Project Update – May 2017


This is a summary of the projects currently being undertaken by La Mariposa and Asociacion Tierra – if you would like to donate, please go to our main website and scroll down the homepage to the Mas Mariposas ”Donate” button.

There are six categories of projects, although they don’t have rigid boundaries since we try and be as holistic as possible. Please note that the core project of La Mariposa (and indeed the reason for our existence) is to assist the local community through providing as much sustainable employment as possible, using the income earned through the Spanish school and eco hotel. There were 10 employees when we opened, there are now around 70 though not all full time. The projects listed below not only provide help in the way described but also through providing additional employment. As we say in our Responsible Tourism policy – we aim to “Maximize employment…teachers, guides, admin, kitchen, cleaning, building maintenance and construction, gardens, animal care, project staff. We do not pay high wages to a select few but pay above minimum wages to as many workers as possible, thus assisting as many local families as possible”.

  • Children’s projects: One of them (the Ruben Dario project) is currently situated in a school, with a library and a paid worker to help children with the basics of reading and writing – the project worker also organizes holiday play schemes based more on having fun. She has planted a surrounding garden with our help and other schools are interested in following this model. Normally around 30 children use the project daily. 3 children’s projects (La Soya, Karen’s Cultural Center and Los Martinez) are situated in community based locations and in addition to the above services we offer folklore dance classes and will be offering English classes in the future. Around 70 children currently attend the 3 projects. There is in addition a small project in our own nature reserve – La Reserva.

Costs – Each of these projects costs between $150 and $200 per week – this covers the “ayuda” for 2 workers and provision of extra materials – most of the play, art and reading materials are donated by La Mariposa students. It does NOT cover one off costs such as building a covered patio area in Karen’s Cultural Center

  • Our newest project, opened in April 2017, is the Panama project — this one specifically focuses on offering English classes to younger children. Panama is one of the poorest barrios in La Concha so the idea is to give these children a head start with a basic knowledge of English classes (in general it is only taught in secondary schools). It also allows us to offer additional work to our Spanish teachers who also speak English — especially important during the low months! Currently there are 5 teachers working there.

Costs – Including teachers’ pay, transport and some materials (again the majority is donated) – around $250 per week. The costs of constructing the space were $1350 plus $470 for tables chairs shelves and basic materials

  • Finally, we have the disabled children’s project. We employ 3 workers who provide a variety of educational opportunities and physical therapy. We also provide equino therapy (on our rescued horses) and hydrotherapy. Recently we started with a small employment project for some young disabled people working in the organic veggie garden. Currently there 28 children and adults registered.

Costs cover salaries for the teacher, the physical therapist, and materials, transporting the children and young people to and from the various parts of the project, payment to a local swimming pool for hydro therapy, salaries for the workers who care for the horses taking part in the equino therapy sessions. We also provide the neediest families with help for the purchase of medicines, nappies, milk and food. The total is over $600 per week – $80 is the weekly salary cost for half time (the workers will return to full time in a few months).

  • Environmental projects: This includes donation of eco cookers to the poorest families (so far over 750 at a cost of $12 each), and purchase of land threatened with monoculture or development to create nature reserves and preserve local sources of water. It also involves working closely with local communities eg Palo Solo to assist with their immediate needs in return for helping with conservation efforts. In the case of Palo Solo we deliver a truck load water per week to supplement the municipal deliveries and are planting 6 acres of trees specifically for firewood for local people on the Nature Reserve. We also do reforestation on our land and in the communities (to date we have planted over 25,000 trees). This category also includes our ecobuilds, use of solar power, recycling, water reuse, growing vegetables organically, establishing a medicinal garden, minimization of trash……

The costs of reforestation etc are difficult to estimate but we can itemize the following. Purchase of Cañada Honda (in the community of Palo Solo) was $97,000, the land for La Reserva was $100,000. We employ 5 park guards specifically to look after the land – $400 per week. Provision of water costs $130 per week to 2 communities.

  • Health Projects: We assist the local health clinic in La Concepcion with volunteers and donations of supplies. To help out the volunteers need a medical qualification but we can also set up observation placements. Recently we have started to work with their Natural Health Clinic – they can take volunteers with experience in massage etc. We also provide them with medicinal plants for their garden.

