An overland ramble to Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast would be the perfect terrain for an epic novel. Your settings would include wide, muddy rivers surrounded by thick jungle, a fascinating tropical port town and an expanse of mangrove-shrouded black water, home to more than a dozen ethnic fishing enclaves.
Granada drips with photogenic elegance, a picture postcard at every turn. It’s no wonder many travelers use the city as a base, spending at least a day bopping along cobblestone roads from church to church in the city center, then venturing out into the countryside for trips to nearby attractions.
Intensely political, buzzing with energy and, at times, drop-dead gorgeous (in a crumbling, colonial kind of way), León is what Managua should be – a city of awe-inspiring churches, fabulous art collections, stunning streetscapes, cosmopolitan eateries, fiery intellectualism, and all-week, walk-everywhere, happening nightlife.
Masaya & Los Pueblos Blancos
Nicaragua's meseta central (central plateau) offers a picturesque patchwork of lagoons, steamy volcanic peaks and sleepy colonial villages. Not many people stay here for more than a short day-trip from nearby Granada, leaving plenty of room for exploration and singular encounters with the region's remarkable natural, cultural and artistic imprint.
Southwestern Nicaragua's Pacific beaches offer amazing surf, sand and sun. To get to the Tola beaches – El Astillero down to Playa Gigante – you'll need to pass through Rivas and Tola, then head toward the beach. There is only extremely rough 4WD access on the coast between Veracruz and El Astillero.
A Sandinista stronghold, a university town, a market center for the thousands of farmers that populate its surrounding hills: Estelí has a multifaceted soul. On weekdays you can wake up with sunrise yoga before Spanish class; on Saturday you can mingle with farmers at the massive produce market, then see them again at midnight, dancing like mad in a ranchero bar.
The Caribbean coast’s biggest tourist draw is actually 70km offshore on a pair of enchanting islands with horseshoe bays, crystalline coves and underwater caves. Great Corn is larger and peopled by a Creole population that lives in colorful wooden houses, many of which are sprinkled along the main road that encircles the island.
Coming from Granada, Masaya may seem a bit down at heel. This is a very workaday little town, unexceptional but for two things – a wonderful, crumbling malecón (waterfront walkway) and the famous artisan market, Mercado de Artesanías de Masaya, where you can stock up for every birthday, Christmas and anniversary for the rest of your life without buying two of the same thing.
Isla de Ometepe
Ometepe never fails to impress. Its twin volcanic peaks, rising up out of Lago de Nicaragua, have captured the imagination of everyone from precolonial Aztecs (who thought they’d found the promised land) to Mark Twain (who waxed lyrical about it in his book Travels with Mr Brown) – not to mention the relatively few travelers who make it out here.
With brick streets etched into a series of jade peninsulas, Bluefields (the city) stretches into Bluefields (the bay) like many fingers. In between is a series of docks, floating restaurants, shipwrecks, and fish and produce markets. The city was once full of old wood Victorian charm before Category IV Hurricane Juana wiped it off the map in 1988.