With its temperate climate, it is a good base for mountain hiking, tours of coffee farms, visits to indigenous villages, or bird watching in the area.
Matagalpa is a city of 150,000 inhabitants which was founded in pre-Columbian times. It is the capital of the province of Matagalpa which is located in the highlands that constitute the watershed division of the Caribbean and the Pacific.
The Spanish Conquistadores came to the area in 1528. They called the city Frontier of the Jungle because it divided the historical Mosquito Kingdom and the Colonial Spanish towns. Many European families that came to the Americas during the California Gold Rush settled here when gold was discovered in the area in 1840; their cultural influence can still be felt throughout the city. Around that time, German immigrants planted the first coffee trees and laid the foundation for the coffee production in the area. Still one of the most important industries, the area is also famous for its cattle, flowers, vegetables, milk products, and as a center of ecotourism. The province of Matagalpa has 12 protected forest areas, a great variety of orchids, and many kinds of wildlife including mountain lions, deer, howler monkeys, quetzal and toucan birds, sloths, ocelots, and wild pigs.
Life in Matagalpa is more like in the old days than in more built-up cities like Managua, with ox carts, cowboys, and loaded mules on the streets.
Many residents of Matapalpa speak English, but of course some knowledge of Spanish is very useful.
The city of Matagalpa is 2 hours from Managua International Airport; you can get there in 2½ hours by public bus or car.
Once outside the airport, take Carretera Norte going north. You will be crossing little villages like: Tipitapa, San Benito (this is the intersection of roads either going to Matagalpa or going to Bluefields), Ciudad Darío (km 86, birthplace of the founder of modernismo Rubén Darío), Sebaco ("Serpent Woman" in Indian language, km 102,) until you finally get to Matagalpa (km 127). Once in Matagalpa you can look for local hotels, or mountain lodging. Within 11 km (7 miles) on the road to Jinotega, there is a mountain resort.
From León: buses leave in the morning (the last one at 7:30AM) and one in the afternoon (3:00PM) from the terminal in León for C$76.
Matagalpa offers a variety of historic buildings and sights.
- The Cathedral - the major building of the city, it was built by the Jesuit fathers starting in 1874, and finished in 1895.
- San José - started in 1750, formerly called San Felipe.
- Molaguina - 1800s, formerly Dolores Church.
- Santa Ana - the colonial church disappeared in 1850s, but you can see its old foundations just across the "Escuela de Parvulos".
- the old brick and adobe walls of the Jesuit Fathers Convent (now Cancha del Bridadista)
- Museo del Cafe (Coffee Museum)
- Carlos Fonseca (founder of the Sandinista Front) Birthplace Museum
- The old house of fomer President Bartolome Martinez (1870–1936, president 1923-24)
- The house of the Comunidad Indigena.
- In the Bishop's Palace (Calle de los Bancos), there is a small Chapel called "El Ateneo", there is a big 5x10 feet famous oil painting named Sagrada Familia. It is believed to have been painted by Bartolomeo Murillo, a classical Spanish painter of the 1640s. It shows the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint Ignatius Loyola and Saint Louis Gonzaga. If it is indeed Murillo's, it must be an invaluable painting. According to a legend, in 1881, the Jesuit fathers, before they were expelled by the government, gave it "in deposit" (to take care) to the local family Baldizon. "El Lienzo" (the canvas) is still is in Matagalpa because members of that family have not allowed it to be sold or transferred to other place.
- William Richardson, grandfather of Bill Richardson, a past Governor of New Mexico. William, Sr. game to Matagalpa during the 19th century. He is buried in the well-known "Matagalpa Foreign Cemetery" a few blocks south.
- Castillo de Cacao (just outside of the city limits). This tiny chocolate factory manufactures high quality chocolate, and if you call ahead, you can arrange a free factory tour.
Matagalpa has two public libraries, the Municipal and Vicente Vita. The last one in located in the main street (Calle de los Bancos), is very comfortable, has many computers & free Internet access.
There are trails to viewpoints on top of "El Calvario" and "Apante".
- El Roble trail: This steep trail (1.6 km one way, 1.0 mi) takes you from a ranger station to an outlook with views of Matagalpa. The clearly marked trail takes you through the forest where you are likely to see some colourful birds. It crosses a river a few times and passes by a waterfall. Arriving at the outlook you can turn right and follow the road to the top of Cerro Apante. From there you can go back the same way you came or follow the road further to get back to Matagalpa. To get to the trailhead, follow Calle Central (the street starting at Parque Central) south until you leave the city and a few hundred meters further. The ranger station is closed on Mondays but a guide is not necessary on this trail.
- El Calvario trail: There is no specific trail to it. The most common one is going through the neighborhoods on the hill side which isn't much recommendable due to crime. The safest option is to take a taxi in Morazan Park. On the top there is a tower, gazebos, swings and slides.
