Landscape at Masaya
Visitors to Masaya Volcano National Park can also explore other geological features; the park is home to another volcano and five craters, making for dramatic, photogenic landscapes. Locals offer guided horseback rides of the volcano's rim, too.
Granada Carriage Ride
Granada is another popular destination. It's a city with well-preserved colonial architecture, a charming main square, and a thriving pedestrian thoroughfare, full of shops, bars, restaurants, and small hotels. One way to get to know the city is to take a carriage ride; drivers wait in their carriages on the periphery of the square.
Cathedral of Leon, Leon
Leon, Nicaragua's second largest city, is a popular stop on many travelers' journeys through the country. Before heading to the beach, be sure to visit the city's historic center. The Cathedral of Leon, pictured here, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Nicaragua is Central America's safest and most peaceful country, but that was not always the case. Nicaraguans fought throughout the 1970s to free themselves from the smothering power of the Somoza dictatorship. Signs of the revolutionary movement are found throughout the country in monuments and murals commemorating bravery.
It can be challenging for first-time visitors to Managua, Nicaragua's capital, to get a sense of the city, 90% of which was leveled in a 1972 earthquake, according to Nicaraguan writer Gioconda Belli. As a result, Managua lacks the colonial architecture typical of many other Central American and Latin American capitals. It also lacks an easily understandable layout; “there was essentially no urban planning for Managua's reconstruction,” says tour guide Juan B. Padilla. Still, there are some key sights to see, including the Palacio Nacional, built in 1935. Since the late 1990s, it has been the Palacio de Cultura, home to a national museum, library, and archive that's open to the public. It sits on Plaza de la Revolucion.
After the earthquake, many Managuans fled to the nearby town of Masaya, which itself is in a danger zone: it's at the foot of the still-active Masaya Volcano, part of the Masaya Volcano National Park. Today, visitors can step right to the edge of the impressive volcanic crater, which belches out steamy plumes of carbon dioxide and other gases.
Ziplining Outside Granada
Many outdoor adventures are easily accessible if Granada's your home base for a couple days. You can hike at Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve or go zip lining with Cafe Las Flores and Hacienda El Progreso, which also offers coffee tours and tastings.
Cathedral in Plaza de la Revolucion
Destabilized, but not totally devastated in the 1972 quake, the Old Cathedral of Managua also sits on the Plaza de la Revolucion. It has been closed to the public since 2000 and its ultimate fate remains a topic of discussion. Directly in front of it, across the plaza, is a memorial to some of the founders and leaders of the Sandinista movement, including Carlos Fonseca Amador and Tomas Borge Martinez, both of whom are buried there.
The town of Masaya is also popular with travelers, thanks to its large handcrafts market, located just off Masaya's main square. Vendors sell handmade toys and dolls, masks, jewelry, clothes, hammocks and other textile goods, leather wallets, and more.
Mercado de Leon
Food markets are as fun as—and definitely tastier than—than handcraft markets. Leon's food market features fruits and vegetables you can buy and prepare yourself, but it also has a section where you can order freshly made local specialties and eat them on the spot. The market also has a fantastic selection of locally made cheeses. Buy a chunk and a couple of tortillas for a lunch on the run.
Though it's been making more appearances in travel magazines lately, Nicaragua remains one of Central America's less-visited destinations.