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Montibelli Nature Reserve: Excellent Hiking in Ticuantepe, Nicaragua

Montibelli Nature Reserve: Excellent Hiking in Ticuantepe, Nicaragua

Montibelli is a beautiful nature reserve located in Ticuantepe, Nicaragua. This natural reserve is a brilliant area to spot wildlife. You’ll see all sorts of animals spread throughout well preserved tropical dry forest. In particular, Montibelli is a haven for birdwatching. But, there are also a few great hikes weaving their way through this private reserve. So, Montibelli is much more than just a place to birdwatch. There are incredible trails ready to be explored. Better yet, Montibelli has a stunning lodge on-site, with some of the best cabins in Nicaragua. So, it’s well equipped for your perfect nature escape, whether you’re a local from Managua or a tourist.

In fact, this nature reserve is a genuine hidden gem rarely seen by tourists. So, during your Nicaragua trip, make sure to head to Montibelli in Ticuantepe. In this travel guide, we’ll help you plan your visit. We’ll start with some general information about the park, how to get there and what to expect. Afterwards, we’ll describe three awesome hikes, talk about the epic Montibelli Lodge in Nicaragua and discuss available packages and tours.

Montibelli Nature Reserve Description

Established in 2001, Montibelli is just a stone’s throw away from Managua. Just a 30 minute drive away, Montibelli is about 15km south of the capital. It’s incredible that a 162.5 hectare natural reserve is seamlessly tucked away on the outskirts of the city. Given its closeness to Managua, the Montibelli Nature Reserve in Ticuantepe is within easy reach for many.

Positioned on Managua’s sierra, the altitude at Montibelli ranges from 360–720 meters above sea level. The reserve consists of three distinct areas, covering lower and higher parts of the reserve. In fact, these three areas are based on the position of three old coffee farms. Casa Blanca is about 64.4 hectares and covers the lower parts of the reserve. This is where Montibelli Lodge in Nicaragua is located. Here, you’ll also find the reserve’s most well-known trail – Parque del Piemonte. It’s renowned for having world-class birdwatching.

Check out our Masaya and Mombacho volcano trekking guides

In higher parts of the reserve, you’ll find San Pablo (31.8 hectares) and San Pedro (65.9 hectares). In the San Pablo area, you’ll find more challenging hiking trails. These include Casas Viejas and the self-named San Pablo Hike. The third area, San Pedro, is a bit more off-limits to the public. There are plans to further develop this part of Montibelli and make it more accessible. But, for now, it remains fairly untouched and is used mostly for research purposes.

Views of Ticuantepe Valley from Montibelli Nature Reserve in Nicaragua

Montibelli Flora and Fauna

At Montibelli, you can expect tonnes of native flora and fauna. In fact, there are over 1,200 plant and animal species here. And, that’s excluding all the invertebrates (e.g. insects). There are around 152 different types of trees, 28 species of fungi, 199 types of birds, 112 kinds of butterflies, 33 types of mammals and around 37 different types of reptiles and amphibians.

Of course, Montibelli is well-known for its amazing birdlife. Tourists who have visited Montibelli have traditionally been avid birdwatchers. Expect to see woodpeckers, hummingbirds, parrots, vultures, hawks, golden orioles, owls, toucans, trogons and motmots.

There are loads of mammals and reptiles too. You could see opossums, bats, deer, howler monkeys, squirrels, snakes and frogs. We particularly enjoyed watching the howler monkeys during the San Pablo Hike.

Because the area isn’t overrun with visitors, nature reigns supreme. There are so many wild fruits, ancient trees and beautiful plant species to check out. If you’re lucky, you might even get to handpick some pineapple, passion fruit, cactus fruit (Pitahaya), lemons and bananas.

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Montibelli Nature Reserve History

There’s an interesting story behind the name ‘Montibelli’. Basically, the surname of the owner’s father and mother were ‘Belli’ and ‘Montiel’, respectively. Originating from Italy, the Belli family had the idea to merge the two surnames – ‘Monti’ (from Montiel) with ‘Belli’. Ipso facto – Montibelli. Actually, in Italian, ‘Monti Belli’ translates to beautiful mountains. Perched on Managua’s spectacular sierra in Nicaragua, Montibelli is certainly a fitting name.

Montibelli Nature Reserve sign

Getting to Montibelli in Ticuantepe, Nicaragua

There are a few different options for getting to Montibelli in Ticuantepe, Nicaragua. There is no direct public transportation to Montibelli Nature Reserve. So, most people will drive there. But, the dirt road leading to Montibelli from Ticuantepe is rough and bumpy. It’s not inaccessible to a 2WD, but a high-clearance vehicle is preferable. In the wet season, road conditions can deteriorate. So, a high-clearance vehicle (like a 4×4) is a must.

From Managua, you could get a taxi to the town of Ticuantepe for around $10–15USD. From there, you can then get a tuk-tuk to the reserve. Or, you could get a taxi to drop you off where the paved road meets the dirt road. This leaves you with a roughly 3.5km walk to Montibelli.

