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.

Make sure to check out my post 15 Cool Things To Do In Granada Nicaragua.”

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.

For more information about this fantastic city, check out my post A Complete Guide To Leon Nicaragua.”

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.

Check out my post A Complete Guide To Ometepe, Nicaragua.

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.

Check out my post “All The Nicaraguan Food You Should Try.”

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.

Make sure to check out my post Everything You Must Know About Chicken Buses.

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 pantsicon, 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 sweatericon.
    – 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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144 thoughts on “33 Awesome Things To Do In Nicaragua”

  1. What an interesting article! I’m particularly fascinated by the chicken buses! How do you know how long it takes to get to somewhere? It seems like a fairly laid back lifestyle to me, which sounds great!

  2. The food, colors, history, and your photos really bring this little country into the fore-front. I have never been but it looks spectacular. And how can you not pine for Corn Island.

  3. Lovely post! You definitely hit the highlights of Nicaragua. We live on Ometepe Island. Your photos are gorgeous and very representative of our beautiful and diverse adopted country. Thanks again. I thoroughly enjoyed this post.
    .

  4. Well, there are rough estimates for the chicken buses, and they are usually right. The thing is, once on board you get to see that if the bus had real stops and did not just stop anytime someone wants to get on or off in the middle of nowhere or right in front of their door, it would be much faster. But the thing is, who cares? It is so much fun, there are so many things to do in Nicaragua, that this is literally an attraction too 🙂

  5. So many places to visit in Nicaragua. It just is an incredible country and I can’t wait to go back. I will, for sure. And will most likely end up stuck in Leon again, because I love it there 🙂

  6. Wow your photos are stunning! I’m wanderlusting bigtime after Nicaragua now 🙂
    Simone

  7. We were in Nicaragua a few months ago and to our surprise we really liked hanging out at San Juan Del Sur. The nearby beaches are beautiful and so much less crowded than a similar beach in Costa Rica for example. Besides you can’t beat $7 for lobster or around $10 for a huge plate of seafood rice for two people.

  8. I agree! It just is an incredible country – so many things to do in Nicaragua, some of the best beaches in Central America… volcanoes, lakes, jungle… I love it.

  9. I love what you guys are usually up too. This kind of clever work and reporting!
    Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to blogroll.

  10. This is such a great resource and I am definitely bookmarking this for someday. Honestly I have seen so little written about Nicaragua and know so little about it. I’d heard of beautiful beaches and coastline but not that the country has such a rich and interesting history. I’d be especially interested in visiting the archaeological sites as they completely fascinate me how, without modern machinery, they put these places together hundreds of years ago.

  11. I am jealous! I loved it there. Loved the pace of life, loved the people. I was caught in a thunderstorm on Christmas day in Balgue. I ran to seek refuge and the only thing I could find was actually someone’s home. Everybody was sitting around in the patio, playing guitars and singing to celebrate Christmas. I walked in and just said “Feliz Navidad!” and they welcomed me with a chair and kept doing what they were doing – having a blast! It was amazing. How often do you get to do this? Imagine the same happening in Italy – my family would call the police!! Yes. Ometepe is definitely among Nicaragua tourist attractions

  12. There aren’t many archeological sites, but there are many places to visit in Nicaragua that would interest you. I agree, there isn’t much around in terms of blogs and online resources on Nicaragua, not as many as for other places. I went there almost unprepared and not expecting much, and I ended up falling completely in love with it. My favourite country in Central America, for sure!

  13. A very thorough guide as a basis for planning a visit. Leon looks beautiful, love the architecture you show and because hiking is always high on our list of things to do it looks like the area has some excellent spots for that.

  14. Hiking is among the things to do in Nicaragua. Leon is like a second home for me. I just… love it! I have friends there <3

  15. what stunning beaches. I’d love to visit Nicaragua – and I’ll definitely be back to research my trip more through your site.

    xx

  16. I am dying to go to Nicaragua. All these colourful houses and that beach on Corn Island look awesome. As do the volcanoes. Great summary.

  17. Such a helpful, informative post! I need a re-do in Nicaragua because I had such terrible luck there, I didn’t fully enjoy my experience or make the most of my time. My visit to Granada was particularly disappointing because I had a nasty case of food poinsoning. Ah, well, one day I’ll return!

  18. I can’t wait to travel to Nicaragua. It seems so cheap. can’t believe that a meal for $3

  19. Wow. This is an epic post Claudia! Bookmarking in case I go to Nicaragua anytime soon. 🙂

  20. Great informative post – lots of information for when we all visit! Great photos too – really brings the country to life. I can’t say it’s top of my list but I really should get there at some point. I’ve heard it’s a really friendly country.

