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January 02nd, 2014

Nicaragua: a beginner's guide

Chris Moss, Travel Journalist highlights emerging Nicaragua, a land of volcanoes, lakes and a blissful Caribbean coast, where the descendants of British pirates inhabit white-sand islands.

Sandinista guerrillas kept the fight for freedom alive in the 70s, seizing power in 1979 and ruling until 1990 (despite the best efforts of Ronald Reagan to have them overthrown). Puppet dictators aside, Nicaragua became an independent republic in1838, though the British claimed the Mosquito Coast until 1850.

Top five attractions 

  • Colonial Granada, on Lake Nicaragua, built as a showpiece city in 1524 and lovely to explore by horse and carriage.
  • Erupting out of the lake are the twin volcanic peaks of the Isla de Ometepe, which create an hourglass shape in the lake with beaches on the isthmus.
  • San Juan del Sur, hemmed in by cliffs, has undeveloped beaches and great surfing breaks.
  • The Mombacho cloud forest reserve, at the top of a volcano, where orchids, bromeliads and the rare quetzal bird hide in the canopy.
  • The two tiny Corn Islands, great for snorkelling coral reefs, eating lobster and shooting the breeze with the largely black population, which is of Jamaican descent.

Best city 
Colonial León has volcano views, a huge cathedral, thick-walled buildings and many churches and museums, including the Museum of Legends and Traditions, and a grieving lion guarding the tomb of the poet-philosopher Rubén Darío.

Souvenir to buy 
Sandinista T-shirt.

Quirky Nicaragua 
Lake Nicaragua has the world's only freshwater sharks.

‘The Jaguar Smile’ by Salman Rushdie, who was invited to Nicaragua by the Sandinistas. Even those who don't like Rushdie's fiction should enjoy this lively volume of reportage. 

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