Nicaragua

From colonial cities frozen in time to active volcanoes, idyllic coastlines and empty beaches, Nicaragua's cultural and natural beauty rivals the continent’s best in class.

With tourists flocking to its famous neighbour, previous political unrest has kept Nicaragua well off the tourist trail. Times have changed and now is the moment to discover this fascinating country, one of the few remaining destinations for the truly intrepid traveller. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Nicaragua offers a surprising diversity of experiences from majestic colonial cities with a vibrant cultural heritage, unrivalled natural beauty of volcanoes, rivers and lakes, and some of the most pristine coastlines and beaches in the world. The only thing missing are the hordes of tourists making this one of the few remaining authentic destinations yet to be discovered. 

Founded in 1524, Leon is one of the oldest cities in the Americas. It is located in the west of the country, just two hours drive from the capital, Managua. Leon is the second largest city in Nicaragua and is arguably it's intellectual and cultural capital. This unpretentious city with stunning colonial streetscapes, was once the site of political uprisings, but today's Leon has a vibrant, artistic feel. Highlights include Leon's colourful street art and murals, the faded beauty of centuries-old architecture, an awe-inspiring cathedral (the burial place of Nicaragua's famous literary son, Ruben Darío), art galleries, a prison-turned-museum, and several ancient churches. The city also boasts a cosmopolitan edge with a generous mix of restaurants and an active nightlife. Outside the city, Leon's region borders the Pacific Ocean, where you can hike or kayak in the Juan Venado Island Natural Reserve, a mangrove sanctuary with a myriad birds, crocodiles, and other wildlife. The Greater Leon area is also home to more than a half-dozen active volcanoes. Adventure travelers will enjoy exploring the region's nature reserves, volcanoes (one can be hiked up and then “sandboarded” down), volcanic lagoons, and charming small villages.

Mountains and coffee plantations surround Matagalpa, the gateway to Nicaragua's Northern Highlands. This laid back mountain town is the ideal base for exploring Nicaragua’s northern mountains, valleys, and cloud forests. From town, you can walk to the Cerro Apante nature reserve. Its scenic walking trails lead to a massive cave behind cascading waterfalls, and boasting stunning panoramic views. Try a guided night hike to glimpse nocturnal wildlife. In the surrounding region, visit nature reserves like the Cloud Forests of Cerro Arenal and Peñas Blancas and their many stunning hiking trails. This breathtaking region is home to crashing waterfalls; monkeys, armadillos, tapirs, and even big cats like jaguars and pumas, not to mention parakeets, flycatchers, tanagers, and even the elusive resplendent quetzal. Those seeking more adventure can try rock climbing on Cerro Cusmacayan. The region is also famous for its coffee production. Explore local coffee plantations and enjoy tasting some of the world's best coffee.

On the shores of Lake Nicaragua lies the picturesque colonial city of Granada. With its cobblestone streets, lovingly restored colonial-era churches and buildings. galleries, museums, and cafes, Granada is Nicaragua's most cosmopolitan city. If Leon is faded grandeur, then Nicaragua is a finely polished jewel. The vibrant restaurant scene is impressive for its variety of offerings, from gourmet international fare to authentic local delicacies.  In the busy central plaza is Granada's stunning catedral with its commanding dome, where a climb up the bell tower offers panoramic views of the surrounding volcanoes and lake.

Granada is the perfect base for discovering Nicaragua’s natural beauty and culture. Peer into the Masaya Volcano’s smoky active crater, or gaze into its glowing lava lake on a night tour. Visit villages where artisans carve wood, create furniture, or make pottery. Hike the Mombacho Volcano for magnificent views or zipline above the canopy. Hop on a bike for a morning ride to the lakeside beaches of the Peninsula de Asese. And don’t miss kayaking or boating around ‘Las Isletas’ tiny, vegetation-rich lake islands to spot birds, monkeys, and other wildlife.

Revel in the majestic setting of two volcanoes, linked together by a thin strip of land, rising dramatically from the surface of the massive Lake Nicaragua. The one active volcano often emits clouds of smoke and steam while it's dormant sibling remains serenely by its side. Admire their other-worldly beauty from the Devil's Lookout where you can also marvel at the enormity of the largest freshwater lake in Central America. Explore the Charco Verde nature reserve to see families of howler monkeys and the impressive variety of bird life, such as cormorants and egrets, all thriving in this emerald water habitat. Finally, uncover the secrets of this mysterious island where over 2000 ancient petroglyphs and stone statues are found scattered around the island, remnants of a lost civilization over 3000 years old. 

