NICARAGUA

DESTINATIONS / CENTRAL AMERICA NICARAGUA

 FACTS /

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America and its tourist industry is rapidly on the rise. In 2010, it welcomed more than 1 million visitors for the first time in its history, and that number rose to an estimated 1.3 million in 2014. Like neighboring Costa Rica, this nation is blessed with natural beauty, and can boast of pristine reefs and rainforest, shimmering lakes and smoldering volcanos, wild jungles and empty beaches. Its capital, Managua, is gritty and sprawling, and has a population of more than 1 million. But without any destination-worthy museums or cultural attractions to snare visitors, Managua is mostly used as a jumping-off point by travelers en route to the pretty colonial towns of León and Granada or the tempting beach and jungle resorts.

STAY /

As Nicaragua’s tourist industry grows, the choice of alluring accommodations increases. Our pick of the bunch though, is Jicaro Island Ecolodge. It’s already got the stamp of approval from National Geographic and it’s not hard to see why. Situated on its own small islet in the vast Lake Nicaragua, this adult-only resort has nine private two-story casitas, which are outfitted with locally-produced furnishings made from Rainforest Alliance-certified wood. Swing on hammocks, take part in yoga classes, enjoy massages and swim in the pool, before sitting down to a scrumptious dinner of local fare. More active guests can try kayaking on the lakes or hiking in nearby nature preserves.

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In the middle of the vast Lake Nicaragua, two perfectly formed twin volcanic mounds rise from the water, forming the island of Ometepe. Legend has it they are the breasts of Ometepl, one half of a star-crossed duo who committed suicide together to avoid separation. Few tourists bother making the journey out to this isolated isle, so it’s a wonderfully quiet place to hide away for a few days under the shadow of the volcanic slopes. Adventurous nomads can attempt a volcano hike: Sweat it out during the grueling six- to eight-hour-hike up and down Maderas and cool off in the crater lagoon at the summit, or tackle the arduous route up Concepción, which will take between eight and 10 hours.

PLAY

Hurtling yourself down the side of an active volcano on a wooden board isn’t a standard travel activity, but it is surprisingly fun. In the town of León in northwest Nicaragua, operators like Vapues Tours, offer the rare opportunity to fly down the rock and ash-covered slope of the 2,380-foot (725-meter) high Cerro Negro. In the company of an instructor, you’ll hike up the volcano, see the crater, take in the views and then shuffle on over to the edge on your board before letting gravity do its thing! Before you slide down the ashy rim all the way to the base, you’ll be given all the necessary protective gear, as well as a few tips and pointers.

SHOP

The Masaya Crafts Market is jam-packed with artisan traders selling handicrafts, jewelry, clothing and bags. For tourists looking to pick up handmade souvenirs, this is the place to go. From high-quality woodcarvings to patterned tops and dresses, painted masks to leather goods, silverware to fresh fruit, shoes to children’s toys, this characterful market has something for everyone. Of course, the prices for tourists can be a little high, so brush up on your negotiating skills and your Spanish before you go as bargaining is a must.

BRIC'S Capri