Nicaragua is Central America's largest country, bordered by Costa Rica to the south, Honduras to the north, the calm Caribbean Sea to the east and the vibrant Pacific Ocean to the west. Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua provide a stunning back drop to the surrounding landscape. The enormous Lake Nicaragua contains an array of unique creatures, including the world's only freshwater sharks.
Meso-American Culture, Colonial Architecture and Stunning Beaches
Nicaragua is rich with indigenous and colonial history; the fascinating cities of Granada, Leon and Managua all have unique stories to tell. This land of lakes and volcanoes invites visitors to experience the authentic beauty of a region relatively new on the tourist radar. Stroll through the colonial lakeside city of Granada, mingle with University students in bustling Leon, or catch some waves in the colorful coastal area of San Juan del Sur.
To resolve a conflict over the location of the capital between the larger rival cities of Leon and Granada, Managua was chosen as the capital of Nicaragua in 1857. This bustling nerve center is Nicaragua's largest city, located 50m above sea level along the south shore of Lake Managua. The architecture here depicts an interesting and troubled past: one of a sprawling city that has struggled to regain its character after a devastating earthquake in 1972. Nearly every tall building collapsed, leaving the city center in shambles. The Ruben Dario National Theater is one of the few buildings that survived, and is still Nicaragua's most important venue for shows, concerts, exhibitions and other national and international performances. The nearby National Museum is worthwhile as well as the Palace of Culture, the Santiago Cathedral, National Arboretum and the National Palace. Don't miss the Acahualinca Museum with 6000-year old Paleo-Indian footprints from the Late Holocene Period.
While the main activities in the city are cultural sightseeing, shopping, dining and nightlife, one may easily switch gears to outdoor activities by visiting nearby volcanic lagoons, nature reserves, and of course stunning Pacific beaches. The lagoons of Xiloa and Apoyeque of the Chiltepe Peninsula offer swimming, diving and windsurfing. For wildlife and waterfalls visit Chocoyero National Park and the Montibelli Natural Reserve. For surf and sun head to the Pacific to enjoy the popular beaches of Pochomil, Masachapa and Montelimar.
Founded in 1524, charming lakeside Granada is Nicaragua's oldest city. Poised on the scenic northwest shore of Lake Granada with cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, abundant colonial architecture, and historic cathedrals, this is a destination that shouldn't be missed! The Central Park is a good place to start, with locals and tourists alike enjoying refreshments from street vendors, sitting on benches, or strolling along checking out the brightly colored hammocks and other crafts plentiful in the square. Close to the park you will find the San Francisco Convent Museum, and to the west the former Spanish fortress, La Polvora Museum. This is walking city with a very nice selection of restaurants and hotels ranging in styles and prices from rustic to elegant and in between. The boat tour on Lake Nicaragua of 'Las Isletas' is a wonderful way to view the area and meander among the stunning array of volcanic islets. The impressive Mombacho Volcano offers a lush nature-packed area for hiking, wildlife viewing, and a canopy tour. Masaya is easily accessible from Granada, and is known for its cultural traditions and expressions through arts, crafts, and folklore. Masaya has been called the ‘crib of national folklore’ and is the center of the most important indigenous tribe of the region, the Dirianes.
San Juan del Sur
Not too long ago San Juan del Sur was a small, quaint fishing village. The picturesque bay with amazing views, glittering beaches, and lively surf have made San Juan del Sur one of the most popular beach towns in Nicaragua. The town is a blend of locals, surfers and international tourists soaking up the ample tropical sun while enjoying the comforts of trendy, yet friendly hotels, bars and restaurants. Activities include all beach pleasures of sand and surf, plus Nicaragua's longest canopy tour 'Da Flying Frog', a great day sail with Pelican Eyes, or sport fishing.
There are many great beaches to the north and south; each with their own personality and most are very private with good surf and spectacular sunsets. To the north are Marsella, Maderas, and Majagual. The area close to the Maderas beach, called Los Playones, is supposed to have the best swell for surfing. To the south are El Coco and La Flor. La Flor is also a protected reserve and is an important nesting site for the Olive Ridley turtles arriving 'en masse' every year between July and January. Farther to the south is Ostional, a small up and coming seaside town with a very rustic feel and simple accommodations.