As international tourists flock to the southern half of Nicaragua, the culturally – and agriculturally – rich north still remains largely off the tourism radar. But for the last eight years, Matagalpa Tours has been helping to change that, offering a variety of things to do in northern Nicaragua.
As the first tour operator in the region, Matagalpa Tours continues to set the standard of excellence in nature-based community tourism in Nicaragua’s mountain region.
When fate landed Argen Roersma in Matagalpa, he decided to make the most of his good fortune. He spent years hiking around the region from east to west, exploring untouched nature reserves and visiting remote villages. When a friend suggested that he start offering tours in the area, the idea for Matagalpa Tours was born.
In 2004, he began by offering a handful of tours around the area, with only a trickle of business coming in during the first few years. Eventually word began to spread, and the trickle turned into a steady flow of clients. From offering one tour a month, Matagalpa tours now runs daily tours during high season to keep up with demand.
Nowadays, Matagalpa Tours offers three different services:
- Matagalpa Tours
- Matagalpa Socio-Cultural Tours
- Nicaragua Travel Services
Matagalpa Tours allows visitors to hike the many reserves around the region (including Bosowás Nature Reserve, the 2nd largest rainforest in the America’s after the Amazon), tour coffee and chocolate plantations, visit rural communities, mountain bike through the hills and has recently added whitewater rafting to its repertoire.
The Socio-Cultural Tours take community-based tourism a step further. In addition to hikes and plantation visits, these tours allow guests to spend more time interacting with local communities and learning about the various issues they face (such as fair trade, sustainability & development, women’s rights, human rights and maintaining local artisan traditions) and how they address them. These tours can be primarily educational or involve volunteer work.
The last and most recent piece of the puzzle is Nicaragua Travel Services. Matagalpa Tours now organizes trips all over the country from the South Pacific Coast to the Corn Islands and everything in between. Though they have broadened their horizons, they still try to incorporate the North in all their tours.
We always have a special focus on the northern mountains and community tourism. In every tour we like to include a visit to the Matagalpa/Jinotega area and also to the communities to experience real Nicaraguan life.
Matagalpa Tours also arranges community visits to other areas of the country.
For Roersma, it’s not just about running a financially successful business, it’s about education.
It’s about showing people about life in Nicaragua, so it can be a lesson for their own lives: a message they can take back to their home countries.
Matagalpa Tours dedicates as much energy to educating its staff as it does to educating its clients. They use only local guides and give them extensive training on guiding techniques, environmental interpretation, fair trade, sustainable agriculture and the natural ecosystems of the region. They even enlist expert tour guides from the US and Costa Rica to help in the training process.
Since there was no tourism infrastructure in Matagalpa when the tour company started, and still very little today, all the guides have to be trained from scratch. But Roersma sees that as a good thing. It allows him to train them the ‘right way’ and avoid the bad habits found in tour guides in more popular destinations around the country. With a solid reputation for quality and authenticity and a firm hold on the #1 spot on Trip Advisor’s Things to do in Matagalpa, it seems like his efforts paid off.
In addition to offering tours and activities, Matagalpa Tours also runs Agualí, an initiative that lets them take their passion for environmental education a step further. Agualí’s mission is to educate local school children about their rich environmental heritage and how to protect it.
The future looks bright for Matagalpa. Following Matagalpa Tours’ lead, the region has become known for nature- and community-based tourism, and sustainability is at the core of northern Nicaragua’s tourism identity.
Many of the local communities and almost all the plantations practice sustainable agriculture with a focus on fair trade and organic production. Since sustainability is a normal part of life for many here in the north, responsible tourism is an easy transition.
Everybody in the world now knows about sustainability. It’s not just about the hippies anymore…
So as the trend towards responsible travel grows, and as Nicaragua continues to mature as a tourism destination, it looks like Matagalpa can expect more visitors in years to come. But, for now, Matagalpa Tours is content with the steadily growing stream of conscientious travelers that make the decision to head north.
If you are one of them, visit www.matagalpatours.com to see the many options they have to offer from half day tours to multi-day packages. So head north and discover the cool breezes, laid-back pace, rich cultural heritage and breathtaking landscapes that northern Nicaragua has to offer.
Feature image courtesy of Matagalpa Tours