Political unrest has given way to a period of calmand stability in scenic Nicaragua. Yet the country has not quiteescaped the stigma of the past, consequently not becoming the majortourist destination it deserves to be.
However, the tourism industry is growing. Naturelovers will adore the rich tapestry of flora and fauna within thisCentral American wonderland. It is only a matter of time beforemore travellers appreciate what a lucky few have already found.
Positioned between Costa Rica to the south andHonduras to the north, the country is flanked by seas on two sides:the Atlantic Caribbean stretches along its eastern shores, with thePacific Ocean stretching out to the west.
Nicaragua is known as 'the land of lakes andvolcanoes', with countless lagoons and lakes connected by networksof interlacing rivers and a chain of smouldering mountains and lavafields running along the country's Pacific side. Lago de Nicaragua,a 92-mile (148km) long freshwater, shark-inhabited lake, dominatesthe terrain of the southwest.
Rainforest blankets much of the lowlands, while highquality coffee beans grow along the highland slopes. Incredibleanimals make their homes in these environments: millions of seaturtles are born on the sandy western beaches, while jaguars andthree-toed sloths roam the jungle canopies.
The lively Pacific western coastline produces greatwaves for surfing vacations, while tourists can appreciate the mixof languages and cultures along the relaxed eastern coast andembrace the Caribbean lifestyle with the locals.
The capital, Managua, isn't a picturesque city. Itsmodern facilities, like the airport and hospitals, make it aconvenient stop for travellers. The colonial architecture of manycities and towns makes for some romantic destinations.
The atmosphere is more reminiscent of the days of Spanish rulethan of modern Nicaragua. The country remains relativelyunderdeveloped. For some, this can mean unwanted difficulties. Butfor others, it is a chance for unique experiences and unspoiledattractions.
Known as the 'land of lakes and volcanos', thesublime natural features of Nicaragua make the country a paradisefor hikers and nature lovers. There's probably no betterdestination for travellers looking for close encounters withvolcanos, both dormant and active.
The massive Lake Nicaragua provides a variety ofexciting opportunities to explore on water and land. The largelyunexplored and pristine rainforest of the Bosawas Biosphere Reservedominates about 15% of Nicaragua.
Sun and sand enthusiasts also will not bedisappointed. Those looking for a tropical getaway as yet unspoiledby resorts, crowds, and developed urban growth should holiday onthe white beaches of the Corn Islands.
The tourist infrastructure in many of these places isnot widely developed, making Nicaragua ideal for adventuroustravellers looking for an experience of nature, rather than thosewanting luxury and glamour.
However, Nicaragua's cities do offer urban fun, withManagua, Granada, and mountainous Matagalpa providing convenienttravel hubs, colonial architecture, and interesting culturalexperiences. The warmth of the climate is a pleasant bonus whentravelling through Nicaragua.
No trip to Nicaragua is complete without a hike up atleast one of the country's many volcanoes. Nicaragua is home to aremarkable string running from the southern mountains around LakeNicaragua up to the impressive northern Cosiguina Volcano, toweringover the Gulf of Fonseca.
Many of the Nicaraguan volcanoes are dormant. Butsince some remain active, it is advisable to hike the volcanoeswith a guide or local tour group. Some of the more popularvolcanoes include Maderas, Concepcion, Zapatera, Mombacho, Lagunade Apoyo, Masaya, Apoyeque, Momotombo, Cerro Negro, Telica, SanCristobal, and Consiguina.
Maderas, Concepcion, and Zapatera rise up out of LakeNicaragua. Zapatera stands alone while Maderas and Concepcion arelocated on Ometepe Island, popular climbing choices for visitors.Concepcion is an active volcano, but Maderas is dormant.
Zapatera is not popular among tourists as it isdifficult to reach and the volcano itself is both extinct andrelatively small at 2,063 feet (629m). Mombacho Volcano lies on thebanks of Lake Nicaragua and is thought to be the source of thelake's islands.
