Travelers have long viewed Nicaragua with a cautious eye; however, as the political situation has stabilized, the country has experienced a recent resurgence. While opportunities for meaningful community service abound, the country is also packed full of luxurious beaches, hazy cloud forests, colonial cities, colossal lakes filled with fresh-water sharks, and a friendly, resilient, and eager-to-please population. Take a chance on this recently remembered Central America gem and you won’t be disappointed!




Most programs will begin and/or end in this sprawling metropolis of 1.4 million people. Admittedly, not normally the highlight of the country, Managua remains the nation’s capital and the nerve center of activity, culture, and social life. Nicaragua has produced a wealth of world-renowned poets who swoon over this city on the shores of Lake Managua. Chances are that on your travels to the country you’ll get to visit Managua at least once.


The most popular beach in all of Nicaragua, here you’ll find warm Pacific waters lapping at an impressive stretch of golden sand lined with restaurants, clubs and shops. Whether you come to surf some of the best breaks in Central America or simply take a relaxed stroll along pristine coastline, San Juan del Sur is what you’ve been looking for.


Founded by Francisco Fernández de Córdoba in 1524, Granada is the oldest city in the “New World.” Existing as such, the city has been victim to violent invasions, marauding pirates, massive fires, armies of American mercenaries, and numerous civil wars. Through it all, Granada has emerged as a pleasurable destination whose colonial architecture, brightly colored buildings, impressive cathedrals, and cobblestone streets quickly welcome travelers to a location steeped in a resilient history.


This private 850-acre reserve was founded by German coffee farmers who named the area after their native Black Forest (at the behest of the Nicaraguan government) when they arrived in the 1880s. Descendants of the original founders run this private 850-acre reserve that employs over 200 full-time workers, and these gregarious owners gladly will lead you on a tour through the organic coffee plantation, the hydroelectric plant, and the small community that has grown up around the farm. Nearby, a network of well kept trails wind through the virgin rainforest providing challenging terrain for adept nature enthusiasts.


Founded only two months after Granada in 1524, this former national capital contains equally impressive colonial architecture, fantastic views of surrounding volcanoes, and intense pride. Dotted with huge cathedrals, including the largest in Central America, thriving universities, and large collections of nationally produced art, León is well supported in its claim as the country’s cultural epicenter.


Can you smell that? Heading north out of Managua into the central highlands, this mountain town is the center of the country’s quickly growing coffee industry. Besides the caffeinated attractions, Matagalpa is full of bustling markets that receive and support the farmers who descend from their pueblos to sell their goods and run big-city errands. The city also serves as a proximate base for visiting cloud forests and nature reserves that thrive in the mountains above, offering a small taste of the beauty that waits at higher elevations.


Known today as the “City of Mists” by locals and as the “Eternal City” by the people who first settled the area in AD 596, Jinotega is a jewel of a destination that has yet to experience the detrimental effects of a burgeoning national tourist industry. The climate is refreshingly cool and the sharp granite peaks that stand jagged above the city remind visitors of the remoteness of their location. While the occasional series of bullet holes speak to the warfare Jinotega witnessed during the Sandanista Revolution and Contra War in the 1980s, the town has been largely rebuilt and much of the impressive colonial architecture restored.


Upon returning from the mountains to the flat lands of southern Nicaragua, you will find the city of Estelí, the principle town between Managua and the Honduran border. Estelí is known for its premium cigars and revolutionary spirit, murals of Ché Guevara, memorials to fallen rebels, and bars that blast old Sandanista anthems around town. Estelí is one of the best destinations to learn first hand about Nicaragua’s troubles and subsequent rebirth towards the end of the 20th century.


The Island of Ometepe is surreal. Shaped like a figure eight with volcanoes in the center of each circle, Ometepe looms in the center of Lake Nicaragua. From the comforts of their ecological retreat, travelers will enjoy one of Central America’s best hikes up the Maderas Volcano or will kayak the cool waters of the lake, the only place on earth to see fresh water sharks!