Those on group flights will arrive in the evening and be transferred (40 minutes) from the airport to the beautiful colonial city of Granada. Located on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, Granada is Nicaragua's fourth largest city, with a rich heritage and culture.
After breakfast we venture into Granada for a walking tour around the cobbled streets and striking colonial buildings. Our city tour will take in the main cathedral and markets as well as the beautiful San Francisco Church, from which we'll get an exceptional view of the city. Granada is highly regarded for its traditional craftsmanship and manufacturing of local products - one of the highlights this morning will be visiting a cigar factory where we learn how to roll cigars (US$3 if you want to keep your efforts!) and a chocolate factory. In the afternoon we take a peaceful boat tour around Las Isletas, a cluster of islands within Lake Nicaragua. These volcanic islands were created when Mombacho Volcano erupted more than twenty thousand years ago. They are now a haven for wildlife and some of them are now permanently inhabited with people living in private residences alongside restaurants and small hotels.
We start early to visit the Mombacho Volcano Reserve. The last eruption of Mombacho was over five hundred years ago and now the slopes are covered with pristine cloud forest where a wide array of unique and in some cases endemic species can be found. We'll walk through the forest on well marked trails to the summit of the volcano, where there are remarkable views of Granada and Lake Nicaragua. This is a comfortable hike although it can be slippery in places.
On the slopes half way up the volcano is Las Flores café farm, our destination for this afternoon. After lunch at the farm, we take a guided tour to watch the process of producing sustainably harvested shade grown coffee. All of the coffee produced by Las Flores is certified by the Rainforest Alliance - after our tour we'll have the opportunity to taste the different varieties of coffee and buy some to take home.
This morning you are free to relax and enjoy Granada at your own pace. In the late morning we transfer to the charming seaside town of San Juan del Sur, about two and a half hours south west of Granada. This sleepy fishing community is nestled within a tranquil bay overlooking the Pacific Ocean. To the north and south of San Juan del Sur there are beaches with pristine water and wonderful calm bays for swimming. There are also some great beaches for surfing in the area. During turtle nesting season (July to January), there will be an optional 4WD excursion to visit La Flor Reserve in the evening. La Flor is a protected nesting ground for endangered sea turtles such as the Olive Ridley and Leatherback turtle. Covering more than 3,000 hectares, nesting turtles visit the shores of this reserve to lay their eggs. Leatherback turtles tend to arrive alone whereas Olive Ridley turtles arrive on mass - a spectacular sight! These tend to be tied into the phases of the moon but as this is nature it is notoriously unpredictable.
Today is free for you to enjoy the Pacific beaches of the San Juan region. We offer a number of optional excursions to help you explore the area, including fishing and sailing.
We transfer to Rivas where we board a ferry for the one-hour journey across Lake Nicaragua to Ometepe Island. The volcanoes of Concepion and Maderas characterise Ometepe, their majestic peaks connected by a small strip of land to make an hourglass shaped island. Ometepe means 'two peaks' in the traditional náhuatl language spoken by indigenous ancestors. At 276 square kilometres, it is home to a vibrant population, many who survive principally by agriculture, livestock and fishing. Ometepe has a rich archaeological background due to the mix of tribes and cultures that inhabited the island, with petroglphys found in some parts. This afternoon we visit the museum of Ometepe then enjoy a late afternoon stroll through the Charco Verde area, looking at the wildlife and beautiful landscape of the area.
Today we hike through agricultural lands and cloud forest within the Maderas Volcano Reserve to a look out point where there are spectacular views over the lake and the island. Please be aware that the trails here can be muddy and aren't always well maintained. On return we pass through Ojas de Agua and the impressive waterfalls of San Ramon.
In the afternoon we transfer to the ferry terminal for the one-hour crossing back to the mainland where we continue our journey towards Laguna de Apoyo. We'll hike through humid forest looking for Howler monkeys, before spending a night on the edge of the crater lagoon.
After breakfast we visit the Masaya market and the charming white towns of Los Pueblos Blancos. At the market, one of Nicaragua's greatest, you'll be able to find a wealth of traditional Nicaraguan handicrafts and foods from all over the country. Our next stop will be the town of San Juan De Oriente, which is famous for its tradition of pottery making. We visit the home and workshop of one the town's greatest potters to learn about and watch the process of traditional pottery making and we each have the opportunity to try it for ourselves. Later today we transfer to León.
We leave early this morning to explore one of León's greatest attractions - the Cerro Negro Volcano, Central America's youngest active volcano, where we hike to the summit (approx. 45 minutes) and peer straight into the crater. Cerro Negro is part of the Maribios volcanic chain and from the summit there are incredible panoramic views of the chain as well as León in the distance. On a very clear day the view extends to the Pacific Ocean. From here we return to León for lunch.
In the afternoon León's history will be brought to life as we take a walking tour around the centre, visiting the cathedral (recently classed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO), art galleries, street murals, a museum dedicated to the famous poet Ruben Dario and the site where the brutal dictator Somoza was shot. After the tour we say goodbye to León and head on to Managua. En route we stop to try a Nicaraguan delicacy called a Quesillo, a local soft cheese wrapped in a corn tortilla topped with cream and pickled onion - try it! Once in Managua we'll head out for a farewell meal.
Those on group flights will depart today for Managua International Airport.