33 Awesome Things To Do In Nicaragua

33 Awesome Things To Do In Nicaragua

There are so many things to do in Nicaragua, that you will never be done with it!

Talk to me for a few minutes and it won’t take you long to figure out that I am in love with Nicaragua. Known as the land of lakes and volcanoes, to many including myself this is the most interesting and beautiful country in Central America. I have been there 3 times already and crave to go again, for there still are places to discover. 

With so many things to do in Nicaragua, you won’t have a hard time finding something to suit your interests: 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.

Since I know the country quite well, I thought I’d put together a post to let you know about the places to visit and the things to do in Nicaragua, with tips on Nicaragua best beaches and – needless to say, some useful advice on how to prepare a trip to Nicaragua.

Things to do in Granada

Things to do in Granada: go for a walk! – photo courtesy of Elaine Faith

33 Unmissable Things To Do In Nicaragua

Marvel at the colonial Granada 

Granada usually is the starting point of a trip across Nicaragua. The city, located at just 1 hour drive from Managua, is one of the most famous Nicaragua tourist attractions, and for a good reason.

The weather in Granada 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.

You will fall in love with its architecture and splendor; with its bright colors and cobbled streets and with its slow paced life. This beautiful colonial city will make any photography lover go crazy with its elegance.

Spend a couple of days in Granada, where you should visit 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 annexed 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. The view of the lake and the volcanoes from the back patio is also a plus.

Another interesting place to discover is 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 – it makes for a perfect postcard picture.

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 vendors populate it. Walking along it, you can get to the lake, about 1 km away from the centre. The view of the city on the way back from the lake is lovely, especially that of the Church of Guadalupe.

At about 9 blocks from the centre, the Old Train Station is a cool place to visit. You will find  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.

Finally, the market of Granada is a very lively place, so full of colors and interesting smells, and still very much local. Keep in mind it can get very crowded and there are pickpockets.

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. 

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 it definitely isn’t local.

I also really like Café de las Sonrisas, which is run by a nonprofit organization 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 organization in favor of disabled children.

Finally, Garden Café serves 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!

Las Isletas, Nicaragua

A boat tour of Las Isletas is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua

Take a boat trip around Las Isletas

Taking a boat trip through Las Isletas is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. 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 Lake Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua).

TOP TIP: Go on an afternoon tour leaving at 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. 

These are two good guided boat tours of Las Isletas:

Hike Mombacho Volcano

Nicaragua is packed with volcanoes, and one of the things to do in Nicaragua is hiking a volcano up to the crater. Volcán Mombacho, which  can be seen from the lake in Granada, is a fun one to go to. Although it has not erupted recently, it is very much active. I recommend going on a guided hike, as it is easy to get lost there. You can also try zip lining – there are 17 platforms from where you can fly. This Mombacho hike and canopy tour may be a good option.

places to visit in Nicaragua

Hiking Volcano Masaya is one of the things to do in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon

See the lava at Masaya Volcano

Volcán Masaya is perhaps the most active volcano in the country, and visiting it is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. You can 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 is sometimes closed as there often are rumors that people jump in the crater! There are various hiking trails and it is also possible to rent a horse to go all the way to the crater to see the lava.

The best time to do it is at night, when the sight of the lava will be even clearer. You can book a guided tour here or enquire locally – it’s probably cheaper to book locally and you should expect to pay around $20 USD.

Go on a day trip to Masaya and Coyotepe

The entire Masaya area is actually very interesting to visit but you should go on a guided tour as it makes the various connections easier in terms of transportation. Besides a good guide can explain the facts of the region.

The Fortaleza de Coyotepe was built in 1893 on the Cerro de los Coyotes and it is where political prisoners were held during the Somoza dictatorship.

The Mercado de Artesanías of Masaya is also fun to visit, and make sure to finally stop in a family run pottery farm in Santo Domingo (my favorite is that of Duilio, who shows the entire process of making pottery and has some beautiful pieces for sale).

Here it is possible to book a good guided trip to Masaya online.

Spend a day (or more) at Laguna de Apoyo

One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is chilling at Laguna de Apoyo. This can be easily accessed from Granada and many will go on a day trip, but I really recommend spending a couple of days there, as it truly is idyllic. 

This crater lake is 175 meters deep and since there still is a lot of volcanic activity the water is really warm, making it pleasant to swim. Add to this the fact that motor boats aren’t allowed on the lake and that the water is incredibly pristine, and you will definitely want to jump in! Another fun thing to do there is renting a kayak or a SUP to explore the lake. There are various places where you can rent one for around $10 USD. 

Latin America border crossing

Visiting Leon is a must-do!

Walk around León

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, where locals may ask you to express a preference for either León or Granada. To give you an idea of my preference, just know that I was meant to spend 3 days in Leon and ended up staying there for 3 weeks. 

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 murals, and gorgeous in a decadent kind of way. León served as the capital of Nicaragua during colonial times.

It also the hottest city in the country, and I don’t just mean politically. Temperatures stay well over 30° C throughout the year. No wonder the day start so early here: an air raid kind of alarm rings several times a day, the first one at 7 am, which is when the city comes to full life.

I recommend joining a walking tour of Leon to see all the city highlights before going into a more detailed visit of what the city has to offer. The best one is this Leon guided walking tour including entrance fees. 

Try to also make it to Barrio Subtiava, a lovely neighborhood, 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.

