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110km (68 miles) S of Managua, 67km (42 miles) S of Granada, 30km (19 miles) N of San Juan del Sur

The bustling yet laid-back market town of Rivas is southern Nicaragua's main city and capital of the province. Though it's not a tourist destination in its own right, this town of 45,000 people serves as a crossroads for travelers from the north who are going south to Costa Rica, west to San Juan del Sur or the beaches close to Tola, or east to the nearby small port of San Jorge, to catch the ferry to Isla de Ometepe. Not many people hang around long enough to savor Rivas' old-world charm, but it is worth taking an afternoon to stroll through its colorful plaza and see the surrounding historic buildings if you connect through it.

This town of mango trees and chattering parakeets has a rich history. It's perhaps best known as the site of William Walker's Waterloo, for the marauding filibusterer was defeated at the Battle of Rivas here in what proved to be the beginning of his end. Some Rivenses, as the locals are known, actually claim to be direct descendants of Walker. Rivas is also the birthplace of Violeta Chamorro, the 1990s-era president who did much to reunite the war-torn country. And Rivas was a major stop on Cornelius Vanderbilt's stagecoach express to the Pacific during the California gold rush. In addition to serving as a key transportation hub, it is now the center of a thriving agricultural hinterland producing corn, rice, beans, sugar cane, and tobacco.