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Nicaragua is known as “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes,” capturing natural beauty deriving from the glistening waters and active rumbling mountains scattered across the country, in addition to pristine primary forests and beaches shimmering with white sands. The country has emerged as an enchanting destination boasting cities dating back 500 years, and captivating excursions.
Despite Nicaragua being the largest country in Central America at over 50,338 square miles (130,374 square kilometers), it remains one of the region’s least visited by international tourists despite its recent development. Nicaragua attracts visitors with charming Spanish colonial towns and natural grandeur after the years of political turmoil, and natural disasters claimed the historic museums, art galleries, and theaters. Whether relaxing on the Caribbean Coast or wandering around the tropical forest and pine savannas, the country has preserved its culture and protected its enchanting scenery for travelers enthusiastic about thrilling adventures or actively resting.
Biodiversity emerges from the lakes and volcanoes, filling the mountains, canyons, and beaches in addition to the tropical forests and jungles inspiring 78 protected areas across the country covering nearly 20 percent of Nicaragua. The landscape’s diversity supports almost 200 mammals, from new-world monkeys to jaguars, as well as approximately 700 different bird species, and 150 reptiles species out of the world’s 180 species in the world. Local communities and the federal government are committed to protecting the beauty of their home and the diversity of flora and fauna for future Nicaraguans and visitors interested in experiencing the natural charms of the idyllic countryside.
Costa Rica acts as the southern border, with Honduras running along the north. Pico Mogotón soars above the northern border as Nicaragua’s highest point reaching 6,912 feet (2107 meters) above sea level. The tropical climate shapes the two seasons shifting between dry and wet. However, the dense moisture often results in daily showers, even for a short period along the Atlantic coastline, which has much more rainfall than the Pacific partly due to how the hurricane seasons affects the eastern shores between September and October. The temperature and rainfall vary across the country due to the fascinating mountains and volcano chain causing the rich differences in three main geographical regions of the Pacific Lowlands, North-Central Mountains, and the Atlantic Lowlands.
In 2016, Nicaragua caused a stir when it refused to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. However, the government made a statement by rejecting the agreement fearing it did not do enough to protect the world’s natural resources highlighting Nicaragua’s commitment to eco-friendly businesses, building opportunities, and tourism. In 2017, Nicaragua agreed to join the Paris Climate accords with Vice President Rosario Murillo saying the agreement focused on, “…the unity of intentions and efforts to face up to climate change and natural disasters.” The federal government believes its commitment to eco-friendly development remains in the local, national, and international interest which will result in job prospects and a variety of career opportunities for a nation known as the second-poorest in the Western Hemisphere as of 2018.
The country as a whole is looking to develop geothermal power after looking at 12 different regions along the Pacific Volcanic Range. Roads and trails allow you to uncover deserted beaches and hidden lakes, rushing waterfalls and active volcanic craters glowing with radiant light from its core. Quetzals and goldfinches attract birders for their exclusive sightings. Dusty volcanic slopes promise adventure with boarding lessons or overnight camping in search of an unforgettable iridescent sunrise. Locals often greet one another with Adiós, which translates as, “to God,” as a term of endearment and well-wishes between Nicaraguans reflecting a deeply religious culture, as well as the importance of acting courteously. Waves crash against the Pacific shores and the waters lapping against the banks of Lake Nicaragua reflect the surrounding emerald forest.
Nicaragua is still emerging from the shadows of its reputation but draws newcomers in with effortless allure. The colonial towns capture history and a wealth of heritage sweeping from the northeast corner to the southwest shores, apparent in the cloud forest at Mombacho and the stunning Ometepe island in the heart of Lake Nicaragua. Your introduction to Nicaragua provides an accessible guide to the practical information acquainting you with the questions we all have when visiting a new country, such as visa requirements and health issues, safety concerns and the must-see wonders of Central America’s charismatic travel destination.
Nicaragua has recently become a popular destination famous for striking volcanic peaks, stunning surf breaks, and old colonial architecture. The lesser-known attractions of the countryside provide 550 miles (885 kilometers) of unfettered coastline strung with sandy beaches and tranquil towns. Step beyond the gorgeous natural landscape and find the fascinating pastel colors shimmering on the facades of charming churches blending luxury and history while surrounded by natural beauty.
The comforts of eco-friendly lodges provide perfect views to scattered mist drifting across the mountain tops and waves crashing down along the Pacific shores. Nature offers an alluring show along the Pacific coastline with the shores of Lake Nicaragua and the fascinating gateway to colonial Granada among well-tended roads. The Atlantic coast harbors more secluded escapes with remote destinations readily available by plane instead of cars, such as the airstrip in Bluefields, which acts as the getaway to Corn Islands and Pearl Keys. Whitehead capuchin monkeys laze in the trees after snacking on berries, nuts, or bugs.
Big cats like jaguars, cougars, pumas, and ocelots roam through the wilderness at midnight hiding in the dark foliage of the nature reserves and wildlife refuges. Sloths blend in with the tree bark high in the canopy and anteaters forage in the underbrush in search of their favorite snack. The landscape boasts a stunning array of wildlife captivating visitors who take the time to explore the natural splendor of terrain sculpted by thousands of years volcanic activity. However, the marine life bordering the country provides ample grandeur with marine life like the infamous bull shark. Whether diving off the Atlantic or Pacific coasts or wading into the cool body of Lake Nicaragua, the waters in and around the country have unique aquatic life, including hosting freshwater bull sharks and sawfish.
Look from the land to the sea and up into the sky at the idyllic setting for avid or amateur birdwatchers. Researchers discover new species of birds around the country often with many birders arriving in Nicaragua searching for the great green macaw, blue-crowned motmot, and the red-lored Amazon parrot. With a new dedication to developing tourism on various scales, Nicaragua attempts to strike a balance between luxury and authenticity keeping in mind sustainable practices that would protect the natural bounty of the landscape. As of 2016, Nicaragua received approximately 1.5 million tourists and was expected to rise another 28.4 percent in 2017.
Many countries in Central America have tropical climates with two specific seasons rather than the four seasons of countries located farther away from the equator. The summer runs between December and April when the hot weather can reach dramatic temperatures with uncomfortable dryness. However, the lack of rain makes it a great time for visitors to explore the beaches or the cooler weather along the highlands. Water sources tend to thin in the summer with waterfalls and rivers drying up and the Pacific basin becoming dustier as the vegetation shrivels. The rainy season occurs between May and November incurring long deluges that keep the scenery lush.
The rainfall often changes based on region with the Pacific showers falling more often in the afternoon versus the year-round hot and humid weather of the Atlantic coast. The moisture of the east coast attracts significantly more rainfall than the opposite shores of the country especially during the hurricane season between September and October. The highlands reflect the medium ground between the rains of the east and west coast, enjoying a cooler spring-like climate as opposed to the hot lowlands. Truthfully, the showers during the wet season sound more troublesome than they are, with many regions receiving the rainfall around afternoon and night.