No ongoing costs are involved here but we do respond to one off request for help – eg provision of medicinal plants at a cost of $75.

  • Animal projects: We care for rescued dogs, cats, horses, parrots, and monkeys, and return many others to the wild. Over 1500 dogs and cats from the community have been sterilized. We also support the very little wildlife that still exists in this area… that includes birds, insects, reptiles, and some mammals.

Costs for food for horses (higher in the dry season when grazing is limited), dogs, cats, monkeys, parrots, rabbits etc – around $500 per week. Plus purchase of bananas and other fruit to maintain local wildlife. Plus vet bills – $50 to $200 per week.

  • ”One off” projects: The bakery, eco builds, are examples of projects with definite end points! We also help individual families with medical needs and, in the case of several disabled children with very poor families, with food etc. In one case we repaired the house of a disabled boy.

Examples – the bakery – $10,000. Jader’s operation (not included in section on Disabled Children) – over $4000. (You can read Jader’s story here). 


  • Building a center for the disabled children’s project. It will be built from sustainable materials – such as straw from the rice harvest and adobe. It will have rooms for physical therapy, education and occupational therapy for the older children and adults. Its location is in a corner of La Reserva, close to the road and very accessible for the people of San Juan who use this project, but surrounded by trees and other plants. We will plant a special garden and create a sustainably built playground. Though designed for disabled children, the children from other projects will also use this facility thus encouraging more interaction between disabled and non-disabled children. Cost will be in the region of $15,000 — we have already raised $10,000 towards this.
  • Working more intensively with the community of Palo Solo (where Cañada Honda is situated) to improve their access to water (currently no houses have running water) and firewood (see section (4) above). WE will use a small accessible area of the reserve to build a storage space for local peoples dragon fruit harvests (this does not include those responsible for large monoculture farms) and a “comedor infantile” – a communal eating area for children. Costs of construction will be around $5000 and we are also looking for a sponsor to help provide the food on a long term basis.
  • The Los Martinez Children’s Project needs an extension on its patio to accommodate the high numbers of children who attend. Cost will be $1500.

Trips out and other things to do……


Mariposa students who opt for our activities package are hard put to find a better way to appreciate the diversity, beauty and interest that Nicaragua offers – both the country and its people. We plan activities on a monthly basis, every weekday afternoon and weekend, there is something going on. We include things-to-do close to home, such as riding our rescued horses, and longer trips to some of Nicaragua’s most famous historical towns, volcanoes, lakes and Pacific beaches. Each activity is carefully organized and we always provide transport and bilingual guides from La Mariposa.

And if you want to go somewhere that is not scheduled during your time with us, we can organize a separate trip.

The variety is truly awesome!

Saturdays are our day out, rotating the cities of Granada and Leon, Mombacho (a dormant volcano covered in cloud forest), and La Boquita, our closest Pacific beach. Sundays we do local hiking or horse riding on our rescued horses.

Other trips out include visits to San Juan del Orient where students can try their hand at the local pottery and buy unusual and beautiful gifts in the workshops.  Masaya is the home of traditional handicrafts including world famous hammock making, leather goods, guitars, wooden jewelry and there is a lively market where we take you to stroll around, souvenir shopping.

Of course we also include activities designed to help you get to know something of Nicaragua’s fascinating history and culture, often picking up on themes students will have discussed in Spanish class – popular topics include the revolution and how Nicaragua has emerged form a period of war (the Contra War) into a stable peace. We also hold regular discussions around current day issues, such as the proposed Canal – will it happen or wont it?? Many of the trips out have historical interest visiting, for example, the gorgeous San Francisco Museum in Granada. You are always accompanied by an expert bilingual guide from La Mariposa and we use local guides when appropriate.  And we don’t forget local culture – we invite students to have go at cooking, learn some salsa and watch folklore dancing.

La Mariposa is renowned for our work with local community and the environment. We support a number of different projects – varying from equino therapy for our disabled children to maintaining nature reserves and growing organic vegetables (which we eat in La Mariposa).  Monday afternoons are dedicated to showing you some of our work.

Thanks to our hard work in environmental projects, especially establishing nature reserves near La Mariposa we are also now offering bird watching tours – both as part of our normal program and, for those interested in going further afield we can organize outings with one of Nicaragua’s leading bird experts.

