My 15 Favorite Things to Do in Nicaragua

ometepe islandNicaragua used to be a secret. “Pshhh, have you been to Nicaragua yet? That’s where you really want to go,” travelers would say. It was the land of backpackers and intrepid travelers. Tourists veered towards Costa Rica as Nicaragua’s rough past plagued its image.

But over the years, travelers seeking a fun, cheap, and adventurous destination came here as an alternative to “touristy” Costa Rica and Panama once they realized Contras weren’t still roaming the jungles.

So the secret’s out, and Nicaragua is a hot destination spot for families, retirees, and backpackers relishing the cheap beer, hiking, and good surf. After visiting in December, I completely understand the appeal. Nicaragua is filled with amazing natural beauty and extremely warm people. I went in with high expectations and was not disappointed.

Though the country has been “found,” there are still many opportunities to wander off the beaten path, interact with locals, get in touch with nature, and avoid the hordes of travelers asking where they can get a burger. Here are my recommendations for the top things to see and do:

Admire Granada
painted houses in Granada
Granada has some of the most well-preserved architecture in Nicaragua. It was the first big Spanish settlement in the country and many of the buildings and churches in the Spanish colonial style are beautifully preserved (and painted a myriad of colors). Besides wandering around gawking at the architecture, you can take a kayaking trip to the nearby islets, enjoy hiking trips to Mombacho volcano, or visit the nearby markets in Masaya. While you’re in town, be sure to eat at one of the kiosks in the town square serving vigoron, a local pork and cabbage dish that was delicious (and only $2). Kathy’s Waffles and the Garden Café serve good Western food.

Surf in San Juan del Sur
sunset in san jaun del sur
A hit with surfers and backpackers, San Juan del Sur is the most popular beach destination in Nicaragua. All the beaches are beautiful and lapped by warm water. Here you’ll find great surfing (expect to pay around $9 USD per day for board rental and $25 per hour for lessons), the second-largest statue of Jesus in the world (behind Christ the Redeemer in Brazil), and lots of cheap bars. If you’re looking to party, this town is it. The two best hostels in town are The Naked Tiger and Pachamama (they throw a wild Sunday pool party too).

Visit Ometepe Island
A howler monkey on Ometepe island
This extraordinary island is located on Lago de Nicaragua and is formed by two joined volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas. Hiking, kayaking, cycling, and healthy food are the island’s main draws. Hiking the volcanoes is as hard as it appears; you’ll need to start really early or the midday heat will slow you down significantly (I learned this lesson the hard way). The volcano hikes cost around $20 USD if you’re part of a group or up to $40 if you’re by yourself (hike with a guide as it’s rather unsafe due to poorly maintained trails). Keep an eye out for all the monkeys—spotting them was more interesting than the hike!

Visit “new” León
leon town center
This city was Nicaragua’s capital until 1857. To this day it remains the country’s intellectual capital and is home to the National University. Remnants of the political war between the Somozas and Sandinistas can be seen in the graffiti and murals around the city. There are a lot of churches here, many art museums, and a burgeoning food movement. Make sure you visit the Museum of the Revolution, a fascinating museum about the Sandinista movement. The $2 entrance fee includes a guide. León is also where people base themselves for trips to the nearby volcanoes. This city was one of the highlights of my trip.

Visit “old” León
the ruins of leon viejo in nicaragua
The ruins of León Viejo date back to the 16th century and are a short trip from León. The site is Nicaragua’s only UNESCO World Heritage listing and is one of the oldest Spanish colonial settlements in the Americas. While this isn’t some lavish ruin site, it’s really the only place to see and learn about the country’s founding colonial past.

Go Volcano Boarding
cerro negro volcano boarding
Cerro Negro, a young and active volcano, is where tourists (mostly backpackers) board down the gravelly slopes on one of the many organized tours to the mountain. You hike up to the top, which takes around an hour, sit on a piece of wood, and then fly down side of the volcano. Tours from León leave in the morning and in the afternoon. It’s the main reason lots of travelers visit León and, while not my cup of tea, is extremely popular. I couldn’t visit anywhere in the country without seeing someone wearing an “I went volcano boarding” t-shirt.

