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 ViaNica.com 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 www.fuegoyagua.org 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.

Questions/Comments
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.]