The three regions of Nicaragua represent the microclimates of Central America’s tropical landscape. The Pacific zone has elevations below 2,000 feet with consistent temperatures throughout the year ranging between 84 degrees Fahrenheit and 91 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Central Highlands have an elevation between 2,000 feet (609 meters) and 5,000 feet (1524 meters) above sea level. Year-round mild temperatures reaching 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.9 degrees Celsius) to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.6 degrees Celsius). The Caribbean Lowlands have a tropical heat separate from the rest of the country coupled with humidity accounting for up to 256 inches (650 centimeters) of rainfall a year. Depending on your preferred activities and your preference in avoiding the crowds on the trails, at the beaches, and around the colonial towns the two different seasons of Nicaragua provide ample opportunities.
The capital of Nicaragua has a mesmerizing pace amid the chaotic twisting highways and collection of ramshackle neighborhoods hosting more than a quarter of the country’s population at an estimated 2.5 million in the greater metropolitan area as of 2018. The city has transitioned from a monster of urban development grown out of the nation’s economic heart to a whirl of sprawling markets, low-rise buildings, fantastic street art representing the cultural strings connecting the entire country. The recent makeover over has brought new life to the neighborhoods once considered less-than-friendly or even desolate with a captivating new promenade along the lakeshore of Lago de Managua. Managua was established in 1852 as the capital of Nicaragua due to a compromise between rival cities Granada and Leon.
A devastating earthquake in 1972 stopped the city’s development until recently when new infrastructure projects reshaped the capital with modern malls, green space along spectacular lakeside promenades, and distinct infrastructure projects. The life brought by the new developments gives visitors a reason to stop, stay, and explore the economic center of Nicaragua. Paleo-Americans settled the region around 12,000 BC and archeologists have uncovered fossils along the shores of Lake Managua dating back 2,120 years. Fishermen established an official town on the shores of Lake Managua before the city grew to incorporate the lakeside in 1819.
The city encompasses 210 square miles (543 square kilometers) including the edges of Lake Managua’s southern shores. The temperature remains consistent with the tropical climate averaging between 82 degrees Fahrenheit (27.8 degrees Celsius) and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 degrees Celsius) year-round. Even after the earthquake of 1972, Managua has retained the manicure of Nicaragua’s cultural capital hosting wide boulevards, pedestrianized sidewalks, parks, and colorful gardens. The colonial architecture that has survived the earthquakes over the centuries retain historical texture, such as cracked walls along the edges of Catedral de Santiago and the Rubén Dario National Theater.
An eternal flame flickers in Central Park commemorating Comandante Carlos Fonseca, the founder of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. However, the National Palace of Culture represents one of the oldest remaining buildings in central Managua unharmed by the 1972 earthquake. The structure was erected in 1935 and acted as Nicaragua’s house of Congress until 1994 before hosting the National Archive, National Library, and National Museum, the latter of which displays pre-Columbian paintings, statues, and ceramics spanning 500 years.
1. Old Cathedral
The cracked and faded shell of Managua’s old Catedral de Santiago offers a flicker of the city’s decadent colonial past and hindered contemporary history. Construction on the edifice lasted ten years, between 1928 to 1938 becoming the first cathedral in the western hemisphere to contain a concrete metal frame. The structure survived the earthquake of 1931 but did not escape unscathed in the major earthquake of 1972. Stone angels continue to decorate the exterior like guardians protecting the image of the city’s former wealth and prestige bathed in the golden tropical light. The interior is empty and off-limits to visitors but has become a beautiful image of the city and a metaphor known for its gorgeous exterior and hollow center. However, that image has changed over the years, at least for the city.
2. Museum of Acahualinca
The small museum is dedicated to a collection of fascinating ancient footprints, and other findings discovered first in 1874 by a group of works on the shores of Lake Managua. The footprints originally were dated back 6,000 years and named the oldest discovered footprints on the American continent. However, after further investigation, the footprints were dated back to 2,100 years ago. The fossils were engraved in volcanic ash capturing the images of humans, mammoths, and smaller animals, as well as pre-Columbian tools.
While speculation abounded about the track showing the hoards running from a volcanic eruption, forensic specialists have determined neither the people nor animals were running. The same specialists concluded the people were also taller than expected reaching averaging between 4.7 feet (143 centimeters) and 5.4 feet (164 centimeters) tall. A dig in the 1940s excavated an extra 14 layers of earth uncovering Chorotega ceramics and artifacts. An on-site museum displays preserved bison tracks and uncovered ceramics, as well as a human skull.
3. National Museum
The cultural treasures are on display in the National Museum with the halls once acting as the house of the National Congress. The exhibits span some 4,000 years of pre-Columbian history across nine rooms hosting permanent and temporary exhibitions. The nine rooms consist of:
A. The Natural History Room
The room provides an overview of the historical and contemporary geological make-up of Nicaragua with interesting maps, uncovered minerals from around the country, and samples of elements with volcanic origin.
B. Paleontology Room
The smaller exhibit has a collection of bones pertaining to prehistoric mammals discovered around the country including skeletal remains of a mastodon, a giant anteater, and a whale. Few excavations take place in Nicaragua making the findings that much more interesting.
C. Pre-Columbian Ceramics
The popular exhibit displays an elaborate collection of pre-Columbian ceramics found around the Pacific and northern regions of Nicaragua. The display is grouped and arranged by dates between 2,000 BC and the 16th century after the Spanish conquistadors landed on the shores of Nicaragua. The different groupings act as a timeline of the evolution of artistic and artefactual techniques showcasing statuettes, utensils, funeral urns, and jewelry.
D. Traditional Art Room
The small exhibition provides a small representation of regional crafts with pieces highlighting techniques and materials using clay, marmolina, rope, seed, wood, and ceramics.
E. Room of Latin American Paintings
The larger room acts as an art gallery for contemporary artists of the Latin American region with a collection of showing for between one to three months. Different styles take center stage with shows hosting up to 40 paintings of renowned or up and coming artists.
F. Metate Room
The distinctive room contains stone instruments from indigenous tribes used for processing corn referencing the cultural importance of corn for indigenous peoples. The corn also depicts animal figures carved from volcanic rock crafted mainly between the 9th and 13th centuries.
G. Room for friends and Supporters of Art and Culture
The room hosts short- and long-term exhibitions for up to three months with artistic collections or exhibits on loan from other museums and embassies, such as sacred or religious art, antique paintings, and historical statues.
H. The Güegüense Room
The room contains two parts with one side of the exhibition referring to a Nicaraguan author Carlos Montenegro who published a contemporary version of an historical play written in Spanish and Náhuatl performed during colonial times. The second exhibition demonstrates the photos, collages, and video of festivals capturing performances of traditional El Güegüense plays.
