Best Places to Visit in Nicaragua
With biodiversity and natural beauty, Nicaragua remains an off-grid destination brimming with active volcanoes, cloud forests, forests, lakes and two shorelines, all with plenty to see and do.
Outdoor adventure lovers can hike to natural attractions such as Crater Lake on a dormant volcano or glide down a mountain of volcanic ash on a plank. Those seeking a wildlife experience can explore one of the many protected reserves around Nicaragua, home to everything from jaguars to howlers and white-faced monkeys and hundreds of bird species.
There are also plenty of options for getting wet, with beaches located on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Towns like San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Emerald Coast near Costa Rica are some of the best places to visit, known for their colorful architecture and surf scenes. And Corn Island in the Caribbean is known for its laid-back beach vibe.
Managua is the capital city of Nicaragua, but people don’t linger here except for work. Known for their colorful buildings, churches, and natural attractions like Lake Nicaragua, small cities like Leon and Granada have a lot going for them. It is the largest freshwater lake in Central America and is home to hundreds of islands, some with stunning ecolodges.
There are also many volcanoes, some of which are dormant; Others, such as Masaya Volcano, are still very active. Have a look at our list of the Best Places to Visit in Nicaragua and make your trip enjoyable.
10 Best Places to Visit in Nicaragua
Let’s explore the top 10 Most Beautiful and Best Places to Visit in Nicaragua:
1. Corn Islands
Located in the Caribbean Sea about 70 kilometers off the east coast of Nicaragua, the Corn Islands are a great place for a relaxing getaway. Great Egypt is where you’ll usually be (there are flights from Managua), but you can sleep on both islands.
Despite its name, Big Corn is actually so small that you can cycle in an hour. The beach here is a beautiful pale golden sand surrounded by crystal clear turquoise water that stays warm year-round.
From Big Corn, take a 40-minute boat ride to reach Little Corn. This small island has some accommodation and dining options, but no banks or cars. You can get around Little Corn in less than an hour. The reefs near both Egypt Islands have excellent diving, which is why many people visit.
2. Masaya Volcano
Located in the country’s largest national park, Masaya Volcano is one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua, 20 kilometers south of Nicaragua’s capital, Managua.
The most surprising thing about visiting this active volcano is how close you can get to the rim of the crater in a private car – you just go to the rim and park, although you have to park facing downhill in case an emergency evacuation is needed.
When you look at the crater, you can see a lava lake. Visit after dark to see the glow created by the bubbling lava inside the pit. If you visit during the day, there are museums and picnic facilities within the site. The volcano can be visited on a day trip from Managua or Granada.
3. Cerro Negro
If you want some adrenaline pumping, head to Cerro Negro. It is one of the youngest volcanoes in the world, last erupted in 1999 and has a striking black cone.
Although still considered active, today most people head to Cerro Negro to try their volcano surfing skills. The sport involves riding along the edge of the volcano’s black ash on wooden surfboards. You’ll wear a hoodie and goggles for protection, and you can reach speeds of over 60 miles per hour. These boards can be sled (sitting) or standing like surfboards or snowboards.
Remember that to get to the volcano, you have to climb the mountain. The walk takes about 40 minutes. Most people try this in an organized adventure.
4. Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve
Located at the top of the dormant Mombacho Volcano, this nature preserve features 2500 acres of unique cloud forest landscape. It is located southwest of Managua, just 10 kilometers from the colonial city of Granada and the magnificent Lake Nicaragua.
Beautifully landscaped, surrounded by rural farms and coffee plantations. The reserve is known for its prolific, colorful and fragrant flora, which is home to more than 800 plant species.
Hundreds of animals also nest in Mombacho, including some monkeys such as bright red and green quetzals and white-faced and howler monkeys. The best way to experience the reserve is on one of the many hiking trails that run through it.
The reserve is also home to a tourist center where you can find guided walking tours of one of four craters, all covered with a rare type of cloud forest that can only be found elsewhere in Nicaragua: Madras Volcano on Ometepe Island.
5. Lake Nicaragua
When the Spanish colonists first saw Lake Nicaragua, it was so big they thought it was a sea. In fact, it is the largest lake in Central America with an average length of 177 kilometers and a width of 57 kilometers. It has more than 365 smaller islands with two volcanoes at the center of the lake and larger islands such as Ometepe.
Another interesting fact about Lake Nicaragua is that it is the only freshwater lake with marine animals, including sharks. It is believed that the lake was once a cove, but later a volcano erupted, trapping marine life and turning it into an inland lake. For thousands of years, marine life has adapted to living in freshwater.
6. San Juan del Sur
On the Emerald Coast in southwestern Nicaragua, close to the Costa Rican border, San Juan del Sur, just 32 miles north, is a lively town with a large ex-pat community and great surf beaches. The town itself is full of colorful buildings and murals. There is also a large statue of Jesus of Mercy perched on a hill overlooking the city below, and the sunsets are especially worth seeing for the view.
Then there is the long stretch of sand that meets Playa Maderas Beach, home to small hotels and eco-resorts across the Pacific. It absorbs most of the waves that hit Nicaragua and is best approached mid-tide.
The beach is also known for long, long sunsets that take on incredibly bright and varied colors.
7. Somoto Canyon National Monument
In 2004, two Czech geologists accidentally discovered that Somoto Canyon National Monument is now a protected canyon in northern Nicaragua, about a 2.5-hour drive from León.
The scenery here is breathtaking and another perfect destination for adrenaline junkies. You can book a 4-hour or 6-hour descent at the narrowest part of the canyon. Both trips involved rock climbing, descending upstream in inner tubes, and jumping from high cliffs into deep pools. The six-hour journey also includes descending from a cliff into a cave full of bats. Either way, it’s an adventurous day trip.
Colorful Granada is a great old town to wander around in the afternoon. It is home to some of Nicaragua’s best preserved buildings, including many buildings and churches built in the Spanish Colonial style.
Here you will find San Francisco Convent, one of the oldest churches in Central America. It has an unmissable Tiffany blue exterior, and inside you’ll find one of Nicaragua’s best museums dedicated to the country’s pre-Columbian people. There are also restaurants, shops and cafes around the main square with sidewalk seating.
Granada is a popular base for exploring the islands on the shores of Lake Nicaragua.
9. Reserva Natural Miraflor
From chilling out icy waterfalls at Reserva Natural Miraflor to horseback riding or hiking in search of the nearly 300 bird species that live here (including the brilliant Queen Quetzal), nature has a lot to do.
This reserve in northern Nicaragua covers three climatic zones, including dry forest and cloud forest. Visitors can also participate in community tourism programs at the coffee cooperative. These give you the opportunity to spend a night with a local family and learn about their culture and lifestyle.
Home to the National University of Nicaragua, Leon is considered the intellectual capital of the country. The city is also known for its cathedral, art museums, and thriving cuisine. Leon Cathedral is the largest in Central America and combines Baroque and Neoclassical styles.
Just a few blocks north of the cathedral is the Iglesia de la Recoleccion, a beautiful church that dates back to 1786. It was built in a Mexican-inspired baroque design with a distinctive ocher exterior and cream-coloured trim. As you wander through the walkable downtown, look out for murals and graffiti from the political wars of the 1980s.
You can also visit the 16th century ruins of Leon Viejo (Old Leon), a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the first Spanish colonial settlements in the Americas. These ruins are just a short drive from Leon.
Hope you like our choice of the best places to visit in Nicaragua. If you think there are some more beautiful places to visit in Nicaragua, we should cover them. Write us below in the comment box.