Volunteering in Nicaragua brings its own rewards, but it would be a crime to travel to this remarkable country and miss out on the incredible array of experiences to be had. Here are five of the best things to do when you’re off-placement in the ‘Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.’
Climb a volcano
Located near the middle of Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe island is composed of two volcanoes: the active Concepcion and the now-dormant Maderas with its atmospheric mist-shrouded crater lake. Tough but rewarding hiking trails lead to the summits of each volcano, with local guides available.
A trip to Parque Nacional de Volcán Masaya, south of the capital Managua is a thrill unlike anything else. Here you can explore bat-filled lava tunnels, travel to the numerous neighbouring volcanic cones or take a horseback riding tour to the summit to see the vast colony of parakeets nesting inside the sulphurous crater.
Surf San Juan del Sur
This Pacific coast party town is the surfing epicentre of Nicaragua. Beaches to suit all abilities lie within a 30 minute drive of the town, so the hostels and hotels of San Juan soon fill up in the dry season. With its role as a backpacker haven comes a hectic nightlife, but secluded tropical beaches, jungle hikes and boat trips are all available if you prefer the quiet life.
Explore colonial León
Fine Spanish-colonial architecture abounds in the former capital, now Nicaragua’s second city. Wandering through the centre of the city, you can investigate a fine collection of colonial churches that sits well amongst any in Latin America, crowned by the Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Twenty miles outside the city lie the ruins of Old León. The first Spanish settlement in Nicaragua was built on the site of an earlier settlement, but was abandoned in 1610 after suffering severe damage in an earthquake. The ruins were gradually buried by layers of volcanic ash before being rediscovered in 1967.
Get away from it all in Miraflores National Park
The rivers and waterfalls of the Miraflores cloud forest should tempt any visitor, but this back of beyond paradise receives far fewer travellers than the hotspot areas of the country. You can have the trail to yourself as you trek or ride a hired horse or bike through lush forests filled with birdsong.
Have a taste of Nicaragua
No visit to Nicaragua would be complete without sampling some of the tremendous local cuisine. Unique dishes have developed on the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, further influenced by European settlement.
The national dish is Gallo Pinto, made of a mixture of rice and beans with onion, sweet pepper and garlic. Other tasty treats include the Granadan dish Vigarón and the Leónese specialty Quesilla. If you’re anywhere near either coast, expect to find top-notch seafood. Sweet desserts include Tres Leche cake, famous throughout Latin America and the gloriously gooey Cajeta de Coco.
Fresh juice is available throughout the country from a bewildering array of fruits, or for a relaxing evening cocktail try the country’s signature drink El Macuá, a delicious fruity rum-cocktail.
Endlessly more to explore
Nicaragua is a land of endless surprises and unlimited possibilities, so once you’ve ticked off the highlights on this list, sit back with Una Macuá and discover your next adventure.