Mombacho is great for hiking and it's even possibleto drive to the top. The beautiful Laguna de Apoyo is a tranquilcrater lake popular with hikers and swimmers. The western shore ofthe lake has an active fumarole emitting steam and gas.
Masaya Volcano National Park is a short drive fromManagua, with the smoking Masaya Volcano as its principalattraction. A paved road goes up to the crater where visitors canmarvel at the white plume of smoke or try to spot the colony ofgreen parakeets living in the crater itself.
Apoyeque Volcano is also a quick trip from Managua.This volcano is extinct and water fills the crater, with visitorsable to take in the spectacular surrounding scenery or cool offwith a swim in the crystal clear waters of the volcano.
Momotombo is the quintessential cone-shaped volcano.It is active and last erupted in 2015, after a century ofinactivity. Momotombo is popular with experienced climbers and isvisible from Managua, situated more than 60 miles (100km) from theNicaraguan capital.
The Nicaraguan government uses Momotombo to producegeothermal energy and electricity. Telica Volcano also erupted in2015, with those who brave the strenuous 8-12 hour hike to itssummit will be able to see molten lava glowing at the bottom of thecrater.
Cerro Negro Volcano last erupted in 1999 and is theyoungest volcano in Central America. It has blackened slopes and isscattered with volcanic rocks. Climbing it can take about an hourand one of Cerro Negro's slopes is used for sand skiing.
The 5,725-foot (1,745m) San Cristobel Volcano isNicaragua's tallest active volcano. San Cristobel last erupted in2008 and the entire complex consists of five smaller volcanoes.With steep slopes, it is a challenging climb and spectacular viewsreward those who make it to the crater.
Lastly, Cosiguina Volcano offers hikers some of themost impressive views and mountain scenery. Travellers reach thecrater via a forest hike or drive most of the way up. From theparking area, the hike to the crater is only three hours. The topoffers panoramic views of the Gulf of Fonseca, Honduras, and ElSalvador.
Hiking in Nicaragua offers spectacular views andimpressive landscapes, with awe-inspiring craters and splendidphotographic opportunities. It's a rewarding experience for allthose who make the effort on their trip to Nicaragua.
Montelimar Beach sits on the Pacific Coast ofNicaragua, offering tourists the perfect Nicaraguan beach resortexperience. It is one of the most beautiful beaches in the countryand is the closest to the capital city of Managua where manytravellers begin their Nicaraguan visit.
The Barcelo Hotel and Resort on the old SomozaEstate is a great option for those wanting an all-inclusive beachresort getaway, featuring a huge pool, said to be the largest inthe country, and even a casino overlooking the sea.
For those who prefer to avoid package deals andresorts, there are a few other options for accommodation nearMontelimar Beach. The most popular activity in Montelimar is simplyrelaxing on the 1.5 mile (3km) stretch of beach made up of pristinewhite sand.
Visitors can also enjoy the animals at the nearbyzoo, or go shopping at the popular curio stalls and shops dottedthroughout the area. Other things to do in this Nicaraguan resorttown include scuba diving, surfing, and snorkelling. MontelimarBeach is a must for visitors seeking a stress-free holiday filledwith relaxation and sun.
Adventurous travellers should definitely include theCorn Islands on their list of things to do in Nicaragua. Situated40 miles (70km) from the mainland near the city of Bluefields, thetwo islands are home to howler monkeys, bats, and iguanas.
Most of the wildlife is located beneath the waves.The seas and surrounding coral reefs are extremely popular withdivers, fishing enthusiasts, and snorkelers, with barracudas, nursesharks, spotted eagle rays, green turtles, and even hammerheadsharks cruising the waters.
In the 17th century, the islands were a hideaway forpirates and smugglers. Indeed, there's still mutterings of sunkentreasure and old shipwrecks. Because of a tourism in its infancy,visitors won't find modern hotels or luxury resorts on Big CornIsland and Little Corn Island.
