In recent decades, Nicaragua has emerged from a difficult past. The country’s politics, like its volcanoes, have cooled, leaving a landscape fertile with opportunities. Recent articles in the US press have labeled it “The Next Florida”, “The Next Big Thing”, and “The World’s Best Kept Retirement Secret”. Beyond the hype, this vibrant nation is benefiting from foreign investment. Gradually, Nicaragua is becoming one of the Western Hemisphere’s most promising vacation destinations.
The country’s mountainous heartland is cloaked pine forests and coffee plantations. This region is perfect for horseback riding and hiking expeditions. Farther east, the landscape flattens into a verdant plain that stretches to the Caribbean.
Due east of the central Caribbean coast, Nicaragua’s Corn Islands are encircled by some of Central America’s best beaches and reefs. Here, the only thing to distract you from sunbathing or diving is the aroma of freshly grilled lobster. Accommodations are modest, but the locations are superb.
Nicaragua has dozens of national parks and wildlife preserves. Some of the most impressive parks combine imposing volcanoes and verdant forests. Volcan Masaya National Park and Volcan Mombacho Natural Reserve, both in the southwest, are spectacular examples.
The country’s southwest is lined by wide lakes and more than twenty volcanoes. These features combine dramatically at Lago de Nicaragua (a.k.a. Lago Cocibolca), the largest lake in Central America. There, Isla de Ometepe’s twin cones rise imposingly from the blue depths. Another unusual feature is found below the lake’s surface; here, the world’s only freshwater sharks have adapted to eons of separation from the Pacific.
Granada, one of the richest Spanish cities in the Americas, graces the lake’s northwest shore. Founded in the early 16th Century, this is a charming city of cobbled streets and sleepy plazas. Here you visit centuries-old churches, kayak Lago Cocibolca, tour pottery and cigar workshops, and visit nearby volcanoes. Leon, about two hours north of Granada, has a similar flavor but with even more beautiful churches and an indomitable spirit.
In the past few years, a handful of boutique hotels have opened on Nicaragua’s lush south Pacific coast. Some of the best are located near white or gold beaches where sea turtles nest. This region is also developing a reputation for excellent surfing and sailing. Trips to Nicaragua’s south can be easily combined with visits in Costa Rica.
The best time to visit Nicaragua is from December to May. Most other months offer pleasant weather, but October is known to bring heavy rains.