  21. That really ruins it, I know. I feel the same about Panama. I think you should go back – there are so many places to visit in Nicaragua that I am sure you can have a great time next time around!

  22. Nicaragua never is on anybody’s bucket list. Then, they go and fall in love with it! That’s been the case for me 🙂

  23. Wow! I’m impressed! This could easily have been a complete guide in an e-book format at least! Some lovely photos too! I especially love the one of Leon Cathedral and the one that is right below it!

  24. Thank you for this post. I am heading to Nicaragua in November. I have been to Central America 4 times and I cannot get enough. I am glad that I am finally going to make it there!! Thanks for a detailed post.

  25. Nicaragua kind of reminds me of Colombia. Even the chicken bus bear resemblance to the Rumba bus in Colombia. This is a really comprehensive article. Great job!

  26. What a thorough and wanderlust inspiring post!! Thank you for all this information! I will definitely pin it for future reference

  27. I understand you – it is addictive. You will love it there – so many things to do in Nicaragua that you can easily spend months 🙂

  28. I don’t know. I have been to both and no, I don’t think they look alike actually. But I love them both 🙂

  29. What a great guide on Nicaragua! I also have a friend from Nicaragua that appreciated it, too.

  30. Wow this is very extensive. We are going in Feb 2016 so going to bookmark it and use it as a guide for when I can picture our route. Thanks for this post – a lot of hard work has went into it obviously.

  31. For the best time in Nicaragua which international airport would I want to arrive in? Staying about 7 days there.

  32. There only is one international airport in Nicaragua – which is Managua. It actually is a small country.

  33. Greetings Claudia and thank you for sharing this article. Very nicely done! As more people come to visit Nicaragua, short guides like yours are helpful to folks planning their vacations. I’ve been living here for almost five years now, and I see lots of improvement in infrastructure and a wider arrange of lodging and tour options than ever before. For example, back in the day, the idea that there would be at least one and possibly more real five-star resorts in Nicaragua was sort of far-fetched but now here are even offerings for those looking for luxury travel experiences!

  34. Hello Claudia, I would like to ask you some advice. I can only allow myself 10 days in nicaragua, I love hiking, visiting cities, surfing and diving, how would you recommand me to plan my trip ?

  35. Hello Yasmine,

    thank you for contacting me. 10 days in Nicaragua aren’t many but still sufficient to get an overview. However, most of the diving is on the Caribbean side and with the limited time you have I am not sure you will manage to get there.

    In terms of cities, stick to Leon and Granada. I think 3 days are sufficient in Granada, and on one of those days you can go on an out of town tour going to Masaya and another on the Laguna de Apoyo. Then 3 in Leon and you can use one for Cerro Negro and one for surfing at Las Penitas. And then, if you like hiking, do go to Isla de Ometepe.

    The way you structure the itinerary depends on where you land/how you arrive in the country!

    Let me know if you have more questions,

    Best,

    Claudia

  36. Hey Claudia,
    You touched on the English a bit, but I’m wondering, with my very limited Espanol, are there certain areas i should avoid? Or will it be tough to get around the country?

  37. You will be absolutely fine! Anybody working in the tourism industry speaks a bit of English and if they don’t… it is time to practice your Spanish!

  38. This was very informatiive Claudia! Thank you so much. I am going to Nicaragua for 6 days very soon. Am I being too ambitious by wanting to visit Leon for 2 days, Granada for 2 days, and being in San Juan del Sur for Saturday and Sunday? According to your article it sounds like I should skip San Juan del Sur all together and head to Isla de Ometepe. Ahhh choices!

  39. We are planning to retire to Nicaragua this year, why is permanent residents so difficult to obtain thank you Armand veilleux.?

  40. I don’t blame you for wanting to visit so much! But if I were you, with only 6 days available, I would stick to Granada (and surroundings) and Leon (and surroundings). Otherwise, you would end up spending too much time moving from one place to the other! Have fun and let me know how you get along ok? 🙂

  41. I am not sure what your question is, Armand. I am not from Nicaragua. I have just visited several times. You may want to consider reading some other blogs of expats who may be able to provide the information you need 🙂 Let me know how you get along!

