Nicaragua is not the first place you think of as a hiking destination. In fact, you might think of neighboring Costa Rica. But Nicaragua offers more authentic cities and towns, better scenery, and off-the-grid locations brimming with wildlife and scenic views – without hoards of tourists snapping selfies!
If you’ve been following my blog and reading my posts you know I love the outdoors. I love views, landscape scenery, and hiking in unusual places. While I do prefer cooler climes, Nicaragua’s dry season is underway and it is time to hike. My favorite hike are in Ometepe Island and Playa Gigante, but that’s normal as I am an islander by birth being from Bermuda, and I naturally gravitate to tiny rocks in bodies of water! Here is my list of some of the best places to hike if you are planning an active vacation in Central America.
Volcano Mombacho Cloud Forest – Granada
Volcano Mombacho is a cloud forest, which means that unlike a rainforest it is higher above sea level. The forest is often drenched in fog or mist, and the trees are short and crooked. It can be humid and hot to hike in a cloud forest, and Mombacho is no different. The Mombacho forest is located 1,344 meters above sea level. The volcano itself is dormant, but not totally inactive. It last erupted in 1570. Hiking the crater trail also brings you to the peak from which you can look down on the city of Granada.
Practical tips: Tours run from $30-40 US per person and include transport from Granada and entry to the volcano. But if you are willing to spend a bit more time getting there, it is not necessary to reserve a tour since Park Rangers can give you one. Public transport does not operate the same way in Nicaragua as other countries, and while you can take the public bus to the Volcano Office, expect to add up to an hour per way to and from Granada. For Volcano Zip Lining, book with your hotel or accommodation provider 24 hours prior.
Los Pueblos Blancos –Towns of San Juan del Oriente & Caterina
These little country towns are where crafts and pottery are made along with plant cultivation and agriculture. Caterina is perched on the slopes of the Laguna Apoyo, a volcanic crater lake. The towns are hiker friendly and 25 minutes from Granada center. You can use the local bus, get off, and hike or use a moto-taxi. The town of Caterina is perhaps my favorite country town in all of Nicaragua. The townsfolk are known for their cultivation of plants and flowers, and the mirador offers the best and highest view of the Laguna.
Practical tip: there is no need to go on an organized tour. Take the local bus from the back of Granada’s municipal market to the town of Caterina for less than $1. Then get out and hike around the different towns of San Juan del Oriente & Diriomo. You can use a moto-taxi to return to Granada for around $7-8 US.
Volcano Maderas – Ometepe Island
You can’t travel all the way to Nicaragua and skip Ometepe Island. This Volcanic Island is situated in the center of Lake Nicaragua, filled with howler monkeys, lake beaches and lush coffee plantations. Hiking here feels like you have gone back in time, to a place where people live simply off the land. Hiking on Volcano Maderas is spectacular as you are led to a laguna (don’t hike without a guide due to the steep ravine). Half-way up stop at Totoco Ecolodge for a drink or lunch, or end your hike at the Finca Magdalena coffee plantation which offers fair-trade coffee.
Apante Nature Reserve & Selva Negra– Matagalpa – photo above of the outskirts of Matagalpa and the entrance to the coffee estate
Matagalpa is a quiet, untouristed town and if you are the type of person who can’t sit still, you’ll need to get out and hike. Actually, it’s the only thing to do here. The Apante Nature Reserve is an easier hike through a dry tropical rainforest with a look-out point to the city below. The Selva Negra, a coffee estate, offers a coffee hike and plantation tour so you can sample their coffee. There is also a trail for the Selva Negra Cloud Forest, a lush, humid cloud forest with more howler monkeys, neon colored frogs, and flowers as large as dinner plates! Bring water and a companion as hiking alone is never advisable.
The Big Foot Mountain – Playa Gigante
The ‘Big Foot’ – a large hill that towers over the fishing beach of Playa Gigante – is deceptive. From the beach, it looks like an easy trek. Hours later, after you have climbed the windswept slopes, and have aching legs and feet, reward yourself with views of the Pacific Coastline and Redonda Bay. In the dry season, the dust swirls up the slopes of the steep hill, making you choke. In the wet season, you’ll slip and slide a bit – bring good boots or sneakers capable of a steep trail climb. This was the place I first hiked in Nicaragua in 2012 and it remains one of my favorite off the beaten path destinations.
Safety & Practical Tips: Make sure to hike in good shoes – not flip-flops and bring a good supply of water, a hat and sunscreen as the cliff is very exposed. The cliff is high, and the climb is for an intermediate fitness level.