The so-called “industry without smokestacks” is widely hoped to be a panacea to Nicaragua ’s economic ills. The govermnet agency in charge of tourism development and marketing is El Instituto Nicaragüense de Turismo, better known as INTUR (www.intur.gob.ni ).
At present, tourism represents the third largest source of foreign exchange.
Public Law 306 provides a 10-year tax break to newly constructed tourist facilities that meet certain criteria. More beneficial still are travelers like you, who spend a little money and hopefully take home a good impression of Nicaragua.
Since the mid-1990s, investment in tourism has skyrocketed, notably in Managua , Granada , and San Juan del Sur . The total number of visitors to Nicaragua has increased from under 600,000 visitors in 2001 to more than 800,000 in 2005, the majority arriving from Central and South America. Most foreign visitors come from North America and Europe.
In 2007, nearly half a million people arrived by international flight to Nicaragua.
The word ecotourism was created in the 1980s with the best of intentions. The idea is to prevent tourism from spoiling the environment, or to use it to provide an alternative to spoiling the environment. The success of the concept and its marketing value led to a worldwide boom in the usage of that prefix that we know so well, even when its actual practice has sometimes fallen short of original intentions.
Indeed, the warm and fuzzy “eco” has been used, abused, prostituted, and bastardized all over the world, and Nicaragua  is no exception. Alternative tourism goes by many other names as well: “sustainable,” “responsible,” “ethical,” “rural,” or “fair trade” tourism, to name a few.
The concept of protected areas and national parks is relatively new in Nicaragua and is, in some places, viewed with skepticism—especially by poor campesinos who live near (or sometimes within) these areas and have always used the forests to supplement their paltry incomes. They need wood for fuel, land for farmland, and game for protein.
MARENA, the government ministry charged with protecting Nicaragua’s vast system of parks and refuges , has scant resources to prevent such activities. If money comes from nature-loving visitors, an alternative use for the forest has been created.
Foreigners come to see the local waterfall or coffee cooperative and need to eat breakfast, hire a guide, rent a horse, and witness how people in this particular corner of the continent live.
We’ve pointed out community-sponsored tourism efforts wherever we found them, namely in Granada , Isla de Ometepe , Matagalpa, and the Miraflor region of Estelí . Here, existing cooperatives have arranged homestay opportunities that involve volunteer work, Spanish language class, alternative agriculture, and trips to local sites.