¡Viva Nicaragua!

Cycling and Skiing Among the Volcanoes

Apr 16, 2004
Outside Magazine

A San Juan surfer


Hotel Colonial Grenada


Grenada's La Merced Church

Cycling and Skiing Among the Volcanoes

GEDEON TYPIFIES THE NEW CROP of outfitters that are setting up shop in Nicaragua. He migrated here from Costa Rica, where he had gone in 1996 hoping to carve a niche in ecotourism. "I was too late," he says. "It was all developed."

While visiting Nicaragua in late 1999, however, he found a fledgling tourism industry that had almost no sense of the country's adventure-sport potential. Gedeon relocated, launching conventional tours and spending his spare time scouting the Cordillera Los Maribios, a range that parallels the Pacific from the country's northwesternmost point down to the shores of Lago Xolotlan. After inaugurating Cerro Negro skiing, he worked out a mountain-bike route with help from a French expat volcanologist who has studied the Maribios for 30 years.

In 2002, Gedeon imported 30 French riders to participate in the first La Ruta des Volcáns, an eight-day jaunt that took them over six volcanoes on more than 100 miles of back roads and singletrack, with an optional ski run on Cerro Negro. They experienced everything from baking, barren lava fields to cool, tree-shrouded lanes that could have been plucked from the Tuscan countryside. At the end of each day, Gedeon took his weary mountain bikers to an overnight spot: a coffee plantation, a private beach, the capital city of Managua, or the colonial city of León, a former capital moved to its present site (20 miles west of Cerro Negro) in 1610 after the original was wiped out by a volcano.

After pedaling, skiing, or hiking on a day outing with Gedeon's Nicaragua Adventures—or replicating the whole La Ruta des Volcáns—the best way to rest tired muscles (and skinned elbows) is to take an outside table at El Sesteo, across from León's magnificent cathedral, constructed in 1747 and the largest in Central America. Order a Nica highball: a shot of 12-year-old Flor de Cana rum, a splash each of cola and soda water, and a squeeze of lime.

Gedeon and I ended our ski day there, and I asked him if a multi-day hike along the Ruta would be possible. He thought for a moment. "The problem is water, of course, but that could be cached. Yes, of course! It would be fantastic. That's the great thing about Nicaragua right now. It's all possible. You just have to imagine it."
SEASON: July to August, November to April.
OUTFITTER: Managua-based Nicaragua Adventures (011-505-276-1125, www.nica-adventures.com) leads custom mountain-biking, hiking, or skiing day trips. The eight-day La Ruta des Volcáns costs about $900, including lodging, food, and transportation. Gedeon supplies skis and boots for Cerro Negro; cyclists should bring their own supplies, including tools and tubes.
WHERE TO STAY: Hotel El Convento in León (doubles, $87, including breakfast; 011-505-311-7053, www.hotelelconvento.com.ni) is a beautifully restored 300-year-old convent with gardens, colonial antiques, and monastic rooms.
WHERE TO EAT: León's best eatery is Taquezal, across from the theater, serving typical Nica dishes such as the strange-sounding but delicious cabbage-and-pork salad.