Best of Nicaragua
Best of Nicaragua
Nicaragua, following a history of political and economic upheavals is now a peaceful and congenial place which has become impressively reconciled with the conflicts of its past. Visitors are increasingly drawn to its wonderfully unspoilt landscapes, where the bucolic tranquillity of countryside little changed over the centuries has as its counterpoint seething volcanoes and the legacy of earthquakes in times gone by. Here you will find a couple of the continent’s finest Spanish colonial cities, Granada and Léon. Spruced up now, with their central Spanish cores faithfully restored, they have a real historical atmosphere, with lovely old mansions, baroque churches and cobbled lanes. And in Leon we will stay with a local family, an ideal opportunity to meet the friendly Nicaraguan people. Next stop will be the Selva Negra Cloudforest where we will learn about coffee production. And then we continue to Lake Nicaragua and the quiet island of Ometepe, whose isolation has protected it from the political upheavals of the past, and held back modern development. Finally, the trip ends with a relaxing stay at San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Coast.
Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●●○○○
- Explore the beautiful colonial cities of Leon and Granada
- Stay with a local family
- Explore the volcanic island of Ometepe
- Relax on the Pacific Coast at San Juan del Sur
Accommodation: Mix of mid-range hotels and home stay accommodation
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum of 12
Start Point: Managua – you can arrive any time on Day 1
End Point: Managua - you can depart any time on Day 13
Transport: Minivan, public boat (to/from Ometepe Island)
Tour Itinerary Notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.
Day 1 - Managua
On arrival at Nicaragua International Airport you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Overnight Element Boutique Hotel or similar.
Day 2 – Managua and Leon
This morning we enjoy a short city tour of Managua. We will explore both the historical and modern facets of the city. Our first stop is Tiscapa Crater Lake where you have superb views over the entire city. On a clear day, you will be able to see several volcanoes to the north of the city. You can't miss the large silhouette of the famous revolutionary General Sandino statue that stands overlooking the Tiscapa Crater Lake. Next, we head over to the old city and the National Palace, the Old Cathedral, the National Theatre and the President's house. We also stop at Malecon, Managua's favourite place for a lakeside drink. Continue to Leon Viejo a UNESCO world heritage site, before heading to Leon. On arrival we explore numerous colonial buildings, among them Nicaragua´s first university. In addition, you can climb to the rooftop of Central America´s largest cathedral, recently added to UNESCO´s list of World Heritage sites, and enjoy astonishing views over the city and the surrounding Maribios Volcanic Chain. For the next 2 nights we still with a local family, an ideal opportunity to meet the friendly Nicaraguan people. Overnight homestay accommodation. (BLD)
The first capital of Nicaragua, Leon Viejo (Old Leon) was founded in 1524 by the Spanish conquistadores, south of the Momotombo Volcano, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area suffered frequent volcanic activity, culminating in the earthquakes of 1594 and 1610. The city was not destroyed by the 1610 earthquake, but due to the damage caused to the infrastructure by the seismic activity, the settlers held a referendum and decided to relocate the city to its present location, about 20 miles to the west. The old city was gradually buried by the continuous expulsions of ash and volcanic stone coming from Momotombo, and by lake sediments. The ruins of Leon Viejo were discovered in 1967 and excavations began the following year revealing that the city had a similar layout to other cities in America at that time, laid out on a grid system with a main square located at its centre. Leon Viejo is the only 16th century colonial city in America that has never suffered city-planning alterations during its history.
Leon is considered to be Nicaragua´s historical, cultural, educational and religious capital. The best way to explore this captivating city is by foot, as much of its charm lies in the narrow colonial streets and architecture, art galleries, museums, restaurants and cafes. Leon's history is fascinating, like no other town in Central America. The town was dismantled, moved, and rebuilt due to volcanic activities, ransacked (and reconstructed!) by pirates, it won and lost its struggle as the most important city in Nicaragua against Managua, and several presidents were assassinated here. It is the place where famous poets are buried, where the largest cathedral in Central America stands, and is a hotbed for revolutionaries due to the big university located in Leon. In this guided walking tour we will visit revolutionary murals, baroque and neoclassical churches and a surprisingly interesting museum of legends, arts and poetry.
Day 3 - Cerro Negro Sandboarding Excursion and Leon Bike Tour
For the more adventurous this morning you will have the option to join an excursion to try your hand at sandboarding down the slopes of nearby Cerro Negro. Alternatively enjoy a free morning in Leon to relax or explore the city on your own. This afternoon you will meet up with the rest of the group for lunch and then join your guide for a tour by bike. Discover the rich cultural and political history of one of Nicaragua's oldest and most influential cities. Defined by its graceful Spanish colonial architecture and fascinating political history, you will soon discover why León is considered to be Nicaragua’s historical, cultural, educational and religious capital. Overnight homestay accommodation. (BLD)
Cerro Negro is one of the youngest volcanos in Central America. Its terrain consists of gravel-type volcanic debris, and it’s often referred to as the 'Black Hill. Although it's less than a mile to the top of Cerro Negro, the hike up is very steep and considered difficult, so be prepared for a tough but rewarding 1.5-hour climb! When you reach the top, at an elevation of about 1,640 feet (500 meters), you will be afforded gorgeous views of the surrounding Telica and San Cristobal volcanos.
Day 4 – Matagalpa and Selva Negra Cloud forest
After breakfast we head to Matagalpa, Nicaragua's fifth largest city and one of its most commercially active outside of Managua. We take some time to explore the city. After lunch we head to Selva Negra Cloud forest. After lunch we will transfer to our hotel for the next two nights. Overnight Selva Negra Hotel or similar. (BL)
Matagalpa enjoys 'eternal spring' - all year spring-like weather and lying more than 700 metres above sea level with average temperatures ranging from 26°C to 28°C and relative humidity between 75% and 85%. The surrounding area is lush and green full of undulating fields and mountainous forests, perfect for agriculture. It produces flowers, wood, corn, beans, fruits (oranges, grapefruits, bananas, plantains) and many kinds of vegetables such as broccoli, and cauliflower. It exports beef, cheese, coffee and cacao. The temperate climate makes it perfect for growing excellent coffee.
