I have recently been on a trip to Costa Brava where a lot of hiking alone was involved. In fact, out of the 9 days I have spent in the region, 7 were days of hiking and I had a guide only on one hike. Those 6 solo hiking days thought me something very important: I won’t ever recommend hiking solo. In fact, I doubt I will be going hiking alone again in my life.
To be honest, I am actually sick of reading click bait posts written by men and women alike, all highlighting the many benefits or the incredible empowerment there is in hiking alone, or suggesting a variety of tips for overcoming the fear of solo hiking.
Here I am, my old unsuccessful backpackerself, once again going against what is trendy to say. In case it isn’t clear enough, I think hiking solo is mostly a bad idea, and I believe I have a right to say it because I have done a great deal of hiking in my life, some of it solo.
Before you go on judging me, calling me a wuss, or telling me off for not sending out an empowering message, let me tell you two things about myself. You probably know them already, but in case it is the first time you read my blog, you may not.
First of all, I travel alone most of the time, and that’s what I actually like best. I was alone when I went to Cape Town; I was alone in Jerusalem and in Amman; I was alone in Varanasi too. I love it. I like the freedom I have. I enjoy the flexibility of being able to do my own thing, waking up when I want, eating when I am hungry, seeing things I care to see and not seeing others I really couldn’t care less about. I appreciate silence and peace, and just as much I am able to talk to someone I have just met at the bus stop. I love the randomness of it.
Secondly, I think I have been sending out enough empowerment messages in my life, working as a human rights lawyer for the best of 15 years.
So, if you really think I am a loser for not wanting to go hiking solo, I am hardly concerned. After all, I am not here to tell you what to do or not do with your life. I am just stating what I think, telling you how I feel about it, and hopefully you will agree with me. If not, I am open to hear your thoughts – as long as you express them in a civilized manner.
Let me state it one more time. I think that hiking alone is not a good idea. And since I like to explain myself, I have decided to highlight all the reasons why I am of this opinion.
Who takes your photo when you are hiking alone?
11 Reasons Why Hiking Alone Is Not A Good Idea
Hiking alone is just not safe
The most important reason for never hiking solo is that it’s just not safe. You may be in excellent shape (I am fairly fit myself), you may be a survival expert, you may be strong and all the rest, but really – it is just not a good idea. And there are many reasons why it isn’t.
You may injure yourself
I only know this too well. At times, things just don’t go as planned and we trip, fall, and injure ourselves. It happened to me when I was hiking in Jordan: I was hurt so bad that it took me much longer than expected to finish the hike (and I had no choice of going back). Thankfully I wasn’t hiking solo and I could count on the guide’s help to carry a bit of my stuff so that I could continue walking. A young backpacker who was hiking alone in Fansipan Mountain in Vietnam was not as lucky.
Don’t get me wrong, I like a good challenge, especially when I am hiking. 5200 steps steadily uphill (yep, I have had this when hiking Poon Hill, in Nepal!)? I am in! Narrow paths and cliffs? I don’t mind. But at times, for as much as we’d like to, a trail is too difficult to overcome it when hiking solo.
On third day of solo hiking in Costa Brava, I embarked on a circular route that – according to all signs and instructions I had received – should have taken me around 5 hours and 15 minutes. I soon realized it was going to take me longer (and a guide I met two days later told me he walks it in 8 – so we are still wondering why they suggested it could be walked in under 6), but despite the steady uphill and difficult terrain i was not discouraged.
It was when I arrived at a virtually vertical wall with iron hooks and nothing else to hang on that I realized there was no way this hike was meant to be done alone. I tried climbing, but short as I am I could not really grab the hooks. I went back, dizzy, and sat down deciding what to do. I decided it to give it a second try, but there was no way I could pull myself up that wall. I felt even dizzier than before, realizing that if I fell down, nothing and nobody would be there to stop me from falling.
That’s when I decided to go back, hoping to find a different way to go up (there wasn’t, by the way). As I sat down eating my lunch a couple walked by. I told them I was hiking alone, I asked them if I could join, and helping each other we managed to climb that vertical wall. We all agreed that a hike as challenging as that was definitely not meant to done solo.
You may get lost
Sometimes trails are not well marked, and you may end up getting lost. Ok, with today’s technology the chances of getting lost are slim. You can download tracks and upload them to apps like View Ranger. You can get a GPS. But what if your phone runs out of battery and on that day you forgot to pack a power-bank? What if it gets dark and you forgot to bring a head lamp? What if it starts raining and the trail gets blocked and you have do go a different way? The last thing you want is to be alone.
You may get attacked by animals
The chances of being attacked by animals in Europe are very slim. They are much higher in other continents, and they should not be underestimated. Besides, snakes are animals right? Well, sure enough if a snake bites, it’s much nicer to have someone that can help and call for help, or that can at least give some emotional support. Walking in a group also means making much more noise than when hiking alone, and this keeps animals away – so, the odds of being attacked are much lower.
You may get attacked by humans
The last thing one would think when hiking alone is that he may get attacked by another hiker or a passersby in general. Overall, there are much higher chances of being attacked in a city than when hiking (though, to be fair, there are also many more people to ask for help in a city).
Yet, getting attacked while hiking solo can happen, and it has happened – while the chances of an individual or even a small group attacking a group of hikers are much slimmer.
Had I been hiking alone in Jordan, there would have been nobody to help me when I injured myself
It’s lonely (or shall I say, kind of boring)
I can entertain myself, or else I wouldn’t travel alone all the time. But one of the nicest parts about hiking is sharing the beauty of the nature around you, and gasping at the gorgeous views with someone else. There is nobody to do that with when hiking alone. Nobody to share your excitement for what you see. It’s kind of boring, after a while. Even the lunch you may have packed doesn’t taste as nice.
You are the only one motivating yourself
For some reason, whenever I am hiking with a group of friends, I push myself a lot and end up always being the first to the final point. I just walk really fast, especially if uphill. I realized when I was hiking alone in Costa Brava that I was much much slower than usual. It was like I could not be bothered to walk at all.
But it’s not just that. Friends usually encourage each other, in many different ways. While talking, the effort we make to walk uphill doesn’t seem so bad. Joking, we may encourage each other to walk faster. We may not be as bothered if it starts raining, and you may have someone to complain to about your blisters.
And if someone has a panic attack and claims she can’t go on (true story, it happened to my friend once when we were hiking in Sardinia), others will be there to encourage and stay positive, until she calms down and starts walking again. Finding motivation when hiking alone is not nearly as easy.
You have to carry all the weight alone
This is especially important for long distance hikes, when camping may be necessary. If you go hiking alone for longer distances, you will have to carry everything, with no way to share equipment with someone else. You’ll have to carry camping kitchen gear, tent and all. Even if your back breaks.
You have to do everything alone
But it gets worst. If you go hiking solo for longer distances, there is no such thing as dividing chores. You have to start the fire by yourself, get water and filter it, and put up the tent – which at times is easier said than done (though I learned quite well when I went camping in Namibia). And then you have to cook dinner, and sit alone while you eat it.
I am not a fan of hiking alone
It’s not budget friendly
Much like when traveling solo, hiking solo at times is not as budget friendly. At times you’d really like a private room, with your own bathroom and everything else. Sharing it with one or more friends would make it much cheaper, but if you are alone, you are stuck with the dorm (or with paying more). The same goes with campsites: some want to be paid per tent, and in this case it doesn’t matter if you are alone or not. But others charge per person!
Nobody is there to take photos of you
I realized after hiking alone in Costa Brava that I am not in any of the photos. I have a bunch of incredible photos of the places I have seen, and not a single one with me in it. Mind you, I don’t care to be in every single picture I take (just go check my Instagram feed to see how often I am in the photo). But I like to have a good one taken, every now and then. Sure, you can always take a selfie – which is never as nice as when someone takes your photo. Otherwise, you have to carry a tripod; but that adds weight to the backpack, where – really – you only want to pack the essentials. Or find a stone or something else to leverage your camera (which isn’t always easy).
Sure, this is a sillier reason not to go hiking solo compared to the rest. But some of the others – especially the safety ones – are much more important and should not be underestimated.
I went to Vulcano island to experience yet another volcano hike, and discovered a place that has so much more to offer than I ever expected.
When I finally arrive in Vulcano island, after more than 12 hours of traveling from Spain, the night has fallen already. I have heard the island (one of the seven of the Aeolian Islands archipelago, and the closest one to Milazzo, in Sicily) is beautiful. But I can’t confirm this, right now: it’s so dark that I can’t see a thing.
I have also heard that Vulcano island has a strong smell of sulphur. This, I am immediately able to confirm, on the other hand. The air does smell like rotten eggs. I wonder if I’ll get used to it.
