Nicaragua Travel Guide
Nicaragua, despite being the biggest country in Central America, is one of the least visited countries in the region. But those who find their way to "The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes" always leave the country with fond memories. Nicaragua promises beautiful islands, lakes, expansive volcanic terrain, thick and evergreen rainforests, ethereal cloud forests, mangrove swamp, and so on. There are also a couple of colonial cities that are worth exploring.
No matter the time of the year you are visiting Nicaragua, you'll always find something fun to do. It's also affordable to visit Nicaragua, something that will be of great interest to budget travelers. If you are considering visiting Nicaragua, this article is your guide to discovering some of the best destinations to visit as well as other information that is of great value to travelers.
Nicaragua Map Base
Capital city: Managua
Currency: Nicaraguan Córdoba (NIO). 1 USD = 36.27 NIO.
Electricity: Power voltage is 120V. Power sockets type A and B.
Languages: Spanish is the official language. However, some indigenous language and English are also spoken.
10 Handpicked Highlights of Nicaragua
Ometepe Island (+climbing its 2 volcanoes) on Lake Nicaragua
Lake Nicaragua is quickly becoming one of the top tourist destinations in Central America. It’s the largest lake in all of Central America and has a number of islands, one of which you absolutely must visit. That island is the ometepe island and it offers idyllic beaches, diverse flora and fauna, beautiful rainforests, and archaeological sites. As a bonus, the locals are incredibly friendly.
One of the main attractions of Ometepe is the two majestic volcanoes – Maderas volcano and Concepcion volcano – around it. The latter is active while the former is dormant. A popular activity here involves hiking to the top of the two volcanoes. It’s no easy feat but it’s extremely rewarding. Guides are available for the volcano hikes and it’s recommended you hire one.
The Masaya Volcano National Park is the biggest national park in Nicaragua. The park is aptly named as it contains five volcanoes and two craters. There are several well-maintained hiking trails to explore the volcanoes and the park in general. Lookouts are also available at the park.
A lava field, formed from an eruption in 1972, welcomes you into the park the moment you get in. Then you have the option of taking any of the hiking trails to the top of the Masaya mountain where you can see beautiful sunsets.
Laguna De Apoyo
Laguna De Apoyo is a deep lake within a caldera which was formed by a volcanic eruption millennia ago. What’s interesting about Laguna de Apoyo is that the slopes of the lake are covered with trees and wildlife. It’s also not mandatory to hike to the lake as roads lead down to the shore.
There are several beach clubs around the lake and the overall atmosphere is relaxed and laid back. Restaurants and bars are also available and you can go for a swim in the lake or have fun on a kayak, wooden pontoons, or rubber rings. You can even go diving.
Colonial City of Granada
Your visit to Nicaragua is incomplete if you don’t visit Granada. Popular for its colonial architecture, Granda is a beautiful historical city steeped in culture. Despite the colonial influences, the city still has an authentic indigenous core that’s worth learning about.
Walk the streets of Granada, have a meal at one of its many interesting eateries, visit the museums, galleries, and the markets. Linger for a few days in this beautiful place and learn all you can about its history and way of life.
There’s a reason why Nicaragua is referred to as the ‘Land of Volcanoes’. And Mombacho is yet another volcano you can visit of your delight. The interesting thing about Volcan Mombacho is the flora and fauna that surrounds it. It’s very easy to forget that you are at a volcano due to the abundance of flowers and trees around.
You can decide to hike to the volcano or take transport to the port. People ask me which one is the best but it’s mostly due to personal preference. However, it’s worth mentioning that the hike requires you to be reasonably fit.
Apoyeque is one of the most well-preserved lagoons in Nicaragua as it doesn’t get a lot of visitors. The lagoon is of volcanic origin and the hike to the lagoon is immensely satisfying for people that love to explore the outdoors. Enjoy the scenery around the lagoon and descent into it for a nice dip. A visit to Apoyeque is more or less a day-trip and you should find a way to include it in your itinerary.
San Jacinto Boiling Volcano Mudfield
The town of San Jacinto is home to a hidden gem – the boiling mud fields of San Jacinto. It’s a stunning natural phenomenon that will make you immensely respect Mother Nature. Volcanic activity in the area causes pools of mud to boil recently. I don’t know about you but there’s something awe-inspiring about seeing small pools of mud boil intensely. Interestingly, the boiling mud pools are surrounded by a green tropical forest. There’s a small entry fee to be paid before access can be granted to the volcano mudfield.
