Tourism is a booming business in Nicaragua, growing by up to 20 percent per year. Visitors come for the fabulous beaches, snorkeling and diving, eco-tourism, colonial cities, nightlife and a relatively low cost of living. Some of the more popular tourist destinations in this “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes” are the colonial cities of Granada and Leon, the Pacific Coast, hiking on the volcanoes, and the Corn Islands off the Caribbean coast.
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, with borders on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. In the central region are several large volcanoes of the Cordillera Los Maribios mountain range, including Mombacho just outside of Granada, and Momotombo near León. The inland area also includes Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in Central America, which is home to some of the world's only freshwater sharks. The Pacific lowlands region is the most populous, with over half of the nation's population.
The colonial city of Granada is one of the top tourist attractions in Nicaragua. Located on the northwest shore of Lake Nicaragua, Granada was founded in 1524, and is the oldest colonial city in the Americas. Granada has long been a center of commerce in Nicaragua, including timber, gold and silver, and is now the nation’s national tourism hub, known for preserving some the finest colonial-era architecture in the country. In addition, Granada features one of the finest museums in the country, Mi Museo, as well as an 18th-century fort, a lively Central Park, a bustling local market, and six main churches.
The Mombacho volcano near Granada is 4,409 feet high, and is located in the Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve. Although the volcano is considered to be active, the last eruption occurred in 1570. The highest region of the volcano is home to a cloud forest and dwarf forest, which contains flora and fauna that are endemic purely to the volcano. An increasingly popular tourist attraction, the volcano has fantastic views of Lake Nicaragua and the city of Granada. The volcano also has two hiking trails, a moderate one that circles the main crater, and another more difficult trail (El Puma), which must be led by a guide. The more difficult trail is the only way to see some features such as the dwarf forest.
Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua, with a population approaching two million, features the Palacio Nacional, the former national palace which is now a museum featuring exhibits highlighting the indigenous Nahuatl people and the 2,500-year-old stone sculptures they left behind. For a little more excitement, Managua also offers an assortment of large and small casinos.
In the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Nicaragua, the Corn Islands are surrounded by coral reefs, and have become a popular spot for divers and snorkelers. San Juan del Sur, on southwest Nicaragua on the Pacific coast, is popular for its spectacular beaches, world-class dining and surfing, and is a vacation destination for Nicaraguan families as well as tourists.
International flights into Nicaragua arrive at AugustoC. Sandino International Airport in Managua, which serves American, Continental, Delta and Spirit airlines, as well as national and regional carriers. Taxis are available, but buses are the main mode of travel in Nicaragua. Visitors can also arrange for a shuttle to take them to nearby cities, including Granada.
For dining in Nicaragua, El Colibri in San Juan del Sur is a top attraction for tourists and locals, serving an extensive menu of regional and international dishes in an open and airy garden setting. For a great steak and local dishes, you can’t go wrong at El Ranchos in Managua. For excellent French and international fare, try La Marseillaise in Managua.
As with the rest of Central America, the weather in Nicaragua varies primarily by elevation, not time of year. In the foothills and lowlands, daytime temperatures range from 86° to 91° during the day down to to 70° to 75° at night. In the central highlands, the temperatures range from daytime highs of 81° to nighttime lows of 59°.
Rainfall varies greatly in Nicaragua. The Caribbean lowlands are the wettest section of Central America, receiving between 100 to 250 inches of rain per year. The mean annual precipitation for the rift valley and western slopes of the highlands ranges from 40 to 60 inches per year. In Nicaragua, May through October is the rainy season, and December through April is the driest period.