Ahh, Central America. While most travelers spend their time plotting escapes to Europe or Southeast Asia, this little nugget sits unassumingly right under their noses (literally -- it's pretty much directly south, and a shorter flight than you'd think).
And Nicaragua may just be the best nation in the bunch. It's tropical, with both rich history and exotic Latin culture that awakens your spicy side upon arrival. Travel experts say Nicaragua will rise to become a hotspot in 2015; it is, after all, home to Granada, aka the "Paris of Central America."
At the same time, though, Nicaragua remains delightfully undiscovered. It's brimming with wellness retreats to kick back at, and the whole country is so zen, it feels like it's "swinging in a hammock."
And when you consider the food, people and insane nature, this place is truly epic. Here's why Nicaragua belongs on your list for 2015 and beyond.
1. It's got one of the oldest cities in the Americas.
Founded in the 1500s by Spanish conquerors, Granada is a treasure box of charm at the foot of a volcano. Visiting is a "trip back in time" to busy streets of colonial-style churches, homes and shops.
2. But then again every laid-back little town is historic.
As Lonely Planet puts it, "Many people fall in love with Granada, but most of them leave their heart in Leￃﾳn." The breathtaking colonial town oozes with art galleries, old churches, political graffiti and an up-and-coming cafe scene.
3. This country is nature, uninterrupted.
Almost one fifth of Nicaragua's landmass is protected in national parks or nature reserves. That means more volcanoes, rain forests, valleys, beaches and islands to explore without human contact.
4. There are tons of casual volcanos to climb.
Especially awesome is Concepciￃﾳn Volcano, which is still active. (Don't worry, it only takes seven to 10 hours to hike the thing.) Take a crack at several others, too.
5. Here, volcano boarding is an actual sport.
7. There are real-life pirate islands.
The Corn Islands were a hideout for buccaneers in the 17th century. Nowadays, they're just really awesome islands with cheap beach huts that nobody ever talks about.
8. And some islands have even MORE curious histories.
The Solentiname Islands -- a group of 36 islands in Central America's largest lake -- have their very own style of art called primitivist, thanks to a priest who trained natives to paint during the 60s. Intrigued? Come and meet them.
10. And here, coffee is subtle and sweet.
An especially fruity-flavored bean grows under the shade of exotic trees on Nicaragua's coffee farms, many of which are small and family-run. You'll learn what makes them tick -- and get plenty of tastes -- on a tour.
12. But you'll be the only human on some of these beaches.
The Pearl Cays are one of the world's most important green sea turtle feeding grounds. Wading this crystal-blue water, you'll also encounter otters, dolphins and lobsters. Awwh.
13. You can REALLY get away, but in a luxurious way.
Thanks to the lucky travelers who have realized Nicaragua's allure already, there are plenty of high-quality tropical retreats here. But they're remote enough that you can still totally unplug... which is just the way we like it.