Matagalpa is the must visit city if you are interested in seeing the Nicaraguan mountain region. It is a good jumping off point for visiting the coffee, tobacco and cattle farms in the area, or hiking and witnessing what remains of the impact of German immigrants in Nicaragua.
If you like mountain hiking, bird watching, horseback riding, browsing for monkeys, ecotourism, agritourism, Indian villages, cigar factory tours, coffee farm 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 north 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 hostels, regular hotel rooms, B&B's, and a vast array of shops, boutiques, cafés, restaurants, bars and discotheques. Many local businesses and residents speak English, due to the overwhelming surge of tourism (300%) during the past 3-5 years, as well as the increasing number of expats who now call Matagalpa their home.
The city of Matagalpa is just 2 hours from Managua International Airport; you can get there 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 discovered 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, and is recognized as one of Nicaragua's largest and fastest growing commerce and trade centers.
Once outside the Airport, to get to the city of Matagalpa you take Carretera Norte going north. You will cross little villages like: Tipitapa, San Benito (this is the intersection of roads either going to Matagalpa or going to Bluefields). Then comes Ciudad Dario at kilometer 86 (Ruben Dario´s birth place. He is one of better poets of Spanish language, the "Walt Wiltman" of Spanish literature. Then comes Sebaco ("Serpent Woman" in Indian language, at kilometer 102). Finally you get to Matagalpa, at kilometer 127. This is the Capitol of the province of the same name. Once in Matagalpa you can look for local hotels. Most desirable hotels and B&B's are inside the city limits, although there is a couple of prominent resorts in the mountains just north of the city.
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. in stead they decided to stay here, and others soon followed. One of them was William Richardson, grandfather of Bill Richardson, the former Governor of New Mexico, USA. William senior is buried in the well known "Matagalpa Foreing Cemetery" a few blocks south of town.
The province of Matagalpa has 12 different protected forest areas, which preserve a great variety of birds and orchids, all kind of wild life; Mountain lion, deer, howler monkies, quetzal, toucan birds, sloth, ocelot, and wild pig, etc.)
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 shows Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint Ignatius Loyola and Saint Louis Gonzaga. Pay a visit to it, if it is Murillo´s, it must be an invaluable painting, local people don´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.
Matagalpa is known for its sizable indigenous Indian Community, which are based mostly in El Chile, 18 kilometers from the city on the way to the town of San Ramon. They make their own cotton fabric and leather articles, and sell them there, as well as in the city at open markets. In Matagalpa you can also find black ceramic unique to this region. Handcrafted specialties such as cowboy boots, fine leather shoes, hats, jewelry, guitars and violins, as well as hammocks, fine wood furniture and metal work, are all big attractions.
Close to the prominent white Cathedral at the north side of town is an oil painting workshop inside the University where you can buy, at reasonable prices, oil paintings with local accents such as: Nica coffee farms, ranches, oxen pulling carts, mules with side satchels overflowing with coffee beans, campesinos, and mountain cloud forest scenery, including exotic birds and wildlife.
At each of the open-air markets, locally grown fruits and vegetables are plentiful and cheap. Treat yourself to a fresh banana, pijibay, jocotes, orange, grapefruit, nisperos, watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, coconut and plantain. Or indulge yourself with fresh locally grown broccoli, sugar beets, tomatoes, avocados, cucumber, carrots and unique squash, etc.
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". Nacatamal, it is a banana leave wrap upfilled with boiled Indian corn dough, a piece of meat(pork o chicken), flavored with olives, raisin, tomatoes, onions and chili. These are easy to find on the weekends, and can be bought from street vendors or even private homes. Platanitos con frijoles molidos, this is fried banana slices with smashed fried red beans. You should add chili to it for they are very tasty.
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 seeds 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 after 150 years "Matagalpa Washed Coffee" has become known world wide, thanks to a brave and intelligent woman.
Matagalpa is a major city in the Northern Highlands of central Nicaragua. Because of the diversity of visiting tourists, vacationers and business/trade travelers, this bustling city offers an equally diverse array of lodging alternatives, each priced to satisfy the niche travelers might be looking for.
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 1 hour 15-30 minutes you will get to the city of Jinotega, where you can eat, and buy local "pupusas" (local pastry).
It's worth a trip to nearby Selva Negra, a supposedly virgin forest on the way to Jinotega that offers an assortment of lovely hikes ranging in difficulty. Take the bus (12 Cordoba - as of April 2016 price is 13 cordobas) toward Jinotega and tell them to drop you off at the entrance to Selva Negra. It's an easy 1.5 km walk to the gate. Entrance is 50 Cordoba, but for 100 Cordoba you get a ticket than can be used for credit at the restaurant (as of 1st April 2016 price is 100 cordobas for entry only, 200 cordobas for consumables ticket which also includes entry) Ask for a free map of the trails from reception.
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.
There are two bus stations in Matagalpa, one in the south and one in the north. The following itineraries are posted there and are for the one in south, that serves the long destination travels (Nov 2013):