Forget Costa Rica — old news. Industry experts are calling Nicaragua the hottest destination in Central America, and one of its best bargains. The WTTC is predicting an 8.8 percent growth in international tourist spending over the next decade, making it one of the world’s top 10 emerging destinations.
Nicaragua is the largest Central American country – a land of rich biodiversity, with volcanic peaks, rain forests, beaches and nature reserves. In fact, the country boasts nearly 5 million acres of protected parks and preserves, filled with wildlife, including exotic birds, howler monkeys, turtles and giant iguanas.
Perfect for hiking in lush rain forest and smouldering volcanic mountains with views of Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s largest freshwater lake, and Ometepe Island, a UNESCO biosphere preserve. The university town of Leon is known for its cafes, shops, and eclectic museums. Surfers and sun lovers will love San Juan del Sur, a funky beach town along the Pacific Coast. The Spanish colonial town of Granada, with its grand cathedrals and well-preserved historical buildings, is also party central.
This song gives you a flavour: “Nicaragua, what a wonderful spot. There’s coffee and bananas and a temperature hot!“
It’s an adventure – hiking, surfing, zip wire, kayaking and volcano climbing – or after all that, just laze on the beach sipping a pina colada. It’s just about comfortable for those who turn left on an aircraft. Toilet paper goes in the bin not the loo. Wifi goes down when the power does too. Oh and don’t mind the insects, they were here first. Scorpions and tarantulas go with the territory. People are friendly, there’s no begging and it has not been spoiled with any international food chains. Retail is done from the front room. We went in January and it was windy, a few thunderstorms and the temperature around 30 C.
Relax – it’s very laid back – things, if they happen, do so on ‘Nica time’.
Apoyo Lake Resort
An easy first night is Apoyo Lake Resort which is an hour’s drive from Managua airport – brightly painted cottages tucked in a forest on a lake formed in the top of a volcano. Think Center Parcs in the jungle – self catering but with a couple of restaurants in the grounds. It’s steep with golf buggies to carry you around. Swim in the lake – warmed by the volcanic thermals, the resort’s infinity pool or a full day’s hike up the nearby Mombacho volcano.
It’s a gentle introduction to Nicaragua.
Masaya Volcano Park
Drive into the National Park to get close to an active volcano that spews out clouds of sulfur dioxide gas.
The tiny museum has the timeline of the volcano and some gruesome details about human sacrifices!
Masaya Arts and Craft Market
A laid back craft market
San Juan Del Sur #SJDS
San Juan Del Sur on the Pacific coast – a sleepy fishing village until it became a transit point for the California Gold Rush is now Nicaragua’s number one tourist spot and surfer and sun lovers paradise. A short drive from the town is Playa Hermosa a spectacular stretch of palm fringed white sandy beaches with gently rolling surf.
Hermosa is home to a few surf schools and location of CBS Survivor series.
There’s a small entry fee and Playa Hermosa Surf Camp has hammocks, showers and beer, cocktails and a great fish burger.
It’s a wild place so be careful of stingray and disturbing the sea turtles.
We stayed in a newly built self catering villa, Casa Colibri, centrally located in San Juan Del Sur town with great staff, all mod cons including wifi and a private pool. Book it here on VRBO Listing #626975
If you want to get up into the forest from SJDS go to Parque de Aventura Las Nubes for a swing through the trees on a zip wire.
The four wheel drive to the platform is a bone shaker but with great views down to San Juan Del Sur and neighbouring beaches. The zip wire course of 10 platforms is safely managed and great fun – especially the vertical drop and rope staircase.
In San Juan Del Sur, El Gato Negro is the place to chill with tamarind tea, toasted bagel and a book. They also sell this fantastic jam from Condimentos El Carrizal made by a local women’s cooperative project supported by CasaLlanta, which was started by one of the early US property investors in San Juan del Sur in order to put something back into the local community. See the website: casallantafund.com
El Barrio is a popular place to eat and get wifi and there’s El Pollito which serves tasty chicken and roast potatoes. SJDS restaurants here.
Be patient and kick back – SJDS happens at a slower pace and you might not quite get what you ordered.
Take one of the ferries over to Ometepe, a volcanic island in one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. Go as foot passenger, don’t take a vehicle, as you’ll have more chance of getting on and off the island if the weather gets choppy.
There are two volcanoes on the island – the larger Concepcion (1610m) – an all day hike and the easier Maderas where you can go up on horseback to the San Ramon waterfall. You can hire kayaks at Caballitos del Mar in Merida paddling along the lake to Rio Istian where you can spot egrets, turtles and monkeys – we weren’t lucky enough to see crocodiles, but we were making so much noise getting our oars tangled in the overhanging branches and weeds. Read more about kayaking here www.ometepenicaragua.com
If you are more culturally inclined there is a pre Colombian ceramics museum which hundred of artefacts from thousands of years. Funeral urns, pots and even a whistling vibrator.
Food is fresh and safe to eat – lots of lake fish, chicken, meat, eggs, rice, corn and beans. All organic on Ometepe because of the rich soil and high price of fertilisers. In other places it’s the typical tacos and quesadillas.
The local beer Tona is excellent – sparkling clear and cheap.
A party and cultural city with a very lively and pretty main square.
Stay in this great place La Islita Boutique Hotel with only eight rooms built around a mango tree with a swimming pool and beautiful paintings and antiques.
Take a boat trip to the small islands on Lake Nicaragua – rather like a Starline tour of the homes of the rich and famous. On one of the islands is a colony on monkeys who come down every time a boat approaches in the hope of scoring a banana.
There are some nice souvenirs to be had – whether it’s the hippy wrist bands from the beach, chocolate from quality local producer Momotombo, coffee beans, richly coloured fabrics and t shirts or decorated pots.
The entry tax at Managua Airport is US $10 payable in US dollars or Córdobas.
See Nicaragua on its way up – go now before everyone finds out about it.