Located along the shore of Lake Managua is Managua itself, the capital of Nicaragua. Previously, the capital was located in Granada and Leon but finally moved to Managua in 1852. Because it is a much younger city compared to others in Nicaragua, Managua does not share all the same colonial characteristics as Leon and Granada. However, it is today a vibrant city which still retains a rich history and culture. Managua is home to an impressive historic sector centered around the Plaza de la Revolución. However, an earthquake in 1972 left many treasures heavily damaged. Despite this, various structures survived the disaster such as the beautiful Old Cathedral which is set to be renovated in the not too distant future. Another popular monument still used today is the Rubén Diario National Theater, home to both national and international concerts and performances. One of the most impressive structures in Managua is the National Palace built in the 1930s. Today the palace is home to some of Nicaragua’s richest culture split into the National Archive, the National Library, and the National Museum with its many pre-Columbian artifacts like statues and ceramics dating back thousands of years.South of Managua’s historical center is the Tiscapa Lagoon, home to the famous statue of Nicaragua’s national hero, Augusto Sandino, built atop the wreckage of the country’s pre-revolution presidential mansion. The lagoon as well as the surrounding area has become a popular tourist attraction with various restaurants, stores, and even a canopy ride over old downtown. Another important structure in Managua is the Dr. Roberto Incer Barquero Library, a strong promoter of Nicaraguan culture with nearly 70,000 books and a gallery exhibiting Nicaraguan art. The Museum of Acahualinca is home to many pre-Columbian artifacts including tools, ceramics, and even fossilized human footprints dating back 6,000 years.
Known as the world’s highest lake island, Ometepe is home to two large volcanoes, one of which, Concepción, is still considered active today. Located in the middle of the enormous Lake Nicaragua, Concepción rises an impressive 1,610 meters and takes the shape of nearly perfect cone. The second volcano, Maderas, is no longer considered active and is home to a beautiful rainforest habitat which is today a nature reserve. The two volcanoes make up two separate parts of the island with a narrow isthmus joining them together.The island of Ometepe is believed to have been first inhabited as many as 4,000 years ago. Traces of the ancient civilizations can still be seen in the many petroglyphs and idols on the Maderas Volcano. A survey in the late 1990s turned up over 70 different archaeological sites and included 1,700 petroglyphs and 1,400 carved boulders on the Maderas side of the island alone.Because of the island’s somewhat secluded feel, many of the indigenous traditions and celebrations are still observed by its inhabitants. Today, Ometepe Island is becoming a popular ecotourism destination with lush landscapes and beautiful wildlife. Visitors access the island by a ferry service open to the public that arrives at the island’s port town of Moyogalpa. Along the lake’s coast are various hotels built into the rich vegetation. Because of the immense size of the lake, a visit to the beach appears much like a visit to the coast with far reaching water and a gorgeous panorama of the high reaching volcanoes.
Masaya is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the region and has erupted 19 times since its discovery by the Spanish in 1524. The town of Masaya rests beside the lake of the same name which acts as a sort of barrier between the volcano and the town.Masaya is home to various important coffee plantations as well as an impressive artisan community. Although Nicaraguan artwork and handicrafts may be found throughout the country, Masaya has an unusually high amount of creative minds specializing in pottery, leather, paints, and fabrics. Because of this, Masaya has become home to the best handicraft markets in the country. Shoppers can find a number of impressive crafts including textiles, ceramics, art, wood crafts, jewelry, food, and much more all at a very low price. The markets are also great for their small restaurants where patrons will enjoy the delicious Nicaraguan cuisine.The Masaya Volcano is one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions because it is so accessible. Unlike many volcanoes of Central America, the Masaya Volcano rises to a much lower altitude allowing vehicles to drive all the way to the top of the active crater. Visitors can even take pictures from the various viewpoints with the billowing smoke and sulfurous gasses in the background. The highest viewpoint is home to a replica wooden cross originally placed by the Spanish in the 1500s. When they first arrived at the volcano indigenous tribes were seen performing sacrifices by throwing humans into the active crater. The cross was placed as a declaration to the end of these human sacrifices. The volcano itself is actually made up of five distinct craters, only one of which is active, but visitors can walk to viewpoints overlooking some of the other craters as well.
