If, like me, you approach holiday planning more like a research assignment for David Attenborough’s Our Planet (with some lovely eco-hotels thrown in) then allow me to suggest Nicaragua.
Often overlooked in favour of neighbouring Costa Rica, this tropical playground boasts Lake Nicaragua – the largest freshwater lake in Central America – as well as colonial towns such as the Unesco World Heritage Site Granada and a lush volcanic island with Unesco Biosphere Reserve status called Ometepe. Oh, and some of the best surf breaks in the world. However, the country still remains relatively undiscovered – in part due to its varying levels of political unrest over the years, which has by no means diminished the warm and generous spirit of the Nicaraguans but has affected the blossoming eco-tourism industry.
With things back on track, the best time to start planning a trip is right now. Dry season is between December and April, and the Christmas break is the ideal time to zigzag between its Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Getting around is relatively stress-free – but you will need to hire a driver or a car and allow time to get stuck behind a religious procession or local farmers herding their cattle (or sometimes both).
Granada-based Brit Dominic Allan, founder of travel company Real Latin America, offers specialist, tailored advice about the so-called land of lakes and volcanoes. A Bafta-winning documentary-maker-turned-travel-expert, I couldn’t recommend him more as a unique, personal advice service for independent travellers – or for those who want a first-class concierge-like guide throughout their trip. Allan offers nothing short of a sensory overload. Read on for Vogue’s insider guide to Nicaragua.
Kick-start your introduction to Nicaragua in Granada, a colonial town bursting with charm…
The easiest point of entry into Nicaragua is the capital, Managua. From there, take a 45-minute taxi straight from the airport to Granada, which calls to mind Colombia’s Cartagena with its rows and rows of rainbow-painted streets and welcoming palm-lined market squares – just without the crowds. (Also more than worth a visit if you have time? Leon in the north.) Granada’s relatively small size means the majority of the town can be conquered on foot, so spend 36 hours here for a calming introductory glimpse of Nicaraguan culture on the bustling banks of its most famous lake.