Estelí is located on the Pan Am highway and is the biggest town in this region. The population is about 100,000. It is located in a valley at 850m, surrounded by mountains. It remains the biggest pro-Sandinista town in the North. It was founded in 1711 by colonists who left Nueva Segovia because of threats of Indian attacks.

The highway runs along the east side of town. The actual town is pleasant in a non-crowded way. That is, many people get to their destinations on foot and so the town is not totally cluttered with cars. The map is located at here. The large, full resolution maps (5mb ZIP files) are available at the INETER website, click to download PART 1 & PART 2 of the Esteli city map.

An excellent history of Estelí can be found on and as it is already in Spanish, you don't have to translate it. :-) Thanks Carl. In addition, a video produced in 1985 shows Estelí at that time. Amazing how little it has changed.

NicaLiving member Billy Bob just wrote a walking tour of Estelí. Check it out here .

The NicaLiving Esteli photo gallery.

  • Police: 118
  • Red Cross: 119
  • Fire Dept: 713 2413

Local Transport

I would classify Estelí as a mixed transport town. There are lots of buses, bicycles are almost as popular as cars, oxcarts and horses, while less popular are there; you can walk to most things, taxies are all over and home delivery is available.

Most Taxis are Kia Prides. There are little cars that, unlike Hyundais, seem pretty sturdy. Shared cabs are the rule rather than the exception and fares are per person. A hand wave will get a cab to stop. Expect to pay C$8 for a trip most anywhere within town, C$10 for a trip from one end to the outskirts on the other end. After dark, prices are pretty much up for grabs but expect C$10 for normal trips, C$15 or more if the cab has to go far away or to "a bad area".

Another alternative is the Urbano. This is a local bus that stops, well, everywhere. That is, just about anywhere you want. For example, the El Rosario-Hospital Urbano runs from my end of town (at the north end) thru town to the hospital which is on the Pan Americana, south of town. Fares are cheap (C$2.5 sounds typical plus whatever the pick pockets can get. So, watch your money. Just get on and sit down (if there is space). Someone will come around and get your money--the driver just drives. (Note that this rule is apparently true for all but one Urbano. On that one, you pay as you leave. Strange.)

If you have a lot of stuff you need delivered, look for a person with a hand cart. There are square boxes with two car tires on them. They hang out near the central park (SW corner), the public market and around hardware stores. Prices seem more negotiable but C$30 is probably about as much as you will ever have to pay.

For bigger loads--from a small pickup to a 5 ton truck, look around the Shell station a few blocks east of the park on the Pan Am. Prices (and number of helpers) seem negotiable but cheap.


Outside of the central core which had lots of street signs attached to buildings on the street corners, the rest of the town is identified by barrio names. I hope to get a map to put up here that should help you out.

That said, the actual barrio you are in is subject to interpretation. For example:

  • My Electric bill is hand-delivered to a description in Barrio Carlos Nuquez
  • My water bill is hand delivered to a description in Barrio Omar Torrijos
  • The garbage people claim I am in Barrio 16 Julio
  • My cable bills claims Barrio Arlen Siu
  • Some people have suggested I am in Barrio El Rosario
  • My friend Stephen, who lives a block away, has more suggestions

The good news is that it seems with any of these descriptions, my house can be found. I am sure "Where does the Gringo with the big furry white dog named Carlos live?" would also work in much of Estelí. Note that sometime in January, 2005, I am moving about five blocks south of Mercado Alfredo Lazo in the south end. It will probably take a few weeks before everyone in town knows that Carlos and I live in a different place.

I will add pages about "places" in Estelí as time goes on. As food is a common question, I will attempt to add restaurants to give you a general idea of what to expect.

While talking about addresses, let me point out that on or about 1 July 2007, the post office moved. It is now located in the "old hospital". (I know this because I went to pick up my mail in my box yesterday and was surprised they were closed at 11:50. Today I was told by Gixia that her mom said they moved. No notice on the old building--just the door closed.)


While somewhat redundant, here are some destinations that any cab driver will understand. If you are not going to these specific places, prepend a number of cuadras (blocks) and a direction.
  • la renta
  • los bancos
  • la escuela normal (which is sometimes called "el normal"
  • bancentro
  • el parque
  • el parque infantil
  • Starmart
  • Texaco viejo (Petronic El Carmen in the middle of town)
  • policia
  • transito (transit police)
  • cotran norte (bus station for buses going north and some to Managua)
  • cotran sur (bus station for southbound buses--both contrans are on the Pan Am about 500 meters apart)
  • Cotran viejo (where the bus station used to be--just south of Mercado Alfredo Lazo)
  • Las Segovias
  • Palí
  • Del Hogar
  • El hospital
  • La Casita
  • Mercado Alfredo Lazo (south-end public market)
  • La pelota (the ball on the Pan Am where the road to Jinotega splits off)
  • La iglecia

Buses to Other Areas

If you are traveling outside of the city proper, there are two bus stations along the east side of the Pan Am, less than 500 meters apart. They are named Cotran Norte and Cotran Sur. You can probably guess which one is further north. Why are there two? Politics.

