Nicaragua — Attractions
Nicaragua is dubbed the ‘Land of Lakes and Volcanoes’, and with azure blue crater lakes towered over by smoldering volcanoes, it’s easy to see how the name came about. Yet it is the presence of volcanoes that provides nutrient rich and fertile soil, allowing the vegetation in Nicaragua to grow extensively, and the lush cloud forests that are home to a diverse variety of life. Nicaragua is a lively place with an interesting history, and visiting the ex-colonial cities of Granada or Leon is popular. To ascend high into the mountainous region of Matagalpa and experience the way of life there, sampling one of Nicaragua’s finest products, coffee, is worth a trip.
Maribios Volcanic Chain
This volcanic chain consists of ten volcanoes, stretching south to north from Lake Nicaragua to the Gulf of Fonseca, flanked by the second largest lake in the country, Lake Managua. Most notable volcanoes are Momtobo, a huge smoking peak which has its cone reflected in the waters of Lake Managua, El Cerro Negro is one of the youngest active volcanoes in the Americas, and its black sands that spill down the mountainside are famous for sand boarding, San Cristobel is a giant peak that dominates the landscape near the top end, and Consiguina houses a wide and deep green-blue lagoon. It will take you several days to take in all of the chain, day trips or multi-leg tours can be arranged from central cities like Leon or Granada.
Address: Mariabios Volcanic Chain, northwestern Nicaragua.
Many travelers bypass the capital city of Managua and head straight to this city to base themselves here for further exploration of Nicaragua, particularly, since there is a direct shuttle service from the international airport. Located 30 miles southeast of Managua, the city offers a more relaxed, laid-back pace of life to allow travelers to ease into their Nicaraguan adventure. It is a small town situated at the western end of Lake Nicaragua, providing opportunity for easily accessed nature trips, although the town itself offers a charm of its own. It is an ex-Spanish colonial town, and remains important politically and economically to this day. Its history comes alive through the preserved intricate architecture. Granada is easy to explore by foot, where you can bear witness to the slower pace of life of the locals although taking an old-fashioned horse and cart tour of the city is also a peaceful option.
Address: Granada, Granada province, southwestern Nicaragua
Isla de Ometepe
Jutting out of Lake Nicaragua, which is Central America’s largest fresh water body, is this magnificent island which was formed around 65 million years ago after the eruption of two volcanoes. On the island lie the twin peaks of Maderas and Concepcion, dominating the landscape, and also a population of around 38,000 inhabitants, who have for centuries tilled the fertile soil to grow crops such as sugar, corn, and coffee. There is some contrast between the vegetation on either side of the island, due to the volcanoes. Maderas is an extinct volcano, and the crater is now filled with a lagoon; on the way up more will see more typical tropical humid plant species can be seen; Concepcion is an active volcano, quietly billowing away, and its slopes are home to dry forest, its growth made possible by the nutrient rich soil. The volcanoes and the island can be admired from near and far, as walking around the taking in the nature is delightful, but as you approach by boat (the only method to reach the islands) you are certain to be visually impressed. A popular activity is to kayak around, and through the center of the island, and as you paddle down the Isthian River you will have a volcano either side of you.
Address: ‘Isla Ometepe’, Rivas province, southwestern Nicaragua
Leon is the second largest city in Nicaragua, located about 50 miles northwest of the capital. Leon is close to huge towering peak of San Cristobel volcano, and the black sands of Cerro Negro volcano, also offering good access for tours headed to the Estelí cloud forests, or the coffee growing area of mountainous Matagalpa. However, the city provides ample attraction in itself, an ex-Spanish colonial settlement hosting Latin America’s largest cathedral, Santa Maria de León. Indeed, most of the city is an architectural delight, and decent restaurants and good hotels make it a suitable stopover on a trip to Nicaragua.
Address: Leon, Leon province, northwestern Nicaragua.
Miraflor Cloud forest Reserve
North of the larger cities of Granada and Leon, which are dominated by the impressive volcanoes and outstanding lakes, a trip into the interior and up into the highlands of Nicaragua demonstrates not only a contrast in scenery but also a different way of life. Declared a protected area in 1990, this misty cloud forest reserve is run by a group of agrarian cooperatives, who offer a host of rustic lodgings that allow visitors to reside in the forest taking in all its wonders, although day-tripping from the nearby town of Estelí is also possible. Miraflor is home to 236 distinct bird species, including toucans and the guardabarranco, which is Nicaragua’s national bird. For plant enthusiasts, Miraflor provides a great opportunity to seek out some endemic orchids in this humid forest.
Address: Miraflor Nature Reserve, Estelí province, North Highlands.
Matagalpa was considered the ‘frontier of the jungle’ by the Spanish conquistadors, as it divided the country between the dense lowland rainforests on the Mosquito Coast to the east of the mountains and their established colonial outposts on the western side. Today, this mountainous region is famous for growing rich coffee that is exported worldwide, and a popular trip to do is to take in the area by foot, hiking the Ruta del Café (Coffee Route). This hiking trail will take you up into organic coffee farms surrounding the town of Matagalpa, lasting between three to seven hours. There are several other hiking trails to do in the area, including the Ruta Cerro El Torro and the Ruta Santuarias de Chaguitillo, both hikes lasting up to seven hours. There are pre-Colombian archeological artifacts to be viewed at the town of Sebaco, or you can visit the coffee museum in Matagalpa, which tells the story of growing the crop in the region.
Address: Matagalpa, Matagalpa province, Northern Highlands.
Located 50 miles off the coast of Nicaragua’s east coast, these islands boast a lifestyle that is more akin to typical Caribbean life than that in the rest of Nicaragua. Indeed, since the islands were colonized by the British, most inhabitants here speak still speak English as their first language. Surrounded by inviting clear blue waters and a colorful reef, the two islands (Little Corn Island and Big Corn Island) are a popular diving destination. Snorkeling or taking a tour in a glass-bottomed boat is another great way to view the underwater world of the Caribbean Sea. There are several comfortable accommodations on the islands where visitors will be awarded some Caribbean hospitality.
Address: Corn Islands, Nicaragua.