Top 15 Things To Do In Nicaragua, The Land Of Lakes And Volcanoes

Top 15 Things To Do In Nicaragua, The Land Of Lakes And Volcanoes
| 11 min read

Despite being called ‘The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes’, visiting some of these natural landmarks are just a few activities on an extensive list of things to do and see in Nicaragua.

A cheaper and less-touristy destination compared to other nearby Central American countries (such as Costa Rica and Panama), Nicaragua has become an increasingly popular spot for visitors.

Nicaragua hides a trove of fantastic activities.

With its rich history and beautiful landscapes, it provides a host of outdoor activities, perfect for travelers seeking an adventure. Be it hiking up volcanoes, surfing, scuba diving, or discovering hidden corners of colonial cities, every day in Nicaragua guarantees a thrilling experience.

1. 1. Admire the well-preserved Spanish architecture in Granada, Nicaragua

Catedral de Granada, Nicaragua
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Adalberto.H.Vega used under CC BY 2.0

Historically one of the most important cities in Nicaragua, Granada was once the country’s political and economic heart. Today, Granada is a popular tourist destination, known for having some of the best-preserved Spanish-colonial architecture in the whole country. You can admire the city’s rich heritage reflected in its architecture. There are not many places in the world where you can still enjoy such distinct colonial-style buildings.

Tourism in Granada has risen significantly over recent years, meaning that hotels and restaurants have also increased at an astounding rate. With its ever-changing culinary scene, Granada shows a strong support for the farm-to-table concept of local producers. It has become, therefore, known also for its natural beauty and food scene.

Tip: many streets in Granada only allow one-way traffic. This can be confusing, and it is therefore not recommended for visitors to drive around the city. Exploring by foot is the easiest and most convenient way to get around Granada.

2. 2. Volcano-board down the gravelly slopes of Cerro Negro

Directly translating to Black Hill, Cerro Negro looks exactly as its name suggests - a landscape of black sandy slopes. Despite being one of Central America’s youngest volcanoes, Cerro Negro is also one of the most active in Nicaragua, having erupted 23 times since its birth in 1850.

Grab a board and slide all the way down Cerro Negro. One of the most popular outdoor activities in Nicaragua, volcano-boarding here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This thrilling experience is something you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the world. But in order to slide down, you must first be prepared for a 1-hour hike to the top.

There are two ways to slide down the gravelly slopes: standing up like you are on a snowboard, or sitting down like you would on a sled. Take your pick before you whizz down the 728-meter-tall (2,388-foot-tall) volcano in under 3-minutes. If this doesn’t give you enough of an adrenaline rush, the fact that Cerro Negro could erupt at any moment should get your blood pumping. But don’t let this stop you from missing out on this amazing experience. The thrill you get is guaranteed to make the risk all worth it!

Tip: even though standing up may sound more exciting, the gravel makes it harder to balance, thus creating a bumpier ride. In fact, you will probably go down the slope faster sled-style because your center of gravity is closer to the ground.

Volcano Board: Volcano Boarding at Cerro Negro

Address: Pick up from Leon

Duration: Around 4 hours

Price: 28 USD *Additional 5 USD for entrance fee

Contact: +505-2315-4099

Book Now

3. 3. Visit the world’s highest lake island, Ometepe

Ometepe Island
Source: Photo by user H Dragon used under CC BY 2.0

Situated on the famous Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe Island was formed by 2 volcanoes (Concepcion and Maderas) rising from the lake. Visible from everywhere on the island, these volcanoes create a stunning landscape that is accompanied by the island’s archaeological background and elegant seaside.

Escape the rest of the world at this hidden getaway, buried in the midst of the largest lake in Central America. Known for its clear waters, sparkling beaches, extensive wildlife, and historical archaeological sites, Ometepe has been deemed an ‘oasis of peace’. Accommodation, food, and tours are available from the island, perfect for anyone who wishes to explore this paradise on earth.

Ometepe Island

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4. 4. Scuba dive in the crystal clear waters off the Corn Islands

Otto Beach - Little Corn Island - Nicaragua
Source: Photo by user Brian Johnson & D... used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Consisting of 2 islands (Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island), the Corn Islands are located approximately 70 kilometers (43 miles) just off the eastern Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Surrounded by vibrant coral reefs and a vast marine life, the Corn Islands have become a popular destination for scuba diving and snorkeling.

