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Undiscovered Nicaragua and El Salvador

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Nicaragua has been developing a discreet, eco-friendly approach to tourism for some years while El Salvador now presents its Mayan sites, colonial cities, delightful rural drives and the El Imposible National Park. On this holiday you'll be among the first to discover their natural beauty and unpretentious charm. The people of both countries are among the most hospitable in Latin America.

The two newcomers on the radar of adventurous travellers, Nicaragua and El Salvador, share gorgeous landscapes of volcanoes, lakes, palm-fringed beaches, fertile slopes smothered in coffee bushes, and a diversity of flora and fauna. Both have only relatively recently emerged from a period of political turbulence: the impressive level of reconciliation between formerly warring factions has resulted in the creation of two of perhaps the most appealing and friendly countries on the continent. They cannot be compared with the big hitters of Mexico, Peru and Brazil in terms of mind-boggling attractions but their scantily populated rural landscapers of chains of volcanoes, coffee plantations, lakes and remote rivers combine to create a captivating destination.      

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in the colonial city of Granada and transfer to your hotel.

Day 2

Guided city tour and visit to Masaya volcano.

Day 3

Fly to San Carlos; travel by boat along Rio San Juan to El Castillo.

Day 4

Hike in Indo Maíz Biosphere Reserve; river kayaking; guided fortress tour.

Day 5

Return by boat to San Carlos, continue to Ometepe Island.

Days 6-7

At leisure to cycle, hike, ride a horse or sit on the beach.

Day 8

By ferry to the mainland, drive to León.

Day 9

At leisure in this University city.

Day 10

Road transfer to Perquín, El Salvador.

Day 11

Visit el Mazote and Museo de la Revolución.

Day 12

By road to Suchitoto.

Day 13

Walking tour of Suchitoto.

Day 14

Drive along Ruta de las Flores to Ataco.

Day 15

Trekking in El Imposible National Park.

Day 16

By road to Costa del Sol on the coast.

Day 17-18

At leisure on the coast.

Day 19

Transfer to San Salvador airport for international flight home.

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Places visited on this holiday

Undiscovered Nicaragua and El Salvador

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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.

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Gulf of Fonseca and Eastern El Salvador
Meanguera Island

The 261km of Pacific coastline and the islands of the Gulf of Fonseca are shared by El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras. It’s a hot, steamy place: the vegetation is predominately mangrove, with tangled wetland forests stifling the shore, beyond which are rugged volcanic hills.  The long neglected islands host modest sandy coves and small fishing communities. La Unión, the main port of entry from Nicaragua and ferry port for the islands, is also having a revival. Some of the country’s best beaches are in the area, and, in the little-visited east, Perquín is great mountain-hiking and bird watching territory with important revolutionary significance.

When to go

The Gulf receives the majority of its abundant rainfall May-Nov; travel is more pleasant in the dry season Jun-Nov although rare hurricanes or tropical storms may occur at this time. The temperature along the coast hovers around 30°C all year, but it is cooler inland and in the mountains around Perquín (26°C).

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

US dollar. The former local currency ( colon) was phased out in 2003. You can obtain US dollar cash or exchange travellers cheques locally in banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) and may be able to obtain cash advances from a couple of ATMs in main towns and cities. You should authorise your bank first, and withdrawals may be limited. There are money changers at frontier crossings. Acquire your dollar bills before travelling to the region.

Time difference

Time difference:  GMT -6 hrs.

Combines with

 Ruta del las Flores, it’s a 4-5hr drive to Juayúa from Perquín.

Getting there

There are land crossings from Honduras.  Access is possible by boat across the Gulf of Fonseca to La Unión from Potosí, Nicaragua (2hrs).

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Suchitoto

The enchanting colonial town of Suchitoto (‘place of birds and flowers’) just a short drive north from the capital, is one of the country’s most popular attractions. It has emerged from its pivotal role in the civil war to blossom as a centre for arts and culture. Visitors flock to explore the cobbled lanes flanked by squat, red-roofed adobe houses, its exquisite chalk-white baroque church and viewpoints over the surrounding countryside. But it is not just a tourist destination; much of its appeal lies in the fact that it is still a working town, with boutique hotels sitting alongside thriving markets.

When to go

Suchitoto has a tropical climate all year round with temperatures hovering around 30°C. The dry season is Nov-Apr. The rainy season, May-Oct, is characterised by mostly evening and nocturnal showers. Weekends in the town are lively, with artistic performances taking place on many Saturdays. The February arts festival is a big attraction and well attended.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

US dollar. The former local currency( colon) was phased out in 2003. You can obtain US dollar cash or exchange travellers cheques locally in banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) and may be able to obtain cash advances from a couple of ATMs in Suchitoto among other large towns and cities. You should authorise your bank first, and withdrawals may be limited.

