When we first decided that we were going to be travelling long-term in Central America, Nicaragua was the destination that I really had my heart set on. I heard from a good friend who had gone backpacking that way and dozens of travel bloggers that the country was incredibly beautiful and dirt cheap, especially compared to neighbouring Costa Rica. They were totally right.
Luke and I initially got caught up house sitting in Costa Rica (house sitters are in high demand there) for longer than we planned and ended up just crossing the border to Nicaragua for quick visa runs. The short pockets of time we spent in Nicaragua only made me crave more time there! Here’s our guide to travelling in Nicaragua and what to do while you’re there!
Why You Should Travel to Nicaragua
The backpacking scene is definitely growing in Nicaragua, but it still remains one of the least visited countries in Central America. It’s history of political unrest has put it a bit off the radar for many travellers, but I’m pretty sure that’s going to continue to change when everyone realises how awesome it is (shhhh!).
- Incredible volcano hikes. If you love a good hike, then the volcanoes in Nicaragua are some of the coolest hiking spots around.
- Island life. Boasting the stunning volcanic island of Ometepe and the really chill Corn Islands, Nicaragua is a good place for those who want to take it easy.
- It’s sociable. Unexpectedly, we found the backpackers and expats in Nicaragua much more sociable than the other countries we travelled around. Maybe it’s to do with the country’s laid back vibe…
- Light on the budget. Out of everywhere we travelled in Central America, Nicaragua probably came out as the cheapest country as long as you avoided the Gringo areas.
Where to Go in Nicaragua
The number one travel destination for 99.9% of travellers to Nicaragua is Granada. This colonial gem is a haven for travellers who love ambling around and cafe culture. I have to say though, there are a lot of expats here and that’s definitely driven up the prices around town.
There are heated debates between travellers about which is better – Granada or Leon. Lots of travellers feel that Leon is like a more authentic, rough around the edges version of Granada. I’m firmly in the Granada camp but Luke sways towards Leon.
This twin volcanic island right out in Lake Nicaragua is the perfect place to escape into nature. We came back to Ometepe for a second time, and we’d definitely do it a third time round (unusual for us!) We house sat on the island and had the best time cracking coconuts and getting used to local life.
Despite being underdeveloped, the Corns Islands (Big Corn and Little Corn) are absolutely crammed with tourists who want to shack up in a beachfront hut and pass hours away in a hammock. The diving is decent as well.
San Juan Del Sur
I’m putting this beach town at the bottom of the list because, although a favourite with nearly every backpacker we met, we gave it a miss. This beach town is known for being a party scene and that’s really not our thing.
Things to Do in Nicaragua
Nicaragua doesn’t have as many ‘tourist attractions’ as other places in Central America, but that’s really why I loved it. Nicaragua is a country for exploring, where that’s by boat, on a scooter, on a bicycle or on foot.
Amble around Granada
Granada is quite a small place which makes it perfect for just wandering around. Enjoy distant volcanoes, colonial architecture and yellow painted houses before nipping into a delicious cafe. Some of the best cafes in Central America are based here, and I highly recommend the Garden Cafe and Cafe de los Suenos.
Walk on the roof of Leon Cathedral
Leon has the most magnificent white cathedral – it’s the largest in Central America! Leave the bustle of the city streets behind and climb up onto the roof. The views across the city and of the surrounding volcanoes are amazing at sunset.
Volcano boarding near Leon
Volcano boarding is what nearly every traveller to Leon raves about. Truth be told, I didn’t really like it and would rather just walk up and down the volcano. But I have to admit that it’s a very unique experience and the black volcanic sands of Cerro Negro are incredible.
Hike up Volcan Concepcion on Ometepe
Strap on your hiking boots and head up Nicaragua’s second tallest volcano. The hike all the way to the top sets you back about 8 hours, but you can opt to – or be forced to by bad weather and landslides, like us – go just half way. We spotted howler monkeys for the first time during this hike too!
Find your own beach on Little Corn Island
While the Corn Islands aren’t as quiet as they once were, there are still lots of hidden beaches to be discovered. You need to stretch your legs a bit to find one out, but Little Corn is, well, little, so it’s not too far to walk. Then grab a coconut and kick back.
Cost to Travel in Nicaragua
We found travel in Nicaragua to be really good value. We stuck to a budget of $26 a day each (not including house sitting time), but you could get that down to around $20 if you were budgeting hard. We definitely spent most of our time in quite touristy spots which hiked our budget up a bit, but as soon as you get off the beaten track it’s much easier to keep in check. Take a look at our full breakdown of how much it cost to travel in Nicaragua.
Safety in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is much safer and has far less crime in comparison to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, but it’s not completely crime free. While Luke and I never encountered any crime ourselves, we were cautious and careful not to stay out after dark. All of the stories that we did hear about backpackers being mugged or pickpocketed came out of the beach party town San Juan del Sur – make of that what you will. We also heard quite a story about a cult on Ometepe Island from the couple we house sat for, so be wary of that too.
More Info on Nicaragua
In the end, Luke and I spent quite a while in Nicaragua but I still feel like there’s loads more to discover. To read up on some extra places, check out:
- Along Dusty Roads’ Nicaragua Top Nine
- Lake Nicaragua’s other islands
- Rewired and Retired in Nicaragua – a great blog about local life on Ometepe Island written by the women who we house sat for out there.
Oh, and don’t forget to drink some Flor de Cana!