The smallest of Nicaragua's departments by area, Masaya department is divided into nine municipalities – Catarina, La Concepcion, Masatepe, Masaya, Nandasmo, Nindiri, Niquinomo, San Juan de Oriente and Tisma. The city of Masaya, the capital of the Masaya department, is widely considered to be the center of national folklore in Nicaragua and has been declared both the "Cultural Legacy of the Nation" and "Capital of National Folklore". The city has a colorful history and the traditions of both the Dirianes indigenous tribe who were the original inhabitants of the area, and the Spanish who founded the village that became the city of Masaya, are evident. The Masaya Market is a major attraction in the city, with a huge variety of handcrafted goods on sale it is the perfect place to buy a Nicaraguan souvenir.
The Masaya Volcano National Park lies around five kilometers from Masaya, and with the active Masaya Volcano, this is one of the department’s principle tourist attractions. Hiking trails allow easy access to the volcano and the plant and animal life in the area are abundant and varied. A museum in the Masaya Volcano National Park provides insight into the myths, folklore and history of the volcano. Also not too far from Masaya is the 19th century Coyotepe Fortress where visitors can explore the fortress and its dungeons which served as a prison in the past.
The municipality of Catarina is renowned for its many plant nurseries offering a wide range of ornamental plants. These nurseries are located alongside the roads, adding to the garden-like scenery of the area. From the Mirador de Catarina lookout point, visitors have a spectacular view of the Apoyo Lagoon, Lake Nicaragua, the city of Granada and the majestic Mombacho Volcano. This is a popular leisure area for both locals and visitors, and picnic areas, park benches, restaurants and vendors selling a variety of souvenirs create a festive atmosphere, while visitors can make use of the telescopes to fully appreciate the view.
Also of interest in the Masaya department are the pottery workshops at San Juan de Oriente, where visitors can observe the pottery making process and buy some of the high-quality items on sale. A few kilometers west of this little village is the city of Niquinohomo, the birthplace of Nicaragua’s national hero Augusto C. Sandino. The village of Masatepe, in the district of the same name, is well known for the production of wooden furniture, with rocking chairs being among the most popular items sold. Birding enthusiasts will find the wetlands of Laguna de Tisma in the northeast corner of Masaya department to be of great interest, as it is a haven for migratory birds. Certainly, the Masaya department of Nicaragua has something for everyone and is worth exploring during a visit to Nicaragua.