Lay of the Land
“…bright green hills never looked so welcome, so enchanting, so altogether lovely.”~Mark Twain, 1866
Salman Rushdie observed in his book The Jaguar Smile, “Nicaragua, which was about the size of the state of Oklahoma (if you turned England and Wales upside down, you’d have a rough approximation of its proportions), was also the emptiest of countries in Central America.” The only developed area, with both beach resorts as well as colonial towns, is the country’s Pacific Coast. International flights land in the western city of Managua, but travelers should not stay in the city any longer than necessary (it was razed by an earthquake in 1972). León, a colonial university town, is a 90-minute drive northwest of Managua and worth visiting for a night, especially to go volcano boarding on Cerro Negro. Alternatively, visitors can drive one hour inland (southwest) to the colonial city and UNESCO World Heritage Site Granada and take a short boat ride to Las Isletas in Lake Nicaragua, home to Jicaro Eco-Lodge (children are not allowed here). Aqua Wellness Resort and Mukul are approximately 90 minutes further south and beach resort Morgan’s Rock and the town of San Juan del Sur are a further 30 minutes south on the Pacific coast.
Tuk-tuks and taxis are readily available in the main towns, but a car and driver is inexpensive and recommended. The major roads between cities are better than in many Central American countries because the government has been providing funding for re-paving (or paving), but as soon as you get off the main highways, roads are all dirt and in terrible condition. Visitors will be surprised by the lack of traffic as very few citizens can afford cars. Most transportation is by horse or oxen carts or bus co-operatives. Many destinations do not have proper addresses, but their location is described by its proximity to landmarks, for example, a restaurant’s address might be listed as “two blocks south of Central Park, towards the lake.”
Though there has been peace in Nicaragua for more than twenty years, many Americans still associate the country with the war between the Contras and Sandanistas. In fact, Nicaragua has the lowest crime rate in Central America, and its inhabitants are warm and welcoming to tourists. It contains all of the natural attractions that Costa Rica does, including volcanoes, rain forest and fabulous surfing, but with many fewer tourists.
When to Go
Nicaragua is technically in the Northern Hemisphere, but its seasons are considered opposite of those in the U.S. Temperatures are quite warm all year long. High season runs from November through May, as it is drier, and rainy, or low, season is from June to October with October usually the rainiest month. November and December have some of the year’s best weather. Mid-January to end of February can be quite windy on the Pacific. July and August are the best months for surfing with the biggest waves, and its Pacific beaches draw world champions.
There are daily from the U.S. to Managua, Nicaragua’s capital. You can fly Continental through Houston, Delta through Atlanta, American through Miami (there are three of these flights per day), or Spirit through Ft. Lauderdale.
Nicaragua’s three best-known eco-resorts are all set on the water but each has a different primary emphasis: Jicaro Eco-Lodge’s emphasis focuses on the lake that surrounds the island and the sense of solitude that island life can bring. Aqua Wellness Resort places its importance on well-being with yoga, healthy eating and spa treatments. Morgan’s Rock celebrates the land—from the rainforest to the beach—its animals and the farm. Tours and exploration on the property are available and highly recommended. In 2013, Mukul, the country’s first true luxury resort, opened on the Pacific coast. Its visionary owner Carlos Pellas spared no expense in creating a world-class resort (complete with an 18-hole golf course by David MacLay Kidd) that he hopes will bring discerning travelers to discover the splendors of his native country.