Matagalpa Nicaragua is stunning landscapes, beautiful cities and some of the finest chocolate and coffee in the world. Don’t mind a fine cigar? Then this is the region for you too.
The northern mountain region of Nicaragua; Matagalpa may be Nicaragua’s famed Coffee country, but it has so much more to offer than just a good brew.
What to do in Matagalpa
Matagalpa is an excellent base for those interested in coffee, cocoa and tobacco farms. It also offers great hiking, scenery and wildlife encounters. Set at an elevation of around 700 meters you can also enjoy a lovely temperate climate which locals refer to as “eternal spring”. A nice reprieve from the mostly tropical heat of the rest of the country.
Matagalpa Coffee Tours
The entire mountain region, including nearby Esteli, specialise in eco and agri-tourism, so this is the place to get back to nature and get a first-hand experience of local farming cooperatives.
We went to the La Carona community, around 25 km from Matagalpa for a hike and day tour through the local farming cooperatives.
La Corona Community comprises around 250 families, each with varying sized parcels of land. They have formed a farming cooperative to optimise the use of the land, seasons and selling power. The combined coffee plantations of the cooperative give them access to the Fair Trade markets that would be unattainable to them as individual farmers.
It is at the Finca el Gayabo farm we realise, we have been taking our humble morning coffee very much for granted.
How Coffee is Grown and Harvested
As we walk through the plantation, we consider some of the coffee facts being presented-
- A seed will take one month to germinate.
- The seedling will mature for another six months before being planted, under the advice of a specialist who is brought in to decide which of the seedlings will or won’t make the grade.
- It will be another three years until the first harvest which will only take place for three months commencing each November.
This is a massive investment of time and land for a short harvest period and one shot at a return on your efforts each year. Lose one crop to disease or drought, and it can be six years before you see an income!
Now let’s consider the logistics of all this. Workers must be brought in to complete the harvest. They come from all over the region so must be housed and fed on the plantation for the harvest season. As this is the coffee pickers one shot at a big income each year, they work as much as they are able throughout the three months, earning around $1.30 USD for every two baskets they pick.
This is a lot of picking to make a quid. Also, consider, the beginning of the season starts slowly as the coffee cherries are still ripening so pickings can be slim. In turn, the back end of the season slows down as well. This means, at the peak of the season, the more pickers and the smaller the window you have to make a buck (or Córdoba).
The cherries must then be processed to remove the first outer skin and graded into first, second and third-grade quality. All of this is done in a shed less than the size of the average one-car garage.
While these processes are not entirely organic, the cooperative, nor the average farmer cannot afford the risk required to meet the standard of the Rainforest Alliance. However, the processes ensure sustainable farming practices.
The cherries are then taken by truck to another plant where they will be rewashed and have the next skin removed to establish a final grade before being sold to the Fair Trade market.
The entire process is so arduous. And this is before we take into account politics, world economics and market fluctuations. Not to mention, these people, who labour so hard and invest so much risk, earn very little for the most important part of what is an enormous global industry.
Find out more about Matagalpa Coffee Tours.
While we meandered through this gorgeous plantation, we were not only enlightened as to the beginnings of our morning cup of coffee; we were also lucky to have a number of wildlife sightings, including the ever elusive sloth!
Agritourism in Matagalpa
Spend the afternoon hiking through the forests and farms of Matagalpa’s agricultural communities. Secondary farming initiatives have been put in place by the communities to ensure a year-round income. This includes everything from organic free-range chicken farming to fruits we have never heard of. Eggs are very expensive for the average Nicaraguan family, so free-range chickens provide a good income for the farmers.
Cacao Chocolate Tours
Cacao is one of the most important and second largest industries in Central America as a supplemental crop for coffee producers. This is apparent throughout all the farms we hiked through. Matagalpa produces some of the finest chocolate and cacao products in the world. This is real deal chocolate.
Find out more about Matagalpa Chocolate Tours.
Hike to Cascada Blanca
The Matagalpa region is a delight for those looking to immerse themselves in picturesque scenery and local experience. An easy hike through beautiful countryside and you find yourself at Cascada Blanca. A lovely way to end your day. You can even stay at the Eco-Lodge Cascada Blanca at the base of the waterfall should you want to stay for a day or two.
We had not expected to enjoy touring the hill country of Nicaragua as much as we did. While it is always interesting to take tours to learn about local production processes, Matagalpa’s coffee and agritourism were an entirely more engaging and personal experience.
Hiking Tours Around Matagalpa
Crossing the Natural Reserve Cerro Apante
If you haven’t had enough of this beautiful countryside in one day, back it up with a spectacular hike offering views from the heights of the nature reserve of Apante. Nearly 2,000 hectares offers an array of spots to enjoy the landscape of Matagalpa. Nature and wildlife lovers will love this hike.
Of easy to moderate grade, this hike of more than seven hours, gives you the opportunity to experience different types of forests, plantations and communities with gorgeous landscapes, starting at Matagalpa and finishing in the small town of San Ramón.
Find out more about Cerro Apante Hikes.
How to Get to Matagalpa
Tip: Don’t leave it until the last bus on a Friday afternoon to travel to Matagalpa. This is the worst chicken bus scenario one could imagine. Every single uni student from León heads home for the weekend and of course, they can ALL fit on the already overcrowded buses! So if you don’t want to spend 3 hours cramped in a kind of standing chicken position, aim for an earlier bus or another day of the week.
Here is a great guide of how to get to Matagalpa by public bus including travel times and costs.
Matagalpa is 130km from Managua, approx 2.5 hrs. 144km from Leon and 153km from Granada. Car Rental is available from all three cities, however, Managua Airport has the largest variety of companies. You can check car rental rates here.
There are also many day tours to Matagalpa from all main cities as well as Cigar Tours and Esteli Tours from Managua.
Hotels in Matagalpa
While we were in Matagalpa, we stayed in one of the best ‘Hostals’ of our entire trip through Nicaragua. La Buena Onda Hostal is a premier boutique hostel, which is more of a hotel than a hostel, offering both dorm and private rooms.
We had a very large, very comfortable double room with private bath and Hot Water! A real luxury in the regional areas of Nicaragua. With breakfast included, very friendly helpful staff and a central location, this is probably one of the best accommodation options for Matagalpa.
Cost: A private room costs around $30 USD so is good value.
You can search for more accommodation options for Matagalpa here.
Before you Go-Recommended Travel Gear for Matagalpa Nicaragua