The country borders Honduras in the north and Costa Rica in the south and has extensive coastlines along both the Pacific and Caribbean waters. For nature lovers, Nicaragua has several excellent parks and reserves with a solid infrastructure to support visitors comfortably. Several volcano reserves with montane and cloud forests offer a rich diversity of plants and animals. The San Juan River is a major ecotourism region where one can journey along 200 km of tropical rain forest to the Caribbean Sea. We will visit the Juan Venado Island reserve, the Selva Negra Ecolodge,the Masaya Volcano Park, Montibelli Reserve, Chocoyero Reserve, and the Indio Maiz Nature Reserve.
This tour focuses mainly on the natural history of Nicaragua but also includes a sampling of culture. We visit a variety of sites that include a range of habitats from cloud forest, dry forest, rain forest and swamp to picturesque freshwater islands and volcanoes. The country's rich heritage will also be experienced in the colonial cities of Granada, Leon and el Castillo with historic buildings dating back to the 15th century. The blend of Spanish and Indigenous cultures contributes to a variety of music, handcrafts and cuisine.
2020 Departure Dates & Cost
Private departures daily based on 2 or more persons with specialized naturalist local guide
Tour cost: $ 3,360 USD per person from Managua
Single Supplement $ 490 USD
Tailor made itineraries of any length available. Ask for details.
Day 1 Arrive Managua / Leon
Arrive Managua. On arrival you will be met in the arrival area after clearing customs. Transfer to Leon City. We suggest a morning arrival to allow for the 2 hours transfer. We can assist with International flights. 2 nights at our reconverted convent hotel.
Day 2 Juan Venado Reserve & Leon (B,L)
You will depart early in the morning from your hotel to visit Isla Juan Venado Nature Reserve, an important protected area in Nicaragua. It forms part of the country’s national park system and is well-known as a vital coastal wetland region. The stunning Juan Venado Island is situated 1 hour away of Leon city. Upon arrival to Las Peñitas beach, your guide will lead you to where you will board your private motor boat for an exciting 2 hour boat ride. Juan Venado is considered a barrier island and measures 22km in length and has a width of 0.5km, totaling 2.934 hectares. It stands out as a thin strip near the coast of Nicaragua. The island’s altitude is no higher than 25m. Separating the coast from the island is an ecologically important mangrove forest or swamp. This marvelous biological zone provides the ideal home for an abundance of animal life, particularly marine life.
The edge of the Juan Venado island which faces into the Pacific Ocean possesses a fine estuary and is also a vital nesting site for Olive Ridley sea turtles (from May to November). The estuary of Isla Juan Venado is itself home to a diversity of organisms including water birds, the cayman, crocodiles, iguanas, crustaceans and more. Isla Juan Venado Nature Reserve has no people residing in it, so you will be enveloped in solitude and the beauty of nature.
After lunch you will visit Leon with its 300,000 residents is the second largest city in Nicaragua. Leon was established on its present site when an earthquake destroyed the old town of Leon in 1609. Leon was the capital of Nicaragua for more than 200 years, before the title was handed over to Managua in 1851. The city has preserved its old architecture with one-floor houses and brick wood roofs. Leon still retains its colonial-style streets and buildings from that time, evidenced by its beautiful cathedral - the largest in Central America. You will make a special visit to Ruben Dario little museum, learn about the origins and most important facts about the father of Modern Spanish Literature. Afterward you will visit the “Ortiz Gurdian” Art Gallery known as one of the best private art galleries in Latin America.
Day 3 To Selva Negra (B,L)
Transfer to Matagalpa region. Matagalpa is known as the Septentrional Pearl for its natural characteristics, and as the Capital City of Production, for its diversity of commercial and agricultural activities, especially its coffee. The people of Matagalpa have indigenous background, they come from the native “Matagalpa” village, to which Spaniards and other European immigrants later joined. You will arrive to Selva Negra Ecolodge with free time to rest.
Selva Negra is a sustainable coffee plantation that welcomes tourists. From the food on the table in the lakeside restaurant to the electricity in the quaint half-timbered cabins, everything needed to run this little kingdom is produced at Selva Negra. Located in the highlands of central Nicaragua, the hills of Selva Negra are draped in green year-round and the temperature is always comfortable. Fourteen trails, six of which are designed for horses, make this beautiful and pristine cloud forest easy to explore. Selva Negra’s one bedroom bungalows have one intimate bedroom, bath and living room and front porch.
