Posted on May 21, 2014
Nicaragua is a great country to travel and I want to share with you my top places to go in Nicaragua! I spent there 5 weeks in March/April 2014 and I had a very “tranquilo” and interesting trip. You can find almost (if not) everything in this country, from long beaches and waves, vulcanoes, rivers, mountains, colonial cities, party towns, lakes, jungle, etc. Most importantly, the locals are very friendly and helpful and I didn’t encounter any type of problems. When it comes to travel costs, Nicaragua was much cheaper than Costa Rica, although sometimes I think that the cheapest is not the best. Both Costa Rica and Nicaragua are worth visiting, but if you prefer a less developed, more traditional and a cheaper country, travel to Nicaragua.
I would like to share some tips and advice for Nicaragua with you. Please feel free to drop me a question in the comments, I’ll be happy to answer.
When to go? I went during dry season (January – June). It was easier to travel, but sometimes it was very hot and dusty and the landscape was not as green as in Costa Rica or in Guatemala.
How to travel? I traveled by chicken bus – that’s simply a local bus. I like the local experience and it saves my travel budget money 🙂 I want to mention, that the employees who collect money in the chicken buses, were very helpful and almost always helped with my backpack and placed it on a shelf in the bus or on a roof of the bus (it didn’t fly away). The roads were sometimes too bumpy, sometimes we were late, sometimes it was smelly, sometimes the music was too loud… and once they played the whole album of Guns’n’Roses, so my verdict is: “Be local, chicken bus is a way to travel in Nicaragua!”
How much money do you need? This is a very subjective answer, but I’ll try. In 32 days I spent a total of 870 USD (636 EUR). When I divide it into daily budget, I spent 27 USD (20 EUR) per day. This includes everything from accommodation in hostels (I didn’t couchsurf, because I traveled with a friend), transport (chicken bus), food (I cooked, I ate street food and I also enjoyed some nice restaurants), party, tours (e.g. Somoto canyon), cosmetics, surf rental and some souvenirs. To note, this is how I characterize my self as a backpacker: I eat 3 times per day, I don’t save on interesting tours or activities and I’m not afraid to bargain or search for a cheaper accommodation (ideally including free breakfast) 🙂
Safety? I avoided only one place and that was the capital Managua. I heard from many people that it’s not really worth visiting (sorry Managua) and that it is dangerous. So I just skipped it. Otherwise, no problem at all. Follow some basic travel safety rules and listen to your instincts and you’ll be alright.
Getting sick. Both my friend Madula and I were food sick only once and that was from a local food we had in one of the restaurants. This was a good ratio, because we tasted almost all street food ☺ I had weird experience after Somoto canyon, when I found a huge tick on my hip. I got scared, so I went to the public emergency room and got checked by a doctor. The hospital in Leon is for western standards much more simple and it seems dirtier, but I want to say that I was treated very well, everything was for free (social politics in Nicaragua) and even the cream that the doctor prescribed was for free. Most importantly, I had no troubles afterwards ☺
Where to go? There are so many places to see in Nicaragua. It was impossible to see everything, and I didn’t travel alone this time, so I had to compromise. I visited only the west cost and mountains from south to north. I didn’t go to the Caribbean part – Corn islands – but I heard that it’s beautiful.
Here is my list and photos of the top places in Nicaragua:
San Juan del Sur and beaches around.
San Juan is a fairly developed town mostly known for surf and party. It’s not possible to surf directly in San Juan, but I had to take a shuttle to different beaches like Maderas, Remanso or Playa Hermosa. San Juan is a great place if you want to have a crazy party. In that case I recommend the famous Sunday Funday. The concept of this party is that people start partying at 2pm when a pick-up truck brings them to the first “swimming pool”. This is a “pool-crawl” (3 swimming pools) with lots of drunks hehe. I attended this party once and it’s not something that I have to do again, but it was fun 🙂
Ometepe island is a big island located in Lake Nicaragua. It has two volcanoes – Concepcion and Maderas – and it’s possible to hike them. I hiked Maderas and it was a bit difficult hike, but it was definitely worth it. The reason why I loved Ometepe was that it is still very traditional and has a special atmosphere. I recommend hostel El Zopilote, which has a hippie vibe, offers many activities like permaculture or yoga and they make delicious pizza 3 times per week.
Granada was the first colonial city that I visited in Nicaragua. It is nice and well preserved city, but I didn’t find it as a special as Leon. It was a good stop for 2 days and I went to volcano Masaya from there.
After some hot days, Madula and I did a little escape to the northern highlands of Nicaragua. We stayed one day in Matagalpa and continued to “Finca La Biosfera”, located close to Jinotega. This is a very beautiful place owned by Susanne from the US. Susanne has been living here for some years now and she is running the whole place ecologically and she is setting up a permaculture garden these days. It was interesting to hear her expat stories and find more about coffee and cocoa. This region is perfect for everyone who is interested in coffee, cocoa or tabaco production. I learned how to make my own chocolate. Sweet!
This was the best part of my trip when it comes to nature. Personally I think that Nicaragua is not as stunning as many other Latin American countries, but Somoto canyon did it’s job. First of all, Somoto is not as touristy as other parts of the country. When we arrived there we didn’t find any western hostel, but stayed in local “hotels” that were very simple and cheap. It was not the best accommodation I’ve ever had, but we didn’t have any other choice. Somoto was also the only place in Nicaragua where we got sick form the local food, so we had to spend an extra day of recovering and recharging our batteries ☺ The next day, we started a 6 hour tour through Somoto canyon. We had a local guide Leo with us and he was very friendly and explained a lot about the area and about Nicaragua. The best part of the tour was swimming inside of the canyon and jumping form the rocks. This was that kind of adventure I was missing and I was very happy for all the effort that we put into getting there and also being sick.
Leon and beaches around.
Leon was my favorite city in Nicaragua. The colonial streets offer lot of history and one of the best things we did there was visiting the Museum of the Revolution. It was so interesting to find out about the history of Nicaragua and so sad to learn about how many people died during the war/revolution. Leon was also the place where we filmed most of our “Happy Nicaragua” video. I would like to thank to all very happy and friendly locals for taking part in this project. For hostel, I recommend hostel Colibri, which is very relaxed and a delicious breakfast is included in the price.
From Leon we headed to Las Peňitas beach (40min by chicken bus) where we spent 5 days, more or less chilling and enjoying the beach. The surf was not very good for me, but I surfed at least once at La Roca restaurant point.
Places we skipped, but they were recommended by other travelers:
– Corn islands
– Indio de maíz
WOW! This is the most detailed article I’ve ever written! I hope that you enjoyed and found it helpful. Let me know what you think about it or drop me a question in the comments. Last but not least, Nicaragua is definitely an interesting country with lot of present history and traditions, so I recommend to visit. Safe travels!