Private Journeys

Undiscovered Nicaragua and El Salvador

19 days from £4,072pp

Nicaragua / El Salvador


map marker Map

Day 1

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

You will be met at the airport by our local representative who will accompany you on the onehour drive to Granada.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 2

Guided city tour and visit to Masaya volcano.

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.

Granada is on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, the second largest body of freshwater in the Americas. It appears to the observer as an inland sea, with silky silver waves tipped by white horses when the wind blows.  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.

Continuing by road to the summit of the smoking cone of the Masaya volcano. Climb a clear path to the Santiago crater, active since 1946. You can look down into the crater, where swirling sulphurous vapour conceals any fiery embers. There are wide-ranging views over the countryside and the lakes. On the way back to Granada, stop off at the Masaya arts and crafts market specialising in traditional ceramics and hammocks.


Day 3

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

Transfer to Managua airport and fly to San Carlos (1hr) on the south-eastern shores of Lake Nicaragua. The liveliest part of this quiet and somewhat ramshackle town 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. (New roads are opening all the time including, in 2014, one to Costa Rica which will cross the river close to El Castillo: some of the remote atmosphere in those vehicle-free towns will surely be reduced as a result).

You’ll embark on a 90min 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 90mins 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.

Day 4

Hike in Indo Maíz Biosphere Reserve; river kayaking; 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).



Day 5

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

Return by boat to San Carlos, travel by road to Rivas, travelling on a new but still little-used road passing through rolling cattle country and small cowboy towns (5hrs)  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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Days 6-7

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

At leisure on Ometepe. You can go riding, cycling, or climb a volcano; visit the little El Ceibo museum of pre-Columbian art and petroglyphs scattered around the island. There’s 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.

Monkeys abound all over the place: white-faced capuchin and howler monkeys are common, spider monkeys may also be spotted.

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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.

Explore the city during your day at leisure.

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Day 10

Road transfer to Perquín, El Salvador.

An early morning transfer takes you to the border with Honduras, where cutting across the hot coastal plain of Choluteca, you soon cross another border and enter El Salvador.(approx 10 hrs)

From La Unión you will continue by private bus through the Ruta de la Paz (The Peace Route). Along the way you will visit some sites of the country's recent historical events, scenes of heavy fighting during the civil war which ended in 1992. A guide will narrate the unfolding of events in this region and tell you about its people and culture. The route passes through fertile scenery including the coffee-growing zone with its vistas across mountain valleys. In the afternoon you will arrive in the historic town of Perquín, only 3km from the border with Honduras. 

Day 11

Visit el Mazote and Museo de la Revolución.

The area around Perquín was a rebel stronghold for much of the country's civil war. El Mazote was the scene of heavy fighting between government and guerrilla forces.  A guide will explain the history of the village and the effects the war had on the country as a whole. You will then head to Rio Sapo, a protected natural area where you can enjoy a short hike and a dip in the river before returning to Perquín. Lastly you will visit the Museo de la Revolución (Revolution Museum) where your guide will show you the moving displays relating to the war and this region in particular.

Day 12

By road to Suchitoto.

Drive (4 hrs)to Suchitoto. This charming town is composed of lovely colonial buildings and cobbled streets. It is popular with artists and musicians with regular exhibitions and performances. An annual international arts festival is held in February.

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Day 13

Walking tour of Suchitoto.

Suchitoto is renowned for its strong sense of identity and even has its own anthem, flag and coat of arms. During the brutal civil war it was badly hit, but fortunately, since the peace accord, many reconstruction works have been carried out. In the native Natuatl tongue, Suchitoto means 'place of birds and flowers' which will become clear on arrival.

On your leisurely 2-3hr guided walking tour you visiting the principal attractions such as Santa Lucía Church, the Arte Para la Paz (Art for Peace) Museum and Las Ruinas Theatre, which are all set amid the white cobblestone roads, quaint balconies and adobe houses.

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Day 14

Drive along Ruta de las Flores to Ataco.

Set off by road on the 36km-long winding mountain route which links Sonsonate to Ahuachapán, known as the Ruta de las Flores (Route of the Flowers). Although it reaches 2,365m high, it is easily navigable and the roads are in good condition. As the name suggests, you'll pass fields of tropical flowers and nurseries which thrive in the cool, pleasant climate. Dotted among the flowers are small towns. You'll travel through verdant foliage as you head through the heart of El Salvador's coffee growing region. The highlights include stops in villages and market towns and ends in Ataco. 

El Salvador

Day 15

Trekking in El Imposible National Park.

Visit El Imposible National Park in the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range. The tropical forest is home to wide array of flora and fauna, and navigated via a network of jungle trails. The length of your trek depends on the time of year: during the wet season (May- Nov) it takes about 2hrs while for the rest of the year, expect to hike for roughly 5hrs. The walk reaches a lookout over the exuberant valley below and you should see lots of butterflies (Jan-Mar is best for them).

Day 16

By road to Costa del Sol on the coast.

By road to Costa del Sol via San Salvador. El Salvador’s Pacific coastline is dotted with small fishing communities and although tourism is in its infancy, there is a good range of accommodation. 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 want to take it easy and enjoy juicy sea food washed down with a cold beer. 

Your hotel sits on one of El Salvador’s most attractive beaches. There is no village close by, it’s a self contained property where you can relax and enjoy the natural environment.  

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Day 17-18

At leisure on the coast.

At leisure on the beach. Behind Costa del Sol there are some mangroves, Esteros de Jatepeque, where it is possible to take boat rides, go kayaking, bird watching or fishing. 

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Day 19

Transfer to San Salvador airport for 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.

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Real Latin America Experts

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    Paul Winrow-Giffin - Travel Consultant

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