The acrid smell of sulphur is only one of the many things that will remind you there’s a reason why Vulcano island has that name. It’s the same smell I sensed on other volcanoes, such as Masaya in Nicaragua, or Mount Bromo in Indonesia. Volcanic activity here has been going on since 120000 years. There are craters and calderas all over. It’s what prompted me to visit.
In this post, I share a few facts about the island of Volcano and some tips on how to make the most of it.
Vulcanello peninsula can be seen from the Gran Cratere of Vulcano
A Guide To The Things To Do Vulcano Island, Sicily
Take in the incredible views
The first thing you need to do when in Volcano island is taking in the splendid views. If you have a chance, a stay at Therasia Resort is a guarantee of a stunning view. I stayed there and every morning marveled at the sight that spread in front of my eyes. The light is magic at that time of day. You will get to see Lipari, the biggest of the Aeolian Islands. In the distance, you’ll see Alicudi, Filicudi, Salina and Stromboli – one of the most fun islands to visit.
If you look at your back from Therasia, you will be able to see the base of a volcano. That is Vulcanello and it is one of the many volcanoes on Vulcano island.
The mud of Vulcano island is said to have beneficial properties
Explore the villages
I visited Vulcano at the end of October. By then, the buzz of the summer months is gone, and with it the crowds of tourists. Most businesses close at the end of October and only the roughly 500 people that live in Vulcano throughout the year will remain. The small villages are lovely to explore, and with them the surroundings. While tourism remains the first revenue for Vulcano, there are a lot of vineyards and olive groves.
Enjoy the beaches
Whether you visit Vulcano during the spring, summer or early fall, make sure to visit the beaches. There are two beaches on each side of the isthmus that connects the main island to a smaller one known as Vulcanello. Both beaches are characterized by dark, volcanic sand. It’s so different from the white beaches of Sardinia I am used to, or from the incredibly turquoise waters ofthe Maldives you may be thinking of. Yet the sea is incredibly transparent.
Go to the mud baths
Vulcano is famous for the mud baths and to be fair you don’t want to miss them. They are said to have incredibly beneficial properties – for example they cure asthma, which I suffer from. It is only €3 to get in, but the sulphur smell is overpowering. Be prepared for that.
Climb the faraglioni
Right where the mud baths are located, there are the beautiful “faraglioni,” the rock stacks from which you can get a good view of the bay. Keep in mind that it is not officially permitted to walk up (though there is a trail) as apparently people jump over the fence and fall, which leads to a call for rescue. It took me some convincing to the guard at the entrance. You may give it a try, but don’t say I told you so!
The clear waters and the “acque calde” of Vulcano are inviting for a swim, even in the fall
Swim in the acque calde
One of the unmissable things to do in Vulcano island is swimming in its famous “acque calde” (warm waters). Tens of submarine volcanic fumaroles eject hot steam, giving the water the effect of a natural jacuzzi. If you aren’t a fan of the cold waters of the Mediterranean, this transparent stretch of sea will be the perfect spot for a swim!
Have a granita
Much like the rest of Sicily, Vulcano is a perfect place to have a granita. There are a few coffee shops where you can pop in to get one. I like the one right in front of the harbour because the views are lovely. It’s a nice way to relax and indulge a bit before continuing exploring the island.
Go for a hike
With so many volcanoes, it is only obvious that one of the best things to do in Vulcano island is hiking.
The hike to the Gran Cratere is meant to be a sweet, easy hike, yet rewarding. Most people hike it independently, but if you want to get some facts right about the island and its volcanoes, I recommend hiring a guide (besides, I am not a fan of hiking alone – and here’s why).
A hiking tour of Vulcano typically stops at Vulcanello, located on the north of Vulcano. This used to be a separate island, formed with an eruption in 183 BC, which through a series of eruptions, was eventually joined to Vulcano via a small isthmus by 1550 AC.
The view of Lipari from the caldera of Vulcanello
Vulcanello was the youngest vulcano of the island, and the one with the shortest life too. It’s fairly easy to reach once the guide points the trail, which is well hidden in the vegetation. There’s a very large caldera – a volcanic depression that was formed after a violent volcanic eruption, when the cone of a volcano collapses in the space left after the magma is expelled.
The second stop during the hike is Valle dei Mostri (Monster Valley), located in Vulcanello. This looks almost like a natural amphitheater, with statues all around – which actually are the result of the erosion of the lava rock by the sea and the wind. They look like monsters – hence the name of the place.
Nowadays, only a few remain. With time, many have been completely eroded. Others have been taken away by the owners of local villas to place them in their gardens. I am still baffles as to why the local authorities have allowed this to happen.
The eroded lava stone took the shape of a dinosaur
The final stop will be Gran Cratere. Most people start hiking in the late afternoon, and while during the fall the temperatures will be pleasant (especially if you get a nice marine breeze), this is not a hike you should underestimate on warmer days.
The view during the hike is so beautiful that you’ll often stop for photos. From the top, you can see all of the Aeolian Islands archipelago – Lipari and Salina, really close; Alicudi, Filicudi, Stromboli and Panarea in the distance. On a very clear day it is also possible to see the northern coast of Sicily and Etna.
It takes less than one hour to reach the main crater, known as Caldera de La Fossa. The caldera is huge, with a 500 meters diameter. The last eruption here occurred in 1890, but there are plenty of fumaroles that eject steam. It isn’t possible to get inside the crater, because the concentration of gas that is accumulated in the depression makes the air almost impossible to breathe.
A splendid view of the Aeolian Islands during the Gran Cratere hike
The fumaroles are mostly composed of sulphur, which gives the terrain its red and yellow color, and which fills the air of the typical acre stench. The best way to overcome the smell is to walk through the fumaroles wearing a mask (make sure to carry one). Even with that protection, the smell is nauseating.
Once at the top, the views are even better. You can see the port of Levante, where all boats dock, and Vulcanello and the Aeolian Islands on one side; and Piano, one of the villages of the island, on the other.
Thankfully, the path down isn’t through the stinky fumaroles.
The fumaroles in Vulcano: the yellow of the rocks is due to the sulphur – which also makes the air smell like rotten eggs
Practical facts for visiting Vulcano Island
Vulcanello, the Valle dei Mostri and Gran Cratere can all be accessed for free and without a guide, though having one will obviously make the experience more complete with information and tips.
Valle dei Mostri can be reached on an easy 30 minutes walk from Porto di Levante (the largest village, where the hydrofoils to the other islands and to Sicily depart from) and it is well signaled. The path to the caldera of Vulcanello, on the other hand, isn’t as well marked and it may be necessary to ask directions to the access point.
The entry point to the path to Gran Cratere is located at around 10 minutes walk from Porto di Levante. The walk to the crater and back takes no more than 2 hours, though the path is steep and sandy in some points and the length of the walk depends on one’s level of fitness.
The Gran Cratere of Vulcano
Gearing up for the hike
The hike to Gran Cratere is short and not too demanding, but wearing and carrying the proper gear is always recommended. Here’s a useful list of what to wear and take:
Hiking boots: some people wear plain running shoes, others even attempt to hike with walking shoes or flip flops. But keep in mind that the terrain is sandy, rocky and slippery in some points; not to mention the ground near the fumaroles is very hot. Hiking boots provide the much needed ankle support and protect from the heat.
A scarf or, even better, a mask is needed if wanting to walk through the fumaroles
A scarf, or a bandana: the sulphur at the crater makes the air stink so much that wearing a scarf around the nose and mouth is a must! If possible, wear a mask.
A hat: especially if walking in the summer months and in the hottest hours.
Sunglasses: it is so dusty that they are necessary to protect the eyes.
A daypack: use it to carry the extra layers and a lots of water.
A camera: the view is so breathtaking that taking pictures is a must!
A splendid view of the Aeolian Islands from the top of Gran Cratere in Vulcano
Where to stay and eat in Vulcano
As with the rest of the Aeolian Islands, there are plenty of sleeping and eating options in Vulcano island. I arrived there at the end of 6 weeks of hectic travels, so I felt the need to pamper myself and opted to stay at the marvelous Therasia Resort. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Aside from a gorgeous, spacious room with views of the sea and the rest of the Aeolian Islands, I enjoyed eating at the two delicious on site restaurants (the breakfast buffet is one the best I have ever seen!); I jumped into the beautiful infinity pool; and I treated myself to the spa where I could pick from a great variety of treatments.
How to get to Vulcano Island
Vulcano can be reached via hydrofoil in a little over one hour from Milazzo, near Messina. You can book your high speed ferry here. From Vulcano, there are regular hydrofoils to the rest of the Aeolian Islands and to Milazzo.
Legal Disclaimer:I was a guest of Imperatore Travel during my time in Vulcano. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
There are several nice hikes in Guyana. The most famous and challenging one is a 5 day hike to Kaieteur Falls.Most people who visit this beautiful country in South America do so in order to enjoy its nature and wildlife, and hiking is a great way to get closer to nature. The country, famous for its thick rainforest, does have some nice mountains that make for some great hikes. Roraima, with its 2810 meters and marking the border with Brazil and Venezuela, is the most famous one – though the hike can officially only be done via Venezuela.
