By Megan Greaves
Not being one to blow my own trumpet, but I like to think that I am something of a Latin America expert, having visited most countries across the Central and South American region, but I had never visited Nicaragua before. So, when the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to lead a trip that would not only stimulate travel to Nicaragua, but also allow me to experience a new country for the first time, along with my fellow travellers on the FAM Trip.
Nicaragua certainly did not disappoint! For a relatively little-known destination, Nicaragua has a plethora of incredible and diverse places to visit. From stunning colonial towns Granada and Leon, through the breathtaking chain of volcanoes, to high-end eco luxury in the tropical Caribbean paradise of the Corn Islands. And these are just the places we had time to visit in our short 8 day trip.
The first volcano we visited was Mombacho. Shrouded in cloud for much of the year, it is covered in cloud forest and home to a huge variety of flora and fauna. After a steep journey by van to the summit, we were met by our enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable local guide, Norman. There are three options for hikes, dictated by ability and time available. We took the short hike, due to our limited time, but Norman kept the whole group completely captivated, pointing out pretty Orchids, Millipedes, a baby Sloth and even an elusive Salamander!
Masaya volcano is definitely one to visit at dusk, as you can peer over the top of this highly active volcano and see the bubbling lava below. Before the downturn in tourism, there were long queues to get into the park and up to the volcano (one of the few in the world you can drive all the way to the crater), but we had the place virtually to ourselves. Sending clients to Nicaragua now, when there are so few tourists, certainly has its merits!
Our final volcano, and probably a highlight of the trip for most of the group, was Cerro Negro, a striking spectacle of black ash, which contrasted beautifully with the verdant surrounding countryside. The hike to the top of the volcano was quite challenging, with areas of loose stone, so you would need to check on your clients’ fitness before booking them on this particular excursion. The hike was incredible, and the panoramic views became more and more spectacular the further we climbed. Once at the summit, the fun had only just begun! We then, many of us with our hearts in our mouths, pulled on our boiler suits, masks and goggles and sledged down the 728-metre near-vertical drop to the bottom of the volcano. What a thrill! Even the most nervous of the group made it down and loved every second. There is an option to walk down the volcano for those who opt out – but where’s the fun in that!
On a FAM trip, you don’t often have time to really soak up the atmosphere of a town, and I would have loved more time in both Granada and Leon, both stunningly beautiful and steeped in history. Granada has a more polished feel, as many of the central areas have been restored. We spotted very few tourists while we were there and, in a world of over-tourism, it felt very special to have the place to ourselves. Leon had a slightly grittier feel – there is less restoration (though we were told there are plans to restore the area around the Cathedral) and it very much feels like a University city. The group were divided on Leon, many preferring Granada, but I loved the realness of Leon and the glimpse into real Nicaraguan life that it gave.
The biggest surprise for me was the luxury accommodation available in Nicaragua. Morgan’s Rock, perhaps one of Central America’s most established luxury eco lodges, took everyone by surprise. The rooms, that overlooked the private beach below, were out of this world. Another place I could have stayed for days! Every detail had been thought through, from the reusable water bottles to the ingenious over-bed air con, and the free use of body boards on the beach.
We also had an unforgettable experience staying at Jicaro Lodge, set on its own private islita, on Lake Nicaragua. With just 9 rooms, we had the island to ourselves. The setting was spectacular and kayaking around the island with the sun setting over Lake Nicaragua is an experience I will never forget. The service at the hotel was exemplary – friendly, attentive and relaxed. Every member of staff knew each of our names from the moment we arrived, and nothing was too much for them. The food was also the best we had the entire trip. It was, quite literally, fit for a King. Or, at least, a Princess – we were later told that Jack proposed to Princess Eugenie at the hotel.
Our final stop was somewhere completely different. After a short flight from Managua, we arrived in the tropical paradise of The Corn Islands. The islands had a very Caribbean feel, a complete contrast to the rest of our trip. We spent our first night on Little Corn in the beautiful Yemaya Hotel. The rooms were lovely, all with terraces overlooking the beach and (I’m told) they served the best cocktails of the whole trip. The swimming off the beach was easy and pleasant and the snorkelling in the pristine reef, just of the coast, was some of the best I have experienced in Central America.
Our second night was spent at Arenas Beach, a much simpler hotel, but with a beautiful beach. We weren’t blessed with the best weather for our final night but as we sat in the beach bar eating lobster, we all reflected on what an incredible trip it had been.
The LATA Nicaragua FAM trip was part of a joint campaign with the Nicaraguan Tourist Board to reinvigorate the UK market after the country was reopened to UK travellers by the FCO earlier this year.
The FAM was a huge success, with all the operators involved feeling that Nicaragua was safe and ready to receive UK visitors. The diminished tourist numbers is a real selling point, and tour operators should take advantage of offering this incredible destination while visitor numbers are low.
After the FAM, LATA are very happy to endorse that Nicaragua is ready for business and hope that our members and the wider trade will support our work in reintroducing UK travellers to the region.
Follow our campaign #NicaraguaisOpen across all our social channels.
CLICK HERE to download a copy of the full FAM Trip report