Altitude: 520 meters
Fiestas Patronales: Santa Catalina de AlejandrĂa, November 25 to 26.
The first signs that youâre almost to Catarina are the road stands â crude stalls filled with flowers, potted plants and cement sculptures. The city might be named after Saint Catarina de Siena, but the title âthe city that livesâ is a more apt description of a place where an estimated 62 percent of the residents grow ornamental plants in backyard greenhouses and then sell them in their front yards.
The windy Mirador de Catarina, with views of the deep blue Laguna de Apoyo and the wilds beyond, is the perfect feather in Catarinaâs green cap. On a clear day, the vista can extend as far as Granada. VolcĂĄn Mombacho and the Isla de Ometepe. The mirador is popular enough that it has also become a revenue stream for the city. Last year, the alcaldĂa added a new charge to access the view. Foreigners now pay C$20, a flat fee thatâs the same if youâre alone, on foot, or have squished into a car with eight buddies to split the cost.
The lookout point, aptly dubbed âCentro Turistico âEl Mirador,ââ has a dozen craft stands and about 15 restaurants serving up typical Nicaraguan dishes. Whether you decide to eat on a porch with a view, or at a table in the back of the parking lot, the cost ranges from C$70 to C$250.
For a more up close view of the lake, you can either hike the steep 500 meters down to the shore or hire a horse to carry you there. The descent by horseback takes about an hour (at C$120 per hour), but a shorter ride around the crater rim costs between C$10 and C$60, depending on how far you want to go. Laguna Apoyo is one of the few crater lakes in the area that is both easily accessible and free of the pollutants that have kept other spots like Laguna Masaya off limits.
If you decide not to make the trek back, there are a couple of places to rest next to the lake, such as Hotel âEl Paso del Trenâ (Tel: 505-2-888-2686/ 505-2-474-6121, Cell: 505-8-441-9371).
Right in town, and just a few blocks from the mirador, is the spacious and comfortable Hotel Casa Catarina (505-2-538-0261/ 505-8-408-3482; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.hotelcasacatarina.com). The rooms open onto (what else?) a courtyard of hanging ferns and lush plants which add the feeling of escaping to your private garden.The hotel also has a bar and private restaurant. The 15 rooms (single $63.25; double $97.75; triple $103.25; suite $109.25) come with air conditioning, hot water, a continental breakfast and wireless internet.
Donât have your own computer? Cyber Catarina (505-8-989-7161/ 505-2-558-0270; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily) is located to the north side of the health center. Internet access there costs C$12 per hour.