The Best of Nicaragua & El Salvador in2 Weeks
Two weeks are better than one, but you'll still find yourself sacrificing some intriguing destinations because of time constraints. The El Salvador itinerary below does not explore the east of the country simply because the largest number of exemplary villages and natural areas in El Salvador are clustered in the west. But eastern El Salvador does offer some excellent attractions, such as Perquín's Museo de la Revolución, the historic Mozote monument, and the undeveloped and charming Isla de Montecristo. The Nicaragua leg also leaves out some amazing places in the north of the country, such as León city and its beautiful cathedral, and the northern highland towns of Estelí and Matagalpa.
Day 1: Arrive in San Salvador
San Salvador is El Salvador's center of luxury, with the type of high-end, international restaurants, shopping, and hotels you won't find elsewhere in the country. So take some time to soak up its modern amenities before heading out into El Salvador's more rural areas. Try to arrive in the morning so that you can settle into your hotel. The 5-star Hilton and the boutique Casa Il Buon Gustaio are just two of the many accommodation choices in the city. After checking in, take a taxi over to El Centro, the city center. Spend a couple of hours viewing El Salvador's iconic Catedral Metropolitana, Teatro Nacional, and huge street market Mercado Central (a good spot to grab lunch). Then bus or cab over to the other side of town to spend the afternoon in the Zona Rosa and Colonia San Benito neighborhoods, where you can visit the Museo de Arte and Museo Nacional de Antropología Dr. David J. Guzman. Afterward, stop by the Mercado Nacional de Artesanías or stroll the shops of the Boulevard del Hipódromo, where you can enjoy a great dinner in one of the area's ethnic restaurants. If you have the energy, continue on to the nightclubs and lounges of the Multiplaza Mall, or just head back to the hotel to rest up for a trip to Suchitoto the next day.
Day 2: Suchitoto
Today, you'll head to Suchitoto by taxi, 47km (29 miles) north of San Salvador, and one of El Salvador's most charming towns. A much-disputed territory during the civil war, this town has remade itself into a premier cultural destination, with some of El Salvador's best art galleries and boutique hotels, along with a rich history and abundant natural beauty. You can spend the day simply enjoying the vibe, taking in the weekend artisans' market, or going on a daylong history or nature tour. Stay at the colonial-style Puertas de Suchitoto, overlooking the town plaza and church.
Day 3: Lago de Coatepeque
Get up early for the 2 1/2-hour trip due west through Santa Ana or San Salvador to Lago de Coatepeque. I suggest you rent a car for this part of the journey; the roads are good, and there's a scenic route if you go west from Suchitoto and through the town of Aguilar and continue west to Santa Ana. Coatepeque offers 23 sq. km (9 sq. miles) of pristine, recreational waters in a nearly perfectly round crater lake 740m (2,428 ft.) above sea level. The nation's rich and famous have their mansions along its shores. Each night, a spectacular sun sets behind the lush walls of the crater rim, and visitors can spend the day swimming, fishing, riding watercrafts, or soaking in the views. Stay at the laidback, family-run Hostal Amacuilco and dine on the bamboo-style pier at Restaurante Las Palmeras.
Day 4: Ruta de las Flores
The rural mountain circuit known as Ruta de las Flores is located about 2 hours west of Suchitoto. Appealing hilltop villages stretch for 35km (22 miles) along a winding road with lots to offer, including roadside restaurants and coffee estates. You can see the route on a 1-day tour with either a tour company or taxi, but a rental car allows you to stop at the many roadside attractions and go at your own pace. Stop first in Nahuizalco to check out the locally made furniture and then head to Juayúa to see the black Christ. Finish up in Ataco to take in the excellent array of El Salvadoran art. Spend the night at the lovely coffee farm B&B Quinta El Carmen.
Days 5: Parque Nacional El Imposible & Barra de Santiago
Start the next day in Tacuba, the base for various daylong adventures to Parque Imposible -- a huge, lush national park with one of the country's largest and most diverse wildlife collections and lush, mountainous hiking terrain. To get the most out of your jungle visit, stay at El Imposible Eco Lodge.
Day 6 & 7: Balsamo Coast to San Salvador
The following day, head 1 hour south to Barra de Santiago, along El Salvador's Balsamo Coast, and spend 2 nights soaking up the sun and sand at El Salvador's top beach-side retreat La Cocotera.
Barra de Santiago is a tiny fishing village and protected nature area with a mangrove-filled estuary on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. You can fish, swim, and surf its deserted beaches, watch giant sea turtles lay their eggs in season, and bird-watch in the estuary. It's a great place to relax before the second leg of your trip to Nicaragua -- San Salvador airport is an easy 2- to 2 1/2hour drive past the beautiful beaches and small villages of this coast.
Days 8 & 9: Arrive in Managua & Head to Granada
Fly into Managua and transfer directly by taxi to the picturesque town of Granada. The sprawling capital has its hidden charms but bears no comparison to this elegant, colonial city 2 hours south and located on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. Settle into the Hotel Plaza Colón to relax and enjoy the colorful plaza from the ample balcony that faces the cathedral. The next morning, take a horse-and-carriage ride through the city's enchanting cobbled streets and down to the lake's shore, where you can take a short boat tour of Las Isletas archipelago.
Days 10 & 11: Tour Isla de Ometepe & Arrive in San Juan del Sur
The jungle island of Ometepe is possible to see in a single day if you contact a tour company to pick you up at your hotel and take you to the tiny port town of San Jorge. Here, you'll catch a boat across to the serene, twin-peaked island. A 4WD will then meet you at the boat and take you on a coastal tour of this island of howler monkeys, pre-Columbian carved stones, and mud-bathing farm animals. Unfortunately, you won't have time to climb its volcanic peaks, one of which is currently active, during a day trip, but you will get a feel for a place known locally as "the island of peace."
Transfer by taxi or take one of the many local buses (travel time 90 minutes) to the rum-and-sun town of San Juan del Sur in the early evening. Stay at the atmospheric boutique hotel known as La Posada Azul and eat in the arty surroundings of El Colibrí. The next day, take a coastal boat to some beautiful, secluded beaches or, depending on the time of year, take a night excursion to watch the spectacular turtle hatching in Playa La Flor.
Days 12 & 13: The Corn Islands
Catch a taxi back to Managua for the midday flight to these Caribbean treasure islands. Soak up the sunset on bleach-white Picnic Beach while sitting in the breezy, canvas covered lounge area of Arenas Hotel. Or stay at the very comfortable Casa Canada and enjoy its gorgeous pool before snorkeling the pink coral beach of Sally Peaches.
Day 14: Managua
Head back to Managua, and give the capital a quick look. If you have time to do so before your flight, take a tour of its ghost-downtown, the Zona Monumental. Visit the Teatro Nacional Rubén Darío and peer into the majestic ruins of the city's old cathedral. Have time for dinner? Enjoy ceviche and a pisco sour at La Terraza Peruana before trying some bars in the Zona Viva.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.