Nicaragua is an interesting and diverse travel destination in Central America, which will inspire both nature lovers and adrenaline enthusiasts. Columbus reached the area of today’s Nicaragua in 1502 and surely he was enchanted by the beauty of the country as well – hey, you never know, perhaps he went sledding down the volcano as well 😉
Due to civil unrest in the past, Nicaragua is less visited by tourists than other countries in the region, so if you’re looking for less crowded destinations, this one will be just for you!
We’ve put together travel tips for Nicaragua to help you plan your next trip.
Check out our video about Nica!
Table of Contents
TRAVEL TIPS NICARAGUA: BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit Nicaragua is during the dry season between April and November when temperatures are somewhat more bearable.
Nevertheless, you can travel there also during the rest of the year, but it will be a little bit hotter and you can experience a downpour now and then.
But I guess no matter when you go, León will be HOT. We were there at the end of January and already at 10 am we felt like our skin was melting and we’re slowly being roasted under the burning sun.
Nicaragua is best to be avoided in September and October, when some roads (in more remote areas) may be inaccessible due to heavy rain.
TRAVEL TIPS NICARAGUA: HOW TO GO THERE
From Europe, you can find plane tickets from $600 up (average price, can be lower of course!) while from the USA it’s possible to get plane tickets for around $250 – $300 (i.e. NYC, LA, SF). If you’re from “down under” – well, then you’ll have to stretch your budget a bit (ok, a lot) – a plane ticket will cost you well above $1000.
You’ll land in the capital of Nicaragua, Managua (Augusto C. Sandino International Airport)
We use Skyscanner to find good offers.
*Prices in USD
If you aren’t short on time, it’s great to combine your trip to Nicaragua with other countries in the region. You can enter Nicaragua from Costa Rica in the south or from Honduras/El Salvador in the north.
FROM COSTA RICA TO NICARAGUA
Buses run from the capital San José (usually at the stop in Liberia) all the way to Managua (with stops in Rivas and Granada). We took this bus (Tica Bus) when going the opposite way (from San Juan del Sur to Costa Rica) and it cost around $30. It was probably one of the easiest border crossings in Central America (unlike our awful experience when going from Mexico to Guatemala through Belize) since the company handles everything for you once you reach the border.
It’s possible to take a direct shuttle as well, but $65 per person was a price we weren’t willing to pay. Obviously. (Do you know how many beers that is?!)
Good to know: If going to San Juan del Sur, you’ll have to catch a public bus to the town in Rivas.
FROM HONDURAS TO NICARAGUA
Going from Tegucigalpa (Honduras) to Nicaragua (with probably Leon being your first stop) is once again the easiest with the Tica Bus company. The ticket costs around $20.
FROM SALVADOR TO NICARAGUA
Well, that’s gonna be a long one! But, if you don’t plan to visit Honduras at all, then you might consider this option.
You can either travel from San Salvador to Nicaragua with Tica Bus or take a variety of local chicken buses (for adventurous souls). Since we were staying in the beach town of El Tunco, we took a shuttle that went straight from there to León ($25 per person). Um, surrounded by backpacks and with practically no leg space this was an extremely enjoyable 12-hour ride.
Planning to travel to other countries in Central America as well? Then you may also like:
TRAVEL TIPS NICARAGUA: TRANSPORT WITHIN THE COUNTRY
Between bigger towns, second class buses are running frequently, so it’s easy to move around. Besides the above mentioned Tica Bus there’s also Nica Bus. The prices are low (a couple of dollars for a few hours long ride), so that’s a great way to travel on a budget in Nicaragua.
BY LOCAL (CHICKEN BUS)
There’s no Central America without chicken buses! We saw those colorful old school buses for the first time when backpacking Guatemala and while they might be a slightly less comfortable (and sometimes questionable) option, they are for sure the cheapest choice of transportation. 🙂
Ok, not exactly an extremely cheap option (due to which transport represented 40% of our Nicaragua travel budget), but car rental proved to be a great idea because we had the freedom to explore the country on our own pace and see some off the beat places where there were literally no foreigners besides us.
