Without a doubt, my short time in Nicaragua was long enough for the country to win my heart. I haven’t been able to get it out my head and unlike other places that I always say I’d like to return to, I’m actively working toward planning a return. I’m not sure there’s any one aspect of Nicaragua that’s extraordinary, but it’s beautiful, the people are generous and friendly, and the culture is genuine.
But old habits die hard and I’m always excited by the prospect of going somewhere new. Luckily, I can blend the best of both worlds by returning to a country I’m enamored with but to regions I haven’t yet visited. Here’s what made my wishlist for the next trip. If you’ve been there before, perhaps you’d be so kind to help me narrow it down?
Of all the places in Nicaragua, Ometepe is top of my list. Sure, it seems a bit menacing, but that makes for a good story: the island itself is home to an active volcano and is in the middle of a freshwater lake that’s home to sharks. In reality, though, I’m drawn to it’s many eco-activities. There’s hiking to waterfalls, kayaking through estuaries, natural reserves, and swimming in crystal-clear pools. It’s simultaneously a bit rustic and a little like my own personal fantasy-land. What’s not to love?
Ask any Nicaraguan where their favorite place in the country is, and you’ll likely hear “Rio San Juan”. It’s not on many tourists’ radar, but it seems to loved by many locals. The draw to this region is being able to explore the rainforest, and I’m particularly interested in Los Guatuzos Wildlife Reserve for a chance to see monkeys, caimans, Jesus Christ lizards, and maybe even a jaguar. The fact that it’s a lengthy journey just to arrive is inconvenient, but not a turn-off for me.
Aqua Wellness Resort
Yes, I know that I just listed a hotel instead of a destination, which is entirely unlike me. I don’t often put too much weight in a specific property, but in this case, I’m really drawn to a particular resort and you can afford a lot of luxury in Nicaragua. The private plunge pools remind me of my honeymoon, which makes me smile, and the “treehouse” suites put a fun twist on things. Walking to the town of Playa Gigante for surf lessons and fresh seafood would make my days complete. Throw in daily yoga, and I’m in restorative heaven.
I didn’t think too much about Matagalpa before my trip to Nicaragua, but I came across one traveler after another who really enjoyed their time there. Since it’s in the highlands of Nicaragua, there are lots of opportunities for hiking and ecotourism…and it’ll be cool enough to enjoy more strenuous hikes. Agrotourism also seems to be catching on in the area and there are plenty of opportunities to visit coffee farms, cacao plantations, and learn about sustainable practices in the region. It may not be glamorous, but it sounds really interesting.
If the Aqua Resort is a tourist enclave, then Jiquilillo is the complete opposite. On the northern Pacific coast, this beach town seems to be relatively untouched by tourism. Many of the travelers that do make their way to Jiquilillo are volunteers or at least interested in the community and social projects, which are plentiful. You could definitely spend a lot of time relaxing in hammocks or strolling the beach, but that’s not really my style, so I’m intrigued by the prospect of volcano climbs, paddleboarding, kayaking in mangroves, and climbing a coconut tree or two.
Yes, you already know I love León, which is exactly why it’s on my wishlist: I wouldn’t mind going back! Even after five nights, I still have more to explore and a few favorite spots to return to. Moreover, the history in this city is something I can barely comprehend and a second look would help me better appreciate what the city — and people — have gone through.
And for the sake of completeness, there are two destinations I haven’t made up my mind yet on whether or not I want to go.
The first is Estelí, which I passed through on my way to Somoto. Like Matagalpa, it’s in the mountains and there are lots of hikes and eco-parks to visit, which I think is terrific. However, the city itself is exactly that: a city. It’s not particularly scenic and it didn’t seem too interesting. While it might be a good base for day hikes, I’m not sold on it yet.
The second place is the Corn Islands. Admittedly, the setting is idyllic and I’m sure I’d enjoy the car-free island of Little Corn as the tropical paradise it is. I can’t put my finger on it, but I don’t get that new and exciting vibe from these Atlantic islands. They seem very Caribbean-esque, with turquoise waters and palm trees and opportunities for scuba diving (I’m not certified). With the right companion, it could be a lovely trip, but if I head there solo I think I’d be underwhelmed.
It’s not often I contemplate returning to a destination so soon after my first visit, but with so many regions to explore and a culture that fascinates me, my wanderlust is raging.
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