Trail Running in Nicaragua

[Below is the third article in a series that profiles trail running in various countries around the world. We’ve recruited local experts for each of the articles. Please get in touch if you are interested in helping develop a profile for your country.]

Trail Running in Nicaragua
by Josue Stephens, race director of Ultramaraton Fuego y Agua
While its southern neighbor Costa Rica is exploding in the world of adventure and trail running events, the biodiversity hotspot of Nicaragua remains relatively unknown in adventure travel circles. Although the largest country in Central America, Nicaragua has a population of only 6 million, with over one quarter its population residing in the capital city of Managua.

Visiting Nicaragua
Nicaragua is about the size of Greece or New York state with terrain comparable to Hawaii. The country is dotted with volcanoes, lakes, cloud forests, lowland tropics, mountainous jungles, and gorgeous beaches. The surfing is spectacular and a small, steady stream of surfers is beginning to escape crowded Costa Rican beaches for the peaceful friendly atmosphere Nicaragua offers. Because of the revolution in the 70’s & 80’s, some people are still apprehensive about visiting this beautiful country. However, I have found Nicaragua to be the safest and friendliest country from Mexico to Panama.

Ultramaraton Fuego y Agua 50k finish

The finish of the Ultramaraton Fuego y Agua 50k. Photo by John Frierson.

Running in Nicaragua
Running is almost an unknown concept here, especially on trails. Most locals smile and wave as you run by, but some will stop you and ask why you are running and then insist on giving you a ride. Trails and dirt roads are everywhere, and some areas have almost no paved roads. The diverse terrain will have you running on white sand beaches, trotting past oxcarts on dirt roads, and then climbing rugged trails deep into secluded jungle. Be prepared on mountain trails – Nicaraguans do not believe in switchbacks and their trails go straight up. Some of the trails on the volcanoes are used by guides taking tourists on daily trips. On the volcanoes, it is recommended you take a guide up the first time to learn the trail before running it solo. Not only does it support the local economy, but it establishes knowledge and trust.

Ultramaraton Fuego y Agua - Jungle Gym

This section of the Ultramaraton Fuego y Agua course is aptly named The Jungle Gym. (Look for the blue ribbon that marks the course.) Photo by John Frierson.

Racing in Nicaragua
There are not many running events in Nicaragua, the Peace Corps will hold an occasional marathon or half marathon and a Q50 ultramarathon was held 2007 and 2008 in the northern coffee growing region of Matagalpa. Also, in 2008 a couple from the USA started the Agua for Nicaragua 640km run across the entire country. I am the race director for Ultramaraton Fuego y Agua on Isla de Ometepe, a 25k, 50k and 100k event held in December. We work in humanitarian causes on the island and also direct the Calzado 5k, a race and shoe drive for local children. The response to running on Isla de Ometepe has been spectacular. Several naturally talented locals ran in the 50k and 25k, taking the winning spots in both events. Over 300 island children participated in the Calzado 5k, and I hear they are all training for this coming year.

Calzado de Omtepe 5k

Barefoot running is reality, not a movement for some of the kids in the Calzado de Omtepe 5k. Photo by John Frierson.

Tips for Visiting Nicaragua
For those planning on visiting Nicaragua, I suggest you visit information on travel such as hotels and transportation. There are also several tour guide companies that can put packages together for you. You can also visit and contact us directly for more information on trail running in Nicaragua. It is hot and humid, but the cloud forest trails can be chilly and muddy, so dress accordingly. If you require any electrolytes or gels, I suggest you bring your own. Otherwise, you can always buy rehydrating salts at the local farmacia.

The Conception volcano on Ometepe Island rises in the distance, as seen from the Mombacho volcano on mainland Nicaragua. Photo by John Frierson.

Anyone who has run in Nicaragua, either as a local or as a visitor, please share your thoughts on trail running there.

Likewise, if you’re considering taking a Nicaraguan trip that involves trail running, ask away. Hopefully, someone will be able to answer your questions.

[For more great photos of Nicaragua, check out John Frierson’s photo galleries.]

There are 14 comments

  1. Gary Robbins

    I had the absolute pleasure of hiking most the trails utilized in Ultramaraton Fuego y Agua back in 2003. I spent a full year in Central America and my time in Nicaragua was among the absolute highlights of the entire trip!

    The terrain this race covers is 'challenging' to say the least, and when coupled with the heat and humidity it would make a formidable opponent to even the most seasoned ultra runner.

    If my memory serves me right, I don't think it would be a stretch to say that this 100k race would rank right up there with the 100k version of HURT Hawaii in terms of overall difficulty. In fact I'd wager to say there are a great number of similarities between these two events. Huge climbs, technical trails, possibly high heat and humidity, mud, roots, rocks, which of course in the end just boils down to a hell of a lot of FUN!!

    Either way I've always wanted to return and this race is most certainly on my 'to do' list. Hopefully within the not so distant future! Best of luck to the Race Directors with making this a successful destination race!