For $35 /day, you can get an economical car (ours was Kia Picanto) with basic insurance (er – yeah, we were living on the edge 😛 ). Since we rented a car in Granada and returned it in San Juan del Sur, the price was higher than it would be if we’d return to Granada.
While we didn’t encounter any problems, driving in Nicaragua is perhaps not for everybody. Horse carriages, bicycles, and people are not an unusual sight on what’s supposed to be a highway; cows will decide to cross the road in front of you, and narrow streets in Granada can be hectic at times. So, if you’ve just obtained your driving license, perhaps stick with the bus.
Take a look at rentalcars.com to find something for yourself.
All places in Nicaragua are not accessible by road. If you intend to visit the Corn Islands, the domestic carrier La Costeña will take you there. The price of the return flight is around $180-200, so it’s quite pricey for the domestic flight. It seems that they can afford this since there is no competition, and the ferry sails from Bluefields (the city on the eastern coast of the country) to the islands only once per week (please correct me if you have different information/more recent information!).
Pro tip: If you have a lot of time on your hands, going by land to Bluefields and then catching a ferry to Corn Islands might be an experience itself, plus – it’s gonna be dirt cheap in comparison to the flight. I would love to hear back from those of you who chose this route! 🙂
As mentioned, you can take a ferry to Corn Islands and you’ll also need to hop on one when going to Ometepe Island on Nicaragua Lake. Those ferries are small, run several times per day, and cost only $2 per person (the ride takes about 40 min). If you’re traveling by car, come early since a ferry can carry only a few cars (or even less if one of them is a truck).
Good to know: When you reach Ometepe Island, make a reservation for the return ferry immediately.
We did not know that and just showed up at the dock where we were told that the first free spot for a car was 4 days later. Maybe. Um, that gave us a mild heart attack since we had to return the car in San Juan del Sur and continue to Costa Rica from where we were supposed to fly to Chile less than a week later. After a lot of begging, puppy eyes, and half-crying, the staff at the dock apparently couldn’t bear my whining anymore and somehow made space on the next ferry for our tiny little car – if we’d have a bigger car it simply wouldn’t fit and we’d be stuck on the island for a few days.
TRAVEL TIPS NICARAGUA: WHERE TO STAY
Due to the political crisis in 2018, there are still not too many tourists in the country, so you’ll have plenty of accommodation options. There are hotels, guesthouses, hostels, cabins by the lake, and Airbnb has a network in the country as well.
⇨ Not on Airbnb yet? Book through this link and you’ll get up to $44 off your first trip!
WHERE WE STAYED
Poco a Poco Hostel – one of our favorite hostels in Central America with a great vibe, fun daily activities (pasta night was great!), a library and hammocks, and beanbags scattered around the inner yard. Considering the León heat, they were perfect for the afternoon siesta!
Hostel La Tortuga Booluda – The only reason we moved from Poco a Poco Hostel was the price since we knew we were gonna rent a car later and had to budget down. This was a simple hostel with a lovely kitchen and lounge and with a decent internet connection (a miracle in Nica). A cute fluff from the owner was an additional bonus. 😉
The hostel/hotel we stayed in is no longer on Booking. We opted for this place due to a secure parking area and air conditioning. However, even though the place was nice, we kinda felt that during the night a certain kind of activity takes place here on a regular schedule. You know, that kind of activity with a lot of banging of the bed into the wall every night and which is followed by a morning walk of shame of a tourist after a local girl leaves the room.
So, no recommendation for this place! 😀
If you’ll go to Ometepe Island, stay with the locals, it is an unforgettable experience! 🙂 We stayed at Cabañas Privadas Dilany and we loved it there – super friendly and talkative family and mum’s food was the best!
SAN JUAN DEL SUR
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a hostel with a secure parking area, so we opted for a hotel (Hotel Colonial) that was close to the beach. The room was cool already without air-con, which was perfect and the breakfast was delicious – that was our favorite gallo pinto in the whole of Nicaragua.
