Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. Most of its people live on the Pacific coast where the land is flat in the north but rises to include tall mountains in the south. There are also several volcanoes situated in this region. The center of Nicaragua consists of steep mountains and forested valleys. Eastern Nicaragua is a flat, humid area dotted with tropical rain forests, grassy plains, and pine woodlands.
Houses on stilts are a common sight in eastern Nicaragua because of heavy flooding during the rainy season. Winds from the Caribbean bring over 150 inches (400 cm) of rain to the east each year and Eco-tourism attracts tourists, who come to visit the volcanoes and its freshwater lake.
Here are the top ten not to be missed places in Nicaragua:
Islets of Granada
Nicaragua is an archipelago of over 300 islands and islets. Most of the islands belong to private owners, but there are still a few public islets where anyone can stop by and eat “Guapote” (a prehistoric fish native to Lake Nicaragua) or enjoy swimming. Boat ride tour packages are allowed to cruise on Lake Nicaragua with a stop on the El Roble, an island that should certainly be fully explored. You must be careful with your things when crossing the island of Zapatera because it is very wet.
From the island of Zapatera, you can admire a beautiful view of the Mombacho volcano and the island of Ometepe, which is a fairly easy climb, plus you can eat some delicious local cuisine. On this island, you can also buy bracelets and necklaces made from seeds. As you cruise from island to island, which are used by wealthy residents and nonresidents as holiday residences, you can view all kinds of animals. You’ll see local and migratory birds, the beauty of the vegetation, and the monkeys that swing from one tree after another. It is a fascinating island that emerged through the lava output of the Mombacho volcano andt has a lot of potential for tourism development. A tour to the
Islets of Granada
is required if you want to feel surrounded by nature.
If you do not have your own car or do not want to hire a tour, you can visit the
independently. It can be accessed by bus from both Granada and Managua, down in the Junction called Guanacaste. From there, it’s a mile up to the box office for booking (you can walk or take one of the motorcycle taxis waiting beside the road).
At the entrance you have options to choose if you want to climb on foot (two to three U.S. dollars for residents and foreigners) or ride a truck (seven U.S. dollars for residents and seventeen U.S. dollars for foreigners) to the station, 1150 meters away. From Thursday to Sunday, the trucks go up more often (four times daily, at 8:30, 10:00, 13:00 and 15:00). If you choose to walk, you will proceed to hike for about two hours on a paved trail with a steep slope.
Halfway along the journey, you will pass by the Hacienda El Progreso-Café Las Flores where you can have coffee and water. High-quality coffee is grown in the highland portions of Nicaragua.
Arriving at the field station (where you’ll find a service restaurant and accommodations) you can travel several paths to reach the crater, which takes about an hour and a half and can be done without a guide. It is well signposted from the forest. From here, you can visit the El Puma and El Tigrillo viewpoints. The wonderful scenery justifies the visit. The Islets, Cocibolca, Granada, Laguna de Apoyo, Masaya Volcano and Lake Managua can also be best appreciated from this highest point of Nicaragua. The tour is highly recommended. It has a wonderful vantage point to see the Granada sunrise and sunsets.
Iglesia de la Merced
A visit to the
Iglesia de la Merced
is a must when in the capital city of Granada. They close at 5 p.m. and you have to pay a few Cordobas or a dollar to climb the bell tower. La Merced church is a gem that is well worth visiting due to its historical legacy. The Nicaraguans do a great job of preserving their cultural property, as evidenced by the ancient icons and intricate architecture of the church. The best view of Granada is obtained from the belfry of the Church of La Merced, which is located on Royal Street, a couple of blocks away from the Central Park.
The climb up the stairs is short, but the panoramas are superb on all sides. You will get a good view of the Cathedral, the lakes, rooftops and backyards, the entire city and the imposing Mombacho Volcano. The church is very old yet well preserved, showing its colonial style. The 360-degree aerial view and the chance to see the ancient belfry are two of the best highlights of a one hour visit to the church. Take pictures and make unforgettable memories – especially at dusk when the lighting is at its finest.
Choco Museo & Café
The Choco Museo & Café offers a unique opportunity to learn all about cocoa and chocolate. Everything about the production, processing and marketing of cocoa is presented here. You can participate in a workshop to learn about production. It is processed under the guidance of the shop owner Ismail, starting from the harvesting of cocoa beans to roasting, refining and the manufacture of cocoa-containing beverages. The lecture traces back its popularity to the time of the Aztecs and the Spanish conquerors. It is also a great opportunity for a family bonding activity. Spend at least two wonderful hours of preparation and by the end you will be able to able to leave with your own 60% pure cocoa chocolate bars.
