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Finca Esperanza Verde Eco-lodge :: outside of San Ramón, Nicaragua

After a long day of driving, we arrived at Finca Esperanza Verde after the sun set.  The dirt road leading to the farm from San Ramón was rocky and slow moving, so our arrival was quickly followed by a good night’s sleep.  Due to our visit during the rainy season, water mightily pounded overhead all night.  Upon walking out of our room in the morning, I was immediately greeted by a stunning view; the stone path that zigzagged to our cabin ran amongst banana trees, heliconea, parrot flowers, and ginger, leading down to tin-roofed shelters lined with tables, each adorned with freshly picked flowers assembled in hand-thrown mugs.  The landscape continued and dropped down to the valley where an organic coffee plantation and forest reserve happily intermingle.  The wet mud sent a combination of fresh and musty scents to my nostrils, and the brisk morning was a welcome invitation from the humid and salty beaches of our stay in Honduras.

Finca Esperanza Verde Eco-lodge (FEV) is a coffee farm located in the mountains 45 minutes outside of San Ramón, Nicaragua.  Although the coffee plantation is one of it’s primary business sources, FEV is much more than a tract of land used for growing one of the world’s favorite beans.  Within it’s 265 acres of land is a butterfly conservatory and laboratory, a forest reserve that houses over 250 various bird species, several hiking trails, fresh water springs, waterfalls, guest cabins, and a restaurant.  All facets of the farm can be toured and explored, whether your stay consists of a guided bird watching tour, horseback riding, or guest-led impromptu yoga sessions on the hammock-lined pavilion.

Due to FEV’s commitment to environmental and social sustainability, the simple, natural environment is a retreat from fast-paced life elsewhere.  “People looking for jacuzzis and satellite TV will be disappointed,” said Giff Laube, manager of FEV.  Although provisions at the farm are ample and the natural environment is well manicured, the rooms are stark, and modern conveniences take backseat to FEV’s devotion to sustainable construction and environmental preservation.  I wanted to recharge my computer in my room, but was surprised to find not one outlet to plug it in.  Despite lack of outlets, the accommodations are not only comfortable, but aesthetically pleasing, and are clearly tended to with care.  A clay vase of water with two cups awaited our arrival, and local pottery and colorful paintings adorn the brick walls.

The cabins, equipped with photovoltaic panels (also known as solar panels) that provide the structures’ electricity, are the result of the efforts of Richard and Lonna Harkrader, the founders and owners of FEV.  The Harkraders, who are household names in Durham, North Carolina due to their success constructing passive solar homes throughout the city, founded FEV in 1997 after purchasing this once abandoned 40 acre coffee farm.  The development of FEV was built on five major tenants, which are to:
Promote economic development by creating jobs and opportunities for micro-enterprise,
Be a model, environmentally-conscious organic shade grown coffee farm,
Preserve a large enough track of land in the rain forest to have a positive impact on wildlife including the endangered howler monkey,
Strengthen the local culture by giving groups opportunities to share their music, history and stories.
Give foreign visitors opportunities to learn about the realities faced by people in rural Nicaragua and potentially to transform their world views.

The hard work and organization of the Harkraders, in addition to Yelba Valenzuela, who managed the construction and administration of FEV for the first six years, and numerous volunteers and donators from North Carolina, has been recognized by a variety of organizations, including Smithsonian magazine, The World Tourism Organization (WTO), and Travelers Conservation Foundation.

“Green” and “eco-friendly” have become trendy terms in the tourist industry, yet their meaning is often manipulated or exaggerated for marketing purposes.  FEV is a wonderful example of ecotourism and sustainable planning that is organized for the purpose of environmental and social concerns, with profits taking a lower rank of importance.  Fortunately, the lush forests and rolling landscape that constitute FEV will be admired for generations to come.

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To learn more about Finca Esperanza Verde, visit www.fincaesperanzaverde.org.
Double room with private bath: $62 USD
Dorm room: $17 USD per person
Camping: $7 USD
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TIPS FOR FINCA ESPERANZA VERDE AND SAN RAMON:
Directions The website’s directions leading to Finca Esperanza Verde are vague.  There are a few small signs directing tourists to the farm, which is near the top of the mountain, but they are difficult to spot, especially at night.  Be prepared to stop and ask for directions multiple times.

The website also advises ramblers traveling by bus to, “Get off in Yúcul (45 min. from Matagalpa). Follow the signs in Yúcul to FEV, a 1 hour walk uphill.”  I strongly recommend arranging a ride to take you up the mountain.  The drive was even hard on our truck, and I would have found it difficult to hike while carrying luggage.  Also, Yúcul may be extremely small, but rumor has it that the townspeople are known for their drinking.  At first, seeing numerous men stumbling about at the bar and on the street on Friday night was not such a big deal.  But, few days later,  I started to inquire after seeing a passed out man in the road who was in the same place hours after we drove by again.

Reservations can be made to stay with local families in San Ramon. Family stays include home-made meals and sleeping accommodations.  To learn more about contact fincaesperanzaverde@gmail.com.

Eats The town of San Ramón is quite small, and center of town can be walked in 15 to 20 minutes.  As a result, restaurant choices are limited.  However, Nick and I loved Comedor Las Graditas, a restaurant just a block away from the main square.  Look for the bright green building with purple accents.  Comedor Las Graditas is extremely simple, but the dishes are hearty and the prices are fit for any rambler’s budget.  I especially enjoyed the breakfast – I was served a full plate of rice and beans, fried plantains, avocado, and eggs and ham for $2 USD!

History and Camping Cesar Davila, a former Sandanista captain, owns a plot of land on a mountain just outside San Ramon’s main square.  Cesar is both a passionate historian as well as a living piece of history.  He is extremely knowledgeable about Nicaragua’s history, and it’s place in the whole of Latin America.  Cesar will share first hand accounts of Nicaragua’s tumultuous past as he weaves fascinating tales that culminate in a broad and elegant explanation of Latin America’s current state.  We talked with Cesar for two hours as he discussed Nicaragua’s history back to the 1930’s and it’s implications on Nicaragua’s present economic and social standing.  Cesar speaks clearly and thoughtfully in Spanish, but I recommend arranging a translator for the talks if you are an introductory and even a mid-level Spanish speaker.

Another of Cesar’s passions is the reforestation and ecological regeneration of his land, where he has planted trees, edible plants, and other flora to reestablish the ecosystem on the mountain.  He is quite an accomplished amateur botanist and will be pleased to show you the top of the mountain, which commands an impressive view of San Ramon.  The top can be reached in about 10-15 minutes of hiking.  Cesar is happy to provide the mountain top as a camp site, and he charges the equivalent of about $3 USD per night.  He is very hospitable and will build fires and even cook for a small additional fee.  In order to contact Cesar to speak with him or for camping accommodations, visit the Tourism Office in San Ramón (they can direct you to his house) or, if all else fails, contact the Finca Esperanza Verde manager, Giff Laube, at fevmanager@gmail.com.

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