You know me, and how much I love hiking. I try to do that wherever I go. Sure enough, I didn’t want to miss on the opportunity to go hiking in Guyana, and despite the terrible heat and humidity I made the most of it and truly enjoyed the experience.
This post highlights 3 nice, short yet challenging hikes in Guyana that I have the chance to do when I visited, and provides some tips to make the most of the experience.
The sunset view from Awarmie Mountain makes this one of the top hikes in Guyana
3 Short Yet Challenging And Rewarding Hikes In Guyana
Awarmie Mountain Hike
The one to Awarmie Mountain is one of the nicest hikes in Guyana, and a classic for anybody who visits the North Rupununi region. The overall hike is about 1.7 km long – which isn’t much at all; and the peak is located at around 300 meters above sea level – which, again, isn’t much at all.
Yet between the heat and the humidity, the steepness of the trail and the muddy, uneven terrain (which apparently is the normality when hiking in Guyana), I found this hike as hard as some of the hikes I have done at a good altitude, such as the hikes in the Dolomites I did last summer.
The trail starts at the bottom of the mountain, and it is fairly easy to follow. It goes through some agricultural land where some people of the Rewa community live and work – here it is possible to see how they cultivate cassava and how they prepare farine.
Most of the trail is in the shade, as it goes through the thick forest – but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t hot! The initial part of the trail is quite flat, but soon after crossing the indigenous settlement the trail becomes steep, and on several points it is necessary to to hold on to the railings.
The first view point, from where there is a stunning view of the river, is at about 20 minutes walk from the starting point. After that, the only other view is from the top. Once the view opens up, it becomes clear why this is one of the nicest hikes in Guyana. It is simply splendid!
It shouldn’t take more than one hour and 15 minutes from the starting point to the peak. It took me around 50 – but I sprinted up a bit because I was really looking forward to the view, which was nothing short of stunning (easy to see why to me this is one of the must do hikes in Guyana!). In one direction, there are uninterrupted views of the Rupununi River and the Kanaku Mountains in the distance. In the other direction, the view goes all the way to the Iwokrama Mountains in the distance, and the Makarapan Mountain, much closer.
Important things to note when hiking Awarmie Mountain
Classified as a moderate hike, this (as many of the hikes in Guyana) turns out to be more on the difficult side for anyone who is not accustomed to the heat of this part of the world. The overall hike (there and back) takes little over 2 hours.
Rewa Ecolodge organizes guided hikes to Awarmie Mountain, providing transportation (a boat ride) to the starting point; setting up a camp (hammocks, mosquito nets and a dug out toilet) at the top, so it is possible to spend the night there and waking up to a magnificent sunrise; and providing meals and water to drink. The overall experience is amazing, making this one of the most beautiful hikes in Guyana.
How to reach Awarmie Mountain
The best starting point to hike Awarmie Mountain is Rewa Ecolodge. From there, it is a short boat ride (around 20 minutes).
As far as hiking in Guyana, Surama is one of the best!
Surama Mountain Hike
When visiting Surama, it is pretty much a must to hike Surama Mountain. It is one of the nicest hikes in Guyana. The trail is longer than the one to Awarmie Mountain – a total of a bit less than 7 km there and back; but like Awarmie, the peak (well, at least the highest point that can be reached on the trail) sits at a bit less than 300 meters above sea level.
Once again, between the heat, the steepness and the terrain the hike can be rather difficult. Virtually all of the hike is in the shade, as it goes through the forest. The first part of the hike is nice and flat, though the terrain is rather uneven as it follows a creek (where there is no water during the dry season).
However, at about one third of the way the path starts going uphill, and it becomes steep and more difficult as it is necessary to climb over several unsteady rocks, and there isn’t much to hold on to.
As opposed to other hikes in Guyana, such as Awarmie Mountain, there are no in between view points here. In order to get a view it is necessary to go all the way to the top. Once there, this opens up all the way to Surama, showing the village and the mountains in the distance.
Important things to note when hiking Surama Mountain
Like most hikes in Guyana, the hike to Surama Mountain is classified as a moderate difficulty one. Once again, it is the heat that causes most of the difficulty. The top can be reached in around one hour and 10 minutes, and it takes just as much to get back to the starting point (so calculate around 2 and a half hours for the entire hike).
Once at the top, there is a very limited space from where to enjoy the view and it is not possible to camp overnight.
As it is necessary to walk all the way back, make sure to keep track of the timing as there isn’t much light in the forest even well before the sun goes down. Make sure to carry a torch or a headlamp to be on the safe side.
How to reach Surama Mountain
The best starting point to hike Surama Mountain is Surama Ecolodge, where it is possible to hire a guide (it’s probably a good idea, because the forest is so thick that it is easy to get lost) and from where it is possible to catch a ride to the beginning of the trail.
Iwokrama is one of the nicest nature walks in Guyana
Iwokrama Forest Trail
The Iwokrama Forest Trail is more a nature walk than an actual hike. However, since there is a steep part that requires some puffing up a hill, I like to mention it among the hikes in Guyana.
The trail goes through the forest to reach Iwokrama Canopy Walkway, and it is a fantastic way to appreciate the thick jungle of Guyana. It isn’t a difficult trail at all, save for the 160 steps that must be climbed to reach the starting point of the Canopy Walkway, and for the fact that the area tends to be very wet and muddy.
The trail is about 1 km long from its starting point at Atta Lodge to the beginning of the Canopy Walkway, though the actual trail goes on for much longer into the forest. I would have gladly walked some more of it, where it not for the fact that I was caught in a thunderstorm the minute I made it to the Canopy Walkway and had to run back to the lodge for shelter.
The trail is a great place to observe more of the local flora and fauna, with several kinds of trees clearly signaled for visitors.
Important things to note when walking in Iwokrama Forest
This is more a leisurely walk than a real hike, but the terrain gets muddy so it is easy to slip and fall. Wearing good boots is a must! The trail is fairly easy to follow, but keep in mind that as the forest is very thick, there isn’t much light as soon as the sun starts to go down. It’s better to carry a torch.
How to reach Iwokrama Forest
Iwokrama Forest can be easily reached from Atta Lodge, one of nicest community lodges in Guyana, which is actually set right in the middle of it.
The best time to set for hiking in Guyana is the early morning
The hikes in Guyana that I have mentioned can all be walked in a couple of hours or little more. As I have said before, the best time for hiking in Guyana is during the dry season. Either way, however, it will be hot. Having said so, even though the heat in Guyana is pretty much incessant, I still recommend avoiding the central hours of the day, when there is no escaping the sun. Make sure to go either early in the morning, or in the late afternoon.
Though one may be tempted to wear tank tops and shorts to get a little break from the terrible heat of Guyana, it is important to note that in this country malaria-carrying mosquitoes and other insects such as ticks and chiggers are an issue. It’s better to wear long pants, a light cotton long sleeve shirt, and good hiking boots that hold the ankle. Make sure to also wear a hat, and regularly apply sunblock and mosquito repellent.
In the heat of Guyana, it is easy to get dehydrated. Make sure to drink lots of water during a hike – carry at least a liter even on shorter hikes, more for longer ones. Water gets warm quite fast because of the heat, so a flask that holds the temperature may be the best solution.
Other tips for hiking in Guyana
Most of the hikes in Guyana that I have described in this post are on the easy side for anyone used to hiking. However, save for Iwokrama, the trails aren’t well marked and between that and the fact that the forest is very thick, it is easy to get lost. I recommend hiring the services of a local guide to take you around, and to give back to the local community.
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Tourism Board of Guyana during my visit, and wish to thank them for the wonderful welcome and the incredible experiences. The views expressed in this post remain my own.
I was only 10 the first time my parents decided to visit Trentino for our summer holidays. I don’t have detailed memories of the places we visited (my mother refreshed my memory and told me we visited Val di Fiemme and Val di Fassa), but I do remember that we kept being wowed by the incredible scenery and we had a great time. It’s there that I was introduced to the incredible world of hiking, which is now one of my favorite things to do.
Without the shadow of a doubt, Trentino is one of the nicest places to visit in Northern Italy. It’s a lovely region, located between the Southern Alps and easily reached from Venice or Verona. Its main feature is the Dolomites, a fabulous, unique mountain range which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and which it shares with Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia.
Trentino is a land of mountains and lakes; of gorgeous valleys where nature rules (I am still drooling over my pictures of Val di Fassa). Adding to this already fantastic mix there are great food, welcoming people and a few touches of affordable luxury that make it an excellent destination for families, adventure travelers and, needless to say, solo travelers like myself.
