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Nicaragua: Natural Adventure (12 days)

NicaraguaNature and cultural Nicaragua.

Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America has been re-discovered as a destination for nature, history, culture and adventure tourism. 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. The Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge shelters more than 60% of the countries bird species and in Lake Nicaragua numerous islands including the Solentiname Archipelago are fascinating and rewarding. The countries rich heritage can be experienced in the colonial cities of Granada and Leon with historic buildings dating back to the 15th century. The blend of Spanish and Indian cultures contributes to a variety of music, handcrafts and cuisine.

This tour focuses mainly on the natural history of Nicaragua but also includes a sampling of culture. We will visit a range of sites that include a range of habitats from cloud forest, dry forest, rain forest and swamp to picturesque freshwater islands and volcanoes. The tour also includes visits to the historic city of Granada and small traditional communities.

2019 Departure Date & Cost

Private departures daily based on 2 or more persons

TOUR COST: $ 3,380 USD per person from Managua
Single Supplement $ 475 USD


DAY 1  Arrive Managua (B,D)
Arrive Managua. On arrival you will be met in the arrival area after clearing customs.
Transfer to Granada with stops enroute. 2 nights Patio del Malinche Hotel, Granada. The Patio of the Malinche is a hotel in the historic center of Granada. It is close to all the interesting places of the city. The hotel has 15 double rooms with bath, AA, TV, hot water and wireless internet. With the restoration of the old colonial house, the hotel has managed to create a welcoming, fresh, and extensive space. There are two interior patios in the hotel. One patio is in colonial style and allows visitors to enjoy the tranquility of the place. The other one features a pool and is a great setting for relaxation while drinking a fresh fruit juice or ‘Malinche Cocktail’ (specialty of the house).

DAY 2  Granada (Masaya) (B,L)
Discoveries of Granada Colonial Town & the Islets with the Best of Masaya - Volcano & Artisan Market.
The colonial city of Granada was founded by Captain Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba in the year 1524. It was built 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.

We will have a sightseeing tour and later arrive at the main plaza for our walking tour of the surrounding area. We will see “La Merced” church, the house of the Zamora family, 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. This is an impressive collection of genuine pre-Columbian sculptures in human and animal shapes. We will continue to Lake Nicaragua for a relaxing boat ride around some of the islands formed by the impressive Mombacho volcano; see the volcanic evidence and influences of the area; enjoy great landscape views and wildlife and of course have a chance to take pictures.

We will visit the Masaya Volcano National Park that was established in 1979 as the country’s first. The park includes a beautiful volcanic lake known as the “Masaya lagoon”. Upon arrival, we will witness all the influence that volcanic activities have had in the shaping of the zone. Near the park entrance we will visit the environmental center, a museum where we can see a model of the park and also see paintings relating to the history of the volcano. We’ll learn about the tectonic plates and volcanic regions and get to know about the flora and fauna of this wildlife refuge. We continue our trip to the summit of the volcano, where we exit see the Santiago Crater, active since 1946. Just fifteen minutes away we will visit the Masaya arts and crafts market for local ceramics, hammocks, wood and leather souvenirs. 

DAY 3  Granada – Jaguar Reserve, Jinotega (B,L,D)
Transfer to the Jaguar Reserve. Enroute a stop will be made at Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve with a hike along the lush trails surrounding the crater. The Mombacho Volcano is a spectacular cone that rises 1344 m above sea level. Much of it is covered by an evergreen tropical cloud forest characterized by moisture obtained by low-level cloud cover which supports abundant epiphytes and an impressive variety of orchids. It is located 10 km away from Granada City. The reserve contains 50 species of mammals, 175 species of birds and at least 750 species of flora. Several endemic species occur including the Mombacho Salamander (Bolitoglossa mombachoensis), an orchid (Maxillaria mombachoensis) and a butterfly (Napeogenes tolossa mombachoensis).