Having organized activities now for 10 years, we are well able to vary activities according to the season and to local events, ensuring students always get the best possible experience.  Night time walks when the moon is full in the dry season, Easter parades by boat around the islands of Granada, Christmas meals out in the barrio after watching the parade in San Juan – are just some examples of how we respond to local events and culture!




You can now book your sustainable rural adventure with La Mariposa

By horse or by foot – views of the live crater of the Masaya Volcano and, in the distance, the crater lake , Laguna de Masaya. L to R - Ariel, who leads the horses; Linda, group member; Franklin, local guide; Marlin, program coordinator; Nick, group member and photographer; Ismael, program coordinator and Bismark, local guide.

By horse or by foot – views of the live crater of the Masaya Volcano and, in the distance, the crater lake , Laguna de Masaya. L to R – Ariel, who leads the horses; Linda, group member; Franklin, local guide; Marlin, program coordinator; Nick, group member and photographer; Ismael, program coordinator and Bismark, local guide.


La Mariposa has worked for several years with our neighboring indigenous communities – primarily the barrios of Panamá, Aguirre and Venecia – now we can offer a two week sustainable tourism program of exceptional diversity, based in these communities and the surrounding landscapes. Our program has such variety and depth thanks to our longstanding relationships with the communities, our focus on assisting their self-development and our commitment to protecting the environment.

Trekking the rim of the Masaya volcano and visting indigenous communities along the way

Trekking the rim of the Masaya volcano and visting indigenous communities along the way

Our guides and homestays are from the local communities. We are not experts in any one specialty but can tell you a great deal about the area – from its history, geography, myths and legends to the flora and fauna. We introduce you to different farming practices, organic and non-organic and products as varied as pineapple and coffee. We can show you traditional medicinal plants and healing practices. We focus on the efforts of the communities to combat the impact of climate change, especially since the serious drought in 2014.

One of the indigenous communities we visit, the Aguirre family. They will teach us about their history, their organic integrated farm, local flora and fauna and their medicinal plants.

One of the indigenous communities we visit, the Aguirre family. They will teach us about their history, their organic integrated farm, local flora and fauna and their medicinal plants.

The program includes:

Riding and hiking through stunning scenery, exploring a variety of natural eco systems including Pacific dry tropical forest, a live volcanic crater, lava flows, open grassland, a crater lake.

  • Laguna de Masaya (from the Masaya side)

    Laguna de Masaya (from the Masaya side)

Visiting a variety of local farms, looking at the impact humans have had on the various landscapes – especially through farming but also, more recently, tourist developments.

  • View of the Masaya Volcano from a tobacco farm. You will see the mixture of types of small scale agriculture, of which this is one example. We can see, in season, how different crops like tobacco and coffee are processed.

    View of the Masaya Volcano from a tobacco farm. You will see the mixture of types of small scale agriculture, of which this is one example. We can see, in season, how different crops like tobacco and coffee are processed.Interacting with the communities around the rim of the Masaya Volcano, focusing especially on the indigenous, who have received the least input from national/local authorities and so have retained many indigenous customs.

    Interacting with the communities around the rim of the Masaya Volcano, focusing especially on the indigenous, who have received the least input from national/local authorities and so have retained many indigenous customs.

  • Meet Don Pablo who has lived here for 60 years, loves to tell his story and introduce us to his cows.

    Meet Don Pablo who has lived here for 60 years, loves to tell his story and introduce us to his cows.

    Learning about traditional food and cooking, music and dance, natural medicine, myths and legends, the history of the area…….

    Helping to provide funds and volunteer help for developments requested by the communities themselves. The lack of official interest has also meant of course that the level of poverty and access to basic facilities such as drinking water and schooling has been severely restricted.

  • Mariposa volunteers laying water pipes with the Aguirre community

    Mariposa volunteers laying water pipes with the Aguirre community

    Staying with local families, with overnights in hammocks, offers a real way to understand the problems and joys of community life as well as ensuring that resources go directly to local families.

    Trying to keep our tourist footprint as light as possible. Transport is mostly by foot or horseback. We use motor vehicles only when absolutely necessary!

