Long known as a mecca for surfers and sun-seekers, Costa Rica is, has been, and always will be a hotspot. But what many travelers are only just starting to discover is that Nicaragua, its central American neighbor to the north, offers much of the thrill, scenery, and sizzle — with a culture all its own. The fact that Nicaragua is an affordable destination, given its off-radar status, is a great reason to fold it into a Costa Rica itinerary. After all, both countries deliver their own brand of charm, and crossing them off your bucket list in one trip is both practical and illuminating when it comes to getting a feel for the region. Here’s how to create such a Central American tasting menu:
The Itinerary: Begin in Nicaragua
A two-hour flight from Miami brings you to the capital of Managua, and before landing you’ll already have an idea of what you’re in for: about 150 shades of green. To get a feel for old-Nicaragua, a visit to Granada — the colorful, colonial city founded in 1524 — is a good starting point for the trip. A local tour guide can give you the lay of the land and the history. You’ll also get inside info on must-see shops, such as Cafe de las Sonrisas, where you can get a cup of incredible Nicaraguan coffee while purchasing a locally handmade hammock.
After meandering the streets and taking in the sights of Granada, the most peaceful, tranquil place to rest your head is at the enchanting Jicaro Island Ecolodge, a 20-minute boat ride away. The small resort — on one private island out of the 365 islands of Lake Nicaragua — is all about eco-friendly luxury. Upon arrival, you’re greeted with the local version of iced tea, doted on by incredibly friendly staff, then finally led to your two-story private casita sitting on the lake’s edge. You’ll spend your days spotting turtles and frogs, eating excellent local cuisine, swimming in the saltwater pool, practicing yoga on a floating deck, and visiting students whose school receives support from Jicaro — so you can feel good about the $300/night (meal inclusive) starting rates. Of course, there’s also just lounging in your hammock and staring off at the volcanoes in the distance.
This post originally appeared on the Purple Roofs Gay Travel Blog.