This week’s dream: Nicaragua before the crowds arrive
When considering a vacation in Nicaragua—land of seven active volcanoes—“ the greatest risk might be waiting to visit,” said David Rennie in 1843 magazine. With its lush jungles, nearly empty beaches, and mansion- filled colonial towns, the Central American nation is primed to be discovered by foreign tourists looking for an alternative to pricier Costa Rica. Though Nicaragua is a poor country, it “packs a lot into a small area”—as my family and I discovered when we spent a magical two weeks there this past summer during the so-called rainy season. We rode horses along the shore of Lake Nicaragua, took surfing lessons in the Pacific, and zip-lined through towering cedar trees on an old coffee plantation. Rarely did we need reservations.
In León, a city whose colonial architecture rivals anything in Mexico or Cuba, we climbed to the roof of the cathedral to take in views of the volcanoes stretching out along the nation’s Pacific coast. Because every surface of the church is whitewashed, walking amid its rooftop cupolas “feels like being in an avant-garde film about the afterlife.” The volcanoes we saw from the roof proved thrilling up close, too. At the “seethingly active” Volcán de Masaya, a park guard chided visitors who tarried more than their allotted five minutes at the volcano’s lip, but he had to shout to be heard over the lava roaring far below. On Cerro Negro, the region’s youngest volcano, we hauled rented boards up the cone’s slope, and after donning protective jumpsuits, slid back down on the soft ash.
Among Nicaragua’s many unique landscapes, the best might be Isla de Ometepe, an island in Lake Nicaragua that was formed by two volcanoes now linked by a narrow isthmus. Ometepe proved a wonderfully languid place, “down to the Sunday baseball games played between villages.” Staying at a hotel near the summit of the island’s inactive volcano, we woke each morning to the bellow of howler monkeys and spent hours in the open-sided restaurant soaking in views that were “worthy of a Bond villain’s lair.”
At Isla de Ometepe’s Totoco Eco-Lodge (totoco.com.ni), lodges start at $99.