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5 Reasons to Put Nicaragua on Your Travel List

Alix M Campbell

Contributor

You’re looking for a new country to discover and you’re drawn to the area of South and Central America? While the cultural and natural richness of each and every one of these countries is worth exploring, we’ve put together five great reasons to pick this slightly underrated country bordered by Honduras in the north and Costa Rica in the south: Nicaragua.

The people

Nicaraguans are in general a warm and welcoming group of people. I’m basing this on my personal experience, having travelled there twice in the last five years.

The majority of Nicaraguans (69%) are Mestizos, a mix of Europeans, Native Americans and West/North Africans, while 17% is considered white of Spanish, Italian, German or French descent. 5% of Nicaraguans are Native Americans and descendants of the indigenous inhabitants of the country. The remaining 9% of the population is mostly black of West Indian origin.

This colourful mix results in a culture rich in traditions and music with strong folklore and religious roots, deeply influenced by European culture and enriched by Native American flavours and sounds. The marimba is a typical musical instrument found across Central America. In Nicaragua the performer is holding the instrument on his knees, while being accompanied by a guitar, a bass fiddle and a guitarrilla (small guitar).

The food

With such diverse culture, Nicaragua’s cuisine has been influenced by many different cultures like Spanish, Creole, Garifuna (a mix of African and indigenous people) as well as indigenous Nicaraguans (Miskito).

You’ll find corn, beans, plantains, yucca and peppers in many traditional dishes. A typical meal often includes chicken, pork or fresh seafood, deep-fried plantains as well as rice and beans (gallo pinto). Washed down with a bottle of cool Toña or Victoria beer or a shot of Flor de Caña rum. For breakfast you’ll find eggs, cheese, sweet plantains, gallo pinto together with white bread or corn tortillas, accompanied by a fresh juice and coffee.

If you have the chance to try some of these dishes along the way, go for it:

Chicharrones: Deep-fried salty pork skin

Nacatamal: Boiled corn flour stuffed with pork meat, mashed potatoes and vegetables in a plantain leaf

Indio Viejo (Old Indian): A stew-like dish with shredded meat, onions, peppers, tomatoes and served with tortilla

Tostones: Deep-fried, crunchy plantains

Pastel de Tres Leches: A cake soaked in three types of milk: condensed, evaporated and cream

The beaches

Nicaragua offers two coastlines, the Pacific, which is ideal if you’re hunting for waves, and the Caribbean for more relaxed vibes with sandy beaches and the option to go snorkelling or diving. There is no shortage of variety, whether you’re looking for a tropical paradise or a secluded place surrounded by a wildlife refuge. The Pacific coast stretches over 305 km and the Caribbean coast over 450 km. These are a few of the many beaches found in Nicaragua:

Caribbean side:

Corn Islands - Little Corn: The beaches on Little Corn Island are located around 70 km off the Caribbean coast and offer laid-back vibes, fine white sand and fresh seafood. Perfect for a relaxing holiday away from the daily grind.

Miskito Cays: Once a hot spot for pirates, this remote beach is still undomesticated and only accessible by boat. It has little infrastructure, no accommodation, electricity or potable water. A secluded paradise, perfect for snorkelling, diving, hiking or bird watching.

Pacific side:

Around Managua: The closest and most popular beaches around the capital are Montelimar, Pochomil Beach or La Boquita Beach, each offering amenities like restaurants or bars.

Around San Juan del Sur: This is the place to go if you’re looking for a chill surf vibe. There’s a beach right in town but the most popular ones for surfing are Playa Maderas (10 kms north of town), Playa Remanso (8 km south of town) or Playa Hermosa (12 km south of town). They all offer amenities like little beach bars and surf rental shacks.

La Flor: Located 20 km south of San Juan del Sur, a wildlife refuge for monkeys, iguanas, possums and different types of sea turtles that lay their eggs here between July and January. This is one of very few places on earth to observe this incredible annual ritual.

Jiquilillo: Bordering Honduras to the north, this volcanic black sandy beach is lined with palm trees and offers nothing else but deep blue ocean scattered with a few fishing boats.

The landscape

The stunning beaches, however, are not the only attraction in Nicaragua. This country has much more to offer in the nature department. Known as the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes, it boasts 24 volcanoes as well as many rivers, lakes, swamps and lagoons, which are often visited by migrating birds. The two coasts are connected through the waters of the Rio San Juan and Lake Nicaragua.

With this tremendous ecological diversity come many different habitats and landscapes. 70 unique eco-systems house a wide variety of animal species like hummingbirds, howler monkeys, sloths, anteaters, whales, bull sharks, sting rays, sea turtles and iguanas.

In the eastern part of the country you’ll find rainforest in the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, and tropical dry forest grows at the Pacific side of Nicaragua. At higher elevations, you can find cloud forests, where clouds float around volcanic peaks and mountain tops creating an extraordinary type of vegetation. In the middle of Lake Nicaragua sit two volcanoes on the island of Ometepe, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the world’s largest volcanic island in a freshwater lake.

The neighbours

With so much to offer, you’ll have no problem filling your itinerary with just one country, but there’s one more plus point to visiting Nicaragua. If you have the time, you’re in a perfect position to venture south to visit the lush jungles of Costa Rica or sail through the picturesque San Blas Islands in Panama to Colombia.

If you prefer travelling up north, you could stop in Utila, Honduras, for some inexpensive diving lessons on your way to discover the cultural gems of Guatemala or the incredible number of cays and sun-kissed shores of Belize.

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