Top 10 things to do in Managua
You’ve made it to Managua, the big city with heart of town and the place I call home.
I must admit, Managua is not the most beautiful city. If Managua was a girl, you wouldn’t fall in love at first sight, but she’ll end up stealing your heart.
Managua is a feeling, not just a place. To help you understand that I have made a list of what you must do to do to fully appreciate the Managua experience.
I take no responsibility if you never want to leave after you’ve experienced it for yourself.
So just how big is Managua? According to the stats, we are about 1.48 million souls. It seems like a large number until you go to a concert and realize that you know half of the people there, then it feels more like a one street village.
Let’s begin, shall we?
At 6 o’clock in the evening, god takes the fire away from Managua and gives the devil free reign (Managua Salsa City, Franz Galich)
1. Visit the old center (aka Malecón de Managua)
To start, you must understand one important fact about our city: Managua has no downtown area. We used to have one before the earthquake in 1972, which hit 6.2 on the Richter scale and redefined the city in two significant ways: first, it brought down the downtown area as it was known (it’s now called the old downtown); and it made Managuans a human seismograph. Anyone from Managua can tell the magnitude of an earthquake just by how it feels.
The scale is divided in four main categories:
- It’s not worth waking up.
-Holy sh*t did you feel that?
-Turn on Radio Ya (where people will call and say things like: I felt it, the dogs were barking to the ground like something was about to happen, cows were mooing, chickens were running around, it was a strong one, etc.)
-The last level. Extreme red alert has been declared, you are told by the authorities to sleep in the backyard, this is when you know things got serious and you start picturing your own version of Armageddon but you’re proud of the expensive lamp you bought for this special occasion. Maybe this time the power will even go out!
As the city spreads from Lago Xolotlán, or Lago de Managua, towards the town of Masaya, the commercial center formed at the beginning of Carretera a Masaya (Masaya Road). That’s where you’ll find banks, malls and major hotels. You might hear different opinions about where the actual center is because, truth be told, we don’t really know for sure where the center currently resides, but everybody knows exactly where the old center is. That’s Managua for you.
I chose to place the old center at the top of the list because there’s a lot to do in one place.
First, it’s located in front of Lake Xolotlán. You can visit the old cathedral of Santiago (only from the outside, as it is too dangerous to go inside) that still bears the damages of the earthquake. Interestingly, its clock stopped at precisely the time of the tremor. When you stand in front of the cathedral, you may not notice, but you are in the Plaza de la Revolución. This is where on July 19, 1979, the Sandinista troops and Nicaraguan people gathered to celebrate the overthrow of Somoza’s dictatorship after decades of fighting. Without a doubt, this is one of the most important milestones in Nicaragua’s history. To really understand who we are today, you need to know about the revolution.
Next to the plaza, is the Palacio Nacional, formerly the National Assembly, and now the Museum of National Culture. As you walk towards the lake you’ll find the Teatro Nacional Rubén Darío. There are always cultural events happening there, generally in the evening. Often, you need to buy your tickets in advance.
At the lake front, the old mixes with the new, as you enter Paseo Xolotlán (Xolotlán Stroll), inaugurated just last year. Families come here to relax and enjoy the lakeside view. Kids love the real airplane that appears to be randomly parked there. But hey, it’s one of the attractions. Right beside it is another oddity (get used to it – you’re in Managua), a mini-scale replica of Old Managua. I wasn’t even a sparkle in my parents’ eyes when the earthquake happened, so I didn’t know the old city, but after seeing this replica I can understand why the older generations talk about how great old Managua was. Imagine that the place where you grew up is gone, and this is the only place where you can remember what it was like. It is, indeed, a nostalgic spot for older generations.
Finally, you must go to Puerto Salvador Allende, where you’ll find a handful of lakeside restaurants and bars. There’s often live music playing and you can get the feel of the local nightlife here. You can also get your photo taken on a super-sized plastic horse, if that’s your thing.
Three boats anchored to the dock remind us that we’re at a port. You can take boat rides on the lake, although nobody knows the schedules – not even the people who work on the boats. The best information I’ve had is “two or three times a day, depending on how many people there are, but the only assured trip is at 5:00 p.m.”
Note: If you visiting in December, you are not hallucinating. Welcome to Managua, the land of Alice in wonderland.
2.The view from Tiscapa Hill
Enjoy the view from Loma de Tiscapa (Tiscapa Hill), named after the small volcanic lagoon below. Towards the lake you’ll see the Old Managua; to the south is the rising New Managua.