Where to stay in León

There is an entire street in town that is packed with hostels and backpackers bars – up to you if you want to hang out there or not. My go to place is 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 and the place is kept spotless and very safe.

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 favorite place in town is Asados Pelibuey, a comedor that is a favorite 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 not the best, especially with larger groups.

places to visit in Nicaragua

Leon cathedral is one of the places to visit in Nicaragua

Visit the largest Cathedral of Central America

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 the holy 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 you will be asked to take your shoes off, and the white paint reflects the light in a blinding way.

GOOD TO KNOW: Another cool church in León is the Iglesia de la Recolección, which has a beautiful yellow baroque facade.

Pay respect to the revolution fighters

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. The museum is entirely run by veterans of the revolution, who will take you around the exhibit for a small fee, but keep in mind 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 revolution 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.

Leon Nicaragua

The gorgeous patio of the museum

Marvel at art at Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Guardián

Some of the best museums in Nicaragua are in León. One you shouldn’t miss is 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. The bonus? It is open even on Sundays.

Learn about Nicaragua traditions at the Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones

Another interesting museum in León is the Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones. It may appear tacky at first but it is 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. To make sense of it, you really need a guide – you can get one directly at the museum for a really small fee.

Go volcano boarding on Cerro Negro

Nicaragua is the land of lakes and volcanoes, so one of the best things to do in Nicaragua is going on a volcano hike. But Volcán Cerro Negro will give you a whole different experience, because after the hike you can go volcano boarding.

The hike itself would not be hard, were it not for the incessant wind and for the fact that you have to carry the wooden sled all the way to the top. As it is a difficult place to reach, and you need boards which you aren’t likely going to carry around during your trip, this experience can really only be tried on guided tours. 

These two are the best ones:

Check out my post “What To Expect When Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro, Nicaragua” for more information.

volcano boarding

The stunning view from the top of Cerro Negro

Spend the night on an active volcano

If you aren’t tired of volcanoes yet (I assume you know I love them!), one of the coolest things to do in Nicaragua is spending the night on top of an active volcano. Telica is by far the best, as it offers the most incredible views that span all the way to the Pacific and to the nearby volcanoes. As this is an active volcano, you will be able to see smoke coming out from it all the time, but there isn’t as much lava as in Masaya. 

The hike may be a bit of a technical one, and since it is easy to get lost in the area, you really should opt for a guided tour such as this Telica Volcano at twilight.

Things to do in Nicaragua

Leon Vieja is one of the places to visit in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of Diana Facile

Go to Léon Vieja

León Vieja can be visited on a 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 you will see, but the place is quiet and breezy, a guide is included in the entry fee making the visit more interesting and it is overall worth going.

Swim through Somoto Canyon

There is little doubt that one of the top things to do in Nicaragua is going to Somoto Canyon. This is one of the country’s best kept secrets. It’s a place where you will find a series of natural pools with clear waters, all surrounded by beautiful limestone cliffs from where you can jump.

GOOD TO KNOW: Though you can visit Somoto Canyon independently, it’s much better and easier to go there on a guided tour departing from Leon. Ask at your hostel or hotel to organize the trip for you!

Spend a day at the beach

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. 

While Poneloya is a local beach where you won’t find much in terms of services, Las Peñitas is a surfers’ hub so you will find more in terms of services as well as restaurants and kiosks where you can rent all sort of equipment and have a bite or a drink.

Visit Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado

The Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado is a lovely place to visit not far from León, and a paradise 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.

Nicaragua beaches: Poneloya

Poneloya is one of the best beaches in Nicaragua

Visit a rum factory

Not far from León ,Flor de Caña distillery is where the most well known rum in the country is made and visiting it is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. You can learn how rum is made and then try samples of various kinds offer samples! You can book a tour to Flor de Caña distillery here.

And a coffee farm

Not many know, but Nicaragua actually produces coffee and it’s actually really good. The most interesting coffee plantation tours are in Isla de Ometepe (more about it below), but the highlands of Matagalpa are also good places for that. You may want to try to go to Selva Negra, where there usually are two daily tours for around $20 USD.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: To get to Selva Negra from Matagalpa, take a chicken bus towards Jinotega and just get off at Selva Negra. It’s just 12 km but keep in mind that chicken buses are slow!

places to visit in Nicaragua

The view of the old cathedral of Managua, one of the places to visit in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon

Explore Managua

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, you 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.

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.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.

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 you will ever see, and visiting may hardly be one of the unmissable things to do in Nicaragua, I bet you will like it. It is a very big building, colorful 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 Isla de Ometepe

Hang out in Isla de Ometepe

There is no doubt that visiting Isla the Ometepe is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua. 

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.

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. Make sure to get a guide if you intend to hike, as it’s easy to get lost! 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. You can also hike to the 35 meters high waterfall of San Ramón, leaving on a bike from Balgüe.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Located in Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe can be reached by ferry from Granada, San Jorge (near Rivas) and San Carlos (on the border with Costa Rica). I don’t recommend doing so, but if you are tight on time you can go on a full day trip to Ometepe Island departing from Granada.

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. The Finca is a huge wooden hut with a lovely relaxed atmosphere. All around there are coffee plantations which you can visit on a guided tour. The accommodation is extremely basic, but the location makes it perfect. 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.

Nicaragua beaches

Unmissable: Nicaragua beaches near San Juan del Sur – photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis

Catch the waves in San Juan del Sur 

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 favorite 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.

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.

