Puerto Cabezas is the largest city in the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua.
Puerto Cabezas has a population of 65,000 people. This is a Caribbean port town with characteristic wide-brick streets and red earth roads. The port town is right next to the Atlantic Ocean which makes it an ideal destination for people seeking to relax and also those adventurous ones who would want to explore it!
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Discovering Puerto Cabezas
Nicaragua is a country filled with tourist attractions and largely untapped natural resources. Over the last decade, it has become evident tourism is one of its largest growing economic industries. Despite Nicaragua once having the nickname “Barn of Central America” because of its crop storage and high productivity, tourism has grown much larger than agriculture.
When one speaks of “untapped natural resources” it’s important to bear in mind that this is a country that has irresponsibly neglected its Atlantic Region.
The Atlantic Region is divided into 2 areas: the northern and southern departments (RAAN and RAAS). Both areas oversee the crystalline sky-blue waters and sandy beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. Both departments have many municipal areas filled with fun and engaging activities like snorkeling, jungle trekking, motorcycling, bicycling, relaxing and much more!
The largest city in RAAN is Puerto Cabezas (also known as Bilwi) with a population of over 65,000 people. The population in Puerto Cabezas is comprised mostly of indigenous Sumo and Mizkito tribes among other ethnical groups.
Puerto Cabezas is a Caribbean port town with characteristic wide-brick streets and red-earth roads; live with music and smiling locals. The port town has a territorial extension of roughly 6,000 square kilometers divided among 63 communities. Puerto Cabezas is located about 546 kilometers from the capital of the country, Managua.
Among the most wonderful things about this entire region is the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, with its crystalline waters and white sandy beaches, the Atlantic Ocean undoubtedly represents quite an appealing sight!
You can get to Puerto Cabezas by air using the Nicaraguan airline: La Costeña; the airline could take you to the airport in the port town for a 104USD one way ticket or a 150-170USD round trip ticket from Managua. The good thing is that the flight is only about an hour long and it’s very convenient! Puerto Cabezas has its own airport which is called The Rigoberto Cabezas Air Terminal. It has an asphalt runway 2,500 meters wide designed for various types of aircrafts such as Cessna Grand Caravan, Shorts 360, Let 410 and AN-26. The terminal services daily flights by La Costeña and other charter flights (known as air taxis) to Managua and other air terminals of the Atlantic Coast.
You can get to Puerto Cabezas by taking a bus from Managua’s Mayoreo Marketplace; the marketplace is located near the Northern Highway. Addresses in Nicaragua can be a bit confusing for tourists so the easiest thing is to find a taxi and ask them to take you there. The bus departs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in the afternoon from 1pm to 4pm (the time may vary). It will be a bus ride of about 300 miles and a 20 to 25 hour journey to get there (road conditions will determine how long the ride will be, if it’s raining season it always takes longer because the dirt roads get muddy). The bus from Managua to Puerto Cabezas is 500 córdobas.
As you can see on the picture below, your journey time will depend in great measure upon road conditions, if it’s the summertime, you should cruise right along. However, the road begins to pose various challenges to those attempting ground transportation as soon as the winter’s first rains start to fall.
Once you get to the port town, you will definitely not regret having made the trip since the whole point of a trip of this nature is to break free of the usual entanglements of a vacationing experience. Puerto Cabezas is truly a town to discover new sights and experience new thrills. Its old wooden churches, antique homes, and ramshackle slums will without question capture your attention and steal a little more than a glance from you. You will indeed want to know more about the history behind the brick roads and wooden walls of most locations and be sure of one thing; the locals will be more than willing to tell the story. You will find the town’s tasty and select seafood along with great-value lodging options make this a trip to remember.
A real must see in Puerto Cabezas is definitely the Musawás Village, which hosts a wide array of Mizkito communities across the Coco River. It is located in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in North Central Nicaragua, and its home to the Mayanga people. The Sabana Mizkita is also a beautiful touristic attraction; it is a pine tree filled natural reserve located between the Wawa and Coco River.
Then of course is the Waspuk River and the Miskito Keys, which are composed by about a dozen islets inhabited by 12 indigenous families. You can get a local to show you around the mangroves.
We highly recommend you use your common sense before asking for a ride or hiring a non-official service provider, especially if you are an unaccompanied female.
Puerto Cabezas, has a very interesting museum/hotel near the town center, it’s called Casa Museo; it has an admission fee of 1USD. The museum commemorates the artwork of Judith Kain Cunningham, a prolific local painter who defined as her subject matter the Coco River, the Waspam Natural Reserve and the Miskito communities. You will find fine pieces there along with interesting displays of macramé sculptures, local indigenous artifacts and much more.