  42. Thanks Claudia for this post. I must put Nicaragua on my bucket list of future travel destinations.

  43. I LOVED this article!! You did an excellent and thorough job discussing Nicaragua. I am glad you feel in love and speak so highly of my beautiful Nica! I wish you much success and hope to one day be able to travel and blog as well and as much as you!! For now, I’m just starting out 🙂

  44. The obsession you have with Nicaragua I have with Colombia, but Nicaragua is next on my list! So I will bookmark this article for future plans 🙂

  45. Colombia is a great country to be obsessed with!! Let me know what you think of Nicaragua when you visit 🙂

  46. I stumbled across your site and love this posting. My hubby and I went for our first trip to Nicaragua 2 years ago while celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and absolutely fell in love with Leon. We’ll be heading back because we want to do Granada and the Caribbean side. You’ve done a really nice job here of being descriptive, helpful and exciting enough to make me want to move up my trip (plan to go back in 2017). Well done.

  47. Make me jealous, first thing in the morning – will you? I was hoping I’d be able to go again this year, but it looks like I have to postpone a bit 🙁

  48. Hi Claudia,
    I am looking to go to Nicaragua in early May for my honeymoon – you mention best timeto go is November through April – hoping it will still be ok – any intel you have would be greatly appreciated?

  49. Hi Claudia! Thank you so much for your amazing and detailed write up. I’m planning to go visit Nicaragua in March, though I have only 10 days to do so. I see that you recommend sticking around Leon and Granada for short trips and although I love this kind of cities (I’m a latin american myself), I’m looking to get a little lost in nature mostly. I’m an amateur photographer looking to get some good shots of this beautiful country and it’s volcanos and nature. Are there any particular places you can recommend to me? Given my limited amount of time I’ll probably rent a car so I can move around faster and with more freedom, so if you have any favorite spots even if they are far from Granada I’d love to hear about them! Also, what do you think about camping? I’d be prepared for heat and mosquitoes but besides that do you think it is feasible/safe/convenient ?
    Thank you so much!

  50. Hey Adam! Thanks for your comment. At that time of year the weather in Nicaragua is hot, very hot. But… that is always! You may get some showers, but that is still not the peak of the rain season which usually is around September. It should be ok to travel, I think!

  51. If you love nature, you should not miss Isla de Ometepe. Two volcanoes on one island, lots of rain forest, wildlife, a lagoon… can’t get better than that! Re. camping: I haven’t done it myself. I think some hostels there do rent some places where you can pitch a tent. I wouldn’t go about pitching randomly, and not just in Nicaragua: anywhere in the world! Jealous that you are going!!

  52. Pingback: Favorite Destination- Nicaragua - Team Cairo's Website!
  53. Hello,
    I appreciate your blog, as I am hoping to be in Nicaragua for 3 weeks this July. I need a little help, though. I would like to travel from the Pacific to Caribbean coast and stop along the way, but can’t seem to find accommodations. I usually use AirBNB, but they only list on the Pacific or Caribbean side, but nothing in between. Are there really no hostels, homes, rentals in the interior of Nicaragua? Any information would be greatly appreciated!

  54. Hi Jenny, I am not sure where you are going to stop so I can’t tell for sure. But there normally are lots of places where travelers can stay. May not be an apartment, but surely a hostel! Why don’t you tell me where you are going and we can see what’s available?

  55. How Claudia, I am going to Managua on a business trip next week for 5 days. I am a bit concerned about Zika virus. Have you seen many mosquitos in Nicaragua? We mostly will be in the city, but I know that there will be at least one trip to a rural area and I am quite worried.

  56. Hi Kate, I am not a doctor so I can’t comment on technical issues. My friend Mike Huxley at Bemused Backpacker is a nurse specialized in travel medicine (and a great blogger) and he can comment on the specific issue in a more appropriate and professional way. My experience is that there aren’t lots of mosquitos in Nicaragua. I have only seen a few in Granada. I have traveled through malaria areas and I generally find that wearing long, light pants, closed shoes and even a long sleeves light t-shirt is a good way to keep mosquitoes away. And I spray whatever skin is exposed with DEET or a good mosquito repellent. I know that it is possible to get clothes treated so that they keep mosquitos away, even if the clothes get washed. You may want to look into that?

  57. Pingback: 9 Reasons to Visit Nicaragua
  58. Hi Clauida!
    Brilliant piece! Such quality information! Thanks so much.
    My girlfriend and I are heading to Nicaragua in July for 10 nights (unfortunately not long enough, after reading your blog!!!!) and we are thinking Leon, Granada & San Juan del Sur, is this too much domestic travel for only a short stay? Would you suggest Leon first, then continue further south? Any advice given will be greatly appreciated! Thanks heaps!