GOOD TO KNOW: If admiring local wildlife is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua, make sure to go to the wildlife refuge Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor, which is at about 20 km south of San Juan del Sur. It’s a place where turtles lay their eggs – between 9:00 pm and 2:00 am, between July and January. It can be visited on a guided tour leaving from San Juan del Sur.

One of the best places to stay in San Juan del Sur is the Rancho Chilamate Horse Ranch. The surroundings are just amazing!

Discover Tola Beaches and Maderas Beaches

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.

places to visit in Nicaragua

Things to do in Nicaragua: visit Corn Island – photo courtesy of Brian Johnson and Dane Kantner

Relax in the Corn Islands

Caribbean paradise couldn’t get much better than this. Visiting the Corn Islands is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. These two small islands that have little bays, coves and underwater caves are located 70 km away from the east coast of Nicaragua.

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.

Life is slow in the Corn Islands: these are the places to visit in Nicaragua to relax, snorkel, dive, 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!

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: In order to get to Great Corn Island, catch a flight from Managua via Bluefields or a boat ride 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.

Places to visit in Nicaragua: Rio San Juan - photo courtesy of Chiara

Places to visit in Nicaragua: Rio San Juan – photo courtesy of Chiara

Get lost in 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 if you love 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. You can get there by boat from San Carlos, on Lake Nicaragua. 

From Boca de Sábalos it is possible to visit the Reserva Biológica Río Indio-Maíz, one of the most impressive rainforests in Central America. 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.

Go to El Castillo

Easily reached from Boca de Sábalos or San Carlos, and on the way to Reserva Biológica Río Indio-Maíz, El Castillo makes for a nice stop. It is a fortress built by the Spaniards in 1675 to stop the pirates going to Granada. It was sacked many times, including once by Horatio Nelson. 

Discover Solentiname Archipelago

One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is visiting Solentiname Archipelago. This is made of 36 small islands and located on the southern shores of Lake Nicaragua and it became famous as the place where the priest Ernesto Cardenal founded a rural community in the 1960s. It is a great place for bird-watching, hiking, and just meeting the interesting local community. 

The main island is Mancarron, and there you will be able to visit Cardenal chapel, which is decorated with paintings by Roger Perez de la Rocha. 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: you can get to Solentiname by boat from San Carlos.

Things to do in Nicaragua

Eating gallo pinto for breakfast is one of the things to do in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of Christel Stol

Try all the local specialties

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.

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 famous, you won’t have troubles finding good eats. Gallo pinto (rice and beans) is the national staple, and chances are you’ll have it for every meal.

Other local favorites include patacones (fried plantain croquettes, which can be accompanied by queso, a mild local cheese); vigoron, a dish made of a cabbage salad, yucca and chicharrones (pork scratchings) served on a banana leaf. Quesillos are delicious, filling and a real cholesterol 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 liter. There even is Nicaraguan wine, but you can honestly pass on that! 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.

GOOD TO KNOW: Water is supposedly safe to drink in some places in Nicaragua, but it’s probably best to avoid tap water and opt for bottled one or bring a filter with you. Restaurants and bars use purified water for ice and to prepare food, so it usually is safe to eat and drink.

Go to Estelì

If you are exhausted from the heat of Nicaragua, pack your bags and head straight to Estelì for a change. I bet you will enjoy having to cover with a blanket to sleep! 

To be fair, the city is nothing special. But the surroundings are packed with beautiful places and it is worth making the effort to go. The best thing to do in the area is visiting the waterfalls. The most famous one is Tisey Estanzuela, which you can reach on a cheap taxi ride.

GOOD TO KNOW: Other further away waterfalls are Colocondo and Quiabuc Las Brisas, but these require a bit more of an effort to go – and possible a guided day trip.

Visit a tobacco plantation

Chances are that if you think of tobacco and cigars, the first country that comes to your mind is Cuba. But – check this out – Nicaragua actually has its very own tobacco plantations, and the know-how to grow tobacco was actually brought to the country by Cubans who fled the revolution.

Not far from Estelì, you will find several cigar factories that you can visit for a few dollars. You will obviously be able to buy cigars (but keep in mind they need humidity and to be refrigerated in order to last) and you can even have a go at rolling one yourself.

Visit Reserva Natural Miraflor

Close to Estelì, this nature reserve is a paradise for bird-watching, hiking, horse riding and more waterfalls. You will be able to spot orchids, various species of birds, and even howler monkeys. As the reserve is run by the local community, you will also have the chance to experience a stay with a local family – it’s one of the best things to do in Nicaragua.

Marvel at the Cliff Carvings of El Tisey

North of Estelì you will find El Tisey, a place where Alberto Gutiérrez Jirón spent 30 years carving all sorts of figures on the side of a cliff located in his family coffee plantation. The place is overall very pleasant to visit – and the experience definitely enhanced by the presence of Alberto, who will take you around his open air gallery. You can visit on your way back from Estanzuela waterfall.

Enjoy nature at Bosawas Biosphere Reserve

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, Bosawas Biosphere Reserve is a massive rainforest home to an incredible variety of wildlife. Though spotting the jaguar is practically mission impossible, you can still admire several species of birds and monkeys. 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You need a guide and a permit to visit the reserve, as it really is a remote place and easy to get lost. Expeditions need to be properly arranged as you’ll have to plan for food and drinks, and you really must go there well equipped in terms of clothing and prepared for a high level of discomfort. The reserve is at about 350 km north of Managua, and best accessed from Siuna, where you will find a Bosawas Office.

things to do in Nicaragua

Visit Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon

Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To 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 bet you are thinking that you don’t mind the heat too much, but trust me: you will end up sweating so much that you won’t think about visiting Estelì and the surrounding mountains twice, just to have a break.