My parents would take me to visit Trentino in the summer, as a child
That’s why my parents kept wanting to visit Trentino. We spent a few summers there, and one summer in Chamonix, France, until I turned 18 and decided that cool kids would not travel with their parents but would rather stay home alone in Sardiniaduring the summer.
After that, I didn’t really visit Trentino until a few weeks ago, when I finally decided it was time to go again and made my way to visit Val di Fiemme and Val di Fassa to participate in Suoni delle Dolomiti, one of the best summer music festivals in Italy.
I am so glad I did! I know Trentino is a very popular destination in the winter time, when snow covers the mountains and it’s possible to ski; but I encourage everyone who loves walking and hiking to visit Trentino in the summer.
Yes: Trentino is a great place to spend summer holidays in Italy. In this post, I highlight 10 reasons to visit Trentino in the summer.
Those who visit Trentino get to see the Dolomites: need I say more?
Ten Reasons To Visit Trentino In The Summer
It’s home to the Dolomites
I could have just said mountains, but the Dolomites are not “just mountains.” They are unique, mighty and won’t stop surprising visitors, their vertical walls springing up and diving into the sky at every turn. If most people who visit Trentino will be happy enough to admire the peaks of the Dolomites, those who like adventure sports will want to put their hands on them, quite literally.
Adventure lovers will be happy to know that one of the nicest things to do in Trentino, that is best enjoyed during the summer, is rock climbing: the Dolomites provide plenty of opportunities for that.
Hiking in Val di Fassa is one of the unmissable things to do in Trentino
There’s some fantastic hiking trails
To me, mountains is sinonymous with hiking. One of the top reasons to visit Trentino in the summer is to enjoy the multitude of hiking trails in the Dolomites. I have done 3 short hikes in the space of 4 days, in the Val di Fiemme and Val di Fassa areas, and all felt very rewarding with incredible views and unique cultural experiences.
I also love multi-day treks (hiking Poon Hill, in Nepal, has been one of my favorite experiences to date), and there’s an abundance of those in Trentino. While I was entertaining myself with the gorgeous views of Val San Nicolò, my friend Margherita challenged herself with a 3-days hike in the Brenta Dolomites. I am pretty sure that the next time I visit Trentino in the summer I will head straight there to hike!
It’s also home to Suoni delle Dolomiti
One of the biggest reasons that prompted me to visit Trentino in the summer is Suoni delle Dolomiti, a music festivals where concerts of various music genres are held in the open, free for everyone to attend. Some of the best classic and jazz musicians are invited. I love jazz so I planned my trip around the jazz concerts.
I went to see Yamanaka Electric Female Trio in Val di Fiemme, and it was a fantastic experience: people of all ages sat on the grass as the band played, pine trees at their back. The concert lasted 90 minutes, which went by in a zip. I was also scheduled to attend a sunrise concert, but when I woke up at 4:30 am to get ready to go it was pouring and I learned that the concert had been rescheduled.
Needless to say, Suoni delle Dolomiti is only one of the many events that those who visit Trentino in the summer can enjoy.
A violin carved into a tree trunk: Suoni delle Dolomiti is just one of the many musical expressions of Trentino
Music is everywhere – literally
I don’t mean to say that, wherever one goes in Trentino, music blasts loudly. In fact, it is peaceful and quiet (unless an event such as Suoni delle Dolomiti is on!). But there’s always a musical theme. Music lovers may already know that Antonio Stradivari, the famous Italian liutist who lived between the 17th and the 18th century, got the spruce wood he used to build his violins in Val di Fiemme.
Those who visit Trentino should not miss the chance to visit the Bosco Che Suona (“music forest”) where the best quality spruce trees that are used to build violins and any other string instruments can be found. Each year, musicians that play at Suoni delle Dolomiti are invited to pick their own tree. Other than the great cultural and musical value found in the forest, this is a great place for a walk or a hike!
But there’s more. Located in Tesero, in Val di Fiemme, there’s Ciresa. This is a factory that works the local spruce to produce soundboards for pianos, as well as violins and any other string instrument. In recent years, Ciresa has patented natural loudspeakers: these are beautiful looking wooden boards that reverberate the sounds at an incredibly high quality level, and on top of it look like works of art. Visiting Ciresa is one of the nicest things to do in Trentino.
Castello di Fiemme is one of the lovely villages those who visit Trentino will be able to enjoy
The villages are just too pretty
There’s no going wrong for those who visit Trentino: all villages are simply beautiful. I was lucky to have a car when I went, so I could drive around and explore. The only issue I had was that I kept stopping for pictures, so it took me forever to go from one place to the other!
Cavalese is one of the largest villages in Val di Fiemme. It’s a pleasant place to walk around, and there’s an interesting history museum where it is possible to learn more about the history of the valley, as well as a contemporary art gallery. It’s a great place to stop for a late afternoon drink or a good gelato, or – even better – a slice of strudel. After all, eating is one of the nicest things to do in Trentino.
Castello di Fiemme is a lovely small village, also in Val di Fiemme. It’s a very quiet place, with narrow cobbled street and a beautiful church that can be seen from a distance, driving down to the village. It’s the kind of place where life goes by slowly, and night brings silence and peace – and it’s a great base from where to visit Trentino.
Val di Fassa also has some gorgeous villages, and those who visit Trentino should not miss an opportunity to explore them. Canazei, Vigo di Fassa, Pozza di Fassa are all nice, but my favorite is Moena, where the majority of the people actually speak Ladin (one of Italy’s 12 minority languages). The first testimony of the village dates back to 1164, which means that it’s probably much older. As I am a lover of narrow alleys, I loved walking around the Quartiere Turco (Turkish Quarters), named after a legendary Ottoman lone soldier who ended up there and decided to settle.
Not just on a rainy day! Those who visit Trentino will enjoy some lovely art galleries. This one is in Cavalese
There’s some very interesting museums
I get it, most people who visit Trentino in the summer are interested in hiking. The chances of rain during the summer in Trentino are high at night, but slim during the day. But what if it actually rains? Worry not! Trentino is one of the top places to visit in Northern Italy even for history, culture and art lovers. I truly enjoyed visiting the Palace of the Magnifica Comunità di Fiemme, in Cavalese, where I could admire some great paintings by local artists and, most importantly, learn about the history of the region.
The Palace of the Magnifica Comunità di Fiemme is open every day except for Tuesdays, from 10:00 to 12:00 and from 15:00 to 18:30. Guided tours are offered, and I recommend taking one and it includes a visit to the underground jails, where prisoners have carved some truly interesting lines and drawings on the walls. Learning about its history is one of the nicest things to do in Trentino.
Cavalese is also home to a great Contemporary Art Museum, which is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 15:30 to 19:30. It hosts some very interesting pieces by contemporary local artists, and it’s recently gone all the way to acquire its own permanent exhibit. There’s also an art room for children, to get them drawing and painting and overall just closer to art and culture – so a fun place to spend a couple of hours for anybody who visit Trentino.
One of the nicest things to do in Trentino is enjoying the food
The food is delicious
Those who visit Trentino never go hungry. I can’t comment on the cheese as I am (sadly) lactose intolerant, but cold cuts such as carne salada (salted, cured beef) and speck (an incredibly tasty cured kind of ham) are fabulous, especially if accompanied by rye bread, which is a local specialty too. Polenta accompanies many a dish, first and foremost the delicious slow roasted pork shank.
Let me not get started with desserts! Just the thought of apple strudel is enough to make me want to pack my bags again. For sure, one of the greatest things to do in Trentino, especially after a long day of hiking, is eating all the mouthwatering food. Rifugi are typically good places to have a taste of the local specialties at very convenient prices.
And so are the drinks
I love wine – or else I wouldn’t have spent 4 days wine tasting in Stellenbosch! Trentino produces some great wines. Local grape varieties include Nosiola, Marzemino and Teroldego, but there’s also Chardonnay and Trentodoc, a local sparkling wine. If eating is one of the nicest things to do in Trentino, those who visit Trentino will have to agree that accompanying a fantastic meal with a just as fantastic wine is a must.
Trentino also has some excellent breweries. And let me not forget about grappa. I visited Distilleria Marzadro, right outside Rovereto, and truly enjoyed learning about the history of the distillery and about the way grappa is made. Grappa originally was poor people’s alcohol, made with the skins, pulp, seeds and stems that are left over when pressing the grapes for making wine. Nowadays, it is a much more sophisticated drink. Trying grappa is a must for those who visit Trentino.
QC Terme is a great place to get some pampering, and a must for those who visit Trentino
It’s a great place to get pampered
Is there anything better than getting pampered after having hiked for one day or more? I don’t think there is! That’s why those who visit Trentino can enjoy QC Terme, a fantastic spa in Pozza di Fassa.
