The 'Land of Lakes and Volcanoes' certainly lives up to its name - during this highlights trip, take a boat trip across magnificent Lake Nicaragua to the laid-back volcanic island of Ometepe, discover the birdlife of the lush Selva Negra Cloudforest, and explore Leon and Granada, two colonial towns that are bursting with revolutionary history. Masaya Volcano - Watch the lava swirl in the depths of this impressive active volcano San Ramon homestay - Spend the night with a family and taste the labours of this rural coffee community San Juan del Sur - Relax on the Pacific Coast, and take the opportunity to watch nesting turtles in season (August-January)
Arrive in Managua, Nicaragua's capital. At the centre of Nicaragua's political and cultural history, this modern capital is known for the volcanoes and lakes which surround it, as well as its lively markets. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at approximately 8.30pm for the welcome meeting. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive into Managua at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Augusto C. Sandino International Airport (MGA), which is a 20 minute drive from our hotel. There are many evening flights into Managua, so if you do miss the meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If you arrive earlier in the day, you may want to visit the city's lakefront, a perfect place for a refreshing drink and a walk.
This morning we enjoy a short city tour of Managua by bus, exploring both the historical and modern facets of the city. Our first stop is the Tiscapa Crater Lake for superb views over the entire city. On a clear day, we can see several volcanoes to the north of the city, and we can't miss the large silhouette of the General Sandino statue, the famous revolutionary, that stands overlooking the Tiscapa Crater Lake. Next, we head over to the old city to see the National Palace, the Old Cathedral, the National Theatre and the President's house. We will end this tour at the Malecon Puerto Salvador Allende, Managua's favourite hangout, for a drink. Leon Viejo is our next stop. The first capital of Nicaragua, Leon Viejo (Old Leon) was founded in 1524 by the Spanish conquistadores, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area suffered frequent volcanic activity, culminating in the huge earthquakes of 1594 and 1610. The damage caused to the infrastructure by the 1610 earthquake caused the settlers to hold a referendum, and a decision was made to relocate the city to its present location, about 20 miles to the west. The old city was gradually buried by the continuous expulsions of ash and volcanic stone coming from Momotombo, and by lake sediments. The ruins of Leon Viejo were discovered in 1967 and today we visit the excavated city. Finally, we head to Leon where we will have an orientation tour on arrival to discover the rich cultural and political history of one of Nicaragua's oldest and most influential cities. Defined by its graceful Spanish colonial architecture and fascinating political history, we will soon discover why Leon is considered to be Nicaragua's historical, cultural, educational and religious capital. The best way to explore this captivating city is by foot, as much of its charm lies in the narrow colonial streets and architecture, art galleries, museums and cafes. Leon's history is fascinating, like no other town in Central America. The town was dismantled, moved, and rebuilt due to volcanic activities, ransacked (and reconstructed!) by pirates, it won and lost its struggle as the most important city in Nicaragua against Managua, and several presidents were assassinated here. It is the place where famous poets are buried, where the largest cathedral in Central America stands, and is a hotbed for revolutionaries due to the big university located in Leon. In this guided walking tour we will visit revolutionary murals, baroque and neoclassical churches and a surprisingly interesting museum of legends, arts and poetry. After the tour, we can climb to the rooftop of Central America's largest cathedral, recently added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites, and enjoy astonishing views over the city and the surrounding Maribios Volcanic Chain.
Today is free to explore Leon at your own pace, taking in one of the museums or relaxing at one of the cafe's near the main square. Alternatively, you may choose to enjoy one of the optional excursions available in the area. One option is a hike on the nearby Cerro Negro Volcano - one of the most active volcanoes in Nicaragua. The hike takes approximately 1.5hrs at a moderate pace, and there are stunning views across to the Pacific ocean as well as the surrounding countryside. The fun is in bouncing down the volcano, as we run/jump/walk down through the scree. For something less exertive, a visit to the Isla Juan Venado Mangrove Reserve provides the opportunity to spot wildlife including crocodiles, caiman and iguanas.
Today we leave Leon and visit the mud fields of San Jacinto, en route to San Ramon. San Jacinto is a little town about 20 kilometres northeast of Leon; behind the village is boiling mud holes connected to the Telica Volcano. These volcanic fields serve as breathing holes for the nearby volcanoes, forming the area like a Martian landscape (and, in turn, help to prevent future eruptions). It is extremely hot to walk around and see the holes, which differ in size and colour, where the mud is fiercely boiling. The mud sometimes throws little rocks in the air and steam is continuously emitted from the holes. Local people (especially children) are keen to sell you indigenous ceramics and handmade figurines, made fresh from the hot volcanic mud. Then we continue our journey to San Ramon. San Ramon is located in the mountainous north of the department of Matagalpa. The area was originally settled by the Sumo and Miskito people of the Atlantic Coast, as well as the Chontales Indians. We will spend the night in a homestay. This experience offers a unique chance to get to know more about the culture and daily life of the coffee producers and their communities. You can participate in the process of coffee making and share their everyday lives by learning how to cook local dishes or produce natural medicine, as well as enjoy various cultural events such as music, drama and crafts. You can also explore the local surroundings by taking a walk to the waterfall of Salto Yasica.
