Laguna de Apoyo is a lake located in the caldera (huge crater) of an ancient volcano. Approximately 6 km in diameter and 175 m deep, it is about 150 m lower than the level of the surrounding plateau. Since the lake's drainage area is fairly small, forested, and contains little population or agriculture, the lake's waters are remarkably transparent (as compared, e.g. with the much murkier Lake Cocibolca around Isla Ometepe).
Being a crater lake, the water depth increases very quickly as you walk away from the shore, almost at a 45 degrees angle. Being on an active volcano, the water is constantly and pleasantly warm.
The Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve protects the lagoon and its drainage area (the mountain slopes around the lake). The shoreline along the western half of the laguna is developed, with over a dozen of resorts and hostels; there is also a bit of local infrastructure there (a school, some small shops). While much of the lake frontage in this area is controlled by private resorts (which charge non-guests a day pass fee, around $6 as of 2016, to access the beach and other facilities. There are also public beach areas here and there. In the north-east, there are private villas on the high ground, with paths to the water. The southern shore of the laguna is mostly wild, with access by kayak or by cow trails from the plateau.
The only road from the "outside world" descends into the crater from the northwest, reaching the hotel strip approximately at its center, the point known as El Triangulo (The triangle). This road is paved, as is the central part of the "hotel strip" road that runs parallel to the shore.
The prevailing wind direction over the lake is from the east or south east (trade winds, affected by the local orography). As a result, the water in the bays in the laguna's south-eastern corner may be almost flat, while the northwestern shore (where the hotels are) may be pounded by respectively-sized ways. According to the locals, the wind is weaker around sunrise, and picks up later in the morning.
To Laguna's northwestern shore
All waterside tourist facilities (hostels etc) are located on the Laguna's northwestern shore, to which road access exists.
By bus from Masaya
An easy option for an independent traveller is by bus from Masaya (the city's "bus station", at the main market). Monday through Saturday, there are 3 buses a day: one is very early about 06:00, the other is around 10:30 and the third is at 16:00. On Sunday, there are only 2 buses. The buses enter the laguna's coastal area at the place known as El Triangulo (The Triangle), and continue for about 1 km north to the final stop near the public school (la Escuela de Laguna de Apoyo). The leisurely 16-km (10-mile) ride, with on-demand stops all along the route, takes close to an hour. As elsewhere in Nicaragua, old North American school buses are used; it is usually possible to transport oversize luggage or a bicycle: they will usually put it on the roof (or, if you are lucky, take it inside the bus through the back door).
The buses are supposed to go from the laguna back to Masaya at 06:20, 11:20, at 16:20 (Monday-Saturday); at 11:30 and 15:00 on Sundays. In practice, they maybe rather late.
The fare is C$13 as of 2016.
There are more frequent buses from Masaya to the village called Valle la Laguna on the crater rim. You would need to walk 2-3 km downhill from the bus' last stop (1 Valle la Laguna bus stop) to the Triangle and the hotel area. There is a paved road all the way down. It is a very steep road to the Triangle.
By bus (and hike) from Granada
There is no direct bus service from Granada to the laguna. One can take a Masaya-bound bus, and get off at the highway about halfway between the cities. (There is a direction sign there, "Laguna de Apoyo 9 km".) You would then have to walk 9 km to the laguna, which obviously is not advisable during the hot part of the day, or with heavy luggage. With some patience you may, however, flag down a bus going from Masaya to Valle la Laguna (see "By bus from Masaya") thus avoiding walking half of the way. If you are really lucky and patient, you may even get on a bus going all the way to the laguna.
There is a shuttle service between Hostel Oasis in Granada and Paradiso Hostel in Laguna Apoyo. Day trippers can leave Granada at 10:00 and use the facilities at Paradiso and return to Granada at 15:45. Costing $10. Those that have a reservation at Paradiso can all leave Granada at 15:00 costing $3.
By taxi or shuttle bus
A taxi to the laguna from Granada should cost around US$12-15. From Masaya, pay no more than C$200. From Managua Airport, around US$30.
There are also a number of shuttles run by various hostels (Oasis, Entr Amigos, ect) and tour operators (Buena Tours) from Granada to the laguna, which can be used both for a day trip or to move to one of the laguna-side hotels to stay. Schedules change frequently; some shuttles are only available to people staying at a particular hostel, while some others are only run if a sufficient number of passengers have booked the trip. Prices vary US$6-20.
Info below is possibly obsolete Take a taxi offered by the independent hotel, the Monkey Hut, for US$10. See their website for information about pick up times and locations.You can also get a shared mini bus from Hotel Oasis in Granada same deal.