I spent a whole day at QC Terme, at first thinking that my active self would get bored after a couple of hours of doing nothing. I guess I was wrong, because I ended up staying the entire day (I also enjoyed lunch and a light delicious dinner there), moving from one treatment pool to another, from a sauna to a relax room, napping, chilling and enjoying the incredible views of the mountains.
You can now book a day at QC Terme online – just click here!
The atmosphere is super chilled
One of the things that make me fall in love with a place is the atmosphere. That’s why I love Tel Aviv, and why I would go back to Cape Town any time. Trentino is the kind of place where I felt I could relax completely. The vibe is very friendly, welcoming: people who visit Trentino all share a love for nature, adventure sports and good food; locals are friendly, genuine and generous – the kind of people that I can’t help but warm up to.
I am sure that these are more than enough reasons to visit Trentino in the summer, and for those who decide to do so, here’s some logistics information to organize a trip there.
Next time I visit Trentino, I hope to stay in the gorgeous Val San Nicolò
Practical Information For Your Trip To Trentino
Where to stay and eat in Trentino
Those who visit Trentino will be happy to know that there’s an excellent range of accommodation options, as well as some fantastic restaurants. I have selected a couple of hotels in Val di Fiemme and Val di Fassa that also serve dinner – though I recommend eating out for the best food!
As eating is one of the best things to do in Trentino, I recommend going to the following restaurants to enjoy food at its best:
Miola di Predazzo, in Predazzo, Val di Fiemme, offers some of the best traditional food in the area. I had a delicious salad with walnuts and local apples, a selection of local cold cuts which included “carne salada” (salted cured beef) and pork shank.
Baita Paradiso, in Val di Fassa Passo San Pellegrino can be reached from the ski-lift (Seggiovia Costabella) or after a short hike, has the best beef fillet cooked in a bread shell along with onions and pine needles; as well as the best polenta in the area (not to mention an incredible selection of wines.
How to get to Trentino
There are no international airports in Trentino. Those who visit Trentino are better off flying to Verona, which is roughly a 2 hours drive from Val di Fiemme and Val di Fassa, and then rent a car to go all the way there, or get a bus to one of the many beautiful villages in the region. Other airports would be Bergamo Orio Al Serio, a budget airlines hub, or Venezia Marco Polo, which is better connected internationally.
Dressing appropriately is one of the things to do in Trentino
What to pack when visiting Trentino in the summer
Those who visit Trentino in the summer should make sure to carry comfortable clothes that allow layering up, as it may be quite warm in the middle of the day, but chilly in the morning and early evenings and night. Here’s what I recommend packing:
A pair of hiking boots, best if water proof and with good ankle support. Also pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
There are so many things to do in Nicaragua, that I will never be done with it!
28 June 2018 Update: I have always felt safe in Nicaragua, in the 3 times I have visited. Yes, I am aware of crime issues, especially in bigger cities such as Managua, and as I explain throughout the post, one of the most important things to do in Nicaragua is to keep your wits about, and follow the locals advice on areas to avoid in order to stay safe. Yet, in April 2018 civil unrest and protests against the government started, and as of today they are ongoing and getting worse.
This post by Indecisive Traveler gives an accurate account of what it is like to travel around Nicaragua at the moment, and of the things to do in Nicaragua to stay safe throughout the unrest.
While I do not believe that Nicaragua is unsafe for travelers, the situation on the ground is less than pleasant, with many a business in the tourism industry shutting down, at least temporarily. My hope is the peace returns as soon as possible to what is one of my favorite countries in the world. Should you decide to visit despite everything, and to show some much needed support for the local communities, my post highlights the top things to do in Nicaragua and the best places to visit in the country.
The Most Amazing Things To Do In Nicaragua
Those who have the pleasure to talk to me know that I am obsessed with Nicaragua, the land of lakes and volcanoes. I find it the most interesting, and beautiful country in Central America. I have been there three times, and each time I am fascinated at how many awesome things to do in Nicaragua I can find, and I am far from being done with it. My love for it is so sincere that when friends and acquaintances ask me advice for their future travels to Costa Rica or Panama, I tell them they should visit Nicaragua instead.
There are just many things to do in Nicaragua, something for just about any kind of traveller: beautiful colonial cities; interesting culture and art; a complicated yet fascinating history; very friendly people; lush nature; great wildlife and volcanoes. Besides, Nicaragua beaches are gorgeous and lakes have a magnetic beauty. Corn Island Nicaragua is a slice of untouched Caribbean paradise. Finally, add to this an exchange rate that is very convenient and prices that are very cheap, and Nicaragua becomes the perfect country to visit.
I have thus decided to put together a few tips on places to visit and things to do in Nicaragua and Nicaragua best beaches. But before digging into the fun activities, let me clarify a few facts and make sure I explain how to best prepare a trip to Nicaragua.
Visit Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon
Awesome things to do in Nicaragua
Deciding when to visit Nicaragua
The good news is that the weather in Nicaragua is always hot – at times unbearably so, actually. There are a few places to visit in Nicaragua where the temperatures are a bit milder. I ended up going to some partially because this way I could get a break from the heat that was killing me. The best time to visit Nicaragua is during its dry season, from November to March or April: the sunny days and dry weather, however, attract more people (but Nicaragua is never too crowded). The rainy season starts at the end of March, and this is when the country is as green as it gets. I hardly recommend going between September and November: prices may be much cheaper, but it is the tail of the hurricane season and floods and rain may really ruin the trip.
Things to do in Nicaragua: enjoy amazing sunsets
Arriving in Nicaragua
The only international airport is Managua. There is a $10 USD entry fee that all tourists who visit Nicaragua need to pay. Customs is really easy to clear, but some officers may ask a proof of onward travel to a different country. Nicaragua is part of the Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement, a treaty that also includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and that allows the free movement across borders between the four countries. In practice, this means that when entering one of the four countries visitors get a 90-days visa and in order to renew that it will be necessary to travel outside of them (ie in Costa Rica, Mexico or Belize).
Crossing the border to Nicaragua
It is possible to cross the border between Nicaragua and Honduras at Las Manos, El Espino or El Guasule. There is also a boat service crossing the Gulf of Fonseca and connecting Potosí in Nicaragua to La Union in El Salvador, and there is a $2 USD exit fee. Not many people actually use this crossing, and in fact I tend to discourage those wanting to do it. The tide changes dramatically within a few hours, the waves make the crossing a difficult one, and what is often described as a leisurely trip is in fact a bumpy crossing where all passengers get soaking wet.
The border with Costa Rica can be crossed at Peñas Blancas or by boat via Los Chiles. Costa Rican authorities require anybody entering the country to show proof of onward travel, in the form of either a bus or a plane ticket.
Things to do in Nicaragua: meeting the lovely locals – photo courtesy of George Kenyon
Currency in Nicaragua
The Nicaraguan currency is the Cordoba. The exchange rate is around 30 Cordobas for one US Dollar at the moment. Dollars are widely accepted, and in any case they can be exchanged at any bank. Furthermore, money can be exchanged even in the street. At any corner in the centre of cities and near a bank there are men, usually wearing a badge, who exchange money at the official rate. It is completely safe to do so – I usually count how much I need to change and calculate how much I expect beforehand.
People sometimes ask me if it is safe to visit Nicaragua. I can’t hide that I have heard stories of people being robbed, but I have always felt safe there even as a solo female traveller. In fact, it is one of the safest countries in Latin America. Sure, I always keep an eye on my belongings and I avoid walking alone and in the dark in areas that are not considered safe, but other than that, I never have any problems even when taking the bus. in any case, I always purchase a good travel insurance before traveling. You can find a good one here. Obviously, being able to effectively communicate in Spanish helps. Only the people who work in tourism really speak English!
Transportation in Nicaragua
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is travelling by chicken bus. Chicken buses are old American school buses that have been driven all the way to Central America, their engine substituted, and they are now used for public transportation. They are very cheap, if only a bit uncomfortable: they only leave when full – and by full, I mean packed to the point that passengers may really feel like chickens in a cage. I still think they are fun: they are a great part of the culture of the country, locals widely use them, and I even saw the odd chicken a few times. And in the middle of all those people, the ticket man goes around to collect the fares, and street vendors get on board to sell whatever goods – from fruit to drinks, from pens to medicines.
Things to do in Nicaragua: ride a chicken bus – photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis
The buses follow a fixed route, but there aren’t real bus stops. So, as long as on the route, people can get on and off the bus continuously, which means that the bus stops every minute or so and that trips that would normally take 30 minutes may take even over one hour.
Stations are actually fun places to visit in Nicaragua: while the drivers wait for the buses to fill in, the ticket men go around the station calling the destination and looking for passengers. It makes the place very lively and noisy, as well as colourful. It is beautiful to look at the chicken buses. Some of them are actually beautifully restored: newly painted and decorated, the ones that cover longer distances even have flat screen tv and a good sound system (too bad for the choice of movies and music which is never to my liking!).