I. Rodrigo Peñalba Room
The final room was named after famous Nicaraguan painter Rodrigo Peñalba and is dedicated to presenting contemporary regional paintings and sculptures. The exhibitions last between one and three months for artists at all stages of their career.
4. Parque Histórico Nacional Loma de Tiscapa
The hilltop overlooking the lagoon has hosted the presidential palace for 40 years. This hill is the highest point in the city formed by 10,000 years of volcanic activity. The protected natural reserve was established in 1991 within the city limits of Managua. Walls along the shores of the lagoon host restaurants and stores, while the hilltop offers fantastic views of the historic downtown area.
Archeologists have uncovered a variety of pre-Columbian artifacts around the reserve and banks of the lagoon. Other unique artifacts in the reserve consist of a tank offered to Anastasio Somoza by Benito Mussolini, in addition to ruins of the former palace and a silhouette statue of General Augusto C. Sandino. An underground room contains paraphernalia dedicated to the general’s life fighting for his homeland against United States intervention as well as his mysterious death.
Approximately 31 miles (49.8 kilometers) southeast of the capital city of Managua stands the historical colonial town of Granada, which remains the oldest Spanish colonial city in Central America. The city was established on the shores of what is now Lake Nicaragua in 1524 and named after the home town of Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba. The wealth of Granada grew due to the exploitation of the landscape and local native people as the Spanish transferred and collected shipments of gold and raw minerals from across the Spanish empire along the Americas before sending the elements back to the royal family.
In the 19th century, a private military under American general William Walker captured and held Granada and declared himself president of Nicaragua. An international coalition consisting mainly of Costa Rican, Honduran, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan troops ousted the imposing army in 1856, but during Walker’s retreat, his army raised much of the city to the ground. The city has become one of the most visited cities in Nicaragua due to its preserved grandeur, as well as the government’s large-scale restoration project focusing on refurbishing the old colonial charm.
The bright pastel colors paint the facades of antique homes, restaurants, boutique hotels, and fashionable bars. Due to the time frame in which the city was erected, the structures reflect the influences of Spanish colonial, Spanish baroque, and Moorish architectural designs. The strategic location made the city a popular destination for explorers, conquistadors, and pirates in addition to attracting rival imperial powers eager to gain the power of the regional economic capital.
Atmospheric cafes and quiet local shops line the main street of Calle la Calzada. A number of the most popular restaurants in the city have become leaders in the national culinary scene supporting farm-to-table sustainable methods using local growers and producers. The narrow cobblestone lanes and wide boulevards lead to the impressive monuments preserved for nearly 500 years, including the canary yellow walls of Catedral de Granada and the bustling lanes of the market plaza.
As tourism has grown in Nicaragua, Granada has become a popular destination visitors use as a departure point to explore other areas of the country, such as Mombacho Volcano, known for its mesmeric cloud forest and the Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve. The city acts like and open-air museum revealing a gorgeous destination in which you can stroll along the colonial ambiance at your leisure choosing to relax in a courtyard, visit one of the gallery exhibitions or travel to one of the nearby “must-see” attractions.
1. Convento y Museo San Francisco
The rich heritage of the San Francisco Convent began in 1525 upon its foundation and again in 1665 when rebuilt after a pirate raid before William Walker’s mercenaries raised the city in the mid-19th century. Despite years of attacks, the former convent retains its beauty embodied in the original walls, vestibule, and part of the tower. The museum gallery displays statues made from black basalt and date between 800 to 1200 AD. One of the unique attractions in the convent is the ancient catacombs located beneath the foundations. Historians believe approximately 75,000 people have been lain to between the subterranean walls. The bones have been arranged in neat and considerate layers.
2. Parque Nacional Archipiélago Zapatera
The crescent islands of the archipelago surrounding the shores of Zapatera island are in fact the craters of extinct volcanos protruding from the body of the lake. Zapatera island is also a volcanic shield shaped by the geological activity over thousands of years. The Nahuatl people used the island as a burial ground giving the landscape the colloquial name of Isla el Muerto or Island of Death. A rock with ancient drawings crowns the highest point of the island landscape atop Zapatera Hill, which reaches 1,968 feet (517 meters) above sea level.
Trails wind and weave around the island’s scenic 20 square miles and lead to the peak offering spectacular views of Ometepe Island. The government established the protected park in 1983 to guard the archeological statues, petroglyphs, and ceramic artifacts of pre-Columbian origin. Black basalt statues dating back to the 9th century AD reach as tall as seven feet, three inches representing human and animal figures or social leaders.
3. Laguna de Apoyo
The volcanic chain spanning Nicaragua causes a cone-shaped crater hosting the Apoyo Lagoon located between Granada and Masaya. The nature reserve designated in 1991 was formed 23,000 years ago after a volcanic eruption left a giant hole in the landscape reaching 3.7 miles (5.9 kilometers) in diameter. The water has since filled the inverted cone reaching a depth of 328 feet (100 meters) below sea level at its lowest point and 246 feet (75 meters) above sea level along the shores at the lagoon’s highest point. The crystal-clear water has few blemishes caused by human interaction with a consistent temperature between 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.6 degrees Celsius) to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (27.7 degrees Celsius). A natural forest ring surrounds the crater with cattle farms and agricultural coops interrupting the tree-line.
The gorgeous landscape supports a tropical dry ecosystem with little to no rain in the dry season and deluges in the wet season providing lush vegetation and growth. When exploring the trails and underbrush along the edges of the lagoon, you can discover green iguanas, white-headed capuchin monkeys, and giant anteaters, in addition to jaguarundis and common boas. Dark-sand beaches with small pebbles line the body of water and hiking trails lead to surprising views overlooking the well-preserved ecosystems. If you prefer an active adventure while visiting Laguna de Apoyo, you could partake in:
- Scuba diving
- Bird watching
Like Granada, Leon was established in 1524 by Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernandez de Córdoba making it one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas. The city boasts remarkable architecture reflecting a wealth of inspiring churches and stunning art collections, a gorgeous streetscape embodying the cosmopolitan ambiance, and a unique blend of intellectualism and fiery political focus deriving from passionate students, fashionable artists, and chic poets. Leon represents the second largest city in Nicaragua by with a population of approximately 206,264 as of 2016.
The city center hosts ruins of the “first city” preserved in a veil of ash after the 17th-century eruption of Momotombo Volcano. Eight volcanoes surround Leon, including the young, small volcanic peak of Cerro Negro, which offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscape, in addition to slopes where locals practice snowboarding. Only 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) from the Pacific coastline, Leon also provides access to fabulous beaches known for great waves or quiet estuaries. The beautiful church of Iglesia de la Recolección was erected in 1786 with a Mexican baroque style showing swirling columns and bas-reliefs. The Museo Rubén Darío has galleries inside the poet’s former home.
