5 of the Best Experiences in Nicaragua, And Why You Should Go Right Now

Laguna_de_Apoyo

Nicaragua was exactly what I hoped it would be; cheap, colorful, and beautiful. I fell in love with everything from the beautiful colonial cities to the perfectly conical volcanoes.

My week in Nicaragua with Jessica wasn’t a luxury trip – I saw spiders the size of silver dollars, and took only cold showers. But it was exactly what the doctor ordered – more than anything, I wanted to take a break from adulting and feel like a carefree backpacker again. Nicaragua delivered on that.

I’d highly recommend Nicaragua if you like bright colors, adventure, and rum. (Especially if you like rum – I’ve never been offered more rum in my life).

Here are the five activities I loved most in Nicaragua.

Relaxing + Partying in Colorful San Juan del Sur

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San Juan del Sur is a surf and party town located on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast. It’s an infamous party spot, but it’s also a great jumping off point for surfing, horse-back riding and beach-hopping.

San Juan del Sur was the perfect place to relax. Whether we were playing cards on a hostel roof with new friends or throwing back Caesars at The Loose Moose, the local Canadian pub, we were always having a great time.

San_Juan_del_Sur_Colorful

Letting Loose at Sunday Funday

Sunday Funday is a town-wide pool crawl that takes place in San Juan del Sur every Sunday. It starts at about noon at Pachamama and goes until the wee hours in the morning.

Not to be a total backpacker or anything, but Sunday Funday was an absolute blast. I suffered way too many Flor de Caña shots for my taste (sadly, I hate rum), and danced for hours with a handsome Frenchman named Pierre.

For my Sunday Funday hangover brunch, I had a lobster tail. Which is totally not-crazy when a lobster tail costs $6.

Galloping a Horse down the Beach at Sunset

Riding
Photo Credit: Rancho Chilamate

Riding horses with Rancho Chilamate was one of my favorite days in Nicaragua.

We mounted our horses at the beautiful ranch, and rode over lush, verdant countryside for hours. Finally, we reached a remote beach.

As the sun was setting, we galloped through the surf at full force. There are few things I find more exhilarating than galloping a horse down a beach, as cheesy and bad 80’s music video as that sounds.

We took a road soda for a ride home, and the lightning bugs flickered in the trees in the trees as we rode back to the ranch.

Photo Credit: Rancho Chilamate
Photo Credit: Curiosity Travels
Photo Credit: Curiosity Travels

Riding a Scooter Around Ometepe Island

Ometepe is magical. It’s a volcanic island positioned in the middle of Lake Ometepe that looks just like Never Never Land.

Volcano

One day, Jessica and I decided to rent a scooter and drive it around the island. It was an adventure; we dodged countless pigs, chickens, dogs, oxen with carts and schoolchildren, and used the volcanoes as markers when we got lost.

At one point we turned down the wrong road and were gang-catcalled by a truck full of Nicaraguan men. It was as fun as it sounds.

As we drove, we passed technicolor buildings, saffron yellow churches and volcanic eruption evacuation signs – only on Ometepe.

Ometepe

During these shenanigans we stopped at the Ojo de Agua, a beautiful mineral spring. At the spring we sipped fresh coconuts with rum and swam in the cool, light turquoise water.

Sigh… I still miss fresh coconuts so much.

Ojo_de_Agua_Ometepe

We headed home as the sun was setting over the lake. Soon the gnats started to come out and Jessica, who was driving, was pelted in the face with bugs.

But catcalling and bugs aside, it was a pretty perfect day.

Concepcion

Taking a Million Pictures of Colorful Granada

As a colonial architecture aficionada, I adored Granada. Yes, the cat-calling is bad, and I wouldn’t want to live there. But I couldn’t believe how well-preserved they city is, or how colorful its buildings are.

In Granada, we found the best restaurants of our trip: El Pizzaiol, The Garden Café and Pita Pita. Pita Pita was especially amazing and specializes in Israeli food.

Granada_street_scene
Granada_Nicaragua
Granada_Nicaragua_Belltower
Granada_Streets

My Least Favorite Experience in Nicaragua

Sadly, eating was my least favorite experience in Nicaragua. While I love rice and beans, by the end of the trip I was so sick of gallo pinto, Nicaragua’s national dish of mixed rice and beans. Given how near Nicaragua is to Mexico and Guatemala, I was surprised by how monotonous and bland the food was.

My second least favorite experience was taking a near flooding passenger boat, or lancha, to Ometepe. Gallons of water sloshed on the floor as even more water splashed in the through the windows – it’s a wonder the boat didn’t sink.

On the bright side, Jessica and I decided if our lives go to shit, we’re going to open dive-bar on Little Corn named The Sinking Lancha.

Struggle

Why It’s Best to Visit Nicaragua Sooner Than Later

I’d recommend going to Nicaragua as soon as possible, as the Chinese may begin canal construction this year. Granted, the plans are shaky, and the construction may never happen.

(Let’s not forget Vanderbilt attempted to build a canal through Nicaragua in the 1850s and it was a total failure – here’s hoping China’s plans meet the same fate.)

In any case, I’d recommend visiting Nicaragua as soon as possible anyway because it’s amazing. And whether or not you’re looking to party, Nicaragua has so much to offer.

Practical info:

San Juan del Sur is a fun party town, but if you want great beaches, catch a bus to Playa Hermosa or Playa Maderas (or just stay there). The beach in San Juan del Sur is mediocre as it’s backed by a dirty harbor.

Sunday Funday takes place every Sunday in San Juan del Sur and usually starts at Pachamama hostel. It costs $30 and includes a t-shirt and transportation. Buy your ticket the day before if possible.