Taxis in Nicaragua are very cheap, and usually have a fixed price per area. I normally ask how much it will be to go to my destination before getting on board, and if I am travelling long distance I barter a bit, but drivers tend to be honest. Taxis are shared, which means that even if there already are persons on board, the taxi will stop to pick up other passengers, as long as they are going in the same direction. A good way to meet local people.
I even hitched-hiked a few times. I had not intended to really, but when I once missed the bus from León Vieja back to León, a passersby to whom I had asked questions and later on saw me waiting for the bus offered a ride, since he was going in the same direction.
Eating and drinking in Nicaragua
Nicaragua produces some amazing fruit and is actually one of the biggest producers of beef in Central America: in fact beef is delicious here. It is also common to find lamb (locally called pelibuey) and lots of fresh fish and seafood along the coast.
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is having a fresh juice. Needless to say, fruit in Nicaragua is delicious, and fruit juice is always made from scratch: just lots of juice, purified water and ice, a hint of sugar and at most some yogurt. My favourite is limonada (lemonade). It is very common to find fresh fruit stalls in the streets and squares: vendors peel and cut the fruit and sell it for a very cheap price. It’s a really healthy snack! Other common snacks are fried yucca and plantain.
While the local cuisine is not internationally considered one of Nicaragua tourist attractions, I still find it interesting and tasty. Gallo pinto (rice and beans) is the national staple, much like bread in Italy I would say, and Nicaraguans accompany every meal with it. There have been times when I had gallo pinto at breakfast (with scrambled eggs, a corn tortilla and platano maduro, which is a ripe plantain slowly cooked in oil), lunch and dinner (along with some grilled chicken, a cabbage salad and a corn tortilla).
Eating gallo pinto for breakfast is one of the things to do in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of Christel Stol
Other local favourites include patacones (fried plantain croquettes, which can be accopanied by queso, a mild local cheese); vigoron, a dish made of a cabbage salad, yucca and chicarrones (pork scratchings) served on a banana leaf. Quesillos are delicious, filling and a real cholosterol bomb: a freshly baked corn tortilla is filled with two thin slices of a mild cheese, similar to mozzarella, then a salad made of onions and tomatoes and seasoned with vinegar is added, everything is wrapped together, salted and a lot of cream is poured on them. They are messy to eat, and thus served on plastic wraps. Not for the health conscious!
Local alcoholic drinks include rum – the most popular and best one is Flor de Caña – and light beers such as Toña and Victoria, which can be found also in bottles of 1 litre. There even is Nicaraguan wine, but I would dare say, as a wine drinker and wanna-be connoisseur, that drinking it is not among the things to do in Nicaragua! Coffee on the other hand is very good.
The cheapest places to eat in Nicaragua are fritangas which are street food stalls usually serving home cooked meals such as gallo pinto and also have a barbecue where they grill meat or chicken. Market stalls are also very cheap. Comedores or cafetínes are the Nicaraguan version of budget eateries. They pretty much serve the same food that fritangas offer, and in fact most of them used to be fritangas which then became popular and expanded their business. A meal in a comedor usually costs no more than $4 USD. There also are some lovely international and fusion restaurants in the country, especially in the most touristy destinations.
Water is supposedly safe to drink in some places, but I normally avoid tap water and opt for bottled one whenever I travel. Restaurants and bars use purified water for ice and to prepare food, so it usually is safe to eat and drink. I never had a problem but that may be just my luck!
What to pack for a trip to Nicaragua
One of the smartest things to do in Nicaragua is traveling with a backpack rather than a suitcase. The road conditions are such that it is hard to carry around a suitcase. I love the Osprey Ariel 65, because it fits well and carries just the right amount of stuff. Another good one is the Berghaus Wilderness 65+15, but keep in mind it is much larger.
This is what I recommend packing:
Hiking boots – one of the most fun things to do in Nicaragua is hiking, and they will be needed.
A pair of Hawaianas– perfect to go to the beach and walk around in the city.
Walking shoes – I love Converse All Stars. Otherwise, take a pair of good sandals – it is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua to stay comfortable.
Pharmaceuticals – prescriptions drugs as well as off the counter paracetamol, motion sickness pills and Imodium.
A quick dry towel– this is one of the smartest things to do in Nicaragua, as some hostels don’t provide towels.
I also take a day pack where I carry my sunglasses, my camera, powerbank, wallet and travel documents, and even a travel guide book (one of the things to do in Nicaragua is not to rely on the internet).
Places to visit in Nicaragua
I have been to Nicaragua three times, I have been all over the country, and I can say there are so many places to visit in Nicaragua that it is easy to spend a couple of months there. Although I keep going to my favorite places, for which I feel a special connection, I have found that there are so many things to do in Nicaragua that it is easy to find something different to do every day. However, if one has limited time to visit Nicaragua, there are some attractions that should not be missed.
Granada and things to do in Granada
Most people who fly to Nicaragua go to Granada, which is at about 1 hour drive from Managua, as soon as they land. This is definitely one of the most famous Nicaragua tourist attractions, and for a good reason. The weather here is more pleasant than in other parts of the country because, while incredibly hot during the day, the breeze from Lake Nicaragua (known locally as Lake Cocibolca and through which the Nicaragua Canal should be built) cools it down a bit in the afternoon and evening.
Tourists fall in love with its architecture and splendor; with its bright colours and cobbled streets and with its slow paced life. There are many things to do in Granada, it just is such a beautiful colonial city that will make any photography lover go crazy with its elegance and colours. There also are many out of town adventures that are easily accessible.
Things to do in Granada: go for a walk! – photo courtesy of Elaine Faith
Among the things to do in Granada, I recommend visiting the Convento y Museo San Francisco. This is the oldest church in Central America: it was first built in 1585, then burnt to ground by pirates and later by William Walker, rebuilt in 1868 and finally restored in 1989. The blue facade is simply stunning. The museum, which is accessed through a small door on the right, exhibits a lot of indigenous art as well as a scale model of the city. I particularly like the murales in the entry patio, which portray the history of the city and the country – of course having a guide helps in understanding the significance. The view of the lake and the volcanoes from the back patio is also a plus.
Things to do in Granada: visit the Iglesia de San Francisco – photo courtesy of Tara Joyce
One of my favourite things to do in Granada is visiting the Iglesia de la Merced, which was also destroyed by pirates and later on by Walker and eventually restored. The church is beautiful, but the best part of it is climbing the tower and enjoying the incredible 360° view of Granada, the surrounding volcanoes and the lake. The best time to access the tower is around 11 am.
The Cathedral of Granada, located in the Parque Central, is what comes to mind when thinking about Nicaragua tourist attractions – not only for the church itself, but also because it makes for a perfect postcard picture. In fact, taking pictures of the cathedral from various angles and points of the city is one of the things to do in Granada. The main square is lined with several other beautiful buildings.
On the side of the Cathedral, Calle La Calzada is the main pedestrian street in the city, packed with trendy bars, restaurants, and the best hotel in town (Hotel Darío, which takes its name from the most famous Nicaraguan poet). La calzada is very lively at night, when street artists and artesania vendors populate it. Walking along it, it is possible to reach the lake, about 1 km away from the centre. When I wander about what to do in Granada when the heat is just about to kill me, I go to the lake and enjoy the refreshing breeze. Besides the view of the city on the way back is lovely, especially that of the Church of Guadalupe.
Strolling on La Calzada is one of the things to do in Granada – photo courtesy of Byron Howes
I generally say to people who are interested in seeing a bit of local action that one of the things to do in Granada is visiting the market. It is so lively, so full of colours and interesting smells. However, it also is very crowded, so my advice is not to carry any precious belongings there: as in any market in the world, pickpockets target tourists and they are very quick!
Taking a boat trip through Las Isletas is one of the things to do in Granada. These islands are really small. There are supposedly 365 islands, which were formed as a result of the eruption of volcano Mombacho, which can be seen from the lake. I recommend to take a boat that leaves around 3:45 pm. This is the perfect time to view as many birds as possible, including the weaving bird and king fisher, as well as the 3 different kinds of monkeys that live in the area, and on the way back the sunset view of the smoke capped volcano is simply spectacular. I am not a very keen birdwatcher, but I must admit that with the right captain who points at the various species of birds the trip becomes a whole more interesting.
Touring Las Isletas is one of the things to do in Granada – photo courtesy of ruben i (flickr)
When I look for what to do in Granada that is not in the drop centre of town, I head to the old train station, which is about 9 blocks from the centre, and where there are a few well preserved wagons on display. The station is right in front of Parque de los Poetas, which is dedicated to Nicaragua most important poets.
