Beyond León

Juan Venado Estuary

The Isla Juan Venado Nature Reserve is a coastal wetland region protected by the barrier island of Juan Venado, near the beach of Poneloya, only fifteen minutes from Leon. The island is a thin strip of sand located next to the Pacific coastline where it forms a sheltered saltwater habitat home to a mangrove forest inhabited by numerous species of fish, bird and reptiles. The island serves as nesting ground for the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle and is an important nursery for fry and juvenile fish that seek refuge from predators among the mangrove roots.

Esteli and Miraflor

To the North and east of Leon is Estelí. The city and surrounding region is well known throughout Nicaragua as one of the most influential places in the revolutionary history of the country. It has a markedly cooler weather than Leon and natural sites combining eco-tourism, coffee and organic food farming, native orchids and cheese production. MiraFlor is rich in waterfalls, rain forests, bird watching, and a variety of flora and fauna characteristic of the region. Students stay on local coffee farms set up to host travelers from where they explore the local ecology and culture.


To the south of Leon, along the route to Granada is Masaya, a town known for its traditional handicrafts. The central market of Masaya is located in an historic building dating from the 19th Century. Here one can find crafts made by local artists. Every Thursday night are the Verbenas, Nicaraguan live music played by local musicians with their marimbas, a traditional Latin/Caribbean instrument.

Volcan Masaya

En route to Granada is the Volcán Masaya National Park. Nicaragua's first National Park established in 1979, it has an area of 54 sq km, including two volcanoes and five craters. It is the only volcano in the western hemisphere where you are able to drive to the rim. In the Santiago crater is an underground tunnel which was formed by lava flows, where one can find bats and parrots, and look inside and observe the glowing lava in the dark crater mouth of the volcano. There are walking tours of the craters and a visitor center where guides explain volcanic activity as well as the animals and plants that make their home in the craters.

Laguna de Apoyo

Nicaragua’s cleanest lake is a body of water inside the crater of the Apoyo Volcano. Its walls are thickly vegetated with green forest and a network of trails, most of which exist as a protected nature reserve in this tropical dry ecosystem. The flora and fauna consist of numerous species of plants, tropical dry trees, a large variety of orchids and numerous mammals, howler monkeys and reptiles. Over 200 species of birds, 65 species of migratory birds and various species of butterflies are present. Apoyo lagoon also contains a variety of fish including four species of mojarras, found exclusively in the lagoon. The lagoon has various attractions such as dark sand beaches for swimming, and hiking in the surrounding forest. Recently, petroglyphs and artifacts of indigenous peoples have been found in the reserve.


Granada is a colonial city similar to León. Here students can visit colonial houses, churches, museums and the central plaza where very frequently one can find food stands, live music and horse car rides. Granada also offers unique environmental locations including Lake Cocibolca where there are boat tours of Las Isletas, islands resulting from an ancient eruption of Volcan Mombacho that support a variety of animals and birds. The volcano is also a natural reserve where there are eco-tours, hikes and coffee farming tours, all in a rain forest that has unique flora and fauna.

Mombacho Rain Forest

One of Nicaragua's most important cloudforests drapes the slopes of the inactive Mombacho Volcano, southwest of the capital city of Managua and near the shores of Lake Nicaragua, also known as Lake Cocibolca. Mombacho is a 2,500-acre reserve, surrounded by coffee plantations and small farms. The park has an amazing variety of orchids and birds and is home to howler monkeys, along with the Mombacho Salamander and Mombacho butterfly, two species found nowhere else on Earth. The protected area is carefully managed by the Cocibolca Foundation, a local conservation group that is helping coffee growers develop sustainable agroforestry methods.

Ometepe Island

Ometepe is an island formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua. Its name derives from the Nahuatl words ome (two) and tepetl (mountain), meaning two mountains. The two volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas, are joined by a low isthmus to form one island.

Ometepe harbors large populations of the White-faced Capuchin monkey, also called White-headed Capuchin, (Cebus capucinus) and populations of the Mantled Howler monkey (Alouatta palliata). Efforts are being made to study and protect these animals. The Ometepe Biological Field School is situated on the Maderas side of the island. Here, students and scientists from all over the world come to study the unique flora and fauna of the area. The lake surrounding Ometepe harbours many species of aquatic animals, notably the Nicaragua shark, which until recently was thought to be a unique species of freshwater shark, but has since been shown to be continuous with ocean-populations. Small populations of spider monkeys inhabit very small islands within Lake Nicaragua.