Discovering Waspam on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast!

Waspam is a municipal area located on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast right on the border with Honduras.

 

It is the gateway for many indigenous tribes including miskito communities. It is also adjacent to the largest river in Central America which is the Coco River. Waspam is a formidable destination because of its natural attractions and colorful people.

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General Overview
How to get there and leave
Air
Land
Sights
Economic activity
Shopping
Getting Around
Entertainment and events
Basic phrases in Miskito
Accommodations
What to gain from the Waspam experience
Facts, health care and banks

 

Waspam

General overview

Waspam is a municipal area in the northern region of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast. It sits right on the edge of one of the mightiest rivers in Nicaragua the longest in Central America at with over 680kms in length (Coco River) making it the gateway and principal port of the Miskito communities. Very much like Puerto Cabezas, Waspam is not difficult to access by air, however, accessing it by land is a real adventure!

Waspam is a connecting spot to many wonderful destinations in the northern department of the Atlantic Coast known formally as RAAN. The main city is located about 632kms (about 400 miles) from Managua.

Local Miskito in Waspam

Local Miskito in Waspam

If you do make up your mind and take on this adventurous voyage, you will likely not find any tourists in the area unless you bump into volunteers and missionaries on foreign aid endeavors or filmmakers shooting for documentaries about the Miskito tribes. Once you arrive in Waspam, you will be largely immersed in a community that lives very traditionally and that retains a strong cultural identity despite heavy mestizo influence (both ethnic groups that are predominant the region). The population in this area is 47,231 people according to the latest census in 2005.

Culture is very important for the indigenous tribes of the region, they entertain themselves with culture. With very little diversity of activities for the locals, music, dancing and cooking helps them share their culture, carry on their powerful traditions and live a more enjoyable life. This is also true of many other rural areas of the country. Some engage in bullfighting, chicken fights and marathons of card games.

How to get there and leave

Air

You can get to Waspam by air using the nationally operated airline La Costeña which can take you there round-trip for about 150USD or 104USD one way.

Aircraft from La Costeña

Aircraft from La Costeña

*Check out the landing experience!

La Costeña is an airline based in Managua, Nicaragua. It operates passenger services from Managua to 10 domestic destinations as part of the Grupo TACA regional system. Its main base is Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua.

La Costeña operates scheduled services to the following domestic destinations: Bluefields, Bonanza, Corn Islands, Managua, Puerto Cabezas, Rosita, San Carlos, Siuna and Waspam.

Land

Bus terminal in Nicaragua

Bus terminal in NicaraguaLand

Land transportation to Waspam is also available via bus from Managua. All you have to do is find the Mayoreo Marketplace in Managua by getting a taxi to take you there or you can contact their operator at (505) 22631087. Usually, the terminal at the marketplace has buses leave to Waspam every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays at 4PM (make sure to be there in advance as this terminal can be a little disorganized and you really don’t want to waste 2 days waiting for the next bus!) once you get on the bus, be prepared for a gruelingly long 25+ hour bus ride if the road happens to be in good conditions and it’s not raining season. Once you arrive at the terminal in Waspam, you can walk to the hotels, find a taxi or ask for a lift. Please be aware of the fact that asking for lifts can be a dangerous thing, especially if you are a female; just make sure the driver looks trustworthy and write down the license plate for your own safety!

The bus departs from Waspam to Managua on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and it costs 600 córdobas (national currency) or about 25USD (both ways). The departure dates might change so it is always good to check before you head out.

You can reach Waspam also by taking a boat down the Rio Coco from Wiwili. The trip down the river can take more than a week and it requires negotiating the trip down with local boats men. There is no tourist infrastructure and therefore you must take camping gear. If you decide to go down the river a local guide is highly recommend as they will know the locals that can provide food and shelter along the way.

Sights

Your absolute must see location in Waspam is definitely the mighty Coconut River (some locals call it that) it is the largest of the region and divides Nicaragua and Honduras. You will be literally at the border.

*Check out a visitor’s tale of how he almost ”died” in a routine landing!

Once in Waspam, you should also consider a boat trip up to Wiwili which is an upstream port town. It’s a 550 kilometer voyage which will let you see all the wonders of the riverside forests.

Check out some pictures of what Waspam looks like!

Another beautiful sight in Waspam is the Miskito Museum called Museo Auka Tangni; this museum was set up in the house of a miskito local (Dionisio Melgara 505 8417-8128) who felt very curious about his ethnicity and background so he decided to collect and display pieces there, you can also get Miskito lessons taught by him.

Check out this blog entry about the museum!

