Nicaragua is one of the affordable countries in Central America.
Less popular than Costa Rica, it has just as much to offer and for a fraction of the price. Here is an overview of the attractions and beauties of this country.
Tourist attractions in Nicaragua
The Capital, Managua
Unless you are coming from a neighbouring country, Managua is a must.
I didn’t want to dwell on it after reading many times that it had little to offer. However, it does have modern shopping malls and grocery stores if you need to shop before heading to smaller towns.
An hour from Managua, Granada dazzles us with its colonial architecture.
Beautiful hotels, good restaurants and activities for all tastes. Among other things, it is possible to take a boat trip to the small islands called “isletas” to discover the fauna and flora.
You can also go hiking on a volcano or admire the lava of an active volcano at sunset.
However, the tops of the volcanoes are often in the clouds so the view might exclusively be available from the clouds. In addition, visits to the Masaya volcano, which offers the view of active lava, are limited to 10 minutes due to sulphur fumes.
Don’t miss the sunset from the top of the bell tower of La Merced church.
Laguna de Apoyo
This volcanic lake, whose water contains several minerals, is said to have therapeutic properties and is perfect for swimming. It is surrounded by greenery and its water is warm.
While many people visit it in half a day, it is well worth spending at least one night in the resort-style hotels that are nearby.
From the moment you arrive, you will feel like you are in a haven of peace. Restaurants and bars on site, kayaking, deck chairs, hammocks, but most of all the view!
One of my favourites of the trip to take a break before leaving.
Ometepe is an island in the shape of a figure eight with a volcano at each end.
The landscape is magnificent. People visit to enjoy its nature.
You will have the choice:
- to hike on the volcanoes (duration 6-8h),
- to go swimming at the San Ramon waterfall (long walk to get there),
- to enjoy the hot volcanic waters at the Ojo de Agua,
- to watch the sunset on the Jesus Maria point
- to visit the natural reserve Charco Verde.
Located in the north of the country, Leon is another city withcolonial architecture.
It’s a beautiful place to stroll through the busy streets. I particularly liked having access to the roof of the Leon Cathedral. For $1, we are allowed to discover the roof and its dazzling white domes. You will also have a view of the city.
A free walking tour of the city is also available.
The original activity that attracts tourists to the region is volcanoboarding. As the only place in the world where you can practice it, it is easy to understand why it is a must. As a bonus, the view from the top is superb.
Alternatively, 30 minutes from León, the beaches of Las Penitas, accessible by public (or private) transport, are the perfect getaway to cool off.
Surf and yoga camps
Surfing is a very popular activity in Nicaragua.
Several places on the Pacific coast are known for this sport, including the famous San Juan del Sur or even Popoyo.
I personally tried spending a week in a camp to really give myself a chance to learn this difficult sport. I recommend it without hesitation. You can quickly feel the camaraderie among the camp’s guests.
Since we are all there for the same purpose, it is easy to share experiences, give each other tips and even visit the area with our new friends.
For my part, I chose the Free Spirit in the small village of El Transito which belongs to Quebecers and which combines surfing and yoga. Be aware that there are also yoga-only retreats. This is a great vacation idea for solo travelers.
The Corn Islands located in the Caribbean Sea are a favourite destination in Nicaragua.
The smallest is probably the most visited. Very relaxed atmosphere, no cars.. you quickly feel at home on Little corn because quickly, we realize that we always meet the same people and that a familiarity develops between tourists and locals. On Little Corn, several accommodations offer cabins on the beach.
Big corn includes an airport, roads and more services. The islands are popular for their beaches, as well as snorkeling and diving.
You will enjoy lobster dishes (for 10$!!!) and seafood.
Here are my recommendations for a successful trip to Nicaragua:
Visa and driver's license
No visa required for Canadians. The international driving license is not mandatory either.
To view the Government of Canada’s recommendations on Nicaragua, visit this page.
American money as well as the local currency, the Cordoba, are accepted everywhere.
However, it is rare for businesses to have change. So if you change money before you leave, remember to ask for small denominations of $1 and $5 US. No one will give you change for $20 US.
It’s easy and inexpensive to find a SIM card for the phone at the mall. One-week packages cost about $4.50 US including chip.
Taxis and private transport
The fraud that seems to me to be the most common in the country is with taxis.
These are usually shared so the driver takes other passengers unless you request a private ride. Stories of robbery in taxis or fake taxis have been circulating for some time.
Since then, the hotels have been offering private transport. Significantly more expensive, but safe. By chatting with the driver, it is easy to make friends with him and hire him directly for a small fee without going through the hotel.
Car rental is quite economical.
We rented a compact car with 5 seats for 7 days at the price of 189$US including the compulsory insurance. The country requires liability insurance(which is never included with credit cards).
The roads are generally in good condition and the signs are clear. The locals tend to use the horn a lot and sometimes you have to impose yourself to make a turn, but otherwise I recommend renting a car.
If you go off the main roads, your ride will sometimes resemble a wildlife safari.
Other means of transport
To get to the Corn Islands, there is an economical way by bus and boat, but it is long and involves stopovers. So I suggest the internal flight to Big corn, and then the Panga boat to Little corn.
If it’s too windy, the Panga doesn’t sail so don’t wait until the same day as your international flight to return to Managua, or else keep yourself informed.
On Ometepe the best way to get around is to rent a moped or an all-terrain vehicle. However, you should know that they are not always in a good condition, and especially that only half of the roads are paved.
We broke down several times and other tourists reported having their gasoline siphoned off. So it’s an adventure!
Ulysses Guide to Nicaragua
Our partner Ulysses Travel Guides has a guide entirely devoted to Nicaragua.
Written by a former resident of the country and now in its seventh edition, one of the only guidebooks on Nicaragua in French, the Ulysses Nicaragua guidebook is the most complete guidebook available to help you understand the reality of Nicaraguans. It offers the best hotel and restaurant addresses for a successful stay in this country to be discovered before it is invaded by the tourist masses. Numerous detailed cards of Nicaragua will help you to travel freely.Ulysse - Nicaragua