  59. I am so jealous you are going!! 10 days is a good time to get a decent idea of the country. If I were you, though, I’d go to Leon, from which you can reach the beaches of Poneloya and Las Penitas, then to Granada, and finally in Isla de Ometepe. Ometepe is simply a MUST! I mean, if I had to pick between San Juan del Sur and Ometepe, I would go to Ometepe for sure 🙂

  60. Hi Claudia,

    Thank you very much for the great information, what a wonderful blog. I am going to Nicaragua in November with my family (my parents and my 2 kids: 4 years old and 18 months). We will be there for 10 days and spending 5 nights in SJDS at pelican eyes and then 2 nights at Morgan’s rock. We have 3 nights left and I would love to go to Ometepe but I was wondering if that would be too much travelling for 2 nights? and then we would head to Managua for our last night to be close to the airport for an early flight. Or, we could either go to Leon or Granada for 3 nights and leave directly from there to go to the airport. Any advice on the last part of our trip ? Thank you so much !

  61. That’s a tough call I would say! Ometepe is GORGEOUS, but so are Leon and Granada! I think I would perhaps just go to Granada and explore the city (which is darling) and the surroundings and book a taxi or a shuttle to take me back to the airport early in the morning and thus avoid sleeping in Managua. It all really depends on what you guys like doing though. Hope this helps!

  62. Hey Claudia! Have you spent any time around the North Pacific coast near León? I’m looking for information for a trip I have there, and it seems very limited (other than Poneloya and Las Peñitas) where to go and how to get there. Let me know if have any resources. thanks!

  63. Near Leon, I have been to Poneloya and Las Penitas which are really easy to reach and lovely. Poneloya has more of a local feel, most tourists go to Las Penitas. I don’t know of other places that may be attractive to foreigners but if you want I can check with my friend who lives there!

  64. Hi Claudia! first of all congrats for your nice and usefull blog:) its being very usefull all the info you have posted.
    Im about buy my ticket to Nicaragua, and would be starting on 1 November to 1 December, but im very worried about the weather;
    i have read that November is the beggining of the “dry” seasson, but as im arriving day 1, it is also the end of the “rainy” seasson so im not sure if its the best time in that therms, what do you think? one of my goals its do do some surfing, (im justa begginer) ,so the weather also its important for that.And, last question, November, how the temperatures are? should i have a rain jacket? its hot in general or should i get a proper clothing? Thank very much in advance

  65. Dear German, thank you so much for your kind words! I am glad you are finding my blog useful, that’s why I have created this 🙂
    You will love Nicaragua, and I admit I am jealous that you are going. It is my most favorite country in the world! As for the weather – don’t worry too much. You may be hitting the tail of the rain season, but even then I hardly believe you will be affected by it. The weather changes all the time anyways. It will be HOT for sure, that is a given – if you do need to get a break from the heat you may want to opt for Esteli, where it gets nice and cool at night. As for a rain jacket: personally, I always take mine because you never really know. If you decide to hike up a volcano, for example, it can get really windy and chilly too so it may be useful.
    Safe travels, and anything else you need, let me know.

  66. Great and very informative article!
    We’re planning a two week trip to Nica in Januari with our 4-year old son.
    I was thinking about doing a homestay in Miraflor. Bt still in doubt if it is worth the long and difficult trip. Have you done this before? Or do you know other places to experience a homestay?
    Our trip will be: Granada –> Ometepe –> Leon –> Las Penitas –> Esteli (Miraflor) –> Masaya
    Thanks for your advice!
    Leen

  67. Hello there! I haven’t been to Miraflor, but it is close to Esteli so I assume fairly easy to reach? I am afraid I don’t know more about it. I think that you are doing a bit too much for a 2 weeks trip anyways. I understand that there are a lot of things to do in Nicaragua and you want to do them all, but If I were you, I would stick to this:

    Granada, a day trip to Masaya (you can do it with a local agency, I can offer some names via private message if you send me an email), Ometepe, Leon and a day trip to Las Penitas (about 20 minutes by bus), and Esteli.

  68. Hi Claudia, your article helps me decide what country I want to visit first. Thank you for putting this piece together, it inspires me more to explore. I’ve never travelled to another country before and I am very young. I’ve been doing research about teaching english for a little while then come back home just to experience something different. Nicaragua is a country I’m looking at to teach in, but would like to visit it first for a bit before I live there for a while. I would have to find someone to go with me. I’m afraid of going alone & don’t know how I’ll be on my own. I know some Spanish too. Just started working in a career that is totally different from teaching english but thought I could teach temporarily then go back to healthcare profession when I come back. Just want to experience another country & hopefully more countries before I turn 30. I’m not married nor have kids.