Day 4 Selva Negra (B,L)
Early morning bird walk and return for breakfast. After, you will have a Sustainable Farm Tour. Selva Negra is recognized for pioneering innovative and sustainable farming methods. You will see many of the sustainable farming methods that have gained it this reputation. You will pass by the organic laboratory, the worker’s housing, the greenhouses, cheese house, chicken coops, and stables where you will learn about the food being served at the restaurant. By the cattle pasture land, coffee plantation, and compost operations where you will see how we reduce, reuse and recycle. After lunch, continue with the Coffee specialized visit, where you will learn much more than just the process of coffee. History, location, climate, topography, sustainable use of bio products and the social programs are among the many other things you will learn. You will get a chance to visit the nurseries, coffee plantillos where you will learn about shade coffee, organic laboratory where you will learn about organic farming methods. The tour will continue to the picking and weighing of the coffee beans, you will follow the truck back to the wet mill where you will witness the process and end the tour in our museum with a cup of coffee to answer any questions remaining. At the end of the afternoon you will enjoy a Nature Walk with your guide.
Day 5 To Granada & Masaya Volcano (B,L)
On the way to Granada you will visit to the first National Park in the country, established in 1979. The park includes a beautiful volcanic lake known as the “Masaya lagoon”. Upon arrival, you will witness all the influence that volcanic activities have had in the shaping of the zone. Only ten minutes from the entrance we will be able to visit the environmental interpretation center, a museum where we can see a model of the park. See paintings of Nicaraguan artists concerning the history of the volcano. Learn about the tectonic plates and volcanic regions of the planet. We will get to know about the flora and fauna of this wildlife refuge. We will continue our trip to the summit of this volcano, where we will get off our vehicle and walk a few steps to see the Santiago crater, active since 1946. This is a short visit from 5 – 10 minutes next to the crater but enough to appreciate the amazing active nature. Arrival to Granada & lunch at local restaurant.
After lunch you will visit the Colonial city of Granada that was founded by Captain Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba in 1524; it was founded next to the Mombacho volcano and the great lake of Nicaragua. Named after the city of Granada in Spain, this city has plenty of colonial churches, narrow streets and large homes with beautiful indoor patios, tiled roofs and pretty colonial colors.
You will have a sightseeing tour by horse carriage to arrive later to the main plaza for our walking tour of the surrounding area. You will see “La Merced” church, the famous “Casa de Los Tres Mundos” and the San Francisco convent. Here, we will have the opportunity to see and take pictures of mysterious idols made by our ancestors. This is an impressive collection of genuine pre-Columbian sculptures in human and animal shapes. Due to the historical and cultural value of the city, it is in the process of being declared heritage of mankind by UNESCO. You will finish your day with a relaxing boat ride around some of the islands and see the volcanic evidence and influence of the area. Enjoy great landscape views and wildlife and of course have a chance to take pictures.
Day 6 Montibelli Reserve (B,L)
Early morning transfer to the Montibelli Reserve, a private reserve that measures more than 160 hectares. The reserve lies on Managua’s sierra and its altitude ranges from 360 to 720 meters above sea level. Most of the area is covered with tropical dry forest, and many different types of animals and plants inhabit the reserve. Montibelli has a very rich birdlife. Not only can you find woodpeckers, hummingbirds, parrots, vultures, hawks, golden orioles, and motmots (the national bird). You will have a Nature Walk on the trails and then visit a Farm where you will visit the pineapple, rice and avocado plantations. After a field lunch and some rest, get ready for a hike through the Chocoyero Reserve. With an abundance of water Chocoyero is always green and wildlife flourishes. Two types of monkeys inhabit the park: howler and white-face monkeys. Taking the Congo trail increases the chances of seeing those monkeys even more. Chocoyero also houses lots of birds. The reserve is famous for its chocoyos, green parakeets that all nest right next to a waterfall and can be seen in big numbers in the morning when they leave, and in the late afternoon when we return to Granada.
Day 7 To San Carlos & El Castillo (B,L,D)
Early departure at 6am for a transfer to San Carlos port (5.5 - 6 hours) where your local guide will be waiting to transfer you to El Castillo town by boat (1.5 hours). The ecological adventure starts by traveling through an area once known as the Gold Route. During the boat trip you will be able to observe a vast variety of monkeys and an enormous diversity of migrating birds, such as eagles, falcons, blue jays, herons, etc. You will arrive at El Castillo for lunch and then have some time free on your own.
At night, you will have a Caiman Night Tour with bilingual local guide along the San Juan River ecosystem followed by dinner at local restaurant. Stay 2 nights at Luna del Rio Eco-Lodge which is located on the banks of Rio San Juan, at the historic village of El Castillo.
