Nicaragua: Volcanoes, Lakes, and Tropical Forests

  • Trip Type: Active
  • Activity Rating: Light/Moderate
  • 10 Days | Managua to Managua
  • Group Size: Max 14

Trip Details


Home to sprawling rain forests, more than 25 volcanoes, and vast caldera lakes, Nicaragua sets a dynamic backdrop for wild adventures. Kayak the shimmering waters of Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s largest freshwater lake; trek through verdant cloud forests; and spot monkeys, macaws, and other jungle wildlife in biodiversity hotspots. Along the way, marvel at pre-Columbian artifacts, visit vibrant markets and artisan studios, and explore fascinating relics of the country’s Spanish-colonial era.

Trip Highlights

    • Stay in one of the tropical tree houses of Jicaro Island Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World perched on a tiny isle in Lake Nicaragua.
    • Explore the volcanic island of Zapatera with marine biologist Jose Urteaga, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and learn about wildlife conservation efforts in Nicaragua.
    • Spot poison dart frogs and great green macaws while hiking through the remote Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve; and watch for caimans on an evening boat trip down the Rio San Juan.
    • Hike through a cloud forest to a hidden waterfall cascading down the side of a volcano, and take a dip in mud baths said to have supernatural healing powers.

Itinerary - 10 Days

Day 1 — Managua/Laguna de Apoyo

Arrive in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, and transfer to our lodge on the rim of the stunning Apoyo crater. Settle in and enjoy a welcome dinner of traditional Nicaraguan dishes this evening.
Pacaya Lodge & Spa (D)

Day 2 — Rio San Juan

Soak up views of the majestic crater lake over breakfast, then transfer to the airport and fly to San Carlos, a village situated where Lake Nicaragua flows into the Rio San Juan. Board a boat to our jungle lodge perched at the river’s edge, where the air is filled with the sounds of howler and white-faced monkeys and an array of resident and migratory birds. If you’d like, head out in search of caimans on an evening boat tour along the river.
Sabalos Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 3 — Rio San Juan

Glide downstream to the remnants of the old Spanish fort of El Castillo, built in 1602 and the site of many conflicts over the course of Nicaragua’s turbulent colonial history. Continue on to the nearby Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve. Venture into this wildlife-rich jungle and be on the lookout for resident species, including poison dart frogs and great green macaws. Return to our lodge and enjoy an evening at leisure in your open-air cabin. (3 miles hiking, 2 hours)
Sabalos Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 4 — Rio Sabalos/Rio San Juan

Launch a kayak onto the tranquil Sabalos River for a paddle along tranquil waters, and spot wildlife along the lush riverbank. This afternoon, enjoy free time at the lodge. Relax in a hammock overlooking the Rio San Juan, or go tubing for a different perspective of the rain forest waterway. Later this afternoon, head to a local cacao planation to learn about making Nicaraguan chocolate from bean to bar, and sample the final product. (2–3 hours kayaking)
Sabalos Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 5 — Ometepe Island

Rise early for an optional birding walk, then depart the lodge by boat. Return to San Carlos and tour the Fortress of the Immaculate Conception, which rises above the Rio San Juan. Then take a scenic flight to the largest island in Lake Nicaragua—Ometepe, an hourglass-shaped island flanked by twin volcanoes. Upon landing, visit a pair of local museums to admire pre-Columbian artifacts found on the island and learn Nicaraguan history through the lens of its currency. Check into our hacienda-style hotel on the beach and, if you’d like, join a jungle hike to the Ojo de Agua spring, where we’ll take a refreshing dip in its crystalline waters. (2–3 miles hiking, 2 hours)
Hotel Finca San Juan de la Isla (B,L,D)

Day 6 — Maderas/Ometepe Island

Venture into the tropical landscapes that blanket the slopes of the dormant Madera Volcano, one of the few places on the Pacific side of Nicaragua with a cloud forest. Hike to San Ramon waterfall, cascading down the flanks of Maderas, and enjoy a snack and refreshing dip in the cool pools at the base of the falls. (3 miles hiking, 3 hours)
Hotel Finca San Juan de la Isla (B,L,D)

Day 7 — Lake Nicaragua

Ride the scenic ferry back to the mainland, passing through the narrow isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Nicaragua and taking in views of the imposing Mombacho Volcano. Take a short drive on the Panamerican Highway, passing traditional villages along the way. Visit a local pottery workshop, then continue to picturesque Granada—Central America’s oldest colonial city. Learn about Nicaragua’s Spanish-colonial past as you stroll cobbled streets, past atmospheric markets and parks, as well as landmarks like the 16th-century La Merced church. Board a boat bound for Jicaro Island Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World perched on a tiny isle in Lake Nicaragua, and settle into your treehouse-style casita.
Jicaro Island Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 8 — Lake Nicaragua

Early this morning, set off on a boat ride to Zapatera National Park, centered on a dormant volcano that forms an island Lake Nicaragua. Spend the morning exploring the park on foot with conservationist Jose Urteaga, a marine biologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and discover the island’s impressive collection of archaeological artifacts. Hike to a nearby lagoon, where pre-Colombian indigenous leader Nicarao allegedly hid gold from Spanish colonists. Go for a dip in mud baths purported to have supernatural healing powers, then head back to the beach for refreshments and a swim in the “sweet sea,” as locals call the shimmering waters. Return to the lodge for lunch and a talk by Urteaga about local conservation efforts, then opt to join your guide for a sunset kayak tour. During dinner, enjoy a traditional dance performance. (2 miles hiking, 1–2 hours)
Jicaro Island Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 9 — Managua

Spend a leisurely morning at the lodge. Take a paddleboarding lesson, or learn how to prepare Nicaraguan specialties during a cooking class. Return to the mainland and travel to the town of Masaya, home to a bustling open-air handicrafts market, followed by a visit to the active Masaya Volcano, where you can peer over the edge of a lava-filled crater. Check into our boutique-style hotel in Managua, and enjoy a farewell dinner tonight.
Hotel Elements (B,L,D)

Day 10 — Managua

Transfer to the airport to catch your flight home.

Related Trips

National Geographic Active Expeditions are unique, active itineraries for intrepid travelers that combine spectacular places, cultural interaction, and physical challenge. You'll explore fascinating, off-the-beaten-path places with top guides, and wherever possible, meet National Geographic experts in the field.


  • Nov 21 - 30, 2018

Trip Cost



Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $850. International airfare to/from Managua, and airfare within Nicaragua, is not included in the adventure cost. The group flight within Nicaragua is $200 (subject to change).


See special terms and conditions for this adventure.

Activity Level


We will hike 1–3 hours per day (2–3 miles) on uneven trails at low elevations with plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing. The Maderas Volcano hike travels through rainforest where trails can be muddy or slippery with some steep ascents/descents.

Click here for a description of all activity levels.

What To Expect

Accommodation Style

We will stay 4 nights in comfortable hotels with many amenities that are ideally situated for each day’s activities and two nights in a National Geographic Unique Lodge. We also stay three nights in an eco-lodge along the Rio San Juan which offers comfortably rustic accommodations offering fantastic wildlife viewing and birding. In keeping with their eco-friendly mission, these open-air cabanas are cooled by a breeze from the river but do not offer air conditioning.

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