  69. Hey Lacie! I advise that you go to Leon and stay at Posada la Gordita. Monica is a friend of mine. She’s Guatemalan-Canadian, she is a wonderful person, and her place is a quiet and safe haven in the city (which is safe, btw). That is a good place to stay to begin feeling more comfortable even if you are on your own, Monica is a wonderful host, an amazing person, and you can count on her. I became close friends with her after staying there myself and now her Posada is my home any time I am in Leon. Hope this helps!

  70. Ciao Claudia,
    I’m looking to go to Nicaragua next year in mid-April and hope the rainy season will not have started yet and above all that the whales wills still be around. I’m planning to travel with my 6 and half year old son. He’s a great traveler (he has a few stamps in his passport!) but was wondering if you’ve seen families with children doing hikes, bird watching or simply hanging around the beaches. Is hiring cars recommended? Chicken buses are always a good way to travel locally and don’t mind them for shortish trips having my boy with me (I’ve done 24hrs ones but it’s a different story when traveling with little ones). Any piece of advise you may have for a do-it-yourself-traveling-mom would be great. Grazie mille e Buon Natale. Jane. PS, hai veramente un bel blog!

  71. Hey Jane, grazie del tuo commento! Come mai parli Italiano? Lo scrivi proprio bene 🙂

    Back to English – other readers may need to read my reply to your comment too! So… I can’t predict the rain season, but you should be fine. I am not an expert on whales, so I can’t really advice on that but I think the best thing is to ask locally. I think doing activities with your child is fine – children do great in hikes, in my experience. I think the best thing to do is to ask locally with tour companies and guides about the level of difficulty of the hike you want to do, and how long it is (just in case, so you can predict it somehow and will know how to handle it with your child). You will need a guide for certain places anyways (totally recommended to hire one or you risk getting lost) – ie volcano Maderas in Ometepe. Beaches on the Pacific side will have lots of waves. If you want something calmer, opt for the Corn Islands on the Caribbean side. Cars… I think the roads are ok, but I am not sure if they are good enough to navigate for a westerner. You can cover longer distances with buses like those of Transnica or Tica. The longer distances are Granada – Leon which is about 3 hours by chicken bus, perhaps a bit more, and Granada – Rivas which if I remember correctly is about 2 hours. The distances aren’t that great, but the bus stops every 100 meters or so… making it VERY slow. Why don’t you contact me in private to shoot me a few ideas re. your itinerary – depending on that, I can give better advice!!

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  73. Dear Claudia,

    Thank you for this precious blog. It helped a lot to choose Nicaragua as my second destination in Central America. I’m planning to spend 5 weeks in Guatemala and 3 in Nicaragua between March 15- May 15. I am not really into cities, i’m interested in lakes, forests and especially volcanoes. I watched Erta Ale in Ethiopia and it was magical. It was like the heartbeat of the world. As we are deeply united, it’s heat and power triggered me to fall in love after watching it. So.. Choosing Nicaragua instead of Honduras, El Salvador etc. is because of the volcanoes, the possibility to watch the lava flowing. Could you please tell me which one(s) to hike, to have the best lava experience? And do you have any idea how would the weather be around April 20- May 10? I know you can’t be sure but maybe you’ve chosen the same dates in one of your 3 travels. After reading your blog, i’ll probably visit Reserva Biologica Indio Maiz after the volcanoes. I hope the weather will help too.

    I hope you see lots of other beauties of this planet and enjoy to the fullest wherever you are. And thank you in advance for your help.

    Hugs.

  74. Hello Baran, thank you for your comment. I am glad you made up your mind to visit Nicaragua! With regards to the weather – I have been to Nicaragua 3 times, but each time between November and February so I can’t tell about April and May. It is supposed to be the beginning of the rainy season, but you know that we can’t really rely on the weather anymore. Re. a good lava experience: I can’t speak for Nicaragua, as I have done that in Guatemala (Volcano Pacaya, but there’s others!). In Nicaragua, I hiked Cerro Negro and Masaya – you can get to the crater in the latter!

  75. Hi Claudia,
    My family and I are will be traveling to Nicaragua in 6 weeks. We will be traveling for a total of two weeks (1 with our daughter and one without…she’s flying home with her Grandparents). We’ve decided to concentrate that first week in Granada, Ometepe and Tola. With a night in Managua to see her off, my bf and I will have a week to ourselves. He wants to learn to surf and I don’t want to backtrack and return to SJDS. Do you have any suggestions for safe, inexpensive places to stay in Managua for a night? Also, any suggestions for surf accommodations (not necessarily surf camps) along the coast on the northern Pacific coast along with must sees in the area around Leon? After a hectic first week, it would be nice to spend the last couple days relaxing before flying home.