Day 8 Indio Maiz Biological Reserve (B,L,D)
The Indio Maiz Biological Reserve is considered one of the best-preserved natural reserves in Nicaragua. The area is located in the southeast corner of the country, bordering the San Juan River. The reserve encompasses 3,180 km², and it is home to a wide variety of rainforest animals including hundreds of bird species such as toucans, hummingbirds, macaws, parrots, and many others. The reserve is also inhabited by mammals like deer, sloths, wild boars, pumas, jaguars, pacas, foxes, and even one spectacular aquatic mammal; the manatee. All of the three monkey species that live in Nicaragua can be found here (Howler, White-Face, and Spider Monkey). Other animal species include poison dart frogs, snakes, crocodiles, turtles, and iguanas.
You may choose to stay in the boat and go up the Bartola River. The Indio Maíz Reserve is situated right next to this river, and from the boat it is also possible to spot animals and enjoy the impressive forest. Back to El Castillo for lunch and town tour including a visit to El Castillo de la Inmaculada Concepcion. The guide will explain about the customs, gastronomy and myths. On the return, enjoy the travel on San Juan River. Keep your eyes open because you will see jumping the great tarpon fish, herons, alligators, cormorant and pink birds (Espatulas Rosadas).
Day 9 San Juan/Managua (B)
Early morning transfer to San Carlos and to Managua. City tour.
Day 10 Managua Departure (B)
Transfer to the airport for the flight home.
El CASTILLO Village
El Castillo came into being when a Spanish fort was built in the 1700s to defend against pirates and British forces trying to make their way into Lake Nicaragua and cities like colonial Granada. The Village of El Castillo is a happily isolated river community of around 1000 people within earshot of the rapids, and with no roads or cars—reasons enough to visit. Its residents work on farms in the surrounding hills, fish the river. About 6 years ago with the technical and financial assistance of ARAUCARIA (Spanish cooperation) they started to get involved in sustainable tourism practices. It is very rewarding to see a well-organized community with different tour excursions, small hotels and restaurants that show great cooperation between themselves to protect the environment and to provide the visitors with a life time experience! For those and many more reasons, we decided to support the Castillo community and recommend our clients participate in our program with El Castillo. The village is located 15 minutes by boat to Indio Maiz Reserve.
Indio Maiz Biologican Reserve
The Indio Maíz Biological Reserve is found in the southeastern region of Nicaragua bordering the San Juan River and has been described by University of California as "the gem of Central American nature reserves. Considered to be one of the best preserved and basically unexplored reserves in the country. This well-kept secret is about 640,000 acres or 3,180 km², making it the biggest lowland tropical rainforest. This magical Biological Reserve is made up of mangrove estuaries, lagoons where you can find the unusual Fishing Bulldog Bat, waterways that wind on endlessly. The Indio Maíz Biological Reserve is so named, not only because of the intense research that takes place here by internationally acclaimed naturalists and scientists, but also because of the wealth of knowledge to still be revealed about the animals and plants that reside here - many of which have yet to be discovered. There are hundreds of varieties of beautifully colored birds such as toucans, macaws, parrots and the rare species of the "Royal Fly Catcher" - a bird-viewers dream. The mammals include pumas, jaguars, armadillos, sloths, raccoons, wild boar, the incredibly tame manatees and many other unusual animals. You will also have to keep an eye open for snakes, iguanas, turtles and brightly colored poison dart frogs. Most of the Biological Center is out of bounds to tourists and no hiking is permitted in the areas that are accessible for obvious reasons. There are two areas of the reserve that are accessible to tourists through the Bartola River and the San Juan del Norte town. The Bartola River is close to the Castillo Village.
Heading north there are several great birding sites, generally located at higher altitudes and therefore inhabited by bird populations that are different from the Pacific lowlands. One of the best birding areas in the north is the El Jaguar Private Wildlife Reserve, located at an elevation of 1,350 meters above sea level. El Jaguar Bird’s Inventory list has 291 species ( Find Attached Birds Inventory) Different factors permit to have such quantity of bird’s reports in just 100 hectares: 1) Privileged location: El Jaguar is located in the Northern highlands of Nicaragua which are the southernmost distribution range for many species animals and plants. El Jaguar has at least 13 bird species that you can’t see in southern countries. 2) The reserve has a Caribbean slope, therefore many birds from the low Caribbean rainforest, that make altitudinal migrations, can be seen in El Jaguar, but you can also observe birds from the Pacific slope. 3) The forest we protect is a Cloud Forest which trees covered with bromeliads and mosses, and an understory full of ferns and other plants. This forest provides perfect shelter for many birds and other animal life.
Montibelli Private Wildlife Reserve is one of the principal birding sites at the Pacific, located only 30 minutes from Managua. Due to its varying altitude levels the area – measuring over 160 hectares – includes both tropical dry forest and semideciduous tropical forest. A total of 152 bird species have been identified, including parrots, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, trogons, and also Nicaragua's national bird, the Turquoise-browed Motmot. Long-tailed Manakins can also be seen here.