church granada where to go in nicaragua

Travel Guide: Nicaragua

In Travel by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

Nicaragua is quietly becoming Central America’s premier destination. Amazing volcanic geography, tropical bliss, a rich culture, and vibrant cities combine to create an unforgettable experience. We’ll let you know where to go in Nicaragua, how to get around, when to go, and how much it’s likely to cost.

How do I get around?

Busses will likely the main mode of transportation between major cities and towns in Nicaragua. Beyond that, expect to take a couple boats if you plan on visiting islands or navigating Lake Nicaragua. Domestic flights are also a reasonable option if you’re in a rush.

nicaragua map with a pin

When should I go?

You pretty much have two options when traveling to Nicaragua – hot and dry summer (Dec-April) or wet winter (May-Nov). Beyond that, expect the Caribbean coast to be humid most of the time while the interior and Pacific are slightly less so. Most visit during the summer, but you can often avoid the crowds by traveling in the winter (if you can brave the rain).

Where to go in Nicaragua

Cerro Negro | Corn Islands | Granada | Lake Nicaragua | Léon | Managua | Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya | Pearl Keys | San Juan del Sur

Granada

square in granada with palm trees

It may not be the largest city in the country, but nowhere else will you find as big a wealth of colonial sights in Central America. The cobblestone roads wind between impressive churches, imposing forts, and much more. As the oldest European settlement in the mainland Americas it won’t surprise you to learn that these historical excursions are the first and foremost reason to visit Granada. The Moorish and Andalusian influences (reminiscent of southern Spain) give the city a unique aesthetic while many of the restaurants have garnered international acclaim. There are often more tourists in Granada than elsewhere in Nicaragua, but don’t let that take away from an unforgettable experience.

Léon

old church in leon nicaragua

Nicaragua’s other historic mecca is certainly worth a visit as well. You can find almost as many examples of colonial architecture here as in Granada with less overwhelming crowds. Beyond the historic sights, you’ll find that the food is unmatched and the nightlife is spectacular in the country’s second largest city. While it may not be the capital anymore, Léon was the site of many of the country’s most important political developments – lending it a further air of importance in the Nicaraguan psyche.

Managua

museum in the capital of nicaragua managua

Nicaragua’s capital is an odd, unwieldy beast. The streets are confusing, poor neighbourhoods ward off travelers, tacky shops pop up around you, and there is a lack of the photogenic colonial architecture that’s found in Granada or Léon. That being said, you might find that the city can make a strange, yet still interesting bedfellow. As the beating heart of Nicaragua, there’s quite a lot to occupy your time, even if it’s just admiring the art or sampling the local flavour. Overall it’s worth a quick stop, but don’t go out of your way to stay here.

Corn Islands

tropical beach seen from above

While there’s quite a lot to see near the Pacific and the interior of Nicaragua, it’s sometimes easy to forget the city enjoys a long Caribbean coastline. The crown jewel here is the offshore island chain, the Corn Islands. Lying about 70 km off the coast, these idyllic retreats (Great and Little Corn) offer a perfect tropical beach experience without massive overblown developments. That being said, you’ll find all the tourist services you need here, without ruining the authenticity. Whether you’re exploring the Creole culture of Great Corn, diving off the coast, wandering the jungle, or sampling the amazing food – you’ll swear to never leave.

Pearl Keys

sand meeting the water in the carribean

If you’re still hankering for more Caribbean islands after Great and Little Corn, the Pearl Keys will oblige. The white sand beaches are exactly what you’ve always dreamed about while warm waters are a joy to swim. This isn’t a large area, and it can be a bit pricey to get to – so only travel here if you really want a more isolated experience than in the Corn Islands. Stop by Pearl Lagoon and you can arrange a day trip for around US$200 to $300.

San Juan del Sur

white sand beach and town seen from above in nicaragua

A popular destination for both domestic and foreign travelers, this coastal town is famed for its raucous atmosphere. Like most of the country it is home to great food, but it’s the nightlife that takes the cake here. Climb to the towering statue of Christ (reminiscent of Rio de Janeiro), wander amongst the Victorian houses if you want a feel for the town, take to the waves to try your luck surfing, or just simply soak in the intoxicating atmosphere of the country’s top Pacific destination.

Lake Nicaragua

volcanic island in the middle of a lake

One of the most breathtaking and unique bodies of water in the world, Lake Nicaragua affords an opportunity to relax along its serene shores for those seeking a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. The lake is renowned for numerous islands and volcanoes as well as being home to the world’s only freshwater sharks. A controversial canal is due to be constructed through the Lake (though there remain concerns about the project) so take some time to visit a couple of the islands before the serenity is perhaps lost.

Cerro Negro

people hiking up the side of a black volcano

While the country may be inundated with them, Cerro Negro stands out amongst Nicaragua’s many volcanoes. The name, which translates to Black Hill, came about due to the black sands that cover the slopes. You can even try volcano boarding (perhaps one of the coolest sounding activities in the world) by sliding down the mountain on a special board. All in all, it’s an impressive volcano that’s definitely worth a trip if you’re the adventurous sort.

Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya

active volcano steaming in nicaragua

The Masaya Volcano (and park that surrounds it) is without a doubt one of the most impressive volcanic sights in the country – and that’s saying a lot. The caldera is always venting, emitting gas that perhaps isn’t the best smelling thing in the world. Masaya resides inside another, larger volcanic crater – and the whole region can be explored by a network of hiking paths. It’s hugely impressive and if you can stomach the gasses, it’ll be one of the most memorable parts of your trip.

How much does it cost?

Flights between Pearson and Managua often run about $750 Canadian, though they can be found for slightly more or less. Since you’ll likely want to travel out of the capital to see other parts of the country, you have to account for further trips as well. Be sure to shop around to find the best possible deals – there are some good ones!

Once you arrive in Nicaragua, you’ll find that you can enjoy what the country has to offer very cheaply compared to some other comparable destinations. On average, you can expect to spend about $34 a day with a budget of $14 for food and another $14 for accommodation. If you really want to save, you can probably get by with closer to $14 a day total while budgeting significantly more for a higher end lifestyle will cost about $79 a day.

lonely surfer on the beach at sunset

Health and Safety

In recent years, Nicaragua has garnered a reputation as one of the safest countries in the region, and as a result there is no nationwide advisory in effect. That being said, the Canadian government still recommends a high degree of caution when visiting due to armed criminal violence. Petty crime is a common problem, so be aware when walking around crowded areas. Major tourist hotspots and cities do suffer from violent crime such as assaults or robberies. In addition, gang violence is an issue in Granada, so use caution in certain neighbourhoods. Bandits are a danger on the roadways outside the cities while police presence is limited, so beware if traveling the countryside. While this may sound bad, know that more and more people are traveling to Nicaragua every year and its good reputation is well deserved. Still, you should be aware of the potential dangers to make sure your trip is as safe and secure as it can be.

These are just a few examples of where to go in Nicaragua, there’s tons more to see and do. If you think somewhere else should be on the list, let us know in the comments. Check out our Country of the Week for more general information about Nicaraguan history and culture.

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