Escape to the Corn Islands
relaxing on the corn islands in nicaragua
Located off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, the Corn Islands are a gorgeous place for a vacation retreat. Most people come to the islands to snorkel, scuba dive, fish, soak up the sun, and relax with a good book. There are two islands: Little Corn and Big Corn. Little Corn is the quieter, more backpacker-oriented island with cheaper guesthouses and fewer resorts. You can fly or take a ferry to Big Corn and then a smaller boat to Little Corn. Big Corn is more developed with larger resorts and more restaurants, and it’s more expensive.

Hike Miraflores

Located in Esteli in northern Nicaragua, this national park was the highlight of my entire trip. You get to wander through a beautiful cloud forest, around small farms, and over rivers and waterfalls. You’ll hardly run into any other tourists—it’s like you have the whole jungle to yourself. You can take daylong or multi-day treks to the park (the multi-day trips enable you to stay with local host families in small communities). There are also programs to help you learn to farm or teach here. I did a one-day trek ($15 USD for two meals and a mandatory guide), which started at 7am and concluded around 4pm. Bonus: all the money from the tours goes back into supporting the community and farmers.

Visit the Stone Man

Alberto Guiterrez has been carving animals and symbols into the stones outside Esteli for decades. He had a vision of angels who told him to carve, and in an effort to end his alcoholism, began carving every time he craved a drink. He’s not easy to get to, but when you find him, Alberto will welcome you into his home, give you fresh fruit, and show you all his stone carvings, which he says were inspired by God. He doesn’t speak any English, so if you don’t speak Spanish, just nod and enjoy the carvings. He also won’t ask for any money, but donations are welcome. This is a really great “off-the-beaten-path destination.” Special thanks to Rodney McDonald, director of ERSLA (a fantastic non-profit that sets up fire departments in the country), for taking me there and introducing me!

Skip Managua – There’s nothing to see here. Move along.

Hike Some Volcanoes
Sunset on top of Telica
There are a lot of volcanoes in the country, and hiking them is a popular activity. It was the main reason why I headed to Nicaragua, and I ended up hiking three. The two volcanoes on Ometepe are popular day hikes. They’re a lot more challenging then you’ll be led to believe but worth it (look out for monkeys!). León is probably the best place to do some hiking, though, since there are a lot of volcanoes there. If you’re looking to get your hiking fix, this is where to do it! The most popular volcanoes are Cerro Negro (volcano boarding), Telica (where you go for sunset hikes), San Cristobal (the longest and hardest), and Momotombo (second hardest).

Binge on Gallo Pinto

I’ll be honest. I found Nicaraguan food pretty bland. Be prepared to eat a lot of gallo pinto (rice and beans), meat, and fried plantains. It’s not the most exciting food, but it was delicious (and super economical). However, after eating it for three days straight, I broke down and went to a Western restaurant. A man can only eat so much rice and beans before he needs something different.

Do a Homestay/Learn Spanish
Want to stay longer? Take part in a homestay. There are a lot of opportunities to stay longer, volunteer, learn Spanish, and farm. If this interests you, hostels and tourist offices in any big city can help organize this for you. Esteli, Ometepe, and León were popular destinations for this.

Visit Apoyo Lagoon
lake apoyo in Nicaragua
Though lots of people visit Lake Nicaragua (which is the biggest and where Ometepe is), this lagoon near Managua is a nice spot to relax. You can sail on the lake, fish, and hike around. It’s a beautiful part of the country.

Relax – Nicaragua is a great country to just hang out in. Sit on a beach with a good book, relax in the jungle, stay on the farm, surf, or swing in a hammock. The pace of life here is slow and relaxed, so slow yourself down and enjoy some lazy, wonderful days.

Nicaragua is fast becoming the new Costa Rica in terms of tourism, and I highly recommend a visit to this country before it becomes “too touristy” and expensive. I see the writing on the wall—this place is going to explode with tourists even more than it has already. Nicaragua is a nature lover’s dream: volcanoes, rainforests, mangrove forests, and beaches abound. Add in some adventurous activities, friendly locals, and cheap prices, and you’ll see why everyone raves about this country.