Horseback rides with Rancho Chilamate cost $69 for a daytime ride and $79 for a sunset ride, and last five hours. You can also stay at Rancho Chilamate, which I regret not doing because the property is so beautiful.

On Ometepe, I stayed at Little Morgan’s Hostel. It was a barebones hostel run by a guy from Ireland. While it has its fair share of geckos and centipedes, it’s a really chilled out place with hammocks and amazing views of Concepción and Maderas.

We paid $25 for our scooter rental on Ometepe, which appeared to be the going rate. As always, take caution and make sure to take photos of the bike before leaving, and wear a helmet. Read more of my moped-renting tips here.

In Granada, I stayed at Hostal El Momento and loved it. It has beautiful indoor courtyards, a pool and a lively atmosphere.

Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to Nicaragua (especially if you’re planning on riding a motorbike!). I’ve used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.

Have you ever visited Nicaragua? What would you most like to do there?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

45 thoughts on “5 of the Best Experiences in Nicaragua, And Why You Should Go Right Now”

  1. How well you described Nicaragua! And all that color–Wow!
    With the photos of you and Jessica, I felt as if I were taking the
    Trip with you. Thank you for your expertise!

    Love,

    Gamma

  2. I so need to get to Nicaragua sooner rather than later—all the volcanoes and colorful colonial architecture have me totally sold!

    Your comment about gallo pinto reminded me a lot of my experience studying abroad in Costa Rica, where gallo pinto (with black rather than red beans) is also the national dish…it got old SUPER fast lol

  3. I just left Nicaragua and loved it too! Granada was my favourite place by far – did you try the Vigoron in the parque central? That was amazing – and probably the best thing I ate in the whole country. Also love the photos from Isla de Ometepe – I didn’t like it that much, it was expensive and the food wasn’t great but its cool seeing it from a different perspective :).

  4. Totally agree with everything! I lived in a small town between Granada and Masaya for a year and hit everything on your list besides the pool party.

    The food was a let down for me too. I do miss the $0.30 avocados. Huge and tasty!

    Homemade flour tortillas and guacamole help the gallo pinto go down ?

    — love your blog!

  5. Beautiful photos – the colours are amazing!
    We were in Granada a couple of years ago (only for a day), but it was wonderful. Can’t wait to go back!

  6. First of all, somehow I have completely been living under a rock and missed your redesign. I like it!

    Second of all, WOW Nicaragua! I feel like Central America is popping up all over the place lately, and I am falling for it HARD. Although I can’t say the thought of giant spiders excites me, the other things you mentioned more than makes up for that. How do you think the canal would affect visiting? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts!

    • Thanks so much! I just made a few tweaks to add a little more color.

      I think the canal would be a travesty- it would ruin destinations on the Pacific Coast as well as Ometepe. Here’s hoping it never comes to fruition!

  7. Honestly, Nicaragua has become one of my favorite countries in the entire world. It’s such a unique and beautiful country, and all of the places you mentioned like San Juan Del Sur, Granada, Ometepe, and others offer such different experiences. You hit the nail on the head!

  8. Ometepe was my favourite part of Nicaragua. I went for three days at the end of my trip and I only wish I had gone earlier- I could easily have spent longer there. Your boat journey sounds awful though! Luckily I got the larger ferry there and back, that was bad enough for me.

  9. I went on a g adventures trip fown central america about 10 years ago now and the beauty of Granada still sticks with me. I loved my trip which started in Cancun and ended in Bocas del toro in Panama. I will definiately be returning to central america soon!

  10. Hey Ashley, I really love your blog! Also, great post about Nicaragua!! Your photos are so beautiful. It’s a country that’s really high on my list – hopefully I will get to visit sometime next year, and will keep your suggestions in mind!

  11. Thanks for sharing Ashley!! Katie Steinharter suggested that I read this since we are headed there next month… if you had 7 nights to go again how would you split that up based on your previous trip? We are thinking about allocating a night at the start and a night at the end in Managua (my brother lives there), three nights in the Corn Islands, three nights on Ometepe (with some time in Granada because everyone has been raving about that place?) and then another night in Leon?! What would you do?

    • Hey! Honestly I would keep it to three destinations – I did Ometepe, San Juan del Sur and Granada over 8 days and that was perfect. So maybe do Managua, the Corn Islands and Ometepe. That could work!

  12. Damn it looks gorgeous there! Looking for some place to telecommute for a month or so, how was the cell/internet connectivity?

  13. Hey Ashley,
    Insightful post. Heading to Nica August 11-27. Curious if you don’t mind sharing where you stayed in SJDS? And if you have any recommendations for accom whilst there.
    Cheers

  14. I’m sad to hear that you found Nicaraguan food to be bland since it’s so rich in favors. You could have enjoyed a nacatamal, frintanga de queso y tajadas or a vigoron. Don’t forget the amazing fruit that provides all the rich colors and flavors.

    I hope you venture out a bit more next time you’re there, please let me know so I can make some good recommendations.

  15. I have been to Nica several times and am going again in June with a little more travel planned. Masaya and Mombacho are both amazing!! The ride to the Isletas is also pretty cool.
    This year we are going to volcano board in Leon and hopefully scuba dive while at the Corn Islands.
    We do a service trip in Somoto. The Somoto Canyon is very beautiful and a lot of fun to travel through, especially if you’re traveling north to Honduras.

    You did a great job depicting the Nica culture! :)

  16. Hi Ashley,

    I’m going to Nica next month and was wondering if you have a packing list you could share?

    Love your blog btw!

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