Today we enjoy a cloudforest hike (approximately two hours) in Selva Negra or Black Forest. During the walk we will learn about the importance of the rainforest and discover the flora and fauna. Then we head south to Granada. Granada was founded in 1524 and is believed to be the second oldest city established in mainland Latin America by the Spanish conquest. During colonial times, Granada saw much unrest as the city was attacked several times by pirates. Nowadays Granada is characterised by bright-coloured Spanish-colonial architecture, visible throughout the city centre. The ambiance is very pleasant and there is a wide array of restaurants and bars, especially along the boulevard from the central park to the shores of Lake Nicaragua.
In the morning, we will enjoy a city tour of Granada. No visit to Granada is complete without a tour of the city's beautiful historic centre and there is no better way to visit it than on foot. Founded by the Spanish in 1524, Granada is considered to be one of the oldest colonial cities in the Western hemisphere. On this walking tour we will explore the San Francisco Church and neighbouring San Francisco Convent built in 1529 (entry optional). We then continue onto the beautiful Merced Church where we will have the opportunity to climb to the top of the bell tower and take in the spectacular views over the city, Lake Nicaragua and the Mombacho Volcano. Finally, you will see a glimpse of Nicaraguan daily life at the local market. This afternoon is free. A recommended optional activity is a boat trip through Las Isletas on Lake Nicaragua. A boat trip through the Isletas of Granada is a great way to explore Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua. Situated at the foot of the impressive Mombacho Volcano, the area we visit consists of around 360 small volcanic islands which were formed when the Mombacho Volcano erupted about 20,000 years ago. These small islands are inhabited by families who make their living from fishing, while other islands are host to extravagant villas owned by Nicaragua's rich and famous. Along the way, the tour guide will explain a lot about the many birds that can be seen here as well as recalling the history of the area.
Today we will explore the Masaya region including the Masaya Volcano and artisan market. The Masaya Volcano is still active and is the only volcano in the western hemisphere where it is possible to drive to the rim and see the smoking crater. If we are lucky, we might encounter the extremely rare green parakeets which, strangely, call the volcano home. After visiting the volcano we will visit Masaya's famous and diverse artisan market, where we can find many products quite unique to Nicaragua. We'll stop for lunch in the small colonial village of Catarina, known for its 'viveros' or nurseries of potted plants that are sold to households across Nicaragua. Our last stop today is San Juan de Oriente, one of the so called 'Pueblos Blancos' with its eye-catching white colonial architecture. This small town is known for its ceramic production, and we'll be able to visit the house of a local family and learn about the delicate process of this traditional art form.
Today, we transfer to the port of San Jorge, at the shores of Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca as the locals call it, and take the ferry to Isla de Ometepe. The island of Ometepe is situated in one of the world's largest fresh water lakes, Lake Nicaragua. The two volcanoes on the island, Concepcion and Maderas, offer stunning views when approaching Ometepe by boat from the mainland. Both of the volcanoes have their own climate and unique vegetation and hiking either of them is a great way to enjoy spectacular views of the surroundings. We will take a short walk in the Charco Verde Natural Reserve, a protected area located between Ometepe's two volcanoes. The area consists of a lagoon, a beach, and a forest. The reserve is named Charco Verde (Green Puddle) due to the green colour of the lagoon. Many birds find shelter in this part of the island so birding enthusiasts should keep an eye out. The walk is not strenuous and leads up a hill, from where we will have nice views on the surroundings.
Today you are at your leisure to make the most of this laidback island. There is plenty to do here, and we have a range of options from active hikes to San Ramon Waterfall, or up the Maderas or Concepcion Volcanoes, to a classic tour of the whole island with a stop for a traditional lunch. For those who want to learn more about the local Nicaraguan way of life at Ometepe, there is the chance to visit a women's co-operative here on the island. They are strongly focused on sustainable and community-based tourism here, and you will take a tour around the medicinal garden, learning about their homemade hibiscus wine and some of the restorative properties of the plants that are used for healing. Following this, you'll have a cooking class with the women to learn about and taste more of the local Nicaraguan cuisine.
Today, we take the ferry back to the mainland and continue to San Juan del Sur, in the southwest. San Juan del Sur is one of the most popular destinations in Nicaragua. It used to be a quiet fishing village and has now emerged into one of the country's leading coast destinations, but has still maintained its charm and unique culture. The beaches are great for surfing almost all year long; also snorkelling or sailing trips are offered along the coast.
Today is a free day. You can choose to simply relax or perhaps try your hand at surfing. La Flor Beach is a must to witness mass arrivals of turtles (during the season, August-January). The beach is a protected wildlife reserve because of the massive arrivals of Olive Ridley turtles that take place every year between August and January. Thousands of turtles arrive during certain nights to lay eggs at this one specific beach. About 50 days later, thousands of eggs hatch and the baby turtles try to make their way to the ocean.
Today we return back to the capital, Managua.
The trip ends after breakfast this morning in Managua. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Managua at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Augusto C. Sandino Airport (MGA), which is approximately a 20 minute drive from our hotel.
12 Break Fast(s) 3 Lunch(es) 1 Dinner(s)
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