I loved it so much that I’m already planning to go back there this spring.

For more in-depth advice on Nicaragua, visit my detailed guide to planning a trip there.

  1. I had a great time in Nicaragua. It was the first place I visited outside of North America. Meet very friendly locals and I took part in most of the activites and visited places you mentioned. The view from the top of Cerro Negro is captivating.

  2. Amazing list. I only had a brief stop in Nicaragua and hope to go back for more this year. I learned the Spanish word for mud hiking up Maderas volcano on Ometepe – broke my shoes and had to walk down barefoot (all my own fault) but definitely one of my favourite travel memories. I’ll definitely check out your suggestions when I go back – the Corn Islands in particular. And maybe another volcano…with better shoes!

  3. Wow Nicaragua wasn’t even on my radar before but as a hiking junkie it sounds amazing (minus the monkeys)! Volcano boarding sounds like an awesome injury waiting to happen.

  4. When I studied abroad in Costa Rica three years ago, I got the chance to live with a Nicaraguan host family, and I’ve wanted to visit their home country ever since. Thanks for this informative and helpful post about the “next” Costa Rica…it looks unique, affordable, and relaxing.

    I neeeeeeeeeed some of that gallo pinto with eggs and plantains, now, though…

  5. Jason

    Casa Iguana on Little Corn Island is an awesome laid back “resort.” Reserve online, they’ll meet you at the dock to help you with your stuff. No cars or streets on LCI, just walking. Just awesome.

  6. Maria Guerra

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed staying at my country! There are lots of beaches and landscapes to visit. Tourism has been growing over the years.

    Oh just one thing, it’s ‘vigorón’ not vigaron :-)

    Saludos desde Nicaragua!

  7. Fred

    When you say you “went to a Western” restaurant. Do you mean spaghetti western? Or you really meant a north american restaurant. Nicaragua is part of the western hemisphere. I am making Nicaragua a must visit in the next two years. Thank you Matt for your stories.

  8. Whoa, you make Nicaragua sound absolutely sensational. Can’t say I have ever thought of visiting there in the past… or heard of volcano surfing! That sounds incredibly fun. The Corn islands also look lovely. To anyone thinking hiking is boring – wait until you’ve tried it with monkeys hopping around overhead. I just recently experienced this is Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and it’s more than enough of a show to keep you entertained for an afternoon (and all for free!).

    Traveling south of the US instead of west has always been on my dream list – you’ve just inspired me further. Thanks for the informative, beautiful article!

  9. Awesome Matt! I can’t wait to visit Central America in general, good to know about these spots when I come across Nicaragua. I know you might not be able to relate, but any advice for a solo female traveler in the area? I have heard good things about Central America and that it’s safe…but I have heard even more stories how it’s not that safe. What do you think about safety in Nicaragua? Did you meet anyone who ran into problems? Thanks! :)

        • carol

          any advice on where to stay (hostel/hotel) when arriving (with 5 other people) late at night in Managua and trying to take the bus to san juan del sur the next morning? I am thinking it would be great to stay near the bus area?? Advice on airport transfer to the place too?

          • Rebecca

            There is a Best Western across the street from the airport, Carol. It is not cheap $90/night for double), but it is across the street and they have a shuttle that will pick you up so you don’t have to lug your stuff across the busty 6 lane road. (I live on the outskirts of Managua and occasionally stay there when im flying out so I don’t have to get my kids up so early to catch our flight)
            If you are staying at a hotel elsewhere they should beagle to provide an airport transfer for you.

    • May

      If you are traveling as a solo female traveler in Central America, Nina, not all of the region is safe. In fact, Honduras and Guatemala are some of the most violent countries in the world, followed closely by El Salvador. A shame since Guatemala in particular has amazing cultural heritage and mountains…and food!, but I’d steer clear from them. Costa Rica is super touristy and filled with retired americans (still, a lovely country), but much safer. Panama is also safe, but is similar to a little miami and doesn’t have that Central American ‘feeling’. Nicaragua has the highest security levels, despite being the poorest of the lot (but less infrastructure means more off the beaten track destinations, less mass tourism….and super cheap! and the people are just incredibly nice). Now, safe doesn’t mean you should be reckless and leave you ipad on the beach and that sort of thing! Which is the type of petty theft that exists in just about any place.

