Photo: Mountain by ocean

Concepción volcano rises behind the port of Moyogalpa on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua.

Photograph by G. Richardson, Getty Images

By Kim Brown Seely

Nicaragua today is like Costa Rica was 30 years ago: a pristine Central American country that’s easy to reach—and virtually empty. It doesn’t have the vast national parks of its neighbor, but you won’t find the crowds either. “Nicaragua is supersafe, and Nicaraguans aren’t all gringoed-out,” says Michael Kaye, who founded Costa Rica Expeditions three decades ago and Nicaragua Expeditions in 2004. “You won’t see all the American kids you would in Costa Rica.”

Highlights on Kaye’s Nicaragua Multisport tour are a van-supported 24-mile (39-kilometer) bike ride to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Old León and a guided paddle through Lake Nicaragua’s 365 islets. On Ometepe, kids can hang back to check out petroglyphs or join in on a challenging hike up the perfect cone of dormant, 4,573-foot (1,394-meter) Maderas Volcano. With so much to discover, you might not be ready to leave on day eight. Extend your trip for a few nights in an oceanside bungalow at luxury ecolodge Morgan’s Rock to check out nearby howler monkeys ($685; www.morgansrock.com).

Where to Play

“If the rest of Nicaragua is like Costa Rica was 30 years ago, Ometepe is like it was 70 years ago,” says Kaye. “It’s another world, frozen in time.” Walking down the main road you’ll see more horse carts than cars and women washing clothes in the river. Spend your three days there hiking the lush landscape and paddling among ringed kingfishers and neotropic cormorants on Lake Nicaragua. Floating through narrow channels between tiny volcanic islands, “you feel almost like Disney built them,” says Kaye, “like they’re a little too good to be true.”

At Day's End

"The way the trip is set up,” says Kaye, “it’s pretty packed.” If you’re not too exhausted from your action-filled days, slip away to sample nightlife in Léon and Granada after dark.

Details

8 days, $1,880 per person; www.nicaraguaexpeditions.com

Based on articles from National Geographic Adventure and updated by Greer Schott

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