NIC AT NIGHT OR DAY IS A TRAVELER’S DELIGHT
Once a hush-hush, off-the-beaten-path destination popular among audacious travelers, Nicaragua has come a long way from its complicated past and plagued image.
It has seen conquest and independence, as well as revolution, rebellion and democracy. Now, Nicaragua is seeing tourism. Coined the “New Costa Rica,” its abundance of natural wonders, prime tobacco and rich culture are attracting a vast array of travelers. Adventure seekers, beach lovers, xenophiles and cigar aficionados alike are quickly realizing that this is the place to be, making Nicaragua the new hot spot in Central America.
CITIES & HISTORY
Containing some the most beautifully preserved Spanish colonial architecture in Nicaragua, Granada is extremely photogenic. Cobblestone streets, old churches and bright colors make this a traveler’s dream. As the location of the first and largest Spanish settlement, the Iglesia de la Merced is a must see. Not only is the centuries-old façade picturesque enough, the views from the bell tower are what make this spot so popular. Granada is truly a postcard city with its vibrantly colored and intricately styled colonial buildings. One such structure is the mustard yellow Cathedral de Granada. If simply passing by and snapping photos do not quell the appetite, visitors can also take a Granada Colonial Homes Tour.
With Granada being the base city for many travelers, León is often and perhaps wrongly overlooked. Named after the city of León in Spain, this city is cauterized in two parts, old and new. Old León isn’t an active city as it is more of a historical site. In fact, it is Nicaragua’s only UNESCO World Heritage listing. Established in the 16th century, old León was damaged by a volcano and subsequently abandoned. Now visitors make their way tooldLeón to view the ruins of the earliest Spanish colonial settlement.
The new León was once the nation’s capital until 1857. Now, it is a bustling college town loaded with history, nightlife, restaurants and art museums. Visitors can wander through the exciting marketplace for delicious local street food, or pop into the Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz to take in the growing art scene. The complex history of Nicaragua can be gleaned by a visit to the Museum of the Revolution, viewed in political street art, and explored through many awe-inspiring churches, such as the Catedral de León, Iglesia El Calvario, Iglesia La Recolección and Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Subtiava.
The heart of cigar and coffee production, Estelí is an intriguing mix of city life, agriculture and nature. During the civil war in the late 1970’s, Estelí experienced serious turmoil. Now, the third largest city in Nicaragua, it is the place to go for nature lovers and cigar enthusiasts. Home to many popular tobacco farms and cigar factories, visitors are encouraged to tour facilities to get a firsthand look at production of cigars in their entirety. Nature-seekers love it here because the city is surrounded by forests. Located in the misty mountains of Estelí are the Reserva Tisey Estanzuela and Reserva Miraflor, perfect for a day or multiday trek. Here, visitors can get a glimpse into rural Nicaraguan life, wander through lush landscapes, and visit with local farms and communities along the way.
Managua, the, the current capital and Nicaragua’s largest city, is not popular among travelers because of the city’s chaotic vibe and lack of colonial charm. That said, Managua should not be skipped. The city is home to interesting street art and monuments, as well as the exciting Puerto Salvador Allende. Lined with restaurants, the port offers views of the lake, and is a pleasant place to take an afternoon stroll. Also, visiting Managua means easy access to some of Nicaragua’s most alluring natural wonders.
What draws many to Nicaragua is the abundance of unspoiled natural beauty. From the picturesque beaches to the active volcanoes, Nicaragua has an attractive wild side. Many of these natural wonders are easily accessible from the cities of Granada, León and Managua, making each a suitable jump-off-point for most travelers wanting to explore the countryside.
LAGO DE NICARAGUA
Lago de Nicaragua—Nicaragua Lake—can be viewed from the bell tower of Iglesia de la Merced, and is reachable from Granada. This famous freshwater lake is home to several animals normally seen in the ocean, such as sharks, tarpons and sawfish. These species became trapped inland many years ago because of lava flows, and were able to survive and adapt. The lake also is sprinkled with hundreds of islands, as well as over 350 islets, comprised of massive volcanoes and scenic beaches. Within five miles of Granada lie 300 different islands, making kayaking and boat trips to the islands a popular activity among visitors.
Ometepe is the largest island on Lago de Nicaragua, and was formed by two adjoined volcanoes, El Concepción and El Maderas. Although El Conception is still active while El Maderas is dormant, both volcanoes are open for hiking. Hiking volcanoes is a popular activity in Nicaragua, but does take some skill. El Conception is for advanced climbers and yields fantastic views of the jumbo crater. Amateur mountaineers enjoy hiking through the thick tropical jungles that cover El Maderas. The area is home to monkeys that are fun to spot.
León is a place of volcanos, making it a popular spot with hikers. Cerro Negro, a relatively young and active volcano, is known for volcano boarding, where hikers slide down the side of the ash-covered volcano after making their way to the top. Visitors also enjoy the volcano’s lushflora and basaltic cinder cone, which give it its black color.
Masaya is Nicaragua’s first and largest national park. Visitors can actually hike along the rim of the active Santiago crater, getting a rare opportunity to view the bubbling lava below. The volcano, which last erupted in 2008, is located just south of Managua, and was built from lava flows, resulting in some awesome underground tunnels great for exploring. The night tour provides the best chance to see glowing lava and local bats that call these tunnels home.
