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Sustainable tourism is not just about staying in an overpriced ecolodge. How you conduct yourself on your vacation can have a positive or negative effect on the places you visit. Nicaragua's unique attractions and strong community-level organizations provide ample opportunities for you to have a holiday that also benefits the community. For example, when choosing a language school, choose one of the small local schools affiliated with a women's group, rather than a capital-based money maker. When buying souvenirs, choose locally made products, rather than Taiwanese-produced trinkets from a Managua shopping mall. Think twice about handing cash to panhandling kids when you could easily drop into the orphanage around the corner and make a donation. Avoid buying souvenirs made from captured wildlife and don't be tempted by the turtle eggs on the menu. One tenet of sustainable tourism is to spend your money in locally owned establishments, but Nicaragua turns this principle on its head, as often the most community-spirited operations are owned by foreigners.

The most garlanded ecolodges are often the most expensive, such as Morgan's Rock in San Juan del Sur, but you don't have to pay a king's ransom if you want a truly sustainable holiday. Finca Esperanza Verde in Matagalpa is, in my opinion, the best ecolodge in Nicaragua. The rooms may be basic, but the surroundings are beautiful, and the management's environmental policies are spot-on, which is all you really need. As for conventional hotels that are not exactly green but go out of their way to help the community, a few to try include Hotel Los Arcos in Estelí and La Perla in León.

Nicaragua and El Salvador are not immune to the boom in ecotourism, with the former especially well positioned to take advantage of the vast amount of untamed nature it possesses. Lodges vary greatly in luxury and amenities: Be sure to choose a lodge that meets your expectations. Also, take into consideration that many by their very "nature" are in isolated areas.

San Simian Eco Resort (tel. 505/8813-6866; www.sansimian.com) is a cluster of ecohuts on the shore of Laguna de Apoyo, just outside Granada.

Mariposa Eco Hotel & Spanish School (tel. 505/8418-4638; www.mariposaspanishschool.com) is situated in the hills between Masaya and Managua and offers a farmhouse-style atmosphere and Spanish classes.

Finca Magdalena (tel. 505/8880-2041; www.fincamagdalena.com) is an old coffee plantation with a simple farmyard lifestyle on the enchanting Isla de Ometepe.

Montecristo River Lodge (tel. 505/2583-0197 or 505/8649-9012; www.montecristoriverlodge.com) is set on the Río San Juan on the way to the old fort of El Castillo. It practices sustainable tourism, with a wildlife refuge and hiking trails.

Greenfields Nature Reserve (tel. 505/2268-1897; www.greenfields.com.ni), near Bluefields, offers excellent jungle excursions and canoeing trips in pristine wilderness.

Selva Negra Mountain Resort (tel. 505/8612-3883; www.selvanegra.com) is a working coffee farm and cloud-forest retreat in the northern highlands.

Finca Esperanza Verde (tel. 505/2772-5003; www.fincaesperanzaverde.org) is a pioneer in responsible tourism and sustainable agriculture, with organic coffee plantations, cloud forest, waterfalls, and a butterfly farm.

Posada La Soñada (tel. 505/2713-6333) is a well-established lodge in the beautiful Miraflor Nature Reserve, close to the northern town of Estelí.

Morgan's Rock Hacienda and Eco Lodge (tel. 505/8670-7676; www.morgansrock.com) combines both luxury and environmentally friendly accommodations. It is located north of San Juan del Sur.

Jicaro Island Lodge (tel. 505/8403-1236; www.jicarolodge.com) is an island paradise located on freshwater Lake Nicaragua, a 10-minute boat ride from Granada.

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.