Ever wanted to swim inside a volcano that’s been extinct for over 20,000 years? How about one surrounded by tropical birds, howler monkeys, and orchids?
In Nicaragua, you can experience all that and more at the pristine Apoyo Lagoon nature reserve. Located only 25 minutes outside colonial Granada, Laguna de Apoyo is a secret paradise for city-weary travelers and avid ecotourists alike.
This healing oasis deserves a spot on every Nicaragua traveler’s list. Find out where to stay in Apoyo Lagoon, the best things to do, and how to get there from just about anywhere:
History of Apoyo Lagoon
Formed many millennia ago by a massive eruption, the 6 km wide crater became a welcome basin for rain and subterranean waters over time. While the imploded volcanic cone that constitutes this lake is sleeping, there’s just enough activity going on below the surface to naturally heat the waters via hydrothermal vents. The temperature is regulated to a pleasant 80℉ on average.
Not only will your swim be comfortable—it will also be one of the most sanitary you’ll ever have. Apoyo Lagoon is considered to be the cleanest natural lake in all of Nicaragua, and possibly Central America.
Remaining relatively untouched, the freshwater that fills the crater won’t leave sticky salt in your hair or burn your eyes. At most, you may get a taste of the igneous minerals that richly saturate the depths of the sunken volcano and turn it into something of a mineral bath.
Apoyo Lagoon Wildlife
The tropical ecosystem that rings this ancient crater lake is home to a variety of exotic species living undisturbed within the thick vegetation. While swimming in the lagoon, it’s not unusual to see vibrant fish in the clear cerulean waters, spot an iguana sunbathing on a rock, or watch hummingbirds flit by.
With over 65 migratory species stopping by the shores of Apoyo every year, the lagoon is a utopia for birdwatchers. If you venture off the beaten path, you may even encounter small wild cats, anteaters, or the occasional boa constrictor. At night, the only sounds you can expect to disturb your sleep are exotic birds and the howls of monkeys in the distance.
This crater lake offers a peaceful haven for those looking to be in touch with nature, or seek solace from the bustle of travel.
Best Things to Do at Apoyo Lagoon
There are many ways to enjoy the natural wonders of Apoyo Lagoon. But the best thing to do in Apoyo Lagoon? Simply relax in the present moment.
Lounge by the Lagoon With a Day Pass
There’s no better place to be at peace than on the veranda of a laguna ecolodge.
Hostels and ecolodges—resorts designed to seamlessly fit into their natural environment—surround the crater lake, and many offer day passes at affordable prices.
Laguna Beach Club is a popular site for locals and tourists alike to lounge in the sun for an afternoon, and at just $6 per person (or $3.50 per child!) it’s definitely worth the day pass. The Club offers shore-bound visitors hammocks and lounge chairs to relax in, along with outdoor games like bocce and volleyball. There is also a full bar and restaurant, with chairside service.
Swimmers will love the free kayaks, inner tubes, and floating platforms on the water. Most hangout spots around Apoyo Lagoon also provide these amenities.
HN Hint: If you kayak out far enough, you can even find small bubbling hot springs called fumaroles on the opposite shore!
Luis and I spent a beautiful day here, drinking Victorias and jumping into the warm aqua waters. I would go back to the Laguna Club in a heartbeat.
Paradiso is another fantastic spot to enjoy a fun day at Laguna de Apoyo.
Their waterfront restaurant alone is worth the trip ($11 filet mignon, anyone?), but what really sets it apart is the weekly event calendar.
Paradiso hosts free events almost every night, including trivia, Monday beach parties, and salsa classes. They benefit CocoMango, a local charity in Apoyo Lagoon that supports education for kids in the community.
Enjoy the View at Mirador de Catarina
Want to see Apoyo Lagoon from a different perspective? Head up the hill to Mirador de Catarina!
The lookout point at Catarina is one of the best things to do near Laguna de Apoyo. Located just 25 minutes from the water’s edge, here you can take in a gorgeous view of the entire crater lake.
Another perk? The lookout point is free to enter. There is ample stadium seating to relax and take in the Catarina sights and sounds. Vendors walk around selling snacks and trinkets, and there are often traditional Nicaraguan bands playing live music.
HN Hint: Catarina is a great opportunity for finding souvenirs in Nicaragua! There are lots of local artisans set up outside the lookout point.
Mirador de Catarina also has a variety of outdoor adventures to choose from:
There’s no better way to enjoy the lagoon views than on horseback. You can ride along the walking trail that loops through the forest for 20-30 minutes. To take the tour, look for the horses lined up at the lookout point.
