Until recently, only hardy travellers ventured into Nicaragua. Having been beset by war, poverty, dictators and natural disaster for decades, it has since reinvented itself as one of Central America’s safest countries, and one that’s tipped to eclipse neighbouring Costa Rica as an ecotourism hotspot.
Nicaragua is home to the largest area of primary rainforest north of the Amazon, containing 7% of the world’s biodiversity. Over 20% of its landmass is conserved in 76 protected areas (more than neighbouring Costa Rica), and its wildlife include many endangered monkeys (howler, white-faced and spider) along with plenty of jaguars, crocodiles and birdlife.
Along with its breathtaking landscape of volcanoes and lakes, charming colonial towns, cloud forests, excellent surf beaches and coffee country, Nicaragua is indeed a country that has everything.
The oldest inhabited city in Latin America, this Spanish colonial gem (restored by individual owners) is situated on the shores of Lake Nicaragua and a number of homestays offer unique insights into the local life. Granada is an ideal base for trips to the Mombacho Nature Reserve (with its cloud forest), the crater lake of Laguna de Apoyo and a number of ancient
peasant farms offering rural tourism activities.
A great variety of volcanoes line the country from north to south, some with smoking craters, while others are filled with tranquil crater lakes you can
swim in. A number of them are open for hikers, ranging from the easily accessible Masaya (a smoking crater with several trails through the surrounding reserve) to the highest active volcano in Nicaragua, San Cristóbal (1,725m) near León, and the smoking Concepción which overlooks Granada and Lake Nicaragua.
INDIO-MAÌZ BIOLOGICAL RESERVE
Situated in the Rio San Juan region, the Indio-Maíz Biological Reserve is a network of rivers flanked by virgin rainforest and is home to more species of trees, birds and insects than the whole of Europe. Home to everything from poison dart frogs to pumas and manatees, it is one of the best natural
reserves in Nicaragua. Rainforest hikes, birdwatching, river kayaking and sport fishing (for huge Atlantic tarpon that can grow up to 280lbs), can be explored with indigenous Rama Indian guides who are ex-hunters and experts in the jungle. You can also spot wildlife from boat trips (in a local panga) along the Rio San Juan river.
Eco lodging is available at Rio Indio Lodge, which is set within the wildlife reserve.
A good jumping off point for visiting coffee, tobacco and cattle farms in the area, Matagalpa is set in Nicaragua’s central mountain region, making it an ideal place for hiking, birdwatching, horseback riding, as well as wildlife watching. A number of community-based, old coffee plantations offer hands-on activities; the Majales Farm is a natural reserve with numerous farms in the cloud forest accessible via many trails, and the Selva Negra Private Reserve (a coffee estate and ecolodge) has 14 mountain hiking trails through the cloud forest where you can find plenty of wildlife.