Nicaragua may be one of my favorite places on earth. When I tell people how much I love Nicaragua I’m often met with questioning stares. It seems that the majority of people I come across still think Nicaragua is torn by civil war and unrest, which is simply not the case (and it hasn’t been for years). Each time I visit Nicaragua it is an adventure. Where will your Nicaragua adventure take you?
Nicaragua has been touted as the next Costa Rica for the past decade (maybe even longer). Thankfully, it hasn’t seen the runaway development that Costa Rica has seen. Nicaragua offers all that Costa Rica offers, but at a fraction of the price! My advice: get to Nicaragua ASAP.
Nicaragua is THE place for Adventure Lovers
And also misadventure lovers!
I’m not sure where to start with this one… It seems that there is always an adventure to be had, whether it is surfing Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast, climbing a volcano, exploring primary forest, kayaking one of it’s lakes, or scuba diving off of one of Nicaragua’s remote islands. Nicaragua appeals to nature lovers, yogis, and adventure junkies.
Your Nicaragua adventure can be easily planned by exploring one area at a time. Nicaragua can be divided into three distinct regions: the Caribbean lowlands, the central highlands, and the Pacific lowlands. With 565 miles of coastline split between the Pacific coast, the Caribbean coast, and a handful of Caribbean islands Nicaragua’s coastline provides miles of beaches to be explored and waves to be surfed.
Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, designated as the North and South Autonomous zones, is a rugged and rural area of mangrove forests, savannas and primary forest. This area is difficult to travel to and requires an expert guide. I have only dipped my toe into this area, so I can’t write about it much. If you would like to read about my misadventure and the yoga of travel check back soon.
Lakes and Beaches of Nicaragua
On the Pacific side of Nicaragua you have loads of beaches, some incredible popular with locals, tourists and expats and some beaches where the only other person on the beach may be a local fisherman. Nicaragua’s continuous offshore breeze means that there is surf everyday of the year… of course somedays will be small and other days will be monstrous and others will be just right.
San Juan del Sur on the southern end of Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast is a great hub for your Nicaragua adventure if you plan on surfing and exploring the southern beaches. You’ll find plenty of accommodation options, meal choices, yoga classes, and easy transportation to neighboring beaches if you don’t have your own wheels. Also, if you need to get work done there is reliable WiFi at most of the beach restaurants.
Interested in riding a crazy flyboard, go horseback riding, or swing down a zip line? They have those in San Juan del Sur too. A great way to meet people in San Juan del Sur is to join a class or two at the community minded Zen Yoga Studio or if that’s not your jam hop on the popular sailing trip. San Juan del Sur does tend to attract a bit of a party backpacker crowd, so if you stay in town expect a bit of noise.
Playa Maderas, just north of San Juan del Sur, is one of Nicaragua’s most popular beaches and surf breaks. Playa Maderas’s laid back vibe invites you to slow down and stay awhile. Here you can either jump in on the action and join the line up or watch surfers of all levels rip it up or just wipe out while enjoying a passion fruit juice or cold beer. Book one of the places on the hill or join a Nicaragua Yoga and Surf Retreat for epic views, fantastic yoga and the opportunity to catch the first wave of the day. Yoga and Surf Retreats are a great option if you don’t want to be in charge of planning, board rentals, transportation, meals, etc.
In the San Juan del Sur area there are many beaches and many surf breaks. If you don’t already use Magic Seaweed check out their site. One of my other favorite beaches in the San Juan del Sur area is Playa Remanso. When the waves are BIG or unrideable everywhere else Playa Remanso will often have something to play with. There are also a couple of beach bars that serve up seafood, typical Nicaraguan plates and cold drinks. The whole Nicaraguan coast from the Costa Rica border up to Popoyo is worth exploring.
Within the Nicaragua Depression lie the two largest lakes in Central America. Lago de Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in Central and South America is notably the most famous. In Lago de Nicaragua you’ll find numerous isletas near Granada and the massive Isla de Ometepe. Ometepe is recognized by it’s two massive volcanoes: Volcan Maderas and Volcan Concepcion, both worth the sweaty climb up. Like sharks? Lago de Nicaragua is also home to fresh water sharks. I promise I’m not making it up!
My favorite inland swimming hole is Laguna de Apoyo, which is set within a massive jungle clad volcanic crater. The water is crystal clear, warm, and incredibly deep. I always save a day or two at the end of my trip to spend floating on a tube in the lake simply relaxing. There are many options for places to stay the night or enjoy for just the day. Beach clubs often have a day use option for $6-7 USD. Laguna de Apoyo is about 45 minutes from Managua, so it can be a nice way to spend your last day in Nicaragua, especially if your booked on one of the late flights. Laguna de Apoyo or Nicaragua for the day? It’s a pretty easy decision for me! If you need to get your yoga fix check out one of the local yoga centres.
