Seek out some solitude in soul-stirring Nicaragua.
Scattered with volcanoes and lakes, Nicaragua's myriad natural glories are evidence of a land that is unable to keep still and, like the culture, is full of colour and life. Seismic activity is par for the course in a country criss-crossed with fault lines. Although this accounts for the lack of enduring historic artefacts, it also creates volcanoes to clamber up, productive soil for agriculture and an ever-interesting horizon. This adventurous landscape is also fringed with pristine beaches of white sand and aquamarine waters... And the real beauty of this bounteous country is that you may find you have much of it to yourself.
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Top things to do in Nicaragua
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this Central American nation. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in Nicaragua.
Explore colourful Granada
The colonial highlights of Granada are a delight. The city is also known as 'La Gran Sultana' due to its Moorish and Andalusian appearance and has a great atmosphere - busy but not frenetic, traditional but not old fashioned - and a perfect location on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. Explore the churches, admire the architecture, and sample the fantastic local cuisine.
Admire the twin peaks of Ometepe
Lake Nicaragua is a signature natural feature of the country with an extraordinary 365 islets scattered in its restless waters. The twin peak volcanic island of Ometepe tempts visitors with its beauty and peaceful ambience. Scale the volcanoes, admire the waterfalls and ancient petroglyphs, kayak the surrounding waters and always keep your eyes peeled for Nicaragua's fantastic wildlife.
Relax on the Corn Islands
About 70km east of Nicaragua's Caribbean coastline, the Corn Islands are arguably the most untouched paradise islands you will find. Boasting luscious, tangled vegetation, clean white sands and turquoise sea filled with wonderful marinelife, they are havens on which to enjoy some proper rest and relaxation. They're not posh but they are the perfect representation of the Caribbean before swanky resorts and luxury hotels became a feature.
Explore historic Léon
Less polished than Granada - but no less charming for it - Léon is the cultural capital of Nicaragua, with its important educational and religious institutions. As a student city there is plenty of youthful energy as well as a packed calendar of cultural events, and the city retains its slightly rebellious air due to the historic revolutionary activity that flourished here in the past. The stand-out sight is the Metropolitan Cathedral, one of the largest and most important in Central America, interesting from an architectural point of view as well as for the departed great and good of Nicaragua whose final resting place is here.
Lesser-known highlights in Nicaragua
While there are plenty of well-known things to do in Nicaragua, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Nicaraguan adventure.
Let your hair down in San Juan del Sur
A great place to finish off your Nicaraguan trip, this Pacific coast town is attractive, fun and has loads to do. The curving golden sands are right on the doorstep, with plenty of other beaches within striking distance. There are no specific sights to tick of your list, but instead there is no shortage of activities to get stuck into. Watch turtles nesting (August-January), go surfing, hiking, kayaking, diving, sailing - there are all sorts of watersports on offer here. When you’ve finished the day’s activities, the laidback holiday vibe in town means that dining and nightlife options are fantastic, and lots of fun.
Get your coffee fix in Matagalpa
Surrounded by the beautiful green undulations of the west central highland region, Matagalpa is the coffee capital of Nicaragua. From the cultural sights in the city itself to the outdoor activities that tempt you out into the countryside, there is no shortage of reasons to visit. Hiking trails crisscross the highlands among the coffee plantations, where you can stop off for an insight into the production process and to sample different coffee blends. Back in town, don’t miss the Museo del Café or the many beautiful churches.
Discover Las Isletas
Around 20,000 years ago the Mombacho volcano erupted violently, scattering debris into the lake and creating Las Isletas, a cluster of more than 350 islets and islands located around 20 kilometres from Granada. It’s a great destination for a boat trip or a kayak adventure to see the different islands - some dense with vegetation and alive with the sound of resident monkeys and parrots, others home to fishermen’s shacks, and an increasing number of individual islands which have been snapped up by wealthy locals who build homes here.
As part of the Central American land bridge, Nicaragua has a diverse roll call of avian fauna and makes a great destination for keen birders. There are a fantastic variety of habitats within a relatively small area, making it straightforward to cover mangrove, mudflats, cloudforest and estuarine ecosystems all in one trip. Montebelli wildlife reserve is home to around 165 different bird species, while the Juan Venado wetlands are a haven for nesting water birds. Padre Ramos Nature Reserve boasts 175 avian species, and can be explored by kayak for a close up experience.
When is the best time to visit Nicaragua?
The varied landscapes of Nicaragua complicate the climate, but the dry season - arguably the best time to go - reliably begins in December and finishes in April. Bear in mind that it can really heat up during the months f March and April. Then follows the wet season, when humid conditions dominate, with refreshing regular rainfall. The daily rainfall is a year-round feature on the Atlantic coast, though the temperature remains warm all year too. As you would expect, the mountainous regions tend to have slightly cooler temperatures than the lowlands.
Interesting facts about Nicaragua
Nicaragua is a fascinating and relatively untravelled country - did you know any of our favourite interesting facts about it?
- Nicaragua has the largest reservoir of fresh water in Latin America, best known as Lake Cocibolca or Lake Nicaragua.
- Nicaragua is the only place in the world where you can sand board an active volcano.
- The Cathedral of León, declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2011, is the largest in Latin America and it was supposed to be built in Lima, Perú during Colonial times. However, maps of the location were mixed up.
- Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America.
- The founder of Granada, the oldest town in continental Latin America, was Hernandez de Cordoba who commenced construction in 1524. The national currency, the Cordoba, was named in his honour.
- There are two coasts in Nicaragua, the Pacific and the Caribbean.
- Lake Nicaragua extends over more than 8,000 square kilometres, has hundreds of islands, and is home to several species of fish that are only present in this single lake.
What to read before you go to Nicaragua
'The Jaguar Smile' by Salman Rushdie
An insightful portrait of of Nicaragua and its multifaceted revolutionary character in the mid 1980s. Rushdie creates a compelling picture of the Nicaragua he found during his exploration, delving into the politics, the population and the poetry.
'Azul' by Ruben Dario
Dario is a hero in Nicaragua, and his poetry and prose is among the most important of Nicaragua’s literary legacy. This is a short story that many Nicaraguans will know almost by heart.
'Adios Muchachos' by Sergio Ramirez
A memoir and historical overview of the uprising prompted by the Somozan dictatorship, told with flair and engaging first person perspective by a former prominent figure in the Sandinista Revolution.
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