The tour books say there is not much to see in Managua, Nicaragua. This sounds like an invitation. I like to look for what’s beneath the surface, whether the surface is sublime or funky. There are always secrets and special somethings everywhere you go, right?
And you start at the beginning so, on my first morning in the city, I set out to see the two things you are supposed to see in Managua. The first was the Puerto Salvador Allende, a restored commercial area designed for walking and eating and enjoying beautiful Lake Managua. I could get lunch with a view of the lake and check out Nicaraguan handcrafts.
I’d hadn’t found much background on Nicaragua in the usual places but I assumed that it is no accident that this recent public project is named after Salvador Allende, the democratically-elected Chilean socialist leader taken out by the CIA in 1973. Good assumption. Revolution is a theme in Managua’s public places. Maybe you know that the US backed the brutal Samoza dictatorship in the 20th century, which was eventually ousted by a popular uprising. The US military then spent $1 billion supporting the right-wing “Contras” as US taxpayers were having their social safety nets dismantled. Contras (Ronald Reagan and the CIA) vs Sandinistas (Nicaraguan people and national sovereignty). Over the past 35 years, the right and the left have been in power at different times, but the Sandanistas have been in power since 2007.
Getting back to my trip to the Puerto dot dot dot I waved down the first cab that stopped outside my hotel. The driver said the fare across town was 80 cordobas, less than $3. As I climbed in, I was excited about how easy it would be to “overtip” but unable to find any evidence of an operational seat belt. Fearing the rickety car door might swing open at any time, I moved to the middle of the back seat.
I wasn’t expecting much one way or another on that ride but it was depressing. Garbage in various stages of decay lining the sidewalks, block after block of corporate fast food joints and nondescript buildings on the verge of collapse next to strip malls. A bony horse on the roadside picked bits of brown weeds out of the dust. The taxi driver had eaten an orange a week before and left the peels on the dashboard.
After about 15 minutes, the taxi stopped at someone’s (I read it was the Vice President’s) idea of public art, featuring very tall fake trees and other tall metal things. The driver pointed to a small wooden kiosk where I paid about $.30 to get into the Puerto, a ticket pricing strategy that I assumed was designed to keep poor people out. But they aren’t missing much. A quarter mile of casual restaurants with palm frond roofs, a children’s playground and a walkway to nowhere. Not many trees and none of them located strategically if you are trying to stay out of the intense sun.
Maybe the Puerto is so much more fun after work hours when the sweethearts and families are there, but I’d had enough after about 5 minutes. I headed back toward the kiosk and turned left out the gate toward the other thing you are supposed to see in Managua: the Plaza de la Revolucion, home to the old cathedral and the national palace.
Ugh. Gutted Cathedral. Lonely Christmas tree in empty plaza. Blaring pop music from a teenager’s car in the parking lot. Hace mucho calor!
Is there a museum somewhere? Public art? Good food? Where is everyone? I was too hot for secrets or surprise somethings. I settled myself in the middle of the back seat of another taxi, satisfied to be leaving the city the next morning.
When I got back to my hotel room, I did a little research. And there is some good news about Managua. In the past ten years, the Sandinistas have apparently done a pretty good job of putting their socialist principles to work. Nicaragua has more equality and less poverty. Literacy has improved dramatically and violent crime is way down. The country has an aggressive program to install alternative energy and is working on improving women’s rights. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-kovalik/sandinista-revolution_b_1265367.html.
So maybe Managua is not all that great for tourists but there are a lot of people here who probably think it’s a lot better for them than it used to be. But, as always, it’s complicated. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/24/nicaragua-dictatorship-sandinista-ortega-murillo
Best to leave Managua quickly! We love Leon, Grenada, Maragalpa, and San Juan del Sur. Check out La Selva Negra in Matagalpa – very self-sufficient finca. We lived in Nicaragua in 1980 – went back in 2008 – time to go again! Hasta luego, amiga!
On my way to Granada! Hope to see you when I am back in town!
Suggested retitle of this episode of your blog-
¡Aquí Hace Más Calor Que El Infierno!
It’s cool and moist here in NorCal!
You know what’s funny about that — this is the COOL season in Managua!
I understand you did not enjoy your time in Managua, but i want to tell you something, to help you undesrstand why, this city used yo be a growing beautiful town, full of street life, densely populated, nice people walking on the streets, even if there was the Somoza dictatorship, people were living a relative good life, until 23 december 1972, when an extremely superficial earthquake destroy 92% of the city, over 10,000people died…in a city of 300,000 habitants, that was the worst tragedy in Nicaragua’s modern history, then the Somoza’s government confiscated most of the city’s Center pushing people to relocate in sparsely populated emergency communities surrounding the old Center, then the Sandinista revolution end with Somoza, but the propertys in the city center were still goverment’s. The civil war in the 80’s got things worst, with a miserable economy, uncapable to rebuilt a decent city, was until 1990, when UNO, (Union nacional opositora) started to re-built the country’s economy and society, with constant growing levels, but the damage in Managua is done, we have now a low density city with no downtown, thats why you’ll never find people in Plaza de La revolucion, or in Puerto Salvador Allende if its not late, saturdays or sundays, but hey, Managua is now slowly improving its infrastructure, there is a Plan, called “Plan Maestro de Reordenamiento de Managua” thanks to Japanese collaboration, in which if everything goes right, we will have a beautiful organized city by 2040
I am so grateful you took the time to explain this. The US is of course partly to blame for the problems in Nicaragua and seems to have assumed no responsibility for the problems it left behind. Although Managua was not my favorite city, the people I encountered were friendly and helpful. And I did love my time in Nicaragua overall. I hope to return. Thank you and viva Managua! Kim
You will be always welcome in Nicaragua, maybe if you come back to Managua someday, give it a new chance, if you arrive in a day that is not weekend, stay away from the old center and go to the Acahualinca Museum, you may found footprints in mud ancient natives leave 10,000 years ago, you can also go on a Canopy over Laguna de Tiscapa, a crateric lagoon in between the old and the new city, or try live a day of an average Managua, go to the Mercado Roberto Huembes, try a good Vigorón or one of their famous soups, walk into the “Sector de las artesanías” and look at the awesome traditional handicrafts that came from different cities and villages of Nicaragua, when the night falls, you can experience go to the Puerto Salvador Allende, to have fun on a disco or a dinner in a restaurant, later, go on a small crusie “La Novia del Xolotlán” in the lake Managua, see the lights of the city, and if you come in the weekend, in the afternoon you can see cultural and tradicional dances in front of the National palace (when there is not suffocating sun anymore) or check the Ruben Darío National Theater schedule and enjoy a perfomance in one of the best latin america’s Theaters, there’s interest things to do in Managua, that the tourist articles don’t mention
Thank you Oscar!