LAGUNA DE APOYO
Located between Masaya and Granada, this lagoon is a crater lake. Part of a nature reserve, it contains over 500 species of plants and 65 species of birds. Though not as popular as Lago de Nicaragua, the lagoon provides visitors a chance to relax, enjoy the dark sand beaches, bird watch, hike and swim. Swimmers say that the volcanic minerals in the lagoon do wonders for the skin.
SAN JUAN DEL SUR
San Juan Del Sur is the most popular beach in Nicaragua. Although all the beaches in Nicaragua are Instagram fabulous, this crescent-shaped shoreline with its sparkling waters is known for its great surf. Not only do families, travelers and locals love this beach, surfers flock here for a chance to ride the waves of San Juan Del Sur. Lined with exciting beach bars, the party
continues long after the sunscreen has faded. Standing watch over San Juan Del Sure is the world’s second-largest statue of Jesus, Christ of Mercy, only a bit smaller than the renowned Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil.
The Big Corn and Little Corn Islands are located off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Although both islands offer a relaxing reprieve from the bustling cities and wild adventures of the popular sites, Little Corn is the most rural with lush jungles, zero cars and only some electricity. Hosting only a few resorts and amenities, Little Corn is the place where a surprising amount of travelers seek solace. Getting to Little Corn means flying to Big Corn first from Managua, and then taking a ferry to the smaller island. Big Corn offers more restaurants, accommodations, taxis and ATMs, but it too is very rustic compared to the mainland. The main source of income on the Corn Islands is coconut production, but commercial fishing is growing quickly. Both islands are great for travelers that enjoy swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing. Big Corn loves baseball, and even has a stadium that is popular with locals and other travelers.
CIGARS LOVER’S PARADISE
One can’t talk about Nicaragua and not mention cigars. Although Cuba gets all the cigar glory, Nicaragua has been producing fantastic cigars for a long time, with much less fanfare. Nicaraguan cigars are the closest in comparison to the renowned Cuban cigars, and for good reason. After the Cuban revolution in the 1960’s, many of the finest cigar masters fled Cuba and settled and cultivated premium tobacco in the tropical nation of Nicaragua. In fact, many Nicaraguan cigar brands have roots in Cuba, such a Padron, My Father and Perdomo.
Lush, humid and fertile soils make Nicaragua prime for growing tobacco. Known for its powerful and spicy flavor profile, Nicaragua is the second largest supplier of premium cigars to the United States.
Founded in 1964 in Miami, Florida, Padron cigars were first produced in Nicaragua in 1970. After many political struggles, these cigars recently exploded into the U.S market with the all-Nicaraguan Padron 1964 Anniversary Series. Padron is noted for its selection of aged tobaccos. It is said that Padron has 25 million aged cigars currently being stored for the future pleasure of cigar aficionados.
LA GRAN FABRICA DREW ESTATE
Although an American company, Drew Estate currently has the largest cigar factory in Nicaragua. Started by two fraternity brothers from New York, Drew Estate is known for being wildly innovative and urban. At the forefront of the “rebirth of cigars,” Drew Estate is producing unique and successful blends that suite a variety of tastes, while attracting a new generation of people to love and appreciate cigars.
With roots that trace to Cuba, the Perdomo family endured many tragic struggles during the revolution, causing the Perdomos to flee to America. Because former President Juan Batista often visited the Perdomo factories prior to the revolution, the public gained the impression that the Perdomo family and Batista were close friends. This assumption made the Perdomos a target for the communist revolutionaries. Nick Perdomo Jr.’s grandfather was arrested in his home and imprisoned for over a decade. Soon after, his father was ambushed outside the same home, shot and severely wounded. Before even being fully recovered, Nick Perdomo Sr. moved his family to safety. Decades later, in 1992, Nick launched Perdomo cigars in his garage. The family now owns an 88,000-square foot factory in Nicaragua known as El Monstro.
TABACALERA CUBANA S.A. “MY FATHER”
Born in Cuba, Jose Pepin Garcia has been rolling cigars since he was 11 years old. Producing cigars has been a lifelong passion, and the Garcia family now owns two factories in Nicaragua, the largest known as Garcia Family Industrial Park. The company owns twelve cigar brands, and their factories produce 8 million cigars every year.
A.J Fernandez’s grandfather started growing tobacco in pre-Castro Cuba, and it was here the brand first gained popularity. Proud of his family’s legacy in tobacco, A.J Fernandez continues to share his passion for premium cigars in Estelí, Nicaragua. He still pays homage to his Cuban roots with the San Lotano line.
TABACALERA OLIVA TABOLISA
Nicaragua’s second largest grower of Cuban-seed tobacco is the Oliva family, who has been growing tobacco since 1886. Forced to flee to Spain during the revolution in Cuba, the family eventually found fertile ground in Nicaragua for growing their precious seeds. After many years of struggles in Nicaragua, Oliva Cigar Company’s abundance of Nicaraguan tobacco allowed them to flourish into the next generation. When the United States started to fall in love with Nicaraguan tobacco, Oliva Cigars was ready to supply the goods.
Nicaragua is a land of intrigue, with still so much left to be discovered. Cities like Granada and León highlight the country’s dynamic history and culture with a colonial foundation, while towns like Estelí are a cigar and coffee lover’s paradise. The dramatic landscape, rich with volcanoes, dense forests and pristine beaches, beckons nature-lovers and adventure-seekers. If Nicaragua was not on your travel radar before, it should be now.