While many travellers love Nicaragua for its charming colonial towns and all-night fiestas, when it comes to adventuring outdoors nowhere in Central America rivals it for versatility and price.
Whether you’re a diehard adrenaline junkie or you’re just looking to get up close with nature, you’re sure to find something in Nicaragua to quench your thirst for adventure. From trekking through pristine virgin jungle to jumping from a 20-metre perch, these are the best ways to have an outdoor adventure in Nicaragua.
Surf the Pacific Coast
The persistent offshore winds that blow along much of Nicaragua’s Pacific coastline make it an excellent spot to catch some waves. Whether you’re looking for a secluded beach to become the hippie surfer of your dreams or keen to combine days on the waves with all-night parties, Nicaragua really has it all.
San Juan del Sur and its surrounding bays are where many choose to get their surfing fix, but travel further north and you’ll find a town to suit every beach bum or surfing fanatic. Popoyo, Playa Gigante and Asseradores are among the more laidback surf towns with excellent breaks. Hostels or surf camps in these areas generally rent out boards by the hour or week.
Jungle Trek in The Indio Maiz Nature Reserve
While the west coast of Nicaragua is a well-trodden part of the Gringo Trail through Central America, the remote east is a place that is rarely visited. From San Carlos on the edge of Lake Nicaragua, the Rio San Juan leads you past laidback river villages such as Boca de Sabalos and El Castillo, to the fringes of the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve on the Caribbean.
Teeming with wildlife and home to indigenous Rama communities, trekking through the reserve’s wild and untouched jungle will give you a completely different perspective on the country. The slow 16-hour boat trip down the waterway is reserved for more intrepid travellers, but a fast boat or plane ride will allow you to arrive in comfort for a slightly higher price.
Climb a volcano
With 19 volcanoes spread throughout western Nicaragua, many of which are active, summiting a volcano is an obligatory part of the Nicaraguan outdoor experience and there’s one to suit every adventurer.
Choose between a challenging 10-hour slog up Volcan Concepción on Isla de Ometepe, howler monkeys echoing through the lush forest on Volcan Mombacho, gazing down at the eerily dark crater lake of Volcan Cosigüina or watching the smoke and ash spluttering from Volcan Masaya.
Kayak the Wetlands
Though next-door Costa Rica receives all the accolades for being a biodiversity hotspot, Nicaragua does pretty well in the environment stakes as well. Exploring one of its many waterways by kayak is an excellent way to experience its diverse wildlife without being intrusive.
Paddle between two volcanoes up the serene Rio Istián on Ometepe, explore one of the largest mangrove ecosystems in Central America in Padre Ramos or sidle up to some very cheeky monkeys in the Islas Solentiname.
Hike the cloud forests of the highlands
Unlike the coast, which is often starved for rainfall, the highlands receive an almost daily dose, and with that comes a lush network of primary cloud forests and thriving coffee plantations. Lace up those hiking boots, enjoy the cooler climate and experience the greener side of Nicaragua.
You’ll likely get wet and covered in mud, but the rewards of exploring a pristine pocket of nature where few people go is easily worth it. Shrouded in mist and edged by dramatic cliffs, Peñas Blancas Natural Reserve is accessible from Matagalpa and Jinotega and is a perfect place to start.
Canyoning in Somoto Canyon
Join Somoto Canyon Tours on their 6-hour adventure experience that takes you along the Rios Tapacali and Coco between the soaring canyon walls, through caves and if you choose, off 20-metre high cliff jumps.
If you’re more water baby than adrenaline junkie, you can also enjoy the scenery from the still pools in the lower half of the canyon.
Scuba dive or snorkel the Corn Islands
Hugged by idyllic white sand beaches and palm trees, the Corn Islands, in particular Little Corn, are Nicaragua’s little slice of Caribbean paradise.
Though lounging on the beach with a coconut would be a perfectly blissful way to spend your time here, the diverse marine life awaits those looking for a more active island experience. Not too far offshore, expect to find sites alive with colourful fish and coral, or head out for a full day on the ocean to the island’s most impressive dive site: Blowing Rock is a steep pinnacle that pierces the ocean’s surface. Larger beasts lurk out here so be prepared to lock eyes with plenty of reef sharks, turtles and rays.
Volcano Board Down Cerro Negro
Considering this is the activity that puts Nicaragua firmly on many travellers’ bucket lists, this roundup just wouldn’t be complete without what is arguably the most iconic of Nicaraguan adrenaline-inducing activities – volcano boarding down the face of an active volcano.
Just outside of Leon sits the black hulking mass of Cerro Negro. The appeal of hurtling down its face at lightning speeds needs no explanation.
Photos by Chris Eyre-Walker