Nicaragua & Honduras 21 Day Explorer
If “Slow Travel” and getting off the beaten trail is your idea of a great trip then our 21 day exploration of Honduras and Nicaragua is for you. This itinerary has a strong sustainable travel focus staying in eco lodges and concentrating on community and nature tours that allow you to experience the real, authentic nature of each country.
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ITINERARY AT A GLANCE
Day 1: Meet and Greet and private transfer to Copan – Overnight Hacienda San Lucas (3 Nights)
Day 2: Copan Archaeology Site private tour and Bird Sanctuary
Day 3: Finca El Cisne local agriculture and community tour
Day 4: Transfer to Pico Bonito Eco Lodge and Free Afternoon (3 Nights)
Day 5: Cuero y Salado Nature and Wildlife Tour
Day 6: Hiking to “Unbelievable Falls” in Pico Bonito National Park
Day 7: Transfer to San Pedro Sula, Fight to Managua, Nicaragua & Transfer to Leon – Overnight El Convento (2 Nights)
Day 8: Private Tour of Leon & Mud Pots
Day 9: Transfer to Matagalpa to Selva Negra Ecolodge (3 Nights)
Day 10: Nature Tour at Selva Negra Ecolodge
Day 11: Coffee Tour, Nature Tour and Night Nature Tour
Day 12: Transfer to Granada and Boat Transfer to Jicaro Island Lodge (2 Nights)
Day 13: Private Granada Walking Tour & Masaya Volcano with Artisan Market
Day 14: Granada more exploration & Isletas Boat Trip & transfer to Ometepe Island – Overnight Finca San Juan de la Isla (2 Nights)
Day 15: Ometepe Island Nature Private Guided Exploration
Day 16: Ometepe Island Nature Private Guided Exploration & Boat and Land Transfer to San Juan del Sur area to Morgan’s Rock Eco Lodge
Day 17: Catch your own Shrimp Tour
Day 18-20: Free days at the beach
Day 21: Private transfer to Managua International airport.
Copan Central Square, Honduras
For more than a millennium, some of the most exquisitely carved stone stelae of the ancient Maya world have stood silent vigil in Copán Archaeological Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walk in the footsteps of the Mayan rulers, passing through the Acropolis and climbing the steep Hieroglyphic Stairway. To fully appreciate the site, hire a guide and visit in the cooler morning hours to watch scarlet macaws soar overhead and land at park feeding stations. Just 1 km/0.5 mi from the ruins, the cobblestone streets and charming hotels, restaurants, museums, and shops of Copán Ruinas await. Stay an extra day or two to explore the surrounding countryside on horseback, visit a coffee farm, indulge in hot springs, and enjoy Macaw Mountain Bird Reserve.
Pico Bonito National Park & La Ceiba
Pico Bonito National Park isn’t just remote, it’s largely unexplored. Located near the Caribbean city of La Ceiba, it’s one of the country’s largest parks, named for the 2,435 m/7,989 ft mountain dominating its sky. Rugged and isolated, Pico Bonito is home to cloud forests, dense jungles, dry lowland regions, several rivers, and exotic wildlife. Watch for birds, monkeys, wild pigs, and the elusive jaguar. Although much of the park is inaccessible without a machete and some serious boots, Pico Bonito offers great eco-lodges and remains an exceptional destination for jungle treks, bird watching, and whitewater rafting.
Beach at Morgan’s Rock Eco Lodge, Nicaragua – Image Copyright Morgan’s Rock
An unpretentious city with stunning colonial streetscapes, León is among Nicaragua’s most culturally rich communities. Once the site of political uprisings, today’s León has a vibrant, artistic feel. Opportunities for exploring include León’s street art and murals, the faded beauty of centuries-old architecture, an awe-inspiring cathedral (the burial place of Nicaragua’s famous literary son, Rubén Darío), art galleries, a prison-turned-museum, and several ancient churches. The city also boasts a cosmopolitan edge with a generous mix of restaurants and an active nightlife. Outside the city, the larger department of León borders the Pacific Ocean, where you can hike or kayak in the Juan Venado Island Natural Reserve, a mangrove sanctuary with myriad birds, crocodiles, and other wildlife. The León region is also home to more than a half-dozen volcanoes, including Momotombo, which recently resumed activity. Active travelers will enjoy exploring the department’s nature reserves, volcanoes (one can be hiked up and then “sandboarded? down), volcanic lagoons, and small towns.
