Nicaragua's lush Northern Highlands, full of blue mountains, historical murals and coffee tours provide the perfect antidote to the heat and crowds of the major cities. Matagalpa and Jinotega, with their famous cathedrals and coffee farms, recall the European ancestry of their early settlers. You can stop in one of the area bakeries for a pastry, buy one of Matagalpa's famous black ceramics or pick up some fresh-cut flowers from local vendors.
The region has seen its share of famous natives, including RubĂ©n DarĂo, whose birthplace adopted the name Ciudad DarĂo, and Carlos Fonseca, Sandinista hero who was born Matagalpa. Both men have museums dedicated to them in their hometowns. The region contains a number of ecological reserves, such as Reserva Natural Miraflor or Tisey Estanzuela. Here you will find yourself in a land of quiet cloud forests and sparkling waterfalls. A hike along local trails will give you the chance to see toucans, howler monkeys or small wild cat known as a jaguarundi. Butterflies and birds can also be spotted flitting through the foliage.
For a cup of world-famous local coffee, head to one of the plantations that dot the mountain sides. Selva Negra Mountain Resort, in particular, is renowned for both its coffee and the owners' sustainable agriculture projects. Encouraged by the local government, other small plantations, particularly around Miraflor and Esteli, have begun welcoming visitors. You can now learn how coffee is grown and produced and then sit down for a taste of the local roast.