At the warm heart of the Americas lies Nicaragua. It is famously a land of lakes and volcanoes, but also colorful Spanish Colonial cities, cool mountains, and exotic islands, all fringed with endless beaches along the Pacific and Caribbean shores.
Budget backpackers will think they’ve found paradise, the safest spot in Central America and also one of the least expensive. Increasingly, it is also home to some of the finest luxury accommodation in Central America, with rolling golf courses, opulent spas, and endless options for fine dining.
You will probably begin your visit in sultry Managua, Nicaragua’s gritty capital, admittedly not every traveler’s shot of rum.
But, from the international airport, it’s less than an hour to the epicenter of Nicaraguan tourism, Granada. The beautifully preserved Spanish Colonial city is a concoction of colorful architecture, excellent hotels, shady plazas, and a café-lined pedestrian thoroughfare leading to shores of Central America’s largest lake, where 365 photogenic islets are waiting to be explored.
Granada also makes a comfortable base for swimming in magical Laguna de Apoyo, and climbing cloud forested Mombacho Volcano or very active Masaya Volcano. The latter rises above the town of Masaya, the “Cradle of Nicaraguan Folklore,” and the Pueblos Blancos or White Towns, a cool, highland collection of crafts villages that include Catarina, with its breezy views over Laguna de Apoyo, and San Juan del Oriente.
Beach lovers have almost endless options, and San Juan del Sur is the most famous resort and surf town. To the north and south are more wonderful, relaxing beaches and surf spots, including La Flor Reserve, where sea turtles by the thousands return annually to lay their eggs. To the north are the surfing paradises of Playa Pie de Gigante and Popoyo, as well as more locally popular, family-oriented beaches like Pochomil.
Scuba divers have already heard of the Corn Islands, the last untamed islands in the Caribbean, just a short jaunt on a small plane from Managua.
If you prefer your water sweet, Lake Nicaragua holds the nation’s striking candidate for the Wonders of the World, Isla Ometepe. It is an impossibly picturesque island made of two volcanoes, connected by a slender, sandy isthmus. Or you could continue to the other side of the lake—an all-night journey on the ferry, or a few minutes in a plane—to the lush Solentiname Archipelago and wild Río San Juan.
Nicaragua’s other Spanish Colonial city, dramatic León, is your comfortable base for visiting the northwest of the country. Not quite as touristy as Granada, it still boasts a festive nightlife, cool university scene, and plenty of great restaurants and hotels, as well as the beach escapes of Poneloya and Las Peñitas. León also makes the perfect base for climbing several volcanoes: Telica, San Cristobál, and internationally famous Cerro Negro, the only place in the world where you can volcano board (exactly what it sounds like).
Further north is the little-visited city of Chinandega and the steamy Golfo de Fonseca.
If you want to cool off, head eastward and upward into Nicaragua’s chilly Segovia Mountains, where you have your choice of three fine cities in which to base your explorations: Estelí, home to Nicaragua’s world-famous cigar industry; Matagalpa, the bustling center of its coffee trade; and Jinotega, set almost into the clouds. Other area attractions include Somoto Canyon, Reserva Natural Cerro Tisey-Estanzuela, and lovely Selva Negra Mountain Resort.
If you are one of those rare individuals in search of real adventure, where few foreigners dare to go, Nicaragua truly offers the road less traveled. Begin in Las Minas, a trio of gold mining towns in the undeveloped center of the country, with access to Bosawás UNESCO Natural Reserve, the largest swath of protected rainforest north of the Amazon. At the end of the road (though we’d recommend taking a plane) is Bilwí, or Puerto Cabezas, little-visited Caribbean beach town where you can arrange boats elsewhere on the Mosquito Coast.
Nicaragua, the warm heart of the Americas, has so much to offer that the typical two-week vacation may tempt you to into spending a lifetime of exploration.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $20 per person
$$$ => Tickets $25 per person
$ => Rooms less than $75 for a double
$$ => Rooms $75-150 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$ => $10 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $50 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $75 per person
$$ => Tickets $75-125 per person
$$$ => Tickets $125 per person