  76. Hi Danielle, thank you for your comment. I have never slept in Managua myself – I visited twice on the way from Granada to Leon. Friends who have spent more time in the city, however, recommended Monte Cristi (which I gather is a hostel), Casa 37, and Managua Airport X which as the name says is closer to the airport. As for surf accommodation, try to see if Suyapa Beach Hotel (in Las Penitas, at about 20 mins bus ride from Leon) has availability. I haven’t slept there, but I have often been to their restaurant which is quite good, and they have a beautiful terrace on the beach. As for must sees around Leon – it is all in the post 🙂

  77. Hi

    Thanks for a great write-up. Planning to go to Nicaragua in a few weeks (if I can get a deal). I am not really into backpacking, but would love to visit more than one place. Do you recommend renting a car? I’ll be staying about a week, so I am not sure if I can see everything that you wrote about. Or is it best to just stay at say Leon or Granada and then take day trips from there (without the car)? I am not the type of guy who likes all-inclusive resorts and staying in one place. Is it difficult to find a place to stay once you are on the go? Or is it all pretty much booked? I did find I liked hoping from one place to the other and not having a strict plan works best for me. For example, if I decide to go to Granada and then spend a night there without prebooking – is it difficult to find? I don’t speak Spanish (well, very little to get around) and I am not too much into hostels either, but rather like bed and breakfast places with locals or semi-locals. Should I just pre-plan all the things and where I am going to stay?

  78. Hello Nenad, I am glad you found my post useful. I think with one week’s time you should limit yourself to two destinations top and then perhaps do day trips/activities from there. I would advise you to visit Granada and the surroundings and then move to Leon, and you don’t need to rent a car for this – the chicken buses are a bit slow, but they are a good way to move around. Re. accommodation: I find that hostels are the only ones where you can walk in without reservations, and sometimes even they will be all booked up. Perhaps you can book a first night in Granada to have a place to crash when you arrive, and take it from there? If I were you, with such limited time I’d probably book the rooms, and then make sure that I organize the activities once there. Posada La Gordita is my go-to place in Leon – Monica is a great host, and she’s Guatemalan-Canadian so speaks English and Spanish. In Granada, I stay at Las Hamacas (hostel) or at Hotel Colonial or Dario (which are more like boutique hotels, and on the pricy side). Let me know if you need more advice!

  79. Hi there! I have really enjoyed reading the information you have provided about Nicaragua!
    My family and I are trying to plan a trip to Costa Rica in late March 2018 – we would love to see Nicaragua as well, but our days would be very limited. I will be travelling with my husband and our 5 and 8 year old children. My thought is that we would fly into Nicaragua and head from there to Costa Rica but would like to prioritize an area or 2 to visit in Nicaragua. Transportation is my biggest question mark! Any advice would be incredibly helpful! Isle Ometepe seems like a great stop but not sure about transport once on the island? Granada seems like a good choice for our family?
    Thanks for any guidance you can provide!

  80. Thank you for your comment, Danielle. Granada and Ometepe are great places to visit in Nicaragua. Granada is perfect for families with children as it has a lot of attractions, it’s right by the lake, and has good day trips. Not to mention there’s a lot of accommodation options. Ometepe is a bit more limited in this sense but still worth seeing, especially if your children enjoy nature. In Ometepe, you will have to move around by chicken bus. Other options may be renting a bike – it really depends on how long you want to spend on the island. Not sure about cars there.

  81. Thank you Claudia, very informative post. I’m 28, speak very little Spanish (but learning), and traveling to Nicaragua July 27th (Thursday) arriving at 12pm local time and I’m leaving Aug 2nd (Wednesday) at 7am. That gives me about 5.5-6 full days. I was thinking of spending time in Granada first (with day trips to nearby towns) and then Leon (definitely want to go Volcano boarding) but I’m not really sure for how long I should stay in each city. I do know that on the night before my departure back home I plan on staying in Managua. Let me know what you think and if you can expand on this. Thank you!

  82. Hi Josh, I will be sending you an email because my reply will be too long to post it here 🙂 So watch out for messages in your inbox!

  83. Nice! I think I’m with you on this one Claudia. Nicaragua is easily my fav country in Central. But I’m not so sure about Granada. I’ve only spent a few days here so maybe I shouldn’t really be judging it yet, but so far I wouldn’t say I’m loving it. I just came here from Leon and way preferred the feel there. I’m gunna check out a few of the things you recommended here and give the city a chance to win me over though. Thanks for the write-up!

  84. Hey Matt, thanks for the comment. Yeah I hear what you say. Granada is lovely, but Leon is my favorite too!!

  85. Hi Claudia, I will be visiting Nicaragua in September and visiting Chinandega. Have you visited that part of the country? What about going to the beach alone? Were you able to buy clean water wherever you went or did you bring iodine tablets?

