By Mike Cobb
Sad political events in 2018 have hit tourism in Nicaragua hard, mainly because people worry about traveling to a country that came up in the news for civil unrest nearly two years ago. But did the riots in Baltimore in 2015 have any meaningful impact on tourist safety in Williamsburg, Virginia in 2017?
Of course not. The same is true in Nicaragua.
There were certain heated areas in Managua and neighboring cities, however, the rural area, the coasts, and the mountains remained largely trouble-free. Sadly though, businesses struggled as the tourism dried up. It’s coming back, but not from many U.S. Travelers…yet. Today it’s mostly Canadians, Europeans, and other Central American travelers who are frequenting Nicaragua and getting a chance to experience this incredible country.
The phenomenal vacation locations around the country remain safe, beautiful, inviting, inexpensive, and largely empty. With options ranging from surf and golf resorts on the Pacific Ocean, a Gilligan’s Island escape on the Caribbean and even eco-coffee plantation resorts in the cloud forest, Nicaragua warmly welcomes tourists willing to shed irrational fear and come experience a rich, thriving culture and people in Latin America.
If you are a surfer, imagine world-class waves with no one on them and exclusively there for your enjoyment. Divers slip under the Caribbean waves on Little Corn Island with just a guide and as many tanks as the boat will hold. Play a round of golf on an oceanside course and take as many mulligans as you want. Or hike the misty mountain trails following the haunting sounds of the howler monkeys in and out of the drifting clouds.
The best-kept secret in the Caribbean is Little Corn Island. Getting there is no easy feat, but well worth it. From Managua, you fly to Big Corn Island ($180/rt), cab over to the dock ($1/pp) and catch the $4 panga (a small boat) to Little Corn. The 45-minute ride out across the open ocean in a small boat can range from moderately tame to Mr. Toads Wild Ride. Be sure to have garbage bags for luggage to protect from the sea spray in transit.
Once arriving at the dock in Little Corn, you’ll be greeted by porters sporting wheelbarrows to wheel luggage to your hotel. There are no roads on Little Corn; just paths cut through the thick jungle and along the beach. The walk from one side to the other takes just 5 minutes,
Little Beach and Bungalow, www.littlecornbb.com on the windy side of the island, is a hidden treasure. Private cabanas from $85/nt are tucked into the palm, sea grape, and tropical foliage with hammocks and lounge chairs snuggled around for every guest. Tranquillo and Desideri are wonderful eating spots. Snorkeling ($20), deep sea fishing ($70), and diving ($35) are fun reef diversions on the water. Or just walk the beach and sunbathe on a secluded bay, just you, the pelicans and the palm trees.
Little Corn is a place to unplug, relax, renew relationships, and chill out while the warm sea breezes gently rock your hammock back and forth. Bring a book, or several. Power and Internet on the island run from approximately 1:00 pm until 6:00 am giving guests plenty of time to read, relax, and sleep in.
For coffee lovers, head to the mountains of Nicaragua and spend a few days in the cloud forests. It’s the tropical highlands, where it’s springtime every day of the year. Selva Negra, run by Mausi and Eddy Kuhl, is a phenomenal example of sustainability in action. An organic coffee plantation first and foremost, the working farm captures 100 percent of its waste and converts it to methane for cooking, moves the remnants into a worm farm, and relies on abundant hydropower for the majority of its electric use. Hotel rooms from $60/nt., or step it up and sleep in a cabana with orchids blanketing the roof from $105/nt. www.selvanegra.com
Selva Negra holds a few culinary surprises too. Visitors dine lakeside on artisanal cheeses and German wursts made onsite and then enjoy coffee and dessert made in the pastry kitchen by Chef Roy, all for $15. You may need those calories if you plan to hike the Peter and Helen trail, a sometimes-muddy slog, up the side of the mountain to the ridgetop trail and back down the Fuente Juventud (Fountain of Youth).
On the West side of Nicaragua, visitors soak up the sun in a semi-arid climate much like Southern California. Except that the water is warm. You can splash away all day and stay comfortable in the 80-degree Pacific Ocean. Surfers love this coastline, arriving to resorts like Gran Pacifica, where the waves are world-class, empty, and a strong offshore breeze keeps the face-up longer. Golfers, however, will face a fun challenge on the first hole or two gauging the drift, but for $22, play another 18 and get it right.
Family-friendly resorts dot the coastline where kids can ride horseback, explore rocky pools, and when time is right, help release a batch of baby turtles back into the sea as part of a major conservation effort. Lay by the sea and relax with a massage for $29. Enjoy a magnificent whole red snapper oceanside for $21 and then sleep to the sounds of the surf in an oceanfront condo from $99. www.granpacifica.com
The Bottom Line
Nicaragua is open for business. Travelers who couldn’t care less about common misperception, and love to freak out friends and family, should consider a trip to Nicaragua before it hits the popularity charts again. The waves, boats, trails, courses, restaurants, and hotels are wide open, empty and inviting. Enjoy a vacation in Nicaragua while the getting is good.
Mike Cobb is CEO of ECI Development, a company that creates value through socially responsible development within communities in Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama. More info available at www.ecidevelopment.com.