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Nature abounding

  Amother with two daughters is washing some dresses and sheets on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, near the town of Altagracia. She rubs the laundry on boulders. She is getting the dirt out just the way her ancestors of the Chorotega nation did centuries ago and pays no mind to the exquisite lake behind her. For the residents of Ometepe, the view over the greenish-blue waters and the volcanic islands of Concepcion and Maderas is a commonplace. But the tourists don’t know what they should try to take pictures of first — the lakeside laundry-washing scene, the fishing boats or the volcanic summit peeking out from the clouds. And now a hummingbird is buzzing around bougainvillea nearby, sipping at its white blossoms.

Nicaragua is not yet a destination for mass tourism. But it does have special attractions to offer to venture some travellers. Lake Nicaragua — the largest lake in Central America with an area of 8,264 square kilometres — is one such attraction with its 400 islands. Ometepe is the largest of them. More than a dozen haciendas on it are advertised as “fincas verdes” — green fincas — for guests. All of them have a family atmosphere, with exotic gardens, and the locals offer visitors kayaking and trekking tours of the region. Among the best fincas are the Magdalena, where coffee and honey are also produced, the El Ojo de Agua (eye of the water) with its own springs and hikes into the forest to watch the monkeys, and the San Juan de la Isla offering great views of the lakes and volcano. “It’s win-win for everyone here,” says Immanuel Zerger, who has been living in the region for more than 20 years now. “The tourists have some new destinations, the local economy gets some additional income and the islanders more jobs.” Zerger, a German, and his Nicaraguan wife have built up a travel company called Solentiname Tours, named for the Solentiname archipelago of Lago Nicaragua, where they introduce tourists to locals.

More than 50 painters and artists live on the archipelago, all of them on the island of Mancarron. Guests of the ecologically friendly hotel of the same name can learn how to make balsa wood carvings and paintings of parrots, an especially fun activity for the children. Among Nicaragua’s highlights is Granada, a magnificent colonial era city located directly on the lake and featuring a cathedral. Then there is the historic city of Masaya and volcano of the same name. Buses and cars can drive through fields of lava boulders right up to the crater’s edge. The air smells strongly of sulphur. From Mirado de Caterina there is a spectacular view of the Laguna de Apoyo. Higher up, on the edge of the crater, there are restaurants from which, on clear days, one can see far beyond the lagoon to the city of Granada and Lake Nicaragua. For those who find the waters of the lagoon too cold for swimming, one can swim and relax on one of the many sandy beaches on the Pacific coast.

The capital Managua itself does not have many attractions to offer, and after sunset its neighbourhoods are too dangerous to go walking. Over the past few months there have been several armed attacks. At the end of a visit, it is well worthwhile to relax on Corn Island, located off the Caribbean Sea coast of Nicaragua. Clothes can be seen hanging out to dry, not only on lines between the wooden houses and coconut trees, but also atop the fence surrounding the airport. Merengue and reggae music is blaring from the apartment houses and bars, and the talk is a mixture of Spanish and English. Tourism, fishing and trade are the main occupations of the local islanders. Tourists can get so used to the relaxed lifestyle here that it can be hard to leave.

Hindu, Delhi, Monday 7th April 2014