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One of the most remarkable cities in Nicaragua, León is an ideal place for a weekend getaway. Home to cathedrals and museums, volcanoes and beaches, there is no shortage of things to do and see in and around this beautiful city.
I hopped in the truck with my co-pilot, Gallo, who called the city of lions home for four years. I had two days. I figured he could help me find the best of what it offers.

Hostal La Libertad

By Emilia Mason, Photography: Oliver Best.
The constant traveler Samir Cherif, a photographer by day but an adventurer in life, has spent the past years embarked on a journey to discover the world, capturing images and moments that reflect the beautiful culture of the visited country. Destiny, and references from the known “mochileros” (backpackers) led him to the city of Granada, and as a consequence also found La Libertad, a hostel that during the past five years has taken giant leaps due to the warm environment it provides for it’s guests.
The charisma of the owner José Velez, also known as “Chepe”, invites travelers to be a part of the rural tour guides and encourages them to share their knowledge with the locals. Samir believes this has benefited the social development of the residents, as well as tourism that encourages visitors to return and support the community.
An example of good-will towards the public would be Susana de Wine. She arrived to La Libertad with the idea to organize an exchange program for college students. After working for three months in the hostel with Chepe’s help, now there is an agreement with the organization Tierra y Agua (Earth and Water)- UCA that brings students from other countries to do community service.
“To La Libertad comes people from every corner of the world, but they all have something in common, the will to explore the city. I love the environment, the people; here I feel authentic”, explains Cherif.
Address: September 14th avenue, house #304
Phone: 25524087

Rio San Juan – Paradise of the South

By Francisco Cedeño, Photography Oliver Best

From the moment you get to Rio San Juan, you feel that you are in a place you will never forget. Nicaragua’s largest body of water, Lake Cocibolca, gives life to the river, providing a sanctuary for water birds, like herons and needle ducks; sweet water fishes like, shads, sea bass, guapotes and mojarras and millenarian reptiles, like alligators and turtles. The area is also the home of one of the most important nature reserves of Nicaragua: the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve.

The Rio San Juan was known to the conquistadors and colonists who came from Spain as “el Desaguadero” (the drainage) when it was discovered in 1525, because it unites the Caribbean ocean with Lake Cocibolca. The area was a trade point with the Spanish provinces in Costa Rica, Cuba, Cartagena de Indias in Colombia and other Caribbean islands. It was also used by pirates and thieves who invaded San Carlos and stole money, gold and other valuable objects from Managua, Leon and Granada. Because of this, the Spanish built the fortress El Castillo de la Inmaculada Concepcion in the community with the same name.

Over 200km long, the Rio San Juan flows into the Caribbean Sea in the San Juan del Norte community. It borders Costa Rica, and in its long extension there are many border places like the one from Los Chiles, entering Frio River, and San Pancho, in the community that has the same name.

At 300m wide, the Rio San Juan is calm throughout a majority of its length, but there are a few sections of rapids like Los Raudales del Diablo in front of El Castillo.

While traveling the river, you can see the different communities that have been established on its banks like La Esperanza, La Foca, Santa Rosa, Isla Medio Queso, Grande, Palo de Arco, Isla Chica or Sabalos. In most of these towns, the houses are built on stilts to avoid flooding when the level of the river rises during and after the rain.

Most of the inhabitants of San Juan River are fishermen who practice artisan fishing, a type of fishing that involves using small boats and traditional techniques and equipment. There are also communities that harvest oranges and export them to Costa Rica.

For tourists, the Rio San Juan area has been steadily developing a tourism infrastructure that offers a variety of visitor accommodations and activities. There are ecologic hotels that provide opportunities to explore the jungle and enjoy its biodiversity.

This touristic development of Rio San Juan and its surrounding areas has happened in large part thanks to the support provided by international organizations like the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation for Development through the Araucaria project, as well as the Nicaraguan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

Rio San Juan can be reached by land, air or lake. By land, you take the Chontales road, however the Acoyapa stretch to San Carlos is deteriorated so you will need a 4×4. Buses are avaible as well. The ride takes about 9 hours and costs C$300 Cordobas (US$15.00). You can get the bus at the Mayoreo Market in Managua. The journey by air takes 47 minutes and costs US$120 dollars roundtrip. You can get there by boats leaving from Granada. It takes from 12 to 15 hours and it stops at Ometepe Island, Morrito and San Miguelito. The cost is around C$150 Cordobas (US$7.50).

