Nicaragua is a country with a diverse indigenous history. For a while, many wrote Nicaragua off as a dangerous destination. However, during the early years of the 21st century, it became one of the world's most visited ecological and agricultural tourist destinations. From 2010 to 2013, between 1 and 1.5 million people visited the nation every year, drawn to its stunning architecture, awe-inspiring landscape, and biodiverse flora, fauna, and wildlife.
Nicaragua has turned its history, natural beauty, and industry into a source of pleasure for millions of international travelers who want a unique experience they can talk about for years.
The Aztec for "two mountains," Ometepe is a peanut-shaped island created from the merger of Concepción and Maderas volcanoes. Its prehistoric past is told by petroglyphs and stone idols that date back to 300 BCE, if not earlier. Ometepe is home to the white-headed capuchin and the mantled howler monkeys along with unique flora and fauna, which researchers from around the world come to study.
Augusto Sandino fought against the U.S. military occupation of Nicaragua between 1927 and 1933 and became a national hero. He was assassinated by future dictator Anastasio Somoza García in 1934. The statue is a 59-foot-tall silhouette of the man who is revered throughout Latin America. At the foot of the statue is the protected 10,000-year-old Tiscapa Lagoon that's home to many pre-Colombian artifacts.
There's something about seeing a live volcano up close that makes people feel like they're flirting with danger. The Masaya volcano is a caldera that's just 12 miles outside of Managua, and it's one of two active volcanoes at the Masaya Volcano National Park. Inside the crater is a sea of magma that's continuously in motion, which keeps tourists coming back. You can check out the view and the crater during the day, but nighttime is a good time to appreciate its bright red lava pool.
At the foot of the Masaya crater is the Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve. This biodiverse area is home to water birds and a variety of monkeys, rabbits, and more. The water's depth ranges from 200 to 330 feet, and there are plenty of exotic plants surrounding it. Dry tropical trees such as laurel and ceibo grew steadily atop its petrified lava floor.
Named after an ancient Spanish city, Granada has a diverse colonial, economic, and political heritage that gives it multicultural sophistication. As the oldest city in Central America, it has colorful neoclassical architecture befitting its status as a commercial and industrial hub. Additionally, there are 365 little lake islands to explore, and some provide fishing and swimming opportunities.
Another set of islands to visit is the Solentiname Archipelago, at the southern edge of Lake Nicaragua. There are 36 islands, four of which--Mancarroncito, Mancarrón, San Fernando, and La Venada--are home to various birds, fish, and mammals. There are archaeological sites and a wildlife refuge on San Fernando, making these islands an obscure but growing ecotourism destination.
San Juan del Sur is an international vacation destination that was a stop for gold prospectors in the 1850s as well as a hub for Cornelius Vanderbilt's shipping lines. Apart from being the popular location for international surf competitions, its also home of one of Nicaragua's most recognizable landmarks, the Christ of the Mercy. Constructed in 2009, this statue gives visitors a great view of the entire town.
Located in the Cordillera de los Maribios in the city of León is the active volcano, Cerro Negro. It's in a less populated area, so if there are any pyroclastic flows, for example, there's less human risk. The reason why Cerro Negro is a popular destination is because you can go volcano boarding. After climbing against the wind to get to the top, you drop your wooden board on the tiny volcanic rock grains and slide back down.
Located in Estelí, Miraflor is an agricultural community as well as a nature reserve. Visitors stay in simple housing accommodations from local farmers and get a taste of how they live. The park has untouched areas with a variety of orchids, including the Cattleya. There are opportunities to not only hike the landscape but to experience the region via horseback.
Just 43 miles from the coast of Nicaragua are the Corn Islands. Big Corn Island has between seven and eight miles of paved roads and transportation to help you get around in a day. Little Corn Island is fully accessible by foot and tends is the more popular visitor destination of the two. Both islands have a thriving commercial fishing industry and active marine life. Those who come to the Corn Islands enjoy snorkeling, diving, and sightings of barracudas and sharks.
Spanish conquistador Hernández de Córdoba found león Viejo in 1524. Between 15,000 to 20,000 people lived here, but due to the infrastructure damage caused by the 1620 earthquake, León was moved to its current location, which is 20 miles west. The archaeological research led to a variety of pre-hispanic excavations, including ceramics, metals, and human remains. Visiting the ruins of this UNESCO World Heritage Site provides great insight into the city's history and amazing views of Lake Managua and the Momotombo volcano.
On the 50 Nicaraguan córdoba banknote is the Somoto Canyon Monument. It wasn't until 2004 that an international team of scientists came to the canyon, discovering that it formed during the Miocene period, some five to 13 million years ago. With its rock formations and beautiful waters, this canyon is a major reason for the increase in Nicaraguan tourism.
The "Pearl of the North," this region was home to the Cacaopera, or Matagalpa people. They were known for their ceramics, stone statues, and fierce fighting spirit, as they were instrumental allies to the Nicaraguan patriots during battle. Today, Matagalpa is a producer and exporter of diverse products, including coffee, beef, and cacao. The Selva Negra Wildlife Refuge is one of its most popular ecotourist destinations.