Paying A Visit To Alberto The Hermit

Esteli Nicaragua Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking Rural Nicaragua

Esteli, Nicaragua

Alberto the hermit has been carving beautiful images into a cliff for over 30 years. He lives out in the Tisey Estanzuela Natural Reserve outside the town of Esteli.

Without a car, hitchhiking up there was a great way for me to visit. I jumped into a taxi to get to the outskirts of Esteli, a town known for cigar making. From there a rough dirt road winded up into the hills of the reserve.

Tisey is a 23,000 acre protected area in the North of the country.

After walking for only 15 minutes my first ride of the day pulled up. Jorge was piloting a small beat-up hatchback along the rough road. He knew Alberto, but wasn’t going that far up into the wilderness. So he gave me a lift up to where his house was located about 2 miles further.

My good luck slowed down a bit after that ride though, because I didn’t find another one for about 2 hours.

It’s not that people weren’t picking me up — it’s because no one driving by at all! I was walking alone in the hills of Nicaragua, and it was actually quite pleasant.

Alberto the Hermit Esteli Nicaragua

Father Time?

Motorcycle Rescue

I finally passed a sign that told me I was officially in the Tisey Reserve, and the landscape was beautiful. Rolling hills of green forest that go on for as far as the eye can see.

Roaming cattle and stray horses walked along the road beside me, passing small homes & farms with children playing outside.

Suddenly I heard the engine of something in the distance. Finally!

I waited for a bit, then thrust out my thumb just as a small motorcycle rounded the corner.

Philippe was a young farmer also on his way home, and he agreed to take me the rest of the way to Alberto on the back of his bike even though it was past where he lived. We flew up the rocky road occasionally crossing small streams.

When we arrived, I tried to give him some money for taking me further than he’d planned, but he refused it.

Esteli Nicaragua Carving Tools

Simple Tools of an Artist

Alberto The Hermit

I was soon walking down into the valley that led to where Alberto lives. After about 20 minutes, I spied a small shack on a side path. Alberto came down to greet me as I walked towards his home in the woods.

What a character he is!

The proud owner of a magnificent snow-white afro, leathery sun-tanned skin, and weathered lines etched into his face. He looked like Father Time himself!

Alberto was clearly very excited for a visitor as he anxiously motioned for me to follow him. We wandered down clean-cut & manicured trails for a bit, passing large boulders that he’d carved into.

Most of them displayed beautiful images of churches and animals.

Esteli Nicaragua Alberto the Hermit

Alberto Gutierrez the Hermit

Living Off The Land

The trail started to climb uphill, and we passed trees growing bananas, oranges, mangoes, and coffee. Alberto also grows pineapple out here. He eats what the land provides for him.

Next he showed me the tools he uses to carve with.

They consist of two sharpened pieces of rebar, a metal blade, and a stone hammer.

While these simple tools were pretty intriguing, I wasn’t prepared for how impressed I would be later when we finally made it to the main attraction…

Esteli Nicaragua Elephant Carving

Giant Elephant Carving

Sculptures On A Cliff

Alberto’s carvings were incredible. The cliff wall stretched some 300 feet, completely covered with his work. His subjects included all kinds of animals: birds, rabbits, deer, life-size anaconda snakes, 4 foot tall elephants, and large jaguars.

But there were also maps of Nicaragua, cathedrals, Chistopher Columbus’s ships, and even the Twin Towers of New York City.

He had carved out a whole shrine complete with images of Christ and surrounded with all sorts of flowers and greenery. Many of his images were in color. He uses red, blue, yellow, and white pigments.

He’d also built wooden benches along the route, so visitors can sit down to take in the expansive view overlooking the valley below.

Alberto Carvings Esteli Nicaragua

Colorful Murals Everywhere

Real Work Of Art

Alberto talked non-stop the whole time. I only understood bits & pieces. But even though I had no idea what he was saying, it was fun to listen.

We stopped to rest frequently, and he offered me a cigarette. I normally don’t smoke them, but how could I refuse this wildman of the woods? I pulled out my own small bottle of whiskey, and we drank & smoked while he rambled on for an hour. It was great!