The Choco Museo also doubles as a café/restaurant in a relaxed setting. Come for a snack and enjoy the many amenities. The café is located in a colonial building, which has been converted into a boutique hotel patio. The place is perfect for breakfast (buffet-style) or a coffee break. The cocoa beverages are very unique, well made, and creatively served in calabashes of cocoa. The staff is friendly and welcoming and the workshop is fun yet practical. The chocolate making workshop is suitable for children.
The Church of Guadalupe is at the end of the pedestrian street, La Calzada, which heads toward the lake from the city. The ancient church is Jewish in origin and has a splendid view of the city from its tower. It is certainly a good way to end the journey after a visit to the three pedestrian streets full of color and movement within the vicinity of this attraction. It is particularly interesting for its exterior architecture and interior decorations. It is both easily accessible and incomparable to other colonial churches found in Latin America.
The religious building is also a great historical gem because it is one of the oldest colonial structures built in Nicaragua. It is definitely worth climbing the narrow flight of stairs up to the top of the tower to enjoy the panoramic views of the city and the famous Lake Nicaragua. Do not miss the chance to take pictures, especially with its ancient façade as a background. The colonial construction and preservation is truly unique. In front, there is a small and quiet wooded park that serves as the promenade and the meeting point of the city.
Laguna de Apoyo
On this natural lagoon, there are several options for lounging by the pond to spend the day. You can have lunch, swim, sunbathe, read a book, pick flowers or just spend a day of total relaxation. It is accessible by a bus ride from the capital city. This lagoon is very quiet, and has a small cafe and palapas with hammocks. It’s a beautiful place to spend time with friends, family or visit as a couple. You can buy souvenirs from the nearby little shops, stock up on typical goods and enjoy some freshly squeezed fruit drinks. The view is excellent, and apart from the lagoon, there are also some nearby cities (in the background) and the volcano.
If you love nature and want to spend a pleasant time in quiet, go visit this natural paradise. The
Laguna de Apoyo
is the best attraction you can find near the capital. Here, you do not have to drive too far and search for a place to experience nature, serenity, and the sun. It is the total package for people who love to spend private time and the most ideal place for newlyweds who want to make the most of their vacation and create unforgettable honeymoon memories.
The National Palace of Culture
The palace is an old building that houses some art exhibitions, crafts, murals, archeological fossils and an exhibition on the geological formation of Managua. The exhibition shows the history of Nicaragua, objects and images of the indigenous cultures. A visit to the
National Palace of Culture
is a must if you want to learn about Nicaragua and understand its colorful past and present. It is located on the south side of the Plaza of the Revolution, which also include the old Cathedral and the House of Peoples. After surviving the earthquake of 1972, it hosted the Parliament until the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution (1979) when it was taken by a guerrilla group.
The palace is well preserved and maintained by the government who provide customer care, guides, and affordable entrance fees. Of the three levels of the building, the museum covers only the ground floor, as the top two house home libraries, newspaper libraries, national archives, and schools of music and drawing. It has several venues that discuss various aspects of the country, such as nature, political history, life in the Caribbean, and the nation’s rich culture and existing traditions.
San Juan Del Sur Beach
The San Juan del Sur Beach is still a rather unique destination in comparison to other local destinations such as Granada, Isla Ometepe, San Juan Cardenas or Rio. It is a place where guests can enjoy a stress-free vacation, go surfing, and explore and experience the Eco-tourism of the mountains. You can enjoy the bars and parties as well as an excellent Italian coffee or just enjoy the atmosphere that the city of San Juan offers.
All kinds of fun are available here and the only thing you need is the adventurous spirit within you. Enjoy long walks or rent bikes or vehicles to go to the memorial of Christ’s Mercy. From there, a beautiful view awaits and photography lovers will find great inspiration.
Cerro Negro Volcano
If you visit the city of Leon, join an organized sand boarding excursion to the slopes of the Cerro Negro. This volcano is completely covered with black sand in contrast to all the nearby volcanoes which are covered with thick vegetation. It is worth the climb back to the board that will run you down from its steep black slopes. The climb is pretty tough, but once at the top of the landscape, the breathtaking descent and the hilarious experience begin. It can be slowed down with your feet so you can go any speed you want without any fear. The
Cerro Negro Volcano
adventure is a must when in Leon.
Basilica Catedral de la Asuncion
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption
in Leon, Nicaragua is a beautiful monument deeply revered both for its architecture and important role in history. It has an imposing and impressive main façade and century-old bells. Inside there is a beautiful variety of altars, paintings, images, and sculptures that are worth contemplating. It has degraded a bit from its earlier glory, with exposed cracks in the walls, but is still incredible.
The roof of the cathedral offers a splendid panorama of the city and the chain of volcanoes in the background. A visit to the underground catacombs to see the tombs of the famous personalities buried there is also a great experience.