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While more and more international tour operators run trips to Nicaragua, they are almost always contracted out through local operators, such as those mentioned here. Booking directly will save you a bundle. A bundle! Most are based in the capitals or the main tourist towns, such as Granada and León. Many hotels and lodges will also help you organize a tour in their particular areas.

Nicaragua

Tours Nicaragua (El Sol #110, Colonial Los Robles, Managua; tel. 505/2252-4035; www.toursnicaragua.com) specializes in private tours with highly qualified guides. Itineraries are custom designed and can include nature trips to the Solentiname Archipelago, adventure tours on Ometepe Island, or beach holidays on the Pacific coast.

Nicaragua Adventures (on the corner beside the Spanish Consulate, Granada; tel. 505/8883-7161; www.nica-adventures.com) runs 1- to 5-day package tours, including one called "3 Seas" that whisks you from the Caribbean Corn Islands to Lago de Nicaragua to the Pacific coast.

Va Pues Tours (on the northern side of Iglesia El Laborio, León; tel. 505/8606-2276; www.vapues.com) is a more conventional tour company that organizes a variety of group excursions, including day tours to Volcán Mombacho and city tours of León and Managua.

Explore Nicaragua Tours (30m/98 ft. west of Iglesia Las Palmas, Managua; tel. 505/2250-1534) is a clearinghouse for tours all over the country, including to coffee farms in Matagalapa. They also arrange flights, car rentals, and hotel reservations.

Luz y Luna (1 block north, behind cathedral, Estelí; tel. 505/8441-8466; www.cafeluzyluna.com) is owned by English expat Juanita, who is the go-to-person in Estelí for tours and info on the area. Tours include a circuit of the town's murals and visits to the thriving cigar factories.

Matagalpa Tours (1/2 block east of Banpro, Matagalpa; tel. 505/2772-0108; www.matagalpatours.com) is the trekking expert for the area and the best-organized tour company in town. They conduct tours of the coffee farms and arrange overnight stays in nearby ecolodges.

Dale Dagger's Surf Nicaragua (1 block inland from the Mercado Municipal, San Juan del Sur; tel. 505/2568-2492; www.nicasurf.com) is one of the better established surfing outfitters, offering excursions and weeklong packages in the San Juan del Sur area.

Solentiname Tours (Apartado Postal 1388, Managua; tel. 505/2270-9981; www.solentinametours.com) offers countrywide tours, including several days on the Solentiname Islands and down the Río San Juan.

Zapatera Tours (Calle Palmira and La Cancha, Granada tel. 505/8842-2587; www.zapateratours.com) offers 1-day tours to the little-visited Zapatera archipelago, off the shore of Granada.

U.S. & International Adventure Tour Operators

These agencies and operators specialize in well-organized and coordinated tours that cover your entire stay. Many travelers prefer to have everything arranged and confirmed before arriving in Nicaragua or El Salvador, and this is a good idea for first-timers and during the high season. Most of these operators, however, are not cheap, with 10-day tours generally costing in the neighborhood of $1,800 to $3,000 per person, not including airfare.

G.A.P. Adventures (tel. 800/708-7761; www.gapadventures.com) has adventure and leisure tours in more than 100 countries, including Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Journeys Latin America (tel. 020/8747-8315; www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk) is a specialty travel agency focusing on all Latin American destinations.

Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance/MEA (tel. 800/682-0584; www.travelwithmea.org) offers a handful of very specific, all-inclusive, multiday tours in Nicaragua and El Salvador that explore many of the top and most remote national parks in the country.

Mountain Travel Sobek (tel. 888/831-7526; www.mtsobek.com), an off-the-beaten-track adventure travel operator that is no stranger to luxury, has 7- to 9-day trips in Nicaragua that take in volcanoes, lakes, and rainforests.

Overseas Adventure Travel (tel. 800/493-6824; www.oattravel.com) offers good-value natural history and "soft adventure" itineraries with optional add-on excursions. Tours are limited to 16 people and are guided by naturalists. All accommodations are in small hotels, lodges, or tent camps. Their Nicaragua and El Salvador itineraries are usually part of larger Central America tours that take in several countries over several weeks.

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.