  • Trekking around the rim of the crater of the Masaya Volcano on horseback

    Trekking around the rim of the crater of the Masaya Volcano on horseback

    Bird watching opportunities and the chance to observe night animals at our specially built observation hide.

  • Black headed trogon...just one of the many species of birds living around the Masaya volcano

    Black headed trogon…just one of the many species of birds living around the Masaya volcano

    The program has been worked out with the communities who will benefit directly from the income. The communities also receive help in the form of construction, education, drinking water projects and more. A major Mariposa project involves donating eco cookers to reduce the reliance on firewood and reduce smoke emission, thus mitigating health risks associated with cooking on open fires. This project has been linked in with reforestation so when families accept a cooker from us they also take trees from our tree nursery to plant on their land.

  • Eco cookers donated by La Mariposa

    Eco cookers donated by La Mariposa

    Reaforesting the shores of the Laguna de Masaya

    Reaforesting the shores of the Laguna de Masaya

    This program is:

    • a 14-day program but you can opt to do one week, you can also combine with the Mariposa Spanish class/activity program the preceding week or the succeeding week.

    • The group needs a minimum of 3 people to function. Maximum 6.

    • Cost for one week per person is $450

  • Thanks to Nick Saraceni, Marlon Reyes, Tim salt and Ann Tagawa for the photos

ECO TOURISM or How a walk in the countryside and a beach holiday became transformed into a new direction (yet another one!) for La Mariposa…..

To my eternal shame it has taken me 7 years to discover that the Masaya Volcano is not just a massive lava filled crater but also an amazing national park with a whole fascinating eco system and wildlife. It is inevitably the crater which attracts the tourists, and indeed where we take a group every month, that and the bat caves. The crater is admittedly extraordinary, with its history of being the Spanish conquistadors’ idea of hell (the cross was planted at the summit to keep the devils away!) and, the aspect I find quite unnerving, some centuries later one of the ways which the dictator Somoza used to eliminate political opponents was to drop them, live, into the volcano from a helicopter. The crater also of course has its endearing, even surprising, side – most notably the parakeets that make their nests in the walls of the smoky, to all appearances completely unhealthy, crater. They can be seen by evening visitors as they return, chattering away to one another, from their feeding grounds to the nests.

The very smoky live Santiago crater

But it was only when one of the Park Rangers, Erico, visited La Mariposa and told me something of the rest of the park that my view started to change and expand. There are, he informed me, 124 species of butterfly in the woods, several of which have only been spotted in this location. This is not actually the season for best seeing butterflies (December is the best month) but I set out anyway one morning on the most enlightening walk, firstly on a path called El Coyote….there are not, according to Erico, many coyotes left on the volcano but there is a family group of 10 or so living near the crater. They are of course active at night so I need to do another walk. As well as a few butterflies and some stunning orchids we also saw the trogon bird. At my insistence we headed off on a much narrower track, El Jinoguave (one of the very common trees in this dry wood), but I had set off badly prepared and, hit by a bout of dizziness, had to lay down, (I had a touch of sunstroke I think) prostrate on the path while Erico sent for a horse to rescue me. This experience turned into something really special as a small troupe of white faced monkeys (capuchins) marched through the tree tops over my head. Including a female with a pint sized baby clutching her back. Priceless. I had a particularly great view of them thanks to my horizontal position. I was especially blown away because I honestly had no idea that a group of white faced monkeys, a species threatened with extinction, is living just around the corner. Colin, a Mariposa student and an ecologist told me that 12 is probably not a sufficient number for the group to be viable in the long run…..thus the idea was born to investigate the possibilities of liberating our 4 Capuchins there!!!

Walk with Erico in the dry forest

Then I got chatting to Erico about the problems facing the park. The surrounding pueblos are, on the whole, poor campesino communities. Erico explained one example is how people enter the park and collect firewood, sometimes already dead wood but also cutting branches and even whole trees. The response of the Rangers if they discover this used to be to confiscate both wood and the offending machete. This led to a lot of resentment – so much so that on occasion fires have been deliberately set as a way of getting back! Erico and some of his companeros had the idea of offering work to try to change the prevailing attitude to one of wanting to protect the forest. Now women from Las Sabanitas sell fruit in the car park, making a good living, and some of the muchachos now bring their horses to the car park and provide rides to the visitors (one of their horses rescued me!!). But the fundamental problem is that there is simply not enough resources to protect the park properly (this of course is a major difference with much richer Costa Rica) and it is much harder to reach the richer folk who also exploit the park, hunting with dogs and guns being one example. As a result of this activity there are hardly any, if any, deer remaining in the park.