Museums and monuments scatter Nicaragua commemorating the career of the famous poet, but the colonial house retains much of the original charm while displaying personal effects and various poems from the late 1800s. A smaller but equally important attraction in the city is the quesillo vendors who serve the traditional corn tortilla filled with soft cheese and topped with pickled onion and sour cream. The former Cárcel la 21 was a jail in the neighborhood of San Sebastian. The detention center housed political prisoners and remained a symbol of tyranny from 1910 to 1921 before the complex transformed into an art museum in 2000.
San Juan del Sur
The former sleeping village has prospered over the years with wave hunters in search of the perfect break on Nicaragua’s western shores. A flush river runs through the verdant valley through the beach town feeding into the Pacific. The beach boasts dark sand of fine, soft grains flanked by two dramatic cliffs. The city is 87 miles (140 kilometers) south of Managua and remains popular among surfers, beachgoers, and families looking for time on the crescent-shaped bay. The town became a popular port destination in the 1850s during the California gold rush when prospectors found the bay a place to rest before heading north due to its location on the narrow Rivas isthmus between the Pacific and Lake Nicaragua.
The average high temperature reaches 82 degrees Fahrenheit (27.7 degrees Celsius) in the summer and drops to 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22.2 degrees Celsius) in winter with low annual precipitation. The character and charm of the city emanate from the colorfully painted homes and vibrant sunsets. Restaurants have thatched roofs, and the lack of high-rise hotels keeps the traditional appeal of coastline visible to all visitors. The beach side town has gained a considerable cosmopolitan ambiance with restaurants offering popular cuisine from around the world, such as authentic Italian food, gourmet Spanish tapas, Asian dishes, and even American donuts making San Juan del Sur a popular destination for traveling foodies as well.
The relaxed ambiance only accentuates the beauty of the southern Pacific beaches populated with sporadic Victorian homes and the towering statue of Jesus of Mercy on the hillside. It is one of the ten largest statues of Jesus in the world, and the largest in Central America at 78 feet (23.7 meters) tall. Shops, casual bars, and bustling clubs line the streets of the tropical paradise but never erase the soothing sounds of the lapping waves or the tranquil atmosphere of the coastal views. Thrill-seekers can look opposite the waves to find a captivating zip-line excursion through the canopy up to 1,312 feet (954 meters) above the forest floor. Instead of museums and art galleries, theaters and historic architecture the calming beauty of San Juan del Sur is the appeal, coupled with sensational lobster, captivating folklore, and endless excursions.
Mombacho Volcano and Cloud Forest
The defining feature of the Granada skyline reaches 4,412 feet (1,344 meters) above sea level as a dramatic, active volcanic peak. To remind locals and visitors of its active nature, period puffs of smoke rise from the crater above the surrounding cloud forest and steaming fumaroles. The Volcán Mombacho Nature Reserve contains elaborate rails and hosts eco-mobiles traversing the 40 percent grade reaching heights of over 3,600 feet (1,097 meters) above sea level making for an adventurous ride.
The temperature drops significantly between the heat of Granada and the cool but humid air of the 2,500-acre (1011 hectare) cloud forest reserve. Small farms and coffee plantations wrap around the base of the volcano thriving on the rich minerals taken from the geothermal activity in the soil. The flora of the protected landscape consists of 800 different species of plants including vibrant orchids and bromeliads. Wildlife populates the remarkable forested scenery providing the perfect ecosystem for the dazzling quetzal, known for its crimson breasted and emerald plumage.
The dense trees and unique moisture supports a variety of monkey species as well, including howler monkeys. If you love Lepidoptera, the forest hosts Mombacho butterflies or the elusive Mombacho salamander hidden in the tropical and lowland forests. The endemic species of are found only in the Mombacho Cloud Forest reserve. While one trail leads to the fumaroles, another provides access to the lip of the fascinating crater. The network leads to openings in the trees revealing the splendid views of Las Islets Archipelago and Granada after the cloud cover burns away. Accessible from the park but separate from the protected area are the Aguas Termales de Calera hot springs. The water contains sulfur, calcium, and other minerals known for keeping skin looking healthy.
As of 2017, the jeep schedule to the crater leaves the entrance park to reach the peak at 8:30 am, and returns at 11:30 am from Monday to Wednesday. Another leaves entrance at 10:30 am and returns at 1:30 pm. The final ascent of the day between Monday and Wednesday leaves at 1:00 pm and returns at 4:00 pm. From Thursday to Sunday the times remain the same with a slight change. The mid-morning jeep departs the entrance gate at 10:00 am but returns at the same 1:30 pm schedule.
Quality of Accommodations
Nicaragua’s famous biodiversity and hospitality derive from a fascinating topography of microclimates and diverse ecosystems, but the distinctive qualities of the culture also pertain to the variety of accommodations in the country in which visitors can enjoy fascinating terrain from cloud forest to brown-sugar beaches, vibrant lowland lifestyle to colorful lakeshores. The range of accommodations spans four, and five-star resorts to hidden lodges focused on sustainability in the remote rural landscape of the northern Atlantic. Whether basking in the luxuries of a quiet, eco-friendly golf club or finding vibrant life in the heart of a bustling city, Nicaragua blends colonial charms and sustainability, breathtaking wildlife and local culture perfect for couples, honeymooners, families, or friends traveling together.
The hospedaje represents the most common form of pension-style hotels in the country. They are often family-owned and operated with simple accommodations but often boast lovely views and the regional charm available in large cities and secluded villages around the country. The hotels around Nicaragua provide great services and ultimate luxuries for their guests, including access to car services and access tours. Nicaragua is not a destination known for attracting the international chain hotels but has inspired a trend of boutique accommodations offering individualized attention focusing on opulence and comfort with access to fascinating excursions.
The best hotels in Nicaragua become a base for your travels around the country, where you can easily reach hot springs and hikes, rainforest lush with animals and the breathtaking beauty of shimmering lagoons, or even the pre-Columbian petroglyphs at Zapatera. Accommodations focusing more on sustainability can come in various forms, such as private bungalows or apartments, houses or lodges making it easy to step out of your door in view of perching birds or stepping into the wading Pacific for a snorkeling expedition. Those who prefer the rougher lifestyle can camp in designated areas around the sandy shores of San Juan del Sur, Isla de Ometepe, and the Corn Islands.
The prestigious beauty of Nicaragua has earned the country the nickname, “Land of the Lakes and Volcanoes.” The various volcanic peaks and pristine water systems decorating the landscape support the tremendous ecological diversity accumulating more than 70 distinct ecosystems. Like its more famous environmentally celebrated neighbor to the south (Costa Rica), Nicaragua has a tremendous beauty stemming from hosting seven percent of the world’s biodiversity while the country is only 50,338 square miles (130,374 square kilometers). It is like fitting seven percent of the world’s entire biodiversity within the state of Michigan.
