Nicaragua is blessed with a rich mixture of cultural and natural sights for the visitor. For those who are looking to get away from the beaten path Nicaragua offers pristine reserves and un-commercialized culture. Travel distances are very short in the Pacific Basin with most sights less than two-hour drive from Managua. Travel to the jungle regions or the Caribbean coast is easy with domestic air travel of one hour or less.
The nation’s capital has some excellent museums and galleries and is home to many of the best restaurants, hotels and nightlife in Nicaragua. The original downtown area is worth visiting to see the Las Huellas Museum, the lakefront, National Cultural Palace, National Museum, National Theatre, new presidential office and the adjacent ruins of the old Cathedral. The newer city center at Metrocentro is next to the new Cathedral and the best place to enjoy many fine restaurants and clubs. Visitors short on time can make a quick visit to Masaya’s famous market for native crafts, as well as Masaya’s National Park, both of which are 30 minutes south of the capital. Nearby Pacific Beaches of Montelimar and Pochomil are just over an hour away. Managua is also the jumping off point for trips to the Río San Juan, Corn Island, Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields and other destinations reached via domestic flight service.
Colonial Cities and Villages
Many small villages of unique and timeless beauty surround the important and historic colonial cities of León and Granada. A visit to these cultural gems can occupy the good part of one week and visits to these charming population centers offers easy access to important ecological sites. León, the colonial capital and intellectual and artistic center of Nicaragua is worth a visit, with excursions to nearby attractions like Poneloya Beach and the Maribios volcanic range a must. In the hills behind the city of Masaya are the charming and hard working villages called Los Pueblos, which are famous throughout the region for their high quality, hand crafted products. Granada, one of the oldest European settlements in the hemisphere, has a relaxed air and timeless architecture as well as quality lodging. Nearby is the Mombacho Volcano cloud forest reserve with good nature walks and just off the coast is the precious island community of Las Isletas in Lake Nicaragua.
This tropical giant with more than 400 volcanic origin islands could easily occupy a week or more of the curious traveler’s visit time. Las Isletas isperfect for those shorton time, but with a 3 or more day stay a visit to the Island of Ometepe,a dual volcano island that is a hikersparadise with two forest reserves, rustic villages and over 600 pre-Columbian sites is a must. Ometepe also combines well with a visit to the southern Nicaraguan Pacific Coast, the sparkling Bay of San Juan del Sur and the wildlife reserve of La Flor. In between Ometepe and Las Isletas is the National Park of the Zapatera Archipelago. The islands are wild and almost unpopulated with fascinating archeology.
Rio San Juan
For enthusiasts of rain forest flora and fauna the southwestern part of Lake Nicaragua and its Caribbean drainage, the Rio San Juan are Nicaragua’s principle attraction. Travel of 4-9 days in this region will reveal the wetlands and gallery forest of the Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge and the primary rain forest of the Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve. The rural Archipelago of Solentiname in Lake Nicaragua houses a rich bird life and a unique school of rural artisans and artists. The big adventure is a journey from the fresh water sea of Lake Nicaragua all the way to the Caribbean traveling the length of the Río San Juan.
The comparatively cool highlands region of Nicaragua’s north makes for an interesting four to six day excursion. The coffee towns of Matagalpa and Jinotega are full of political history and home to precious cloud forest reserves. Across the northern range is Estelí, the home of Nicaraguan cigars and jumping off point for visits to many quaint northern villages in the region with unique traditions and rustic country churches. The region is unusual in Nicaragua for its rugged stony mountains and pine tree forests.
The other Nicaragua, its Caribbean seaboard, is worth a visit of 3 to 8 days. Most visitors come to enjoy the white sand beaches and coral reefs of Corn Island. A longer visit will allow exploration of the cultural diversity of Bluefields and majestic Pearl Lagoon. More adventurous visitors might head north, deep into Miskito country, to Puerto Cabezas an interesting cultural experience and a region with unseen forests, lagoons and villages. This part of Nicaragua is worth the effort for those who really want to explore.