Stretching from the sizzling Pacific with its colonial treasures, smoking volcanoes and superb surf beaches to the crystalline Caribbean with its indigenous communities and islands that groove to an altogether different tune, Nicaragua's geographical diversity is topped only by the range of cultures living within its boundaries.
The country is crowned in the north by spectacular mountain ranges covered in a patchwork of small farms, coffee plantations and cloud forest that offer great hiking and birdwatching opportunities. In the south you'll find the largest freshwater lake in Central America, with more outdoor activities than you could dream of cramming into your itinerary, wetlands brimming with birdlife and the virgin rainforests of the magnificent Río San Juan.
Key moments in Nicaragua's tumultuous modern history continue to play out here. Take a stroll down the National Assembly Pedestrian Walk for an overview, ending up at the eerie abandoned cathedral, a reminder of the devastating 1978 earthquake.
Up all Night
This town knows how to party. From the craft beer and cocktail bars of Los Robles and Altamira to the discos of Belo Horizonte, painting Managua red is an unforgettable experience.
This is the cultural fulcrum of a nation, home to the country's best history museum, numerous art galleries, theaters and venues for catching traditional music, poetry and more.
Masaya & Los Pueblos Blancos
San Juan de Oriente village produces the most exquisite pottery in Central America, while Masaya has a lively crafts market and artisan workshops that produce colorful hammocks.
This is a great place for broad-faced encounters with locals, particularly if you visit the villages during their exuberant religious festivals or seek out a cure for what ails you from a local curandero (medicine man).
Volcanoes & Craters
Volcán Masaya offers never-ending vistas and the chance to look into the fiery maw of a very active volcano. Southward, you’ll come across the unrelenting beauty of Laguna de Apoyo, a volcanic crater lake you can dive into.
A Storied Past
Granada’s centuries-long history is as complex as it gets. You’ll see it in the city’s architecture, its festivals, art and living culture.
The city’s vibrant restaurant scene will keep foodies busy for several hours each day. There’s fusion, superlative examples of Nicaraguan cuisine, and experimental spots that cater to travelers of all palates.
From the shores of Lake Nicaragua you can head out by launch or kayak to explore an archipelago of tiny islands, stay overnight in a tranquil ecolodge or go in search of petroglyphs on remote Isla Zapatera.
Not many places have surf as good as this. Hit dawn patrol at legendary spots such as Playas Hermosa and Maderas, or ride the huge hollow breaks around Popoyo and Playa Aserradores.
Isla de Ometepe is a paradise found. Discover petroglyphs, climb volcanoes, hike to a waterfall, kayak to lost coves, gallop through remote villages on horseback and chill out in cool travelers' enclaves on the edge of the wild.
For many travelers, San Juan del Sur is synonymous with hedonism, with numerous bars and beach clubs clamoring for their business. It's also home to Sunday Funday, a legendary pool-bar crawl that attracts hundreds of revelers.
León & Northwestern Nicaragua
León is where the revolution was televised and where current protests take place. And to this day, you can feel the palpable and intense strands of fiery rhetoric flowing from this intellectual powerhouse. The partying isn’t bad either.
The fire theme continues down below and up above in the large nature preserves that encircle massive volcanoes, forgotten islets and wide-open spaces of the interior. You can trek to their conical peaks and greet the sunrise from their summits.
Head north to get further from the tourist track and closer to the wild. There are volcanoes that seldom see a climber, waves that rarely embrace a rider and mangrove estuaries whose spidery waterways only see a human wake once in a blue moon.
Nature lovers will have no shortage of opportunities to spot toucans, motmots and even quetzals among the region's swaths of precious cloud forest.
Treks & Hikes
Whether it's a mountainous trek to a hidden waterfall or tubing through an ancient canyon, the northern region offers unlimited opportunity for off-the-beaten path adventure.
For a real taste of Nicaraguan life, stay on a working farm in one of the Nothern Highlands’ several protected reserves, where collectives cultivate coffee against a stunning background of soaring peaks.
Diving & Snorkeling
Romantic tropical islands with turquoise fringed white-sand beaches shaded by coconut palms anyone? While you may find such idyllic beauty elsewhere, it won't be as empty or as undeveloped as here.
On the Reef
Get underwater at all costs on the Corn Islands, where superb snorkeling and sublime diving awaits you, and where you may even see hammerhead sharks.
Vibrant Music Scene
An ethnic melting pot overflowing with culture, the Caribbean coast's maypole rhythms and Miskito pop provide the soundtrack for performances by Nicaragua's best dancers, while Garifuna drummers punctuate the night.
San Carlos, Islas Solentiname & the Río San Juan
The Río San Juan department is the ultimate boating playground, with epic panga journeys, kayak and canoe adventures, and alligator-spotting motorboat safaris all on offer.
Through the Binoculars
Southeastern Nicaragua offers outstanding birdwatching, including at the remote Islas Solentiname, a haven for migratory waterbirds, and along the Río San Juan, home to a grand variety of aquatic and rainforest species.
Indigenous Art Forms
A visit to the isolated island workshops and studios offers fascinating insights into the Primitivist paintings and bright balsa carvings from the Islas Solentiname.