Primary rainforest, while shrinking, continues to remain relatively untouched in the autonomous regions along the eastern edges of the country where large biological reserves protect the natural treasures. Forest reserves like Indio Maiz Biological Reserve in the southeast and Bosawá Biosphere Reserve in the northeast contain magnificent rainforest trees and an eclectic array of wildlife. Tropical dry forest, semi-deciduous tropical forest, and cloud forest represent the main ecological regions of Nicaragua delivering a sub-region of the dwarf forest along the highlands of the Mombacho Volcano due to the consistent high, strong winds.
The natural splendor of Nicaragua attracts wildlife observers from around the world, especially in the form of birdwatchers who travel to the idyllic landscape in search of more than 700 recorded species living permanently or seasonally in the diverse regions. Some of the most sought-after species of birds include parrots, motmots, toucans, and hummingbirds, as well as the famous iridescent quetzal. The diversity in the ecology supports the varied bird population with many birders flocking to the swamps at Cosiguina Volcano or the marshlands around Rio Istian Estuary. Other animals popular with tourists include two- and three-toed sloths, anteaters, and armadillos, as well as New World monkeys, jaguars, and cougars.
As of 2018, Nicaragua had 78 protected national parks and reserves spanning a total of 8,500 square miles (22,015 square kilometers), accounting for 17 percent of the nation’s land, including Bosawá Biosphere Reserve, the Western Hemisphere’s second largest rainforest outside of the Brazilian Amazon. The majesty of the country travels beyond the landscape with the waters of various bodies, such as Lake Nicaragua, which hosts the common saltwater bull shark, who adapted to the freshwater after traveling up the San Juan River.
The edges of the country line the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea where a wide array of sharks, stingrays, and barracudas swim along the fringes of colorful reefs. Sea turtles commonly nest on the various beaches between August and January, while whales pass the shoreline when migrating from north to south. While the culture in Nicaragua is unique and welcoming, the raw beauty of the scenery will enchant you with untouched beauty sure to keep you exploring, discovering, and falling in love with the natural splendor.
Nicaragua breeds poetry in motion, whether through a culture of devoted artists or in the daily movements of farmers, especially those producing the celebrated flavors of Nicaraguan coffee. The elevated landscape supports more than 40,000 families cultivating the golden beans and creating upwards of 280,000 permanent agricultural jobs in the 1990s. The history of coffee in Nicaragua began in 1796 with the introduction of the plant as decoration. By 1849, when the Gold Rush boomed in California, travelers boomed through the country venturing on the San Juan River en route to gold veins of Sacramento but also bringing unparalleled demand for coffee in Nicaragua.
The government established initiatives to introduce coffee crops to the central highlands creating a strong semi-rural class in the form of plantation owners and a lower-class made-up of workers, mainly consisting of indigenous peoples. Coffee became one of Nicaragua’s leading exports by the 1870s with European and North American immigrants in the 1880s bringing newer techniques to the farms to increase international exports overseas. The first coffee cherries in the country were planted on the plain mesa located in the Pacific region but the majority of the crop stems from the coffee growing regions along the Central northern mountains.
The large coffee-growing regions around the country include:
Smaller coffee-growing regions around Nicaragua include:
In 2010, Nicaragua exported 1,657,598 bags of coffee, each weighing more than 132 pounds (60 kilograms). People around the world love the flavors and quality of the coffee cultivated in Nicaragua. The tasting notes display a mild but fruity brightness accentuated by citrus and floral notes. Many coffee-cuppers (a professional coffee taster) find papaya, apricot, and chocolate flavors in the coffee. The volcanic soil typically produces coffee beans mild in acidity with the different regions hosting mild vanilla and pear flavors.
Researchers estimate up to 95 percent of the coffee growers in Nicaragua are micro or small-scale, family-run productions sometimes working with corn and beans, bananas, mangoes, or oranges as well. Coffee accounts for 30 percent of the nation’s agricultural exports with an increase in the number of farmers committing to Fair Trade. The cooperatives who have demonstrated their devotion to Fair Trade practices have reinvested the extra premiums back into social programs for their members including building dry processing plants cutting own overall production costs or establishing educational scholarship programs. The cooperatives are dedicated to producing and improving the quality of coffee from Nicaragua, as well as improving the quality of life for Nicaragua.
The natural marvels of Nicaragua are the biggest appeal for worldwide travelers visiting the gorgeous beaches and dramatic volcanic peaks, but Nicaragua is also the biggest exporter of cocoa in Central America. Local legend claims Christopher Columbus first tasted cacao after landing on the shores of the country over 500 years ago. Whether true or not, the legend continues to inspire chocolate cultivation across the country making it a haven for both producers and chocolate connoisseurs alike.
The decadent treat started as a sacred food consumed by the upper-class of ancient Mayans and Aztecs. The origins of the cacao bean remain contested, but many scientists agree the first bean was cultivated in the Ecuadorian jungle 5,000 years go before trade began between historical communities and cultures within Central America up into Mexico. In its purest form—such as without additives or sugars—cacao contains a plethora of antioxidants, which are great for reducing cancer or cardio-vascular diseases, and a high level of magnesium, which helps reduce stress. Most farmers in Nicaragua have utilized cacao as their third or fourth crop on their plantation instead of their main agricultural focus.
Smaller, rural farmers around the country started to produce more cacao in the 1990s with even further development taking place in the early 21st century. The Nicaraguan government wanted to compete with larger producers of quality chocolate like Brazil and Ecuador and became one of the largest producers of cacao in Central America by 2012, exporting up to 60 percent of the national crop. The delicious treat has become a popular attraction for visitors to Nicaragua eager to learn more about the cultivation of Fair Trade cacao, in addition to sampling the decadent flavors. When visiting Granada, you can dip into the Mansion de Chocolate for a class and make your own chocolate bar.
Whether searching the skies over the dry forests for birds in the midst of migration or scouring the rainforest trees for nesting avifauna, Nicaragua is the perfect destination for birding excursion. The sensational biodiversity across the three main regions of the country bring a wild and wide array of endemic and migratory birds within the country’s borders, whether in Indio Maiz Biological Reserve or Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, which are two of the richest landscapes protecting the country’s natural biodiversity. The Pacific Lowlands in the west of the country are hot, broad, and fertile plains punctuated by volcanoes and a mountain change. The region is Nicaragua’s most populated hosting the major cities of Managua and Granada.
The North-Central Highlands travel upland from the Pacific coast with cooler climates populated by oaks, pines, moss, and ferns, as well as orchids. The distinct forested landscape supports quetzal, goldfinches, hummingbirds, toucanets, and jays. The Atlantic Lowlands possesses sparsely populated rainforest leading to the tropical east. Each region hosts a fabulous array of birds crossing over the disparate climate while also hosting bird life separate from any other region. The wet climate supports eagles, turkeys, toucans, parakeets, and macaws.