The last eruption of this volcano was in 1570 causing the avalanche on the northeast side of the crater and the formation of the 365 small volcanic islands in Lake Nicaragua, well known as “Isletas”. The Nature Reserve is one of 78 protected areas in the country. The trail has steep inclines and declines for about 3 km. It is a challenging hike but definitely worth the effort. We will see different types of forest at different elevations. Several platforms give you superb views and make you feel the strong wind on the volcano. Continue on to the Jaguar Reserve for 3 nights.

DAY 4   Jaguar Reserve (B,L,D)
Two full days at the reserve. Bird and wildlife viewing with your guide. 
El Jaguar is a private, family-run farm that produces high quality organic coffee, in perfect harmony with the community and the surrounding ecosystem. The property contains mid elevation cloud forest with giant oaks, epiphytic orchids and tree ferns that provide perfect shelter for a diversity of plant and animal life. About 45 hectares of protected cloud forest and managed forest surround the farm. Although the farm’s main goal is to produce high quality environmental friendly coffee, they also contain a biological station, protected forest and a lodge for eco tourists and researchers. There are six different trails to walk through the reserve. More than 200 bird species have been recorded in this reserve. Regular observed species include: Highland Guan, Hook-billed Kite, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird and Bushy-crested Jay. El Jaguar has been chosen as one of the four sites in Nicaragua to monitor over-wintering survival of North American migratory songbirds by the Institute of bird population from California and ALAS.

DAY 5  To Montibelli Reserve (B,L,D)
Transfer to the Montibelli Reserve, Ticuantepe for 2 nights. The small lodge in the reserve was opened in 2006 and was designed with taste and with little environmental impact. All rooms have private bath, a little terrace, fan and all rooms are fitted with mosquito nets over the beds.

DAY 6  Montibelli, Ticuantepe (B,L,D)
Early morning bird and wildlife tour with guide. Lunch is in Montibelli Reserve. Afternoon is at Chocoyero section of the reserve. Montibelli is a private reserve of more than 160 hectares situated on Managua’s Sierra at an altitude ranging from 360 to 720 meters above sea level. Most of the area is covered with tropical dry forest, and many animals and plants characteristic of this ecozone inhabit the reserve. Montibelli has a rich birdlife. Species present include Lesser Ground Cuckoo, Violaceous Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Orange-chinned Parrot and Rufous-naped Wren.

ButterflyMany species of butterflies occur which are especially apparent during the raining season. There are also some viewpoints from where you have a great view over the reserve and the rugged landscape around it. The reserve has its own fruit and vegetable production. Pineapple, passion fruit, cactus fruit (Pitahaya), lemon, bananas, and other foods are grown ecologically within the reserve. You can therefore get very fresh juices and meals. The rooms of the lodge were designed with taste and minimal environmental impact.

DAY 7  To Solentiname Archipelago (B,L,D)
Transfer to the Managua airport for a domestic flight to San Carlos. On arrival you will be met and transferred to the pier for a boat journey through the Solentiname Archipelago at the south end of Lake Nicaragua. Stop at San Fernando Island. 
The Solentiname Archipelago is located in the south-east corner of the great Lake Nicaragua otherwise well known as Lake Cocibolca. It comprises 36 volcanically formed Islands, in a tranquil picturesque setting. This lies in the transition zone between wet and dry forests. Due its natural features, Solentiname Archipelago has been declared a National Monument. A small traditional community of fisherman, small scale farmers and artisans are also found here. Solentiname is an excellent place to relax, swim and bird watch. Overnight at Cabanas Paraiso for 2 nights.

Cabañas Paraiso – Solentiname
A family business located in the San Fernando Island – one of the 37 islands that are part of the Solentiname Archipelago. Dona Elena the owner of the small friendly lodge is always around to assist you with any needs that you may have. Awake to the morning sounds of singing birds and tarpon stirring the waters, as you sip your coffee in one of the chairs or the hammock at the Cabana Paraiso.