As a general rule, if you are going to head to a destination north of Esteli, go to Cotran Norte. The exception is Managua where there are buses from each terminal. When bus shopping, for bigger destinations you have your choice of express or "ordinary" service. There is a certain amount of charm calling non-express ordinary but, if you just want to get to the other end the charm will quickly wear off. As for prices, a trip to Managua is about C$30 ordinary, C$50 express.

Grocery Shopping

There are two public markets. One is a block north on the NW corner of the central park. This market is in a building. The other market which amounts to a few blocks of stalls--some permanent, others not--is located at the south end of town. If you head down the main southbound street (the one with the banks and one block west of the central park) you will eventually come to the market. As well as fresh produce there are lots of little storefronts that sell beans of all sorts and rice.

An alternative for fresh produce is to just stay at home and wait. Trucks, carts and people with produce in plastic bags cover the town regularly. Prices vary from good to bad but you have a choice of whether to buy.

For real groceries, there are three supermarkets (for a certain value of super) plus an uncountable number of pulperias. The supermarkets are:

  • Las Segovias -- six or so blocks south of the banks. This is the largest and oldest of the supermarkets.
  • Del Hogar -- just north of the public market on the main northbound street. I have never found the sign. It is on the west side of the street on the north side of an intersection. This is the most creative of the supermarkets. TSP (texturized soy protein) and Negro Modelo have been seen there.
  • Palí -- on the main northbound street a few blocks south of the central park. Palí is the low-end store of a Costa Rica grocery chain that Walmart is buying. This is a small store but it likely has the best prices for what it has and you can sometimes find things there that are common in Costa Rica but hard to find locally.


There are five banks in Estelí: BAC, Bancentro, Banpro, Banco ProCredit and BDF. All except Bancentro are on the one corner with traffic lights on the main southbound street. This puts them one block west and one block south of the central park. All five have ATMs but only the BAC one coughs up dollars. Bancentro is located a block north of Palí and, as a bonus, its ATM will talk to you in English, Spanish or French.

Traffic Lights

Estelí is the home of the only traffic light on the Pan Americana between Managua and Honduras. In addition, there are three other traffic lights in Estelí:

  • NW corner of the Parque Central
  • The bank corner a block south and a block west of the Parque Central
  • At the Old Texaco (Petronic El Carmen) on the main northbound road thru town.

Car Stuff

There are six gas stations in Estelí. I suppose gas is somewhat misleading as they all have diesel, of course. And Petronic El Carmen also has kerosene.

  • Petronic on Pan Americana at the south end of town.
  • Petronic on the main northbound road thru town at the traffic light. This used to be a Texaco and lots of directions are relative to the Texaco. For example, the cable company is 3.5 blocks east of the Texaco meaning this gas station.
  • Old Shell on the Pan Americana at the south end of town (but north of the PetroNic)
  • Shell on the Pan Americana east of the Parque Central a few blocks.
  • Esso a few blocks north of the Shell
  • StarMart on the Pan Americana at the north end of town. While this is a Texaco, it is known as the StarMart. A reference relative to the "Texaco" is actually relative to the Petronic in town. Confused yet?

There are auto parts stores all over town--about half on the Pan Americana. Repuestos San Cristobol on the Pan Americana looks small but seems to have an amazing assortment of part. Briones, in town a few blocks south of the Parque Central, is auto parts and a hardware store. I have found metric bolts here, for example. Unlike in the U.S. where everyone has the same thing, auto parts stores and hardware stores tend to have different inventories. So, if the first store doesn't have it, keep looking.

If you need a tire repaired, just look around. There are tire repair places everywhere. I would guess ten on the Pan Americana in Estelí. I took a tire to a little shack with two people and an air compressor just south of the StarMart. I was running errands and came back about an hour later. It was fixed. I asked how much and he said C$20. Being amazed (that's about $1.20) I asked how come it was so expensive. He explained that there were four holes he had to patch. He was serious and I was more amazed.

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New maps

New maps!

  • Distrito 1 (the center, most commercial area, west of panam, older)

  • Distrito 2 (east of panamerican hwy, road to jinotega, newer)

  • Distrito 3 (west of river, more industrial, highest pop. density barrios, newer)

  • Universidades

    Esteli the city has at least ten universities or colleges.

    Here the websites and info for a few of them, in no particular order:

    New and better website for Esteli

    Here's the new website for the alcaldia of Esteli. It's an improvement over the other one I posted before. It includes info on the municipality's finances, where the money goes, mayor's salary etc. Also has info on administrative stuff, business requirements, etc, contact info, complaint/suggestion box, almost everything that might be needed. It was launched yesterday so not everything is up. It was agreed that the site will be updated at least once a month.

    Again the address:

    Alcaldia de Esteli

    It's not the best website

    It's not the best website, but I liked the PDFs that talk about the Plan Estratégico (Strategic Plan for the city) and Revista 2005, both which have pictures and maps.

