Central America: Nicaragua March 03, 1999 Share 1 -- The largest of the six Central American republics, Nicaragua offers impressive geographic and scenic diversity, from highlands to lowlands, and from cool mountain streams to fiery volcanoes. Granada: Founded in 1524 on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, Granada is a fine example of a Spanish colonial city. One way to see its Baroque-style colonial buildings, churches and convents is on a horse-drawn carriage. There's also a 16th-century plaza built by the Spanish.Masaya Volcano: One of the few active volcano summits in the world that can be reached easily by car (Poas in Costa Rica is another), vehicles can drive right up to the safety railing at the lip of the cauldron for people who want to look into the caldera. A visit should include the Indian market in Masaya (15 miles from Managua) for arts and crafts shopping; leather, hemp and wood products, shoes and pre-Columbian style ceramics.Leon: Northwest of Managua and the first Spanish colony provincial center (1610-1821), Leon's attractions include the massive 18th-century Metropolitan Cathedral with its masterpiece paintings and the recently restored Subtiava Church. A day trip should include a visit to the Flor de Cana Run Factory at Chichigalpa north of Leon as well as a visit to La Paz Center, well known for its handmade pottery.Ometepe: An archaeological and nature sanctuary, this inland island in Lake Nicaragua has two volcanoes. One of them, the extinct Maderas, has a lagoon in its crater and is surrounded by rain forest and coffee plantations. Concepcion Volcano draws the mountaineer to a five-hour climb. Hydrofoil service was just inaugurated here from Granada aboard a 60-passenger craft that continues to Solentiname.Rio San Juan: The San Juan River forms a natural border with Costa Rica and is the main source of life for the Indio Maiz National Reserve. San Carlos is the air gateway and departure point for a river cruise that offers sure views of some of the 250 bird species, reptiles, mammals and exotic plants.Corn Island: Four square miles in size and a 52-mile flight or boat ride from the Caribbean town of Bluefields, the island is home to English-speaking Creoles, descendants of early Scottish and English settlers and freed American slaves. Some Afro-Caribbean Garifuna people and Miskito Indians are also among the population of 2,500. The island is ideal for swimming, snorkeling and diving.Sample Nicaragua PackageNicaragua Mix & Match Packages: Three nights at Montelimar Beach, $321, all inclusive; two nights in Granada, $118, plus $58 for city tour and islands, $53 Masaya Volcano National Park and Indian Market; two nights in Corn Island, $282, with transfers. Solar Tours in Washington, D.C.; (202) 861-5864 or (800) 388-7652; in Sarasota, Fla.; (941) 966-1644 or (800) 727-7652.