Matagalpa / Selva Negra
Mountains and farmland surround Matagalpa, the gateway to the Northern Highlands. This city boasts established restaurants, cafes, bars, and picturesque churches, and makes an ideal launch-point for exploring Nicaragua?s northern mountains, valleys, and cloud forests. From town, you can walk to the Cerro Apante nature reserve. Its rustic walking trails lead to an expansive cave behind cascading waterfalls, and lead panoramic views. Try a guided night hike to glimpse nocturnal wildlife. In the surrounding region, reserves like Cerro Arenal cloud forest and Peñas Blancas with its white cliffs offer hiking trails for every level. These protected areas are home to crashing waterfalls; monkeys, armadillos, tapirs, and even big cats like jaguars and pumas; as well as parakeets, flycatchers, tanagers, and even the elusive resplendent quetzal. Those seeking more adventure can try rock climbing on Cerro Cusmacayan, while java addicts should visit the coffee museum or tour a local coffee farm.
Granada Main Square
On the shores of Lake Nicaragua lies the picturesque colonial city of Granada. With its cobblestone streets, lovingly restored colonial-era churches and buildings. galleries, shops, museums, and cafes, Granada has something to please everyone. The robust restaurant scene delights the taste buds with everything from international fusion to local fare. In the busy central square, you?ll find the commanding dome of Granada’s cathedral, where a climb up the bell tower offers panoramic views of the surrounding volcanoes and lake.
Granada is the perfect base for discovering Nicaragua’s natural beauty and culture. Peer into the Masaya Volcano?s smoky active crater, or gaze into its glowing lava lake on a night tour. Visit villages where artisans carve wood, create furniture, or make pottery. Hike the Mombacho Volcano for magnificent views or to zip line above the canopy. Hop on a bike for a morning ride to the lakeside beaches of the Peninsula de Asese. And don’t miss kayaking or boating around Las Isletas tiny, vegetation-rich lake islands to spot birds, monkeys, and other wildlife.
Tours, Sites & Activities in this Honduras/Nicaragua Itinerary
Copan Archaeology Site and Macaw Mountain Bird Park
Today, you will travel to the Copán archaeological site for a privately guided, three-hour tour. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, and one of the ancient Maya’s most lavish cultural centers, Copán is well-known for its intricately carved stelae and incredible hieroglyphic stairway; you’ll also visit the on-site sculpture museum. Afterwards, you’ll lunch in the town of Copán Ruinas and then transfer to the Macaw Mountain Bird Park (15 minutes away), a 4-hectare/9-acre reserve that cares for rescued and endangered tropical birds like scarlet macaws and keel-billed toucans. A guide from the reserve will talk about Macaw Mountain’s ongoing projects and introduce you to a variety of bird species, some of which you can interact with. Bring your bathing suit, as the reserve has a riverside swimming hole. This is a one- to two-hour visit.
Finca El Cisne Local Agriculture and Community Tour
This morning, you’ll set out on a full-day excursion to family-owned Finca El Cisne farm. Enjoy the hospitality of the Castejón family, as host, Carlos, guides you on an easy horseback ride to explore the local land (home to tropical edibles like avocados, plantains, star fruit, and pineapples) and the beautiful scenery of the Copán Valley. A hearty farmhouse lunch, prepared by Carlos’s mother, allows you to taste a variety of regionally grown ingredients. In the afternoon, you will learn about the farm’s cardamom and shade-grown coffee plantations and about cattle ranching, which provides the farm with meat and dairy. Upon your return to Copán, you’ll stop for a quick dip in the local hot springs.
Horse Riding at Finca el Cisne in Copan, Honduras – Image by Viaventure
Cuero y Salado Nature Tour
Named after two rivers that feed this estuarine mangrove forest wildlife refuge, the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge is famous for its abundant wildlife and birding opportunities. Your trip into the refuge starts on a narrow gauge rail car that takes you to the river’s edge. From here, motorized skiffs and canoes are available for guided tours through the complex of estuaries and mangrove forests where you might see howler and white-faced monkeys, iguanas, alligators, dozens of species of birds, and – with a little luck – manatees. After the boat tour, wander down to the white sand beach where the rivers meet the sea for a swim and a fresh fruit snack.
Unbelievable Falls Hiking and Nature Tour
One of the most popular excursions while at Pico Bonito Lodge is the hike to Unbelievable Falls. The hike (physically demanding) takes you into the Pico Bonito National Park, one of Central America’s most pristine jungles with over 270,000 acres of unexplored rainforest. Seven different ecosystems surround Pico Bonito and it is home to over 420 species of birds as well as jaguars, tapirs, deer, puma, white-faced and spider monkeys. Unbelievable Falls is a spectacular double drop waterfall that descends almost 100 feet into a huge and irresistible swimming hole. At the waterfalls, guests looking for a refreshing dip can scurry up the rocks and swim in a pool between the two drops. The recommended age for this activity is between 12 and 65, in good physical condition. The guides will modify the pace, length and difficulty of the hike depending on their best judgment and the request of the guests. The trek is approx. 3.5 hrs total, plus time for swimming.