Very much like many other colonial cities, Puerto Cabezas has a beautiful cathedral across its central park; it’s called The Seventh Day Adventist Church and was built in the middle of the 19th century with tightly Caribbean architectural traits such as white washed wooden walls and a worn look.
Rio Coco is another place very near to Puerto Cabezas you should definitely try to get a glance of. Please check out our Waspam article for information about the Coco River!
Once you are there, you can even rent a boat or ‘’panga’’ to check out the surroundings and let yourself be serenaded by the sound of howling monkeys and other animals that inhabit the depths of the forest. The river itself is the largest in Central America and it is the spiritual and cultural heart of the natives of Puerto Cabezas.
The main source of income for this port town comes from fishing; the industry is barely sufficient to cope with the locals’ demand. However, most of the lobster catch is sent to Managua or exported. Most of the fishermen or farmers go about their business not for commercial purposes but to provide for their household. Sadly, neither the government nor tourism entities in the country have pushed to drive forward the immense touristic potential the entire Atlantic Coast has to offer.
Like many Nicaraguan cities, there is a city park right in the center of Puerto Cabezas, which has many street vendors and informal stalls set up that display souvenirs and craftsmanship up for sale for very decent prices. You can also stop by the San Jeronimo market which is located just three blocks south of the park. After shopping, or taking a nice stroll around stores, you can grab a bite at the marketplace dining area, which offers great dishes of local cuisine.
Transportation is not so difficult in Puerto Cabezas. If you are in the center of the city you will find or meet all your basic needs including internet at local ‘’cafes’’ within walking distance, but if you want to move around more freely, there are taxis that charge depending on the traveled distance (usually no more than 1USD per person for a short transfer) in addition, you can request a ride from locals that seem trustworthy. We highly recommend your use of common sense in judging whom to request lifts from – especially if you are an unaccompanied female or at night.
Puerto Cabezas is a town alive with music, culture and also, a deeply rooted passion for the King of sports in the area: Baseball! Baseball season is for the locals, very much the same NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) football season is for small towns across America! Their absolute primary source of entertainment and no event is more followed than the First Division Tournament known as ‘’German Pomares League’’. The league starts right around the end of every year and is comprised by every major town in the country including ‘’Costa Caribe’’ which represents the entire Atlantic Coast. Besides baseball, food, dance and music symbolize the energy and spirit of Puerto Cabezas. If you feel like dancing or clubbing Caribbean style, you can do so at ‘’El Jumbo’’ located in the center of the city.
The most important hotels are:
Hotel Moncada is located in front of the Puerto Cabezas’ town square right next to the marketplace. You can get one-bed bedrooms or twin beds as well. 25USD is the rate for the single bedroom and 60USD for a twin bed suite. There is wi-fi internet in the hotel and a restaurant as well. Among the services, Hotel Moncada provides safe parking and round-the-clock surveillance for all vehicles. Tel (505) 2792-0061.
Hotel Crispi has rooms with breakfast included for 23USD, there is also wi-fi in this lodge, air conditioning, safe parking spots and a restaurant. Tel (505) 2792-1359.
Hotel Monter is one of the largest hotels in Puerto Cabezas. It is a 3-story building featuring 31 rooms, several open spaces and seating areas, a restaurant, wi-fi and a supermarket located on the first floor. The hotel provides a wide array of options in terms of room types such as mini suites and suites offering additional space and luxury.
*As an added value, the hotel provides transfers from and to the airport. It is located just a few blocks from the central park which gives it a great position to access other businesses as well as taxies which can be flagged down from the hotel entrance. Tel (505) 2792-2669. Email email@example.com
Facts, healthcare and banks
Puerto Cabezas is one of the most indigenous regions in the country which means that many of the locals speak only Miskito.
If you are curious about a Miskito mass service, make sure to check out the Moravian church on Sunday mornings. It’s the only place on earth where services are given in Miskito (language) only.
There is only one bank in Puerto Cabezas, it’s a BanPro (Banco de la Producción) their phone number is (505) 2279-2244. They are located on the opposite corner from the telephone company Enitel in the downtown area. They are equipped with ATMs but we recommend you to make your cash withdrawals and currency exchanges before leaving Managua.
There are many health care centers in Puerto Cabezas; the most popular are Clinica Bilwi (505) 2792-2259 located at Barrio Revolución and Hospital Nuevo Amanecer (505) 2792-2259 located in Barrio Nueva Jerusalem.
By using the right safety measures and a good deal of common sense, you will be able to enjoy a wonderful experience visiting Puerto Cabezas; it has a lot to offer and does so at great value. Sure, the Pacific and Central regions of the country are more developed, but, there is so much more to see and experience of Nicaragua than just those two thirds of the nation. Take a chance, and visit Puerto Cabezas!