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.

places to visit in Nicaragua: Cerro Negro

Things to do in Nicaragua: enjoy amazing sunsets

Arriving in Nicaragua

The only international airport in Nicaragua is Managua. There is a $10 USD entry fee that all visitors have to pay (it’s just $2 USD if you cross by land). 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 you are entering one of the four countries you 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

You can 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, where you have to pay a $2 USD exit fee.

Not many people actually use this crossing, and in fact I recommend not to as well (and that’s because I have done it myself a couple of times). 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 you may 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.

Make sure to read my post Latin America Border Crossing: What You Need To Know.”

Things to do in Nicaragua

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 35 Cordobas for one US Dollar at the moment. Dollars are widely accepted, and in any case you can exchange them at any bank.

Furthermore, money can be exchanged even in the street. At any corner in the center 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 – just make sure to count how much you need to change and calculate how much you should expect in return.

Safety issues

People sometimes ask me if it is safe to visit Nicaragua. You will probably hear stories of people being robbed, but I have always felt safe there even as a solo female traveller. In fact, I find it to be one of the safest countries in Latin America.

The safety measures you need to adopt are the usual one: keep an eye on my belongings and avoid walking alone and in the dark in areas that are not considered safe, but other than that, you shouldn’t have any problems even when taking the bus.

Make sure to get 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!

Moving around Nicaragua

One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is traveling 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 you 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 you even get to see the odd chicken every now and then. 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

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 colorful. Some buses have been beautifully restored: newly painted and decorated, the ones that cover longer distances even have flat screen tv and a good sound system.

Taxis in Nicaragua are very cheap, and usually have a fixed price per area. Make sure to ask how much it will be to go to your destination before getting on board, and if you are traveling long distance barter a bit – but drivers tend to be honest. Taxis are shared, which means that even if there’s already someone 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.

Hitching rides is common, but use your good judgement before doing so.

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. As for a backpack, I recommend 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 Havianas– 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.
      • One or two pair of shorts.
      • Hiking pants, or leggings – if planning to hike.
      • A pair of jeans if going to the mountains, where it is cooler.
      • A sun dress and a skirt.
      • A few t-shirts and tops.
      • A fleece sweater – it may get chilly in the mountains in the evening. Also carry a light scarf.
      • A waterproof jacket, because it may rain. I love the one by The North Face.
      • A bikini, for those beach days.
      • A toiletry bag with shampoo and conditioner, a soap or shower gel, toothbrush and toothpaste, a good sunblock, deodorant, and mosquito repellent.
      • 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.

Also bring a day pack to carry sunglasses, camera, powerbank, wallet and travel documents, and even a travel guide book (you can’t really rely on the internet).

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Read about the things to do in Nicaragua - via @clautavani

 

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These pictures of Indonesia will feed your wanderlust

These pictures of Indonesia will feed your wanderlust

For as much as I intended to, I never seemed to be able to make it to South East Asia. Something kept me from going – either I had no money for the flight, or I had some commitments that took me to the other side of the Atlantic. My trip to Indonesia happened in a real whirlwind. I got my plane tickets on a Monday, and left on a Thursday. I won’t lie here – Indonesia was a huge cultural shock to me. I am used to the big, empty spaces of countries like Nicaragua, or to the emptiness of the rural areas of Sardinia. My trip was very fast paced and I did not get to spend nearly as much time as I wanted in each location. Nevertheless, I had a blast and truly enjoyed the country, its culture, the sights and the people, and I am eager to visit again and spend more time exploring.

The following pictures show just a fraction of what Indonesia has to offer. Although I only spent 3 weeks there, I know it is a new favorite of mine and I will want to go back. Seeing these pictures will most likely make anybody want to go too!

My trip started on a hot day in Jakarta. Thankfully, I had no commitments then. I was so tired from the long flights and jet lag that I just relaxed at the lovely infinity pool of the hotel.

 

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The trip then took me to Tangkuban Perahu, the crater of a volcano not far from Bandung.

 

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That’s where I also had my first encounter with the locals. I was literally stopped and asked to be in their pictures. It was funny, and I felt very welcome.

 

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The light in Indonesia immediately captured my attention. It was always stunning!

 

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Kawah Putih is another volcano crater, but it has a fantastic bright green lake that shined against the grey sky.

 

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Seeing the sunrise at Borobudur, the world’s biggest Buddhist monument, was an out-of-this-world kind of experience. It was simply magic!

 

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I also enjoyed visiting Yogyakarta and getting to see a bit of local action.

 

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Rato Boko Keraton is a interesting place to visit, although under the blistering sun it can be a bit overwhelming. Nevertheless, it was lovely to take pictures there – mind you, those steps were blistering hot!

 

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And Prambanan temple is an absolute must see, both at sunset

 

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And at night.

 

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photo courtesy of Juan Jerez Del Valle

 

Yogyakarta has some interesting street art too.

 

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And the light is great for taking pictures, especially insite the Royal Palace.

 

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photo courtesy of Juan Jerez Del Valle

 

Mount Bromo was a demanding stop on my tour, as I had to wake up at 2 am to see the sunrise over it. It was challenging especially as the sun did not seem to want to come out! But when it finally did, I got to see this…

 

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Next stop was Labuan Bajo, on Eastern Indonesia, which welcomed me with an incredible sunset.