Instead, there's a wealth of unspoiled plant andanimal life, with a few sparsely populated villages offeringsimple, inexpensive accommodation. The Corn Islands are a perfectholiday destination in Nicaragua, a tropical paradise somehow stilloverlooked by tourists yet offering the expected white sandybeaches and fruit trees.
Situated on both sides of the border betweenNicaragua and Honduras, the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve covers morethan 2 million acres (20 000 square km) and is home to thousands ofplant and animal species, and nearly 200,000 types of insect.
The area was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in1997, and is the second largest rainforest in the WesternHemisphere, second only to the Amazon in Brazil. In fact, thereserve, including buffer zones, takes up about 15% of thecountry's total land area.
The forest is still remarkably unexplored andpristine, a dream for true nature lovers. Tourists who make theeffort to visit the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve will discover a richarray of animal life, including pumas, jaguars, and the largest andmost powerful eagle in the Americas, the harpy eagle.
The indigenous peoples, the Sumos and the Miskito,still practice subsistence farming within the boundaries of thereserve, much as they have done for centuries. Guided treks throughthe forest are available from a number of reputable touroperators.
The colourful city of Granada offers visitors plentyof historical sights and beautiful colonial architecture, some ofwhich dates back to the 1600s. Granada was founded in 1524 and issaid to be the oldest city in the New World, a Spanish showpiecethat still retains a regal yet dilapidated charm.
Many of the historic buildings have been restoredmultiple times over the centuries, with residents making an effortto protect their heritage despite pirate invasions and civil wars.The city boasts some lively markets and interesting museums popularwith tourists.
Granada is home to a vibrant nightlife scene and anumber of popular festivals, including the colourful Granada HolyWeek festivities. Popular places to visit in Granada include thetown's six main churches, Parque Centrale (central park), Fuerte LaPolvora (an 18th-century fort), Lake Nicaragua, and the Mi Museo (aprivate museum).
Other fun things to do in and around Granada includeforest canopy tours, treks around the Massaya Volcano, shoppingexcursions at the town's local market, and trips to coffee. Granadais the best town for visitors to use as a base while exploring LakeNicaragua, as well as many of the country's volcanos andbeaches.
Sometimes referred to as Lake Cocibolca, LakeNicaragua is Central America's largest lake and 10th largest bodyof fresh water in the world. A number of attractions apart from itssize make Lake Nicaragua remarkable, spreading out beneath MombachoVolcano.
It is one of the only few freshwater bodies in theworld that contains sharks. Bull sharks inhabit the depths of thelake and are a rare sight for even the most devoted spotters.Despite the lake's importance in the region, tourist infrastructureisn't necessarily up to standard.
Known locally as Las Isletas, the collection of smallislands scattered within the lake are believed to be the result ofa volcanic eruption thousands of years ago, which spewed massiverocks out into the water. The lake is also home to the volcanicOmetepe Island with its twin volcanic peaks.
Visitors to Lake Nicaragua can hire a boat and tourthe islands while taking in the spectacular scenery and diversebird and aquatic life. The cities of Granada, San Carlos, SanJorge, and San Miguelito are all located on the shores of LakeNicaragua, making it easily accessible for tourists.
The National Museum in Managua is one of Nicaragua'sprincipal tourist attractions and the city's best museum. Themuseum building sits imposing and attractive on the Plaza deRevolucion, where the ruined cathedral and a number of otherimportant buildings stand.
It houses a fascinating selection of artefacts and anumber of displays about Central American history, ancient CentralAmerican civilisations, and the Columbus period. The museum's ninerooms contain a selection of modern art.
There are also informative exhibitions about thecountry's turbulent natural history, including information aboutthe numerous Nicaraguan volcanoes and earthquakes that havedevastated the country over the years.
