Things to Do in Nicaragua
Skip the hike and drive right up to the lava-spitting rim of Masaya Volcano (Volcan Masaya), perched between Managua and Granada. The active volcano’s famous lava shows at the Santiago Crater, combined with ridiculously easy access, have made it one of the most popular attractions in all of Nicaragua.
The Granada Cathedral rises above the city skyline in a vision of red domes and lemon-yellow walls backed by the towering Mombacho volcano. Well recognized for its beauty, the Spanish Renaissance cathedral—whose first stone was laid in 1523 and took 181 years to complete—is a quintessential image of Nicaragua and a popular Granada attraction.
Visiting the UNESCO World Heritage–listed ruins of León Viejo makes it easy to imagine life for the first Spanish settlers in Nicaragua. Located on the slopes of Momotombo volcano and preserved by volcanic ash, the ruins are some of the most complete Spanish colonial ruins in Central America—even though they’re also some of the oldest, dating back to 1524.
The largest church in Central America, the UNESCO World Heritage–listed León Cathedral is a must-see while in León, a charming colonial city in Nicaragua’s northwest corner. The cathedral combines a striking blend of architectural styles with religious import and pirate-riddled history, making for a church visit unlike any other.
With an Aztec name that translates to “Steep Mountain,” the Mombacho volcano certainly lives up to its name. Its 4,410-foot (1,344-meter) peak towers over Nicaragua’s colonial city of Granada, creating both a beautiful backdrop and a huge backyard ripe for adventure and exploration.
A crystalline lagoon just a short drive from Granada, Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve (Reserva Natural Laguna de Apoyo) is one of the most popular natural attractions in Nicaragua. Get away from the city for a few hours of kid-approved water sports, or hang out and relax all day in a lounge chair poised on the rim of this beautiful crater lake.
There are several churches in Granada to visit, but the Iglesia de la Merced, not far from Parque Central (Central Park), is noted by many as the city's most beautiful. The church on this site dates from the early 16th century, although it has been damaged twice (to the point of nearly-complete destruction once) and rebuilt, most recently in the 1860s.
The Old Cathedral of Managua (Catedral de Managua) is a spectacular ruin whose gilded neoclassical facade still stands but insides were devastated in a 1972 earthquake that shook Nicaragua. Though visitors are not allowed inside, the cathedral’s striking beauty and historical significance make a visit worthwhile.
A humble exterior conceals an elegant, velvet-swathed concert hall at the Rubén Darío National Theatre (Teatro Nacional Rubén Darío), Nicaragua’s premier exhibition space. The hall is a true homage to Managua’s cosmopolitan roots with Spanish chandeliers, American design inspiration, and the best of Latin American and other cultural performances.
Nicaragua may not be known for its museums, but León’s Ortiz Gurdián Foundation Art Center holds its own. The center seamlessly blends a private collection of national and international art, from renowned Nicaraguan painter Armando Morales to world-famous artists like Rubens, Miró, Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, and Diego Rivera.
More Things to Do in Nicaragua
In a city infamous for a lacking cultural center, Managua’s National Palace of Culture stands as a testament to Nicaragua’s rich history. The complex houses the National Museum (Museo Nacional Dioclesiano Chávez), the National Archives, and the National Library (Biblioteca Nacional Rubén Darío) all under one stunning neoclassical roof.
Combine a bit of nature, a sprinkle of history, and the best view of Managua on a trip to the Tiscapa Lagoon—a crater lake, park, and nature reserve right in Nicaragua’s capital. The area is perhaps best known for its massive Augusto Sandino statue, an iconic symbol of the city.
The Rubén Darío Museum (Museo Rubén Darío) is dedicated to the famous poet, writer, and ambassador who brought modernismo to Spanish literature. A must for poetry fans, this León museum is also a good choice for those curious about Nicaraguan history—the museum offers an intimate look at 19th-century upper-class life in Nicaragua.
A series of human footprints preserved by volcanic ash, the Footprints of Acahualinca serve as reminder of the early civilizations that lived in what today is Nicaragua’s capital, Managua. The Acahualinca archaeological site and museum showcases these fossilized footprints and teaches us about the people who left them behind.
A trip to Lake Managua (Lake Xolotlán, or Lago Xolotlán) is more about lakeside vistas than the (polluted) water. A quick jaunt from Managua’s city center rewards visitors with views of the towering Momotombo Volcano, as well as a glimpse into Nicaragua’s efforts to clean up and revamp its environmental attractions.
The San Francisco Convent is both an active Catholic church and a museum with historic photographs, culturally important paintings, and statues from the Zapatera Island archaeological site on Lake Nicaragua. With a history dating back to 1529, it's among the oldest churches in Nicaragua and remains one of Granada’s most memorable sights.
Spend an hour learning about pre-Columbian Nicaragua on a visit to Mi Museo, a small and privately owned collection of artifacts. Not only is this Granada museum a great introduction to Nicaragua’s diverse indigenous cultures and histories, but it’s also very low cost, making it a quick and easy destination to tick off your sightseeing list.
Stroll down Calle La Calzada after dark to see why this street is the heart of Granada’s nightlife: live music blasts from bars, outdoor tables overflow with revelers, and artisans hawk their wares. During the day, the street is a main thoroughfare with shopping and dining venues in Spanish colonial buildings—it’s impossible to miss.
A deep and narrow canyon formed by the powerful Rio Coco, Central America’s longest river, Somoto Canyon National Monument offers thrilling excursions for adrenaline junkies and scenic views of northern Nicaragua’s remote territory. The protected area covers 420 acres (170 hectares), including a 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) stretch of canyon.
On the forested flanks of Mombacho volcano, high above the cobbled streets of the colonial city of Granada, the family-run Hacienda El Progreso is where Nicaraguan coffee was born. This coffee plantation and ecotourism hot spot is best known as a lead supplier for Nicaragua’s biggest coffee chain, Café las Flores.
Don’t let the lack of spires and bell towers fool you—Managua’s modern Metropolitan Cathedral (New Cathedral, or La Nueva Catedral) is intended as Nicaragua’s preeminent church. A unique structure of a square base topped by 63 translucent domes built in 1993, the then-controversial cathedral is now an unforgettable sight.
Formed by two towering volcanoes rising out of the waters of Lake Nicaragua, Concepción and Maderas, Ometepe Island (Isla de Ometepe is one of Nicaragua’s most popular tourist destinations. Visitors are drawn to the island’s colorful villages, abundant wildlife, dramatic scenery, and wide, sandy beaches. The island also has a rich ancient history and many archeological sites to explore.
Lake Nicaragua (also known as Lake Cocibolca) is Central America’s largest lake and an outdoor activity destination for locals and visitors alike. Nature lovers will enjoy bird watching from the shore, boating to the lake’s islands, or hiking the island’s volcanoes. Plus the cities around Lake Nicaragua offer many archeological sites, historic churches, and local markets to explore.
Latin America is as well known for its rum production as it is for its rum consumption. A tour of the Flor de Caña Rum Factory offers travelers the perfect way to capitalize on both, with an informative guide who offers up details about the production process and a tasting room to sample some of this strong spirit.
Visitors will have the chance to tour the vault, where rum is slow aged, walk through the rum barrel operation area and relax during a video presentation that highlights every aspect of Flor de Caña’s unique process. The tour concludes with a chance to sip on the local product, as well as a stop in the gift shop, museum and rum bar (for those who’d like to drink a little more).
- Things to do in Managua
- Things to do in Granada
- Things to do in León
- Things to do in San Juan del Sur
- Things to do in Ometepe
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