In search of gorgeous Pacific coast beaches, lush rain forests, mellow eco-friendly hotels, and an authentic experience that doesn’t involve chain hotels or running into people you know from back home? (Um, who isn't?) Well, then Nicaragua is for you.
Whether you're looking for adventure (surfing a volcano sound exciting enough for you?) or just hunting for a gorgeous empty beach (with 565 miles of coastland you have plenty of options), the Central American country is considered an unspoiled dream. Travel insiders have been hailing it the “next Costa Rica” for a while now, raving about the lack of tourist throngs and the abundance of serene beaches, lush undeveloped landscape, and small boutique hotels. Oh, and don't forget about the eco-friendly ethos and commitment to embracing tourism. With a handful of amazing new hotels and prices that are within reach, this really does equate to the dream beach vacation if you're looking to quell your wanderlust without blowing your holiday budget.
For some insider intel on how to make the most of a Nicaraguan vacation, we turned to the founder of Nicaragua Adventures, Pierre Gedeon. From the coolest treehouse hotel (only $155 a night) to a truly immersive cultural experience, the spots and to-dos ahead are the best of the best. Read on, book your trip, and hey, if you want to thank us with a bottle of Flor de Caña, we won't complain.
Photo: Courtesy of Aqua Wellness.
A Modern Nicaragua
Thanks to rebels, civil wars, and the Iran-Contra hearings 20 years ago, Nicaragua has gotten a bad rap. But, the reality of Nicaragua is different than the dated public perception, explains Gedeon, a French native who has lived in the country for 13 years. “I feel safer here than I do almost anywhere else in the world,” he says. The 2013 Global Peace Index named Nicaragua the second safest country in Central America. (Neighboring Costa Rica was the first) However, economically, Nicaragua is still grappling with poverty and is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. Hoping to follow in Costa Rica’s uber successful eco-tourism lead, the country is actively promoting green tourism and a host of new boutique hotels including the luxe, 37-room Mukul resort built by local magnate Carlos Pellas are cropping up.
Photo: Courtesy of Aqua Wellness.
The Best Hotel For Beach Bums
On the stunning southwest coast of Nicaragua where the rain forest meets the beach, you’ll find new eco-friendly Aqua Wellness Resort. Located on the protected cove of Redonda bay, the hotel’s private and protected white-sand beach provides the perfect setting for yoga, kayaking, snorkeling, and just mellowing out. True to its name, the hotel has a focus on healthy living with local organic food, an 1,100-square-foot yoga deck, and a spa that uses native plants and botanicals in its treatments. The 33 airy treehouse villas boast expansive decks with plunge pools and killer views of the Pacific. Most relaxing of all is the price — rooms start at $155 a night.
Playa Le Redonda, Tola, Nicaragua; 1-505-8849-6235.
Photo: Courtesy of Nicaragua Adventures.
The Ultimate Cultural Fix
When planning a trip to Nicaragua, Gedeon always recommends a couple of days in this charming city with a rich cultural history. “There is so much to do in and around the city,” he explains. Founded in 1524, Granada offers the faded beauty of Colonial architecture and cobblestone streets with cafés, art galleries, and thriving local markets. Climb the Iglesia de la Merced for 360-degree views of the city and check out the c. 1585 Convento y Museo San Francisco, the oldest church in Central America. The new Mi Museo features an impressive collection of ceramics dating back from 2000 BC. Just beyond the city, you can explore Mombacho volcano, check out native villages, hike in the Cloud Forest, and zipline over coffee plantations.
Photo: Courtesy of Nicaragua Adventures.
The Local Dish You Have To Try
You can’t visit Nicaragua without tasting one of its best local dishes. Guapote, a rainbow bass fish from Lake Nicaragua. According to Gedeon, Las Colinas del Sur restaurant in Granada is the place that does it best. It's served whole and fried, yet deboned, topped with tomatoes and onions and fresh avocados on the side. Here’s the recipe.
Prepare the deboned fish with a marinade of salt, pepper, two tablespoons of vinegar, and five cloves of grated garlic. Let the fish marinate for 20 minutes. Fry it for five minutes on each side until fish is cooked through.
For the sauce, heat up one sliced onion, two sliced tomatoes, one chopped red pepper, two tablespoons of tomato sauce, and one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and a pinch of sugar in a frying pan for three minutes stirring constantly. Place sauce over the fish and serve with two limes and sliced avocado on the side.
Las Colinas del Sur Calle Atravesada, Granada, Nicaragua.
Photo: Courtesy of Jicaro Eco Lodge.
A Unique, Feel-Good Stay
“The location of the Jicaro Eco Lodge is exceptional,” states Gedeon of the small private island hotel located in freshwater Lake Nicaragua. “You are surrounded by over 300 small islands or isletas amidst a native fishing community. It’s a very authentic experience.” Outdoorsy types will love kayaking and exploring the lake’s isletas, hiking nearby volcanos, or artisanal net fishing with the locals. With an emphasis on sustainability, the hotel’s nine casitas are all built from trees that fell during Hurricane Felix, organic food is all locally sourced, and water is heated through solar power.
Granada, Nicaragua; 505-8403-1236.
Photo: Courtesy of Nicaragua Tourism Board.
The Adventure You Can't Miss
One of the coolest and most unusual things to do in Nicaragua is sandboard…on an active volcano. Cerro Negro near Leon has become the spot for sandboarding. Take the hour-long hike to the top with your board strapped on. Then put on your helmet, hop on your board, and whiz down 1,600 feet on black sand for an unforgettable experience.
Photo: Courtesy of ChicaBrava.
The Surf Oasis Worth A Pilgrimage
The beachside town of San Juan Del Sur on the pacific coast has become a surfing mecca thanks to some of best breaks in the country and amazing surf schools, including the girls-only ChicaBrava helmed Ashley Blaylock. “I’ve traveled all over the world, and beyond the wonderful people and the beauty of the country, the waves are what brought me here,” exclaims Blaylock who is a six-time Nicaraguan surfing champion. “We are surrounded by world-class beaches. The offshore winds create perfectly groomed waves 300-plus days a year.” Blaylock left her native Texas to live full-time in San Juan Del Sur. “Ten years ago, it was a tranquil fishing village, a very local vacation spot. While it has become an international destination, it is a robust Nicaraguan town that is hundreds of years old and entrenched in Nicaraguan culture.”
Photo: Courtesy of Yemaya Hotel.
The Mini-Trip That Redefines "Getaway"
A totally unspoiled Caribbean island you’ve never heard of, Little Corn is a 1.5-square-mile island 50 miles off the coast of Nicaragua. There are only 800 residents, no roads (just footpaths), and little to do at night other than veg out. The teeny island paradise isn’t the easiest to get to — flights from Managua to Big Corn Island take an hour, and from there it is a 35-minute water taxi. But, the payoff is huge, states Gedeon about Little Corn’s charms. “No cars, very few people, excellent snorkeling and diving, and the best lobster,” he says. Check in to the Eco-Chic Yemaya Hotel with 16 beach-front cabanas and a holistic spa.
Northern end, Little Corn Island, Nicaragua; 1-303-800-1943.