    Um, ...

    Seriously, I'm confused. I have gone to the site using two different browsers—Opera and FireFox. All I get is what looks like an image of a web page. Nothing on the page is clickable.


    Unfortunately, it looks like it's only IE compatible, same with the website which they also run. I think they don't realize that it's not FireFox, etc compatible and that's it's not searchable on google, yahoo, etc.

    Not sure why

    It looks like it is just JavaScript but there is some other non-standard crap there. I emailed them. Not being "standard" is not a good thing. Further, it generally is harder to be non-standard.

    Not testing web sites with at least IE, Safari, Opera and FireFox is a big mistake. Another good thing to do is test your site with the W3C tests.

    Is that a joke?

    I go there and I get what looks like a scan of a web page. And it doesn't even talk about Pedro Pablo having a wife and a girlfriend.

    SOS Children's Village Estelí

    Is anyone familiar with this facility?I am interested in doing volunteer work at an Orphanage in Nica.

    Esteli update Jul 06

    The local rate for downtown cabs is up to 7 cords for short hops.

    The post office "Correos" is 1/2 block east of the bank corner. If you have to send or receive a fax this is the place Window 3. I tried at one of the Internet places and it was a lot of hassle because of "bad connection". Correos did it fine with no problems. Not cheap, 52 cords for 2 pages sent.

    Lotta power and water failures lately in the downtown area. Can´t help but notice how hard this is on local working people who have to get up early to get a shower before the water preasure goes down to zip for the rest of the day. It also renders the suicide water heaters useless most of the time because they need a certain amount of flow to kick on the heater. Homes/ businesses withour supplental water talks pearched on stilts are out of luck. Personnaly, I brought a camping type water hearter (plactic bag with clear top and reflective bottom). Works fine, I put in on the roof every morning and have 2.5 galons of heaven every afternoon.

    For phone calls to the US I have found that Fono Center by the park is better than the other internet cafes I tried. For staters, Fono Center has land lines in a booth, rather than handhelds. 1.5 cords a minute to the US. Surprizing that local calls are 4 cords a minute.

    S'more later

    s'more update, Aug 06

    Going rate for a taxi in town is 10 cords at night. Esteli is deader than the proverbial doornail at 530 am. Day or night, far and "bad" neighborhoods cost more. 7 by day, 10 by night works from the bus stations to the park, etc.

    Security. Esteli is not a small town and is not heaven. Arguably, Esteli is now the second largest city in Nic., with a polulation of well over 100,000.

    The family I am living with advised me to wear no jewelry, carry no more than 10 cords cash, stay in the city center, and get off the streets by 10 pm. And leave my passport and credit cards locked up at the house. The city center was loosely defined as anywhere with paved streets, with the additional warning that some ladrons walk through our neighborhood to access their own neighborhood.

    I pretty much take their advice. I carry a photocopy of my passport and my one-size-fits-all tourist card, which I,m going to stash because it says 30 days and my passport says 90 days.

    I{m now in the habit of getting 1000 cords of petty cash at a time from the machine at Bac. Worked good until I went to Somoto and their bank doesn,t have a machine. Did a day trip to Ocotal, Bancentro,s machine worked just fine. Actually, if you get 900 cords it works better because you don,t get stuck with all 500 cord notes.

    Not an unsafe town, but not kickback like some of the smaller ones.

    Book and stationary needs, as well as rice cookers, can be had at Ruben Dario bookstore just west of the park. Also, found postem stickers (wahoo!) at Jarles bookstore just south of Segovias Supermarket.

    La Luna, just north of Del Hogar supermarket, has kingsize soft pillows, ( but no pillow cases).

    Keep om truckin....

    another bus line

    Transnica has an office in the Centro Commercial Esteli, a little office complex on Central Ave near the gas station. Executive buses to San Jose daily, express buses from Managua to San Jose 4X daily, express bus to Teguscigalpa every after noon.

    Executive buses are kinda like flying first class on a plane: nicer seats, lunch , etc. A little pricey but probably worth it. On all trips buy your tickets in advance in Esteli to assure getting a seat.

    reservaciones: tel 713 6574, 843 0757

    "Adios" means have a nice day! .

    fyl: You think that You are Upper Class.

    Population -- Esteli 100,000 -- Puerto Cabezas 60,000

    Traffic Lights -- Esteli 4 -- Puerto Cabezas 0

    Gas Stations/diesel -- Esteli 6 -- Puerto Cabezas 2

    Banks -- Esteli 4 -- Puerto Cabezas 1

    Super Markets -- Esteli 3 -- Puerto Cabezas 1

    Boy -- You are "High Class". ____________________________________________________________________

    "Where does the Gringo with the big furry white dog named Carlos

    So if I translate this to spanish I can find you in Esteli?

    Let me help

    Donde vive el Gringo con Carlos, un perro blanco con mucho pelo? That should pretty much do it. :-) Actually, "Carlos, el perro?" will probably work as people here (and in Costa Rica) do not name their animals with human names.