Palm trees and restaurants at Playa Pochomil
Central America, Nicaragua

Killing Time in Managua: A Day Trip to Playa Pochomil

I like to think, as a fairly seasoned traveler at this point, that I’ve gotten pretty good at handling challenges on the road.  I know that most missteps are pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things so there’s little point in letting anger and frustration overshadow an otherwise perfectly good experience.

That’s all well and good, in theory; in practice, it’s not always so easy to keep those negative emotions under control, even less so after a long stretch of air travel that renders you sleep-deprived and delirious.  Case in point: my arrival to Managua.

I landed in Nicaragua after a series of three red-eye flights originating in Los Angeles and taking me cross country, first to Detroit, then to Fort Lauderdale, all the while jammed into cramped seats that didn’t recline (thanks for nothing, Spirit Airlines).

As I circled the tiny luggage carousel in Managua for the 12th time, the unfortunate reality that my bag was not, in fact, on the correct flight began to settle in.  As I discussed the situation with an airline employee and filed my missing luggage claim, all I could think to myself was “I’m f*$#ng everything up.”

Had it been a solo travel situation, an extra couple of days in Managua wouldn’t likely have bothered me much.  Changing plans are nothing new to me.  But it wasn’t a solo travel situation, and the guilt of asking the friend who’d already been in Nicaragua for five weeks to spend an extra four days in a city we’d hoped to merely bounce through on the way to greener pastures was too much for my sleep-deprived body to handle.

Tears of frustration finally spilled over and as I made my way to the taxi stand other airport employees could only look on helplessly as I choked back sobs and wiped various fluids from my bloated face.

Luckily, I was able to reign in my tantrum after a few minutes chatting to the taxi driver; I was in a new country, after all, and the excitement was enough to distract me from the situation at hand.

Mak arrived at the hostel (from just outside of Managua where he’d been studying Spanish) a few hours after me.  Naturally, he was a bit disappointed to hear that my travel hadn’t gone as smoothly as it could have, but he hardly batted an eye at the news of being “stuck” in Managua for a little longer than planned.  Bless his heart.

The only problem that remained, then, was figuring out what the hell to do in Managua for the next several days.

Heavy on crime and light on cultural attractions, Managua isn’t much of a destination in itself.  The city center was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1972, forcing the city to sprawl in every direction when rebuilding on top of a major fault line was deemed “probably not a great idea.”

In fact, the only reason it’s now the capital of Nicaragua is because the two cities formerly battling for the title (León, north of Managua, and Granada to the south) needed common ground to oust the Spanish and finally gain independence.

After consulting Lonely Planet and assessing what I actually could do given what little items I had with me, we decided to take a day trip to the nearest beach, Playa Pochomil.  Other options like hiking were out of the question, and the weather was so stiflingly hot anyway that it seemed like a good idea to head for water.  Managua sits on the southwestern shore of Lake Xolotlán, or Lake Managua, but it’s far too polluted to do anything with except for look at from a safe distance.

So we boarded our local bus at Terminal Israel Lewites early the next morning and began our journey.  No major roads (read: no decent roads) lead to Playa Pochomil or the surrounding beaches.  The drive lasted about 2.5 hours, likely only because of the winding and sad state of the roads in addition to the horrendous traffic we had to crawl through just to get out of the city.Local bus in Nicaragua

Playa Pochomil is nothing spectacular–it was a bit of a letdown for my first beach in Central America to be honest.  It’s flat, flat, flat, and lined with sleepy and somehow still outrageously overpriced restaurants that often didn’t even have the items offered on the menu.Playa Pochomil, Nicaragua Restaurants at Playa Pochomil, Nicaragua

We were greeted upon arrival by a restaurant owner who insisted we could sit and use their facilities without buying anything (but of course the implication was there) and no fewer than six vendors of all ages who looked as though they hadn’t seen a tourist in weeks.  One woman even followed us up and down the beach, offering us the same items over and over again, impossibly hopeful that our answer would change with time.

“No, gracias,” was easily the most oft-used phrase of the day.

After aimless wandering and a bit of kicking around in the waves (I didn’t have a swimsuit and didn’t want my only set of underwear to be wet and salty for the rest of the day) we ended up at a different restaurant where we bargained down the price of a plate of chicken (I don’t know how they can be so persistent with their high prices when we were probably their only customers all day) and hung out in the shade.Mak at Playa Pochomil Playa Pochomil At a restaurant on Playa Pochomil

After our food finally arrived and we realized we were likely to burn with much more time in the sun, we decided to call it quits in order to make it back to the city before dark.Overpriced food at Playa Pochomil

Playa Pochomil, NIcaragua

You can’t even tell I’m wearing basketball shorts…

It’s possible that Playa Pochomil would be more exciting during high season or under different circumstances, but for us, on that day, it fell flat.  It’s not a terrible option if you ever find yourself looking to kill time in Managua–they do offer surfing lessons and horseback riding as well–but I certainly wouldn’t put it on top of your “must-see” list for Nicaragua.

How do you handle setbacks when traveling?  How do you come up with a Plan B?

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