TRAVEL TIPS NICARAGUA: FOOD
TBH, we found food in Nicaragua to be kinda bland. The majority of the meals in Nicaragua consist of fried food, so perhaps this wasn’t our favorite cuisine ever. However, their traditional breakfast “gallo pinto” was superb – fried eggs and rice with beans had never tasted so good before!
In local restaurants expect to pay around $5 for a meal, but if you opt for street food, you’ll eat almost for free – for less than $2 you’ll be full. While fried plantains make a tasty snack now and then, we ate Tex-Mex and Italian food in tourist areas as well (but be prepared for below-average pizza and burgers).
Since San Juan del Sur is a major tourist hub, options were the best there – actually, we ate a pretty awesome burger (paired with happy-hour cocktails which seem to be a thing in San Juan) at a place called Dale Pues.
Good to know: There is also a brewery in San Juan del Sur (Cerveceria) with a great choice of craft beers!
TRAVEL TIPS NICARAGUA: INTERNET
Only two words for the internet in Nicaragua: painfully slow. The locals just shrug and say: Nicaragua internet.
In hostels (and some restaurants) there is free WiFi, but as mentioned, it is not the most reliable. On the Corn Islands, there can also be a problem with finding a signal at all.
The 30-day package card (includes conversations, messages, and 3GB of the internet) costs around $20 (search for Movistar).
TRAVEL TIPS NICARAGUA: COSTS
If you’d like to keep your travel budget low, Nicaragua is a great choice for your next trip!
With dirt-cheap street food (if you don’t mind fried stuff, that is), affordable accommodation and transport, you can easily spend around $25 per day (or even less if you’re into begpacking).
While our costs were higher due to car rental, we still managed to keep our budget around $40 per person.
AVERAGE COSTS IN NICARAGUA
Double Room: $12-25
Chicken Bus: $1-3
Car rental: $35+/day
Street food: $1-2
A meal in a restaurant: from $10 up
⇨ You’ll find more info about how much certain things cost and information about ATMs in our article Nicaragua travel budget breakdown.
TRAVEL TIPS NICARAGUA: WHAT TO SEE & DO
Nature & adventure, that’s Nica’s motto!
OUR TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN NICARAGUA ARE:
Sled down the Cerro Negro volcano
That’s surely the first thing that comes to our mind when somebody asks us what was our favorite thing in Nicaragua! I guess it would be a crime not to go volcano boarding in León if you visit this city. A definite must-do! (With an ice bucket challenge at the end, if you’re the slowest one! Bojan would know. 😉 )
Peek into the crater of Masaya Volcano
I mean, if you ever wondered what the door into hell might look like, this is it. Head to the national park Masaya just before dusk to see the swirls of smoke creeping out of the crater (combined with a nice headache-giving smell). Coming close to the edge, there’s a view you won’t forget easily – a pitch-black hole with a deep-orange surface of boiling lava at the bottom, rolling and bubbling menacingly. Visiting Masaya Volcano is surely one of the best things to do in Nicaragua!
Dip your toes into Laguna de Apoyo
Ok, not only toes, just go all in! While the majority of travelers just marvel at the view of this lake from above (it is breathtaking in the evening light!), take an opportunity and go to the shores of the lake. The water is surprisingly warm, the bottom is sandy and the winds create waves, so it kinda feels like you’re swimming in the sea!
Explore Ometepe Island
A picturesque island on Nicaragua lake with its two volcanoes was our favorite place in Nicaragua. It’s calm and peaceful and the locals are extremely friendly. Head to the lovely butterfly garden and a natural pool Ojo de Agua (“Eye of the water”), with its clear turquoise water strongly resembling Yucatan’s cenotes!
Good to know: You can climb the volcanoes as well (you have to do it with a guide). But be prepared for a strenuous climb and a whole day hike.
