Having experienced a real boom in recent years, Nicaragua’s tourist sector is beginning to rival that of its more lauded neighbor Costa Rica. After agriculture, tourism is now Nicaragua’s second biggest industry, with visitors commonly drawn by everything from off-the-grid ecological yoga retreats to all-inclusive resort packages.
Nicaragua stands to prosper greatly from a deal with China to fund a new inter-ocean canal through Lake Nicaragua to rival the Panama Canal, but this is not the only reason the nation has been making the news of late. Recent articles in major newspapers like the New York Times and Financial Times have lauded the Central American country as an up-and-coming tourist destination.
Tourism in Nicaragua was pioneered by surfers seeking to escape Costa Rica’s increasingly crowded waves of. Lured by tales of “offshore winds all day,” surfers have been coming in ever-increasing numbers for the past 15 years, to the point where Nicaragua has become one of Central America’s most prominent surfing destinations.
One advantage that Nicaragua holds over Costa Rica and its northern neighbor El Salvador is what is known as the “lake effect.” Nicaragua is blessed with two large inland bodies of water: Lake Managua and the vast Lake Nicaragua (also known as Lago Cocibolca, this is the largest lake in Central America). These lakes create a break in the continental divide, funneling the strong Caribbean trade winds through the narrow landmass to the Pacific Ocean, resulting in strong offshore winds for most of Nicaragua’s Pacific coast. The offshore winds groom the waves to perfection, and the mainly southwest-facing beaches pick up all the southern Pacific swells from March to November, and some northern Pacific swell from November until April, ensuring Nicaragua has year-round waves that often last all day because they’re not blown out by onshore winds.
Of course surfing and yoga are not the only things to do in this, the land of volcanoes and lakes. Granada, located on the shore of Lake Nicaragua is a beautiful colonial city with a rich history, while another must-visit attraction is “la isletas” – a group of thousands of islands created by the eruption of nearby Volcan Mombacho. It is easy to arrange a boat tour through the maze, which includes Monkey Island, home to a troupe of Capuchin monkeys, and many private islands where many prominent families have built their estates.
Other popular attractions include Laguna Apoyo, an extinct volcano that is now a national park with a beautiful serene lake open to the public for swimming and picnicking. Elsewhere, chocoholics can visit Granada’s Chocolate Museum – Nicaragua is the birthplace of chocolate and visitors to the museum can learn about its history while of course consuming in great quantities! Add volcano hikes, volcano boarding, offshore fishing and nightlife to the equation and tourists will see how Nicaragua can keep them entertained as long as their energy levels last.
For souvenir hunters the Massaya Artisan Market is the single best place to pick up mementos and high quality artwork from local artisans. One of Nicaragua’s most popular exports is Flor de Caña. Made from the sugar cane grown in the lowlands, it is one of the most famous rums in Central America and among the most acclaimed in the world. Nicaraguan cigars are also extremely sought after because they for over 60 years they have been produced by Cubans with seeds from Cuba. The local coffee, like all coffee produced in the mountains of Central America, is also excellent.
Nicaragua’s new International Terminal in Managua receives daily direct flights from Houston, Miami, San Salvador and Panama City. Once in Managua, finding transportation to outlying areas is not difficult, but visitors who want to avoid any hassle can book all-inclusive packages offered by companies such as Surf Tours Nicaragua. Surf Tours will collect guests from the airport, spirit them off to one (or both) of their two beach front locations, provide four meals per day and organize surf trips, sightseeing, fishing and nightlife outings.