DAY 8  Solentiname Archipelago (B,L,D)
Morning tour of the Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge, whichis located along the south shore of Lake Nicaragua on the Costa Rica border. It is 14 km south of Solentiname, just 30 minutes by motorboat. Los Guatuzos comprises an extensive network of creeks and lagoons of 440 km2 and is the first internationally registered Ramsar wetland in Nicaragua. We will navigate up the Papaturro River for over 8 km inside the refuge. You can see a wide range of birds (400 species are known) such as herons, sungrebes and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans. Other wildlife also abounds including river turtles, caimans, three monkeys, nutrias and arrow poison frogs. Then you can make walk or hike in to the rain forest. If you like the exotics flowers you can observe bromelias, heliconias and orchids. Later in the day we will tour the archipelago and visit the Musas Museum. Lunch and dinner at the hotel.

Panama  Bird DAY 9  Transfer to San Juan (B,L,D)
Transfer to El Castillo Pier and tour the El Castillo town. Visit the historic fortress El Castillo de la Inmaculada Concepcion. It was build by the Spanish on XVIII century for stop the English pirates. Enjoy the travel on San Juan River. Keep your eyes open because you may see jumping tarpon fish, various kingfishers,cormorant and Roseate Spoonbills. In the evening we will do a boat tour to search for Brown Caiman and other nocturnal wildlife. Lunch at a local restaurant. Overnight at Victoria Hotel in San Juan 2 nights. Dinner included.

Victoria Hotel
Opened its door on March 2006.This family business run by the Gomez’ sisters is located in El Castillo town on the San Juan River. It is a small hotel with 15 rooms that offers private bathrooms (in most of them), fans and friendly ambiance. The restaurant faces the river so you can enjoy each meal with a terrific view of the famous San Juan.

DAY 10  San Juan (B,L,D)
Kayak tour. Tour the Batola trails and boat tour along the Bartola River and reserve. Lunch at the reserve. Dinner at a local restaurant.

Reserva Indio Maiz – Rio Bartola
From El Castillo just two miles downstream, we come to the Indio – Maiz Biosphere Reserve. The Indio – Maiz Reserve is dedicated to the preservation and research of its biological diversity. The starting point of the reserve is the convergence of Rio Bartola and Rio San Juan. Some of the animals we can see in the reserve include the Jaguar, Tapir, Manatee, Harpy Eagle, Green Limpet, Sawfish and the American Crocodile. Observe wildlife while rowing on the unassuming, quiet waters of the Rio Bartola is wonderful. You will see any number of birds, Jesus Christ Lizard and enjoy the company of lively Spider Monkeys as they jump from branch to branch while you move about. 

DAY 11  San Juan/Managua (B)
Early morning transfer to San Carlos for the morning flight to Managua. On arrival you will be met and transferred to the Los Robles hotel. City tour.

Los Robles Hotel, Managua
The hotel is ideally located in a residential area, a few minutes away from Managua’s financial and commercial centre. The owners have created a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere inside a distinctive colonial Nicaraguan home. All the furniture and antique items have been made with precious tropical woods, cotton bedspreads have been crocheted by hand, forged ironworks can be appreciated throughout the hotel and many other details have created a distinguished and unique atmosphere. Each of their 14 rooms offer many amenities including a small private patio. The services the hotel offers are bar and room service free internet and multilingual staff.

DAY 12 Managua Departure (B)
Transfer to the airport for the flight home.

Additional information on the sites

Solentiname Islands 
Solentiname Islands are located in Lake Nicaragua in Nicaragua, specifically in the south-east, near the town of San Carlos. The Solentiname Archipielago is made up of 36 islands of volcanic origin, four larger islands and many very small islands and islets. There is a total of 190 km2 of land surface. Since pre-Columbian times it was a sacred place for the indigenous and there are petroglyphs featuring images of parrots, monkeys, and people. The Solentiname Islands are located in a transition zone between the dry tropical forest of the Pacific and the Caribbean rainy rainforest and has a rainfall of 1700 mm / year and an average temperature of 25 C. This uninhabited islands are home to large bird colonies such ascormorants, tiger herons, white ibis, great egrets, green herons, great kiskadees, and others. Although the island has basic tourism infrastructure is always clean and well set up for visitors and all of them are local family business. Nature and art complement each other in an exceptional way on the islands of the Archipelago of Solentiname.