With stunning white-sand beaches, vibrant coral reefs, clear turquoise waters, awe-inspiring sunsets, and endless palms, both Little Corn and Big Corn Islands are the epitome of an island paradise. Once a pirate refuge just 70 km off  Nicaragua’s Caribbean coastline, these two laid-back Caribbean islands make for the perfect unplugged getaway. Big Corn is more developed, with an airport, roads, restaurants, and colorful wooden houses. Just a short water-taxi ride away is  tiny Little Corn, truly barefoot luxury, with no cars or roads.

More than 40 species of corals can be found along the nearby barrier reefs attracting an array exotic marine life. You can snorkel right off the beach in some spots, and scuba enthusiasts can enjoy reef, pinnacle, and cave diving. Apart from underwater excursions, the islands are also a great spot for kayaking, deep-sea fishing or just the perfect relaxing end to your exploration of this fascinating country.

DID YOU KNOW?

Despite being made up mostly of ice and surrounded by water, Antarctica is in fact a vast desert, receiving less rainfall than any other continent. Less surprisingly, it is also the coldest and the windiest continent on the planet.

Sample Itinerary for Nicaragua

Our Nicaragua
Marvel at the colonial masterpieces of Leon and Granada, witness the abundant bird and wildlife in verdant Cloud Forests and towering volcanoes, discover the other worldly scenery of Ometepe and it's ancient cultures, and snorkel in some of the most pristine coral reefs off the Corn Islands. This hidden natural and cultural treasure is now ready for its time in the spotlight.
11 NIGHTS / 12 DAYS • FROM US$5,300 PER PERSON
Days 1, 2 & 3: Leon

Upon arrival in Managua, your private guide will be waiting to take you to the historic city of Leon. You will be staying in a 17th century convent that has been lovingly converted into a modern boutique hotel, yet still retaining the essence of its Spanish colonial past with its abundant art and antiques. Discover the bohemian student city of Leon, with its colourful street art and murals, which contrast perfectly with this city's impressive colonial streetscapes and ornate public buildings, culminating in the majestic Basilica Catedral de la Asuncion, the largest church in Central America. Visit the surprising array of art galleries and museums or embark on a rum tasting tour to really savour the authentic taste of Leon. For adventure lovers, visit the nearby Cero Negro volcano.

Days 4 & 5: Matagalpa Highlands

Leaving Leon, you will drive towards the highlands, but not before stopping for a thermal mud bath in San Jacinto village. From Matagalpa, you will explore the Highlands with its dramatic volcanos, cloud forests and many trekking options to suit any fitness level. Watch out for monkeys, armadillos and tapirs, and even, on the rare occasion, big cats like jaguars and pumas. This region is also home to many coffee plantations, producing some of the world's best coffee beans. Tour a local plantation and savour on the heavenly aromas. Finally relax in your rustic eco lodge in the Selva Negra Nature Reserve, where you will experience the simple joys of being at one with nature.

Days 6, 7 & 8: Granada

Descending the Highlands, you will head towards Granada, stopping en route at the famous Masaya Artisan market and the nearby picturesque white villages. You will be staying at a famous eco lodge, located on a private island, just a short boat ride from historic Granada. Explore the charming colonial masterpiece that is Granada, often named the prettiest city in Latin America. For nature lovers, hike Mombacho volcano, take a canopy zipline tour, go bird watching in a kayak, or just relax and enjoy a cruise around the more than 100 islands located in Lake Granada, with their pristine natural landscapes, local wildlife and even the odd remains of an 18th century Spanish Fortress. 

Day 9: Ometepe

It may not be the easiest location to discover, but Ometepe is definitely worth the trouble. This mystical island located in the middle of Lake Nicaragua is famous for its two large volcanoes rising up dramatically from a thin strip of land which forms Ometepe Island. Visit the Devil's Lookout for the jaw dropping views of the volcanoes and the surrounding areas, visit a nature reserve to marvel at families of howler monkeys and the island's impressive array of bird life, including cormorants and egrets. Finally, visit some of the three thousand year old rock carvings found all over the island, telling the story of a lost civilisation over 3000 years old. You can choose to stay overnight in Ometepe in a rustic, yet simple lodge, or return to Granada.

Days 10, 11 and 12: Little Corn Island

A short flight from Managua will take you to one of the Caribbean's last untouched secrets. Arriving in Big Corn Island, take a short boat ride to Little Corn Island. With stunning white-sand beaches, vibrant coral reefs, clear turquoise waters, awe-inspiring sunsets, and endless palms, this really is the epitome of an island paradise. There are more than 40 species of corals along the nearby barrier reef attracting exotic marine life, allowing you to snorkel right off the beach. Scuba divers will also love the amazing reef, pinnacle, and cave diving that is on offer to them. This is the perfect location to end your Nicaraguan Odyssey. A short flight back to Managua will connect you with your flight home.

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We do not subscribe to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ philosophy. Sample itineraries and cost estimates are meant purely as a guide. To find out more, please contact one of our expert travel consultants to plan a customized itinerary based on your budget and interests.