Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America yet it remains one of the least discovered. Nicaragua is home to colonial towns, active volcanoes, vast expanses of rain forest and beautiful beaches. Nicaragua receives far fewer visitors than neighboring Costa Rica and makes a great destination in Central America for travelers interested in impressive natural wonders, tropical beaches and off the beaten path adventure. These are the top five travel destinations for visitors to Nicaragua.
San Juan del Sur
The country’s main beach resort at San Juan del Sur is located just minutes away from some of the finest surfing beaches in all of Nicaragua. San Juan del Sur receives a steady stream of tourists and its restaurants and bars are some of the best in all of Nicaragua. One of the most popular activities in San Juan del Sur is dinner and drinks at one of the town’s excellent beach front restaurants while watching the magnificent red and orange sunset light up the sky over the ocean. The beautiful beach front stretches along the bay and rarely feels crowded. It’s no wonder that San Juan del Sur is rapidly gaining attention as one of the top beach resorts in Central America.
A short bus ride away from the chaotic capital city of Nicaragua is the beautifully restored colonial town of Granada. Founded in 1524 along the northwestern shore of the Lake Nicaragua, Granada is the oldest colonial city in Nicaragua. A rich and important trading center until the 19th century, today Granada is the tourism capital of Nicaragua. Masaya Volcano National Park is easily visited on a day trip from Granada. The park is located just off the main highway that links Granada with Managua and local buses pick up and drop off passengers just outside the entrance. From there it’s an additional 6km to reach the summit of the volcano and Oviedo Plaza which overlooks the park’s main attraction, the very active Santiago Crater.
Once the capital city of Nicaragua, today the colonial city of León is the most important center of arts, culture and religion in the country. León is also considered to be the most politically progressive city in Nicaragua. Politically themed murals can be seen on many of the outdoor walls and in several of the plazas. Nicaragua’s first university, the Universidad Autónoma de Nicaragua, is located in central León and the city is home to a population that is young and increasingly educated. The largest cathedral in Central America is located in the city’s central plaza. The cathedral was constructed during the 18th century and is surrounded by carved stone statues of lions. The cathedral is the centerpiece of León and one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions. Frequent second class buses travel between León and Granada and the city can be easily visited on a day trip from Granada.
Located in Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America, Ometepe Island was originally formed by two volcanoes and today those volcanoes form the backdrop to this remarkably beautiful island. Ometepe Island can be reached by boat from the towns of Granada or Rivas. It’s one of the most unique destinations in all of Nicaragua and offers a glimpse into local life as it might have appeared many years ago. Life on the island is relaxed and slow-going, but for active visitors there’s no shortage of activities and attractions. It’s possible to hike the island’s two volcanoes, Maderas and Concepción, and there are pre-Columbian petroglyphs, waterfalls, lagoons and countless beaches to explore. Transportation on the island is limited and many of the sights are remote and isolated. To make the most of your visit it’s best to hire a local guide.
The Corn Islands
Located 70km off the coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea, the Corn Islands are the most popular tourist destination on the country’s Caribbean coast. Even so, they are far less frequented than other Caribbean island destinations in Central America, particularly those of Belize, Honduras and Panama. The colorful coral reefs, white sand beaches and the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean are all perfect reasons to visit the Corn Islands. Most of the tourist infrastructure is located on Big Corn Island, the larger of the two islands, and most visitors choose to base themselves on Big Corn. The Corn Islands can be reached by plane from Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, or by boat from Bluefields.