The cathedrals in the mountain towns of Matagalpa, Jinotega, and Esteli may not be the largest, oldest, or most historically significant such as the National Cathedral in Managua or Leon’s cathedral, which is the biggest in all of Central America. However, these cathedrals contain the most unique architecture of any building within the towns and their size in relation to the other buildings make it appear that they are larger than they are.
Matagalpa is Nicaragua’s fifth largest city and the most important in this mountainous region. The Cathedral of San Pedro is clearly the city’s most important landmark. The cathedral was built in 1874 and is the third largest in the country. It is located north of the Parque Morazan, the city park, and it is easily identifiable anywhere in the city. Cathedral of San Pedro is a large cathedral painted crisp white with two towering bell towers. To get a real sense of how imposing this cathedral is, it is best viewed from up above. The Matagalpa-Jinotega highway offers excellent views of the city from up in the mountains. Admission is free to visit the cathedral and it is open 5-8pm daily with mass every night at 6pm.
Located further up in the mountain from Matagalpa is the small village of Jinotega. Because of its remote location, it was a perfect haven for rebel troops. It was the most war-torn region in Nicaragua and has been for the past seventy years starting with the Sandino regime and then during the 1970’s when Nicaragua experienced a civil war against President Samoza. Although the war has been over for decades, the village continues to rebuild and grow. The San Juan Cathedral was originally built sometime in the early 1800’s, but was replaced by a new building in 1958. Located across the Parque Central, the cathedral is beautifully painted in white trimmed in yellow. The cathedral just recently experienced a total renovation. Admission is free to visit the cathedral.
About an hour away from Matagalpa is the town of Esteli. It is one of the fastest growing cities and is considered the cigar making capital of Nicaragua. Like Jinotega, it experienced a majority of the fighting during the 1970’s civil war. Esteli’s cathedral is located across from the Parque Central. The cathedral was originally built in 1823 and has been rebuilt several times over the decades. The cream colored cathedral is definitely Esteli’s most architecturally unique building. Admission is free, however, the hours vary.
These cathedrals offer great picture taking opportunities. However, be cognizant of the fact that these cathedrals are usually open to the public most of the day. Although services may not be going on at the time, it is not uncommon for people to drop in to pray or speak with the priest. Be respectful when visiting but also don’t hesitate to ask someone to explain the history of the church. You may be surprised at what you will learn.