Colonial City of León
Another beautiful Nicaraguan colonial city worth visiting. León is just as beautiful as its sister city, Granada. However, León doesn’t see as many visitors as Granada and this somehow makes the Leon experience more authentic.
There’s a lot of things to do in León and most of it involves exploring the city. Take a walk through the beautiful streets, enjoying the fine beaches the city has to offer, and visit the Learn about the Revolution at the Museo Histórico de la Revolución.
San Juan del Sur
The small Nicaraguan town of San Juan del Sur is a popular tourist destination in the Central American country. There’s a laid-back vibe about the town with surfing, drinking, and relaxing being the most popular things to do here. The weekends are more bubbling though as several tourists troop in for parties.
Enjoy the beautiful sunset on the beach, hike to the Christ of Mercy (Cristo de la Misericordia), ride an ATV, and practice yoga. Have fun eating at several of the great eateries and restaurants around. There’s no dull moment in San Juan del Sur, ever.
The Corn Islands aren’t for everybody. They are accessible only by air and water. But this isn’t why I said that the Islands aren’t for everybody. It’s because the islands are remote and have only a few tiny bars and hotels. There are no paved roads and cars, carts, and even bicycles are a rare sight.
The aforementioned makes the islands an ideal destination for travelers and backpackers looking for a perfect get-away. The things to do on the islands involve exploring on foot, reading a book, and doing tons of surfing and scuba diving. If all these sounds fun to you, you’ll have a blast on the Corn Islands.
Nicaragua's Geography & Landscapes
Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America, can be divided into the following geographical regions:
- The drier Pacific coastal plain to the west.
- The wetter and cooler mountains of the highlands.
- The hot and humid flat Atlantic lowlands along the east coast.
The landscape of the country is mostly made up of coastal plains and interior highlands. Volcanoes dominate some part of the Pacific region of the country.
Best Time To Go To Nicaragua
The climate in Nicaragua is mainly tropical and there’s little variation in temperature all year round. There are two major seasons in the country and they are the wet season which is between May to October and the dry season which runs from November to April.
While you can visit the country anytime, the best time to explore the outdoors is during the dry months. This period guarantee plenty of sunny days there’s the occasional rainfall along the Caribbean coastline.
The only time I’ll recommend you not visit Nicaragua is between September and October. Rainfall is usually heaviest during this period and this will most likely affect your overall experience. So, avoid Nicaragua during this time.
Traveling in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is generally a safe country and violent crime is rare. You’ll need to watch out for petty theft and robbery but overall you have nothing to worry about.
The general safety tips I always give travelers and backpackers also apply here and they include:
- Don’t do drugs.
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers and don’t leave your drinks unattended at bars and clubs.
- Don’t carry original documents around. Make photocopies and keep originals in a safe in your hotel room.
- Don’t flaunt your valuables.
- Don’t go anywhere alone at night.
- Carry enough cash you need for the day.
- Purchase good travel insurance.
- And most importantly, if you won’t do it at home, don’t do it in Nicaragua.
Getting to & Around Nicaragua
Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua is the major international airport in Nicaragua. It’s possible to enter the country on land from Costa Rica and Honduras.
Buses are the most popular means of transportation and they are dirt cheap. Most buses are converted North American buses and they are very uncomfortable. For a more comfortable ride, you can book express minibuses and coaches that are sometimes air-conditioned.
Taxis can be found in most cities although most of the cabs are on the latter stages of their lifecycle. They are great for getting around in town and are quite affordable. Some taxi drivers try to exploit tourists but you can find out the local rates by asking hotel or hostel staff.
Car rentals are available and are reliable in the major cities. You’ll need an international driver’s license to drive. It’s worth mentioning that road signage may be poor and you may need to ask for directions often.
Budget hostels are available for the most budget-conscious travelers and backpackers. Many dorms also offer private rooms although you’ll have to pay more.
Hotels are available for travelers of all budgets. A budget two-star hotel comes with basic amenities such as a TV, A/C, and free wifi. You can even get a free breakfast and sometimes, the facility may have a swimming pool.
Airbnb is only available in the Pacific region of the country and you can score different rentals depending on your budget.