 

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I got the chance to volunteer with the children of Taman Bacaan Pelangi in Melo Village, and it was an enlightening (not to mention a lot of fun) experience.

 

Volunteering in Melo

 

Komodo National Park, spread over the islands of Komodo and Rinca, was by far the highlight of my trip. There, I saw the Komodo dragons.

 

hunting komodo

 

And got some of the best views one can imagine.

 

Gunung Ara

 

I also made it to the Pink Beach – I found paradise there!

 

Pink Beach Paradise

 

The final stop was Bali. And there are few words that can describe how marvelous the sunsets there are. The ones in Kuta Beach…

 

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The ones from Ulu Watu…

 

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Bali is inhabited by some funny and mean monkeys. They tried stealing my sunglasses, but did not manage.

 

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And the rice patties, so green, so beautiful…

 

 

 

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photo courtesy of Juan Jerez Del Valle

 

There is no doubt that I will want to visit Indonesia again.

Have you been to Indonesia? What was your favorite attraction there?

Legal Disclaimer: This article was written in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia as part of the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. 

Sardinia dos and donts: what to do in Sardinia

Sardinia dos and donts: what to do in Sardinia

Best beaches in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords of Cala Domestica

Best beaches in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords of Cala Domestica

Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sartiglia

Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sartiglia in Oristano – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia

Things to do in Sardinia

Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sant’Efisio parade of traditional Sardinia costumes – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia

Where to go in Sardinia: Roman ruins and lighthouse in Nora

Where to go in Sardinia: Roman ruins and lighthouse in Nora

Visit Sardinia: Barumini

Visit Sardinia: Su Nuraxi – Barumini

At the heart of the Mediterranean, Sardinia will make you feel like you are a world apart from the rest of the world. Here you can switch off from your daily routine, without having to cross an ocean; you can enjoy lush nature, incredible beaches, wild mountains, tasty food and a secular cultural traditions. The good news is that although it is almost mythologically described as a place for a few rich people, it can actually be visited on a budget and there are so many things to do in Sardinia that you could spend a year without ever getting bored.

Here are a few simple rules for your low budget holidays. For more ideas on things to do in Sardinia, check my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia”.

Dos

Do book your flight in advance, making sure you catch one during the week (avoid weekends) and playing around with the dates (be flexible). This way you can even catch a round trip ticket for less than €50. There are three airports: Alghero, Cagliari and Olbia, all a great starting point for a tour of the island. Most budget airlines have fights to Sardinia from a number of cities in Italy and Europe.

Do use public transport: it links the main cities, villages and tourist destinations. While a bit slow, it is cheap enough, and once you get to your destination you can walk, rent a bike, or participate in organised tours that offer pick up services. For information on bus and train schedules visit the pages of ARST and Trenitalia.

Do consider a car rental. A splurge if travelling alone or as a couple, but if there is a few of you it may actually turn out cheap and you will have the opportunity to roam around independently. Most well known agencies have stands at the airport and are quite convenient. But book in advance to catch special deals.

Do book your accommodation early. Most cities have budget places and all tourist destinations provide camping sites. Rooms are easy to find in the low season, but during the summer, when Sardinia is at its peak season, it may be harder to get cheap accommodation. Camping sites are good options if you can carry your tent, and they often have bungalows for rent.

If travelling in a group, do consider holiday home rentals: prices are surprisingly cheap and estate agencies and apartments can be easily found online. Considering you will have your own kitchen, your budget will benefit in the end.

Do enjoy your days at some of the best beaches in Sardinia, which all have free access: carry your umbrella, towel and plenty of sunblock and relax for free.

Do go on a boat tour: some of Sardinia best beaches, especially in the Golfo di Orosei or La Maddalena, can only reached this way. Although not too cheap it is completely worth it. Do book a day or two in advance!

Best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Luna

Best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Luna

Do go on a free trekking: hiking is one of the best ways to visit Sardinia. There is a gorgeous path to Cala Goloritzé leaving from the Altipiano del Golgo; a well signaled hike to Cala Domestica; a roughly 2 hours walk from Cala Fuili to Cala Luna; or try any of the trails in Isola dell’Asinara.

Do enjoy free festivals and cultural events. If you are searching for what to do in Sardinia and feeling in the mood for some cultural activity, you will be glad to know that on first of May Cagliari hosts the spectacular “parata di Sant’Efisio”: people from villages all over Sardinia, wearing their traditional dresses, go on a march in honour of the Saint patron of the island (Sant’Efisio). In February, the beautiful Sartiglia takes place in Oristano: men (and women) wearing traditional carnival costumes gallop down a street mounded with sand as fast as they can and attempt skewering a hanging star using their foil – pure adrenaline.

If you are a jazz and nature lover, don’t miss Time in Jazz in Berchidda, patroned by trumpet player and native Paolo Fresu. Picture a whole week of jazz, across a number of villages in the area, with open air concerts (free to attend) and the possibility to stay in camping sites. This is only one of the many jazz festivals here: listening to live quality music is one of the things to do in Sardinia.

Do enjoy nightlife in Cagliari: locals go out no earlier than 10 pm. You can either walk around Largo Carlo Felice, or, for some fresh air, Libarium, in Castello, which has a great terrace and view of the city; or Caffè degli Spiriti or De Candia in the Bastione – the lattest occasionally have some live concerts: look for local bands such as Sikitikis for real fun. Cocktails cost between € 7 and 9, wine and beer are cheaper (around 3 or 4 euros).

