Nicaragua, Naturally

Calling all nature-lovers to a discovery vacation in a country that has retained much of its natural diversity. On our routing, start with a stay in a nature reserve with more than 155 recorded bird species, followed by a three-night stay in a luxury lodge on an island in Lake Nicaragua, with excursions including Granada touring and hiking in the Mombacho Volcano National Reserve. Continue to the far side of Lake Nicaragua to meet artists and fisherman among the Solentiname Islands and along the San Juan River, whose route from Lake Nicaragua to the Atlantic Ocean passes rainforests and cattle ranches, stilted shacks on the water and river lodges, a 300-year-old Spanish fort called El Castillo. The shoreline teams with wildlife, especially in the mammoth Indo-Maiz Biological Reserve. Travelers are bound to see caiman and crocodiles cruising the river; hundreds of herons, ibises, egrets and other marsh birds; cormorants, pelicans, frigate, birds and herons at home in the mangrove swamps. Before heading home via Managua, a final stay in a Certified Private Wildlife Reserve, an authentic ecotourism success story.

DEPARTURE/RETURN LOCATION Managua city, Granada colonial city, Solentiname Island, San Juan River, Carazo city
DEPARTURE TIME To check locally
RETURN TIME To check locally
INCLUDED   A/C Transportation, Bilingual Guide, Entrance fees to the different attractions, Daily Breakfast
NOT INCLUDED Personal expenses, Entry & Exit from International Airport in Managua, Meals & Tours or services not specified in the itinerary, Personal and/or medical expenses,  all optional tours or activities during free time, transfers outside of the tour program.

Day 1: Montibelli Nature Reserve

Arrive in Managua. We will meet you on arrival at the Managua International Airport to transfer to Montibelli Private Nature Reserve, 30 minutes from Managua.  Spread over 160 hectares, Montibelli is an award-winning sustainable tourism project on whose protected land more than 155 bird species have been recorded, including manakins, motmots (the national bird), oropendolas, trogons, tanagers, toucans, woodpeckers and hummingbirds. You’re also likely to spot an impressive array of butterflies and howler monkeys, and the reserve produces its own fruits and vegetable, grown organically.  Today enjoy an afternoon trail walk with your guide.

Day 2:Montibelli to Granada

Take an early morning bird watching tour. Then after breakfast, visit the Farm, where you will see how pineapple, rice and avocado are grown by the local family, who also serve us curds and tortillas.  After lunch, we visit the Chocoyero Reserve to follow several trails through different vegetation levels. While the reserve hosts dozens of bird species, it is famous for its “chocoyos,” green parakeets that nest right next to a waterfall. In the late afternoon, you transfer to Granada,  On arrival, transfer from the pier by small boat (20 minutes) to the Jicaro Island Ecolodge, built with care, luxury and sustainability on a private island among the “Granada Isletas.” When you are not touring, here at Jicaro you will savor authentic cuisine, relax in a luxury casita, revitalize at the wellness center, experience a special private-island getaway.

Day 3:Granada

Today get ready for a full day of different experiences.  First you explore colonial Granada, by horse drawn carriage down narrow cobbled streets and past historic churches and colorful cafes. On foot, you’ll visit La Merced Church and the superb Convento San Francisco, part of which is now a museum exhibiting mysterious stone carvings and idols made worshiped by pre-Columbian people; here also is an impressive collection of ancient sculptures, once objects of religious worship. You then switch to boat to cruise by boat through Las Isletas, close-by little islands, popular with bird watchers, that float on Lake Nicaragua. After lunch, you will visit the Masaya Volcano Park, established in 1979 as the first national park the country. Your local guide will introduce you to the wonders of the Masaya Volcano, following the trails around the Santiago crater—active since 1946 and indeed you will look into the crater itself.  Next stop is the famous Masaya Market, a grand emporium of local arts—primitive paintings and sculpture– and artisanal crafts.   Return to Granada in time for sunset cocktails on your hotel terrace.

