildlife. We could see white-faced capuchin and spider monkeys in the trees and green basilisk lizards and caiman basking on logs. The birdlife is prolific and we hope to see wood storks, rufescent tiger-heron, pinnated bittern, agami heron, boat-billed heron, roseate spoonbill, green ibis, snail kite, gray-necked wood-rail, limpkin, sungrebe, and both Amazon and American pygmy kingfisher. We will take a packed breakfast with us as our early morning arrival is key to our success – there are real advantages to being the first boat up the river. Eventually we will arrive at the Los Guatuzos Ecological Center. We will have a chance to hike some of the trails near the center to look for more terrestrial species and we will have lunch at the center before slowly winding our way back down the Rio Papaturro once again looking for wildlife. After a full day of exploring we will return to the Solentiname and the Hotel Cabanas Paraiso for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Day 5 – Sunday, April 20: Solentiname to San Carlos, Fly back to Managua

This morning we will have an early morning hike around the island before breakfast. After breakfast, we will travel across Lake Nicaragua bound for San Carlos. Along the way we will boat around Zapote Island and its bird rookeries. Once we reach San Carlos we will find a place to eat before transferring to the airport for our flight back to Managua. Lunch will be on our own today. Once in Managua we will transfer to the Hotel Camino Real for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Day 6 – Monday, April 21: Fly back to the US

This morning we will have breakfast and a chance to pack before we depart for the airport. We will have an early afternoon flight from Managua to our US gateway city. Once in our gateway city we will transfer to our flight back home. (B)

* Please note that EcoQuest Travel will make every effort to adhere to this itinerary, but dates, times, activities and prices are subject to change depending on scheduling and availability.