We arrived by bus into San Juan del Sur, a small town on the Pacific coast that’s become a popular traveller stop, thanks to its proximity to the Costa Rican border and incredible surf. With good waves come expat surfers and the inevitable trendy small businesses. Happily, they haven’t overpowered this quaint and colourful town, but instead integrated some fantastic little shops and restaurants into the laid-back coastal community.
It’s also home to the most spectacular sunsets, which we soon found are best viewed – cold drink in hand – from the terrace of one of the beach bars dotting the main bay, watching the curving headland turn black against a crimson-striped sky.
After a few days on the coast, we tore ourselves away and headed inland for a more historical experience: the great colonial city of Granada. Brightly painted, peppered with churches and redolent with history, Granada remains one of the country’s most important cities – and a stroll past the colonnaded buildings along the central plaza, to the buttercup-yellow Catedral de Granada will quickly show you why. This place is packed with historical landmarks, galleries showcasing pre-Colombian art and museums charting its dramatic history – from the Spanish invasion through to independence in 1821.
If you’re after an authentic memento, handmade hammocks are a local speciality. We loved the Tio Antonio workshop – a store that’s also a social project, training up blind and deaf residents to weave a variety of bright and beautiful creations, along with a tasty organic café alongside. Joe and I spent our evenings in the city’s small but vibrant centre: a pedestrian zone of bars and restaurants where mariachis serenade outside tables with swooning Spanish anthems, to a backing track of happy chatter and clinking glasses.
It’s the perfect introduction to the country’s colonial heritage and modern character – but eventually, it was time to leave the cobbled streets and soaring bell-towers to travel further inland, and experience some of Nicaragua’s natural beauty.