North of Managua, the central highlands sweep up from sea level in a lush procession of mountainous hillsides, bright-green coffee plantations and cattle-flecked alpine pastures, stretching north to the Honduran border and east to the jungles and mines of the interior. The climate here is fairly temperate and the soil productive, with plenty of tobacco plantations and an economy based on coffee, grains, vegetables, fruit and dairy farming. The 150km journey north from Managua to Estelí, the northeast’s largest city, is one of the most inspiring in the country, as the Carretera Interamericana winds through the grassy Pacific plains, skirting the southern edge of Lago de Managua before climbing slowly into a ribbon of blue mountains. East of here is Matagalpa, a town of steep slopes and coffee shops, while around the two sit fincas and reserves that merit deeper exploration.
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