Ask in-the-know travelers and they'll likely tell you that Nicaragua is the Next Big Destination. But there's more important news about the Central American gem: it's an ideal country in which to travel and have a positive impact.
Many ingredients combine to make Nicaragua a tourist hot spot, such as the Corn Islands off the Caribbean coast and the Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor. Yet, aware of the long-term impact a tourism boom could have, Nicaraguans are eager to promote responsible and sustainable tourism. Travelers will find hotels, businesses, and volunteer opportunities that cater to tourists while serving the economic interests of local communities.
"What's important is the community's socioeconomic development," says Rosa Palacios Siles, 47, of Finca Esperanza Verde ("Green Hope Farm"), an "ecolodge" in the mountainous Matagalpa region. Founded in the town of San Ramón, Finca Esperanza Verde reinvests all its profits in the Finca and local community projects. "The guests learn from the community and the community from the guests," continues Palacios Siles.
Another eco-friendly destination is Selva Negra ("Black Jungle"), a mountain resort and organic coffee farm that has been drawing visitors for 33 years. Eddy Kühl, who with his wife, Mausi, owns and operates Selva Negra, is one of Nicaragua's sustainable tourism pioneers. Here residents have jobs and guests enjoy eco-friendly activities such as hiking. "We try to make things natural," says Kühl, 68. "Being local, we love the place. We don't want to contaminate it."
Volunteering while traveling is another non-traditional way to visit Nicaragua. Margaret Neal, Ph.D., has been visiting Nicaragua for five years, leading university groups who work on elder issues, such as training caregivers. "It's a very satisfying experience because the people are so open and welcoming," says Neal, 56.
Can't visit but want to support Nicaragua's sustainable development? Microfinancing Nicaraguan entrepreneurs with low- or no-interest loans may be an option. "The people we serve have no access to private banking," says Rosa Esmeralda López Ruiz, credit supervisor at a local microlender. "We contribute to changing the future."
López Ruiz's firm, AFODENIC (Asociación para el Fomento al Desarrollo de Nicaragua), partners with Kiva, one of the world's first person-to-person microlending websites. Maritza del Carmen Estrada, 42, owner of a kiosk in a Managua schoolyard, has watched her business grow from Kiva loans. "[The money] is a great help," she says while serving food to her customers. "I hope [microlenders] help us more. We're a good investment, right?"
Give Back: Volunteer at Home!
Searching for a way to support your local community in the United States? AARP and Create the Good, a new effort to amplify our commitment to helping others, can help you find a great match. Help educate others about financial security; make your neighborhood more livable; assist others in finding work or living more healthfully; lend a hand to a caregiver. Visit aarp.org/CreatetheGood.