It’s a view that President Anastasio Somoza enjoyed from his home for many years, just the kind of view you would imagine a dictator would have. Not only will you be standing where Somoza lived, you’ll be just above his personal torture chambers, where high-value political prisoners where kept and tortured. Today, a prominent statue stands at the center of Loma de Tiscapa, a figure of resistance and nationalism Augusto Sandino. This is politically significant, as is the photo exhibit of that era you’ll find in the museum there, also named after Sandino.
3. Play at Parque Luis Alfonso Velázquez
Parque Luis Alfonso Velázquez is Managua’s biggest and most diverse park. It was recently renovated to include lots of opportunities for sport activities. It’s the perfect place to test your skills in football, baseball, basketball, volleyball and tennis. Or you can simply enjoy an ice cream and stroll through the park. Kids love this place because there are tons of things for them to do. I wish it existed when I was growing up. Entrance is free, although you’ll have to pay a small amount for parking if you get there by car. Rest assured that you’ll be safe here, too.
4. Go to the local Market
Music video shot at Huembes Market
To have the typical Managua market experience, I recommend Mercado Huembes. It’s safe, and you can shop for a variety of goods, from fresh produce, meats and prepared food, to local arts and crafts, shoes, clothing, small appliances and more.
If you want to live a full-on market adventure, immerse yourself in Mercado Oriental, the largest market in Central America, where you can find literally anything, from a new pair of fake Nike shoes to used pieces of the Titanic (seriously). Be forewarned that it can be dangerous, even for locals – it’s known to attract some of the best pick-pockets in the Americas. If you decide to go, be sure to go empty-handed, no cell phone or jewelry and with your money in your front pocket.
If you want to buy higher quality goods, go to one of the malls in Managua, like Metrocentro, Centro Comercial Managua, Galerias Santo Domingo, Multicentro Las Americas or go to one of the specific-brand stores in Managua.
5. Bacanalear (It´s Party Time)
Partying is in our blood, it’s the one thing we pride ourselves for being good at. The night life in Managua is the best in the country, followed by San Juan del Sur. There’s lots to do every day of the week. It’s difficult to cover all of the party options in one post, but I’ve narrowed them down to the most popular and those with the best local vibe.
This pyramid-shaped club is the definition of hard partying. Prepare yourself mentally for it. On average, the crowd ranges at about 2,000 people, encompassing all types of people – from A to Z. That’s what makes this place unique. The best nights to go are Thursday to Saturday. There’s an entrance fee of $5 to $10 depending on the party theme.
Don’t panic when you’re frisked at the door. It’s part of the procedure to keep Chamán safe for everyone. Inside there’s a huge dance floor area and a mix of loud reggaeton, salsa, merengue, cumbia, bachata, among other dance music. A big outdoor area provides a quieter ambience where you don’t have to fight the music to talk to people, and where you can drink until you feel like you can master your bachata moves on the dance floor.
The house of salsa dancing. Dancers from all levels, including pros, gather here for one thing, the love for salsa dancing in all of its diverse varieties (casino and linea). Bachata as well may be heard in this place. Whether you want to watch or try your best performance this is a place worth visiting. This place is good on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Note: You may have seen the Don Francisco show a couple of times, this is as close as it gets.
¯Luna, llena mi alma de cumbia, saca de mi la locura, llévame a la luz y a la paz¯
The craziest stories about El Caramanchel start with “We ended up going to El Caramanchel and…”. Not everybody is made for this place, but it is made for everybody. The only move you need to know to fit right in is the “sobaqueado” (arm swinging). If you are looking to have a great time; ready to touch and be touched, sweat, drink and dance, this is the place to be. The best nights to go are from Thursday to Saturdays.Now in a new location, in front of the old military hospital
La Casa del Obrero:
You are guaranteed to have a unique experience here. You won’t find your typical party crowd here nor your typical party hours. It all happens during the day with the average age of the clientele to be around 65 years old. Don’t worry, you can still get a drink and find some good dancing. La Casa de Obrero has been around for about twenty years, with Sunday bailongos organized by El Club Matancero.
You’ll find that older Managuans love to party, just like youngsters. They still have “it”, dancing to the old songs of La Sonora Matancera, to disco, mambo and cha-cha-cha. The place is full of happiness and you’ll hear nary a complaint about sore joints and other ailments. If you are ready to have fun with an older crowd and are into laughing until it hurts, this is the place for you.
6. Eat things you´ve never seen before
Warning: Eating all of this in the same day may lead to a weekend in the bathroom; the author is not responsible for the 10 pounds you will gain and the depression of not finding this food when you return home. For Nicaraguans living abroad, time to close your eyes.