Day 4: Granada

After breakfast, we will drive to the top of the peak at Mombacho Volcano National Reserve where you take a moderately difficult hike along the mountain trails, in the company of a local guide, who knows well the flora and fauna of the highland ecosystem and the history of the people who occupied this stunning environment.  Weather permitting, you’ll have a panoramic view of Granada below giant Lake Nicaragua and the coastal plains of the Pacific Ocean. You’ll also have a chance to enjoy a cup of coffee and snacks at the biological station, before heading back down to Granada. The rest of the afternoon and evening are at leisure to explore Granada on your own or enjoy your final evening at the hotel. (boat transport is readily available between the two most hours.)

Day 5: Granada to Solentiname archipelago

After breakfast we will transfer you to the Managua Airport for a short flight to San Carlos.  A local guide will be waiting to assist you during the transfer to the motorboat and the onward ride across Lake Nicaragua to the Solentiname Archipelago.  After lunch, your guide will accompany you on an afternoon tour of the main Islands, settled in 1970 by Ernesto Cardenal —priest, poet and a former Nicaraguan minister of culture.  He was accompanied by a group of fishermen and country folk, who, under his leadership and guidance, began to paint.  There work turned into a painting school that became known as Escuela Primitivista de Solentiname. Their primitive paintings and balsa wood carvings are distinctive, gaining attention and sales worldwide.  Your accommodations are on San Fernando Island, one of 37 islands in the archipelago.

Day 6: Solentiname to El Castillo town

After breakfast, we board our boat to Los Guatuzos refuge, one of the most beautiful and wildlife-packed parks in Central America.   Made up of 170 sq. miles of lush wetland and fed by 13 rivers, it is located on the southwest should of Lake Nicaragua at the mouth of the San Juan River. On a two-hour hike, you will find birds galore—spoonbills, storks, egrets, parrots and five species of kingfishers— and meet howler, white-face and spider monkey, spot caimans, turtles and iguanas bathing in the sun along the rivers’ shores, sloths hanging out in the trees. Transfer to San Carlos, have lunch at a local restaurant, then take another boat to El Castillo Town.  Of course during the trips down the Rio San Juan, there will be more monkeys, and migrating birds such as eagles, falcons, blue jays, herons and more. Your river journey ends at El Castillo Town where you visit El Castillo, the Spanish for that reminds us how important river was as a gateway between Europe and Central America; the fortress was built to deter marauding pirates en route to raiding prosperous Granada. An onsite museum documents the fort’s swashbuckling heritage.  In the evening, take to a small boat for a caiman tour on the river, then enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

Day 7: El Castillo

This morning we head out to explore the Indio Maiz Reserve, which is dedicated to the preservation of and research on it biological diversity. The reserve begins at the convergence of Rio Bartola and Rio San Juan.  The forest and river life we hope to see includes tapir, manatee, harpy eagle, green limpet, sawfish,   American crocodile—and with great luck, a jaguar.  Following a picnic lunch on the banks of the Bartola River, we continue to the Cacao community, made up of eight families that live from cacao production, who will tell you all about how cacao is grown and gathered, and how it is used in the homes. End this visit with a cooking lesson on how to prepare the best cacao drink, then sampled with tortillas.

Day 8: El Castillo to Dolores

You leave after breakfast by boat to the San Carlos pier, and continue with guide and car to Managua—a scenic five-hour drive—where, just outside the capital, you will check into the d’Santos Boutique Hotel, located in the Concepion de Maria’s Certified Private Wildlife Reserve, fulfilling the tasks of wildlife reforestation, safeguarding the habitat of endemic species, and providing aquifer protection that ensures water filtration supply for the town of Dolores in the department of Carazo.  As part of this authentic ecotourism success story, the owners, pioneers in coffee production with environmental protection, have created a colonial-style Nicaraguan inn.

Day 9: Dolores to Managua

Today is the day to choose your own activities offered by the family-run property.  You can: walk the coffee trails on a private wildlife reserve tour, checking off your species list of 9 mammals, 59 birds, 7 amphibians, 16 reptiles, 137 insects; or ride a horse; or rent a mountain bike. Another option: learn about the production of globally certified Café de Santos.
  • Breakfast included

Day 10: Managua

Following breakfast at the hotel, we will transport you by private car to Managua International Airport.
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