Nicaragua is Ready for Prime Time
Nicaragua's natural beauty is the real star of the most recent edition of Survivor—a series long known for highlighting fabulous locales. Unlike contestants, though, visitors needn’t subsist on rice and bugs or compete in over-the-top challenges to enjoy them. Be sure to check out our top five experiences before extinguishing your torch and returning home.
In a place lapped by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, it’s no surprise there are ample opportunities for on-the-water adventures. If you’re interested in reef diving you’ll have to hit the east coast. But if you want to Hang 10, you can do it a stone’s throw from the Survivor set. The best breaks are clustered near where the reality show was shot, in Nicaragua’s southwest corner close the Costa Rican border. San Juan del Sur is Surf Central with Playa Maderas, Playa Hermosa, Los Perros, Popoyo and Manzanillo being other top spots. Yet persistent prevailing winds and miles of blissful beach means you can choose from loads of isolated areasmdash;many of them accessible only by boat or 4WD.
Central American nations are volcanic hotspots, and Nicaragua—boasting 19—is no exception. Momotombo, with its symmetrical cloud-wreathed cone, wins the "most photogenic" prize. Masaya is the most accessible since visitors can drive right to the rim. (It is arguably the most dramatic, too. Peer into the 2000-foot wide Santiago Crater and you’ll understand why conquistadors considered it the mouth of hell.) However, Cerro Negro is the most fun. The Black Hill last erupted in 1999 and the surrounding landscape bears witness to that: devoid of vegetation it looks almost post-apocalytic. The upside is you can ascend on foot; then zoom down the cinder-coated slope on a board or sled.
Nicas call their country the "The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes." Among the former, Lake Nicaragua (aka Cocibolca) stands out. The 10th largest freshwater lake in the world, it covers 3,200 square miles and is dotted with leafy islands. One of them—Ometepe—was named Nicaragua's third UNESCO Biosphere Reserve earlier this year. Taking the ferry there from San Jorge you can channel your inner Jeff Probst by hiking its twin peaks, communing with monkeys in the rainforest, and ogling pre-Colombian statues that look suspiciously like oversized immunity idols. Alternately, base yourself in Granada and explore the easy way, opting for a quick lake tour in a kayak or motorized launch.
Though it’s been dubbed "The Next Costa Rica," Nicaragua has something its famous neighbor lacks: namely two sublime colonial cities, Granada and León, founded by Spaniards in the early 1500s. Just gritty enough to feel like discoveries, they’re notable for gorgeous Baroque churches (including Granada’s Iglesia de la Merced and León’s Basílica de la Asunción, the largest church in Central America), Kool Aid-colored townhouses, plus lively squares lined with vendors selling handmade trinkets for a few bucks each. They also have a growing number of quality restaurants where you can enjoy a multi-course meal featuring fresh local seafood or Churrasco-style steak for under $25.
Hotels are a terrific value too, so you don’t have to win Survivor’s million-dollar prize to sleep in style. Take León’s Hotel el Convento. Divine doubles at this converted convent, complete with private garden and cloistered arcade go for $112; while those at Grenada’s Hotel Plaza Colón (a restored mansion with a cool courtyard pool) start at $89. For something worthy of a reward challenge, try Morgan's Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge. Located 35 minutes from San Juan del Sur, it has 15 handsome thatched bungalows and a broad selection of eco-oriented activities. Packages start at $195 per person per night.
The Fine Print
December and January, when the dry season is just beginning, are the best months to go. American Airlines can get you there direct from Miami in about two hours and 10 minutes. Once you arrive, it’s wise to hook up with an experienced guide who can arrange excursions at an affordable price (you can e-mail my favorite, Guillermo Bobadilla, at email@example.com).
Photo Credits: Nicaragua's West Coast by Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb, Cerro Negro Sandboarding by Guillermo Bobadilla, Ometepe by iStock, Leon Colonial Church and Hotel Convento by Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb.
Member Comments (4) Post a Comment
I visited Nicaragua about 2 years ago and my husband and I fell madly in love with not only the beautiful sceneries, but with it's people. Nicaraguans must be the warmest and friendliest people on this planet, which really surprised me despite all the bad publicity it had from the 80's. These people are by no means anti-americans or anti-anything. They welcome you and make you feel at home. One thing I have to say, be ready for realities of latin america at it's greatest expression. Nicaragua is truly a poor country. Do not expect high rises and luxury stores, but you're culinary experience will certainly compensate for that. I do recommend you hire a tour guide or go with someone that has been there before. Nicaragua is in diapers when it comes to infrastructure but I found the roads to be much safer than the ones you find in Costa Rica. It has been rated as one of latin america's safest countries too. Go, enjoy, you won't regret it!
I enjoy reading the comments and agree 100 % on them! As I was in Granada, Nicaragua in December of 2007, and I had the most relaxed vacation just touring around the city and the ISLETAS (Islands) of Lake Nicaragua! I also took the city tour and saw the city and admired the arquitecture of decades past. It's as though you enter into the past! Into 2 centuries past! and I understand that any new structures have to conform to the architecture of the past! No modernization! How nice! Every street is guided by the Central Park. So easy to get around!
It was wonderful to lose myself in 2 centuries back when I entered the Nicaragua. I admired the architecture of Nicaragua. I hired a local travel guide from there. He was so pleasing and excellent in travel support. I agreed with Javi, the roads are really safer than the roads in Costa Rica. It was the wonderful tourist destination that I ever visited!
Just published fares from L.A.,Houston, Miami to Nicaragua (Managua) $400-$600. I haven't heard of a better getaway fare in a long time. Nicaragua lured the "Survivor" for only one reason, it is a "natural" far away mostly unknown destiny that exudes adventure and beauty.A 3rd world country, the largest in Central America, with only 7 million inhabitants and hundreds of thousands of square miles of beach, mountains, lakes (2nd largest in Western Hemisphere), 2 oceans, highlands with waterfalls, wildlife, volcanoes and CHEAP prices (everyone everywhere says they have cheap prices, but compare to Nicaraguan "Cheap" they are relatively expensive). The weather here on the beach in Northern Nicaragua is always in the 80's F, as is the water. At Playa Roca Beach Hotel in Las Penitas-Leon, you can enjoy a beach front private room with or without A/C within 15' of the ocean for under $50 or a small dorm room with private bath 50' from the beach for $8 a NIGHT! If it is not full, you get the whole room for $8.Isla de San Juan Wilderness Preserve has crocodiles, herons, nesting sea turtles, Mangrove forest river only a 10 minute walk on the beach from your room. Surfing, fishing, horseback riding all right there. You can visit and stay in this piece of paradise for a week for the price of a day in similar popular tourist venues with 1/2 the variety of diversified activities (skiing down a volcano?).Learn a new language in a paradise setting including accommodations for less than most people pay to live in their own homes for a month. The new "snow birds" of the north are now finding Nicaragua to park their bodies for the winter and actually are finding that they have more money when they go home than if they stayed, plus they come home with a tan and a new language (if they wanted to enroll at the beach front Language school, see language schools in Las Penitas, Nicaragua)Nicaragua has had a bad international image imprinted. I thought as well about the civil war and communist regimes, etc. The only truth is that a civil war happened and a democracy was formed. The only gorilla would be 'IN' a tree eating a banana, not a "guerrilla" hiding behind one with a gun. Nicaragua might be the 2nd poorest nation in the western hemisphere next to Haiti, but most people would be "super" surprised to know that it is only 2nd behind Canada for safety. It is not a violent but friendly place to be and the advantages are multi foldThe infrastructure that is here is substandard to what most travelers are used to at home, so the expectations of having TV or Internet available can be found in only select locations. But stay home if you don't want to have miles of unspoiled beaches and roaring waves and spectacular sunsets take care of your normal waking hours. Everything is here, just not as accessible as you are used to.Nicaragua is underdeveloped and ripe for the new traveler to explore without the crowds that would normally be present in such a unique and beautiful location. It will change with the exposure that the "Survivor" TV series, but only those brave enough to change their way of thinking about what "Nicaragua" meant to them through old press releases of decades ago. 40 years ago Hawaii was a unique and far away paradise location. Today? I know the difference personally. Between my brother and I went lived in Hawaii for over 37 years, before golf courses and condo's. Nicaragua, in my opinion, is better weather wise, diversity wise, and even has fewer mosquitoes and best of all, AFFORDABLE. More money for pleasure than just for basics of daily living.So check out Las Penitas, northern Nicaragua's counter to the "Survivors" San Juan del Sur. 20 minutes from the historical colonial capital of Leon is the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. Very few people know it, but now you do, don't wait. Ski down a volcano in the morning and surf the great Pacific all afternoon and suck in the most beautiful sunsets known anywhere. It's so easy, you can be a "Survivor" too!
Playa Roca Beach Hotel
Las Penitas-Leon, Nicaragua
nicaliving.com/node/17414 $45 Ocean Front to a $6 ocean dorm The "Survivors" choice of destination, survivors are interested in experiencing paradise for dimes on the dollar Learn Spanish "ON THE BEACH!" http://www.nicaliving.com/node/17621 http://www.laspenitas.net/
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