If you’re using public transport, you can catch a chicken bus from either Mercado Israel Lewites, Mercado Huembes or Terminal UCA in Managua. Jump on a bus heading to La Concepcion or San Marcos. Ask the driver to drop you off at Parque Juan Ramo Padilla in Ticuantepe. The journey should take around 30–45 minutes. Expect the cost to be around $1USD. From there, it’s possible to arrange a tuk-tuk to Montibelli (map of location).

What to Expect With Hiking at Montibelli

Although traditionally a birdwatching destination in Nicaragua, Montibelli has fantastic trekking on offer. Best of all, there are trails covering all levels of difficulty. So, there are trails that are suitable for beginners and also experienced hikers. In this guide, we’ll detail three trails that Beck and I did. There’s an easy, moderate and hard difficulty level hike. Something for everyone!

Admittedly, none of the trails are long-distance or take too long. Even the most challenging San Pablo Hike is only 4.65km, taking around 2.5 hours. This means you can fit several hikes into one day. So, you can really maximise your time in the reserve.

Essentially, all of the trails are circuits. They all start and finish at the Montibelli Lodge. This makes it super convenient to rest and have some food in between hikes. Certainly, it’s possible to do these hikes individually. But, it’s also possible to combine some of these trails, and others, to make longer hikes. Although, some of these multi-trail routes are still in development. In the future, there’ll be more single-trail and multi-trail hike options available. Watch this space!

Currently, all visitors need to be accompanied by a guide. So, you can’t hike any trails independently. But, as mentioned, the reserve is busy working on trail development. Their aim is to make the Parque del Piemonte available for self-guided hikes in the future.

Parque del Piemonte (Birdwatching Trail)

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 1.25 km
  • Time: 1–2 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 55m
  • Difficulty: Easy

Parque del Piemonte is the most well-known hike at Montibelli. That’s because it’s the traditional birdwatching route. This is the trail you’ll follow for the reserve’s morning birdwatching tour. We recommend following the reserve’s advice to start the hike at 6:30am. This will optimise your chance of seeing birds as well as other wildlife.

This hike is located in the lower parts of the reserve. In fact, ‘piemonte’ translates to ‘piedmont’ in English, which means a gentle slope leading from the base of mountains to an area of flat land. Indeed, positioned on a slope, you’ll find the best viewpoint in Montibelli overlooking the Ticuantepe Valley. On a clear day, you can even see Masaya and Mombacho volcanoes. This lookout is perfect for birdwatching and discovering the plantations in the reserve.

Beck and I highly recommend this hike. Basically, it’s an easy trail suitable for anyone with enthusiasm to explore nature.

Casa Viejas

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 1.8 km
  • Time: 1–2 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 175m
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Compared with Parque del Piemonte, Casas Viejas is a harder hike. The distance is only slightly longer; but, there’s a lot more elevation gain on this trail. After leaving Montibelli Lodge, you’ll take a faint trail heading south through dry forest. This trail is far less defined than the Parque del Piemonte path. Because of the dense forest, your views will be limited during the first half of the hike.

It’s said, at the highest point of this hike, that there used to be a couple of houses. In fact, ‘Casas Viejas’ translates to ‘old houses’, in English. Hence, the name of this hike! After around 45–60 minutes of hiking in the forest, the trail rejoins the Parque del Piemonte path. This means you’ll arrive at the exquisite viewpoint once more. With the best views in Montibelli, we didn’t mind visiting the lookout a second time to catch another glimpse of the Ticuantepe Valley.

San Pablo Hike

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 4.65 km
  • Time: 2–3 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 255m
  • Difficulty: Hard

The hardest hike at Montibelli Nature Reserve is the San Pablo Hike. Compared with Parque del Piemonte and Casas Viejas, this trail is more challenging in every aspect. That’s probably why Beck and I really enjoyed this hike. Because this trail explores more areas than the other hikes, you’ll see parts of the reserve barely seen by tourists before. In fact, this trail is fairly new on the scene. So, not even many locals have done this hike.

It’s an adventurous trail, that initially winds through dry forest. But, once you reach the highest point, you’ll descend a fairly sketchy trail that leads to more lush surroundings. You’ll then follow a dried riverbed, which reconnects to a sturdier trail. Soon enough, the trail then weaves its way back to familiar ground at Montibelli Lodge.

Ticuantepe Valley as seen from Montibelli Nature Reserve in Nicaragua
Ticuantepe Valley

Montibelli Hiking Recap

We highly recommend heading to Montibelli in Ticuantepe as part of your Nicaragua trip. Visiting this hidden gem is definitely worth the time and effort. Traditionally known for having easy birdwatching trails, Montibelli offers challenging hiking options. We’re sure any keen hiker would be satisfied with the trekking here. Not only that, but you’ll encounter amazing wildlife. And, most importantly, we guarantee you’ll have loads of fun!

Montibelli Lodge Nicaragua

If you’re heading to Montibelli in Nicaragua, it makes sense to stay on-site at the lovely Montibelli Lodge (Eco-albergue Oropendola). Besides, the birdwatching tour is best enjoyed early at around 6:30am. So, it’s super convenient to stay at the reserve overnight for the early morning tour the next day.