Day trips from Granada
These are some of the best day trips to do from Granada:
Nicaragua is packed with volcanoes, and one of the things to do in Nicaragua is hiking a volcano up to the crater. Granada is surrounded by volcanoes and I think that hiking up one of them and visiting their parks and reserves is among the things to do in Granada. Volcán Mombacho can be seen from the lake. Although it has not erupted recently, it is very much active. The natural reserve is home to 3 species of monkeys, over 160 species of birds and orchids.
Another really good day trip from Granada is that to Masaya – of all the things to do in Granada which are right outside the city, this trip is perhaps the most interesting. I actually recommend doing this on a guided tour as it makes the various connections easier in terms of transportation and a good guide can explain the facts of the region. A good trip to Masaya includes a visit to the Fortaleza de Coyotepe, built in 1893 on the Cerro de los Coyotes and where political prisoners were held during the Somoza dictatorship. The day tour usually follows with a visit to the lovely Mercado de Artesanías, a stop in a family run pottery farm in Santo Domingo (my favourite is that of Duilio, who shows the entire process of making pottery and has some beautiful pieces for sale) and then goes to the Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya.
Hiking Volcano Masaya is one of the things to do in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon
Volcán Masaya is perhaps the most active volcano in the country, and visiting it is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. It actually is possible to walk along the Santiago crater, although smoke and steam come out of it and the sulfurous gases give a funny smell. Access to some of the view points has actually been closed as rumor has it that a few people jumped in the crater! There are various hiking trails and it is also possible to rent a horse.
Finally, one of the best things to do in Granada is hopping on a bus and go to Laguna de Apoyo. In this crater lake wildlife is very active as the area is strictly protected: the waters of the lake are pristine, and no motor boats are allowed, making it perhaps the best place to swim in the country.
Where to stay in Granada
As the most touristic destination in the country, Granada caters for any budget. It is packed with upper scale hotels and good hostels. The best hotel in town is right on the Calle Calzada, and is the Darío. The position has its advantages, although the fact that it is on the busiest street in town means getting quite a bit of noise. Hotel Colonial is very close to the main square and definitely gets less noise. Of the hostels, my favorite is Las Hamakas– not far from the centre, dorms are quite spacious, if only a bit lacking in amenities, but the place is very airy and safe, the personnel is kind and the prices are unbeatable.
Where to eat in Granada
There are many restaurants and budget eateries in Granada. The ones on the Calzada are the most expensive ones. Tercer Ojo is in a very trendy location: it comes highly recommended on trip advisor, food is truly delicious, although definitely not traditional. I also really like Café de las Sonrisas, which is run by a nonprofit organisation and where all the staff is hearing impaired. There also is a lovely hammock shop right next door, where all the profits go to the organisation in favour of disabled children. Finally, I really like the Garden Café: great salads, sandwiches and delicious smoothies are served in a beautiful patio, and there also is a book exchange which to me is always a bonus!
There are many companies that run tours of Granada and its surroundings. I have worked several times with ORO and I really enjoyed Rudy as a guide. He speaks really good English, keeps an excellent pace and knows a lot of interesting facts.
Visiting León is one of the things to do in Nicaragua, perhaps the best. There is an all Nicaraguan debate that tourists are often asked to join, in which one has to express a preference for either León or Granada. I do like Granada, but I am a León kind of girl: I am madly in love with it. I was meant to spend a few days there and ended up staying for over 3 weeks.
Things to do in Nicaragua: visit Leon Cathedral – photo courtesy of callandresponse (flickr)
At little over one hour by bus from Managua, León is the most intensely political city of the country. It buzzes with energy, it is lively, full of young people (it is a university city and in fact Nicaragua’s first university was founded here in 1912), packed with interesting museums and murales, and gorgeous in a decadent kind of way. León served as the capital of Nicaragua during colonial times.
León is the hottest city in the country, and I don’t just mean politically. Temperatures stay well over 30° C throughout the year, so much so that when at around 6:00 pm the sun goes down I can still feel the heat coming off the walls. No wonder the day start so early here: an air raid alarm rings several times a day, the first one at 7 am, which is when the city comes to full life.
The Cathedral of León is one of the places to visit in Nicaragua. This is the largest cathedral in Central America, and it is said that the church was actually meant to be built in Lima, Peru. It is a massive building, that offers repair from the heat. The tomb of poet Ruben Darío is here. A fun thing to do inside the cathedral is trying to find the hidden eyes, which are triangles (representing trinity) containing an eye inside and which are well hidden with the rest of the artwork. In my many visits, I have only been able to spot 3 but there are 7, apparently. The roof of the cathedral has been recently restored and it can be visited for a small fee. The view from up there is spectacular, but I recommend to wear socks and sunglasses: everything has been painted white and visitors are asked to take their shoes off, and the white paint reflects the light in a blinding way.
Leon cathedral is one of the places to visit in Nicaragua
Among other churches to visit in León there is the Iglesia de la Recolección, which has a beautiful yellow baroque facade.
Some of the best Nicaragua tourist attractions are in León. I never tire of visiting the Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Guardián, perhaps the best museum of contemporary art in Central America. There are pieces of famous Cuban, Peruvian and other Latin American artists; there are several Picassos, Rubens, Chagalls, Boteros and Diego Riveras. The museum is located in two beautiful colonial buildings facing each other, with lovely patios and fountains. I can get lost in there for hours. The bonus? It is open even on Sundays.
Things to do in Nicaragua: visit amazing museums
Right on the opposite side of the main square from the cathedral, the Museo de la Revolución is a great one, and visiting it is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. I got goosebumps my first time there. The museum is entirely run by veterans of the revolution, who for a small offer guide visitors through the exhibit, although they only speak Spanish. For each print, picture and document they have a story to tell, and they often proudly show the scars they got during battles. The building used to be the telecommunication company headquarters that the revolucion forces conquered in battle. It is run down yet charming and it is possible to get to the roof for a great view of León and its surroundings.
Things to do in Nicaragua: visit the Museo de la Revolucion, Leon
Another interesting museum is the Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones. I find this seemingly tacky museum very entertaining and it explains a lot about the culture of Nicaragua. It is located in what is known as La XXI (the 21st Garrison), a former prison, and along with the life size figures of people from Leónese history, there also are murals which depict the methods of torture used by the Guardia Nacional on the prisoners.
Barrio Subtiava is a lovely neighbourhood, around 12 blocks from the city centre, pleasant to walk around and very pretty. There is a market too, and this is where the buses to the nearest beaches leave from.
Nicaragua is the land of lakes and volcanoes, so one of the best things to do in Nicaragua is going on a volcano hike. I opted for Volcán Cerro Negro, where I went on a guided afternoon hike that offered incredible views of the surroundings, a great sunset and where I could also try volcano boarding. The hike itself would not be hard, were it not for the incessant wind and for the fact that those wanting to try volcano boarding have to carry the wooden sled all the way to the top. I have heard all sorts of horror stories from people who tried it – some fell and got injured, some went down too fast. In my case, it was the opposite: I am so light that I could not really slide down fast enough. But all the same, I got covered in dust!
Hiking a volcano is one of the things to do in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of Blue Sonicboy (flickr)
León Vieja can be visited on a half day trip from León. It takes about one hour to get there on public transportation. The ruins of the old capital lie at the foot of Volcán Momotombo. The city was founded in 1524 and abandoned a century later after being destroyed by a series of earthquakes. The site isn’t certainly the most amazing one I have seen, but the place is quiet and breezy, a guide is included in the entry fee making the visit more interesting and I think it overall is worth the effort of going.
Leon Vieja is one of the places to visit in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of Diana Facile
Some of the best Nicaragua beaches are near León. At about 30 minutes by bus it is possible to reach Poneloya and Las Peñitas. One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is catching an amazing sunset on the Pacific Ocean and these beaches are just perfect for that. I really enjoy toasting under the sun, swimming a bit and looking at people catching the waves. The beach is long and sandy, and very clean too. There are various local restaurants. It just is perfect to relax. The Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado is a also a lovely place to visit, especially for bird watchers. Depending on the season, turtles lay their eggs on the beach so it may be possible to participate in a tour to observe them.
Poneloya is one of the best beaches in Nicaragua
From León it is also possible to visit the Flor de Caña distillery: this is where the most well known rum in the country is made and visiting it is one of the things to do in Nicaragua for rum lovers, as they also offer samples! Here it is possible to book a tour to Flor de Caña distillery.
Where to stay in León
There is an entire street in town that is packed with hostels and backpackers bars. I decided to stay away from it, as I prefer to stay in quiet places. I found Posada La Gordita, not far from the La Colonia upscale grocery store, a great place and a very good budget option. Rooms are plain and simple, the place is kept spotless and very safe, and the host, Monica, is welcoming and kind. The Posada used to be in Del Salman, but it has recently moved to a new, more spacious location. I am curious to visit it next time I will be in town.
