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Self-drive Nicaragua: Adventures by road

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In your pre-booked hire car you will drive at your own leisurely pace, with the freedom to stop off at interesting little market towns or a panoramic viewpoint and still be at your next pre-booked hotel in plenty of time for a sun-downer on your hotel terrace.

Nicaragua is one of Latin America’s remaining true adventure destinations. For decades preoccupied with internal struggle, now reconciled, this friendly country remains little developed for tourism, especially compared to its neighbour Costa Rica. The amiable republic soldiers on at its own slow pace, following the rhythms of age-old traditions and an unpressured economy.

But that is where its appeal lies: gorgeous rural scenery, crossed by virtually empty roads where you are more likely to come across cattle being herded by cowboys or rickety overloaded buses than queues of cars. Whether driving west or east over the continental divide you are never far from a spectacular volcanic view. The landscape is peppered with colonial cities, tropical forest reserves and defined by a rugged stretch of golden Pacific coast. 

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Managua, transfer to hotel in a smart residential district.

Day 2

Pick up your car, drive to Matagalpa and Selva Negra.

Day 3

At leisure in the Selva Negra Cloud Forest Reserve.

Day 4

Drive to León.

Day 5

Guided tour of León.

Day 6

Drive from León to Granada via Masaya.

Day 7

Guided tour of Granada.

Day 8

At leisure in Granada.

Day 9

Drive from Granada to San Juan del Sur.

Day 10

At leisure on the Pacific coast.

Day 11

Drive back to Managua airport, drop off car, take international flight.

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Places visited on this holiday

Self-drive Nicaragua: Adventures by road

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Granada
The gorgeous colonial city of Granada is a paradox: now the country’s principal emblem of restoration and beautification, it has a history of piracy and pillage. The oldest city in Central America is nowadays quiet, peaceful and easily explored on foot, but increasingly seen by foreigners as an attractive place to buy a home, as is the case in Antigua, Guatemala or San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.  Squatting on the lakeshore and at the foot of Mombacho volcano it has a romantic setting almost unequalled on the continent.
When to go

Granada has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures all year round May-Nov is rainy season, but the countryside looks its best at this time. It can be windy Nov - Feb. Hurricanes possible Jun - Nov.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Córdoba. There are several banks with ATMs where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have to ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK and amounts may be limited.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with
A visit to Granada’s historical rival, colonial León (114 km); Ometepe Island, reached by road and ferry (50 km).
Getting there

An hour’s drive from Managua.

Key events

La Hípica, Granada, 2nd week Sep. Horse riding events preceded by bull running through the town’s streets.

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Matagalpa and the north
Selva Negra

Matagalpa is a breath of fresh mountainous air where liberal descendants of coffee plantation owners rub shoulders with Sandinista-supporting subsistence farmers.

The cool climate is perfect for growing vegetables and grazing cattle while  pristine cloud forest provides the perfect environment for shade-grown coffee and is a boon for birders and hikers.  In addition to coffee, Nicaragua’s best chocolate is produced in this area. Matagalpa is also the birth place of Sandinista founder, Carlos Fonseca: the house  is now a small museum.

When to go

Matagalpa and the north have a typical tropical climate with high temperatures (30°C upwards) all year round. May - Oct is rainy season, but the countryside looks its best at this time. Hurricanes possible Jun - Nov.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

The currrency is the Córdoba. The Bank of America Central in Matagalpa has exchange facilities and ATMs where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have to ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and withdrawal amounts may be limited.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with

A visit to revolutionary León’s and its historical rival, colonial Granada.

Getting there

From Managua it’s a 2-2.5 hour drive to Matagalpa (130km), about the same from Léon (117km) and from Granada (152 km), 2.5 hours.

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León Map
Like Granada, the core of Nicaragua’s second city and intellectual capital is brimful with red-tiled colonial-style buildings but, unlike its peaceful rival, effervesces with artistic and political energy.

Founded in Nicaragua’s plantation-covered northwest corner, León Viejo (now being excavated) was the capital of the country until destroyed by an earthquake in 1609. A city with a strong religious tradition, it hosts a dozen crumbly churches juxtaposed with murals depicting events from Nicaragua’s revolutionary story. There’s a university and its students enliven the nightlife scene.
When to go

León has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures (30°C upwards) all year round. May - Oct is rainy season, but the countryside looks its best at this time. Hurricanes possible Jun - Nov.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Córdoba. There are several banks with ATMs where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have to ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and withdrawal amounts may be limited.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with
A visit to León’s historical rival, colonial Granada (114 km); Matagalpa, a northern mountain town in coffee country close to the Selva Negra Nature cloud forest reserve. (115 km).
Getting there

From Managua (75 km) it’s a 1 hour drive to León, from Granada (114 km), 2 hours.

Key events

Semana Santa, Easter.  Religious ceremonies and processions with a street carpet of designs created in sawdust, not unlike Antigua’s (Guatemala) carpet of flowers.

Día de la Concepción, León, 7 Dec. Fiesta with dancing, music and fireworks.

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Pacific coast
Pacific Coast

On the Pacific side yawning beaches defined by jungle-covered cliffs are pounded by agitated rollers. It’s an isolated coastline but gradually being opened up to eco-tourism and  development. San Juan del Sur is a pleasant base for surfers.
When to go
The coast has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures all year round May - Nov is rainy season, but rain is usually restricted to short tropical showers and the foliage is beautifully verdant. The coastal forest dries out in the dry season; in Dec/Jan it is still green but there is little rain. The sunniest and driest months are Feb - Apr. Easter and Christmas holidays are very busy. Hurricanes possible Jun - Nov.
Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Córdoba. Notes can be obtained from exchange houses and also from banks which will supply advances on a debit or credit card. There are ATMs in large towns where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have to ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and amounts may be limited. Obtain your local currency needs before travelling to the coast.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with
A stay on laid-back, but Latin, Ometepe Island on Lake Nicaragua; a visit to colonial Granada on the shores of the lake; a boat adventure down the tropical San Juan river near the frontier with Costa Rica; a stay on the tranquil historically and culturally fascinating islands of Solentiname in the southern part of Lake Nicaragua.
Getting there

It’s a 3 hour drive from Managua to San Juan del Sur.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

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