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Matagalpa

Matagalpa may be one of Nicaragua's biggest cities, but it remains a fairly provincial and laid-back place, an almost reluctant urban center for this most bucolic of regions. Here the nearby mountains, which soar in every direction around the city's central neighborhoods, are never far from locals' minds, not to mention the coffee produced on their hillsides, which accounts for Matagalpa's historic wealth.

The city itself is pleasant enough, with a young and friendly population who seem delighted to see visitors. It is best used, however, as a comfortable urban base for exploring the surrounding countryside, where you can hike through primary forest to gushing waterfalls, explore coffee plantations and disused mine shafts, and listen to ranchero troubadours jam under a harvest moon.

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