  86. Hi Andrew, I haven’t been to Chinandega actually. As far as beaches – yes, you can go alone pretty much anywhere – obviously if you are alone do keep an eye on your stuff. As for water: you can buy water anywhere. Having tablets to purify it obviously obviates the issue of plastic waste 🙂

  87. Hi Claudia. Thanks for a wonderful article. I have wanted to go to Nicaragua all my adult life, but never made it – but now it will happen! For my 60th birthday I am finally going with my husband, my son and his girlfriend 🙂 I was actually set on Las Penitas, but now, reading this, I am in doubt. Also, because i know, that Las Penitas has become a bit ‘famous’ and maybe also crowded? Looking for beautiful beaches, water to swim and maybe. dive in, lovely food and good prices- what would you suggest? Las Penitas, San Juan del Sur, Corn Islands – or something else? The young ones are 22 and 20yo and my son – due to business, quite depending on internet access. I hope you have time to reply – it is hard to get any info abt. Nicaragua here ( Denmark, northern Europe ) as noone have been there 🙂 and it is a looooong and expensive trip for it to go wrong. Thanks in advance and kindest regards Bambi

  88. How wonderful that you are finally fulfilling your dream! I think that for diving, the best place to go is Corn Island. A bit difficult to get there, but worth it. Internet is decent across the country, but don’t forget it is a developing country. The best thing to do is probably buying a local SIM card on arrival. Hope this helps!

  89. Hi Claudia,

    Great article. I’m headed to Nicaragua in February. I’m joining a tour group for the first while where we’ll be visiting Granada, Leon, Ometepe, and San Juan del Sur. I have an additional 5 days after where I’ll be traveling solo and am looking for suggestions. I understand the corn Islands are gorgeous, but getting there can be pretty expensive. I’m also looking at maybe San Carlos or heading the other way and seeing Esteli and Matagalpa. What are your thoughts? Any preferences? I’m generally pretty outdoorsy and tend to have a bit of a hard time sitting around and relaxing.

  90. Hello Claudia!
    I loved your article. It inspired me for our upcoming trip for three weeks with my husband and three kids age 7 & 5. We are going along the San Juan River, Isla Mancarron, Ometepe, and Leon.
    Questions!
    1) Is one week too long for for the San Juan River? Would you stay one night, or longer in each town we stopped at?
    2) Do you know any particularly great Ecolodges in these areas?
    3) Would you squeeze in Las Pinitas as well?
    Thank you!
    Barbara
    And now I have th

  91. Hi Claudia,
    Thanks for all the information. Is there a beach you would recommend for younger children – ages 6 & 8? We’d like something calmer (concerned about rip tides, big waves), so would like more swimming. That said, some smaller waves for boogie boarding would be great. Not sure if I’m asking too much on this front??
    Many thanks.

  92. Hi Georgina, thanks for your comment. I don’t have kids so I’m unable to help on this front. Perhaps Globetotting (another blog) is better able to provide information! Really hope this helps!

  93. Hi Barbara! I haven’t been to Las Pinitas so I can’t comment on that. The logistics of Río San Juan though are such that is definitely give it more than one night!

  94. Hi Georgina
    I would reccomend Playa Hermosa, it’s safe, nice little restaurant, usually wawes not too big (excellent for boogie boards and beginners) They also offer horse riding and surf lesson plus there’s a nice volleyball net and facilities as restaurant etc. etc.

  95. Hi
    I would skip Las Penitas, allow 3 days for rio san juan (enough) and make sure to include Granada and Laguna de Apoyo, trust me!

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  97. Hi Claudia! Thanks for all of your very helpful information about Nicaragua. My husband and I are planning a trip for the end of this coming March and are strongly considering Nicaragua. We will have 9-10 days (not including airtime to get there from MT). We both appreciate nature and want a good mix of scenery/adventure and some beach time. What are your suggestions on where to a lot our limited time for our stay? We will most likely rent a car.

  98. In that amount of time, go to 1)Granada, 2) Ometepe 3) Leon from where you can hit the beach in Las Penitas!

  99. Hello Claudia,

    my name is Boyko and I am starting this new site about travel to Nicaragua. DO you mind a reading an article about Nicaragua for me? Best! I am a swimmer :), that is serious!