I learned that Alberto is 79 years old, and has been living out here working on his cliff carvings for 33 years.

He’s an interesting, colorful, and eccentric character with a wonderful artistic gift. A real piece of Nicaraguan history. Who knows how much longer he’ll be around.

I feel privileged to have been able to meet him in person. ★

More Information

Location: Esteli, Nicaragua
Cost: $0.50 US (taxi ride)
Accommodation: Hospedaje Luna
Useful Notes: Take a taxi to Hospital San Juan on the outskirts of Esteli. Start walking up the dirt road that heads West to the village of Salto if you’re hitchhiking. The trail that leads down to Alberto is about 6-10 miles (10-15 km) from the hospital, with a sign that says “El Calejate”. You can find a map at Hospedaje Luna. I’ve been told there’s an occasional bus that goes up that way if you don’t want to hitchhike.

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What do you think about Alberto’s hermit lifestyle?

Any Questions Or Comments?

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27 Comments

  1. Well, in fact he is 77 now (2016). As he told himself he had a dream about his mountain and that he will make it so when he was 11 years old. But he started his project way later.
    He is amazing personality, one of those that You have to visit when You are near Estelí, especially if You can speak in Spanish. I am glad that You discovered him.

  2. Love this! I will be in Esteli this summer with my family and plan to see Alberto. What do you think would be a nice little sentiment to bring for him. He likes whiskey, anything else?

  3. Thanks for this article, my grandmother Berta Gutierrez Zamora is daugther of Hermenegildo Gutierrez Jiron who is part of Alberto’s family.

  4. Thanks for this very detailed report, it was a great help for me to find him as well, even though I was in a much better position with a local Couchsurfer! But getting there on a hitchhiking adventure like you did is beating my story by far haha!

    For those interested in checking up on Alberto from my visit in January 2015, find the link in my profile :)

    Cheers
    Chris

  5. What a great story from the hitchhiking to meeting such a rare character who embraces such a nontraditional life. I love your photo of him – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white afro before.

  6. I’ve never had a desire to hitchhike until now! This man and his artwork is spectacular. What a great story!

  7. Amazing what some people are able to do. Alberto probably loved being able to show you his work and now look how many other people will see it because you took the time to go up and find him. Nice job!

  8. OK, now I have to go to Nicaragua sometime and go see Alberto. What a fascinating, talented man. Thanks for the story; it made my day. Oh, and can you post more pics? I want to see more!

      1. My wife, daughter and I made the trip today. She had been before but we were not prepared for the hike down and back or the man himself and his work! What an inspiration! He met us like he had known us for years and spent over an hour describing his work, his philosophy of life and his love for nature. After picking us mangroves to eat, flowers for the ladies and giving us a blessing he walked us to his cabin, asked us to sign his guest book (one of 15) and we began the strenuous hike back to the road, tired and sore but with a rejuvenated spirit in the beauty of a life well lived and shared. God bless Alberto and best wishes for continued good health.

  9. Love this story. You always seem to find the interesting and off-the-beaten-path things to do in every country. I went through Central America so fast, I know I missed a lot.

    By the way, I am envious of the fact that you CAN hitchhike. It is just a bad idea for a woman traveling alone in this part of the world.

  10. Now you visited something good. There are few characters around that are talented and not just plain weird. What’s this about smoking? Whiskey is okay. Send samples.

  11. I assume your Spanish is pretty good then to hitchhike. I met an American girl who had a Peruvian boyfriend who they both did it all through South America (and for long distances). I did it a little bit in Ecuador myself and it’s always seemed like the locals refused any money when I tried to give them some. Love the stories man and your photos are really rocking!

    1. Just a guy living & working in the woods for over 3 decades who loves nature. :)

      His carvings are limited to cliff faces and boulders, nothing that you can take home. Some local villagers help him out from time to time, and while he’s too proud to take money for showing you his work, he does make bracelets that he sells to the occasional visitor.