Do enjoy a romantic dinner at Quintilio, right outside Alghero, and admire the great view of the city, the bay and Capo Caccia. Sunset is the best time to go. Do book in advance to seat outside.

Do try traditional Sardinian food: piglet on the spit, malloreddus (small gnocchi), mussles soup, fregola (a sort of cous cous made with seafood), pecorino cheese, seadas (sweet fried pastries filled with cheese and topped with honey)… There is a lot of variety.

Donts

Don’t miss Isola dell’Asinara, originally a fishing community, later on a criminal colony, a peasant colony and leprosy centre, and a maximum security jail; it was finally turned into a National Park in 1997. Should you not have much time to sleep on the only hostel in the island (highly recommended!), book a guided tour on a jeep. This will allow you to visit the sites of historical and natural importance, such as the historic jail of Cala d’Oliva and of Fornelli, and some of the best beaches in Sardinia, such as Cala Sabina, Cala Trabuccato and Cala d’Arena. You can also go on one of the many hikes (free and well signaled) or opt for a bike tour.

Where to go in Sardinia? Asinara, for sure!

Where to go in Sardinia? Asinara, for sure!

Asinara - Sardinia

Donkeys are the only inhabitants of Asinara, together with boars, cats, goats…

Don’t miss a sunset walk on the beautiful bastion overlooking the sea in Alghero. The same goes for Cagliari and its lovely bastion or the Poetto beach: they are gorgeous at sunset. You can’t visit Sardinia and miss a sunset here!

Don’t think Sardinia is only beautiful in the summer. It is just as nice in the winter, although weather in Sardinia can be brutal in the winter months. But of course summer is the best season to enjoy the beaches.

Don’t litter: all beaches have bins for garbage and if they don’t, carry your garbage back with your and throw where appropriate.

Don’t forget to try “gelato artigianale”: ice-cream made from scratch. Tip to know it is the real thing: it melts really fast!

Don’t miss a sip of mirto or fil’e ferru: the first one is a strong liquor made of myrtle berries. The second is more like a grappa. They are very much Sardinian!

Don’t miss the archeological sites such as the beautiful roman ruins of Nora, are easy to access from Cagliari, or the many “nuraghe” which are unique to Sardinia such as that of Barumini. Take lots of pictures!

Don’t miss some off the beaten path places, such as Is Aruttas beach, with its incredible white tiny pebbles; S’Archittu, with a rock formation in the shape of an arch, Masua Pan di Zucchero, Buggerru and Cala Domestica, and Porto Pino, famous for its sand dunes.

Sardinia best beaches: Masua Pan di Zucchero

Sardinia best beaches: Masua Pan di Zucchero

Don’t be afraid to communicate with Sardinians, as they are very friendly. They may not all speak English, but they will always help out.

Don’t forget to read my other posts on Sardinia for more information and to ask me if you have any more questions!

Where to go in Sardinia: the North-West and the West Coast

Where to go in Sardinia: the North-West and the West Coast

Villanova Monteleone, yet one reason to visit Sardinia

Villanova Monteleone, yet one reason to visit Sardinia

Isola dell’Asinara and Stintino:

Let’s face it, sometimes we want to get away from it all. Are you looking for where to go in Sardinia for when you feel like staying immersed in nature and enjoying more more of the best beaches in Sardinia? Then, visit Isola dell’Asinara. It is not hard to get there: from Castel Sardo or Alghero, go to Stintino. You won’t have any problem in finding a cheap bed and breakfast for one night. The following morning, hop on a ferry from the harbour of Stintino to Fornelli. My advice if you have little time is to book the guided tour of the island on a jeep (you can look for one of the companies running the tour on the official webpage of the island, which unfortunately is only in Italian). This way you will visit various sites of historical and natural importance, among them the historic jails in Cala d’Oliva and Fornelli, the sanatorium, and the beautiful beaches of Cala Sabina, Cala Trabuccato and Cala d’Arena, where the sea is clean, transparent and full of fishes. This is a protected area so nobody can go fishing. If you have more time, and are looking for more fun things to do in Sardinia, you can go on one of the many free hikes or opt for a biking tour (a bit harder, under the sun!). Finally, Asinara is also great for diving.

Yes, Asinara is THAT gorgeous! Here are some of the best beaches in Sardinia

Yes, Asinara is THAT gorgeous! Here are some of the best beaches in Sardinia

Asinara was originally a fishing community, which later on became a criminal and leper colony, to be finally turned into a maximum security jail which hosted, among others, mafia boss Totò Riina. It was finally turned into a National Park in 1997. The island made the national and international news when, from 24 February 2010 for over a year a group of redundant workers of Vinyls (a petroleum company based in the nearby Porto Torres) occupied the old prison of Cala D’Oliva in a protest to be returned to their job.

If you visit Sardinia do not skip Asinara

Flowers at the jail window: if you visit Sardinia do not skip Asinara

My advice is to spend at least one night on the island. There is only one hostel, in Cala D’Oliva. This used to be a guest house for prison guards and it is rather plain, but the atmosphere is relaxing. There is no kitchen use but meals (dinner and breakfast) are included in the price and are consumed family style. You can also have packed lunches. There are private rooms and dorms, all with shared bathroom. The place is clean and the staff friendly, and you will have plenty of chances to get to know other guests. After dinner, go for a walk to look at the stars and enjoy the silence. In the only bar in Cala D’Oliva, where guests of the hostel meet for after dinner drinks, you will be soon enough reached by Andrea, a goat who will go around begging for salt and pats; you will see boars walking around, a number of cats and white donkeys.