The museum staff are helpful, informative, andfriendly, making it an ideal attraction for any visitor wanting tolearn more about Nicaragua. If you don't read or speak Spanish, itis best to take a guided tour as there is not much information inEnglish.
In fact, the tours are the best way to get to gripswith all the information and bring it all to life, even if you dospeak the language. Although the exhibits are not quite world classand there is certainly room for improvement, the National Museum isa fascinating place to spend a few hours.
The twin volcanoes on Lake Nicaragua are highlightsfor visitors to the scenic country. They are situated midwaybetween Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Visitors to the islands explorevolcanoes by hiking through rainforests, while one can also pay atrip to a local coffee farm which is dependent on the fertileslopes to grow fragrant beans.
Birds and wildlife delight nature lovers, whilesports enthusiasts enjoy kayaking and fishing tours around theisland. For those who brave hiking the 3,300 foot (1,500m) summitof one of the volcanoes, the views are unsurpassed. Visitors couldeasily spend a few days exploring the numerous natural attractionsthe islands have to offer.
Boats from San Jorge, just outside Rivas, to theislands cost around NIO 50. Ferries also depart from San Carlos andGranada, costing between NIO 50 and NIO 70. They don't leave everyday and are sometimes inactive due to low water levels. Ferry ridestake 6 to 12 hours, depending on the point of departure, and areperfect to take in lake scenery.
A good starting point for travellers exploringNicaragua's mountainous regions, Matagalpa is the sixth largestcity in Nicaragua and one of the most important commercial centres.Sometimes called the 'Pearl of the North' or even the 'Land ofEternal Spring', Matagalpa is surrounded by beautiful valleys andsteep hills.
They are home to coffee and cattle farms, traditionalIndian villages, volcanoes, and waterfalls. The city has a uniquelyGerman culture due to settlers in the region, but most of theresidents speak English. Despite its size, it feels more like avillage with a distinct local character and sense of community.
Matagalpa is mainly attractive for tourists as aparadise for outdoor activities like hiking, bird watching, andhorseback riding, and it is the city's location rather than itssightseeing attractions that make it worth visiting.
Having said that, there are some interesting museumsin Matagalpa and a visit to one of the coffee plantations is a mustfor fanatics as the region produces very high quality coffee. Thereis a decent shopping and restaurant scene, and a good range ofaccommodation to suit all budgets.
Managua enjoys a tropical climate with temperaturesall year round averaging between 80°F (27°C) and 90°F (32°C). Thereis little seasonal variation in temperature, but the hottestmonths, March and April, are best avoided as it can getuncomfortably humid.
The year loosely divides into a wet and dry season.Between November and April, the city tends to be dry, with littlerainfall. Between May and September, it is rainy and wet. May,June, and October are the wettest months and best avoided, buttropical downpours tend to be brief and bring relief from the heatso some travellers don't mind visiting at this time.
Ideally, visitors to Managua should plan their tripfor some time between November and February when the weather ispleasantly warm but not scorching. There isn't too much rainfallbut the best time to visit Managua is in November and December.
Some travellers may also want to time their visits towitness the city's best festivals and biggest events, in which caseEaster and early August are probably the best bets despite theoppressive heat in April and the possibility of rain in August.
Nicaragua has a tropical climate and is hot yearround with little seasonal variation. The wet season occurs fromJune to January, defined by potential daily showers and short heavyrainfalls. On the east coast, rains last longer into the year andthe region experiences flooding during the rainy season.
The dry season is from December to May, when there isalmost no rain and it can get very dry. The rainy season doesn'trule out travel because tropical downpours tend to be over quicklyand the sun comes out soon afterwards.
Tropical storms and hurricanes are possible betweenJuly and October, with travellers preferring to avoid this period.Temperature fluctuations result mainly from elevation, with averagetemperatures differing widely between sea level and lowlands, andhighlands and highland peaks.