San Juan del Sur
Located along a horseshoe-shaped bay on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua is the small fishing village of San Juan del Sur. Because of its beautiful waters and impressive white sand beaches, San Juan del Sur has become more than just a fishing village but also a popular tourist destination. The bay is scattered with both commercial fishing boats and private sailboats and yachts alike. The smooth waters and rich biodiversity of the bay have made San Juan del Sur a popular stop for divers, while other beaches provide visitors with rough waters and great surfing. Likewise, venturing outside of the bay will also provide visitors with exceptional sport fishing and sailing.Be sure to do some exploring along the three kilometer beach within the bay. The bay is surrounded by various hills which provide brilliant views of the beach and adjacent lush vegetation. The southern bluff of the bay is home to an old lighthouse and the ruined fortress of the infamous William Walker who attempted in various Latin American countries to overthrow the government and take the country as his own.Another popular activity for visitors is to enroll in the nearby Spanish school and spend anywhere from a week to more than a month in their Spanish immersion programs. Head out on a sailboat tour to see the abundant wildlife; you may even have a chance to see a migrating whale during the dry season! San Juan del Sur has also become a popular cruise ship stop as it provides visitors with some much to enjoy. Whatever your dreams may be, San Juan del Sur will be the hotspot to make them a reality.
Located on the shore of Lake Nicaragua is one of the most important and most traveled to cities in Nicaragua. The colonial city of Granada was founded in 1524 and still maintains its centuries-old layout and most of its quaint historic buildings. Granada was once the rival conservative city of León, home to much of the country’s liberal population. The two cities were at times in very strong conflict sometimes turning violent. Finally, in the mid 1800s, a compromise was made to place Nicaragua’s capital in the city of Managua, located halfway between the two rivals.Granada was host to many battles and invasions from English, French, and Dutch pirates as well as the site of an attack by the American William Walker. However, despite these attacks and conflicts, Granada has managed to maintain much of its historic and cultural richness. Today, Granada is considered one of the safest cities in the region with a very low crime rate.Granada is well known for the astounding preservation of its colonial buildings many of which are either still inhabited or have been transformed into lavish hotels or museums. The narrow streets have been maintained just as they originally were before motorized vehicles. For that reason many are one way streets, which can add some confusion during a drive through the city. Though Granada is home to coffee, plantain, and banana plantations, tourism is still its strongest industry which accounts for the extensive preservation and renovation of the many colonial buildings. Visitors will surely enjoy the main cathedral painted in a vibrant yellow as well as the surrounding plaza and park with its many street side cafés. Granada even has a lively nightlife with various nightclubs, delicious restaurants, and bars.
Widely known as the intellectual center of Nicaragua for its University established in 1813, León was first established in 1524. However, after a massive 1610 eruption of the Momotombo Volcano located only a few miles away, officials decided to move the city twenty miles away to avoid any further damage. Since then, this new spot has been the principal location of colonial León while the original location earned the name Old León. In 1960 Old León was excavated and placed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.León, much like Granada, is home to many colonial buildings today refurbished and renovated into true historic gems. One well known landmark is the eighteenth century Cathedral of the Assumption which conducts guided tours onto the rooftop and up to the bell towers. The panoramic view from the rooftop is spectacular with vistas of the other surrounding historic churches as well as the distant volcanoes surrounding the cities. León is also home to many colonial style houses that have been transformed into beautiful hotels, restaurants, and even museums showcasing the city’s rich culture.Another very impressive landmark in the city is the Sutiaba Neighborhood. When the city was moved to its present location in the seventeenth century, the area was ruled by the Sutiaba tribe and was not easily taken over by the Spanish. Today, the area still shares many pre-Colonial traditions and retains a rich culture preserved not only by its residents but also by the Sutiaba Museum and a 600 year old tamarind tree. One of the most exciting events in León is the celebration of Holy Week, or Semana Santa, when all of the city, especially in Sutiaba, celebrates by placing sawdust beds in the streets in front of the churches.
Located in Lake Nicaragua very near Granada is the extensive archipelago known as Las Islitas. The islands total 365, and many have been converted into lavish, personal villas complete with houses, yards, and swimming pools. Though most islands are privately owned, others are protected, such as San Pablo Island, home to a historic nineteenth century fortress known for its failed prevention of pirate attack on Granada. Another small island is inhabited with monkeys once left there years ago.Visitors that wish to visit these islands are in luck; there are various boat tours conducted through the narrow canals between the islands. Guides provide a great history lesson about the islands’ volcanic formation 20,000 years ago. If you prefer the quiet song of the marine birds and other wildlife, you may also tour the islands in a smaller paddle boat without a noisy motor. Some islands even have places to stop for food and drink, while other deserted islands may be a comfortable place to be dropped off for the day. Other tours include an intro to kayaking class which includes instruction as well as an extensive tour of Las Isletas.