Thursday, 24 May 2012 4:01 PM
If you can't decide whether you want to go on a culture-filled holiday exploring ancient ruins or would prefer an active break where you see exotic wildlife, it's worth seeking out destinations that combine the two. Visit Nicaragua and you'll find the perfect blend of natural wonders and fascinating history.
By embarking on an active break in Nicaragua, you'll not only get the opportunity to climb towering volcanoes and observe stunning wildlife, but can also gain an insight into the country's colonial past.
As it is the biggest nation in Central America, there are plenty of sights to pique your interest, so you don't need to worry that you'll run out of things to do. In fact, you're more likely to struggle to cram everything in that this fascinating destination has to offer.
See historic buildings in Granada
If you want to find out more about Nicaragua's rich - and at times turbulent - history it's worth taking a tour of Granada.
Founded in 1524 by Spaniard Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, the city is the oldest European settlement in Central America. Despite suffering great damage, both at the hands of pirates and a huge fire in 1856, evidence of its colonial past can still be seen to this day.
Make sure you head to the 16th century San Francisco Convent and Church, which is not only regarded as one of the best colonial era buildings in Latin America, but is also Granada's oldest church. Visit the museum inside and you'll come across a range of exhibits, including statues that date back to pre-Columbian times.
It's also worth exploring the 18th century La Polvora fortress. Situated on Main Street, this facility features an array of architectural styles, with the front door influenced by neoclassical design. The five towers along the main wall, meanwhile, are constructed in a similar manner to those of medieval fortresses.
When you've finished wandering around the city, you can take a boat out to Las Isletas - an archipelago of 365 islands situated close to the shore of Lake Nicaragua. Of course, you won't have time to visit all of these, but it's worth heading to the isle that is populated by white-faced capuchin monkeys. These are inquisitive creatures, so don't be surprised if they come right up to your vessel.
Go walking in Ometepe
Lake Nicaragua is also home to Ometepe, the largest lake island in the entire world, which is an ideal destination to go hiking and reconnect with nature.
The isle was formed by two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas, which stand at 1,600 m and 1,400 m respectively. You can climb to the top of both these peaks, although you should bear in mind though that Concepcion is still active, and from either summit you can take in amazing panoramic views.
Alternatively, you might want to hike to the top of the San Ramon waterfall. You'll encounter some steep sections and pass by exotic wildlife - such as snakes and bats - on your way up. Upon getting there, you'll see water cascade 56 m to the lake below.
Explore Leon's ruins
Taking the time to explore Leon will also give you a wonderful insight into the country's past. While the town was originally established in 1524, it was soon abandoned - for reasons that remain unclear - and was later covered in ash after the nearby Momotombo Volcano erupted.
You can explore the preserved stone ruins from this period, before heading into the main town to explore the Leon Cathedral. This stunning 18th-century building features elements of neoclassical and baroque architecture and has UNESCO World Heritage Site status, while at the Museo Ruben Dario you can learn more about the life and work of Ruben Dario, who's regarded as one of the country's greatest poets.