Nicaragua's Northern Highlands are off the typical backpacker route through the country, but nobody with an interest in coffee, cigars and wonderful scenery should miss them. Here colorful quetzals nest in misty cloud forests, and Nicaragua’s best coffee and tobacco are cultivated with both capitalist zeal and collective spirit. With a little time and commitment you’ll get pounded by waterfalls; explore Somoto's canyon; and pay tribute to the pirates, colonists, revolutionaries, artists and poets who were inspired by these fertile mountains and mingled with the open-hearted people who’ve lived here for generations.
On either end of the region are its two largest cities: hardworking Estelí buzzes with students, farmers and cigar moguls, while Matagalpa is slightly hipper – and better funded, thanks to nearly a century of successful coffee cultivation. All around and in between are granite peaks and lush valleys dotted with dozens of small towns and their friendly inhabitants.