To Laguna's eastern shore
It is possible to visit the Laguna's eastern shore (on which no facilities exist) as a hike or a short drive from Granada.
A free tourist map of Granada distributed in the city in 2015 shows a route to the laguna's eastern shore which begins from the north side of Granada's cemetery (and has a branch that goes to the Butterfly Reserve). However, this path ends at a location that has neither viewpoint nor water access. Instead, it is better to take a dirt road that starts a few hundred meters NW of Granada's Fortaleza de Polvora, and continues west. The fairly good straight dirt road gently climbs over several kilometers of farmland (with a brick fence of a private estate on your right over the last several hundred of meters), ending at the crater's eastern rim. There is a small parking area there, but it isn't safe; you can walk to the point where the brick wall ends 1 , and have a good view of the entire Laguna from there. A rough dirt and stone foot path, shared with local cows, follows a ravine to the water, where swimming is possible.
This laguna is surrounded by mountains, as the laguna actually is within a crater of an inactive volcano. The water here is clear.
It is possible to go to the top of the mountains to a town called Catarina. From here you can view the whole laguna.
The laguna itself is very isolated, and not many people come here. This is great, because you will feel like you are in your own little paradise.
One can visit the laguna for a day trip, or stay for a night (or several) at one of the resorts or hostels. Since a large part of the beach is controlled by resorts, day trippers have the choice of going to the littered and often crowded public beach (there are several sections of it between resorts, mostly 1-1.5 km NE of the Triangle), or paying a day use fee (US$6 or so) at one of the resorts to use their facilities (including their section of the beach, chairs, hammocks, kayaks, etc).
- Kayaks are available from many resorts and hostels. When kayaking, take the prevailing wind direction into consideration; it may be wise to leave early in the morning, paddling against the wind, so that you can come back with the waves later in the day. If going on a long kayak trip, make sure to try to remember what your hotel looks like from the water (many properties look alike); also, learn the names of nearby properties (e.g. from Google Map): if you later need to ask for directions, people at the beach would know the name of their place, but may not know where your place is!
- Scuba dive. Equipment rental and lessons are available from several operators, including the Peace Project.
- Rent bikes from the Posada de la Abuela hotel
There are a few real estate plots around the river.
There are many small restaurants along the developed NW shore of the laguna, mostly at resorts and hostels. The most delicious is at the Hotel Posada de la Abuela
Either where you stay or there are a few comedors by the lake towards the Spanish School. The last one (not surprisingly) is probably the best and cheapest. Despite being in the middle of nowhere there are tours outside the first two, ignore them.
There are at least two small grocery stores on the hotel street, one at the Triangle, and the other (an even smaller one) near the Pardiso hotel, about 0.5 km to the NE. They sell a few grocery staples (rice, pasta, cooking oil), some bread, and a basic assortment of fruit and vegetables. The prices are higher than in Masaya, but not outrageous.
The juice at the Hotel Posada de la Abuela is fantastic!
- 1 Paradiso hostel (300 m north of el Triangulo), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. A popular place with a nice sandy beach and lots of facilities. Daytrippers are welcome with a day pass. 2 daily shuttles from Granada (Oasis Hostel 10:00, 15:00 book the day before). Water sports (free kayaks, floating dock). Beachfront restaurant & bar (great food and cocktails). Tours to Masaya Volcano. Massage service. Friendly vibe and events. Camping vans allowed. For all bugets. Whatsapp +50581874542. Skype: hostel paradiso. US$9 dorms, US$30 double room.
- 2 The Peace Project Hostel (about 1 km north of El Triangulo; close to the last stop of the public bus). Check-out: 11:00. Profits from this hostel fund educational projects of a local non-for-profit organization, the Peace Project. Reception is run by English-speaking volunteers, and a predominant majority of people on the grounds (both paying guests and project's volunteers) are English speaking as well - so you can come here to practice your English, too. The hostel does not have lake frontage of its own, but the public beach is right across the street, 50 m walk downhill to the water. Free WiFi with a stable signal which, due to the compact site plan, can be received in, or near, guest rooms. (This is unusual in Nicaragua.) Free coffee and tea all day, free use of kayaks. Both a restaurant and a basic kitchen for self-catering are available. Volunteering opportunities are available for people with suitable skills, such as construction of; teaching (EFL, scuba diving, swimming). US$8 dorms, $14 single rooms.
- La Posada Ecologica de la Abuela (about 2 km north of El Triangulo, beyond the end of the paved road), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. You will sleep in a private air-conditioned bungalow, and be in paradise. The food, atmosphere and service at this hotel are magnificent. They have bikes, kayaks and rafts that you can use free of charge. US$75.