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Signature Nicaragua: Fire, water and revolution

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The variety you will discover on your highlights holiday is staggering - the volcanic and jungle-choked scenery, timeless colonial cities, cultures ranging from Spanish to indigenous communities: you could extend your trip to visit its English speaking Caribbean Corn islands.

Nicaragua, following a history of political and economic upheavals is now a peaceful and congenial place which has become impressively reconciled with the conflicts of its past. Visitors are increasingly drawn to its wonderfully unspoilt landscapes, where the bucolic tranquillity of countryside little changed over the centuries has as its counterpoint seething volcanoes and the legacy of earthquakes in times gone by.

Here you’ll find a couple of the continent’s finest Spanish colonial cities, Granada and León. Spruced up now, with their central Spanish cores faithfully restored, they have a real historical atmosphere, with lovely old mansions, baroque churches and cobbled lanes.

Beyond, rising from the vast silvery waters of Lake Nicaragua is the dozy island Ometepe, whose isolation has protected it from the political upheavals of the past, and held back modern development. Rio San Juan is too important a river to be called a backwater, but its jungle-fringed banks have a timeless, wilderness feel, and the quaint little port of wooden houses on stilts, El Castillo, will make you feel you are on a real adventure of discovery.

There’s more: alongside the cowboy cattle country, quiet, yawning, pure-gold Pacific beaches and rolling coffee plantations: think about an extension to make your holiday complete.

Holiday itinerary

UK clients depart, arriving Managua, Nicaragua, the same day.

Day 1

Transfer to your hotel in the capital.

Day 2

Drive to San Carlos; by boat along Rio San Juan to El Castillo; caiman spotting.

Day 3

Nature walk in Indo Maíz Biosphere Reserve; guided fortress tour.

Day 4

Return by boat to San Carlos, continue to Granada.

Day 5

Guided tour of colonial Granada, lake boat trip to las Isletas.

Day 6

By ferry to Ometepe island with its twin volcanoes.

Day 7

Guided tour of the island, its nature reserves and pre-Columbian artefacts.

Day 8

By ferry to the mainland, drive to León.

Day 9

At leisure in this University city, traditional centre of rebellion.

Day 10

Road transfer to Managua airport for international flight home.

UK clients arrive home the following day

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Places visited on this holiday

Signature Nicaragua: Fire, water and revolution

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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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Rio San Juan
The beautiful 170km-long Rio San Juan marks the border with Costa Rica and runs from Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean Sea. Strategically important, it has a hectic history of disputes and attacks from outside Nicaragua and within. The remarkable fortress at El Castillo, built by the Spanish to repel pirates (although Horatio Nelson briefly held it after capture by stealth), bears witness to that. However it’s now a peaceful waterway passing through thick tropical jungle, where efforts are being made to encourage eco-tourism. Downstream from El Castillo is the primary rainforest of the Reserva Biológica Indio Maíiz, possibly the largest nature reserve in Central America.
When to go

Situated well within the tropics, Rio San Juan has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures all year round. May - Nov is rainy season, but places on the eastern coast, the Caribbean side, tend to be rather wetter, and to have a longer rainy season, than those on the Pacific coast to the west. There’s a risk of tropical storms or hurricanes Jun - Nov.

Language

Spanish, English.

Getting local currency
Córdoba. Notes can be obtained from money exchanges (casas de cambio) 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. There is no ATM in el Castillo, bring dollars and córdobas with you. Obtain your local currency needs before travelling to Rio San Juan.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with

A stay at Morgan’s Rock, the well regarded eco-lodge on the Pacific Coast; a few days in the tranquil tropical islands of Solentiname in the southern part of the lake, a 1 hour boat ride from San Carlos at the source of the river.

Getting there

San Carlos, at the lake end of the river, is reached by air from Managua (1hr) or by scenic drive through rolling cattle country on a paved (in 2013) road (3-4hrs). El Castillo is accessible by river from San Carlos, although a bridge makes road access possible from 2014. San Juan del Norte is accessed from Nicaragua by air or by road (3-4hrs) to San Carlos then by river via el Castillo (8-9hrs); there is an erratic service to Bluefields.

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Ometepe Island
Ometepe Island
Relaxed, tranquil Ometepe  - the largest freshwater island in the world, rising from Lake Nicaragua, is dominated by the twin volcanoes of Concepción and Maderas. There’s a timeless feel to the place, where legends and jaguar cults are still in circulation, and the people lead a traditional rural lifestyle avoiding the boisterous political events of the country.  The volcanic landscapes are partially blanketed with luxuriant jungle vegetation populated by monkeys and a plethora of bird species. Thanks to the rich, fertile soil, the slopes and flatter parts of the island are peppered with citrus, banana, watermelon, avocado and cacao plantations.
When to go

The island has a typical tropical climate with high temperatures all year round at low altitude. 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’s a bank with an ATM close to the pier 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 colonial Granada on the lakeshore; a boat adventure down the tropical San Juan river to the west of the lake. 
Getting there

There are boat connections from Granada and San Carlos, or a 1 hour public ferry from San Jorge to Moyogalpa.

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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.

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

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Our specialists have been expertly crafting award-winning tailor-made holidays to Latin America for over 37 years.
We would be delighted to create a truly personalised trip which perfectly matches your wishes and requirements.

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