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Penas Blancas Natural Area in Nicaragua | Tours & activities off the beaten path

Deep in the rainforest of Nicaragua lies the nature reserve Penas Blancas. With its beautiful rock formations, hiking trails, waterfalls and viewpoints, it is an ideal destination for travelers looking for an experience in untouched nature. We will take you with us during our visit to this beautiful area.

Back to basics

The Penas Blancas nature reserve felt like a reset to go all the way back to basics. Because you are so far away from civilization and have no access to electricity, internet and other distractions, you are actually forced to immerse yourself in nature.

It is a well hidden place that few tourists know about.

Hiking and discovering nature, Penas Blancas
Hiking and discovering nature, Penas Blancas

What do you do then? Mainly walking and discovering nature. If you go out with a guide (and that is really recommended for some hikes), you will learn everything about the plants and animals that can call this beautiful area their home. In addition, it is mainly the residents of Penas Blancas who make the experience unique because they talk about their way of life with passion.

Also read: Granada, Nicaragua | 5 tips for the best activities

Guide (left) explains the rock formations during one of our tours in Penas Blancas
Guide (left) explains the rock formations during one of our tours

How do you get to the Penas Blancas nature reserve?

The Penas Blancas nature reserve is best reached via the city of Matagalpa. From the main bus station, take the bus to Las Praderas, via Rio Blanco. It is advisable to tell the bus driver exactly where you want to go, so that he can warn you when you have reached your destination. The journey, in a kind of van, takes about 3,5 hours and goes through beautiful landscapes.

It is always exciting to travel to places that are hardly visited by tourists, you never know exactly where you will end up. Fortunately our bus journey went well and we were dropped off on a road close to Penas Blancas. From here we walked for 10 minutes on a sandy path that led us to the village. (As far as you can call a number of huts a village haha.)

Accommodation Eco Albergue
Accommodation Eco-Albergue Guardianes del Bosque

Where to stay in Penas Blancas?

In terms of accommodation you have little choice in Penas Blancas, we stayed in Eco-Albergue Guardianes del Bosque ourselves. This property is run by 40 members of the Guardianes del Bosque cooperative, or the local community.

The overnight stay does not cost a thing, for about 7 euros you already have a room. And by room I mean a kind of wooden box that fits exactly one double bed. Also, don't expect hot water, a decent toilet or a kitchen equipped with hotplates.

It's all the old fashioned way here, and that's quite an experience in itself. For example, together with our guide Henry, we made beans with rice in a traditional way in which the beans were cooked over the fire for 2,5 (!!) hours. Would you like to get in touch with Henry? Send him, in your best Spanish, a message on facebook.

Things to do in Penas Blancas

1. Tour a la cima

This tour of approximately 5 hours takes you to the top of the rock formations, offering spectacular views of the surrounding area of ​​the Penas Blancas Natural Area. You must do the hike together with a guide, otherwise you are guaranteed to get lost. In addition, the hike is quite tough, where you sometimes walk up steep steps, so it is nice to have someone with you who knows the route well. In addition to the view of the area, there is also a point where you look out over a gigantic waterfall, which is very cool to see from the top.

For this tour you pay about 6 euros per person.

View over Penas Blancas from the rock formation | Tour a la cima
View over Penas Blancas from the rock formation | Tour a la cima

2. Tour the campsite en el bosque birgen

Do you want to go for the extreme version of the La Cima tour? Then you can also do a two-day hike with a guide where you spend the night on the rock formation. This tour costs about 25 euros per person and includes overnight stay, dinner and breakfast.

3. Tour a la Casada

A gentle walk of about 45 minutes there and 45 minutes back takes you to the waterfalls in the rainforest. The trails are clearly marked here and with a map you can make this walk yourself. If you prefer to go with a guide, that is also possible for 7 euros per person.

A waterfall from the rainforest during the waterfall hike | Tour a la Casada, Penas Blancas
A waterfall from the rainforest during the waterfall hike | Tour a la Casada

4. Tour the Plantas Medicinales

This is a short tour of 1,5 hours where you learn about all the medicinal plants in the area, you pay about 5 euros per person.

5. Tour de Aves

Do you like bird watching? Then you are in the right place in Penas Blancas. During this tour you will go in search of the local birds with a guide. There are a number of species identified in Penas Blancas including hummingbirds, tanagers, parakeets and warblers. A rare bird species that also occurs here is the beautiful quetzal, which breeds mainly in cloud forests. For the bird watching tour you pay 4 euros per person.

6. Tour de Cafe and las fincas

In Penas Blancas, besides bananas, mainly coffee is grown. During the coffee tour you will visit the coffee plantations and learn about the processing of the coffee bean. This tour costs 5 euros per person.

Coffee penas blancas
Coffee beans are dried outside

What animals do you encounter in Penas Blancas?

Penas Blancas is home to many different animal species, including 4 different monkey species, jaguars, pumas, tapirs and pacas. Not to mention a lot of insects and birds. But the most special experience was with my favorite animal: the sloth. The beauty of a sloth is that if you spot it you can admire it for a long time because it is so slow (sloths don't move faster than 30 inches per minute.)

It's not easy to spot these brown hairy critters in the trees, but luckily our guide had an eye for them. And so I was able to watch this special mammal for at least 15 minutes.

Did you know that sloths mainly spend their lives hanging in trees? Also a fun fact: They only crawl down once a week to pass their stools. Sloths are not only to be spotted in the Penas Blancas nature reserve, but throughout Latin America.

Sloth Penas Blancas
Do you see the sloth hanging?

Food: how and what?

As indicated earlier, Penas Blancas is in the middle of nowhere, so prepare yourself well for your visit. Besides the fact that you of course take your backpack with standard items, it is useful to stock up enough food, because there are no supermarkets in the area. 

In particular, bring food that does not need to be prepared as you will probably not make much use of the public kitchen where you will have to light a fire first. In addition, to my knowledge, there is no refrigerator where you can store your food. It is therefore not a good idea to bring fresh meat or fish.

Perhaps you can already do some meal prep in your hostel in Matagalpa: make a huge portion of a pasta or rice dish and take it with you: this way you have dinner for a day or two. In addition, it is useful to bring a lot of bread, something like a jar of peanut butter and some canned food such as corn and tuna. Oh and don't forget the energy bars and fresh fruit.

Tip! In terms of things to bring: make sure you have good walking shoes and a rain poncho with you when you visit Penas Blancas.

Penas Blancas Plantation
Coffee and banana plantation

Are you going to Penas Blancas?

There is plenty to do during your visit to the Penas Blancas nature reserve. We spent 3 days here ourselves, which was more than enough time for us. Although we could have stayed here longer in terms of environment, it was a bit of a struggle in terms of facilities. So keep this in mind when you visit Penas Blancas, so that you are not faced with surprises.

Despite that it was the most special place during our backpack trip through Nicaragua, you get to know the country in a completely different way. Would you like to visit Penas Blancas? We are curious!

Also read: Must do: Volcano boarding in Nicaragua

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Lieke Thijssen

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