Exploring the cities of Nicaragua and lounging on the stunning beaches are great ways to enjoy the country’s variety, but outdoor enthusiasts can better experience the many thrills of Nicaragua by venturing out into the countryside with countless trekking opportunities. Take advantage of the gorgeous scenery and untamed landscape while discovering rainforest, volcanoes, lakeshores, or coastal cliffs. Treks in Nicaragua can range from a few hours to multiple days. Each style of hike offers a distinctive blend of fabulous wildlife and captivating nature whether venturing to a secluded village or a staggering volcanic peak. Nicaragua has 19 active volcanoes and a number of extinct or dormant volcanoes reaching over 50 in total. Some of the most active and unique hikes in the country include:
- Coastal Cliffs at San Juan del Sur
- Waterfalls on Isle de Ometepe
- Grassy Highlands at Miraflor Reserve
- Volcano Hike at Leon
- The Nature Reserves in Matagalpa
- Hiking the Volcanoes on Isle de Ometepe
The volcanoes shape the massive skyline of Nicaragua and inspiring visitors interested in discovering the fascinating way the rumbling geological feature shapes its surroundings. From the fertile soil to the toxic fumes, lush greenery to mesmerizing views, the raw power of Nicaragua’s volcanic activity balances beauty with fierceness, tranquility with destruction. As one of the most impressive volcanic chains in Central America, the volcanic cones are accessible to mountain climbers and trekkers eager to make the journey up the peaks or through the surrounding scenery. Some of the most impressive volcanic summits around the country include:
- Cerro Negro Volcano
- Momotombo Volcano
- Concepción Volcano
- Masaya Volcano
- Apoyo Volcano
The Masaya Volcano is one of the most accessible volcanoes in the country due to the paved road running to and from the summit. The greater national park encompasses seven cones and a gorgeous crater lake. A large flock of parakeets carve their home in the interior shell of the Santiago volcano amidst the smoke and toxic fumes swelling inside the active carter. While day excursions are a great way to learn more about the geological feature and the parakeets at the onsite museum, you can visit the crater at night for an exhilarating view of the bubbling lake of lava glowing against the dark sky. The ineffable image strikes a golden glow against the black rock.
The cuisine of Nicaragua offers a glimpse into the diverse cultural heritage representing pre-Columbian residents, Spanish colonists, Garifuna garnish, and the fusion of Creole for an exceptionally delicious, noticeably inexpensive, and a delightfully celebrated array of dishes. Local ingredients date back to pre-Columbian times evident in the names of dishes while others have blended pre-Columbian and Spanish terminology together. Many households rely on produce grown in the region for millennia such as corn, mango, papaya, bananas, and avocado, as well as yucca and achiote. Different types of corn make savory and sweet concoctions such as the popular drinks like pinolillo and chicha. Other common ingredients are plantains, jocote, mimbro, and tamarind. A national symbol of Nicaraguan cuisine consists of fried rice, onion, and sweet pepper mixed with red beans and garlic known as gallo pinto.
A typical breakfast in Nicaragua consists of eggs, cheese, and gallo pinto with a side of sweet plantains. A corn tortilla or white bread often accompanies the dish along with fresh-squeezed juice or coffee. Lunch and dinner often include the main protein like chicken, pork, or fresh seafood alongside deep-fried plantains, rice, and beans with a salad made from cabbage. Coconut water is a common ingredient on the Caribbean coast. Many Nicaraguans continue to eat Indio Viejo, an elaborate stew composed of shredded meat, onions, and peppers battered in cornmeal then fried. Orange juice helps thin the broth and adds delicious layers to the stew. Tres leches cake and the caramelized strings of coconut and yucca known as cajeta de coco are fabulous desserts eaten in most households around the country.
Considerations before Traveling to Nicaragua
Nicaragua brings a grand level of excitement to those visiting the marvelous volcanoes and magnificent beaches for the first time of returning for another adventure steeped in luxury or discovering the exciting feeling of viewing wildlife in their natural habitat. Before arriving, it is important to have all the necessary information that will keep your trip to and through the country simple and straightforward. The critical ingredients for a smooth arrival in Nicaragua include having a passport valid for more than six months upon your arrival. You should also have proof of sufficient funds, such as an available credit card or at least 200 dollars (US) in cash, in addition to possessing an onward ticket, whether a return ticket home or one showing you will continue to another destination.
While this is rarely checked by customs, it is better to err on the side of caution with an onward ticket. If you are a member of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, you will receive a 90 day visa upon arrival in Nicaragua. Some citizens of Eastern European nations, as well as Latin American, African, and Asian countries might need a visa before entering Nicaragua. The country adheres to the rules of the CA-4 pact, a regional agreement consisting of Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala that works much like the European Union.
Tourists can stay a total of 90 days in any of the CA-4 countries together or separate. If staying longer than 90 days, you must apply for an extension at the immigration office in Managua, which costs approximately 10 dollars (US) per month for up to three months. After three months, you must leave Nicaragua and the CA-4 region for at least 72 hours. After three days, you can return to Nicaragua with a renewed 90-day visa. Many visitors in need of renewing their 90-day visa travel to Costa Rica for 72 hours due to its proximity and accessibility.
Never attempt to leave Nicaragua with colonial or pre-Columbian artifacts, as this will land prison time. You can bring most legal items into the country with you for personal use, such as prescribed medications or produce, as long it is not for resale. When leaving the Managua International Airport during the day, licensed collective taxis wait outside the domestic terminal. Cheaper taxis wait on the highway outside the airport but exiting the complex without a car is not recommended for your own safety. Private shuttle and car services are also possible when leaving Managua. Urban buses travel the highway across from the main terminal but are not recommended when traveling with luggage.
August C. Sandino International Airport in Managua is the easiest way in and out of Nicaragua for flights from around the world. Direct flights to Managua depart from the United States in cities like Atlanta, Georgia, Miami, Florida, and Houston, Texas. Travelers crossing overland can enter Nicaragua by way of Honduras or Costa Rica. International buses often travel by way of Granada and Rivas when traveling from the south. Water crossings from Los Chiles, Costa Rica travel to San Carlos over the San Juan River. It can take up to seven hours by bus to reach Managua from San Carlos. The main border crossings in the north are stationed at Guasaule, Las Manos, and El Espino.
Busses are a reliable form of transportation in Nicaragua, especially with the increasing number of express minibusses servicing popular tourist routes. The express buses offer quicker service, smaller crowds, and often have air conditioning. Intercity buses begin running between four and seven in the morning, departing from their registered stops every half-hour or when the bus is full. Stops around the country mainly consist of the local market, with the exception of Esteli and Managua, which have a type of contemporary terminal.
