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Did You Know … ?
- The Nicaraguan address system does not use street names or house numbers.
- Lake Nicaragua is the only freshwater lake where sharks live; they travel upriver from the Caribbean.
- Nicaragua’s Violeta Barrios Chamorro was the first elected female president in the Americas (1990-1997).
- The Bosawas Biosphere Reserve protects 12 kinds of poisonous snakes.
- Nicaragua is the only country with navigable rivers and lakes connecting the Pacific and the Caribbean.
Of Sandinistas and surfboards
Nicaragua is remembered for the socialist revolution that brought Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas to power and the bloody 1980s civil war during which the U.S. backed those who would oust the Sandinistas.
In the end, the Sandinistas were voted out of office in 1990. The country has been peaceful for more than 20 years and its leaders — again including Ortega — have made tourism development a top priority.
In many ways, the country resembles its neighbor, Costa Rica. It is a budding ecotourism destination with Atlantic and Pacific coasts, mountains (including 24 volcanoes) and jungle, multiple ecosystems, abundant wildlife, a multicultural society that mixes European, African and aboriginal traditions, and a warm climate. But Nicaragua doesn’t have the infrastructure.
As a result, travelers may ride bumpy roads to reach one of Central America’s finest beaches or a wildlife preserve. On the other hand, the country is inexpensive and untouched by megaresort development and mass tourism.
Naturally, therefore, the destination appeals most to the venturesome. Its Pacific coast is a surfer’s dream whereas the Caribbean side, particularly the Corn Islands, is the place for divers. For active travelers, options also include hiking, kayaking, sailing, sportfishing, trekking — even sandboarding in an active volcano.
As to wildlife and scenery, Nicaragua is a rich destination for bird-watchers. Visitors may also see nesting turtles or look for anteaters, jaguars and other mammals.
Ometepe, an island in Lake Nicaragua with two volcanoes and several colorful towns, offers an unusual way to find a cross section of Nicaraguan experiences.
In theaters or at less formal local fiestas, tourists discover regional music, dance and handicrafts. They learn something of life in northwest Nicaragua by following the Coffee Route, devised for tourists and focused on cigar production, as well as coffee growing. Central Nicaragua, an area of farming and livestock, retains a cowboy culture.
For shades of urban life, the colonial cities Granada and Leon are top tourist choices, for the architecture as well as city diversions. The capital, Managua, with much still in ruins after a 1972 earthquake, offers some attractions but tourists often skip it.
Things to do for Venturers
- Practice your kayaking skills at San Juan del Sur or at Montelimar Beach.
- Sandboard down the side of the Cerro Negro volcano near Leon.
- Go surfing on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast. San Juan del Sur is the most popular of the country’s beach and surf destinations. Or, surf at Maderas Beach, an area that has hosted championship watersports events.
- If you have a special interest in folk culture, plan a visit to Masaya, called the country’s capital of arts and crafts. Its Thursday evening festival, called Vamos a Masaya, includes dance and music presentations, art for sale and opportunities to taste traditional dishes.
- Head to the Corn Islands in the Caribbean for your snorkeling and scuba diving. Go in winter or early spring when the waters are relatively calm and clear.
- Combine restful beach time on Ometepe Island (in Lake Nicaragua) with sessions sightseeing from a mountain bike or simply climbing a volcano.
Things to do for Centrics
- Take a canopy tour in the cloud forest of Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve. Or, look for mammals, such as giant anteaters, three-toed sloths, jaguars or pumas at the Cerro Musun Nature Reserve.
- Taste Nicaraguan cornbread, nacatamales and all sorts of other things made with corn, a local staple. Also, sample the country’s unique drinks based on cocoa and corn combined, such as tiste and pinolillo.
- Follow Nicaragua’s Coffee Route, which takes you to coffee plantations in the country’s northern highlands and to the communities in the coffee-producing areas. Participating cities include Estelí, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Ocotal and Somoto. Tobacco fields are on the route, too, and Esteli is a center for cigar rolling.
- Brush up on your Spanish at a Nicaraguan language school.
- Nicaragua is an ideal destination for birders. The best places to look for the critters are the mountains of Matagalpa, along the San Juan River or in the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve.
- Get close to nature by staying at one of the country’s small, sustainable luxury ecoresorts. This gives access to wildlife plus optional activities like horseback riding, mountain biking and surfing lessons. Or relax in thermal baths and eat well.
Things to do for Authentics
- In Granada, stroll the colonial city then overnight in a historic building that has been converted into a boutique hotel.
- See a baseball game. Nicaraguans are crazy about the sport.
- Look for a fiesta on your itinerary. Every town and city celebrates a patron saint annually. Also, there are many religious events and processions in Holy Week and in December.
- Shop for handicrafts as opportunity presents itself. Also, look for Nicaragua’s well regarded cigars, as well as locally made rum (to be packed in checked luggage for flights, of course).
- See a performance combining traditional theater, dance and music at the Ruben Dario National Theater in Managua. More informally, such shows can be seen at festivals honoring local patron saints.
- At Chococente Wildlife Refuge, if the season is right, watch as thousands of sea turtles tend to their nests.
For more information, consult INTUR — Nicaragua Tourism Board at www.visitanicaragua.com and choose your language if necessary.