Nicaragua is a fantastic country, geographically speaking, full of amazing adventure activities. With plenty of volcanoes (both active and inactive), 2 oceans, jungles and tons of wildlife you’ll never be at a loss of what to do while visiting. I spent a few weeks exploring this incredible outdoor playground and compiled this list of adventures for anyone thinking of visiting.
Hike a Volcano
Head north to Leon and you’ll have numerous volcanoes just waiting to be conquered! While there are volcanoes all over Nicaragua, the largest concentration of hike-able ones are within a few hrs drive from Leon, so this makes a great starting point. Some can be done in a day while others offer a chance to camp overnight.
Many tour companies offer 1 day and multi-day hikes, sometimes up more than one volcano. I was supposed to do a 2 day, 1 night camping trip up Telica Volcano. I choose this one for its amazing night time views into its crater were you can see active lava boiling and bubbling! Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans and my trip got cancelled due to the high number of earthquakes that had been shaking up the country during my visit. The military closed access to all active volcanoes as a precaution but a few days later, they re-opened them and I was able to do an evening hike up Telica.
Although I didn’t get to camp out over night, I still got the chance to see the active lava flows and watch an incredible sunset behind San Cristobal Volcano! There are too many volcano treks to list them all here, but you can check out different tour operators to find the one that interests you. I ended up going with Tierra Tours, which was a fantastic, well organized company that uses locals as their guides. Quetzaltrekkers is a wonderful volunteer run operation that works on donations and I’ve heard great things about (they were the company I was supposed to go with for my overnight hike up Telica).
During my stay on Ometepe Island, I went on a wonderful trek part way up Maderas Volcano (the smaller of the two that make up Ometepe). We started out hiking through banana farms and cow pastures, gradually making our way up into the jungle that blankets the volcano.
As we entered the jungle, the humidity overwhelmed us, as did the wailing echos of the howler monkeys who inhabit the tree tops. We took our time and our guide pointed out, on two separate occasions, groups of these primates hanging out in the jungle canopy. It was incredible to watch these wild animals in their natural environment, right above our heads! We also saw the Motmot, Nicaragua’s national bird, Blue Jays, and lizards. Many tour companies and hotels/hostels on Ometepe offer jungle treks and hikes up the islands two volcanoes. I would advise going with a guide as you could easily get lost in the jungle and might miss out on spotting some of the wildlife!
One of my favorite ways to explore a country! Viewing the country form the back of a horse allows you to see the world from a different view point, access areas that you would otherwise not have seen, allows you to connect with animals and your natural environment and adds a bit of excitement to your day! Horseback riding tours are available pretty much anywhere and everywhere in Nicaragua. I did a tour with the surf camp I was staying at, that included riding along a beautiful stretch of deserted beach along the Pacific coast, as well as a walk through the jungle. We even toured through a small fishing village!
Swim in the Crater Lake of an Extinct Volcano
Yep that’s right, you can actually go swim and hang out in the thermally heated waters in the crater of an extinct volcano! Laguna Apoyo is an easy 1 hr drive form Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua and a great way to spend a hot day relaxing. The volcanic crater has many little resorts dotted around the edge of the water. You can stay for the night or make a day trip out of it. There’s not much in the way of beaches, as it is a crater after all, and requires a steep 800 m decent to get down to the water level (your taxi will take you).
I stayed at La Abuela which has cute little cabins for sleeping and a large restaurant on a deck overlooking the water. There’s a large dock to jump off of into the water and they offer kayaks and a few other toys to play with, including a floating dock. You can set yourself up on a nice deck chair for the day and have the waiters deliver drinks right to you while you enjoy the incredible view point of actually being inside the crater of a volcano!
Scuba Dive / Snorkel
I was absolutely thrilled to live out a lifelong dream of mine and go scuba diving on a reef. I had the chance to try this while exploring the beautiful, postcard picture perfect Corn Islands in the Caribbean. The waters are exceptionally clear and underwater aquatic life in this area is amazing as there are many reefs surrounding the Corn Islands. I went with a PADI certified company called Dolphin Dive, located on Little Corn Island. They offered PADI uncertified newbies like me a chance to try a dive before investing in the full course.
It was such an incredible experience to be right there in “the wild” with sting rays, nurse sharks, sea turtles, and the dozens of brightly covered tropical fish swimming about a living reef! I will definitely be getting my PADI certification in the near future and this was a highlight of the trip for me. For those who aren’t scuba divers, the snorkeling on the Corn Islands is just as impressive and you can see the same amazing ocean life and reefs. Many of the hotels and dive shops rent out snorkeling equipment and run boat tours out to the reefs.
A classic adventure activity on the backpacker trail, volcano boarding is a must do. Most every tour company in Leon offers the chance to hike Cerro Negro, put on an oversize painters suit, strap on some goggles and bomb down the side of this active volcano on sleds or snowboards. Speed control was surprisingly easy but the more you apply the brakes, the more volcanic sand and stone gets thrown in your face (believe me, I speak from experience!). It’s truly a rush of adrenaline and the views of the surrounding volcanoes is fantastic. I went with Tierra Tours for this one.
With 2 oceans bordering this country, it’s not a question of should you, it’s simply a matter of where. Most people head to the south western town of San Juan Del Sur, infamous for its surfing, nightlife and many tourists who visit there. I didn’t have a chance to check out the surf in this area but instead, opted for an absolutely amazing surf camp, further up the Pacific coast in the Chinandega province. Rise Up Surf Camp is located in the countryside and offers an all-inclusive option. They’ll pick you up at the airport in Managua and your stay includes all your meals (including drinks!), surf lessons, surf board rentals, daily yoga and usually one other afternoon activity. This place was truly a paradise and the waves in this area were perfect for beginners like me, but also catered to the more advanced. Surfing in Nicaragua should be at the top of your must-do adventure list!
Stand-up Paddle Boarding
Available in many areas and at various resorts, stand-up paddle boarding is a fun way to explore the area by water. I had a chance to try this while staying on Little Corn Island and rented a board for an hour from one of the restaurants located along the beach. They were a lot tippier than I expected but it was a great way to get out on the water and take in the view from a different perspective.
Lake Nicaragua Boat Tour
If you’re in Granada and have a few hours to spare, I highly recommend going on a boat tour of Los Islets (or Islets of Granada). Set against the backdrop of dominating Mombacho Volcano, covered in lush green jungle, it boats spectacular views in most any direction. Its a small archipelago made up of about 365 islands and is home to many different species of wildlife that you can view from the boat. Some of the islands have elaborate vacation homes while other house some of the permanent residences who live among the islands.
Here’s a list of other outdoor adventure activities that I didn’t get a chance to try out for myself, but are definitely on my list for next time!
Kite Boarding Deep Sea Fishing
Zip Lines Boat Tour in the Estuaries
I had a wonderful time exploring Nicaragua and partaking in its many adventure activities. This country is makes for a cheaper alternative to its more expensive southern neighbor, Costa Rica, in terms of food, transportation and accommodation, though activities seem comparable in price. I plan on returning one day to try out a few more experiences that I didn’t have time for this round.