With surf, hiking and the chance to sled down the steep slopes of an active volcano, it’s no surprise that Nicaragua is fast becoming one of the adventure hot spots of Central America. And with prices less than half of its heavily touristed neighbour Costa Rica the word is starting to get around.
What we loved the most was that we were often left to explore these places on our own. We could hike through jungle without seeing another soul and we had waves on long stretches of coastline all to ourselves. The feeling that we were experiencing these places for the first time was best of all.
Much of Nicaragua is still rarely visited and while these were the best adventures we got up to there is so much potential for adventure activities just waiting to be discovered. There are rivers to be kayaked, jungles to be traversed and many a mountain to climb. Here are a few ideas to quench your thirst for the outdoors and stoke your inner adrenaline junkie.
With 19 volcanoes in Nicaragua, how can you not climb at least one?
In our 3 months here we managed to fit in five volcano ascents. There was a very muddy hike around Mombacho, a drive to the spewing crater of Masaya, a sweaty scramble to the top of Cosigüina, a delicious swim in the crater lake of Apoyo and a mind-blowing toboggan ride down Cerro Negro.
Add to that a crawl through loose rubble to the fuming tops of Telica and San Cristobal or a twelve-hour knee crushing ascent of Concepcion and there is more than enough to keep you active for a few weeks.
Looking for a little more?
If you can organise yourself a guide to take you on this very unofficial tour this would make for an insane day out in a volcano. We got really excited at the thought of rappelling the 700 m drop from the lip of Cosigüina to the lake below but in the end it was not to be. What was once the tallest volcano in Nicaragua exploded over 100 years ago spewing ash from Mexico to Colombia. The deep blue water of the lake bubbles along the shoreline from the remaining volcanic activity. Only a handful of people have made the journey down here, which is done half by rope, half by foot. Find the right people, and you could be one of them.
With a long, rugged and largely undeveloped coastline, Nicaragua is the perfect place to pick up a board and paddle out. The relatively consistent swell and year-round offshore winds produced over Lake Nicaragua means clean waves almost every day of the year. From pumping surf with billowing spray to the smallest ripple, this section of coast is perfect for beginners and those that have a few years of experience under their belt.
Playa Maderas near San Juan del Sur is one of the most popular surf spots and has some fun waves but it feels more like a game of dodge the surfboard. An afternoon surf session quickly becomes a minefield of flying boards and out of control beginners shooting at you from every direction.
Though just a few hours further north at Miramar Point, we found long stretches of empty coastline with perfect waves, a firing point break and just a few friendly faces to share the surf with. We swapped the infamous ‘Sunday Funday’ at San Juan for sunset beers on the beach with Surf Tours Nicaragua. Check out our full experience here.
Rolling hills checkered with coffee fields, primary jungle clinging to steep cliffs, hundred year old trees dripping in vines, tiny farming villages with a comfortably cool climate and barely another traveller to share in the tranquility. The northern highlands are the perfect place for a spot of hiking.
We were transported back to our five year old selves, sloshing through muddy puddles in oversized wellies, climbing up muddy steps, sliding down muddy trails, and all round getting pretty damn muddy. We had a blast. The more challenging hikes took us through dense cloud forest, up mossy ladders and across wooden bridges to the tops of waterfalls and the edge of cliffs. The views were spectacular and the sunsets the best we saw in Nicaragua.
A trip through the Somoto Canyon takes you down 14 kilometres of river, through open pools and bat caves, over boulders between steep white cliffs and, if you’re game, backflipping off a 20 metre perch into the depths of the Rio Coco.
The canyon was kept as a local secret for years until a group of geologists officially brought it into the world of tourism in 2004. These days Nicaraguans come from far and wide for the ‘leisurely’ canyon experience where they are pulled up stream through the lower section of cliffs while relaxing in their tubes, beer in hand. Foreigners opt for the more adventurous 6-hour canyon experience which can be as adrenaline packed as you make it. There are high jumps around every corner, rock faces to rappel down or you can just paddle your way down stream.
So have a leisurely afternoon chilling with your beer on the river or do like we did and get your adrenaline pumping scrambling up cliffs and backflipping off a 20 metre into river pools. We had a great time with Somoto Canyon Tours, read about our full experience here.
Since taking out the number 2 spot on CNN’s Thrill Seeker Bucket List in 2014 volcano boarding down Cerro Negro has become one of the biggest draws to the north of Nicaragua. Tobogganing down the 45 degree slopes of one of the country’s most active volcanoes at speeds of up to 90 km/h. Who wouldn’t get a kick out of that?
Less than an hour from Leon, Cerro Negro and its infamous slopes stick out like a very rocky black thumb against the lush green of the surrounding volcanoes. The hour climb to the incredibly windy summit, with a board tucked horizontally behind your backpack, feels like you might actually get lift off in the strong winds.
The slope is so steep you can barely see over the edge. Pull up your board, take a seat and thrust yourself off the edge of the volcano followed by a cloud of dust and an echo of cheers. You may swerve out of control, you may fly off your board, you will get covered in dust and rubble and you most definitely will have a hell of a good time.
This is an adventure experience that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.