Hotel El Convento, on the other hand, is the most expensive one in town. The spacious rooms are lined around a gorgeous garden. The hotel is actually located in what really used to be a convent, so there is much of a museum feeling to it.
Where to eat in León
My favourite place in town is Asados Pelibuey, a comedor that is a favourite of the locals. It serves Nicaraguan staples in a friendly and relaxed environment. The average price of a full meal is an unbeatable $3 USD! On the more expensive side there is Al Carbón. The house specialty is meat. The food is good, but service is so so, especially with larger groups.
Most people who visit Nicaragua skip the capital Managua altogether. I say that visiting Managua is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. Sure, I may not want to spend a week there, but I think that it is worth going for at least half a day, maybe making a stop when going from Granada to León.
The centre of town is lined with some huge yellow metal trees, following a project of Nicaragua first lady. There are 100 of these trees in Managua. They are an adaptation of a famous drawing of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Each tree has costed $20000 USD, certainly causing concern in a country plagued by poverty. Yet, they are interesting to see.
Things to do in Nicaragua: visit Managua
Plaza de la Revolución, not far from Lake Managua, is a huge square where the Sandinista commander Carlos Fonseca tomb is located. This is also where the old cathedral is – it is now close to public, as it was shattered by the 1972 earthquake that destroyed much of the city (where in fact there are no buildings which are over two storeys high). The clock on the tower has stopped at the exact time of the earthquake. The Palacio de la Cultura is right next to the old cathedral, and exhibits lots of artifacts from the pre-colonial times.
One of the landmarks of Managua and among the interesting places to visit in Nicaragua is the Parque Historico Nacional Loma de Tiscapa. Right on top of the hill there is a huge statue of the national hero Sandino. The view from the Loma de Tiscapa is stunning.
The view of the old cathedral of Managua, one of the places to visit in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon
Huellas de Acahualinca is a small archeological site in Managua, and perhaps its most interesting attraction. So including a visit during the trip is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. These ancient footprints used to be buried under compacted volcanic material and the tracks have been discovered by some workers in 1874. There are 10 sets of prints, all dated back to around 6000 years ago, and all pace towards the lake – showing that people were leaving the area following a volcanic eruption. It is thought there are many more prints still to be found. The site is closed on Sundays.
The Nueva Catedral is not exactly the most beautiful church I have ever seen, and while one may not include a visit among the things to do in Nicaragua, I admit I kind of like it. It is a very big building, colourful inside and very airy thanks to the many windows and 63 domes that supposedly provide structural support in case of earthquakes.
Things to do in Nicaragua: visit the brand new cathedral of Managua
Isla de Ometepe
There is no way one can visit Nicaragua without planning to go to Isla the Ometepe. Visiting this impressive island is among the things to do in Nicaragua. Located in Lake Nicaragua it can be reached by ferry from Granada, San Jorge (near Rivas) and San Carlos (on the border with Costa Rica).
Ometepe is an 8 shaped island which hosts two active volcanoes (Concepción and Maderas). Vegetation is lush, there are nice small beaches, a lagoon, archeological sites, and incredible wildlife. And most of all, it just is so relaxing. The two biggest settlements in the island are Altagracia and Moyogalpa, both located at the bottom of Volcán Concepción. They are more geared to tourism than the rest of the villages. However, I think the best part of the island is that around Volcán Maderas.
Things to do in Nicaragua: visit Isla de Ometepe
Balgüe is perhaps the smallest village on the island, yet the most charming, no more than a few houses along the main road, no internet access, no ATM and only a few local shops. Life is slow paced, people are welcoming.
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is going on a volcano hike, and Isla de Ometepe is perfect for that! Both volcanoes can be hiked. Maderas is less challenging, but still a tough 8 hours hike due to the muddy terrain and the thick vegetation of the cloud forest. It is always recommended to get a guide. Hiking trips usually leave from Finca Magdalena, in Balgüe. Volcán Concepción is even harder to hike (10 to 12 hours) on trails that start either in Altagracia or Moyagalpa. I also hiked to the 35 meters high waterfall of San Ramón, leaving on a bike from Balgüe.
Where to stay and where to eat in Ometepe
On my last visit of Ometepe, I stayed in Balgüe, at Finca Magdalena. This is off the main road, at about 1.5 km which I had to hike, backpack and all, because no cars or buses get there. It is a good idea to carry a torch as it is pitch dark at night. The Finca is a huge wooden hut with a lovely relaxed atmosphere. All around there are coffee plantations and it is possible to take a guided tour of them. The accommodation is very basic, but the location makes it perfect. Just chilling in one of the hammocks on the porch I was able to spot monkeys, and the view of the volcanoes is really nice. Meals are available too.
A better place to stay in Balgüe is Totoco Ecolodge, which has spectacular views and a fantastic swimming pool to hang out and relax.
The best restaurant in the area is Café Campestre. The English owner is a really great host, who has brought some variety in what is otherwise available on the island. I was delighted to find falafel and curry dishes there.
San Juan del Sur and the best Nicaragua beaches
As far as Nicaragua beaches, San Juan del Sur is hard to beat. What used to be a fishing village has developed into a bigger place that is well geared to tourism, with lots of accommodations and restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. San Juan del Sur is a favourite of surfers and backpackers and is also a great place to catch a wonderful Pacific sunset – definitely one of the things to do in Nicaragua.
Unmissable: Nicaragua beaches near San Juan del Sur – photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis
Tola beaches are among the best Nicaragua beaches, and they retain that feeling of a lost paradise. Playa Maderas, which is North of San Juan del Sur, is one of the most stunning Nicaragua beaches. It is a lovely sandy beach perfect for sunbathing and has rocky expanses that offer great tide pooling.
Nicaragua beaches are stunning – photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis
South of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua beaches can’t really get much better than Playa El Coco, a great stretch of beautiful sand and cliffs.
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is experiencing its great wildlife. About 20 km south of San Juan del Sur the wildlife refuge Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor is where turtles lay their eggs – between 9 pm and 2 am, between July and January. It can be visited on a guided tour leaving from San Juan del Sur.
Caribbean paradise couldn’t get much better than this. Visiting the Corn Islands is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. The very best of Nicaragua beaches is actually 70 km away from the east coast, on two small islands that have little bays, coves and underwater caves. Great Corn is the biggest of the two and is populated by Creoles living in colorful wooden houses. Little Corn is tiny, only 500 people live on this small island where there are no cars and which is a real jewel for diving enthusiasts.
Things to do in Nicaragua: visit Corn Island – photo courtesy of Brian Johnson and Dane Kantner
Life is slow in the Corn Islands: these are the places to visit in Nicaragua to relax, snorkel, dive (including with dolphins!), lay at the beach, eat some amazing seafood and feel in paradise. Most people tend to opt for the quieter Little Corn but during the high season it may well be the case that there are more tourists than locals. There are some guesthouses, hotels and bungalows on the island – my favorite is Yemaya Island Hideway & Spa – and restaurants (the most popular one is Habana Libre) offer great fresh seafood and fish as well as some of the Nicaraguan staples. Tranquilo café has great burgers!
In order to get to Great Corn Island, it is possible to catch a flight from Managua via Bluefields or a boat from Bluefields. Another boat (locally called panga) is then needed to get from Great Corn to Little Corn: it may get really rough on the way there, and often passengers get soaking wet so it is a good precaution to carry garbage bags to cover the luggage.
Río San Juan
The river that signals the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica runs for almost 200 km from Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean sea. Río San Juan has often been a cause of tension between the two countries. Visiting Río San Juan is one of the things to do in Nicaragua for anybody that loves nature, wildlife (including caymans) and bird watching.
The best starting point to visit Río San Juan is Boca de Sábalos, a town set at the confluence between Río San Juan and Río Sábalos, where there are various accommodation options. This can be reached by boat from San Carlos, on Lake Nicaragua. The duration of the trip depends on the kind of boat available.
Places to visit in Nicaragua: Rio San Juan – photo courtesy of Chiara
From Boca de Sábalos it is possible to visit the Reserva Biológica Río Indio-Maíz, one of the most impressive rainforests in Central America. It is also possible to reach El Castillo, a fortress built by the Spaniards in 1675 to stop the pirates going to Granada. The reserve is hardly penetrable until the village of San Juan del Norte, a small town that is surrounded by lagoons, dense rainforest and some great Nicaragua beaches on the Caribbean coast. This is a great starting point to visit the indigenous communities or to explore the ruins of Greytown, a British outpost across the bay that has been abandoned and has been swallowed by the jungle. Definitely one of the places to visit in Nicaragua.
Have you ever been to Nicaragua? What did you like the most about it? Let us know in the comments below.
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Hi, my name is Claudia. One day I packed my life and started traveling… except I packed too much. Follow me as I fill my life with dreams, drop the weight and inspire you to live your dreams. View and download my media kit here (updated Oct 2018). Learn more about me here…