Lowland daytime temperatures average above 86°F(30°C) with as much as 84% humidity, and highland temperaturesaverage above 75°F (24°C). The hottest months are March, April, andMay. The best time to visit Nicaragua depends on desired activitiesand region, but the peak tourist season is between December andMarch.
The currency is the Nicaraguan córdoba (NIO). US Dollars canalso be used for most common transactions. Bills must be in goodcondition to be accepted, but damaged bills can be exchanged atbanks. All major cities have ATMs and most hotels and restaurantsaccept credit card payments.
The official language in Nicaragua is Spanish. Somecommunities on the Caribbean Coast speak indigenous languages.English is understood at some tourist destinations.
Electrical current in Nicaragua is 120 volts, 60Hz.Flat blade plugs are used.
Americans require a valid passport, but a visa is not necessaryfor touristic stays of up to 90 days. A tourist card, costing USD10, will need to be purchased on arrival.
UK nationals require a passport valid for six months beyond thedate of arrival, but a visa is not necessary for touristic stays ofup to 90 days. A tourist card, costing USD 10, will need to bepurchased on arrival.
Canadians require a passport valid for six months beyond thedate of arrival, but a visa is not necessary for touristic stays ofup to 90 days. A tourist card, costing USD 10, will need to bepurchased on arrival.
Australians require a passport valid for six months beyond thedate of arrival, but a visa is not necessary for touristic stays ofup to 90 days. A tourist card, costing USD 10, will need to bepurchased on arrival.
South Africans require a passport valid for six months beyonddate of arrival, but a visa is not necessary for touristic stays ofup to 90 days. A tourist card, costing USD 10, will need to bepurchased on arrival.
Irish nationals require a passport valid for six months beyonddate of arrival, but a visa is not necessary for touristic stays ofup to 90 days. A tourist card, costing USD 10, will need to bepurchased on arrival.
Americans require a valid passport, but a visa is not necessaryfor touristic stays of up to 90 days. A tourist card, costing USD10, will need to be purchased on arrival.
New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for six monthsbeyond arrival, but a visa is not necessary for touristic stays ofup to 90 days. A tourist card, costing USD 10, will need to bepurchased on arrival.
Travellers from most western countries do not need to arrange avisa prior to entry. Tourist cards are granted on arrival for USD10 and are good for stays up to 90 days. Extensions are possiblefor a fee of USD 2 per day.
All visitors must be in possession of onward or return tickets,documents for their destination outside of Nicaragua, and at leastUSD 200. It is recommended that tourists have six months validityremaining on their passports upon arrival in any country.
Visitors from a yellow fever infected area in theAmericas or Africa require proof of their vaccination before entry.Malaria is a threat in many regions of Nicaragua and travellers areadvised to seek medical advice and take some form prophylaxis.
Insect repellent and mosquito nets should be used toavoid malaria and dengue fever, both of which are carried bymosquitos. Recommended vaccinations include ones for hepatitis A,hepatitis B, and typhoid, and for rabies for those coming intocontacts with animals, especially bats.
Modern medical facilities in Nicaragua are only foundin major towns and cities, the best of which are in Managua. Ruralcommunities lack modern hospitals and equipment, and medicationsare in short supply. If needing a hospital in Nicaragua, travellersshould indicate that they desire a private hospital.
Comprehensive travel insurance is essential andtravellers should take along any medication they require in itsoriginal packaging, and accompanied by a signed and dated letterfrom a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.
The most common health affliction for tourists istraveller's diarrhoea, which is preventable by safe water and foodconsumption. Travellers should not drink tap water, and should usecommon sense when eating uncooked foods.
Tips of 10 to 15 percent are expected at restaurants inNicaragua. Standard tipping is usual at hotels. Taxi drivers do notusually expect to be tipped.
Rural areas in Nicaragua are notably void of police and therehas been a recent increase in crime in these areas. Theft andviolent crime are also becoming more common in urban areas of theusually safe country. Travellers should be careful of muggings intaxis and only use official taxis with a red license plate.