- Matagalpa is known for its Indian community, they are based mostly in El Chile, 18 km from the city, on the way to the town of San Ramon. They make their own cotton fabric and leather articles for sale. In Matagalpa you can also find these articles, and black ceramic unique in this region. Locally you can buy black ceramic, cowboy boots, guitars and violins locally made.
- Close to the Cathedral there is an oil painting workshop where you can buy oil paintings with local motives like:nice coffee farms, ranches, oxen carts, carrying mules, campesinos, and mountain scenery, for reasonable prices.
- You can buy local fruits like bananas, pijibay, jocotes, oranges grapefruit, nisperos, mamey, etc.
Walk around the town and take nice photographs of oxen carts, cowboys, loaded mules, women wearing their chals (rebozo), men with hats, guitar and violin (Polkas and Mazurcas). Pay them a tip to play you music.
Try the guirila. It's a thick tortilla made from young corn (which gives it a sweeter taste than normal tortillas) that resembles a Colombian corn arepa. Excellent with a fresh, salty cheese called cuajada.
While in Matagalpa you can eat traditional Indian cuisine, like:
- "Nacatamal", it is a banana leave wrap upfilled with boiled Indian corn dough, a piece of meat(pork o chicken),flavoured with olives, raisin, tomatoes, onions and chili.
- "Guirila", Indian word for tortillas made of very fresh little corn smashed, they are very tasty and aromatic.
- Carne Asada or BarBQued beef or pork meat with roasted corn tortillas
- "Platanitos con frijoles molidos", this is fried banana slices with smashed fried red beans. You should add chili to it for they are very tasty.
- "Chrurrasco con chimichurri". They serve a big piece of tender BarBqued beef fillet, plus spice vegetable cream, white rice and salads. Accompanied with bread loafs or corn tortillas.
- "Pescado a la Tititapa". Favorite of the Gods. Recently fished and fried Guapote (Snapper type fish), bathed on whole tomato slices and onions, served with rice and corn tortillas.
You can have a fresh roasted Matagalpa coffee cup cooked in a French brewer, in places like Selva Negra Mountain Resort, and Cecocafen.
Matagalpa is also called "Capital of Coffee", coffee growing was brought to Matagalpa by a woman, she was from the Black Forest in Germany, her name was Katharina Braun Elster, she was traveling in 1852 with her husband Ludwig Elster and two-year-old child (Wilhelm) from New York to San Francisco, but they changed plans and came to this mountainous Matagalpa country and bought a little farm (La Lima) from the Indians, she planted the first coffee seads in this region, once harvested their coffee came to be of the country the best quality, they exported it in oxen carts to Granada and from there in boats to Greytown port in the Carbbean,and from there to Germany. Very soon many people followed their steps, and after 150 years "Matagalpa Washed Coffee" has become known worldwide, thanks to a brave and intelligent woman.
If you go to Pariso or Tequila, you must take a taxi number or car from downtown.
Pariso C$40 entrance fee
Matagalpa offers a great variety of lodging. From dorms starting at US$8 to more comfortable private rooms starting at US$15.
- La Buena Onda, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Hostel with spacious common areas, a nice balcony, and huge lockers in the dorms. Free coffee and water but no public kitchen. Dorm US$9, Breakfast US$3.
- Hotel Rosalina, esquina opuesta de donde era el royal bar, e-mail: email@example.com. Attentive staff.
- Hostel Martina's Place, cancha del Brigadista, 1½ cuadra al Este. 3 cuadras from cathedral (very central place), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: 10AM. All showers with hot water, free wifi, attentive staff. Free coffee, pure water. Big garden with kitchen free for customers and barbecue. dorm US$8, private room; US$15/person, including breakfast.
In the outskirts of the city you will find Campestre Barcelona (behind Prolacsa), La Sombra (Carretera a La Dalia), and Selva Negra Mountain Resort (km 140 on the Matagalpa-Jinotega road), and other smaller ones. Breakfast generally is not included at these places.
- San Ramon (15 minutes by car): see the old adobe church, on weekends you can see the campesinos playing polkas y mazurcas local music. Visit the tomb in the local Cemetery where Katharina Braun Elster is buried (she was the first person who planted coffee in Central and Northern Nicaragua.) A few miles in the same direction is the Indian Community of El Chile where Indians make their own fabric in an old "rueca" (spinning wheel).
- If you take the highway to Jinotega, you will see the "most panoramic road" of Nicaragua, altitude of more that 1500 m (5000 feet), you can see the horizon as far as the Momotombo Volcano, temperatures ranges here from 13-21°C (55-70°F), you will find mountain hotels where you can practice horseback riding, mountain hiking, bird watching, coffee and farm tours. Keep going, buy local fruits (strawberries, oranges, grapefruits, bananas). In 35 minutes you will get to the city of Jinotega, where you can eat, and buy local "pupusas" (local pastry).
- On the road back to Managua, you will see dozens of coffee processing facilities, where the coffee green beans are dried, dehusked and packaged ready for export. From here they take coffee to the ocean ports and then to overseas markets.