These charming islands are complete with mysterious coves and unimaginable underwater caves. Although Big Corn Island is larger by area, Little Corn Island actually attracts more visitors. Walk around the island to discover its eclectic beach-side cabanas, lush jungles, and diverse scuba diving sites. Without any cars or paved roads, this small island is just the tranquil getaway you need.

Tip: Little Corn Island is only accessible by boats from Big Corn Island. Even though there should be around 2 - 3 rides a day, the weather and sea conditions may disrupt the schedule. The ride is approximately 20-minutes long and should cost 160 NIO (5.60 USD) one-way.

The Corn Islands

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5. 5. Lounge around on the dazzling white sand beaches along the Emerald Coast

Big Corn Island Airport, Corn Island, Nicaragua (RNI/MNCI)
Source: Photo by user Brian Johnson & D... used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Stretching between the the towns of Tola and El Astillero, the Emerald Coast consists of beautiful sandy beaches down the western coast of Nicaragua by the Pacific Ocean. Home to 2 of the most famous surfing spots in the country, Colorado and Popoyo, it is known for its tumbling surf and amazing waves. Because of this, it has become one of Nicaragua’s most important tourist destinations.

Despite its increasing popularity, the Emerald Coast still remains tranquil, surrounded by unreal landscapes and deluxe resorts. Two of the country’s most well-known resorts, Mukul Resort: Beach, Golf & Spa and Aqua Wellness Resort, are located here, available to anyone seeking a luxurious vacation.

6. 6. Surf some of the best waves in the world at San Juan del Sur

San juan del sur
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Biomedeng used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Officially designated as the tourism city of Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur is renowned for its waves, making it particularly popular among surfers. However, despite that, its beautiful beach is also an ideal vacation spot for locals and foreigners alike.

Apart from surfing, San Juan del Sur also has great dining, drinking, shopping, and nightlife venues. With an abundance of things to do, it is especially suitable for young travelers. Whether that means bingeing on the traditional Nicaraguan food of gallo pinto (rice and beans) or dancing the night away to lively music, you are sure to have a great time here at San Juan del Sur.

Fun fact: multiple seasons of the US reality television series Survivor were filmed at San Juan del Sur.

San Juan del Sur

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7. 7. Hike up one of Nicaragua’s lesser-visited volcanoes, Cosiguina Volcano

Mount Pinatubo 20081229 01
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user ChrisTomnong used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Located in the far northwest of Nicaragua, Cosiguina Volcano is one of the lesser-known natural gems of Nicaragua. Due to its isolation, it does not receive the same kind of attention as many other volcanoes in the country. Standing at 872 meters (2,860 feet) it simultaneously overlooks 3 countries: Nicaragua, and the neighboring countries of Honduras and El Salvador. Holding a substantial crater lake, Cosiguina creates a landscape like no other.

What makes Cosiguina Volcano particularly significant is that it is the site of Nicaragua’s most violent volcanic eruption in history. However, this explosive volcano has not erupted since 1859, making it a safe volcano to hike. Despite its height, Cosiguina Volcano has a mildly steep trail, making it a hike easily achievable for anyone. Apart from being rewarded with amazing views, you will also be greeted by a tranquil overlook that you can relax at before heading back down.

Quetzaltrekkers Leon: Volcan Cosiguina

Address: ½ blocks west of the Mercantíl (next to the restaurant La Mexicana)León, Nicaragua

Hours: Departure at 6 am

Duration: 2 days

Price: From 100 USD

Contact: +505-2311-7388

Book Now

8. 8. Learn about the process of coffee-making at Café Las Flores

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user [Unknown] used under CC BY-SA 3.0

As an important part of Nicaragua’s history and economy, coffee has been the country’s main produce and export for years. If you love coffee, you will definitely appreciate the rich aromas and distinctive flavors that Nicaraguan coffee beans offer. Take your love for coffee one step further; instead of just drinking coffee, join a tour to learn about the ins-and-outs of a coffee plantation.

