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Private Journeys

Signature Nicaragua: Fire, water and revolution

10 days from £2,210pp



map marker Map

Day 1

Arrive in Managua. Transfer to your hotel in the capital.

You will be met at the airport by out local representative who will accompany you on the transfer to your hotel in the capital, Managua. 

Day 2

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

Travel along the shores of Lake Nicaragua, the second largest body of freshwater in the Americas, using the new yet still little-used road through rolling cattle country and small cowboy towns, to San Carlos on the south-eastern shores of the lake.

The liveliest part of quiet and somewhat ramshackle San Carlos is down by the pier: ferries and private launches jostle for space with fishing boats. The roads from the north end here: to travel east to the settlements along Rio San Juan you have to take a boat. 

You’ll embark on a 90-minute river journey by river. The banks are initially farmed, with fields of maize and grazing cattle punctuated by small jetties and rural homes. However, as you travel downstream, the vegetation gradually becomes dominated by natural tropical forest. There’s plenty of wildlife to be seen: scores of snowy ibis alight upon the branches overhanging the water and you may spot monkeys swinging through the taller trees or a caiman lazing on naked logs.

You turn a bend in the river to be greeted by a spectacular and unexpected sight: on a rare hilltop a vast, stone-built Spanish fortress glowering over a series of white-water rapids and the squat, wooden stilted houses of the quirky little port El Castillo.

In the evening, go searching for caimans by boat under the moonlight, accompanied only by a specialist guide. As you glide for 90 minutes through the darkness, a journey orchestrated by the nocturnal sounds of the rainforest, the guide will be using a spotlight to reflect the beady red eye of caimans (alligators) at repose in the tropical vegetation along the water’s edge.

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Day 3

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

Just 3km downstream from El Castillo you reach the Indio – Maíz Biosphere Reserve, dedicated to the preservation and research of its biological diversity. Set off with your guide on the 2km Bartola Trail, a clear path which winds its way through the forest, which is replete with tall, thick-waisted trees overhanging, outsized tropical plants with huge waxy leaves, and ferns sheltering poison-dart frogs not much larger than a fingernail. You may be lucky and spot a family of monkeys watching you from the safety of a branch; or a battalion of leaf-cutter ants may cross your path. If the weather and river levels allow you can kayak along the San Juan or Bartola river spotting sunbathing turtles and caimans.

El Castillo fortress, the oldest building in Nicaragua, dating back to 1673, was founded by the Spanish to protect the affluent trading city of Granada from what they considered to be European pirates. This location was chosen because the fort could be constructed on the top of a relatively high hill, from which the soldiers could have a 360 degree view of the jungle around and the river approaches: the fort was also protected by the presence of the rapids below. You will be escorted on a tour of the fort, with its silent cannons; you can enjoy the expansive views with a more pacific intent. Illustrated boards relate the story, including the capture and brief tenure of the fort by the British Navy led by Horatio Nelson (aged 22).

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Day 4

Return by boat to San Carlos, continue to Granada.

Return by boat to San Carlos, travel by road through the back waters of rural Nicaragua to the beautiful colonial town of Granada, on the shores of Lake Nicaragua.  Here, it appears to the observer as an inland sea, with silky silver waves tipped by white horses when the wind blows.

Founded in 1524, Granada lies at the foot of Mombacho volcano and is the oldest city in the New World.. At its height, it became very rich on the back of the gold trade. The city was regularly plundered by pirates and completely razed by American mercenary William Walker at the beginning of the 19th century. However, Granada has since been wonderfully restored and its colourful colonial houses and cobbled streets that run down to the shores of Lake Nicaragua are a delight.

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Day 5

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

Take a private guided city tour of Granada, visiting its colonial churches, strolling down the narrow streets and passing graceful colonial houses. Many of the places of interest are within the vicinity of the main square. These include the beautiful, baroque La Merced church, the Casa de Los Tres Mundos – now a cultural centre for local musicians and dancers; and the 16th-century San Francisco convent.

Embark on a small launch for a relaxing boat ride in the sheltered waters around the peaceful Isletas, hundreds of tiny, bright green and thickly forested islands created by eruptions from the bulky Mombacho volcano which looms over the region. Depending on the weather and time of day, you may observe prolific bird life. Small fishing communities live here and some islands host impressive weekend retreats owned by wealthy Nicaraguans.

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Day 6

By ferry to Ometepe island with its twin volcanoes.

Embark a ferry to take you across the lake to Ometepe Island (1hr). The relaxed, tranquil island rises majestically from Lake Nicaragua. It is dominated by twin conical volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas. The island is partially blanketed with lush jungle vegetation populated by monkeys and a plethora of bird species.

The island is also peppered with citrus, banana, watermelon, avocado and cacao plantations – thanks to the island’s fertile volcanic soil. Life here has been unchanging for decades if not centuries, in spite of the upheavals caused by revolution and civil war elsewhere. Only one road has been fully paved, and this, along with the fact that it is only reached by boat, has ensured the enduring feeling of remoteness. Your hotel overlooks the loveliest beach on the islands, fringed by waving palms.

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Day 7

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

Guided tour of the island which only has one proper road, circumnavigating it close to the coast. Among other varied activities, visit the little El Ceibo museum of pre-Columbian art and petroglyphs scattered around the island.

You’ll stroll through an attractive nature reserve, Charco Verde, where palm trees and densely-packed, fruit-bearing tropical vegetation define the lake shore, which is indented with small volcanic beaches. The reserve is enlivened by the presence of over 200 howler monkeys, and by the calls of migratory and indigenous birds.


Day 8

By ferry to the mainland, drive to León.

Take the ferry back to San Jorge and proceed to the city León.

León was founded in 1524 and moved to its present site after being devastated by an earthquake in 1610. Formerly Nicaragua’s capital, it has retained much of its ecclesiastical and intellectual heritage. Many of the building walls are daubed with colourful Sandinista and anti-American murals and riddled with bullet holes – a poignant symbol of Nicaragua’s turbulent past.

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Day 9

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

Explore the city during your day at leisure.

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Day 10

Road transfer to Managua airport for international flight home.

By road to Managua airport for your international flight home.

Inspired by this trip

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.


Your edit for Latin American inspiration

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

View Extraordinary Inspiration

Real Latin America Experts

  • Carrie Gallagher
    Carrie Gallagher - Travel Expert

    A former JLA tour leader, Carrie brings a wealth of on-the-ground experience to our London-based Tailor-made and Group Tours department.

  • Paul Winrow Giffen
    Paul Winrow-Giffin - Travel Expert

    After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.

  • Lina Fuller
    Lina Fuller - Travel Expert

    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba (Argentina) to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

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    Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Head of Sales.

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    Kathryn backpacked across Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru before joining us. She has a degree in Philosophy and French and is a keen netball player.

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    Hannah Donaldson - Travel Expert

    Having spent part of her childhood in Colombia and worked in Brazil and Costa Rica, Hannah's ties to Latin America run deep. Hannah is a much valued Travel Expert in our Tailor-made Holidays and Group Tours sales team.

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