Donkeys are the only inhabitants of Asinara, together with boars, cats, goats...

Donkeys are the only inhabitants of Asinara, together with boars, cats, goats…

Once you (sadly) leave Asinara, since the ferry lands in Stintino, don’t miss the chance to spend a day in one of the best beaches in Sardinia (as well as possibly the most crowded, to be honest!): La Pelosa. Fighting for a few centimeters of sand will be the price to pay in order to enjoy the gorgeous, calm sea. But it will be worth it!

La Pelosa, one of the best beaches in Sardinia. Or in the world?

La Pelosa, one of the best beaches in Sardinia. Or in the world?

Alghero and Bosa:

From Stintino it is fairly easy to reach Alghero, also known as “little Barcelona” for its catalan linguistic roots. Alghero is where to go in Sardinia if you want to feel somewhere yet more diverse. It is vibrant, lively, packed with restaurants and bars, nightlife, it is simply pretty and a must see. Near Alghero there are the some of the most famous (and crowded, but access is free) and best beaches in Sardinia: Le Bombarde and Il Lazzaretto. A bit further away and harder to reach, the gorgeous Argentiera, with its transparent water and its old minerary village behind.

Things to do in Sardinia: go to the beach AND visit a mine, all in the same day

Things to do in Sardinia: go to the beach AND visit a mine, all in the same day – Argentiera

Near Alghero there also is Capocaccia, from where you can access the Neptune Caves (you can walk down the over 600 steps, and then back up, to keep extra fit). This is also where you can go on one of the best dives in Sardinia.

Things to do in Sardinia: diving in Capocaccia

Things to do in Sardinia: diving in Capocaccia

Looking for what to do in Sardinia on a lazy afternoon? About 40 minutes south by car, there is Bosa, a lovely colorful small town on the river Temo. From the Castle of Malaspina you can admire a great view.

Visiting Bosa: what to do in Sardinia on a lazy afternoon - a view from the Malaspina Castle

Visiting Bosa: what to do in Sardinia on a lazy afternoon – a view from the Malaspina Castle

Where to stay and eat

There are many hotels and b&bs in Alghero, geared to all budgets: it is a top tourist destination. Book in advance as rooms sell out quickly. There are also a number of camping sites: among them La Mariposa, Camping Village Laguna Blu, and Torre del Porticciolo.

One of the best activities when you visit Sardinia is going on a sunset walk on the beautiful bastion overlooking the sea, and across the small streets of the historic centre, with its many lovely shops and boutiques. You can eat in one of the many restaurants. For a good pizza, go to Il Vecchio Mulino. If you are in search of a romantic atmosphere, Quintilio is right outside town and has a spectacular view over the city, the bay and up to Capo Caccia. Go there at sunset, for an aperitif or for a light (and a bit expensive) dinner of fresh seafood. For after dinner drinks go to Baraonda.

Less touristy destinations:

Ok, that is slightly an overstatement, but anyways these are some of Sardinia best beaches which are not as crowded, a bit harder to reach but equally beautiful: Is Aruttas beach with its white crystals tiny pebbles;

Sardinia best beaches: is Aruttas

Sardinia best beaches: is Aruttas

Funny rock formations at Is Aruttas

Funny rock formations at Is Aruttas

S’Archittu, with a rock formation in the shape of an arch. In the Sulcis area, Masua Pan di Zucchero

Masua Pan di Zucchero - sunset on the South West coast is a must when you visit Sardinia

Masua Pan di Zucchero – sunset on the South West coast is a must when you visit Sardinia

Buggerru and Cala Domestica (the latter also offers a beautiful and free trekking through a well signaled path) all deserve a visit, possibly in addition to a tour of the old mines.

Where to go in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords in Cala Domestica

Where to go in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords in Cala Domestica

Last but not least, Porto Pino, famous for its sand dunes.

Find out more things to do in Sardinia on my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”

Visit Sardinia on a budget: the East Coast and the North

Visit Sardinia on a budget: the East Coast and the North

Where to go in Sardinia for your budget holiday

Su Gorropu and Golfo di Orisei:

If you are looking for some of the best beaches in Sardinia, head to the East coast. From Costa Rei, you can catch a bus (ARST) to Tortolì and once there go to Baunei.There are so many things to do in Sardinia, that the area also offers some of the best hikes in Europe: from Cagliari you can join one of the many guided tours to hike the Gorropu Canyon (the deepest in Europe).

Hiking Su Gorropu is one of the things to do in Sardinia

Things to do in Sardinia: go on a hike!

The trek is not difficult, but it is easy to get lost so better having a guide. For more information, ask the cooperative that watches over the canyon. Make sure to wear appropriate hiking shoes and to carry plenty of water and food. Although the path is often shaded, weather in Sardinia can get pretty extreme and it does get really hot in the summer season. Once you finish the hike, you will be in the area of Dorgali.

You can stop in Dorgali for a few nights, and stay at agriturismo Canales, completely immersed in the nature and with a gorgeous view over the lake Cedrino, and which offers delicious traditional Sardinian food. It also rents kayak to reach the source of Su Cologone.

