Matagalpa is the must visit city if you are interested in seeing Nicaraguan mountain region. It is a good jumping off point for visiting the coffee and cattle farms in the area, hiking and witnessing what remains of the impact of Germans immigrants in Nicaragua.
If you like mountain hiking, bird watching, horseback riding, ecotourism, agritourism, Indian Villages, Coffee Farms tours, mountain scenery for photographs, temperate climate, polkas and Mazurcas music, and history, Matagalpa may be the place to visit.
Matagalpa is located in the highlands that make the water shed division of the Caribbean and Pacific rivers, it was called "The Frontier of the Jungle" by the Spanish Conquistadores because it divided the historical Mosquito Kingdom and the Colonial Spanish towns. It has mountain resorts with bungalows, youth hostell, and regular hotel rooms, bar and restaurants, many residents speak English.
The city of Matagalpa is just 2 hours from Managua International Airport; you can get there by in 2.5 hours by public bus or renting a car. Matagalpa was an Indian town before becoming the destination of Central European settlers when gold was discoverd in the 1850's. That is the reason that one sees people of lighter complexion than in Managua, Granada or Leon. Life is more like in the old days, so it is nice to get pictures of ox carts, cowboys, and loaded mules. Nowadays it is the so called "Production Center" of coffee, cattle, flowers, and vegetables, as well as an ecotourism center.
Once outside the Airport, to get to the city of Matagalpa you take Carretera Norte going north. You will be crossing little villages like: Tipitapa, San Benito(this is the intersection of roads either going to Matagalpa or going to Bluefields) then comes Ciudad Dario in kilometer 86 (Ruben Dario´s birth place, he is one of better poets of Spanish language, the "Walt Wiltman" of Spanish literature, then cross Sebaco ("Serpent Woman" in Indian language, kilometer 102) Finally you get to Matagalpa City(kilometer 127)this is the capital of the province of the same name. Once in Matagalpa you can look for local hotels, or mountain lodging, within 7 miles on the road to Jinotega there is a mountain resort. Matagalpa is a historical Indian city of 100,000 inhabitants, where you can find restaurants and cyber cafes. Many Central Europeans (German, Brittsh, French and Italian) famlies settled here since 1848, after they changed their minds about reaching the Californian gold mines, decided to stay here, other followed them years later.(One of them was William Richardson, grandfather of Bill Richardson, the current Governor of New Mexico. William senior (Grandpa) is buried in the well known "Matagalpa Foreing Cemetery" a few blocks south. The province of Matagalpa has 12 different protected forest areas, great variety of birds and orchids, and all kind of wild life (Mountain lion, deer, howler monkies, quetzal and toucan birds, sloth, ocelot, wild pig, etc.)
Matagalpa may be a nice town to walk all over and take photos. You may visit and take pictures inside historical churches,like: The Cathedral(Built in 1874, San Jose( started in 1750, formely called San Felipe), Molaguina (1800s, formely Dolores Church). The colonial Santa Ana church disappeared in 1850s, but you can see its old foundations just across the "Escuela de Parvulos", also the old brick and adobe walls of the Jesuit Fathers Convent(now Cancha del Bridadista),Museo del Cafe, Casa Cuna de Carlos Fonseca Amador (1936-1975), the old house of fomer President Bartolome Martinez (1870-1936), also the house of the Comunidad Indigena.
Matagalpa has two public libraries, the Municipal, and Vicente Vita, the last one in located in the main street (la calle de los Bancos) this one is very comfortable, has many computers & free Internet access. There are three historical Catholic church temples, few blocks apart: the Cathedral, Molaguina and San Jose, they have nice interior architecture and you can take pictures and talk to the parisioners. Saint Peter´s Cathedral is the major building of the city, it was built by the Jesuit fathers starting in 1874, and finished in 1895. In the Bishop´s Palace (Calle de lso Bancos), there is a small Chapel called "El Ateneo", there is a big 5x 10 feet famous oil painting named Sagrada Familia, it is believed to be painted by Bartolomeo Murillo, a classical Spanish painter of the year 1640`s. It showes Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint Ignatius Loyola and Saint Louis Gonzaga. Pay a visit to it, if is is Murillo´s must be invaluable painting, local people doesn´t realized its value. According to a legend, in 1881, the Jesuit fathers, before they were expulsed by the government, gave it "in deposit" (to take care)to the local family Baldizon, that´s the reason "El Lienzo" (the canvas)still is in Matagalpa, because members of that family has not allowed it to be sold or translated to other destiny.