Taxis exist in the larger cities, especially Managua with cheaper fares existing outside of the urban spaces. Car rentals are always an option around the country, especially when wanting to reach the secluded beaches for which Nicaragua is known. Major rental companies like Alamo, Avis, and Hertz, have offices at the Managua airport. To rent a vehicle, you must have a valid driver’s license, passport, and credit card with you. If you choose to drive, consider the poor street sign conditions, the possibility of needing to ask for directions often, and the random appearance of cattle on the roads.
Boats provide a vital connection to the different islands along the coastline and in the two large lakes dotting Nicaragua. Travelers can utilize boats when visiting Bluefields and Pearl Lagoon or El Rama. The domestic airline, La Consteña is surprisingly reliable for flights around the country using Managua as the center for all its routes. The airline flies to San Carlos, Bluefields, the Corn Islands, and Puerto Cabezas.
Language and Culture
The diverse cultures of Nicaragua stem from the variety of heritages informed by indigenous traditions, Spanish colonization in the west, and British imperialism in the east. These cultures have blended across Nicaragua developing a creative, lively, and joyful culture celebrated for its warm hospitality. The sounds of the rhythmic marimbas echo through the streets coupled with the vibrant movements of folkloric dances. Nationally celebrated artists depict the history and nature of the country in a variety of mediums, from murals to singular paintings, marvelous photographs, and enchanting poetry.
90 percent of Nicaraguans speak Ncañol, the dialect of Spanish in Nicaragua, but follows the Central American forms known as voseo. Even if you have no connection to languages, learning the most basic Spanish phrases makes traveling through the country much more rewarding. The east coast hugs the Caribbean Sea where many Afro-Nicaraguans and Creoles speak English or Creole English due to the historic British influence on the coastline. Many indigenous tribes continue to speak their native languages of Miskit, Sumo, Rama, or Garifuna.
A long history of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries have brought ethnic groups from around the world resulting in a noticeable population of Chinese Nicaraguans and Palestinian Nicaraguans who have maintained the languages of their ancestral homes while also learning the Nicaraguan dialect. Influence of culture of ex-patriots from the United States and Canada have also made English a minority language of the country. Other minority languages in Nicaragua apart from Chinese, Arabic, and English include German and Italian.
Religion is highly influential in the daily lives of Nicaraguans due to its inclusion in the federal constitution as guaranteed freedom since 1939. The federal government also promotes religious tolerance, however, over 58 percent of the population is Catholic, adding considerable weight to the power of the church in the country. While not a part of the government, bishops do lend their authority to important state occasions and can also act as mediators between parties during fierce political turmoil. Since the 1990s, evangelical Protestants and Mormons have multiplied, accounting for over 21 percent of the population.
Family is very important to Nicaraguans personal identities, adding to a sense of national pride. Heroes and martyrs permeate local and national history and folklore, especially the image of a proud leader fighting against larger colonial forces. The indigenous tribes along the Atlantic coast have very different stories dating back to pre-Columbian times. The 1987 constitution promises these specific communities the right to preserve and develop their cultural identity separate from Nicaragua but still within a broader connection to national identity.
Since before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, Nicaragua has been a nation built on class, beginning with the priests and nobles of the indigenous tribes ruling over laborers and slaves. The Spanish did not influence the class system much, but by 1979 during the Sandinistas Revolution, the class system began a long and slow decline. The Sandinistas took power and spread the wealth across the country evenly among the poorer neighborhoods of Nicaragua, in addition to beginning a national literacy campaign. While monetary wealth has a status all of its own in Nicaragua, locals continue to see land as the traditional basis of status.
Music plays a major role in the culture and heritage of Nicaragua with the different regions of the country known for their distinct sounds or dancers. The Pacific blends Spanish and indigenous cultures resulting in a diverse sound with flutes and drums often accompanied by dancers reflecting the duality of the local heritage. Masaya features the mixture of cultures known as mestizaje. Dances contain soft movements of expression accompanied by lightly strumming guitars or folkloric instruments like the wooden marimba. The North and Central regions have a stronger European heritage resulting in dances like “polcas” and “mazurcas” representing the strong Spanish and German connection. The Caribbean has the largest population of African culture, which plays an integral role in music and dance, as well as contribution of the native indigenous peoples.
Power and Adapters
If traveling from the United States or Canada, you will be pleased to know you do not have to worry about the power conversion in Nicaragua. Nicaragua uses power sockets of the A and B type with a voltage of 120 V at a standard frequency of 60 Hz. The plug has two flat, rectangular prongs. If your appliance is intended for use in North America, it will work when plugged into the power sockets in Central America. If you are unsure whether the appliance was meant for use in North America or Central America, the label on the appliance should have the intended input stated.
If the label says, “Input: 100-240V, 50/60 Hz,” you can use it around the world. If traveling from outside of North, Central, or South America, you may need an adapter or converter. Electronics like phones, laptops, tablets, and e-readers have become more compatible with international standards, but you may need an adapter for the prongs to fit properly into the electrical sockets. Check the label carefully, as electronics deemed incompatible with Nicaragua’s electrical system will not work even with a converter.
Money, Exchange, and Tipping
Nicaragua’s currency is known as the córdoba (CS). Each córdoba can be divided into 100 centavos. The notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 notes. The centavos have denominations of one, five, 10, 25, and 50 coins. Many of the prices quoted for accommodations, tours, or larger transfers are quoted in US dollars as well as córdobas. For an easier time in Nicaragua, avoid 500 (CS) notes when you can. They are hard to exchange when not making big purchases. If in a crunch, many vendors accept small US dollars during transactions as long as the bill contains no marks or tears.
Banks in the big cities are easy to find and visit. Most branches open at 8:00 am Monday through Friday and close at 4:00 pm. They are also open on Saturday mornings until noon. The majority of banks will change popular international currency like the US dollar, euros, and Costa Rican colones but rarely change other forms of currency. Travelers’ cheques have become an outdated mode of transferring money in Nicaragua with only one branch, Banco de América Central (BAC) exchanging the checks for cash. Even here, the bank only accepts transfers of travelers’ cheques from US dollars.
If you prefer not to carry cash, the larger cities and better-known tourist areas of Nicaragua accept credit cards like Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. ATMs accept foreign-issued cards from around the world when in reasonable-sized towns but if traveling to a small village or secluded town be sure to carry enough cash with you rather than taking a chance. Moneychangers in the larger cities are reliable but can seem dishonest because of their “street operations” often located in town markets. However, you should have a general knowledge of the exchange rate before meeting with them in to ensure the correct exchange rates.
When traveling abroad, tipping standards are a common question of tourists, from what to tip to how to tip, if tipping is necessary or whether or not it’s culturally appropriate. Tipping in Nicaragua is dependent upon your mood and the service provided. Servers in nicer restaurants in well-known tourist areas already add on 10 to 15 percent service charge on the bill but the charge is not required, therefore you don’t have to pay it if you did not feel the service deserved the gratuity. A person who carries your bag will expect a five or 10 córdoba note for their help. Outside of the service industry, most Nicaraguans do not tip nor expect one, including taxi drivers.
