Nicaragua is fast becoming the must-visit Central American nation. Sarah Gilbert tells us why you need to explore this fascinating country before the crowds and canals move in.
The land of lakes and volcanoes is also the land of lively colonial cities, wildlife-rich forests and deserted beaches. It’s a nature lover’s paradise: Costa Rica without the crowds – for now.
After years of civil war and natural disasters, the largest country in Central America has been peaceful for almost thirty years now, but still wages a battle against a lingering negative image of a dangerous country for travel. Today, while Nicaragua may be poor – only Haiti is worse off in the Western Hemisphere – it’s actually one of the safest countries in the region.
An ever-increasing number of visitors are drawn by its natural beauty and adrenaline-fuelled adventure. Nicaragua is a biodiversity hotspot, with 17 percent of its landmass devoted to nature reserves, where you can explore steamy rainforest and mist-shrouded cloud forest, home to howler monkeys, jaguars and sloths, as well as a multitude of tropical birds. Need more action? Hike up still-rumbling volcanoes, speed along zip lines, dive pristine reefs and surf the Pacific breakers.
And while it has retained its off-the-beaten-track feel, it’s still good value. No longer the preserve of budget-conscious backpackers, there are luxurious eco-friendly lodges sprouting up around the country, conserving forests and beaches and protecting endangered wildlife.
The only potential blot on the landscape is the controversial transoceanic canal project. The Nicaragua Grand Canal would be three times the length and twice as deep as its Panamanian rival, spanning the country from the Pacific to the Atlantic and turning it into a hub for global trade.
It’s predicted the canal could create more than 250,000 jobs and bring in much-needed investment, but it would have a potentially devastating impact on the environment, with the destruction of a massive swathe of pristine rainforest and wetlands, and the displacement of indigenous communities and wildlife.
There remain a lot of questions hanging over the canal, especially its impact on Lago de Nicaragua, but for now herons and ibis wade in the shallows, and cormorants and kingfishers still nosedive for breakfast.
Aside from wildlife, Nicaragua’s highlights are many. Postcard-pretty Granada, founded by buccaneers and conquistadors, is one of the oldest cities in the Americas. Its cobbled colonial streets are lined with a growing number of sophisticated eateries where you can feast on local produce, drink award-winning rum, salsa the tropical night away and wake up and taste the organic coffee.
It makes the ideal base to explore Masaya’s volcanic park and meet the skilled artisans at its colourful handicraft market, zip-line over Mombacho’s cloud forest and cool off with a swim in the crystalline crater lake of Laguna de Apoyo.
León has the livelier, lived-in feel of a university city, a hotbed of revolution and poetry where bullet holes still scar the buildings. It’s the starting point for climbing the Maribios volcanic chain, where you can snowboard down the black ash slopes of Cerro Negro.
If you want to get to know the locals, try your hand at picking coffee in the temperate northern highlands around Matagalpa and Jinotego. Or help bring home the catch-of-the-day on twin-coned Ometepe Island, rising out of Lago de Nicaragua, populated by farmers and fishermen. You can also stay in one of the island’s family-run eco-lodges, climb steep Concepción or the easier Maderas, search for petroglyphs, or just lounge on the lakeshore beaches.
In Solentiname, a remote archipelago in the southeast corner of Lago de Nicaragua, you can buy vibrant primitivist paintings of the islands’ flora and fauna direct from the artists, and explore Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge, a maze of forest and waterways that teems with wildlife.
For beach lovers, there’s plenty on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Laidback San Juan del Sur has long been a haunt of surfers-in-the-know, a place to chill by day and party after dark, while the Corn Islands, two isolated atolls, tick all the Caribbean boxes without the price tag. Little Corn in particular is a pocket-sized paradise where you can explore the reefs, dine on lobster, then flop into a hammock with only the rustle of palm fronds to disturb you.
