El Mercado Viejo in Masaya. Photo © Carles-Amalaric Navarro Parcerisas/123rf.

Sights in Masaya, Nicaragua

Soak in the culture and people-watching of Masaya’s plazas, especially the throbbing social and commercial heart of the mostly indigenous Monimbó neighborhood, peruse crafts markets where find all manner of delightful surprises: locally made leather shoes, brass, iron, carved wood, and textile handicrafts, plus paintings, clothing and hammocks, and cool off after an intense morning in the market on the windswept malecón.

City street in Granada, Nicaragua. Photo © Dreamstime.

Planning Your Time in Granada and Masaya

All within an hour of the capital Managua, Granada, Masaya, and Carazo contain a taste of Nicaragua’s must-sees. Both Granada and Masaya make excellent bases for your excursions around the country, or you can make day and overnight trips from the capital. Either way, you’ll find quaint colonial towns, smoking volcanoes, lagoons, traditional artistry, coffee farms, and the crashing tide of the Pacific Ocean.

Volcán Maderas is a pleasant volcano to climb. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Nicaragua’s Volcanic Landscape

Nicaragua’s nickname, “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes,” evokes its primary geographical features: two great lakes and a chain of impressive and active volcanoes; these water and volcanic resources have had an enormous effect on its human history. The country has about 40 volcanoes, a half dozen of which are usually active at any time. Running parallel to the Pacific shore, Nicaragua’s volcanoes are a part of the Ring of Fire that encompasses most of the western coast of the Americas, the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, Japan, and Indonesia.

Reserva Charco Verde. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Where to Go in Nicaragua

Unless you have a few weeks to dedicate to your travels, it’s impossible to see everything Nicaragua has to offer–even then, you’d have a tight schedule. The best way to tackle the country is to learn about each region, then plan according to your interests and favorite activities. From vibrant nightlife to exploring history to outdoor adventures, Nicaragua won’t disappoint.

Moon Nicaragua, 6th ed.

Moon Nicaragua

This full-color guide to Nicaragua includes vibrant photos and maps to help with trip planning. Nicaragua expert Elizabeth Perkins teaches travelers how to best experience the wonders of this Central American destination, from hanging out on the Pacific beaches of San Juan del Sur and shopping for crafts in Masaya to partaking in the ever-evolving […]

View from a stone path at the edge of the volcano's steaming crater.

Visiting Volcán Masaya National Park

An easy day trip from Managua, Masaya, or Granda, Volcán Masaya is Nicaragua’s most impressive outdoor attraction: one of the most visibly active volcanoes in the country. Read on to find out what the park has to offer beyond its famous overlook.

The view from La Garnacha's mirador. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

The Best of Nicaragua in Two Weeks

Nicaragua has a popular, carved-out tourist route based on its principal, most developed attractions. The beaten path is made up of the Granada-Ometepe-San Juan del Sur circuit, which can be done in about a week. Save another week for volcano-boarding near León, wildlife-viewing in Estelí, and relaxing on remote Big Corn Island. Wherever you head, Granada is a good place to ease into things, with colorful surroundings, wonderful cuisine, and a central location.

Lightning strikes far in the distance beyond the flat calm waters of the lake.

Laguna de Apoyo in Masaya, Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s cleanest and most enticing swimming hole is Laguna de Apoyo, just outside of Masaya. Actually a lake that formed in the drowned volcanic crater of the long extinct Apoyo Volcano, the lagoon floor reaches 200 meters in depth—the lowest point in all of Central America. Considering how easy it is to reach the lagoon, it is surprisingly untouristed.

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

Diving & Snorkeling in Nicaragua

Despite Nicaragua’s gorgeous shorelines, diving is a pastime only beginning to be developed, with only three shops in the whole country: one in San Juan del Sur and one on each of the Corn Islands. For those interested in snorkeling, it is best off the Corn Islands and some of the Pearl Cays.

An older woman with red, white and green facepaint and a decorated headress with feathers, ribbons and beads.

Nicaragua’s Celebrations & Fiestas

When planning your trip to Nicaragua, consider timing your visit to coincide with one of the many celebrations and festivals. Conversely, you might want to avoid festivals and all the fireworks, drunken masses, altered transportation schedules, and spiked hotel prices that they bring. Here are a few times of the year when services are affected by celebrations.