Relax in San Juan del Sur
If you’re looking for the “holiday vibes”, then head to San Juan del Sur. Pacific beaches are perfect for surfing and the town itself is packed with restaurants and bars. If you like to avoid crowds, head to one of the surrounding beaches (we liked Playa Marsella), but if you’re into parties – there’s no shortage of them here.
SUGGESTED NICARAGUA ITINERARY FOR 10 DAYS
Since we were overlanding Central America, our first stop was León. If you’re flying in and have time, explore the capital for a day and then head to León.
Day 1: León (city)
Day 2: León (volcano boarding)
Day 3: Granada (city)
Day 4: Around Granada (Laguna de Apoyo, Masaya – craft market, Masaya National Park)
Day 5: Granada (chocolate massage!) & around Granada (Catarina viewpoint)
Day 6-8: Ometepe Island
Day 9-10: San Juan del Sur
WANT TO GO MORE OFF THE BEATEN PATH OR SPEND MORE TIME IN NICARAGUA?
Corn islands (Big Corn & Little Corn) – if you’re into tropical islands (yeah, like – who isn’t, right?), then head here for a true paradise for snorkeling, diving, and the beauty of not doing anything. You’ll find resorts on Big Corn, while Little Corn is calmer and backpacker-friendly.
Other volcanoes – there’s no shortage of volcanoes in Nicaragua and you can climb several of them. San Cristóbal volcano (north of León), volcano Mombacho (near Granada), or Concepcion (on Ometepe Island) can make a nice, “sporty” addition to your trip.
Matagalpa and around – with a slightly cooler climate and a lot of woods, this region is great to relax in nature (visit La Serva Negra Reserve)
Somoto Canyon – you’ll this off beat place near the Honduras border. You can explore the canyon by walking and swimming (with a guide) or just take a boat ride if you’re not feeling that adventurous.
TRAVEL TIPS NICARAGUA: WHAT TO PACK
There’s a benefit when traveling to a hot country – you don’t need to pack much! 🙂
Clothing: 5x underwear, 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of swimwear, a dress (for her), 5 t-shirts, 2 shorts, 1 cardigan/long-sleeve t-shirt, flip flops, sandals, beach towel
For adventures: Leggings /hiking pants, sports shirt, waterproof jacket, fleece jacket, buff, hiking boots, swim shirt, mask & snorkel
Toiletries (don’t forget the sunscreen!)
Gear (phone, camera, chargers, memory card, tripod, etc.)
Super important: Documents, cash, credit cards, travel insurance, international driving license (if you’re planning to rent a car)
Other: backpack, day bag or backpack, sunglasses, safety locks, moneybelt/travel pouch
TRAVEL TIPS NICARAGUA: SAFETY AND HEALTH
SAFETY IN NICARAGUA
Considering all of the countries in Central America, Nicaragua fits into the safer end.
It’s true that political protests hit this country in 2018 which resulted in casualties and they made the country unstable. Many restaurants and accommodations closed down and when we visited in 2019, tourism was still picking up the pieces. For example, at the place where we stayed in Ometepe Island, we were the first tourists in the last three months. Imagine what a hit for the country’s economy that is!
At moments, we almost felt too alone and the streets felt too empty after dark.
But even though tourism was hit by these events, tourism safety is still pretty high. While you should pay attention to the petty crime in some places (like in any other country), it’s unlikely that you’d encounter any other troubles.
If you’re traveling solo (especially female solo travelers) use the same precautions as in the majority of the region – take tours, hike in a group, don’t wander alone during the night.
HEALTH IN NICARAGUA
Public health is cheap, but below the standard that we are accustomed to at home. For serious injuries, it is better to find the fastest possible transfer to the capital.
Do not forget about your travel medical kit and the necessary vaccinations before traveling (i.e. hepatitis, typhus). There are a lot of mosquitos in Nicaragua, and man, they are persistent. 🙂 So do not forget the repellent, and consider the antimalarics as well.
And of course, never travel without travel insurance!
Wanna know more about Nicaragua? Drop us a question in the comment section below! 😊
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