Leon Viejo Tour & Momotombo Volcano
While visiting present-day Leon, enjoy a fascinating look at its predecessor settlement, the ruins of León Viejo (Old León), near of the foot of the active Momotombo Volcano. Start your two-hour, guided walking tour of Nicaragua’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site at the museum with a quick tutorial about the settlement’s founding in 1524. You’ll learn about the key people and events in its history, most notably Momotombo’s 1610 eruption that led settlers to establish what became today’s León, about 29 kilometres (18 miles) away. Next, follow your guide outside amongst the well-preserved ruins, including churches, a convent, and military structures. Finish the tour at a scenic lookout, admiring the imposing volcano, and then return to León.
Viaventure Tour to visit local Family & Bakery – Image by Viaventure
Granada Exploration Tour
The best way to discover the secrets of Granada is by exploring this colonial city with a local Granadino guide. The walk begins with a steep climb up the bell tower of the nearly 500-year-old La Merced church for exceptional views of Granada?s central plaza, historic district, and picturesque Mombacho volcano. The next stop is a behind-the-scenes look at the busy and colorful market district, with visits to a factory to see zapateros (shoemakers) craft shoes by hand, a workshop to watch artisans create colorful piñatas, and a hammock workshop where you can try your hand at hammock weaving. With Granada’s rich traditions and culture, the tour’s options are endless, and the guide can tailor the tour to your interests.
Masaya Volcano & Artisan Market
For a close encounter with nature’s raw power, follow your guide to the smoking, lava-filled crater of one of Nicaragua’s most active volcanoes, Masaya. Enjoy the scenic panorama of Masaya’s dormant sibling, Nindiri, and the five craters in between. And the cross you see at the crater’s edge? A 16th century Spanish monk considered the crater to be a gate to hell and erected the original cross to protect against the demons inside. Legend holds that pre-Columbian inhabitants conducted rituals and sacrifices there. After the volcanic encounter, your guide escorts you down to colourful Masaya town itself for an immersion into local culture. At the thriving market, peruse hundreds of traditional, locally crafted products, such as pottery, hand-carved wood furniture, hand-made shoes, maracas, and much more. Tour the nearby Pueblos Blancos (White Villages) to discover more about the generations of artists who make these delightful crafts.
Local Artisan Tour with Viaventure – Image by Viaventure
Isletas Boat Trip
After a short drive to the lake, hop into a small boat for a delightful cruise amongst Las Isletas, a sea of small islands formed eons ago by an eruption of Mombacho. Inhabited by fishermen and their families for generations, some islands welcome visitors with restaurants, cafés, lodges, and shops. Learn how village residents use age-old fishing techniques from their rustic, wooden canoes. A few islets, privately owned, serve as vacation getaways for the country’s elite. By far most of the islands remain undeveloped and pristine, thriving with an array of birds and other wildlife.
Catch your own Shrimps
You will never savor cleaner, fresher shrimp than the ones you will catch yourself on this truly unique tour. In season, a guide will lead adults and children ages 7 and up on an easy walk (1.5-km/.75 mi each direction) to the organic shrimp farm at the Hacienda and Ecolodge at Morgan’s Rock. Instead of the industrial animal food used on other shrimp farms, which can give the shrimp an unpleasant flavor, these shrimp are fed their natural diet of algae-you can taste the delicious difference! You will learn to cast nets and scoop up the wriggling shrimp that will later be served at the hotel restaurant.
Copan: Hacienda San Lucas
A Viaventure favorite, Hacienda San Lucas is an authentic Spanish colonial hacienda which has been lovingly restored by owner Flavia Cueva into a romantic, atmospheric 8 room boutique lodge. It is situated on the hillside overlooking the picturesque Copan valley and indeed from the garden you can see the temple tops of the Copan site itself! The décor is perhaps not top luxury but it is tasteful and comfortable and the gardens and common areas are beautiful. The restaurant is a unique blend of traditional and international cuisine and they serve family style – everyone has the same menu. Behind the hotel are lots of walking trails which are also great for bird watching and there is even a small archaeology site called Los Sapos right there on the property. Flavia is a very spiritual person and has also set up a Yoga studio and offers spiritual retreats.
