basic ingredients Granada, A Colonial Gem: Almost every visitor to Nicaragua puts Granada at the top of their favorites list in Nicaragua. In its Central Plaza, colorful horse-drawn carriages gather to wait for visitors who want the best way to tour the town, and enjoy a special way to visit many of Granada’s beautiful churches, such as La Merced, then stopping at the wonderful museum complex of Convento de San Francisco. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this popular town also offers its guests a wide choice of good food served up in delightful restaurants, and the finest accommodations occupy restored mansions and other colonial structures. Nowadays, Granada also serves as an appealing base for day excursions for birdwatching and kayaking around the Las Isletas archipelago and for a day of canopy touring and hiking in the Mombacho Volcano Cloud Forest.
Lake Nicaragua: At 100 miles long and 50 miles wide, Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America, and its crown jewel Ometepe Island, is accessible from Granada. The island is fascinating, for it serves as the stopping place for hundreds of migratory species and shelters a vast inventory of pre-Columbian petroglyphs and monolithic statuaries. Onsite, you can make a guided ascent to the Maderas Volcano, rent a mountain bike and go kayaking. San Carlos is the boat departure point to the Solentiname Islands, an excellent area for birdwatching, especially during the nesting months of November and December. But of greatest interest here are the art communities that have turned the archipelago into a cradle of Nicaraguan native painting and sculpture.
A Place in the Sun: Nicaragua has two long coastlines on the Caribbean and the Pacific, and along the Pacific in particular, the beaches are broad, white and beautiful. A Pacific resort favorite is the all-inclusive Barcelo Montelimar Beach Resort, 40 miles south of Managua and once the beach getaway of dictator Somoza. Another gorgeous but small white-crescent of beach is on view from the terrace of the luxury Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Eco-Lodge, tucked away two hours from Granada in the rainforests near San Juan del Sur. About 50 miles offshore are the idyllic Big Corn and Little Corn islands, which are ringed by sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters and coral reefs. Here, the islands are ideal for fishing, diving, snorkeling and beachcombing.
adding some spice Leon is perhaps not an addition to the essential Nicaragua, but a primary ingredient, for this grand colonial city is home to the country’s leading university and the largest rococo Cathedral in Central America.
Nicaragua is a land of surprisingly excellent crafts, as well as appealing and accomplished modern art. For crafts, head for the Masaya Market along the road to Granada. For more modern art, try the painting and sculptor exhibit in galleries in Managua.
Nowadays, special interest tours are all the rage, illuminating the secrets of producing rum, coffee and world-class cigars—all three of which make up the country’s leading exports. Making a specialty of these attractions is Careli Tours in Managua. Visitcarelitours.com.
new products on the shelf Adventure Life is offering a 7-night Nicaragua Multisport program that starts in Granada with some kayaking and a zipline canopy tour in the cloud forest atop Mombacho Volcano. Then enjoy biking and kayaking on Ometepe Island, before continuing for time at leisure in San Juan del Sur and a final day visit to the Masaya Volcano and the artisan market. Call (800) 344-6118 or visit adventure-life.com.
BattenKill Canoe Ltd. offers a journey that actually begins and end in Costa Rica, but spends all its time in Nicaragua on an 11-day Solentiname & Rio San Juan Nicaragua Explorer, traveling mostly by canoe. From Costa Rica, clients transfer to the village of Los Chiles to travel down the Rio Frio to Lake Nicaragua and the border town of San Carlos. A stay in the Solentiname Islands is a highlight, as are visits to pre-Columbian sites and wildlife refuges, and an overnight at El Castillo, a San Juan River village with a pirate history. Departures are scheduled for Dec. 23, Jan. 28, Feb. 25 and March 25; the cost is $2,375 pp dbl. Call (800) 421-5268 or visit battenkill.com.
Check-Out List Capital city: Managua International airport: Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport (a.k.a. Managua International) Nonstop air service from the U.S.: American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Taca Domestic airlines: Atlantic Airlines, La Costeña Entry requirements: Valid U.S. passport International departure tax: $32 Tourist information: Nicaragua is a member of Centroamerica4, with a marketing office in Miami, (866) 597-2286