Under the Volcano: Fun Erupts on Star Flyer Cruise to Nicaragua
It's not very often that you get a chance to stand almost right on the edge of an active volcano as steam rising from deep inside the caldera swirls around you. Amazingly that's something you can safely enjoy when you take a cruise to Nicaragua on the Star Flyer, one of three wind-powered tall ships operated by Star Clippers Cruises. There's no denying that a sea cruise of any type is an exciting adventure, but Star Clippers specializes in unique opportunities, both on board and ashore.
Nicaraguan folk dancer performs aboard Star Flyer
Star Flyer is a small cruise ship (some call her a mega yacht) that navigates its course serenely and silently when her sails are up, which is most of the time; the ship rarely uses engines except for docking maneuvers. Part of the fun of being aboard a sailboat of this type is watching the crew manipulate the sails or actually helping with that chore, and for the truly adventurous there's a chance to climb up into the rigging to a "crow's nest" to get a view of the ship that most will never see. While these are things that make Star Flyer very different from most ships, some things are the same, like the availability of fine food and drink and a wide variety of on board activities. But because Star Flyer is so small compared to giant cruise ships she can sail into shallow-water ports where the big ships can't go. And that brings us to our volcano!
Star Flyer under full sail
Welcome to Nicaragua
Star Clippers Cruises take place all over the world and one popular itinerary is Star Flyer's excursion along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The port of call in Nicaragua is San Juan del Sur, and here upon disembarking passengers are serenaded by a band playing traditional Nicaraguan folk music before boarding a coach and heading for the Masaya Volcano, about 1 ½ hours away. The route is a largely rural one, passing through humble villages and skirting massive sugar cane fields and offering glimpses of Lake Nicaragua, at the northern end of which lies the volcano. The facility at the Masaya Volcano includes a nice visitor's center with a mini museum focusing on how the volcano has affected the area's indigenous peoples over the millennia; yes there was a time when virgins were sacrificed here! Then at the volcano itself you can walk right up to the rim of the crater where a safety wall, not high enough to block your view, keeps you from getting too close to the edge. Since the volcano is active there is steam rising constantly along with the distinct odor of sulfur. If the sulfur is really bad the park rangers will limit the amount of time you can spend here but generally that doesn't happen (neither do eruptions, but you'll be briefed on an emergency plan just in case.) So there's ample time to get photos and if you choose to hike the stairway up the adjacent hill you can get some magnificent shots.
After leaving the volcano the tour continues in the city of Masaya at the large Masaya Market where vendors offer everything from hand woven hammocks to Cuban cigars (smoke 'em before coming back to the States) to local delicacies like Nicaraguan honey. The vendors here are not aggressive and are open to bargaining, within reason. And there's not a lot of touristy-type stuff at Masaya Market; if you want a trinket you can find it here but Masaya is known as a village of artisans and all the handmade items on offer are of obvious quality and make for a good souvenir of your visit.
At the craft mart in Masaya
Next stop is in the scenic colonial city of Granada. Here tour participants get a real taste of Nicaragua with a plate lunch featuring beef, shredded chicken, beans and rice and plantains both baked and fried, all washed down with an ice cold Victoria beer if you choose. The meal is a warm up for something quite spectacular you'll see afterwards: a large gallery of ancient stone sculptures that came from an island in Lake Nicaragua.
Una mas, por favor!
There's a real mystery surrounding the sculptures; nobody knows who made them and to top it off, the type of stone they're made from doesn't occur naturally on the island on which they were found! While in Granada there's also a chance to visit some of the photogenic buildings that date back to colonial days (oh, and there's a volcano lurking in the distance!)
Stone sculpture in Granada
All in all the Masaya Volcano shore excursion lasts about eight hours. Back aboard Star Flyer, with the sun setting on San Juan del Sur, you might think it's time to say goodbye to Nicaragua. But not yet! As a special treat the ship presents a Nicaraguan folklorico show where young men and women in traditional clothing demonstrate a variety of folk dances. Shortly thereafter the sails go up and Star Flyer is off seeking the next adventure.
For more information on Star Clipper Cruises, visit www.starclippers.com
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