Overlooking the historic city of Granada (see #1) lies Café Las Flores, one of Nicaragua’s finest coffee companies that has existed for over 3 generations. Participating in the coffee tour here will provide you with a hands-on experience of a working coffee farm, and allow you to witness the steps needed to make a good cup of coffee. From planting to producing, every step is carefully executed into a delicious drink that you can enjoy after the tour.

Café Las Flores: Coffee Tour

Address: Hacienda El Progreso, Empalme Guanacaste Diriomo (4 kilometers / 2.5 miles from Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve), Granada, Nicaragua

Duration: At least 1 hour

Price: 16.10 USD (adults), 14.49 USD (kids under 12 years old) *Price listed above includes transportation from Granada or Managua; cheaper fee if no transportation required

Contact: +505-8272-3346

Book Now

9. 9. Discover Nicaragua’s passion for poetry and politics in the old colonial city of Leon

Street in León, Nicaragua 4
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user eric molina used under CC BY 2.0

Rivalling Granada (see #1) in terms of Spanish colonial architecture, Leon is another popular tourist destination that attracts people who want to see its historic buildings. As the second-biggest city in Nicaragua, after the capital of Managua, Leon was the former colonial capital. Home to some of the country’s most famous poets, it has been the political and intellectual center of Nicaragua for centuries.

One of the biggest attractions that cannot be missed is Leon Cathedral. The city also has plenty of other churches and beautiful architecture to admire. Not only is it the largest cathedral in Central America, it is also known for its sturdy, anti-seismic walls that have survived earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and civil war bombings. Nearby tourist destinations include Poneloya Beach and Cerro Negro volcano (see #2) that you may want to visit on a trip from Leon.

10. 10. Climb Masaya Volcano at night (From 155 USD)

Home to one of only 9 lava lakes in the world, Masaya Volcano National Park is a must-visit for anyone visiting Nicaragua. As the only volcano in the Western Hemisphere where visitors are allowed to drive around the rim, you can explore Masaya without having to put any effort into a hike. The park is also home to an underground tunnel formed by lava flows, where you can discover bats and see glowing lava in the volcano’s crater.

If you’re up for a more exciting adventure, join a tour to climb Masaya Volcano at night. Volcano hikes during day may be common in Nicaragua, but night tours are rare and unique. The only thing better than exploring a volcano during the day is to do the same at night; it is a whole different experience that you wouldn’t want to miss.

Learn more about the history and geology of this towering volcano. There is something undeniably magnificent about watching the fiery lava bubble in contrast to the dark night sky. However, do note that because Masaya is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, tours only allow visitors to stay for a few minutes for safety purposes.

Viator: Masaya Volcano Night Tour from Managua

Address: Pick up from Managua

Hours: Departure at 2 pm

Duration: Around 5 hours

Price: From 155 USD

Contact: +1-702-648-5873

11. 11. Find Nicaraguan handicrafts at the main market in Masaya

Masaya Market, Nicaragua
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Eln1coya used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

In the heart of Masaya, also known as the City of Flowers and one of Nicaragua’s largest cities, you’ll find a renowned handicraft market. Seeling a vast array of unique Nicaraguan products, the Craft Market / Mercado Artesanias is an ideal place to pick up some souvenirs. You’ll find just about any kind of handicraft at Masaya Market, including the well-known hand-woven hammocks, wooden carvings, exquisitely embroidered blouses, and intricate, detailed pottery, .

Come to the market prepared to bargain with the vendors. Even though items are usually quite affordable, you’ll probably be able to haggle your way to a lower price. Be sure to give yourself at least a couple of hours to walk around the market. With the abundance of little colorful novelties, Masaya Market will always be an exciting experience.

Crafts Market in Masaya

Opening Hours: 9 am - 6 pm

Click here for more information

12. 12. Kayak around the beautiful Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Phayne used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Located in between the cities of Masaya and Granada, Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve is a serene reserve that protects the volcanic lake of Apoyo Lagoon (Laguna de Apoyo). Surrounded by dark sand beaches and verdant greenery, this lagoon is extremely popular among tourists. Common activities include swimming, kayaking, hiking, scuba diving, bird-watching, paragliding, and boating.