In our itinerary we will visit & will stay at The Island of San Fernando which is located between Mancarrón Island and Isla La Venada. It is one of the most visited islands of the archipelago. You will  take a walk to one of the sacred sites of the island where you will find several pre-Columbian petroglyphs, visit the workshop of local artists UPAS, visit the Museum of Las Musas, where you will learn about natural history and human history of the Archipelago Islands Solentiname. You will also have the great opportunity to bird watch around the San Fernando Island and other islands.

Los Guatuzos Wildlife
The Refugio de Vida Silvestre Los Guatuzos protects 43,750 hectares of wetlands and rain forest. Nicaraguan biologists consider it the cradle of life for the lake, thanks to its importance as a bird nesting site and critical links in the area’s complex ecological chain. More than 12 rivers cross the reserve with the most popular wildlife-viewing river being the Río Papaturro. This pristine little river is poetic in its variable and persistent beauty. Best of all it is lined with gallery forest, the ideal situation for wildlife viewing. The banks of the river support varied vegetation and trees that are backed by open wetlands allowing light into the trees and exposing the regions rich flora and fauna. We will explore this extensive strip of protected wetlands and wildlife, bordered on the south by Costa Rica and on the north by the extreme southern shore of Lake Cocibolca. This is the only internationally registered tropical wetland area in Nicaragua. We always see monkeys, crocodiles, iguanas and lizards of many types, sloths, turtles, toucans, and great white egrets-the guardians of this natural wonder.

The amount of wildlife (and mosquitoes) in the refuge is astounding— No less than 389 species of birds have been observed, and between February and April, tens of thousands of migratory species fly through in spectacular concentrations. Los Guatuzos contains dense populations of crocodiles, caimans, feral pigs, jaguars, and monkeys. The waters are also home to a rare, ancient species of fish called the gaspar (Actractoseus tropic us), a living, armored relic of the Jurassic age, with a snout and fangs that it uses to eat other fish, crabs, and small turtles.

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, at Careli Tours 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.

El Jaguar Nature Reserve
El Jaguar is a private family run farm that produce high quality sustainable coffee, in harmony with the community and the surrounding ecosystem. The giant oak and fern trees within the forest provide perfect shelter for a large diversity of plant and animal life. 95 hectares (240 acres) of protected cloudforest surround the farm. Within these woods can be found rare orchids and giant ferns trees dating back to Jurassic times. El Jaguar was declared an Important Bird Area (IBA) in 2006 by BirdLife International because of its worldwide significance.

Eco-tourism Project: To help to protect the nature in El Jaguar, they have open the farm to visitors that are interested in nature, environmental protection, birdwatching and eco-friendly coffee production. Therefore, they have built 4 cabins with 6 apartments to lodge 21 people. They have also built a biological station to lodge researchers and students. There are 6 different trails to walk through the reserve and do birdwatching. The altitude in El Jaguar varies between 1280 and 1360 meters above sea level (4199 and 4461 feet). The cloud forest has a humid subtropical climate plentiful of moisture throughout the year, most of it derived from low clouds or fogs which envelop the forest. The annual rainfall is 2050 mm, and the temperature varies from 46°F to 90°F (8°C to 32°C).

Bird Watching
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. Birds that can be encountered in El Jaguar include tanagers, hummingbirds, toucans, euphonias, warblers, woodpeckers, finches, and trogons. It was in the El Jaguar reserve that researchers re-discovered the Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia) for the first time in Nicaragua since 1891. Every year, from October through April, many migrant neartical birds come to El Jaguar as winter residents or to make a Stopover in the Reserve.

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.