Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
To those Nicaraguans who’ve been gone for a while, it’s time to come back home. For many of us, Nicaragua has always been paradise. There are more than a few places where every local's pores ease up as they arrive at their destination. This beautiful country with its laid back charm is nothing short of true bliss.
Prior to recent years, the world has known Nicaragua for its 3rd-world status, poverty, and, political chaos. There is no denying that the country has seen difficult times, hindering its growth throughout the years. With good reason, this kept many away, but times are changing.
As many a travel writer might claim, “Nicaragua is booming!” In 2014 alone, 1.38 million tourists visited Nicaragua, a whopping 4.7% rise from the year prior. With growth in tourism, it’s imperative that natives come back and have a taste of the organic sanctuary many were once forced to leave behind.
“Newly discovered” Nicaragua has a plethora of natural resources, hidden gems, and endless horizons worth the nostalgic trip back. #heavenishere
The Corn Islands (Las Islas del Maíz)
From what my mother says, the Corn Islands were always a primitive haven. So, if your parents left decades ago, they might feel it’s just how they left it. Forget buildings. Forget email. Forget it all. The Corn Islands are heaven, and the farthest point east before you head out to open water.
East of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, on two islands surrounded by beautiful clear blue waters, there is a freshly cut coconut, an island beat playing in the back, and the most delicious gallo pinto cooked in coconut oil waiting for you to take a load off. Las Islas del Maíz are composed of two islands: Big Corn and Little Corn. Different from the rest of Nicaragua, the islanders are English-speaking Creole people of mixed black heritage. So whether you have a Nicaraguan passport or not, you’re not a local, and you’re on vacation.
If you head out there, you’ll want to spend a few nights on each of the islands.
Big Corn Island: With an array of activities to choose from and beachfront huts, Arenas Beach Hotel is the number one option for visitors. They will help coordinate your travel to and from locations as well as Little Corn.
Little Corn Island: The 1 ½ square mile isle is as primitive as it gets, but it’s also the closest thing to paradise you’ll ever see. The more expensive option is Yemaya, situated on the northern coast of the small island. But if you can’t afford the upscale location, you are more than welcome to enjoy their amazing restaurants and services for the day and head back to one of the more affordable hotels, such as Los Delfines, just a few minutes' walking distance.
Somoto Canyon (Cañon de Somoto)
Though formed anywhere between 5 to 13 million years ago, the relatively unexplored canyon area was not discovered until 2004 by scientists from the Czech Republic and Nicaragua. Shortly after, the 420 acres were declared a national monument and are now managed by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA).
With an increase of tourism, both foreign and domestic, there are various activities in the canyon of Somoto, such as hiking, bird watching, boat and tire tours, donkey or horse riding, and camping; all easily coordinated for groups large and small. For the best and most popular tour options, check out Namancabe Tours.
At a relative distance from the capital, this trip to the North can be covered in the length of a weekend. The Canyon is only an hour away from Esteli, the home of the tobacco industry in Nicaragua. For anyone who is hoping to visit the many cigar houses that have made a name for themselves in recent years, such as Joya De Nicaragua & Plasencia Cigars, you’ll find yet another reason to head up north.
Masaya Volcano (Volcan Masaya)
One of the seven active volcanoes in the country, the Masaya Volcano is of the easily accessible craters, and is just 20 km south of the capital. Of the 78 locations protected by the government, it is Nicaragua's first and largest National Park.
At a distance, a cross can be seen on the edge of the crater. This was ordered by the church in 1529 to exorcise demons from the volcano, addressing the Spanish's belief that this was an entrance to hell.
Due to recent activity, this park is actually closed until further notice.
Cerro Negro Volcano
About an hour away from Leon, the second largest city in Nicaragua, is an active volcano called Cerro Negro. Appearing less than 200 years ago, it is the youngest in Central America. When it erupts, it is most noted for the emission of ash from the top opening, while lava seeps at the base. Many have hiked to the top, which takes about 2 hours, of what translate to the "Black Hill" and sled down approximately 700 meters of the active volcano on boards. It's a quick ride down, but definitely worth the experience! For more info on tours, click here.
Apoyo Lagoon National Reserve (Laguna de Apoyo)
Between the pueblos of Masaya and Granada lies a volcanic lake referred to by locals as "Apoyo." Declared a national reserve in 1991, it's protected by the government, as are many of the wonders mentioned above. Data suggests that the lagoon dates back approximately 23,000 years. The reserve covers a little over 8,600 acres.
The tranquil and laid back nook attracts tourists of all kinds due to its wide range of activities such as swimming, kayaking, nature hikes, boating, paragliding, and more.