Despite its proximity to some of Nicaragua’s most populous cities and other small towns, Apoyo Lagoon is a quiet getaway from it all. Due to a volcanic explosion over 23,000 years ago, the lagoon has a huge crater in the middle that makes it one of the most beautiful lagoons in the country. Its tropical dry forest ecosystem also allows for abundant flora and fauna, ideal for eco-tourists who may be more interested in the nature than the exciting activities.

Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve

Click here for more info

13. 13. Rappel down one of Central America’s oldest rock formations, Somoto Canyon

Camino al Cañon de Somoto
Source: Photo by user Zenia Nuñez used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Because it was only discovered in 2004, Somoto Canyon is relatively unexplored. It has, however, become a well-known tourist attraction. With Central America’s longest river, the Coco, running through the canyon, this is an experience you wouldn’t want to miss.

Tours are available for those who wish to explore Somoto Canyon. You can rappel down the canyon, hike along pre-existing trails, swim in the river, and jump off a cliff. With cliffs ranging from 120 - 150 meters (394 - 492 feet) tall, you are guaranteed an adrenaline rush as you leap into the water. These jumps are made from designated safe spots, but if you do not want to do this, or any other activity for that matter, let your guide know in advance and they can plan an alternative route.

Somoto Canyon Tours

Address: Casa Soriano, Km 229.5, Carretera Panamericana, Comunidad de Sonis, Somoto, Madriz Department, Nicaragua

Duration: From 3 hours

Price: From 20 USD

Contact: +505-5791-9556

Book Now

14. 14. Zip line over Mombacho Volcano

Mombacho Volcano - between Granada and Masaya, Nicaragua
Source: Photo by user Brian Johnson & D... used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Not far from Granada (see #1), Mombacho Volcano stands at 1,344 meters (4,410 feet) tall. It is a popular spot for zip line canopy tours. There is no better way to explore this volcano than to whizz through its unique floral and fauna and admire the views from high above. You will be able to admire great views of Lake Nicaragua and the city of Granada from the zip line.

If zip lining doesn’t sound appealing, there are also hiking trails for you to explore the volcano on foot. Take your pick between 2 different trails. The one that circles the main crater is easier, but skips over some of Mombacho’s key features. But if you’re up for a challenge, choose the more difficult trail (El Puma), which gives you the chance to discover the cloud forest and dwarf forest located in the highest regions of the volcano. Do note that for safety reasons, El Puma requires all visitors to hire a guide to take you up.

15. 15. Wander through the surreal cloud forest of Miraflor Nature Reserve in Esteli

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Lee Siebert used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Miraflor Nature Reserve is popular for its rich biodiversity. The park has over 200 species of colourful orchid, as well as 9 local agricultural communities. With plenty of untouched nature and interesting wildlife, you’ll certainly have lots to look at. From farms and rivers, to waterfalls, this natural reserve will ensure that you are constantly surrounded by some of the most gorgeous landscapes in the world.

Not so well-known among foreigners (yet!), you can enjoy this paradise almost all to yourself. You will not likely run into any other tourists, allowing for a true moment of tranquility. If you join a tour, you have the option to choose between a 1-day or multi-day trek. Discover this pristine area by foot or by horse back. Programs are also available for you to learn about the agricultural lifestyle here, and to get a taste of what life of a local Nicaraguan farmer is like.

TreeHuggers Tourism: Miraflor Community Ecotourism

Duration: At least 1 day

Price: From 15 USD per day (hiking tours) and 7 USD (horse-riding tours)

Contact: +505-8441-8466

Book Now

The heart of Central America

Located right in the middle of Central America, Nicaragua is quite literally and metaphorically at the heart of it all. With lakes, volcanoes, nature, and Spanish colonial cities, it is the epitome of Central America, capturing most of what this region has to offer. Even though it is sometimes overlooked compared to nearby countries, it has just as much to offer, if not more! If you are seeking an affordable Central American adventure, Nicaragua is definitely a place you should visit.

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Verena is currently a journalism student in New York City. Having to move around a lot throughout her childhood triggered her passion for traveling at a young age. She believes that exploring new...Read more

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