Miskito craftsmanship at the Miskito Museum

Miskito craftsmanship at the Miskito Museum

Economic activity

96% of the population of Waspam lives below poverty levels (extreme poverty). The main economic activity in this region is agriculture which is intended – or more accurately – only sufficient for their consumption and internal trade. In smaller communities of Waspam, locals take up traditional fishing (again to feed their families and not for commercial purposes).

Near Waspam there are some auriferous mines in the region (gold mines) upward the Coco River which are worked by some 2,500 local miners. The extracted gold is often commercialized to buyers in Honduras and wealthy Nicaraguan jewelers.

Shopping

You will be able to find craftsmanship and other souvenirs in Waspam. The first stores or vendor stalls you will find are located right on the bus terminal or near the ‘’landing strip’’ for La Costeña. Beware, there are a numbers of goods being sold illegally in these spots such as hawksbill turtle shell, black coral and manatee bones; you may even find ocelot and jaguar skin up for grabs but don’t encourage this kind of practice by buying these products, they harm the ecosystem and you probably won’t be able to get them past customs in your country anyway.

You can also find raw gold in Waspam, keep in mind that most of the production from the auriferous mines is sent off to other cities but since it’s extracted right there, prices could be lower than in the main cities.

 

Getting around

Waspam has very few paved streets and even smaller traffic flow so most of the moving around is done either by bicycle, motorcycle or simply by foot. You will however, be able to find local taxi drivers with sedan vehicles and even 4x4s that can take you to villages within Waspam and even to neighbor municipal areas. It is also very common in this region to ask for ‘’lifts’’ or rides to passing vehicles. We strongly suggest you don’t request rides at night as it can be more dangerous especially if you are a female.

A local giving a lift!

A local giving a lift!

Entertainment and events

As an indigenous region, Waspam has many tribes and cultural traditions that take place throughout the year; these are often spontaneous demonstrations of dances and cookouts that showcase the core features of Waspam’s cultural identity. You will absolutely become enamored by these demonstrations because they are different from most things you would normally see and experience in the Pacific or Central regions of the country. Some of these events and entertainment sights take place during school celebrations like mothers’ day or during Independence Days (a two day holiday that takes place from September 14th to the 15th).

Also, during the first semester of every year, the Pomares baseball league takes place so if you are into sports try to go cheer up the local Costa Caribbean Coast Team.

There are also two restaurants delivering above average quality service in Waspam, one is on the waterfront while the other is located near the baseball stadium  (2 birds with one stone if you manage to hit the ballpark and then go grab a bite!)

Baseball championship round in Waspam

Baseball championship round in Waspam

Basic phrases in Miskito

It would be great if you could memorize the following phrases!

  • “Nina Dia” (What’s your name?).
  • “Nanki” (How are you?).
  • “Lee Want” (Can I have some water?).
  • “Plun Pum Piran” (Can I have some food?).

Accommodations

There are very few lodging options in Waspam, fortunately the rates will allow you to experience this region without dipping too deeply in your pocket. Most rates range from $4 to $25 dollars a night; there are three hotel options that stand out in Waspam

  • Hotelito Piloto is another option, a higher end hotel with air conditioning and telephone for about 25USD (private room, private bath). Tel: (505) 2792-9045.
  • Finally La Estancia de Rose will accommodate you in private rooms with private baths, cable television and internet connection for about 20USD with A/C or 10USD with a fan. Best value located across the airstrip. Tel: (505) 2792-9112. This hotel actually has perhaps the best setting for internet access in all of Bosawas with 11 computers and a surprisingly reliable connection; rentals go up to 1USD per hour.

What to gain from the Waspam experience

Tourist hanging out with locals

Tourist hanging out with locals

There are many stories from tourists who have taken on the bold and adventurous idea of going up to the Atlantic Coast, becoming absolutely enamored with the charming locals. Yes, the level of discomfort and lack of readiness to receive tourists may seem discouraging but if you come to a place like Waspam, I’m sure you are not in it for the luxury or excess but rather to help those in need or to reach out to the dispossessed for a noble cause.

Your companionship, visit or simple smile will bring them joy and the hope that there in fact is a world outside their borders; perhaps you will be able to inspire them to become educated maybe even professionals and most likely, they will also inspire you not to become educated (because chances are you already are) but to re-examine your own attitudes towards life, what you consider necessary and what you don’t. Once you are exposed to the extreme conditions these natives live under, you will certainly feel not only blessed, but radically change your lifestyle and hopefully rediscover yourself in a once-in-a-lifetime soul-searching experience.

Facts, healthcare and banks

  • Waspam’s name is derived from the Miskito language and it means: river with trees.
  • As of the day this article was written, no banks existed in Waspam so it is important to bring it an estimated amount however cash you will need (preferably in national currency).
  • There is one hospital near the public school in Waspam staffed with reputedly Cuban doctors. So please carry the basic medical supplies like cotton, alcohol, band-aids and analgesics.