If you love shopping at home or abroad, remember that light haggling is the norm in markets or with street vendors. Inside a brick and mortar store, the price listed is the price you should pay. Any attempt at haggling will likely end with your removal from the property rather than your acquisition of whatever merchandise you had hoped to purchase.
Before traveling to Nicaragua it’s common to have your health and safety as your top concern. As the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, you will almost certainly encounter children on the street asking for sweets, money, or pencils, however; they are likely to greet you with courtesy rather than hostility. The country is much safer than many of its neighbors, especially outside of the capital city of Managua, which continues a rougher edge than the warmth of the surrounding country.
Petty theft remains an issue in large crowds in heavily visited areas or on buses where pickpockets search for easy targets. Always be sure to keep an eye on any bags you carry onto public transport. The possibility of getting pickpocketed in Nicaragua is much scarier than the reality, especially when compared to the popular tourist destinations like Barcelona and Rome, which have very high risks of pickpockets. As far as overall safety, Nicaraguan police have done a fantastic job reducing organized and gang crime in the country over the last decade giving visitors and locals a safe, comfortable environment to enjoy.
While police are reliable for providing a safe environment, traffic police are notorious for targeting foreigners with bogus fines in the hope the driver will bribe the officer instead. If a regular police officer attempts to stop and fine you while driving, stand your ground as only traffic police can give fines.
To enter Nicaragua, you should have updates on your routine vaccines, unless traveling to areas known for having Yellow Fever. Consider getting typhoid and hepatitis shots as precautions before arriving in Nicaragua. The routine vaccines include:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
If you are prone to mosquito bites, anti-malarial medications are recommended due to common bites occurring in rural areas. If you are pregnant or plan on being pregnant, take precautions about the Zika warnings in Nicaragua. While not common, the Zika virus has rapidly spread through tropical and sub-tropical Latin America. The illness can cause mild symptoms like fever, rash, and joint pains, but does not require hospitalization otherwise for healthy adults and children. However, Zika is suspected of causing issues during pregnancy for women, and those who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant soon after their travels to Nicaragua should think about postponing their trip. Medical attention in Nicaragua is cheap but may not have the same standards you are familiar with back home, especially if in a rural area or small town. Local clinics work well for minor illnesses, cuts, and sprains but for anything more serious, you should travel to Managua for care at a larger hospital.
Seasoned travelers’ know to question the water when visiting a new country for the first time. In larger cities, the water is potable but should be avoided around towns and rural areas. When in cheaper restaurants or at a roadside vendor, the ice and juices are often made with untreated water. If worried about the quality of water outside of the cities, try traveling with iodine tablets and perhaps a few antidiarrheal medications.
As a tropical and semi-tropical destination, Nicaragua can bring some serious heat whether on the beach or in the highlands rounding the rim of a volcanic peak. Protect your face, neck, arms, and legs with sunblock of SPF 15 or higher. Use sunglasses to protect your eyes from sun bleaching, wear a wide-brimmed hat, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. If you do encounter a problem, dial 115 for the fire department, 118 or the Police, and 128 for the Red Cross.
The proper customs of Nicaragua stem from a sense of respect and personal distance. The friendly and welcoming nature for which Nicaraguans are known encompasses the same sense of deference to one another as they give to visitors, as well as the respect they expect in return. When speaking Spanish, Nicaraguans rarely use the familiar conjugation tu and instead address one another with the formal Usted when addressing strangers, which shows an act of politeness. Most Nicaraguans wear long pants or skirts in the cities and villages dressing their best for any possible occasion. Shorts are reserved for walking in the wilderness or lounging on the beach.
If waiting for private transportation, a guide, or even a friend in Nicaragua, timeliness is not critical. The attendant may be absent from the store. You can call out “Bueans” to get the vendors attention before greeting them with the proper salutation for the time of day, such as Buenos Dias, Buenos Tardes, or Buenos Noches. Meetings start late and go overtime; a driver may stop to stretch his legs or see if anyone wants a juice. The pace slows down considerably compared to other countries in North America, Europe, and Oceana but highlights the local value on the personal and personable touches.
Lago de Nicaragua
Lake Nicaragua is anything but ordinary, a place where you can stand on the shore looking over the watery expanse and understand why Spanish navigators believed it to be part of the Pacific. The considerable size of the lake makes it one of the largest freshwater seas in the Americas after the Great Lakes. The network of freshwater rivers feeds the lake diluting the salinity of the water once connected to the ocean over time.
One of the main draws for the unique, staggering body of water is the freshwater sharks and swordfish, which are endemic only to Nicaragua. Islands decorate the southwestern section of the lake connected to the mainland by boats and ferries. Each island contains a different, rugged terrain from volcanic soil to pristine jungle. The size of the lake creates short, choppy waves caused by the winds crashing from the west and east.
Ometepe Island is hardly a secret, but the ravishing beauty of the isthmus bookended with two volcanoes enchants visitors as much now as when the pre-Columbian indigenous people arrived and thought they had found the promised land. While the peaks are visible from the shores of Lake Nicaragua, few people make it onto the island to admire the fertile soil, clean waters, rampant wildlife, open beaches, and fantastic archeological sites.
The tranquil ambiance enhances the natural beauty of the idyllic paradise hosting the symmetrical Volcán Concepción at 5,282 feet (1,610 meters) above sea level and Volcán Maderas at 4,573 feet (1,394 meters) above sea level. White-faced capuchin and howler monkeys scramble through the canopy. Green parrots and blue-tailed urracas twitter above the meandering trails. The island can host a perfect romantic getaway on a hidden beach, let you discover a secluded waterfall, or provide access to the more than 1,700 petroglyphs dating back to the first group of people who migrated to the island most likely from Mexico.
Nicaragua is a gorgeous country with countless opportunities to indulge in natural beauty or cultural charms. You can fill days with romantic views or thrilling family-friendly hikes, amateur archeology or relaxing in the sunlight on hot, soft sand. The vast array of possible excursions will only accentuate your time in the country with many of the activities revolving around water, both fresh and salt. Some of the most popular excursions taking you onto the lakes, down the rivers, over the Caribbean Sea, or into the Pacific Ocean include:
- Scuba Diving
- Whitewater Rafting
The nature and culture of Nicaragua provide different perspectives of the country, from traditions ingrained in the heritage to the wild beauty hidden in the forests. Volcanic peaks tower over the lowlands and rainforest trees color the skyline with verdant leaves around the countryside. Wildlife reserves protect the scenery and wildlife hosting rare flora and fauna, as well as providing wildlife viewing opportunities while local markets showcase the particular produce, clothing, or artistry from local vendors. Some of the most alluring excursions on land include:
- Nicaragua Cigar Rolling
- Artist Market Visit
- Horseback Riding
- Mountain Biking
- Volcano Boarding