Posted by: Caroline | July 16, 2012

Murals and More in Esteli

We caught the bus from outside of La Biosfera to Jinotega, “City of Mists.” We got this brief look at the city before hopping on a minibus to the sleepy mountain hamlet of San Rafael del Norte.

Arriving in San Rafael’s central square felt like arriving home. We visited here in 2009 and made friends with a Nicaraguan family that runs a restaurant by the river. It was one of the most enjoyable parts of our trip–we ended up hanging out at the restaurant for most of the day, discussing politics, meeting the whole family, and making tortillas–so we decided to stop by and say hello three years later.

San Rafael then…

… and now.

The restaurant, Los Encuentros, has easy river access that would be a great place for swimming–if it was a bit warmer! Instead, I read The Poisonwood Bible. Equally heartwrenching in any temperature.

San Rafael’s church.

It’s famous less for its beauty than for this ominous portrait of the devil–or Daniel? Painted in the 60s, well before Daniel Ortega came to power, but vanloads of Nicaraguans still arrive to marvel at the coincidental resemblance–or eerie prescience, depending on your political vantage point.

Our next stop was Estelí, a university town on the Interamericana (or Pan-American Highway).

It’s got the feel of a typical Nicaraguan city: vibrant streets crammed with cars, businesses, and umbrella-shaded produce stands…

… and some hints of colonial architecture.

Because Estelí was a rebel stronghold throughout the Sandinista Revolution, so much of it was bombed. What it lacks in extensive colonial architecture, it makes up for in revolutionary spirit. Murals coat much of the wallspace around town…

… and you can’t walk too many steps without seeing Che’s face.

Adding to Estelí’s university and revolutionary spirit is its commitment to natural medicine and all things organic. We tried visiting the most-loved natural medicine clinic, but it was closed–a bummer after our long, dusty trek down the Interamericana. Thankfully, the restaurant next door was open. La Casita offers up fresh yogurt (I had the mango) with muesli, fruity milkshakes, and whole-wheat bread (hard to find elsewhere!). Plus, its location–right on the edge of a nature reserve–is so zen.

Although I loved my fresh yogurt and organic salads at La Casita and other restaurants around town, we still made time to devour some more traditional fare. This is a typical Nica breakfast with bonus avocado (that Estelí touch!).

Estelí’s parque central is as lively as any, with soccer, volleyball, and even taekwondo matches filling the surrounding streets.

But my favorite part of the parque is this enterprise: parents pay to rent a Barbie Jeep or mini-ATV and pull their kid around the central gazebo. I could watch this drama unfold for hours. There are the kids who love it, the ones who are bored, and the others who seem downright miserable. I couldn’t quite figure out if parents pay for a certain amount of time or if they just pull the kids until they’re exhausted.

Estelí’s main church.


  1. Given all the beautiful mosaics and churches you’ve photographed in this entry, this shouldn’t be my take away, but I want one of those plastic jeeps.

  2. […] Remember how every Latin American parque central has its own totally wacky pastime, like the Jeep races in Esteli, Nicaragua? Yeah, Santa Clara’s version of that is goat-drawn carts that carry sometimes amused, […]

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