  100. Hello, this is a great informative write up! My husband and I are planning to go to Nicaragua next Month but only have a week. We were thinking Granada for 2 nights, then off to SAN Juan Del Sur for 3 nights and maybe a beach area for the next couple before flying back. Do you think that is too rushed? Any recommendations? We are early 50’s and open to all suggestions

  101. Hi Christine, thanks for commenting and so glad to know you are going to Nicaragua. If I had just one week there, I’d divide it this way: 3 nights in Granada, 2 nights in Leon, and 3 nights in San Juan del Sur which by all means is a beach area! Leon is a must – my favorite city in the country!

  102. Ok great! Thank You! Also do you have any suggestions for things to do/sights to see? We are not big on museums. We like outdoor stuff

  103. Hi Christine, it is all explained in the post, divided by location. You find all the necessary information there about outdoors, museums, beaches and even recommended hotels and restaurants. Let me know if you need any further information!

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  106. Hi, great read..thank you. I was thinking about heading to Nicaragua over Christmas for 2 weeks with the family(21,17,14yrs)and hubby but how is the weather?
    Thanks

  107. I have been to Nicaragua 3 times, 2 of which in December, and the weather is simply perfect! You are safe on that 🙂

  108. So love your site and appreciate all your information. I sponsor a girl in Managua and went to meet her. I was only allowed a day with her in Managua where I visited her very poor neighborhood and then some of the city. Very heartwarming. I spent the rest of the week in Granada. It was during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the festivities lasted all week. I loved it. I did take a chicken bus to Masaya and did a boat tour of the isletas. The rest of the time I just walked around exploring the city and its sites. I want to return, especially after reading your writings. I’m an older, female, solo traveler and my biggest concern is getting from place to place. Really want to visit Ometepe. Is it easy to get there from Leon? I’m thinking maybe Leon, Ometepe then Granada. I’m off to Israel later this year and then, I hope, back to Nicaragua.

  109. Hi Patricia, how interesting that in the space of a comment you managed to mention two of my favorite places on earth! I love Nicaragua, and Israel is home to me (well, not where I grew up, but I feel a special bond with it, despite not being Jewish). Anyways, back to us. From Leon you have to make your way to Rivas, where you take a colectivo (a shared taxi) to the harbor (be sure to negotiate the price, it shouldn’t cost more than a few bucks) and then the ferry. You may have to change in Managua, and the overall trip would be long. I think there is a weekly ferry that goes from Granada to Ometepe, but you’d have to check with the information office or one of the agencies in town. Hope this helps!

  110. Hey Claudia! Love your blog and very excited to go to Nicaragua at the start of May – we are doing a whole month there and start off with 5 days in Granda, which we’ll use as a base to do a bunch of day trips. Wanted to ask about mosquitos and dengue fever? Do you know if there’s been any outbreaks this year? Any other advice on this front? Thanks so much!

  111. Hi Martin, thank you for your comment and so happy that you are going to visit Nicaragua. That I know of, there’s been no dengue outbursts lately. You may still want to wear mosquito repellent to make sure you are protected.

  112. Hey we are looking at visiting Nicaragua in April. We are going for seven days and I really really want to go to the Corn Islands. Do you have any information on how much it is to get to the Corn Islands? Everywhere I have looked, it seems like the price of the ticket is $260 per person round trip from Nicaragua.

  113. Hi Nicole, keep in mind last time I was in Nicaragua was a couple of years ago, so your information is probably as good as what I can research myself online. Have you tried contacting a local agency to see?

  114. Hi Claudia, this site is the best and most informative I’ve found on Nicaragua – especially the Comments section! Visited Costa Rica a few years ago and interested in Nicaragua this time with my 12-yr old and father ‘n law. Looking for adventure for my son and a day of fishing. We have 7-8 days. Wondering if we’ll find this at your recommended sites (Granada, Leon, Ometepe, SJDS, etc.) or if we should consider others? Also, should we avoid Sep-Nov because of wet weather?

  115. Definitely avoid September / October and even early November for weather reasons. I can only recommend about the places I have visited, which are on the post… Ometepe is AMAZING!

  116. Hello Claudia,

    I will be in Nicaragua for about 10 days and would like to see as much as possible. How do you feel about renting a car to be able to get from place to place quicker?

  117. Personally, I wouldn’t – not in Nicaragua. The roads can be bad and confusing… but if you are tight on time, and confident with maps, why not?

  118. Thank you Claudia for all your information. I would like to go to Nicaragua in June, but I am a little concerned with the political situation. Has anybody being there lately? I need some in put. Thanks.

  119. Hi Malin, thank you for your comment. I haven’t been to Nicaragua recently and don’t know of people who have. A friend of mine has been there last July I think, and she described a sad situation. There is a Facebook group called “Backpacking Central America” where you can most definitely get some updated information. Hope this helps!

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