Mirador de Catarina just opened a new ziplining park! For only $10 a person, you can fly across three different ropes courses at the Apoyo Lagoon lookout point. Look for the kiosk near the bleachers to sign up.
To get to Mirador de Catarina from Laguna de Apoyo: Ask any hotel to call you a taxi, or wait for one on the main road. Expect to pay around $5 for the trip.
How to Get to Apoyo Lagoon
There are several ways to reach this secret paradise. Here are your best transportation options to get to Apoyo Lagoon from popular nearby destinations:
From Managua airport:
Taking a taxi is the most direct way to get to Apoyo Lagoon from the airport. From Managua, this one hour drive should run you about $40-50.
You can also rent a car. Managua airport has lots of rental companies on site, like Avis and Hertz. The average cost is around $25-30 per day. Just make sure you factor in the gas prices, which average about $5 a gallon, before you decide to rent a car in Nicaragua.
If you want to get from Granada to Apoyo Lagoon, there are three main options: bus, taxi, or shuttle.
To take the bus: The cheapest–and most complicated–way to reach Apoyo Lagoon is by public bus for $1.50.
To board a bus from Granada, start at El Mercado, the Granada Market. Look for any Masaya bound bus, then transfer in Masaya to a bus labeled “Laguna de Apoyo.”
HN Hint: Ask the bus driver to drop you off at “la entrada de la laguna” when you climb aboard.
From there, you can get off at the entrance to Apoyo Lagoon and flag down a taxi or tuk-tuk to take you the rest of the way for around $3. (We don’t recommend walking down to the water, because the path is at times rough and unmarked on the hour and a half steep downhill hike.)
To take a taxi: The drive time from Granada to Apoyo Lagoon is about 25 minutes. You can hail a taxi or a tuk-tuk from anywhere in the city for about $15. This is the most direct route, but it is not the most cost effective.
To take a shuttle: Many hotels in both Granada and Apoyo Lagoon offer shuttle services to the crater lake. Check with Hotel Colonial, Hotel Con Corazón, and Hostel Oasis in Granada for times and rates. You can also contact your destination in Apoyo Lagoon directly. Expect to pay around $5 for a shuttle.
From anywhere in Nicaragua:
If you are visiting Apoyo Lagoon from farther away, then your best bet is to arrange for a private driver, rent a car, or use a tour agency.
Rented a car? For step-by-step driving directions, Paradiso has a great resource available here.
Places to Stay in Apoyo Lagoon
While Laguna Beach Club and Paradiso both offer excellent overnight accommodations, these are just two of the many places to stay in Apoyo Lagoon. If you want to embrace the peaceful quiet of the ancient lagoon, gravitate away from the central hubs toward some of the smaller bed and breakfasts hidden amongst the trees.
Casa Marimba is one the two of us personally loved. This hotel feels hidden away, a tiny house with friendly staff tucked inside an enchanted garden. At night, we sipped mojitos and ate fantastic homemade tostones on an outdoor wooden terrace with string lights that gave the whole place a whimsical feel. By day, we drank coffee at a bar overlooking the forested lagoon, lounged in one of the many oversized hammocks, then spent an hour kayaking down at the water.
Casa Marimba also offered yoga in a thatched roof open air studio, and massages. The accommodations were spacious, immaculately clean, and air conditioned, making for a comfortable stay in addition to the charming aesthetic. We fell in love with this romantic little resort.
San Simian is a serene little ecolodge made up of rustic bungalows. It’s a quiet spot that is ideal for the solo traveler. San Simian provides all kinds of activities for its guests, from a mult-lingual library to organized day trips around the region. They even have a small catamaran boat for visitors who want to spend the day on the water. This tranquil hotel has something for everyone.
Pacaya Lodge is a little further out from the water, but the top-notch service and seclusion it affords earns it a spot on this list. Pacaya gives its guests a state of the art jungle cabin experience. With gorgeous lagoon views, private balconies, and a luxury spa, this boutique lodge is made for travelers seeking ultimate relaxation.
With cool air, warm water, and set within a lush forest, Apoyo Lagoon is a must-visit for travelers in the Granada district. Whether you’re looking for a quick day trip to experience a different side of Nicaragua or a weekend getaway to a secret paradise, this natural reserve is the place for you.
After all, who wouldn’t want to say they took a dip in a dormant volcano?