Fabled land of lakes and volcanoes, Nicaragua also lays claim to vibrant colonial cities, deserted beaches and wildlife-rich rainforests. It’s Costa Rica, without the crowds – for now, at least. The largest country in Central America, Nicaragua is also the safest and one of the cheapest. That visitor numbers are increasing should come as no surprise.
What Nicaragua lacks in standout cultural attractions it compensates for with natural beauty. Its reefs and rainforests are hotbeds of biodiversity and teem with jaguars, monkeys and myriad bird species (though how this idyll will look after the Nicaragua Grand Canal has been built remains to be seen).
The country’s wild landscapes are fertile ground for thrill-seekers. Visitors can go hiking, biking, kayaking and wild swimming in the country’s iconic crater lakes. They can ride some of the world’s biggest waves, speed along zip-lines above the jungle or scuba dive along shelves of iridescent coral. Too much like hard work? Then kick back on the twin peaks of Ometepe Island, overlooking the shimmering Lake Nicaragua, or catch a boat into the Indío Maiz Biological Reserve, the largest area of virgin rainforest north of the Amazon.
Those hankering for the city life should head to León or Granada, two of Central America’s pretties colonial cities. They’re hubs for travellers and gateways to nearby attractions. From León you can climb the Maribios volcanic chain, snowboard down the slopes of still-rumbling Cerro Negro or pick coffee beans in the temperate northern highlands. Granada, meanwhile, is the ideal base to explore Masaya’s volcanic park, zip-line over Mombacho’s cloud forest and take a cooling swim in Laguna de Apoyo.
Surfers head for San Juan del Sur in search of the perfect wave – they often find it – and to imbibe its buzzing party scene. Others abscond to the Corn Islands, an archipelago that has everything you'd expect from the Caribbean, minus the sky-high prices. So grab a beer and join the party – it’s only just begun.