      As for beaches, little corn island is definitely amazing! In San Juan, there are close by beaches like Playa Coco (my fave!) or Majahual. There’s also a little less known place near Tola called Punta Teonoste that everyone raved about but I never went. Actually, I think one of the fun things to do is actually discover beaches in Nicaragua, since most aren’t ‘destinations’, but word of mouth, dirt roads and some adventurous exploring! Heaven in my book!

      As for food, although gallo pinto is the main homemade fare, the coutry has some interesting variety, especially fish dishes at its beaches and some of the best meat you’ll eat (don’t go to a ‘fritanga’ is you want good meat, go to a nice restaurant like Los Ranchos Tiscapa or Puyazo…and you won’t regret it. all cattle is free range in Nicaragua and one of their biggest export industries). Also, if you’re a coffee lover, enjoy taking some home with you (they don’t drink it much…or use the icky poweder one, but they sell it everywhere…the aroma is outstanding) and….some of the best chocolate i’ve tasted (even though it only come from one small factory). It’s called Momotombo chocolate…buy tons!!! it is literally addictive!!

      I don’t like Managua but it has interesting restaurants and bars. ask the locals to recommend good places. To hang out, a more bohemian scene is El Caramenchel and the road filled with bars in Los Robles (can’t recall the name). There is also the craziest canopy zipline in the middle of the city at the laguna tiscapa!! Don’t miss it!

      If you are a foodie, the city of Granada will entertain your tastebuds. It has a pedestrian street with filled with little cafes, restaurants and bars of all kinds (nica, italian, etc.) and all the fish restaurants along the waterline.

      Main recommendation, always ask a friendly local. They’ll share the best places and give you tips with a smile.

      As for advise to women, men are pretty respectul most of the times. In the streets in shadier places of the city however, they are a bit foward and love flattery. usually this means whistling when you walk by and say something like ‘estas rica!’ (you are fine/hot). Best thing to to do is just ignore them. If you are adventurous and decide to get on the public buses, which are rather terrible, you could get midly gropped or pick pocketed, as you would in many countries. Use your common sense and you’ll be fine.

      • Jen

        I traveled alone on 3 different occasions to Central America – once to Guatemala, once to Honduras, and once to Nicaragua. I was in each country for 3 weeks, backpacking around by myself. I had absolutely NO problems at all, other than being pickpocketed in a bus station in Leon (it was entirely my fault, I made it WAY too easy and was conspicuous about where I put my money). If you use common sense, don’t go out alone after dark, don’t get drunk alone, and avoid notoriously dangerous locations (such as the big cities), you will have a fantastic trip! Guatemala was my favourite by far.

      • Gabriel

        Supporting your coment.

        Hidden beaches are the best on Rio San Juan and the Caribean Region (Pearl Lagoo/Laguna de Perla, it’s a MUST GO DESTINY) of the country. They are extremely beautiful, and trying to find them are one of the funniest part of the trip.

        Nicaragua have near 25 Volcanos, the bigger and harder to hike is San Cristobal in León. Most of them are still active and the other has become in exhuberant Lagoons, and forestal mountains.

        When we talk about meat, Los Ranchos and El Puyaso are some of the best places in the capaital (Managua). But the best meat of the country can be found in the Central region, in departaments like Chontales, Boaco, and many others.

        Excuse my English by the way, I know that it is not very good yet, but I hope this extra info. help you in your trip along Nicaragua!

      • Gabriel


        Oh! Almost forgot, look for the music! Nicaraguan taditional music and festivities. Nicaragua is full of traditions, folk festivals, heart touching music, and more!

        The hipicas in each departament, so beautiful horse parades and livestock shows. parties like Los Agüizotes in Masaya, Cultural shows in the National Theater, etc, etc.

