Nicaragua is the same size as England and Wales combined. In fact, it is Central America’s largest country, one full of such prime visitor attractions as sunny beaches, colonial towns, spectacular lakes, tropical rainforests and volcanoes. You go north from the capital city of Managua to the must-visit university town of Leon, whose cathedral was just named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Its colonial twin is graceful and historic Granada (founded in 1524), a colonial gem on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. Gorgeous adobe mansions remain, today repainted in bright tropical colors and filled with fine restaurants, lively bars and fun shops. From town, explore “las isletas” by motorboat or kayak, go birdwatching and canopy zip-lining in the cloud forest of Mombacho Volcano. San Juan del Sur is a hot town for young travelers and surfers from around the globe with plenty of bars and restaurants offering spectacular sunset views. Just south of town is the La Flor Wildlife Reserve and a stretch of beach attracting more than 200,000 Olive Ridley turtles. Closer to the Managua is Masaya Volcano National Park, where you can drive right up to or climb up to the edge of a lava-glowing crater, then later visit the Mercado de Artesanias in Masaya. (visit-nicaragua.com)
What’s New in Nicaragua
✘ Two new regional airports, San Juan del Norte (formerly Greytown) and La Palma on Ometepe Island have upped the access to these rainforest and island destinations. La Costeña Airlines, already up and running with a 12-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft, is flying Thursdays and Sundays, leaving Managua (MGA) at noon and returning from San Juan de Nicaragua (SJN) at 1:30 p.m. The La Palma airport will be open by the end of the year.
✘ With new air service, easier access to the San Juan River and the eco-rich Rio-Maiz Biological Reserve—more than 600 bird species and 200 species of mammals—in southeastern Nicaragua will be welcome news to adventurers, birders and anglers. The excellent 27-room, lagoon-side Rio Indio Adventure Lodge, for example, once reached almost exclusively overland from San Jose, Costa Rica to Barra del Colorado, then a boat ride to lodge, now has more direct access. (rioindiolodge.com)
✘ Opening in January 2013 is Hotel Mukul, a luxury boutique hotel and spa, part of the 1,670-acre Guacalito de la Isla low-density private beach community on Nicaragua’s Emerald Coast. The property will feature 39 spacious villas, each with an ocean view, pool and private staff. Other amenities include Spa Mukul, a beach club with dining and lounge areas, a pool, the 18-hole Guacalito Golf Course, four miles of beach and eight miles of nature trails for hiking and biking. (guacalitodelaisla.com)