Also be sure to visit the Castillo de Cacao, located just outside of the city limits, this tiny chocolate factory manufactures high quality chocolate, and if you call ahead, you can arrange a free factory tour. www.elcastillodecacao.com
Other things to see or visit: There is a Movie Theater, a Coffee Museum, a Carlos Fonseca Birth Place museum (Founder of the Sandinista Front), the House of fomer Nicaraguan President ( 1970-1936) Bartolome Martinez (Period 1923-24).
Matagalpa is known for its Indian Community, they are based mostly in El Chile, 18 kiometers from the city on the way to the town of San Ramon. They do their own cottom fabric and leather articles for sale. In Matagalpa you can also find these articles, as well as black ceramic unique in this region. Locally you can buy black ceramic, cowboy boots, guitars and violins local made. Close to the Cathedral there is an oil painting workshop where you can buy oil paintings with local motives like:nice coffee farms, ranches, oxen carts, carrying mules, campesinos, and mountain scenery, for reasonable prices. You can buy local fruits like bananas, pijibay, jocotes, oranges grapefruit, nisperos, mamey, etc. Walk around the town and take nice photographs of oxen carts, cowboys, loaded mules, women wearing their chals (rebozo), men with hats, guitar and violin (Polkas and Mazurcas). Pay them a tip to play you a music, and things that you can not find in your place of origin. Nature here is still like it was 100 years ago.
Try the "guirila." It's a thick tortilla made from young corn (which gives it a sweeter taste than normal tortillas) that resembles a Colombian corn arepa. Excellent with a fresh, salty cheese called "cuajada".
While in Matagalpa you can eat traditional Indian cuisine, like:
You can have a fresh roasted Matagalpa coffee cup cooked in a French brewer, in places like Selva Negra Mountain Resort, Cecocafen, etc.
Matagalpa is also called "Capitol of Coffee", coffee growing was brought to Matagalpa by a woman, she was from the Black Forest in Germany, her name was Katharina Braun Elster, she was traveling in 1852 with her husband Ludwig Elster and 2 years old child (Wilhelm) from New York to San Francisco, but they changed plans and came to this mountainous Matagalpa country and bought a little farm (La Lima) from the Indians, she planted the first coffee seads in this region, once harvested their coffee came to be of the country the best quality, they exported it in oxen carts to Granada and from there in boats to Greytown port in the Carbbean,and from there to Germany. Very soon many people followed their steps, and aftee 150 years "Matagalpa Washed Coffee" has become world wide known, thanks to a brave and intelligent woman.
Matagalpa is the major city in Central Nicaragua, and it has many different kinds of lodging places. You can find little inns from US$7 to more comfortable ones from $15 to $30 per person. In downtown area you find little hotels like: Soza, Moderno, Plaza. Few blocks from Cathedral you will find:
In the outskirts of the City you will find Campestre Barcelona (detras de Prolacsa), La Sombra (Carretera a La Dalia), and Selva Negra Mountain Resort ( Km 140 Carrtera Matagalpa a Jinotega), and other smaller ones. The breakfast included program is not much in usage in this area.
Getting Out of the City, You can visit the neighboring town of San Ramon(15 minutes by car) see the old adobe church, on weekends you can see the campesinos playing polkas y mazurcas local music. Visit the tomb in the local Cemetery where Katharina Braun Elster is buried(She was the first person who planted coffee in Central and Northern Nicaragua. A few miles in the same direction is the Indian Community of "El Chile" where Indian do their own fabric in an old "rueca" (spinning wheel). If you take the Highway from Matagalpa to Jinotega you will see the "most panoramic road" of Nicaragua, altitude of more that 5000 feet, you can see the horizon as far as the Momotombo Volcano, temperatures ranges here from 55F to 70F, you will find mountain hotels where you can practice horseback riding, mountain hiking, bird watching, coffee and farm tours. Keep going, buy local fruits(strawberries, oranges, grapefruits, bananas)- In 35 minutes you will get to the city of Jinotega, where you can eat, and buy local "pupusas" (local pastry). On the way back to Managua you will see tenths of Coffee Processing facilities, they dry, dehusk and package the coffee green beans ready for export, from here they take coffee to the ocean ports and then to overseas markets.