Sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and Lago de Nicaragua is the thin spit of land with some of the best surfing beaches in the country on one side and, on the other, volcanic islands full of archeological treasures, hikes and adventures.
Nicaraguaâ€™s Pacific South West may be as skinny as a runway model, but head there and you discover that the area actually has a hefty number of things to do. You might find yourself in the swirling markets of Rivas; standing at the feet of the Bride of Tola, a monument to Nicaragua's most famously jilted woman; or watching turtles heave themselves out of the sea to lay eggs along the beaches of the Chacocente reserve.
The Pacific South West is rimmed with long, sandy beaches that, unlike similar places along the popular Caribbean coast or neighboring Costa Rica, have only started to draw tourists. Take San Juan del Sur -- nestled in a crescent bay the little town is the perfect antidote to the over-hyped sands across the border. San Juan del Sur has maintained its fishing village charm while still providing all of the services foreigners require, including a wide range of restaurants, hotels and Spanish schools.
When you decide to venture further afield, San Juan del Sur also makes a perfect jumping-off point for a incredible number of beaches, such as Playa Maderas, Playa Majagual and Playa Marsella, to name a few to the north. There are also enchantingly named spots like Playa Hermosa (Beautiful Beach), Playa El Coco (Coconut Beach) and Arena Blanca (White Sand).
Before you leave the area, make sure to set aside some time for the boat ride to Isla Ometepe, with Nicaraguaâ€™s famous twin volcanoes. The island, which has been inhabited for some 4,000 years, has loomed large in the countryâ€™s mythology, serving as a pirate base, a refuge from Nicaraguaâ€™s civil wars and as a time capsule for indigenous artifacts. The island is still half lava threat (VolcĂˇn ConcepciĂłn) and half peaceful lagoon (VolcĂˇn Maderas) with land thatâ€™s sprinkled with petroglyphs, hiking trails and coffee plantations.