The large volcano at the center of the Volcán Masaya National Park , which still steams and belches, is surrounded by smaller volcanoes and thermal springs. Legends say that the Indians used to throw young women into the boiling lava to appease Chaciutique, the goddess of fire. The Spanish believed it was the entrance to hell, inhabited by devils. Entrance to the park is only 14 miles (23km) southeast of Managua.
The Laguna de Xiloá, a stunning crater lake 12 miles (20km) northwest of the city, is a favorite swimming spot. At El Trapiche, 11 miles (17km) southeast of the city, water from natural springs has been channelled into large outdoor pools surrounded by gardens and restaurants.
León is traditionally the most liberal of Nicaragua's cities and remains the radical and intellectual center of the country. Monuments to the revolution, including bold Sandinista murals, are dotted all over town and many buildings are riddled with bullet holes. Though scarred by earthquakes and war, the city is resplendent with many fine colonial churches and official buildings. Its streets are lined with old Spanish-style houses which have white adobe walls, red-tiled roofs, thick wooden doors and cool garden patios. Its cathedral is the largest in Central America and features huge paintings of the Stations of the Cross by Antonio Sarria as well as the tomb of poet Rubén Darío. The Galería de Héroes y Mártires has a display which includes photos of those who died fighting for the FSLN during the 1978-79 revolution.
The Caribbean Coast
Unlike the rest of Nicaragua, the Caribbean coast was never colonized: it remained a British protectorate until the late 1800s. The only part of the rainforest-covered coast usually visited by travelers is Bluefields but some visitors also head out to the Islas del Maíz. The journey from Managua to Bluefields involves a five-hour boat trip down the Río Escondido. Bluefields' mix of ethnic groups - including Indians (Miskitos, Ramas and Sumos), Blacks and mestizos from the rest of Nicaragua - make it an interesting place, and the people here definitely like to have a good time; there are several reggae clubs and plenty of dancing on the weekends. Like other islands off the Caribbean coast, the idyllic Islas del Maíz were once a haven for buccaneers. The larger of these two islands, which are about 43 miles (70km) off the coast, is now a popular holiday spot. There is clear turquoise water, white sandy beaches fringed with coconut palms, and coral reefs.
Off the Beaten Track
Las Isletas Las Isletas is a group of 356 small islands just offshore from Granada in Lago de Nicaragua. The locals make a living out of fishing and growing tropical fruits such as mangoes and coconuts, and there is a remarkable variety of birdlife. The island of San Pablo has a small fortress built by the Spaniards to protect against British pirates in the 18th century. Isla Zapatera is protected as a national park and is one of Nicaragua's most important archaeological areas. Giant stone statues erected by Indians in pre-Columbian times have been moved elsewhere but you can visit other ancient tombs and structures. There are more tombs and some interesting rock carvings on Isla del Muerto.
Archipiélago de Solentiname
The Archipiélago de Solentiname, in the southern part of Lago de Nicaragua, is the site of a communal society established for artists by the poet Ernesto Cardenal. The islands are known for their distinctive school of colorful primitivist painting. They are a great place for hiking, fishing and taking it easy. Boats to the Solentiname islands depart from San Carlos, on the southeastern corner of the lake.
The Selva Negra forest near Matagalpa, the mountains in the north and the islands in Lago de Nicaragua offer great hiking. Among the many spectacular volcanoes of interest for climbers are the Volcán Masaya and the two volcanoes on Isla de Ometepe. Lago de Nicaragua offers fantastic opportunities for fishing, and surfing is popular at Poneloya beach, near León, and at Playa Popoyo near Rivas.