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.


Birds at the Mariposa

Black-headed Trogon








It is a very exciting time right now at the Mariposa for bird life. We have tried hard to create a welcoming environment for both resident and migratory species by planting lots of trees to provide general habitat and also specific trees for food. We have discovered, for example, that the hummingbirds just love the white flower of the marango tree (also incidentally known as the miracle tree as people can get their daily protein needs from eating the leaves – our chickens and turkeys love them) and many birds come to feast on the seeds of the chilomate and capulin trees. Learning from the experiences in the original Mariposa land we have similarly planted something in the region of 2000 more trees on the land of the study centre and already, in the first year, it is clear there is more bird life around. A particular project has been protecting an enormous tree called the panama which happens to be on municipal land right opposite the study centre. The Mariposa is currently funding the repair of a community centre on this site and we also take care of this beautiful tree. This year a family of aricaris nested there and they have since been spotted eating bananas at the Mariposa. Wonderful!!! here is one below. many thanks to Ann Tagawa for sending us some stunning pics and allowing us to use them.

Collared Aracari

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

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.

La Mariposa Group Study Centre

Our new group study centre is really coming along fast. The eating and meeting area which is built out of straw bales is absolutely amazing. There will several arch shaped windows overlooking great views to the north and a huge Panama tree to the south. The windows will have ledges for sitting and gazing! Work is also well under way on the dormitory but we have now started, with the help of two architects from the University of Maine the building where Spanish classes and other classes on Nicaraguan history, culture, politics will take place. The centre will of course also host groups who want to do volunteer work on our community projects.

Below is a photo of one of the south facing windows and another view of the inside of the eating area.









La Mariposa study centre for groups

This will be a great place to take Spanish classes, study the history of Nicaragua or undertake voluntary work in one of the nearby Mariposa supported projects.

Great photo of the new dormitory building going up on the new land. It will provide accommodation for up to 16 and there  ill also be local homestays available. It is built out of volcanic rock and cane (both super sustainable materials and available locally). You can just see the eating and dining area in the background, built from straw bale with a thatched roof. I shall be sorry when we have to plaster over the walls and lose the wonderful smell of hay we have right now!!