    1. Bryon Powell

      Gary, As tough as HURT? Wow! If that's the case, the ought to be many more ultrarunners seeking out this challenge! Maybe I'll work an aid station with a nice cold bottle of Central American lager in hand. ;-)

      Sounds like a great year in Central America. I'd love to hear more about it next time we're in the same place.

    1. Bryon Powell


      I'd love to visit Vancouver and explore the trail with you. I've never been to your area at all. Heck, I've barely spent a week combined in the Pacific Northwest and that's been limited to short trips to Portland, Seattle, and Orcas Island. For now, I'll try to import one of your Vancouver neighbors for a snowshoeing trip.

  2. liz

    I will be heading to Nicaragua at the end of April and will be based in Leon. I'd love to hear of runners in the area, trails, or any running groups in Nicaragua!

  3. george

    Visited Ometepe in 2007 with my son in 2007 and we loved it. The land and the people were amazing. Had a local guide take us to summit of volcan concepcion on what was one of the greatest adventures of my life. I'd like to return to run on the island. Please keep me posted. Jorge d' Alabama

  4. John Trujillo

    This is an email from my sister who is a Sister of Notre Dame in Nicaragua. Hope they can get some support for this race.

    Dear Family and Friends:

    Familias Especiales is celebrating 15 years! We are excited and have been working all year on plans for the next 15 years. To celebrate we decided to focus on one activity and starting a new tradition: a race , in the downtown area of Matagalpa promoting life and dignity: "Running with Familias Especiales for Life". The 5 kilometer race will start at the Park Of Stars with a festival, on Nov. 12, 2011. The goal is 150 runners in five categories including wheel chair of course, and teams. We would like to earn upwards of $5,000.00, as well as the expenses associated with a race. There are many volunteers,a core of athletes who will serve as judges and the Scouts, the Fire Fighters, the Red Cross and the Police all coordinating for the first race of its kind here in Matagalpa Nicaragua.

    I am writing to ask you to sponsor the Special Families Team, myself, Sister Meg, Profesor Yader, director of education programs, and Gustavo our therapist who does the horse therapy, the hope is to raise money for our education and therapy programs. Your economic support is very much appreciated as we run together. People have been training for several months, we are ready. It is a great activity because many people are getting involved and it is a healthy way for us to share our work and to strengthen people’s awareness of the abilities of those we work with and serve. Thank you for considering a sponsorship you can send it to:

    Sisters of Notre Dame

    30 Jeffery’s Neck Road

    Ipswich MA 01938.

    In the USA it will be tax exempt. You can be sure that we will get it because they will be putting it directly into our nica bank account. The check needs to be written to the Sisters of Notre Dame with a note that it is to go to our Nicaraguan Mission, Special Families.

    It is a good opportunity to give thanks for 15 years of service to the people in Matagalpa through our programs helping children and young people as well as adults with handicaps. I have attached a text explaining more about Special Families. Thanks for your support.

    Con mucho cariño,Hermana Rebecca

  5. Hannah U

    Hi! My husband and I are avid trail runners and are planning our overdue honeymoon around the sport. We have settled on Nicaragua due to it's budget prices, gorgeous scenery and steep hills ;) But, we need some serious help with regards to where the trails are, which ones are safest as non-locals, where to stay near trails, etc. All and any help would be greatly appreciated!!

  6. Ariane

    Those are some beautiful pictures you've got there. Has anyone ever been to the Miskitu Coast/Puerto Cabezas area? Does anyone know any good spots to go running in that area? Thanks.

  7. Alesita7575

    Hello! Im a trail runner from Spain and im planning to be in Nica for a month from 15 november till 13 december. I'd like to keep on training while visiting the country. Is there any group of people i could join there to run? How is safety there if i do it on my own? Thank u!!

  8. Elisa Sequeira

    That’s pretty awesome. I am actually from Chinandega, Nicaragua, so I can understand why Matagalpa, which is significantly cooler, would be the place where a race exist. I hope the route smells like coffee. Nicaraguan coffee has a unique smell. My dad had friends in Matagalpa and I loved going to their finca.

    Ometepe is beautiful, so I’m glad that you are organizing races there. The last time I went to Nicaragua, which was in 2001, and before it was “discovered”, I ran in an old baseball field on the outskirts of Chinandega. It felt like I was being punished by running laps, but you know, there were more stray dogs back then. I’m glad to hear that theres a better route out there, although I had three volcanoes in the panorama. But there are volcanoes everywhere, we are the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.

    I love that you are engaging the locals to participate, especially women. Most sports in Nicaragua are for men, baseball, boxing, soccer, it is great to see running, which is accessible to everyone, be cultivated as sport. I’m going to tell my family about the race, we may just have to make a trip to check it out. Nicaragua in December sounds like perfection.

Post Your Thoughts