Looking for a backpacking adventure, or do you just want to find a new exotic escape?
Check out Nicaragua – not only one of today’s cheapest travel destinations – but also a country of colonial architecture, volcanic landscape and warm-hearted locals. Charlie Marchant presents 10 of the best things to see and do in this tropical hotspot.
1. Volcano board down Cerro Negro
Join the ranks of adrenaline junkies armed with plywood boards who hike up the 1,600-foot volcanic slope of Cerro Negro (Black Hill) just outside of León and hurtle down on volcano boards at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
2. Walk on the roof of León Cathedral
Climb up the bell tower and go barefoot onto the white-domed roof of León Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll be able to see the whole of León’s glorious cityscape, as well as the ominous peak of San Cristóbal in the distance.
3. Eat Nicarguan street food
When it comes to local food, you won’t do better than the street vendors who fill the town squares at dusk with carts of steaming snacks. Look out for pupusas (small, handmade corn tortillas), nactamale (steamed dough stuffed with meat) and indio viejo (a traditional tomato and orange stew).
4. Chill out in San Juan del Sur
Jump onto a Bluebird school bus down to San Juan del Sur, a lazy beach town populated by surfers and yogis. Enjoy the sunset over an El Macua, Nicaragua’s new-found signature cocktail, lounging in a thatch-roofed bar along the sandy beachfront.
5. Conquer Concepción Volcano
Concepción Volcano is a live volcano and the second-tallest in Nicaragua. It’s a challenge for even the most hardened hiker, so strap on some proper footwear and find a local guide in a nearby town to lead you through dense rainforest and across solidified lava flows.
6. Confront howler monkeys
A large population of these noisy creatures inhabit Ometepe Island and the jungle surrounding San Juan Del Sur, although you can see them in reserves across the country. As well as howler monkeys, nature lovers can discover a diverse array of wildlife in Nicaragua’s 78 protected areas, including sloths, armadillos, toucans, sea turtles and even jaguars.
7. Amble through Granada
While ambling through the streets of Granada, take the chance to soak up the beauty of old churches and colonial houses. Pause for thought in a street side café and order a cup of Nicaragua’s organic, shade-grown coffee and enjoy the robust aromas while the world passes by.
8. Motorbike around Ometepe Island
There’s no better way to explore the volcanic island located out in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, than on the back of a motorbike. The black sand beach of Santa Domingo and the natural spring water pool (Ojo de Agua) which is hidden in the forest, are perfect day-trip pit stops.
9. Escape to Little Corn Island
Fly across to the Corn Islands and leave the mainland behind. Little Corn Island can be reached by a panga (a ferry boat). Here cultural travellers can admire the colourful Creole houses, while the more adventurous can snorkel or scuba dive in the tranquil waters of the Caribbean Sea.
10. Join a volunteering project
Want to give more to the local community? Nicaragua has plenty of volunteering projects. Whether you want to run tours to support the street kids in León, help construct a sustainable village on Ometepe Island, or protect sea turtles along the Pacific coastline, there’s an opportunity waiting.
Charlie Marchant is a long-term traveler, freelance writer and house sitter taking an alternative path across the world. Her travel blog, Charlie on Travel, is about simple, sustainable and socially responsible travel. Follow her adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.