From San Carlos you can go to many different locations along the San Juan River. There is a boat that leaves to El Castillo everyday at 8 AM, with a capacity of 55 people and a cost of C$77 (US$4.00) Cordobas. The boat returns to San Carlos at 2 PM. In order to get to San Juan del Norte, you have to be there by 7AM to arrive at 4PM, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays with a capacity of 90 people and a cost of C$400.00 Cordobas (US$20.00). The boat returns on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. There is another faster boat that holds 20 people, costs C$500.00 (US$25.00) and has the same schedule, but gets there in just 5 hours.


By Marcos Zamora, Photography Chris Sataua

A perfect red circle among the pink and white of the sky, the setting sun reflects the mists on Chirinagüa hill in the idyllic town of Jinotega.

“Coffee Capital,” “City of the Mist” or “Xinotencalt” – as different people throughout the years have called Jinotega, is the ideal destination to escape the routine of the city. The nature reserves, Lake Apanás, cathedrals, history and culture, offer the visitor a unique and unforgettable experience in the region.

Located at an altitude of 1074 meters, Jinotega provides an excellent climate, and one ideal for growing coffee and other agricultural products. An estimated 60% of vegetable production at the national level is from this area.

Apanás is an artificial lake built in 1964, which besides being absolutely beautiful, is the supplier of 23% of the hydropower in the country, has a wide range of plant and animal life and is recognized for its good fishing.

In the municipality of San Rafael del Norte, 20 minutes away from Jinotega, is the Church of San Rafael Arcángel, established by priest Andrea Odorico in 1954. In December of 2000, the church and the impressive works of art it houses were designated as a National Historic Monument.

In the same town is also the Museum of General Augusto Cesar Sandino, the renowned historical figure who at the end of the decade of the 20’s became the leader of the Nicaraguan resistance against U.S. occupation troops.

After significant periods of fighting during the years around the revolution, Jinotega now breathes peace and tranquility, the perfect atmosphere for enjoying natural reserves such as the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, the El Jaguar Reserve, the Datanlí-El Diablo national forest and many more.

There is no doubt that the town of Jinotega is one of the most beautiful places in the country. For any who visit, its climate, its people, its culture and history, will provide moments that you will never forget.

Laguna de Apoyo

By Jonathan Jackson. Photography by Ernesto Hellmund.

Nicaragua is often referred to as the land of lakes and volcanoes, so it is only fitting that one of the country’s most incredible natural wonders has been both. Laguna de Apoyo, located between Masaya and Granada, was formed over 20,000 years ago after Volcano Apoyo exploded leaving a huge crater that over time filled with water and became a lake. It is remarkable to behold, whether from the shore on the bottom looking up at its steep slopes covered in lush vegetation, or from the lookout point above the crater in the city of Catarina.

The main attraction of Apoyo of course is its clear, fresh water – widely regarded as the cleanest in Nicaragua – which can be just what you need on a hot, muggy Nicaragua afternoon. It’s usually pretty warm, but the farther you go out, the colder it gets as the depth increases exponentially with a lowest measured point of 200 meters. Several hotels, hostels and restaurants line the shorefront of the lagoon, each providing varying forms of beach access. They range in price from the high-end Norome Villas, to the cheaper local restaurants that offer traditional Nica food and an abundance of hammocks. If you have a little bit of a budget, it is well worth the $6 day pass to get access to the Monkey Hut hostel’s friendly shores and their assortment of innertubes and kayaks, plus a floating dock made for soaking up the sun.

Las Isletas de Granada

By Jonathan Jackson, Photography Vivian Chen

While I suppose it is kind of interesting that the more than 360 tiny islands in Lake Cocibolca that make up Las Isletas de Granada were formed when the volcano Mombacho erupted over 10,000 years ago, there is an even better reason to take a relaxing boat trip through this beautiful aquatic labyrinth: Monkeys!

And what is the only thing better than one monkey? That’s right, a tiny island of monkeys!! You can book a ride through the Isletas with a tour company in Granada or save money and hire a guide yourself by heading to the south end of the lakefront. Just make sure to mention that you want to pass by ‘La Isla de los Monos.’

Other tour highlights include an abundance of bird and plant life, the fortress of San Pablo – built to protect Granada from pirates in the 18th century – and a handful of restaurants and hotels serving fresh fish and traditional dishes.

A two-hour leisurely boat trip, usually including a stop for lunch, is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, and the unique beauty of Las Isletas de Granada is something everyone should experience. Don’t forget to bring along some fruit for the monkeys.