Nicaragua – ‘Land of Lakes and Volcanoes’

If one might try to categorize adventure travelers, two kinds crystallize – the ones who look for extreme physical stimulation and the others who yearn after exhilarating mental stimulation. While you could find the ones in the first league hiking up an extinct volcano, the second breed of travelers love even more danger; the second will be out there excitedly filming from the rim of an active volcano. The second league could find themselves in a traveler’s heaven at places where history is vivid and fresh, and excitement is still unfolding. Both travelers would find themselves at home in Nicaragua, a place that has both active volcanoes, with eight out of its 19 volcanoes still fuming, as well as active physical stimulants smoldering through across its revolutionary face. Being part of an elemental country in an evolving radical phase is an experience in itself.

Three Reasons to go to Nicaragua

Not an iffy place anymore: Although most tourists have not really updated their mental databases in regard to Central America since the 80’s, and a certain amount of bafflement or alarm upon sharing your tour plans to the region is to be expected, it no longer remains an iffy place to vacation. The Nicaraguans one encounters are unfailingly friendly; the country’s natural beauty is stunning, and its steaks incredibly tasty and cheap. Budget Destination: This Central American country offers few heavyweight tourist attractions – almost no ancient structures remain, and years of revolution, civil war and natural disasters have laid waste to museums, galleries and theatres – however, with travel still feasible on $20 a day, Nicaragua is one of the world’s finest budget destinations and its natural riches rival those of better-known Costa Rica.

Natural Beauty: Smoking Volcán Concepción with its almost perfect cinder cone rises from the silvery, pure Lago de Nicaragua (Lake Nicaragua) to pierce the cloudy sky. ‘Land of Lakes and Volcanoes’ indeed, you think, as the rolling waves of Lake Cocibolca (an ancient indigenous name for Lake Nicaragua that translates to ‘Sweet Water’) rocks your suddenly tiny ferry into unspeakable admiration. These symbols of the nation – wind over water, fire from the earth – convey the elemental significance of Nicaragua’s most powerful passions, poetry and revolution.

Managua: The conscience of the nation, capital Managua, is an admittedly bland urban expanse of unsigned, tree-lined boulevards and uninspired modern monoliths that almost never seduce visitors into spending more time here than is absolutely necessary. Yet this sultry and seismic ‘Daughter of War’ and ‘City of Peace’ is beloved of inhabitants, and its volcanic skyline and cosmopolitan charms have inspired a library’s worth of poems. Start by ascending Loma de Tiscapa to Sandino’s famous massive iron silhouette, with views from the ancient crater-lake to monumental red-and-black Volcán Momotombo. The city pulses, with great nightlife, excellent restaurants and, most importantly, thousands of families rebuilding their nation, poco a poco (little by little), into all that their poets and revolutionaries, campesinos and visionaries, once promised.

Granada: If you climb Concepción you will look out over gorgeous colonial Granada and her hundreds of tiny tropical isletas (islets), across the slender isthmus pockmarked with crater lakes to where the Pacific breaks hollow on sandy cove beaches. Nicknamed ‘the Great Sultan’, in honor of its Moorish namesake across the Atlantic, peopled by an engaging mix of tourists, stalls, itinerants and clumping horses, the palm-lined Parque Central at the center of town sits attractively. Climb the tower at Iglesia La Merced, the sooty front of which has yet to receive a lick of new paint, and enter its serene interior to absorb the shabby-chic charm of the place.

Leon: The buzzing cultural capital of the country, Leon, with its famous murals, depicts Nicaragua’s turbulent political history. The city continues to wear its FSLN heart on its sleeve: the street signs read “León: ciudad heroica – primera capital de la revolución”. If you value your hearing, avoid the Parque Central square at 7am and noon, when a ludicrously loud siren wails across the city – a throwback to the days when workers flocked in to León’s booming cotton factories. Many people fall in love with Granada but most leave their heart in Leon.