Nestled among bright riversand hills, sleepy El Sauce is the perfect escape from the crush and grind of city life. Once a stop on the Nicaragua railway system, the traces of which have since disappeared from all but maps, the contemporary El Sauce is now fill of triciclos, mototaxis and cowboys, who park their horses along the wide boulevards.
For pilgrims, El Sauce is best known as the home of the stubborn Santo Cristo a Esquipulas, or the Black Christ. The tiny Guatemalan figure arrived in 1723 during a Central American tour. The next stop was supposed to be Honduras, but each priest who tried to remove the figure sickened and died. The bishop of Guatemala, realizing the Santo Cristo liked the mountains, eventually agreed to leave the figure in El Sauce’s care. The largest celebration of El Señor de lost Milagros takes place on the third week of January when the city fills with the faithful.
El Señor experienced his own miracle in 1997 when the figure was saved from a fire that burned the Templo de El Sauce (1828) to the ground. The church was reconstructed in 1999 and has undergone several renovations, including work in 2009 to restore the roof above the high altar.
The church is regularly closed for construction, but La Capilla de Nuestro Señor de Milargros is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily (from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. in January). At the chapel’s souvenir booth, you can buy one of several C$5 lead charms. Pilgrims deposit the miniature cows, people, eyes, arms, hearts and houses in a box under the Black Christ in thanks or as a petition.
The El Sauce alcaldia has a very thorough, if not widely available, tourist map with icons for major attractions (including the four churches), hotels and bars. The numerous pulperias are marked as yellow dots. Some sell delicious local honey, just look for the signs. Jars range from C$25 to C$100, depending on the size.
When you start craving something more substantial, there are several local eateries. Cafetin El Sauceño serves burgers and tacos (C$12 to C$100) between 9 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., but cowboys seem to prefer the full comida corriente lunches at Comedor Falkis (505-2-319-2642; open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) for C$50 to C$75. The fritangas around El Sauce’s bus terminal can also provide a cheap grab-and-go meal.
Although still in the planning stages in spring 2009, city officials were already talking about turning the park into a full-service retreat, complete with lodging. Until that dream is realized, only one truck makes the daily trip, leaving for the El Sauce terminal at 8 a.m. and returning to the Ocotal at 1 p.m. (C$25 or US$1.25). Contact city officials ahead of time to arrange an overnight stay with a local community member.
For closer activities, head 3km out of town to La Piedra de San Ramón or catch a bus bound for Achuapa and asked to be dropped off at Rio Grande (mototaxis are C$200). The river is full of popular swimming holes and is cleaner than the local Rio El Sauce. Just make sure to jump on the last bus (passing the river around 3:20 p.m.) if you want to make it back to town.
The two hotels in El Sauce both offer rooms with air conditioning, cable TV and private bathrooms. Hotel Blanco (also known as Casa Blanca) has comfortable quarters – with tiny, oddly placed sinks – arranged around a shady courtyard (505-2-319-2403; singles with fan C$200/ air-con C$400; doubles C$300/500, triples C$390/$600). The economical Bar-Hotel El Viajero has sagging charm: an adobe roof full of parrots, a shrine in the lobby and bathroom cisterns. Since the showers may or may not have running water, plan on a cistern-inspired bucket bath (505-2-319-2325; singles C$80, matrimonial bed with fan C$150, matrimonial with air-con C$300). Meals at the hotel range from C$80 to C$120.
Finca Campestre Cárdenas (505-2-319-2329), just outside the southwestern limits of town, has a few private rooms with air conditioning, but has an unfortunate tendency to be closed on weekdays. Ring the doorbell on the gate to rouse the watchman.
There are various internet cafés around town, but the easiest by far to locate is the Instituto de Investigaciones y Gestion Social (INGES), behind the church (505-2-319-2401/ 2321, open from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 8 p.m. daily).
Regular buses leave for León (C$32) hourly between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. and between noon and 4 p.m. Microbuses (C$40) also leave sporadically between 6:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.