Kayaking on Lake Cedrino - one of the things to do in Sardinia

Kayaking on Lake Cedrino – one of the things to do in Sardinia

From Dorgali, you can go to Cala Gonone, from where numerous boats leave daily to the spectacular Golfo di Orosei, taking you to some ofSardinia best beaches, that can only be reached via boat or via a hike. There are many hotels and bed and breakfasts and there is also a camping site for travellers on a tight budget. In Golfo di Orosei, do not miss the long, sandy beach of Berchida.

Berchida is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Berchida is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

From Cala Gonone, you can reach Cala Fuili, from where you can start the free trekking to the beautiful Cala Luna, set of a number of movies including the recent “Swept Away” featuring Madonna and among Sardinia best beaches.

Swept away in Cala Luna, one of Sardinia best beaches

Swept away in Cala Luna, one of Sardinia best beaches

Alternatively, you can go to Baunei and reach the plateau of Golgo (Altipiano del Golgo). From there, you can join together some of the best things to do in Sardinia – going on hikes, rafting, diving in freshwater underground caves, and visiting some of the best beaches in Sardinia. The wild wild east of Sardinia, as Lonely Planet calls it, is the best for outdoor activities. There you can sleep in a wonderful hostel immersed in nature and surrounded by animals left free to roam (there are rooms for any budget, including rustic cabins or pitching your tent, which only costs 5 euro per person per day). It is run by Cooperativa Goloritzè, which is the same that organises boat tours around the Golfo di Orosei leaving from Santa Maria Navarrese (around € 40 for the whole day, carry your own lunch), a number of hiking tours and the beautiful 7 day long backpacking trip “Selvaggio Blu” (wild blue) which takes you from beach to beach in a path across nature.

You can eat in the delicious restaurant of the hostel (between €20 and €30 per person for a set menu which is enough for 2 people, actually – so be clever and order just one and share, you will not regret it and food will not be wasted; or else, you can pay a la carte). There is also a packed lunch service. If you manage to get a tip, get the number of one of the local shepards and go have dinner at his place. It will be a rustic set meal for about €25 (including drinks), where you can fill on his production of cheese, season vegetables, culurgiones di patate (potatoes and cheese filled fresh pasta, which is a local specialty), piglet and seadas (sweet fried cheese filled pastries served hot with honey).

Things to do in Sardinia: jumping off cliffs

Things to do in Sardinia: jumping off cliffs

From Golgo plateau, you can do a number of independent and free activities, as there are hiking trails to some of Sardinia best beaches (calculate that you will be going downhill on the way there, and uphill coming back, but the duration is roughly the same) which you really can’t miss when you visit Sardinia, such as Cala Mariolu, Cala Sisine, Cala Biriola, etc., including what I value as one of the most spectacular beaches not only in Sardinia, but in the entire world: climbing paradise Cala Goloritzé.

A walk in the woods, which will eventually open up to reveal the most crystal clear, transparent water you can imagine. The beach is tiny, a real gem where several sources of fresh water end, making the sea very cold but pleasantly refreshing on hot days. Cala Goloritzé is famous for its 143 meters spire hanging over the beach, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Carry plenty of water and some food, there are no services at all on the route and at the beach.

Costa Smeralda, Arcipelago de La Maddalena, Santa Teresa di Gallura and Castel Sardo:

Going to the North of Sardinia, you can reach Olbia from Tortolì by bus. This is as a starting point to visit the world famous Costa Smeralda, home of some of the best beaches in Sardinia. If you enjoy a good nightlife, stay in San Teodoro, a lively village offering many shops, restaurants, ice cream parlours and bars. There are hotels, bed and breafasts and apartments for rents, and for those on a tight budget even a camping site. There are many beaches that can be visited in this area and, guess what?, access is free in all of them. If you travel with your own car, you will at most have to pay for parking.

You can pick among many: Cala Brandinchi, Capriccioli, Baja Sardinia, Cannigione… and go for a walk in Porto Cervo. Amongst boutiques with prices accessible only to the richest, you can still go window shopping and have a gelato (which, by the way, will cost just like anywhere else). If you wonder where to go in Sardinia for something slightly, make your way to Porto San Paolo and catch the 10 minute ferry ride for a day trip to Isola di Tavolara: nobody lives there, there is just a small hostel and a kiosk!

Tavolara is where to go in Sardinia

Tavolara is where to go in Sardinia

Further North, Palau is where to go in Sardinia to catch one of the boat tours the Maddalena Archipelago, offering the chance to visit Spargi, Budelli, Caprera and a famous beach known locally as Tahiti.

Can you deny Spargi is one of the best beaches in Sardinia?

Can you deny Spargi is one of the best beaches in Sardinia?

For information and prices, you can visit the sites www.giteinbarca.it and www.elenatour.it. Asking locally, you may be able to find a private company and local guide. This is more comfortable and faster (not to mention, there are less people on it) and if you are in a large group you may save considerably – the more people, the cheaper. Calculate an average price of € 40, but it will be totally worth it. Finally, you can rent your own small zodiac (the small ones do not require you to have a special license) if you are up to manouvering it!

Not far from Palau, there is the lovely village of Santa Teresa di Gallura and, near it, the promontory of Capo Testa. The Torre di Longosardo (built around the 14th century under instructions of the king of Spain Philip the Second) is an interesting place to visit, and is found on the outer edge of the village. Following on the same route you can reach Castelsardo, with its beautiful Castello dei Doria, a castle built in 1102, and many other monuments and places of interest.

Check out my post on the best beaches in Sardinia and read “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”