Day 5 – Selva Negra Cloud forest
After breakfast we take a walking coffee tour. Learn about the whole process of coffee. History, location, climate, topography, sustainable use of bi-products and the social programmes are among the many aspects you will learn. We will get a chance to visit the nurseries, and plantations. After our coffee tour we will visit a local farm. We will witness many sustainable farming methods and pass by the organic laboratory, the worker’s housing, the greenhouses, cheese house, chicken coops, and stables. Overnight Selva Negra Hotel or similar. (B)
Day 6 - Granada
Today we head south to Granada. On arrival we take a city tour by horse-drawn carriage obtaining a good sense of the rich history and authenticity of Spanish-colonial Granada. This afternoon we continue to Lake Nicaragua for a relaxing boat ride around some of the islands formed by the impressive Mombacho volcano. A boat trip through the Isletas of Granada is a great way to explore Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua. These small islands are inhabited by families who make their living from fishing, while other islands are host to extravagant villas owned by Nicaragua's rich and famous. Along the way the guide will point out some of the prolific birdlife to be found on the lake as well as explaining about the history of the area Overnight Colonial Granada Hotel or similar. (BL)
Granada was founded in 1524 and is believed to be the second oldest city established in mainland Latin America by the Spanish conquest. During colonial times, Granada saw much unrest as the city was attacked several times by pirates. Nowadays Granada is characterised by bright-coloured Spanish-colonial architecture, visible throughout the city centre. The ambiance is very pleasant and there is a wide array of restaurants and bars, especially along the boulevard from the central park to the shores of Lake Nicaragua.
Day 7 – Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve, Masaya and San Juan de Oriente
We start the day with a visit to Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve to hike the Crater Trail. Suitable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness we will hike for around 3 hours and learn about the flora and fauna of the area. If conditions are clear we will visit an impressive viewpoint to take in wide vistas of the country’s pacific region, the neighbouring city of Granada, and the great lake of Nicaragua and its islands. After the hike we transfer to Masaya and have lunch at a local restaurant. The Masaya Volcano is still active and is the only volcano in the western hemisphere where it is possible to drive to the rim and see the smoking crater. If we are lucky, we might encounter rare green parakeets which make their home at the volcano. After visiting the volcano we will visit Masaya's famous artisan market. Continue to San Juan de Oriente, one of the so called 'Pueblos Blancos' where we will see its white colonial architecture. Overnight Colonial Granada Hotel or similar. (BL)
Day 8 – Ometepe Island
Today, we transfer to the port of San Jorge, at the shores of Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca as the locals call it, and take the ferry to Isla de Ometepe. On arrival we will take a short walk in the Charco Verde Natural Reserve, a protected area located between Ometepe’s two volcanoes. The area consists of a lagoon, a beach, and a forest. The reserve is named Charco Verde (Green Puddle) due to the green colour of the lagoon. Many birds find shelter in this part of the island so birding enthusiasts should be rewarded with some good sightings. The walk is not strenuous and leads up a hill, from where we will have nice views of the surroundings. Overnight San Juan de la Isla Hotel or similar. (BL)
The island of Ometepe is situated in one of the world's largest fresh water lakes, Lake Nicaragua. The two volcanoes on the island, Concepcion and Maderas, offer stunning views when approaching Ometepe by boat from the mainland. Both of the volcanoes have their own climate and unique vegetation and hiking either of them is a great way to enjoy spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding countryside.
Day 9 - Ometepe Island
Enjoy today at your own leisure. There are several optional activities possible including a classic tour of the island, a Sam Ramon Waterfall walk or hiking up the Maderas or Concepcion Volcanoes. Overnight San Juan de la Isla Hotel or similar. (B)
Day 10 – Ometepe - San Juan Del Sur on the Pacific Coast
Today, we take the ferry back to the mainland and continue to San Juan del Sur, in the southwest. Overnight Pelican Eyes Hotel or similar. (B)
San Juan Del Sur
San Juan del Sur is one of the most popular destinations in Nicaragua. It used to be a quiet fishing village and has now emerged into one of the country's leading coastal destinations, but it has still maintained its charm and unique culture. The beaches are great for surfing almost all year long; also snorkelling or sailing trips are offered along the coast where turtles, dolphins and whales can sometimes be sighted.
Day 11 – Optional surfing lesson or turtle watching excursion
Today is a leisure day. You can choose to simply relax at the nice hotel or perhaps try your hand at surfing. Another option is to go to Flor Beach to witness mass arrivals of turtles (during the season, August-January). The beach is a protected wildlife reserve because of the seasonal presence of Olive Ridley turtles that take place every year between August and January. Thousands of turtles arrive during certain nights to lay eggs at this one specific beach. About 50 days later, thousands of eggs hatch and the baby turtles try to make their way to the Pacific. Overnight Pelican Eyes Hotel or similar. (B)
Day 12 - Return to the capital, Managua
Today we return to the capital, Managua. Overnight Plaza Colon Hotel or similar. (B)
Day 13 – Tour ends in Managua
Our tour ends this morning in Managua. A transfer will be provided upon request to the city’s airport.
The details of the tour which begins on 17 February are slightly different. The full Tour Dossier can be viewed in the Downloads section.
Arrival and departure transfers
Services of an English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees as per the itinerary.
Items of a personal nature
Any airport taxes
Optional activities on Days 9 and 11
Visa if applicable