Why we love it: Affordable, beautiful and fun—is there any better combination? Since the country is still growing as a tourist destination, this is a place where you can find deals and experience natural sites that haven’t been overdeveloped. There are plenty of attractions for the history buffs, outdoor activities for the sporty, and beaches for when you want to relax. Plus, it’s home to tasty coffee and chocolate.
The basics: A democratic nation, Nicaragua, which translates to “surrounded by water,” is bordered by Costa Rica, Honduras, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Its capital and largest city, Managua, is about a two-and-a-half hour direct flight from Miami, and about four hours from Chicago. The main language is Spanish, and U.S. residents don’t need a visa to visit, just a valid passport.
This country's beaches are often just-for-two (photo courtesy of Aqua Resort).
What to see: Nicaragua is a nature lover’s paradise. With so many beaches and bodies of water around, it’s no surprise that it’s most popular for watersports. Get your feet wet in the calm waters around San Juan del Sur, or head to the peaceful, less-developed Little Corn Island, where the crystalline sea is full of dolphins and other marine life. If you’re feeling adventurous, go to the Maderas Volcano Nature Reserve for a hike. For a thrill, take the Mombacho Canopy Tour zipline adventure to view the volcano from new heights. Tours typically include stops at a nature reserve for bird-watching and horseback riding, and a visit to a coffee farm.
Photo Credit: Dick Washburne
Nicaragua’s towns have a lot to offer as well. In the historic center of main city Managua, you can visit the beautiful National Palace, built in 1935, as well as the National Museum. Charming Granada is full of colonial architecture and colorful streets. Hot spots include the main Plaza Principal, the lovely Parque Central, and hanging out in one of the town’s many quaint cafés. At nearby Lake Nicaragua, one of the largest lakes in the world, you can take a leisurely boat ride—check out all those wild monkeys on the islands.
Romance rocommendation: Relax on one of Nicaragua’s many beaches, which run along both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. We love the wildlife-friendly La Flor Beach, where sea turtles flock every year to lay their eggs.
Where to stay: In Granada, the central Hotel Dario is set in a restored Spanish colonial building and features a swimming pool, courtyard garden and charming rooms with volcano views. The restaurant serves Spanish tapas (room rates start at $100 a night; hoteldario.com). Just south of Granada, Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Eco-Lodge has 15 spacious forest bungalows—each with a private deck and hammock—located over a 110-foot suspension bridge. Explore the surrounding nature reserve and savor cuisine made with organic ingredients (room rates start at $184 a night and include breakfast and dinner; morgansrock.com).