Recommend Jan 2018 - 13

bands and poets reading commemorative
verses to appreciative crowds, honoring
the students who led the rebellion against
the repressive Somoza dictatorship in
the 1970s.
Leon's most essential historic site is its
grandest architectural monument, Catedral
de la Asuncion on the main square; it took
100 years to build Central America's
largest house of worship, whose interior is
crowded with colonial religious art, as well
as the tombs of famous citizens, including
native son Ruben Dario, the Nicaraguan
Shakespeare. The essential cultural
site is the Ortiz-Gurdian Foundation
Art Center, spread through two huge
mansions that house an extraordinary
and eclectic collection of contemporary
Latin American artists, including Rivera,
Tamayo, Botero, Matta, and more, liberally
sprinkled with works from Picasso to
Warhol. Also on the list of best-in-town is
the historic 32-room Hotel el Convento,
actually reconstructed from the ruins of a
convent and built around a magnificent
flowering and fountained courtyard (rates
range from $95 to $210).
While Brazil has the Amazon, Nicaragua
has the San Juan River, flowing eastward
from Lake Nicaragua-a.k.a. Lago
Cocibolca-to the Caribbean Sea. From
start to finish, the 120-mile journey will
take the most adventurous of travelers
through the virgin rainforests of the
1,700-sq.-mile Indio Maiz Biological
Reserve, habitat for spider monkeys,
jaguars, anteaters, crocodiles and a rainbow
of birds, flowers and butterflies. We did
only a slice of the river, but a wonderful
one it was. Our boat departed from the
town of San Carlos on Lake Nicaragua,
and followed the waterway for 43 miles
to El Castillo, a tranquil, quirky, frankly
adorable, riverside village, whose colorful,
red-tin-roof wooden houses-many on
stilts-border narrow lanes where vehicle
traffic is limited to vendors pushing
wheelbarrows full of fresh produce and
household essentials. High above town sit

the original stone remains of El Castillo,
the most massive of the forts the Spanish
built along the San Juan River in the 17th
century to fend off both pirates and the
British navy. The fort, with its 32 cannons
trained on the river, finally fell in 1779 to
Horatio Nelson, who attacked from the
jungle behind.
Most people come to see the fort,
but the village makes a longer stay
worthwhile, especially for guests checked
into Hotel Luna del Rio, a delightful
little ecolodge, built of wood and managed
by the owners, marvelous Marga and
husband Miguel. There are five delightful
rooms with big beds-two with balconies
set with comfy chairs and all with river
views-and oh so smartly appointed with
locally made furnishings, private
bathrooms and air conditioning.

An excellent breakfast is part of the
package, and served on the verandah at
the water's edge with vistas of swooping
birds and villagers out fishing. Marga
organizes guest activities: guided jungle
walks, canoe trips, kayaking and fishing
expeditions with Miguel for some of the
world's largest tarpon, some tipping the
scales at 400 pounds (rates are $40/$70
sgl/dbl with breakfast; best booked
through a tour operator).
Contact Information

Careli Tours: carelitours.com
Hotel el Convento: elconventonicaragua.com

Opposite page: Poolside at
Hotel el Convento in Leon.
Right: El Castillo on Rio del Sur.
Below: Guestroom at Hotel Luna
del Rio.

january 2018 13


http://www.carelitours.com http://www.elconventonicaragua.com

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