Paradise, Diving, Cigars, Volcanoes, Turtles, and a little bit of sun for your soul.
In the heart of Central America, Nicaragua truly deserves the descriptive nickname of “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.” Visitors to Nicaragua are able to enjoy the natural beauty of dozens of volcanoes, rivers, and lakes, as well as two oceans. Certainly an ideal place to visit for anyone looking for something uniquely different and adventurous.
Check out the 10 reasons to travel to Nicaragua:
1. Amazing volcanoes
The country is known for its more than 50 volcanoes. One of the most famous and most tourist-friendly is Vulcan Mumbacho, 6 miles from Granada. You can catch a white-knuckle ride up the volcano (it’s supersteep) thanks to the Reserva Natural Volcan Mumbacho, and hike one of two trails. For an actively venting volcano where, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of red glowing lava, there is Volcan Masaya – the “gate to hell,” according to the Spaniards who discovered it. If it’s long, expert climbs you’re looking for, try Volcano Momotombo, near Leon on Lago de Managua, or Volcanoes San Cristobal and Maderas on Isla de Ometepe near San Jorge in Lago de Nicaragua. At Cerro Negro, one of the newest volcanoes in Nicaragua located in the Cordillera de los Maribios mountain range, you can hike up and surf down the volcano’s gravel-like ash.
Surf culture is big on the beaches of Nicaragua, and the epicenter of it all is a fishing village turned expat-pat beach town called San Juan del Sur. About 80 miles south of Managua, you’ll find killer breaks, fellow wave riders, and plenty of surf camps. Recommended surf beaches include Playa Remanso (great for beginners, with a sandy bottom and gentler waves), Playa Yankee, and Playa Maderas (better for experienced surfers). There are also yoga classes, hotels, and the closest thing to trendy restaurants and bars you’ll find in the area – all in a charming walkable downtown.
3. The amazing beaches from “Survivor”
The current 29th season of Survivor: San Juan del Sur, Blood vs. Water, airing now, is the third season to be filmed in Nicaragua. (Season 30 takes place there, too.) Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s worth taking a trip to the beaches – Playa Hermosa, Mixtocal, and Playa Escamequita. For the ultimate experience, head over to Rancho Chilamate and take its horseback riding adventure through the countryside, ending at Playa Escamequita, the main beach where the original Survivor: Nicaragua cast lived. There, you can ride your horse at a full canter down the long stretch of beach. It may be the most fun you can have in Nicaragua, or anywhere for that matter. It’s pure joy. Then hang out and have a drink before heading back.
4. Admire Granada
Granada has some of the most well-preserved architecture in Nicaragua. It was the first big Spanish settlement in the country and many of the buildings and churches in the Spanish colonial style are beautifully preserved (and painted a myriad of colors). Besides wandering around gawking at the architecture, you can take a kayaking trip to the nearby islets, enjoy hiking trips to Mombacho volcano, or visit the nearby markets in Masaya. While you’re in town, be sure to eat at one of the kiosks in the town square serving vigoron, a local pork and cabbage dish that was delicious (and only $2). Kathy’s Waffles and the Garden Café serve good Western food.
5. Visit Ometepe Island
This extraordinary island is located on Lago de Nicaragua and is formed by two joined volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas. Hiking, kayaking, cycling, and healthy food are the island’s main draws. Hiking the volcanoes is as hard as it appears; you’ll need to start really early or the midday heat will slow you down significantly (I learned this lesson the hard way). The volcano hikes cost around $20 USD if you’re part of a group or up to $40 if you’re by yourself (hike with a guide as it’s rather unsafe due to poorly maintained trails). Keep an eye out for all the monkeys—spotting them was more interesting than the hike!
6. Go Volcano Boarding
Cerro Negro, a young and active volcano, is where tourists (mostly backpackers) board down the gravelly slopes on one of the many organized tours to the mountain. You hike up to the top, which takes around an hour, sit on a piece of wood, and then fly down side of the volcano. Tours from León leave in the morning and in the afternoon. It’s the main reason lots of travelers visit León.
7. Escape to the Corn Islands
Located off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, the Corn Islands are a gorgeous place for a vacation retreat. Most people come to the islands to snorkel, scuba dive, fish, soak up the sun, and relax with a good book. There are two islands: Little Corn and Big Corn. Little Corn is the quieter, more backpacker-oriented island with cheaper guesthouses and fewer resorts. You can fly or take a ferry to Big Corn and then a smaller boat to Little Corn. Big Corn is more developed with larger resorts and more restaurants, and it’s more expensive.
8. Visit the Stone Man
Alberto Guiterrez has been carving animals and symbols into the stones outside Esteli for decades. He had a vision of angels who told him to carve, and in an effort to end his alcoholism, began carving every time he craved a drink. He’s not easy to get to, but when you find him, Alberto will welcome you into his home, give you fresh fruit, and show you all his stone carvings, which he says were inspired by God. He doesn’t speak any English, so if you don’t speak Spanish, just nod and enjoy the carvings. He also won’t ask for any money, but donations are welcome. This is a really great “off-the-beaten-path destination.”
9. Visit Apoyo Lagoon
Though lots of people visit Lake Nicaragua (which is the biggest and where Ometepe is), this lagoon near Managua is a nice spot to relax. You can sail on the lake, fish, and hike around. It’s a beautiful part of the country.
Nicaragua is a great country to just hang out in. Sit on a beach with a good book, relax in the jungle, stay on the farm, surf, or swing in a hammock. The pace of life here is slow and relaxed, so slow yourself down and enjoy some lazy, wonderful days.