        The music and culture are so rich, that you will probably never end appreciating them! 😀

    • Giovanna Faria

      Hi Nina,

      I lived in Granada for almost 4 years and never once encountered any danger. The amount of “cat calls” and the fact that so many men act as if they were “dogs in heat” is intimidating at first, but pretty quickly you realize that they are harmless… Annoying and rude, but harmless. Of course I would not wander off to certain neighborhoods at night time, just as I don’t here in the US. Just be cautious when taking a cab in Managua (btw, the capital city is not a very pleasant place; I’d recommend staying in Granada, Leon, San Juan del Sur and Ometepe). I’ve heard of taxi drivers who rob tourists after picking them up at the airport… Then again, it could happen elsewhere. It’s wise to ask your hotel/hostel to send somebody to meet you upon arrival.

  10. Suzana

    I did everything on this list when I went minus the stone man and Esteli. I plan to return to do the northern cities (Esteli, Matagalpa, Jinotega), and of course stay in Leon again (my fave…you should recommend Chilli Inn because it’s $5 a day including two free drinks…same owner as Camaleon). The beach in Leon is also amazing, and the bus to the beach is less than $1. I also heard the markets in Masaya are better than the ones in Grenada although I never made it. My buddy Jeff lived in Managua for a couple years and said it does have it’s spots even though it is a little more dangerous. I got pick -pocketed in Grenada at a bar after a parade and my laptop was stolen on a chicken bus so these are definitely valuable things for people to consider when visiting!! Big corn has awesome “Bamboleos” with a ton of dancing. You can do everything relatively quickly there also.

  11. Dude! How can you say that about our food? Maybe the problem is that you only ate gallopinto and eggs! We have so many different dishes to try and trust me they’re not “bland”

    Next time, make sure to try them :)

      • Gaby

        You should have tried Nacatamal, Baho, Indio Viejo, Caballo Bayo, Sopa de Mondongo, Sopa de Albóndiga, Sopa de Cola, Cajetas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ESPECTACULAR!!

      • Deb

        Don’t forget to mention the chicken. We went to San Juan Del Sur just to see if it was NOT like the Pacific coast of Mexico and ended up buying a house. We love this country. It is clean and the food is amazing. Especially the chicken… it tastes like the chicken we grew ourselves when I was a kid–totally hormone free and the breast absolutely massive. The only thing we found weird is it is really difficult to find any meat on the bone here with the exception of pork ribs. You won’t find better chicken any where, I swear!!

  12. Make sure to put Matagalpa on your list too! I have a small business through which I facilitate trips to Nicaragua and in particular, the Casa Materna in Matagalpa (among other places). Feel free to contact me! It is truly an amazing place.

  13. el garabato

    If you stop by in Managua I recommend you come to El Garabato …A Taste of Tradition… here you will have a taste of the variety of Nicaraguan food has to offer (vegetarian friendly).
    Facebook: elgarabatoo

    • memo

      Por favor, El Garabato es solo una Fritanga cara….nada mas. La autentica comida es la que se encuentra en las calles, en los mercados…..salud!!!

  14. magdala

    There is a lot more . Want to hike ? Go to Jinotega, and climb Peña de la Cruz. It has a breath taking view of the city, on one side and apanas lake on the other. ..

  15. Hello!

    Great post! We lived in Costa Rica for 2 years. Everyone recommended going north across the border to Nicaragua because it was beautiful, unspoiled, and cheap. They were right on all accounts. It is like Costa Rica was 25 years ago before the tourist boom. It is not as unsafe as the media portrays it. The government is actively trying to attract tourism and so is really trying to make sure the tourists are safe and have a good time. Enjoy! Thanks.

  16. mike

    I met my wife in Managua running the half marathon April 2013 we fell in love, 3 months married now… And counting… A day previous to the 21K I went to a canopy tour in Tiscapa lagoon, visit Salvador Allende and old Managua with its cathedral and theater National Palace, went to have lunch and walk with a nice view of Managua lake, you can also enjoy a nice dinner @ Don Parrillón ask for the parrillada a delicious platter of different type of meat… Still thinking there’s nothing to do in MGA???

    • NomadicMatt

      Of course there is literally “something to do” in Managua. But is it worth going there? In my opinion, time is better spent elsewhere in the country.

  17. Ari

    Just one thing was left out. Río San Juan and Solentiname island… beautiful sights, flora , fauna and good river lobster. