This year’s hit movie La La Land has a group of yuppies dining out, name dropping Nicaragua as the place to go. Always one to be first on the band wagon, I headed west for a short visit earlier this year. I was keen to see why this little known Central American country (previously best known for revolution and in my mind as the birthplace of Bianca Jagger) was grabbing the ‘go here now’ mantle of Cuba.
Here are a few of my highlights:
A historical university city with the biggest church in Central America, this cradle of the revolution is an absolute must see. Every street corner tells a story with its vibrant murals and tiny plazas but the number one highlight is the 18th century cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built between 1747 and the early 19th century to the design of Guatemalan architect Diego Jose de Porres Esquivel, this baroque and neoclassic building can best be described as eclectic. The cathedral is home to some masterpieces of Spanish colonial art, a wooden Flemish altarpiece, a statue of a black Christ and the tomb of renowned Nicaraguan poet and Leon’s favourite son Ruben Dario, guarded by a weeping lion. Dynamic and cultured, the city also has some great nightlife. However if like me you’re a lark as opposed to an owl, I’d vouch instead for a sun downer at one of the rooftop bars overlooking the city’s handsome architecture.
On my whistle stop visit, the other stand out city was Granada, like Leon another walk everywhere city with drop dead beautiful examples of colonial architecture, particularly the apricot coloured cathedral that dominates the skyline. Founded by the Spanish in 1523, this stunningly picturesque and colourful city is awash with stately buildings, elaborate churches and photogenic streets. Nicaragua is enjoying a prolonged period of political stability with both Leon and Granada safe and a joy to wander around. However, if you want an opportunity to rest your legs and become a child again, the chocolate museum and a chance to make your own creation in a bean to bar workshop was a big hit with our group.
Granada is located on the shores of Lake Nicaragua where the focal point is Ometepe, an island dominated by two volcanoes. With 24 volcanoes and countless lakes, rivers and lagoons, Nicaragua is known as the ‘Land of lakes and volcanoes’. Only in Nicaragua can you navigate through rivers and lakes from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Central America’s largest, safest but least densely populated country overflows with natural beauty with the largest tropical rain forest north of the Amazon and the biggest biosphere reserve in Central America (Bosawas Reserve). There’s also no shortage of pristine beaches and colourful reefs. Active ‘Silver Surfers’ in the literal sense of the word can surf a world-class break at Playa Madera, 20 minutes north of San Juan Del Sur or for an alternative bucket list experience, why not try volcano boarding, a thrilling descent on offer on Cerro Negro. Cerro Negro is one of Nicaragua’s youngest volcanoes and a hike up the black slopes to enjoy the view is probably the more appealing option.
A couple of hotels stood out. Located in front of the beautiful San Juan del Sur Bay Victoriano Hotel was built in 1902 as a beach front residence and restored in 2006 with 25 rooms preserving the elegant and sober architectural design of the Victorian era. It retains much of its original Victorian charm with antiques and polished wood floors. History and literary buffs will love, Mark Twain was once a guest. Whilst lovers of colonial architecture, will enjoy Hotel El Convento. The San Francisco Convent was founded in the city of Leon in 1639 by Revered Brother Pedro de Zunig and was the first convent in the city. As a convent schoolgirl, I spent 8 years at one and don’t seem to be able to escape them! However, no austere rooms here, they were elegant with high ceilings, plenty of shady courtyards to relax in whilst the pretty plunge pool got the big thumbs up from me.
Coffee is an important part of Nicaragua’s history and economy with the best coffee said to be produced in Matagalpa. I stayed at Selva Negra eco lodge and coffee estate. Founded in 1891 by German immigrants, it’s a little bit of Bavaria located high in the mountains of Nicaragua with the cool highland mists and pure mountain air making a pleasant change. There are plenty of activities on offer from coffee tours (a great way of getting an insight into the thriving coffee industry), to hiking and horseback riding, nature tours and bird watching whilst the coffee is not bad either.
Nicaragua is still relatively unknown but well worth exploring in part for this very reason. The best time to visit is between December and May with travelling around relatively easy. The main cities of Managua, Granada, Leon and San Juan de Sur are just a few hours a part. Throughout Nicaragua you’ll be wowed by nature and the lack of crowds, it was a charming and fascinating place to travel and for adventurous Silver Travellers who may already have experienced nearby Costa Rica and Guatemala it comes highly recommended.
For general information on Nicaragua visit visitnicaragua.us