Home Adventure The Land of Lakes, Volcanoes and … Freediving Granada, Nicaragua

The Land of Lakes, Volcanoes and … Freediving Granada, Nicaragua

When thinking of Central America, it’s typically the tropical weather and impressive biodiversity of Costa Rica or Panama that first come to mind. However, their neighbor to the north, Nicaragua, is quietly emerging as a safe and captivating alternative. Once plagued by a tumultuous political climate, its history has begun to recede into the past, making way for a new reputation as a hotspot for nature lovers visiting Latin America.

While many recognize Nicaragua for its Pacific coast, which is known for its diverse surf breaks that are suitable for every skill level, the country offers much more. The endless waves and coastal town of San Juan del Sur certainly attract a crowd. But there’s also scenic hikes and pristine natural landscapes that beckon backpackers and adventure seekers alike. The Corn Islands are quietly known to be some of the Caribbean’s last untouched scuba diving gems. Meanwhile, the town of Granada is a culinary delight, with some gorgeous accommodation options and in close proximity to many of the country’s must-see sights.

View of Laguna De Apoyo at Freedive Nicaragua. Photo Credit: Marla Tomorug

But more than anything, Nicaragua is known to be the “land of lakes and volcanoes.” Home to approximately 50 volcanoes (seven of which are active) and 29 lakes, it presents a striking geological landscape that makes it stand out among its neighboring countries. Cocibolca (also called Lake Nicaragua), the largest in Central America, is so massive that it even hosts migrating bull sharks! And Xolotlán (known as Lake Managua), despite its size, is infamous for its pollution issues, which have been exacerbated by its proximity to the nation’s capital. Collectively, these two lakes comprise about 10 percent of Nicaragua’s territory, highlighting the country’s extraordinary natural diversity.

Yet, amidst this vast array of lakes and volcanoes, the Laguna De Apoyo carves out a unique niche. Known as Nicaragua’s deepest crater lake, it plunges to depths of 175 meters. Tucked away from the usual tourist paths, the lagoon is encircled by dense jungle that resonates with the calls of howler monkeys at dawn and dusk. It also hosts a vibrant display of tropical birds, small reptiles, gorgeous insects and endemic fish, for those willing to more deeply explore its pristine waters.

While swimming, kayaking, and leisurely floating are popular activities in the 28-30 degree Celsius water, Laguna De Apoyo is also gaining recognition for a lesser-known watersport: freediving. This emerging sport is finding its foothold in Nicaragua, drawing thalassophiles to the serene and deep waters of this remarkable crater lake. And this is exactly what brought our diving expedition team to Nicaragua in the first place. We had to see it to believe it, so we opted out of the more conventional scuba destinations, such as the Corn Islands, for the less trodden path.  So off to the inactive volcano we went.

Scale of Laguna De Apoyo. Photo Credit: Marla Tomorug

About 23,000 years ago, the Apoyo volcano erupted, leaving behind a crater that today is filled with ever so slightly brackish water—its salinity barely perceptible to those who swim in it. The crater is filled with water from the basin of the volcano, with water levels changing depending on the season. Adding to its allure, natural hot springs feed into the lagoon, ensuring the water remains pleasantly warm throughout the year. This pristine body of water is far from the polluted state of Nicaragua’s second-largest lake. Lake Nicaragua is in fact a protected nature reserve. And not to mention, 90% of the year, the lagoon is practically glassed off, making it an ideal spot for deep dives nearly year-round.

Freediving—the practice of diving deep on a single breath without the support of breathing devices—is just starting to become a global phenomenon. The early 2000s marked a turning point for the sport, as interest in freediving began to surge alongside a growing emphasis on wellness practices, such as yoga and meditation. Both share a common foundation in deep breath control, mental discipline and body awareness, making them complementary practices that enhance one’s ability to remain calm and focused under pressure: exactly what’s needed when freediving.

While urban areas in Europe have long embraced pool-based freediving disciplines, oceanic freediving competitions have only recently gained popularity and still occupy a small niche in the extreme water sports category. Today, Nicaragua is catching up with the establishment of Freediving Nicaragua, an SSI-affiliated center that is pioneering the sport in the country. This marks a significant development in the local aquatic sports scene, introducing both locals and visitors to the exhilarating challenge of freediving in the tranquil waters of the shockingly deep and highly favorable Laguna De Apoyo.

The competitive dive team at Freediving Nicaragua. Photo Credit: Marla Tomorug

Born out of the pandemic, Freediving Nicaragua is the country’s sole freediving center and is remarkably advanced for a new operation in a region not traditionally known for this sport. Strategically situated right on the shores of Laguna De Apoyo, the center provides easy access to the water for those eager to learn or enhance their freediving skills. Its open-air classroom creates an inviting learning environment, complemented by a kitchen and cafe offering a carefully hand-crafted menu. Nestled among limited accommodation options, the center also provides lodging for enthusiasts committed to deepening their freediving practice on a longer-term basis.

Freediving Nicaragua isn’t just for hobbyists though; it’s equipped to train competitive athletes aiming for elite levels. The center utilizes the SSI training system, which is structured across three progressive levels. Each level demands mastery of specific skills and knowledge before advancing, ensuring a comprehensive and safety-focused development path for freedivers. But what stands out the most is that the center is entirely built around the concept of creating opportunities for those who participate in training and learning here. Freediving Nicaragua is a stepping stone into the big leagues.

Freediving at the lagoon. Photo Credit: Adam Moore

This August, Freediving Nicaragua is set to host the country’s inaugural international competition, attracting elite divers worldwide to the Laguna De Apoyo. Participants will converge at the lake’s center to compete along a “deep line” to the bottom of the lagoon, marking a significant milestone for the center. This event not only celebrates its official opening but also represents the team’s ambitious effort to position Nicaragua on the global freediving map. With its ideal conditions, if the competition impresses, Laguna De Apoyo might soon become a renowned training destination for freediving pros seeking flawless year-long training conditions.

Nicaragua’s national freediving record holder, Santos Alexander Espinoza Pavone, preparing for a dive at the lagoon. Photo Credit: Marla Tomorug

Central America is truly an epicenter for extreme sport enthusiasts, from mountaineers to surfers and beyond. But for those keen to witness a pivotal moment in sports history, consider a detour to Laguna De Apoyo this August. You’ll be able to witness history in the making of the sport of freediving as it gains a foothold in Nicaragua. Not to mention, you’ll be able to meet some ridiculously cool people who can hold their breath for an insanely long time. Spend some time at this enchanting lagoon and make sure you hit up Thomas, the charismatic instructor trainer who will inspire you to take your first plunge or get back out there if you’ve tried freediving before. Who knows: you might just discover some underwater superpowers of your very own.