First group overlooking the view towards the Laguna de Masaya

The possible ways in which La Mariposa can help are, in brief…

  1. Help to identify the poorest families in the surrounding communities (we estimate about 10 in las Sabanitas for example, which is the nearest to us) and who are the most dependent on the park for their livelihoods.
  2. Work with the families to establish possible alternatives. For example, the Mariposa could try to raise funds to pay a number of people to assist with park rangering (this would be based on the same model we use to pay the salaries of the extra teachers on the school projects) and, in time, help support training for those who would like to become guides with expertise in butterflies or bird watching.
  3.  La Mariposa would also look for funds to buy a number of eco cookers for the families most dependent on collecting firewood in the forest.
  4.  La Mariposa will work to attract more visitors and students who are interested in supporting this kind of eco tourism initiative and in learning about the local flora and fauna. It may be possible, in the future, to establish a scheme whereby Mariposa students could volunteer in the park.
  5. La Mariposa will take more groups and individuals to visit and get to know the park as a whole, not just the crater! And develop programs for students specifically interested in the problems facing conservation etc in Nicaragua.

A short time after this idea took root, I went on holiday for a week to a semi tranquillo beach up north called Jiquillo. It happens to be next door to a nature reserve, Padre Ramos. Could not be more different to Masaya in terms of eco systems, here we are talking huge river estuary and mangroves. But the challenges are remarkably similar…in this case, I gatecrashed a training session being given by an NGO, Fauna and Flora, to a group of local people interested in working to save the very rare hawksbill turtle, rather than making a living through taking the eggs, and acting as guides to eco tourists. And again, it is even harder to tackle the rich who exploit, in this case the pollution caused by sugar cane fields and prawn factories. The role of La Mariposa would in this case be rather limited by distance but I am excited by the idea of taking study groups up to the estuary and comparing the issues and solutions with the Masaya situation.


As a first step towards developing the Mariposa co-operation program with the Masaya Volcano national Park and the Padre Ramos Nature Reserve we are offering a two-week study program when we will be visiting and studying, with local guides, both locales. I will put up more detailed information shortly.

Youth Delegation!!!

La Mariposa and Nicaragua Network


January 2nd to 14th 2013


Social projects, economic development, protection of the environment – are all three possible simultaneously?

Experience, learn and consider the issues through an exciting and powerful combination of

  • Hands on service work in a local school, on an organic farm, on an eco build construction project or helping with English
  • Visiting a range of social projects, eg the Managua rubbish dump clean up, local housing projects, youth environmental groups
  • A couple of days on the stunning volcanic island of Ometepe to learn whilst swimming, climbing a volcano or just relaxing!
  • Talking directly with young Nicaraguans to share their views on the future of the economy and the environment
  • Taking time each day to watch a film, reflect  and join in led discussions
  • Staying in an environment where every care has been taken to protect and enhance the local environment – from using solar heated water, eating meals of organic veggies grown on our community garden scheme in a dining hall built of straw to caring for rescued dogs and horses

Price $1050 (excludes air fare) Min age is 16 years

Accommodation in the Mariposa Study Centre will be in single sex dormitories. Two adults will be present at all times. No alcohol.

Situated in the pueblo of La Concepcion (in the department of Masaya), La Mariposa is a Spanish school, ecohotel, animal rescue centre and as a nonprofit we fund a wide range of community and environmental projects. Check our webpage and tripadvisor reviews.

More info

A Mariposa in our garden

Dog Clinic day

Every so often Ruth, the senior Mariposa intern who has been with us a year now, collects up any unspayed female dogs she can find and heads off to Granada to a vetinary clinic. She comes home dirty, somewhat smelly and grinning from ear to ear!! This is her account….

PS One of the future dreams of the Mariposa is to accomodate brigades of vets in our new study centre so if anyone reading this has any ideas, please get in touch!!!


