Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, sharing a border with Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south, while the Pacific Ocean lines its western edge and the Caribbean lies to the east. Yet Nicaragua is also Central America’s least densely populated country. Although it is not nearly as touristed as its neighbor to the south, Costa Rica, its colonial towns, two enormous lakes, and 40 volcanoes make it an ideal destination for adventurers who want to get off the beaten path.

While resources might be limited for many Nicaraguans, one thing most have in abundance is a friendly, laid-back attitude.Nearly a third of Nicaragua’s six million people live in the nation’s capital, Managua. Roughly 70 percent of Nicaraguans are mestizos (persons of mixed European and Central American Indian ancestry), and about half of the population is under 18 years old. More than 45 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line, making Nicaragua the second-poorest country in the western hemisphere. (The World Bank calculated the gross national income per capita at US$1,170 in 2011.)

Color map of Nicaragua


Nicaragua’s scarce resources mean that tourist amenities may not be as well developed as in more prosperous Latin American countries, but volunteer efforts are warmly welcomed, and opportunities abound. Volunteers might teach English, arts and crafts, or even surf lessons to local youth, or support a community clinic or school near one of Nicaragua’s colonial towns. Free time can be spent exploring the country’s volcanoes, lagoons, canyons, rivers, and valleys; swimming in the cool Caribbean or the bold Pacific surf; and taking in the cafés and cathedrals of colonial towns like León and Granada. There are high-quality, low-priced Spanish-language schools in the towns and cities, as well as a few scattered in rural areas and along the beach, so volunteers can also opt to ramp up their language skills before or while volunteering.

While resources might be limited for many Nicaraguans, one thing most have in abundance is a friendly, laid-back attitude. Wherever you choose to spend your volunteer vacation, you can be sure you’ll leave having made friends.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.