Fritanga de Doña Tania
Let’s start by untangling the name. Fritanga comes from the word frito which means fried, as many of the components of your meal will be deep fried. These typical types of restaurants are spread in every corner of Nicaragua and every neighborhood has its signature spot. As Nicaraguans, we constantly search for the best fritanga in town.
Doña Tania’s is an all-time favorite local place specializing in fritanga. You won’t find a menu, and everybody seems to already know what they want. Your best solution is to choose your preference of grilled: chicken, pork or beef (pro tip: try the mixto, which includes pork and beef). Your choice can be accompanied with gallopinto (rice and beans), tajadas (fried green plantain chips) or maduro (fried ripe plantain), and fried cheese tidbits of the gods. If you can handle anything extra, add avocado. With each meal you receive a Nicaraguan coleslaw, pickled spiced onions and pico de gallo (really small diced tomato, onion and culantro). You can also find the best year-round mandarin juice you’ve ever had the pleasure to drink. If that’s not to your taste, try the cebada, which is good for the stomach.
Quesillos el Pipe
El Pipe is by far the best quesillo in town. It’s difficult to describe a quesillo and not crave one. First, you need to know that quesillo is, among other things, a type of cheese. It’s the Nica version of mozzarella. Quesillo is also the name of the dish. The ingredients are simple: a fresh hot handmade corn tortilla, a piece of quesillo, pickled onions and sour cream, all wrapped and served in a plastic bag. Eating quesillo can be pretty messy; you have to master the art of eating it without spilling anything on your clothes or on the table cloth. A quesillo can be a full meal or snack, depending on your appetite.
Nacatamales from ¨La Ventecita¨:
If you ever see a happy Nicaraguan on a sunday morning, it’s because they just ate a nacatamal. Like Managua itself, the nacatamal may not look great, but then we all know that looks aren’t everything. When you taste it, you experience a glorious moment. The-bring-you-back-from-death of all sunday nicaraguan hangovers.
Nacatamal is a mixture of corn dough with spices, veggies and pork wrapped in banana leaves. Making nacatamales is a tedious process, but it’s worth the time. Because it’s so complicated, not every Nicaraguan knows how to make it. But everyone knows how to open one and eat it.
Like the constant quest for the perfect fritanga, we will go to great lengths to find the best nacatamales in town. Nacatamales make for a heavy meal, so we call it brunch.
If you are a vegan, i think you may have realized you came to the wrong country. But don’t worry, we have plenty of fruits.
7. Go to a game
Baseball is Nicaragua’s most popular sport. You could say we’re passionate about it. Some of our players have managed to make their way into the major leagues. Denis Martinez, Vicente Padilla, Marvin Benard, Everth Cabrera and most recently Cheslor Cuthbert are big names in Nicaragua.
Watching a baseball game on television can be pretty boring, but there’s nothing like going to the stadium and watching a live game. It doesn’t even matter if you know anything about baseball, the ambiance is awesome. People buy beers by the bucket, and listen to live music, played by chicheros (the nica version of an orchestra). It is indeed a remarkable experience.
We are also great football (soccer) fans. We tend to be more current with international leagues than our own leagues. But this is changing. Everyday more people are supporting local teams. We’ve recently found a new love for our national team after we beat Jamaica. The streets went crazy that day, like never before. Although we lost the second game, the stadium sold out for first time in history. It’s definitely worthwhile to catch a football match while you’re in Managua, if you can.
8. Go to a Concert
Without a doubt music is one of the things to love about Managua, there is just too much stuff going on all the time. So get yourself ready, prepare your ears and try it, it will be fun. 100% money back no-guaranteed.-You may even end up asking yourself- “How have I lived without nicaraguan music all my life?” (True story) . Popular and not so popular bands playing in different bars, and stages that the city has to offer. You have it all, from traditional nicaraguan music, testimonial music, to ska, pop, rock, electronic , and cumbia. It’s hard to keep track of everything that’s happening on the cultural agenda. Most events are advertised on Facebook but you can also download the app infobot to be updated with the latest events in town.
9. Managua’s best kept secret
Welcome to the highlands of Managua, this place full of breath-taking views that once was a candidate for the role of “Kingdom of Narnia”,( the producers said it was supposed to be a fantasy not a reality) .What is there to do here? -Nothing, and everything at the very same time. A reminder of the beauty of the simplicity of life. Enjoying an evening picnic with your friends watching the sun go down, usually without any other humans around. Maybe that’s why we keep it secret, because we don’t want it to change. Today, I share it with you under one condition, that this place should never change.
10.Live in Managua
Give yourself a chance to experience the joy of Managua’s life, live here, that’s the only way you’ll understand.