The tops of wreckage emerge from the turquoise water at Nicaragua's Corn Islands.

Diving Nicaragua’s Corn Islands

Three distinct layers of reef, composed of more than 40 species of coral, protect the north side of Big Corn Island. The diving and snorkeling are impressive, and divers regularly see nurse sharks, eagle rays, and lots of colorful fish. The wilder Little Corn Island’s delicate reef system is unique for its abundance of wildlife and coral formations, including overhangs, swim-throughs, and the infamous shark cave.

Sunset in Solentiname. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

San Fernando and the Solentiname Islands

Solentiname’s best-known attraction is the creativity of its inhabitants, so don’t expect a lot of tourist infrastructure. Take a fully guided, four-day exploration of the entire Solentiname archipelago and the Río Papaturro in Los Guatuzos, including all its natural, archaeological, and cultural attractions.

Bilwi's main dock. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Planning Your Time in Puerto Cabezas and the Río Coco

Isolated from the rest of Nicaragua by vast tracts of inaccessible forest and coastline, the municipality of Puerto Cabezas, its capital Bilwi, and the Río Coco watershed are remote and wild. Tourism is undeveloped throughout this region, which for some travelers makes it all the more enticing.

Penas Blancas in the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. Photo © Rebecca Ore (Own work), licensed CC BY-SA 3.0.

Hiking Bosawás Biosphere Reserve

North of Managua, Bosawás Biosphere Reserve is the largest uninterrupted tract of primary rainforest north of the Amazon. Any trip in Bosawás is a serious backcountry undertaking and should not be attempted without proper supplies, some wilderness experience, a tolerance for dampness and discomfort, and a basic survival instinct. Guides are both obligatory and absolutely necessary.

Sunset on Awas near Parl Lagoon. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Planning Your Time on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast

The Atlantic coast of Nicaragua is a land unto itself. The coast is languid and lazy, with sultry mangrove estuaries, white, sandy beaches, and a relaxed lifestyle. Bluefields is a quintessential Caribbean port town, with enough fresh seafood to wear you out, an oppressive afternoon sun, and a no-hurry attitude. Corn Island and Little Corn Island are another scene altogether with soft sand beaches and rustling palm fronds, plus an isolated feeling that’s hard to find elsewhere.

La Iglesia El Calvario in Chinandega. Photo © La Iglesia El Calvario in Chinandega. Photo © Otto Dusbaba/123rf.

Planning Your Time in León and Chinandega, Nicaragua

In León and Chinandega, you can delve into the volcanic half of “the land of lakes and volcanoes.” Explore the Ring of Fire by peering into a crater lake at the top of Cosigüina, catching a glimpse of lava at night from Telica, or sliding down Cerro Negro at high speeds. There’s plenty to do, whether you come for two days or two weeks–exploring the cities, the shore, and places like Las Peñitas, Isla Juan Venado, Padre Ramos, and other points outside León that require more effort to reach but are excellent destinations.

Horseback riding on the beach in Nicaragua. Photo © Boy Driessen/123rf.

Things to Do on Nicaragua’s Northwest Coast

Although a trip to the scenic crater that makes up the highest point of Reserva Natural Volcán Cosigüina is the center point of a trip to this area, you can also relax in the Padre Ramos Wetlands Reserve, take a horseback ride, explore, fish, or lounge on the beach.

Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge

Howler monkeys and birdcalls will wake you bright and early in Los Guatuzos. Los Guatuzos contains dense populations of crocodiles; caimans; feral pigs; jaguars; and howler, white-faced, and spider monkeys. This is also home to a rare, ancient species of fish called the gaspar (Actractoseus tropicus), a living, armored relic of the Jurassic age. Between February and April, flocks of migratory species fly through in spectacular concentrations.

Lobster tail with local vegetables. Photo © Robert Lerich/123rf.

Sea to Soup: Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast Cookin’

Atlantic coast cuisine in Nicaragua is marked by its simplicity and freshness. Seafood on the Nicaraguan Atlantic is cheap by international standards, delicious by anyone’s standards, and well worth the wait. Here are some amazing dishes to try on your travels around the coast.

One of the many islets that make up the Solentiname archipelago. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

The Solentiname Archipelago and the Río San Juan

The Río San Juan carries the waters of Lake Cocibolca to the Caribbean through a lush landscape of extensive nature reserves and broad cattle ranches. The biggest town in the area, San Carlos, has transformed from edgy port town to quaint destination, while offshore, the Solentiname Archipelago is a quiet group of islets of striking natural beauty. This region isn’t part of the casual traveler’s itinerary, but if you can invest a little more time than usual, the dramatic landscapes and remoteness will impress you.