Time difference

GMT -6 hrs

Combines with

A visit to the lovely colonial town of Antigua in Guatemala, similarly a centre for the arts (6-7hrs by road crossing the land border at La Hechadura); the Ruta del las Flores (112km by road to Juayúa, 1hr 45mins).

Getting there

The town is a 1.5hr drive from San Salvador via the Panamerican Highway.

Key events
Festival Permanente de Arte y Cultura, Suchitoto, Feb annually. An important festival with many events attracting international performers: opera, concerts, theatre and film are all represented.  
Semana Santa, Easter.  Among other religious celebrations, a victorious figure of Christ parades through town on an ass on Palm Sunday. There are also street mosaics blanketing a selection of roads.
Día de la Cruz, Suchitoto, 3 May. Processions with fruit and flowers and sweets offered to Santa Cruz. 
Fiesta del Aniversario el 15 de Julio, Suchitoto, 15 Jul. Colourful folklore presentations throughout the town. 
Fiestas Patronales Virgen de Santa Lucia, Suchitoto, 12-13 Dec. Many cultural activities including masked performances and processions in honour of the town’s patron saint.

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Ruta de las Flores
Ataco

This extremely scenic 36km route in the hilly western zone, near the Guatemalan border, passes through the principal coffee-growing region. It links several highland towns, including Ataco, Nahuizalco, Juayúa and Apaneca. The route starts in Sonsonate in a lowland area devoted to cattle-raising and plantation agriculture, climbing to the Pipil indigenous village of Nahuizalco, where some older inhabitants wear native costume and where traditional crafts are practised. At the northern end of the route, Apaneca is a peaceful town of cobbled lanes. The region is also famous for its traditional dancing – over 30 have been identified.

When to go
The best time to take this route is in the dry, season Oct-Feb when plants are in flower (preferably at the weekend when there is a gastronomic festival in the town of Juayúa and the towns are generally livelier than during the week). In May, the coffee plants are in bloom over the hillsides, a glorious sight. It is cooler in the mountains than on the coast.
Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

US dollar. The former local currency( colon) was phased out in 2003. You can obtain US dollar cash or exchange travellers cheques locally in banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) and may be able to obtain cash advances via the few ATMs in larger towns and cities. You should authorise your bank first, and withdrawals may be limited.  Stock up with dollars before setting out on the route.

Time difference

GMT -6 hrs.

Combines with

A visit to the lovely colonial town of Suchitoto, now a centre for culture and the arts; surf and surf lessons on the beaches at El Tunco, El Zonte, El Zunsal and La Libertad, easily accessed from Sonsonate.

Getting there

A visit to the lovely colonial town of Suchitoto, now a centre for culture and the arts; surf and surf lessons on the beaches at El Tunco, El Zonte, El Zunsal and La Libertad, easily accessed from Sonsonate.

Key events
Semana Santa, Easter, throughout El Salvador. Celebrated from Thursday through to Easter Sunday.
Fiesta 19-25 Jun. A religious occasion with music and dancing, including the Danza de los Historiantes exploring the conflict between heretics and Christians.
Christmas festival, Sonsonate, 24-5 Dec. Includes the Danza de los Pastores. 

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Pacific Coast
Pacific Coast
El Salvador’s Pacific coastline is punctuated with small fishing communities and although tourism is in its infancy, there is a range of accommodation available from large, all inclusive resorts to small eco-conscious lodges. Beaches vary from soft white sandy bays to dark volcanic ones. Most of the coast is accessible by road and is generally less than 3hrs hours from the capital San Salvador.  

Rugged bays with big breaks are a haven for surfing enthusiasts and many international competitions have been held here. For nature enthusiasts there are 4 species of turtle which frequent the Pacific coast, in addition to an abundance of wading birds. That said, the majority of people who visit the coast just kick back, relax and enjoy juicy sea food washed down with a cold beer.  

When to go

The Pacific coast has a tropical climate all year round with temperatures hovering around 30°C. The dry season is Nov-Apr. The rainy season, May-Oct, is characterised by mostly evening and nocturnal showers.  El Salvador is an important area for the the endangered Eastern Pacific hawksbill.  Nesting months are May and October. Leatherback turtles can also be seen between October and January.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

El Salvador uses the US dollar. The former local currency (colon) was phased out in 2003. You can obtain US dollar cash locally in banks and exchange houses and may be able to obtain cash advances from a couple of ATMs in Suchitoto among other large towns and cities. You should authorise your bank first, and withdrawals may be limited.

Time difference

GMT -6 hrs.  

Combines with

A visit to the lovely colonial town of Suchitoto, or Antigua in Guatemala; similarly a centre for the arts (6-7hrs by road crossing the land border at La Hechadura); the Ruta del las Flores (112km by road to Juayúa, 1hr 45mins). 

Getting there

The area of Costa del Sol is only a 1.5hr drive from San Salvador

Key events

Gastronomic festival of seafood in La Libertad in May.

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

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Undiscovered Nicaragua and El Salvador

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