Nicaragua is our hot tip for 2015; it is the country everyone is talking about. It is unspoilt, friendly and rewarding for anyone with a sense of adventure or wanderlust. Fast-improving services take you to colonial cities, along wildlife-fringed jungle rivers and to empty, tropical beaches.
Claire, in our marketing team tackles the typical questions we receive from clients with Nicaraguan facts and her expert tips:
- “I want to travel somewhere unspoilt”
Tourism is relatively new in Nicaragua; the infrastructure began to be developed only after the end of the civil war in the 1990s. The roads are traffic free, there are few other tourists around even in high season (with the possible exception for Easter/April, the peak season for local holidaymaking), there are no beggars or hustlers outside Managua, or ugly developments. The beautiful beaches are still empty and undeveloped: for now. There are plenty of “lots for sale” on the Pacific coast and Americans and Canadians are rumoured to be moving in.
- “I want to go off the beaten track”
As per our answer above... the whole country is off the beaten track, Granada is low key. You have the feeling you are really going somewhere adventurous.
Nicaragua’s scenery is often overlooked due to the big presence of Costa Rica – Nicaragua’s verdant neighbours. However, Nicaragua is home to Volcanoes throughout, especially Ometepe volcano (on Ometepe Island); the large freshwater lakes – Nicaragua and Managua; lovely rolling cattle country en route from Managua to San Carlos; beautiful jungle at Rio San Juan; superb forest draped Solentiname islands; empty natural beaches at the Pacific and Corn Islands.
It may surprise you that Nicaragua is teaming with wildlife... 3 species of monkeys, caiman, turtles, iguanas, sloth, snakes, frogs, lizards and a plethora of tropical birds all commonly spotted. The best destinations for wildlife spotting are Rio San Juan, Los Guatuzos Reserve - visited from the Solentiname Islands - and Ometepe Island. There are wildlife/eco lodges in these areas, although not all offer English-speaking wildlife guides or trails as they can be quite rustic.
- “I want somewhere with interesting history and culture”
The country’s recent troubled past is fascinating and people freely talk about it. There is surprisingly little rancour: the “reconciliation” process seems to be working. Opinions we’ve come across range from the extreme right to communist. This second bout of the government of Daniel Ortega is much less socialist than in the immediate post revolution era. Foreign investment is encouraged, Nicaraguans are welcome to set up their own business and many are keen to do so. The very rich, such as Carlos Pellas (founder of the rum Flor de Caña and owner of Hotel Mukul) and ex contra leader Eden Pastora have been free to set up huge enterprises.
Looking into the past, there are small interesting museums and vestiges of pre-Columbian cultures on Ometepe Island and elsewhere.
The colonial cities of Granada and Léon are unspoilt and have lovely historic centres with a wealth of baroque churches and roads lined with one storey Spanish colonial style residences and little shops. They both have interesting fruit and vegetable markets; our favourite is in Granada.
The most evocative place in the country is El Castillo with its towering fort: its capture, by a 22 year old Nelson, is well documented there and of particular interest to Brits. Nicaraguans felt hard done by, losing out to Panama as a site for the canal; however, albeit 150 years later, Nicaragua has been granted permission for their own Atlantic-Pacific canal route. Work is due to start this December!
Solentiname is fascinating for its recent history of liberation theology and rebellion as well as its artists’ colony.
- “I want a tranquil honeymoon in idyllic spots”
There is a choice of romantic properties from the low-key eco-lodge Totoco in Ometepe to established favourites such as Morgan’s Rock and Aqua and new ones such as Mukul and Hotel Yemaya Resort. Empty beaches, cosy meals with a view, glorious sunsets and some well-deserved peace and quiet – all guaranteed.
Please see all the above. Enjoy and join in with the relaxed, slow pace of life. Voices are seldom raised and the Nicaraguans are smiley, curious and helpful. Forgot those stressful situations back home such as traffic jams and overcrowding as you treat yourself to the laid-back boutique hotels and dine on delicious, fresh food.
- “I am on a limited budget”
Once you are there, meals, drinks and optional tours are extremely cheap. For example you can grab freshly caught lobster and the local bar in a beach shack for a few dollars. There is a good range of accommodation which can suit those on a limited budget.
- “I want to take my family”
The country is peaceful and safe, there is little traffic and you can stay in remote, peaceful places such as Little Corn and El Castillo. Costs on the ground are low; therefore it won’t break the bank. Some adventurous activities such as nature trails, snorkelling and kayaking are available. Standards of hygiene are good (even clean loos in service stations) – much better than you would expect.
- “I want an active holiday”
Start the New Year as you mean to go on, in Nicaragua, you can climb both volcanoes on Ometepe Island. Kayaking is available and a great option at most beaches. Majority of the hotels have bikes, although these may not be top of the range, they are perfect for getting out and about exploring the local area. There are walking trails all over the country. Horse-riding is also available (namely at Morgan’s Rock Hotel - horses are in good condition – we advise you to take your own riding hats!)
- “I want glorious beaches”
The Pacific coast and Caribbean Corn Islands have blissfully clean, empty beaches (wth little infrastructure). Even Ometepe Island has a couple of nice volcanic beaches such as Playa Santo Domingo.
We are excited to have a launched a Nicaragua-only small escorted group tour, 'Off-the-beaten track Nicaragua'. It is a 17-day group adventure which travels to hard-to-reach destinations where you'll be flung back in time. You'll hardly believe how a country of such variety and richness can be so little-visited. You'll reach Granada, Ometepe Island, Rio San Juan and the Caribbean-like Corn Islands. To browse our full range of Nicaragua holidays, both Private Journeys and small, escorted Group Journeys, see here.