The center of the country's folk culture, Masaya, Nicaragua, is the spot for dancing, festivals, music and handicrafts. Some of the craftwork is produced in the city, which is 20 mi/30 km southeast of Managua, but Masaya also serves as a market for goods produced elsewhere in the country.

The Mercado de Artesanias should not be missed: In addition to exquisite paintings, jewelry, leatherwork and ceramics, the market offers hand-embroidered shirts, dresses, tapestries and musical instruments. The hammocks for sale there are among the best in Central America—hand-knotted, very colorful and inexpensive.

Be sure to catch a baseball game if you're in Masaya during the season, or a live performance at the outdoor market.

To the west of Masaya is the Masaya Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya), which contains three cones: Masaya, Santiago and Nindiri. Santiago and Nindiri are still active, offering views of smoke and boiling mud. Visitors can drive up to the very edge of the crater rim and peer into the smoking bowls. For a spectacular view of the entire countryside, climb up the 184 stone steps next to the Santiago crater to the Spanish Cross: It was built by the Conquistadors in 1529 in hopes of persuading the volcano to stop its eruptions.

The park and trails are sometimes closed if the activity becomes too great, so check ahead to be sure it's open (phone 522-5415). A volcano museum with a cafe and nature center is located near the park entrance.

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