Exploring the Wild Side of Nicaragua
With majestic volcanoes, grand mountains, beautiful rainforests, pristine lakes and undeveloped ocean coasts, Nicaragua offers everything from jungle tours and hiking to scuba diving and bird watching. With admirable foresight, the Nicaraguan people have set aside an extraordinary 20% of the country’s land mass as protected national parks and biological reserves. This is particularly remarkable, given the economic pressures experienced by small developing countries around the world, and Nicaragua’s idealistic program of environmental protection is paying unexpected dividends as adventure travelers and nature lovers begin to discover this little-known jewel of Central America.
Its many treasures include the pristine and largely unexplored Bosawás Biosphere Reserve – a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that is the second largest rainforest in the western hemisphere, (after the Amazon in Brazil;) and the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, in the southeastern corner of the country. This particular reserve is revered by visiting international biologists and contains a higher number in species of trees, birds, and insects than all the countries in Europe combined.
Nicaragua's abundance of biologically unique ecosystems is helping to build its reputation as a biodiversity hotspot. The Central American Volcanic Arc runs through the center of the country, thus its colloquial name – “La Tierra de Lagos y Volcanes,” or, “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.” An unforgettable adventure is to hike one of the country’s active volcanoes. You do not need any mountaineering skills to climb one of these massive and breathtaking mountains. From the top, the view is stupendous, and not many people can say that they’ve gazed down into the very belly of the earth. Maderas Volcano is no more challenging than a vigorous hike, and a crater lake lies alongside the trail for those who want cool off with an icy swim.
The Cosigüina Volcano is another favorite hike. Located in the northwestern corner of Nicaragua, it takes some time and effort to reach, but it is one of the most spectacular volcanoes in Nicaragua. In 1835 the Cosigüina volcano exploded with such force that ash came down in Mexico City, some 1,400 kilometers away. Soon after this violent eruption the volcano became dormant. The huge hole was later filled up with water, and today a lagoon is located inside the crater.
Nicaragua has ocean coast on both sides of the country, and adventure travelers can don scuba gear and, under the protection of undersea guides, set out in crystalline water to search for abundant sea life like rays, eels, groupers, and harmless sharks. Another fantastic Nicaraguan travel adventure is camping on the Zapatera Archipelago. The archipelago consists of Zapatera Volcano as well as eight islets. The islands are of great historical interest and are home to pre-Columbian statuary. These islands are a national park and visitors can explore untouched forests or stroll along gorgeous shorelines.
And the newest sporting trend soon to gain international exposure? Cerro Negro is the only Nicaraguan volcano where extreme adventurists can go volcano surfing (also known as "volcano sand boarding" and "volcano skiing,") a sport that has quickly growing in popularity. In 2001, Frenchman Eric Barone broke a world record by descending the Cerro Negro by mountain bike, exceeding 80 mph.
To slow down the adrenaline rush, visitors can tour two of Central America’s most charming and historic cities. Granada, on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, boasts dozens of restored Spanish Colonial buildings, many of which now house charming hotels, restaurants, galleries and boutiques. Leon, also known for its Spanish Colonial architecture, is the site of The Ruinas de Leon Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site.