Every now and then La Mariposa goes to Granada with our pickup truck filled with female dogs.  There’s a clinic in Granada that operates on dogs for free to help people to have less puppies when they can’t take care of them. They have had two special Mariposa days where we could take up to 15 dogs per time to get them operated. First we got a few dogs operated that live at the Mariposa, the farm, the project or dogs from the workers.

Last time we went twice with dogs from the different barrios close by. We went into the barrio and talked to the people about the clinic, explained them that we would pick up the dogs in the morning and bring them back in the evening. A lot of people were really interested and we were able to take up a lot of dogs to get their operation. It’s a long day, starting at 6 am getting the dogs from all around and loading them in the truck. Some go in the kennel and others sit in the back of the car with us. Some are small, some are big, some are friendly, others are just really scared.

The drive on the back of the truck is very pleasant and with beautiful views. Upon arrival in Granada we drop the dogs off at the clinic and leaving them for the day. From then on is just waiting around, enjoying a coffee or two at one of the coffee shops and chatting with one of the vendors in the park. This lady knows what we do there and is always happy to have a small chat. She offers us a seat and talks about her life and her daily activities. It’s very nice and good for the Spanish.

At the end of the day, this varies at what time; we get a call from the vet that all the dogs are ready to go home….

This time all the dogs are a bit more sleepy and some of them easier to put back in the pickup. All the way back again and then it’s time to reunite owners with the dogs. This is the nicest part…seeing the owners waiting for their dogs and really happy to see their dogs back at their homes. The day ends with sitting on the back of an empty truck, enjoying the views and seeing the sunset.
A cold  bucket shower is more than welcome and our home stays and a plate of warm gallo pinto awaits when we’re all clean and done for the day…….It was enjoyable, worthwhile and I hope we can do it again soon.

The Mariposa Eco Built Study Centre

Our new study centre is a pretty amazing place. It is built on a piece of land about 10 minutes from the original Mariposa, up on the ridge behind and with exceptional views over the pueblo of San Juan de la Concha. The smoky live crater of the Masaya volcano is visible to one side and the outline of Lake Managua, with the hills of Esteli in the background, on the other. The above photo shows a pile of volcanic rock in the foreground which we used in building the walls of both the dormitory and the classrooms, and in the background is the volcano which would have originally thrown out these rocks during an eruption. The rocks are now lying around in people’s backyards and fields, making life difficult for crops and grazing animals. So it helps out that we buy this rock, transport it here and then use it.

The first part of the study centre (there are 3 – the comedor or eating/meeting area, the dormitory and the classrooms) is located where there had previously been a house, which the sellers took with them but leaving the cement floor behind. So we used what was already in place and built the comedor over the existing floor. This photo shows the frame going up for the thatch roof. Sadly the skill for thatching has died out around San Juan so a team from near Leon came in. They are super fast and very professional.

This photo shows the recycled tyres which formed the foundation and retaining wall for the classroom building. The tyres are filled with earth which is then compacted down hard. Interestingly, this was the only sustainable building material which proved hard for the building team to get their heads around! The team consisted entirely of local guys from San Juan, as per the objective of the Mariposa of always providing as much employment for local people as possible. It occurred to me that all of the other materials we used – the rock, bamboo, straw, palms for thatching – all these have a history from indigenous times and are therefore part of local knowledge.

You can also see in this photo some of the volunteers who came to work with us on the project. We were particularly lucky to have two architecture students from the University of Maine who helped with the design of the comedor (the wavy lines were their design) and with the tricky bit of the classrooms being on a fairly steep slope.

Sadly, we had to render the straw walls of the comedor with a thin layer of cement in order to keep undesirables such as dampness and mice out! This is a great picture of Noel rendering one of the arched windows which he designed and built. Once he got into the notion of wavy lines there was no stopping him! Noel had built several straw bale houses before ours, including his own, but he commented that they were all just boring square jobs!! Our entire team worked exceptionally well and had the project finished within four months and on budget!!! A team of 14 guys, plus occasional volunteers, and everything done by hand including digging out 15 metre deep latrines.

The straw walls before rendering. Beautiful.

This is the dormitory, two rooms which will have four bunk beds in each. The beds themselves are made from strips of recycled tyre rubber and are very comfortable.

The almost finished classrooms. A great design incorporating the tyres, volcanic rock, cana and straw. The view from the classrooms is also pretty wonderful.