- Facilities: 8 Rooms, Restaurant, Bar, Gardens, Yoga Studio
- Location: Hillside setting just outside the town of Copan Ruinas. 15min transfer from town
A boutique hotel with cabana style rooms, Pico Bonito Lodge is set within 162-hectares/400-acres of tropical wilderness and pristine rainforest on the edge of the Pico Bonito National Park. This spot is a nature-lover’s and birder’s paradise. Nestled between two rivers, with miles of private trails, you can pick your adventure: waterfall hikes, boat excursions to track the elusive manatee, bird-watching from multi-level canopy observation towers, just to name a few. The individual cabana style rooms are set in beautiful tropical gardens and the lodge offers an excellent restaurant, pool, spa, and meeting room
- Facilities: 22 Cabana Rooms with AC, Restaurant, Bar, Pool
- Location: Rainforest Location – 30mins from La Ceiba Airport
Granada / Las Isletas: Jicaro Island Lodge
Set on a private island in Lake Nicaragua’s Granada Isletas, this secluded lodge is an intimate hideaway offering comfort and natural charm. Jicaro Island Ecolodge is a unique destination to relax in nature’s beauty, just a short boat ride from historic Granada. Designed to harmonize with nature, the ecolodge reflects its owners commitment to the environment. It features 9 two-story casitas secluded in the jungle, with incredible rainforest views and a deck overlooking the majestic lake. The open kitchen serves Nicaraguan fusion cuisine made with organic local ingredients. At the wellness center, guests can indulge in a range of spa treatments, while daily classes on the yoga deck inspire serenity. The pool creates an ideal spot to unwind amid the surrounding tropical vegetation.
- Facilities: Restaurant, bar, swimming pool, wellness center, yoga deck, gardens, walking trails.
- Location: From Granada, a 10-minute ride to the Asese port, then a 15-minute boat ride.
Leon: El Convento
7th century convent with modern comfort and elegance. This boutique hotel surrounds you with abundant flowers in the central courtyard and Spanish-colonial antiques and artwork in the corridors. Each of its 31 executive rooms (single or double, including a deluxe suite with a king-sized bed and ample lounge area) features terra-cotta floors, exposed brick walls, and ornately carved wood furnishings. El Victoriano restaurant, serving Nicaraguan and international cuisine, offers 24-hour room service.
- Facilities: Restaurant, bar, fitness room, pool, conference rooms, air conditioning, Wi-Fi.
- Location: 1.5-hour ride northwest of downtown Managua; three blocks from León’s central square
Matagalpa: Selva Negra Ecolodge
Selva Negra Ecolodge is the perfect back-to-nature getaway, set by a small, tranquil lake and surrounded by a lush cloud forest in Nicaragua’s central highlands. The 450 hectare/988 acre grounds include a hotel, restaurant, nature reserve, organic farm, and coffee estate, all run by fifth-generation German-Nicaraguan coffee growers. While exploring the many trails you may spot howler monkeys, exotic birds, and more. The clean lines of the décor harmonize perfectly with the surrounding natural environment. Accommodations include a hostel (single beds, ideal for groups on a budget), modern hotel-style rooms with full private baths, four large chalets, and nineteen bungalows. The lakeside restaurant serves true farm-to-table cuisine featuring Nicaraguan and German specialties. After a day of exploration, you can relax with a stein of beer or favorite cocktail at the handcrafted wood bar.
Ometepe Island: Finca San Juan de las Isla
This lovingly restored, 19th century colonial hacienda encompasses the natural beauty and tranquility of rural country life. Perched on the edge of Lake Nicaragua with cloud-capped volcanoes in the distance, this comfortable island lodge maintains a traditional ambiance where you can enjoy the lakefront beach and forest streams of its 65 hectares/160 acres. Reached by ferry, you will relax in quiet seclusion. Finca San Juan’s eco-conscious design and surroundings blend harmoniously. You may see exotic birds and howler monkeys in the century-old Spanish cedar trees. Lodging options include double rooms (6-person maximum) and quaint cabins with modern amenities. Privacy, well-appointed baths, and outdoor decks or terraces are part of each space. Rooms are finished with fine wood details that add rustic character. Las Naranjas Restaurant, with tables along the main hacienda?s breezy open-air corridors, offers delectable Nicaraguan dishes and original fruit-based desserts. Enjoy cocktails at the open-air, lakefront bar.
San Juan del Sur / Pacific Beach: Morgan’s Rock
Natural, untouched, tropical Morgan’s Rock is a peerless beachfront hotel located in San Juan del Sur. You will feel as one with nature at this unique resort committed to environmental practices including tree farming and traditional agriculture. Amidst beaches and verdant rainforests, 15 deluxe bungalows overlook the Pacific. As you cross an elevated 100m/328ft suspension bridge (spanning a majestic forested canyon) you are truly “off the beaten path” and immersed in an exquisite hidden jungle playground. The thatched roof bungalows, designed with modern-style details and luxurious elegance, use native hardwoods in furnishings, floors and beamed ceilings. Each bungalow has an impressive forest or ocean view and some have plunge pools. Hit the private, soft- sandy beach, look for nesting sea turtles (in season), relax by the infinity pool, or treat yourself with a soothing massage. You can taste mouthwatering specialties sourced from the hotel’s own organic farm at the onsite restaurant.
- Facilities: Restaurant, bar, snack bar, outdoor pool, beach access, spa services, open-air yoga platforms, playground, Wi-Fi.
- Location: 2.5-hour drive from Granada, Nicaragua to San Juan del Sur.
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