Buses should not be used after dark. Due to poor roadconditions, highway driving is especially dangerous after dark andshould be avoided. Political demonstrations and protests occursporadically in urban areas and can become violent; tourists shouldavoid all street gatherings.
Powerful waves and currents can make Nicaragua's beachesdangerous, and swimmers and surfers should exercise caution.Despite these risks, Nicaragua is still one of the safest countriesto travel to in the region and most visits are trouble-free.
It is usual for adults in Nicaragua to live with their parents,and visitors should greet the oldest or most important person in agroup first. When shopping, it is customary to bargain forgoods.
The international access code for Nicaragua is +505. Theoutgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (00 44for the United Kingdom). The city area code for Managua is 2.Mobile phones operate on GSM and 3G networks. Local mobile phonecalls are usually cheapest with locally bought SIM cards. Internetis widely available in all major cities, although the connectionspeed is sometimes slow.
Visitors to Nicaragua may import up to 400 cigarettes or 50cigars or 500g of tobacco, five litres of liquor, 2kg ofconfectionary, and perfume for personal use. Meat, dairy, andleather products, as well as matches, are restricted. Firearmsrequire an import license.
Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism, Managua, Nicaragua: +505 22545191 or www.visitanicaragua.com/ingles
Embassy of Nicaragua in Washington DC, United States: +1 (202)939 6570.
Embassy of Nicaragua, London, United Kingdom (also responsiblefor Ireland): +44 (020) 7938 2373.
Nicaraguan Consulate General, Ontario, Canada: +1 (905) 4300572.
US Embassy, Managua: +505 2252 7100.
British Embassy San Jose, Costa Rica (also responsible forNicaragua): +506 2258 2025.
Canadian Embassy, San José, Costa Rica (also responsible forNicaragua): +506 2242 4400.
South African Embassy, Mexico City, Mexico (also responsible forNicaragua): +52 55 1100 4970.
Australian Embassy, Mexico City, Mexico (also responsible forNicaragua): +52 55 1101 2200.
The public transport system in Managua consists ofbuses, taxis, and cycle taxis. Urban buses tend to be old andpoorly maintained, although the city's network is fairly extensive.Buses display their route number, and a list of routes is posted onsigns for the bus stops.
Despite this, transport information can be scarce andasking locals for assistance is recommended. Interurban busesoperate at terminals in the city. There are two main kinds ofbuses: ordinarios are larger buses with lower fares and longertravel times, while espresos are smaller, more comfortable busesthat travel faster but charge more.
Taxis are usually the most convenient means oftransport in the city and are widely available. They generally donot have meters and negotiating a fare before setting off isimportant, especially since they tend to try overchargetourists.
Managua is an interesting and attractive city, achaotic mishmash of old and new. While the main challenge is notgetting lost, the Plaza de Revolucion is a good starting point fortourists keen on doing some sightseeing because a number ofhistoric buildings ring the square.
The city's damaged cathedral and the NationalMuseum of Nicaragua are musts for those wanting to learn of thecountry's tumultuous history. Another establishment worth visitingis the Museum of Acahualinca, housing the remarkable fossilisedhuman footprints left 6,000 years ago in the volcanic mud along theshores of Lake Managua.
For something a little more fun and outdoorsy,tourists should head to the Tiscapa Lagoon Natural Reserve, awatery playground with ziplines, canopy tours, bars, restaurants,and shops. Although Managua has some cultural and historicalattractions, the city is a favourite with travellers mainly becauseof the natural beauty on its doorstep.
Excursions are possible to the picturesquecolonial city of Granada and the huge Lake Nicaragua, with itsvolcanic islands begging to be explored. The glorious MontelimarBeach, Nicaragua's most popular beach resort, allows visitors thechance to enjoy the Pacific coastline of this beautifulcountry.