There are no islands on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, but there are a handful on the Caribbean Coast, most notable the Corn Islands and the Pearl Cays. These islands are worth the hassle of getting to and worth spending a week (or more) exploring and chilling. There are direct flights from Managua to Big Corn Island for the Corn Islands and direct flights to Bluefields to explore the Pearl Cays.
From Little Corn Island you can take your Nicaragua adventure underwater with one of the local dive shops. We dive with Dolphin Divers when we’re there. Also, if you want to practice yoga on Little Corn Island there are plenty of options including Dragonfly Yoga at Little Corn B & B, Yemaya, and Funk Yoga and SUP. My favorite places are those that I can combine my love for all things water with yoga. Paddleboard yoga. Yes please!
I haven’t explored the Moskito Cays yet, but they are supposedly home to several endangered species including the Hawksbill turtle, the Caribbean manatee, the Tucuxi freshwater dolphin, and the caiman crocodile. The Moskito Cays are definitely being added to my ever-growing bucket list!
Forests and Highlands of Nicaragua
Take your Nicaragua adventure up to the highlands. I love the ocean, but if I’m not in the water the heat of the lowlands can start to get to me. Luckily, Nicaragua has some amazing highlands near Matagalpa, Jinotega and Esteli. The highlands are characterized by lush hillsides, mountains, coffee and chocolate production and a lack of tourists. The daily temperature in Nicaragua’s highlands is also marvelously cool and temperate. I can now fully understand the desire to have a mountain retreat. Guided hikes exploring the countryside are easy to arrange. Steve and I hiked a trail just out of Matagalpa on our last trip and it was lovely!
If you have wheels head out to Finca Esperanza Verde. Finca Esperanza Verde is an organic coffee and vegetable farm AND an eco-lodge that uses fully sustainable methods and supports the development and growth of the local community. The finca also maintains miles of trails to explore the surrounding jungle and hosts researchers and birders year round. I look forward to returning to Finca Esperanza Verde in February 2017 for a weeklong Yoga and Hiking Retreat in the Nicaraguan highlands.
Also, make sure to indulge in some Nicaraguan coffee and chocolate… it’s marvelous. The chocolate is like nothing you will find in the states. I recommend El Castillo del Cacao… they even have a bar with coffee in it. Yum!
Nicaragua also has numerous rainforests. Reserva Biológic Indo-Maiz are nearly pristine and the best in the country and Reserva Natural Miraflor contains a tiny lake and a waterfall. Biológic Indo-Maiz covers 3,626 square kilometers (1,400 square miles). In only a few square kilometers within the preserve, a habitat exists for a greater number of species of birds, trees, and insects than are found on the entire continent of Europe. Indo-Maiz protects the largest contiguous extent of primary rainforest in Central America, a 7,300-square-kilometer (2,820-square-mile) area that is called the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve.
Visit Volcanoes During Your Nicaragua Adventure
No Nicaragua adventure would be complete without visiting one of the many volcanoes, so if hiking, surfing, diving and yoga aren’t your thing than head up to Leon and go volcano boarding. I still haven’t been to Cerro Negro for volcano boarding… mainly because I don’t feel like destroying my body on volcanic stones, but it does look fun. Technically, you do have to hike up to “surf” down.
Volcan Masaya near the town of Masaya is a popular tourist stop and interesting in a sulfuric, hot sort of way. Volcan Masaya is most definitely active. It’s easy to combine with a trip to the handicraft market in Masaya.
Volcan Mombacho, which is relatively close to Granada is pretty touristy, but offers a couple of different trails and helpful guides.
During my first trip to Nicaragua in 2009 I had the opportunity to climb Volcan Maderas and I loved this sweaty jungle hike on Ometepe Island. The hike begins in coffee country and you eventually climb up into the cloud forest. We saw howler monkeys and beautiful birds. Once we made it to the top, we then descended into the crater where there is an incredible muddy lake, but if you’re overheating it’s worth the eww factor. While we were at the crater there was a group of young guys playing baseball. It was super fun to watch. It was a slippery muddy, shoe-sucking slog back down… so muddy I actually through my shoes away.
Where will your Nicaragua adventure take you? We host yoga retreats within Nicaragua twice a year. Shoot us a message if you’re interested in joining one of our yoga and adventure retreats or one of our Nicaragua yoga and surf retreats. Enjoy your trip wherever it takes you!
Love and Light,