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Three Perfect Days: Nicaragua

A haven for backpackers, beachgoers, volcano explorers and history buffs, this Central American country has something for everyone

Author Erin Brady Photography Andrew Rowat

The Cathedral of Granada, with Lake Nicaragua in the background

Picture 1 of 17

DAY TWO | Breakfast today is at Granada’s Mercado Municipal, a sprawl of stalls hawking everything from banana-leaf tamales to bargain-brand batteries. After winding deep into the crumbling late-19th-century building that houses the market, I enter a high-ceilinged hall filled with food stalls. As I’m debating which of the identical counters to sit at, an older man enjoying his breakfast waves me over.

“I thought you were American,” he says, shaking my hand while informing me that he’s originally from California. “I’m William.” On his recommendation, I order a desayuno tipico, a traditional Nicaraguan breakfast of fried eggs, plantains, rice and beans and a slice of salty queso seco cheese.

While I wait for my meal, William reveals that he has spent three decades living in various South and Central American countries. The last eight years he has spent here in Granada, not far from the market, where he eats breakfast every day. When I ask why he settled here, he tells a story about a doctor’s visit when he first arrived. “I was really sick, and they paid for everything. I told the doctor I wasn’t a citizen and he said, ‘You’re a person, aren’t you?’”

After saying goodbye to William, I walk to Espressionista, a coffee shop and restaurant in a light gray colonial building with typical Baroque flourishes. I refuel and catch a cab to the Marina Cocibolca, 10 minutes south of the city, at the top of the Peninsula de Aseses.

A short boat ride later and I’m docking at the Jicaro Island Ecolodge, a resort on a private island near the end of the arching peninsula named for the Nicaraguan tree and its cannonball-like fruit. As I disembark, a staff member hands me a glass of iced tea and a cold face towel.

Jicaro strives to reconcile a taste for luxury living with a consciousness of the environment. The showers in each of the nine lakefront bungalows are heated by solar panels, and the rooms are cooled by cross ventilation rather than air conditioning. But guests aren’t exactly roughing it. The one-acre island offers a spa, a saltwater infinity pool, a sunset-facing yoga deck and a fancy alfresco restaurant where the chef can customize a dinner menu from local ingredients.

After lounging in a hammock on my casita’s private porch, I slather on sunscreen and head down to the island’s dock. There I meet a resort staffer named Jorge, who has agreed to give me a tour of some of the nearby isletas, of which there are nearly 400. Motoring onto the open water of Lake Nicaragua—which is as big as Puerto Rico—we pass isletas with mansions, isletas with tin-roofed shacks and isletas with nothing on them at all.

As we whiz along in the direction of the looming Volcán Mombacho, Jorge points out snowy egrets, herons and a slender dark cormorant that dives into the lake as we approach. Thousands of species live in these waters, but the lake’s most famous inhabitants are the tarpons, sawfish and Caribbean bull sharks.

“Do those sharks mean it’s dangerous to swim here?” I ask Jorge, who responds with a laugh. Apparently, sightings are exceedingly rare, though Jorge does admit that he saw one long ago when he was in the military. “It wasn’t that big,” he reassures me. I’m not convinced.

As the sun dips below the crags of Mombacho, I look out at the glinting waters busy with fishermen casting their circular nets. I ask Jorge about the $50 billion canal set to connect the Caribbean and the Pacific by widening the San Juan River and passing through Lake Nicaragua. “Politics,” he says, and we leave it at that, choosing instead to listen to the call of birds, the hum of the motor and the whisper of fishing nets settling on the lake.

7 Responses to “Three Perfect Days: Nicaragua”

  1. Engler Hamm Horst Says:
    March 9th, 2015 at 4:48 am

    Some years I was not in Nicaragua and so I saw the big difference. Clean and new streets, good and cheap hotels, all in a very good condition. I will soon come back to Nicaragua!

  2. Maumau Says:
    March 10th, 2015 at 12:49 am

    Sweet Sea?? no! It’s Fresh Water Sea.

  3. sophie Says:
    March 11th, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    Nicaragua is amazing! And if you plan on staying a few days in Managua, have a look at Ojo Nicaragua and find what restaurants, bars, café and events Managua has to offer! http://www.ojonicaragua.com

  4. Mike pagan Says:
    March 12th, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    I found some great in-flight reading – an article
    on Nicaragua. Can’t wait to visit again in a few months.

  5. Vicki Skinner (THE Sarong Goddess) Says:
    April 10th, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    WONDERFUL article!!

    I get the privilege of visiting Nicaragua at least 4 times a year since I live in Costa Rica & need to do a Visa Run every 90 days & I REALLY LIKE Nicaragua!! Actually, last year I spent 2 months in total (mainly Matagalpa, San Juan del Sur, Rivas & Isla Ometepe) & in ’13 – 3 months (in San Juan del Sur, Granada, Rivas & Isla Ometepe).

    As a single woman I feel QUITE SAFE traveling solo & Nicaragua’s SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than Costa Rica & the people are special!!! (& the beef is LOTS better!)

  6. Juan J. Escobar (Nicoya Guapo) Says:
    May 14th, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Managua, Nicaragua is where my roots originate. I love to visit the motherland at least 3 times a year. The food is amazing and the sightseeing is awesome. Nicaragua is home to “Flor de Cana”. The Worlds best rum. I had the distinct pleasure of taking the Distillery Tour and bought a bottle of aged 25 year rum. They even engraved my name on the bottle. Lake Nicaragua was also a great tour and even got to see the Famous Fresh Water Bull Sharks up close!

  7. Robin Barth Says:
    July 30th, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Informative article and we appreciate the mention of Finca Esperanze Verde. Sister Communities of San-Ramon, Nicaragua started this marvelous eco lodge and coffee farm, now under private ownership. Come and visit to see why Nicaragua is so special!

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