Ash board down the active Cerro Negro volcano. // © 2015 Ken Pringle
Feature image (above): Travelers can kayak on Lake Nicaragua to a private islet. // © 2015 Nicaragua Adventures
“Natural wonder” only begins to describe it. The largest country in Central America, Nicaragua boasts incredibly diverse geography — from beaches and volcanoes to rainforests and the largest lake in the region. There’s no shortage of adventures to be found in this magnificent destination: Clients can begin their journey hurtling down a volcano on an ash board, then gallop on horses along a secluded beach and top it off with some leisurely kayaking in Lake Nicaragua.
In the last three years, Ken Pringle, director of reservation sales for Avanti Destinations, has been to Nicaragua twice and hiked multiple volcanoes. He says one of his biggest thrills was ash boarding down Cerro Negro, an active volcano that stands nearly 2,400 feet high. The trek up the volcano takes about an hour, and the ride down is much shorter, but Pringle describes the descent as the most adrenaline-filled five minutes of his life.
“The contrast of the stark, black rock with the verdant green, rolling hills that encompass most of the area took my breath away — even more than the steep climb,” he said.
Blow Off Steam: Ash boarding is available year-round, pending weather and volcanic activity, and is recommended only for clients in good physical shape.
Hope Smith knows that adventure activities don’t necessarily have to be extreme to be memorable. On her first visit to Nicaragua this past July, the owner of Born To Travel, an affiliate of Montecito Village Travel, a Virtuoso agency, was captivated by a horseback-riding tour offered through Rancho Chilamate. The four-room ranch southeast of San Juan del Sur offers 2.5-hour rides to a quiet, remote beach, where guests gallop through the waves.
“The ride will be the best you’ve ever had, whether you’re an experienced rider or a newbie like me,” Smith said. “You’ll feel as if you are the only person on the beach.”
Giddy Up: Riders get into the spirit by dressing up in cowboy gear provided by the ranch — Western-style boots and hat included. Owner Heather van Doorninck photographs the experience.
For a true Nicaragua experience, heed the advice of Pierre Gedeon. The general manager of Nicaragua Adventures started the company in 1999, playing driver and guide for three years before hiring staff, who are all locals. The operator now sends about 800 people per year to the destination.
One of Gedeon’s favorite activities is kayaking on Lake Nicaragua to a private islet southeast of Granada, which sits in the shadow of 4,400-foot-high Mombacho Volcano.
“It’s an extraordinary environment: the world’s ninth-largest lake, hundreds of small and lush islands, surrounded by a huge, dormant volcano hosting an extensive cloud forest,” he said.
Row Your Boat: Avoid getting caught in the rain with a trip sometime between November and mid-May.