VILLA EL CARMEN—From the majestic twin peaks of Ometepe Island and the sulfurous yawn of Masaya Volcano, to the miles of unspoiled beach and world-class surf breaks dimpling the Pacific coastline, Nicaragua has a wide variety of tourism attractions for people of all penchants and peculiarities.
But no tourist has ever attempted to see everything all at once. Until now.
This week, 205 international skydivers from 11 countries are “dropping in” on Nicaragua for a week of high-flying sightseeing that’s giving an entirely new perspective to the country’s comeliness—from 12,500 feet above the ground.
“It’s absolutely beautiful; you can see everything from up there, from Lake Nicaragua and the volcanoes to the beaches and the Pacific Ocean,” says Rich Grimm, owner of California-based Tsunami Skydivers.
Grimm’s skydiving tour—or “boogie,” as it’s called among folks who jump out of airplanes for fun—is the first parachuting tour of Nicaragua, not counting the covert proxy-war drops by mercenaries and other knuckleheads in the ’80. The trip is being hailed as “an exotic boogie,” and it’s a new chapter in Nicaragua’s tourism tome.
“So far, just on day two, everyone is like, ‘When are we coming back next year?’,” Grimm told The Nicaragua Dispatch on Sunday afternoon, following a jump onto the third fairway at Milagro del Mar Golf Club, where several of the skydivers folded up their parachutes and then proceeded to play nine holes of golf.
“I love it in Nicaragua, and the people have been fantastic,” Grimm said. “You have the ocean, volcanoes and lake. But it’s the people that make these events fantastic. The Nicaraguan people are so, so warm and all the skydivers can’t get over how well we’ve been taken care of here.”
For Grimm, that good treatment started 11 months ago when he started to plan his first boogie to Nicaragua, after seven years of leading similar skydiving tours to Belize.
Grimm says the authorities at the Nicaraguan Tourism Industry (INTUR) and the Nicaraguan government in general were extremely receptive and supportive of the idea—and even helped subsidize part of the trip by providing airplane fuel.
“Working with the Nicaraguan government has been a thousand times easier than working with the (Belizean) government,” Grimm said. “Dealing with Nicaraguan government has been an amazing experience.”
The tropical weather and manifold tourism attractions are also a selling point during the bleak midwinter frost in the World North, Grimm said.
“The weather is great here; the Canadians and the Europeans are very happy to get out of the cold weather and the U.S. contingent is very happy to be here,” Grimm said. “It’s a sales point when you can jump here in February or March and weather is beautiful.”
The Nicaragua boogie—a 10-day all inclusive package at the Barceló Montelimar that cost $2,300 per jumper, and $1,300 for non-jumpers (plus airfare)—entitles skydivers to 20 jumps at different sites around the country. Tsunami Skydivers brought its own Cessna down from California to make sure all the jumps occur on schedule.
The skydivers were also supposed to take up some 20 Nicaraguan tourists on tandem jumps Sunday, despite costing $200-300 a jump—a price point that precludes most of “el pueblo” from participating in the sport.
Fun in the sky, fun on land
When the skydiving tourists are back in biped mode on terra firma, they are enjoying everything else Nicaragua has to offer visitors, from a round of golf and a splash in the ocean to visiting colonial cities and sipping on a Flor de Caña (or four).
“We have 205 people in my group and many of them have been here for a week already, visiting Corn Island and Granada, and touring around Masaya,” Grimm said. “A lot of people—my family included—are also staying on a week later to do more sightseeing.”
And skydivers have money to spend—they’re the rich version of “backpackers,” which until now has been an oxymoron in Nicaragua.
“This is a very high end event,” Grimm said “These people are not here on the cheap; this is their yearly vacation and they are here to spend money and tour the country.”
For many, skydiving has become the only way to travel.
“For a lot of us, it’s about having an excuse to go see different places,” says Tim Roberts, of England. “I would have never come to Nicaragua without the skydiving; it’s a fun way of combining a hobby with travel.”
Plus, he says, the skydivers are doing their part to reinvent what it means to be a backpacker in Nicaragua.
“Our backpacks are more useful,” he says with a laugh.
Veteran jumpers agree that Nicaragua looks just as good from six feet off the ground as it does from 12,000 feet.
After 6,500 jumps in 15 countries, Nick Furchner of Reno, Nevada says skydiving Nicaragua is one of the best experiences he’s had.
“This place is the cat’s meow,” Furchner said, echoing a common sentiment expressed by Granada’s roof cat population. “It has beautiful scenery and wonderful, welcoming people.”
He says “without a question” he plans to return to Nicaragua again to see Granada and León on subsequent trips.
“If we don’t make jerks of ourselves, hopefully they will invite us back,” he said with a grin, as he sipped a Toña after jumping into Milagro del Mar on Sunday afternoon. “And if they invite us back, I am sure tons of people will come.”