Estelí is sometimes called the "Diamond of the Segovias." Such a sobriquet might be a little exaggerated, but Estelí is set on a broad, flat valley, surrounded by peaceful rural villages, and is a glorious sight in the sun. Its elegant cathedral and shady plaza make for very pleasant strolling, and you can easily spend a day or two here taking in its revolutionary murals, shopping for excellent handicrafts, and perhaps visiting one of the cigar factories or coffee farms in the area. Its several universities means it has a youthful, vibrant population, and its location as the last main town before the Honduran border means many travelers stop off here for a taste of the highlands.
A staunch Sandinista stronghold, Estelí was heavily bombed by the Somoza regime during the worst years of the revolution, adding credence to its other, less appealing, nickname -- the "River of Blood." Hurricane Mitch left its mark, too -- the usually dry Río Estelí became a massive torrent that gorged its way through the city's hinterland, taking people and houses with it. Thankfully, the town has now settled back into a peaceful farming lifestyle. It's currently a city of 110,000 and an important agricultural center for tobacco, wheat, cattle, and cheese. It's also the closest town to the spectacular Miraflor Nature Reserve, the waterfall Salto Estanzuela, and the Tisey Reserve, and it is the biggest Nicaraguan city before the Honduran border.