For the ultimate jungle adventure, catch a boat along the watery border with Costa Rica, the San Juan River. Explore the fortress town of El Castillo or go all the way to the Caribbean coast, and into the heart of the Indío Maiz Biological Reserve with a guide.
But for all its natural riches, the welcoming Nicas are the country’s finest asset. Revolution, civil war and natural disasters may have taken their toll on the country’s infrastructure, but its resilient people remain warm and welcoming, and intensely proud of their culture and traditions.
Air France Launching New Connections to Central America
We are excited to announce Air France’s decision to add two new weekly flights to San Jose, Costa Rica from Paris Charles de Gaulle. The new direct flight will connect all of Europe to an exceptional tourist region.
The Air France flights will be operated on a Boeing 777-300 with a capacity of 468 seats, including 14 in business, 32 in premium economy and 422 in economy. The flights will operate on Wednesdays and Saturdays on departure from Paris.
Nicaragua can expect to see more visitors as a result. Managua is a quick flight away from San Jose. Nature Air, Copa Airlines, Avianca and Veca Airlines all offer flights from San Jose (SJO) to Managua (MGA) And of course we offer land transportation giving tourists the opportunity to visit both neighboring countries!
Spectacular & Harmless Eruption of Momotombo Volcano
“Momotombo roars, awakens and returns in all its glory." Momotombo volcano located in La Paz Centro, León about 49 kilometers from Managua, entered into an eruptive phase in the early hours of Tuesday, December 1st, ejecting gases, ash and lava in a spectacular and harmless eruption. The stunning images shared on social networks by hundreds of residents have transcended the world.
The volcano has erupted after 110 years of inactivity. On the recommendation of the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies (INETER), authorities have implemented security measures, closing off a six kilometer zone around the volcano and are prepared for the evacuation of local residents if need be. Volcanologists are urging citizens to take precaution in the area however there are currently no reports of any injuries or any immediate instruction of evacuation.
In an official press release from INETUR, the organization assures that this eruption was non-violent and that they will continue to closely monitor the activity of the volcanos of our country and inform the people of any developments.
The search begins for “Nicaragua’s Finest Coffee”
In order to demonstrate that Nicaraguan coffee continues to maintain excellent quality and attract international buyers to pay a better price for the bean, The Specialty Coffee Association of Nicaragua (ACEN) has launched a national competition to select the best coffee in the country. The event will replace the void left by the Cup of Excellence, an international event that due to structural changes has left out several Central American countries, including Nicaragua.
The competition officially starts on January 22 where national assessors will be responsible for screening samples. The awards ceremony will take place next April 8, 2016 and will be the ideal framework to attract the attention of foreign buyers able to offer the best price for the Nicaraguan coffee bean through an electronic auction.
The promotion factor is always very important in strengthening the image of coffee quality of Nicaragua, said Carlos Bendaña, vice president of ACEN. The decision to organize "“Nicaragua’s Finest Coffee” Competition was made with producers because they see the benefit of promoting a positive image for their product especially with the fall in price of the coffee bean, which fell below $120 per quintal according to the most recent quote on the Stock Exchange of New York.
Nicaragua is the New Tourist Sensation!
Nicaragua has changed the tourist map. Volcanoes, canyons and marvelous islands are among the hidden paradises the country has to offer.
Miskito Cays: This paradise consists of 76 islets. Fishermen have built their floating houses on the sea and rent them to adventurous tourists. The area is known for its coral reefs and for being home to more than a hundred sea turtles. The island is only inhabited from January to July during the fishing season.
Masaya Volcano: This national park is formed by two volcanoes and five craters. Santiago is the only one with gas activity. If you're close to it, you’ll surely hear the movement of magma. There are several viewpoints that allow a good look into the crater. A guide can also take you through hiking paths with tunnels created by volcanic eruptions.
Somoto Canyon: Its vertical walls reach heights of between 120 and 150 meters, ideal for climbing, rappelling and navigating the waters coming from the Coco River, the longest in Central America. Its channel varies between 10 and 15 meters wide. It was discovered in 2004.