Before the birdwatching tour, we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise from our cabin. The room was well equipped with a comfortable bed, fan, mosquito netting and private bathroom. Best of all, the lodge provides glorious natural surroundings. It was a pleasure to awake to the sounds of singing birds. There’s also a spacious deck with rocking chairs. You’ll have awesome views of the reserve from here.

Located close to the cabins, you’ll find the outdoor dining area and seated birdwatching area. The local Nicaraguan staff at Montibelli Lodge put on an excellent spread. Honestly, the three meals provided were some of the best meals we ate in Central America. It really had those comforting home-cooked vibes.

In terms of costs for staying at the Montibelli Lodge in Nicaragua, it’s possible to buy a package. This includes accommodation, meals and guided tours. Given our busy Nicaragua itinerary, we stayed for just one night at the Montibelli Lodge. For one night’s accommodation, three meals (dinner, breakfast, lunch) and three guided hikes, the price is $145USD/person, which includes a 15% sales tax and 2% tourism tax.

To book, we recommend contacting the owner, Claudia, directly on Whatsapp (+505 8887 4869). Also, you can check out their Facebook for more information.

Montibelli Guided Tours and Hikes

If you’re not staying at the Montibelli Lodge in Nicaragua, no worries! It’s possible to visit for a day trip. But, as mentioned, you won’t be able to hike independently. Luckily, the Montibelli guides are exceptional. Juan was our guide for all three hikes. We really liked trekking with him. He was very knowledgeable, friendly and a quick walker!

Of course, the birdwatching tour is the main drawcard at Montibelli. To do this guided tour, you’re looking at around $41USD/person with a minimum of two people required. Breakfast is included (and it’s delicious). Otherwise, for other guided hikes, the price is generally $15USD/person. Again, a minimum of two is required. In terms of food, you’re looking at around $5–10USD per meal. Of course, it’s best to get in touch with Montibelli for the most up-to-date prices. Plus, there are reduced rates for Nicaraguan nationals and residents.

Juan, our guide, talks to a group inside a forest
Our guide, Juan, talks all things Montibelli

Ticuantepe Nicaragua

Ticuantepe is a town and municipality in the department of Managua. Around 38,000 people live here. The word ‘Ticuantepe’ comes from the Nahuatl language of the Indigenous Nicaraguan people. This word consists of two words, including ‘ticuane’, which means fierce, and ‘tepeh’, which means hill. Combined, Ticuantepe means ‘Hill of the Fierce’.

Other than Montibelli, Ticuantepe is famous for the Chocoyero Nature Reserve. It’s actually the smallest protected area in Nicaragua. Similar to Montibelli, Chocoyero has incredible wildlife, including an abundance of birds, mammals and reptiles.

Ticuantepe Nicaragua Map

Here’s an interactive map showing you Ticuantepe. You’ll notice Montibelli is located west of the town of Ticuantepe.

Hiking Essentials

Osprey Skarab 30
Osprey Skarab 30

The Osprey Skarab 30 is our go-to hiking backpack for day hikes. This well-designed unisex backpack is comfortable and spacious, so you’ll have plenty of space to pack everything without feeling the strain on your upper back.

Osprey Ultralight Raincover
Osprey Ultralight Raincover

A waterproof backpack cover is an absolute must when you’re adventuring outdoors. The Osprey Ultralight Raincover Medium is a high-quality waterproof cover that’ll keep your backpack bone dry.

GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle
GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle

The GRAYL GeoPress is the best water filter bottle that allows you to purify 710mL (12 ounces) of water. This bottle will make water safe to drink wherever you’re hiking.

BUFF Original Ecostretch
BUFF Original Ecostretch

The BUFF Original Ecostretch is a great option when it comes to multifunctional headwear. We use the Ecostretch as a neck gaiter to keep the sun off our necks and it helps us keep warm in cooler climates.

Sony Cybershot RX100 VII
Sony Cybershot RX100 VII

Capture epic photos and videos with the Sony Cybershot RX100 VII. This is hands-down the best compact camera. We love using this simple point-and-shoot camera when we’re hiking as it’s lightweight and durable.

To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite hiking gear, travel gear and camera gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.

Make sure to also pack plenty of water, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.

Bonus Tips

  • Be careful with bringing binoculars into Nicaragua: binoculars fall under a banned items category. So, think twice about bringing your own binoculars. Thankfully, binoculars can be provided on-site.
  • Keep quiet: when hiking at Montibelli, keep your voice down to avoid scaring away wildlife
  • Do the birdwatching tour first thing in the morning: you’ll see the most amount of birds at dawn.
  • Other hiking in Nicaragua: check out The 16 Best Hikes in Nicaragua and Hiking Ometepe: 4 Excellent Trails Not To Miss.
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Daniel Piggott

Dan is a travel blogger, physiotherapist, hiker, natural wonder seeker and world traveller. He loves writing travel guides to help his readers explore the most beautiful destinations in the world.

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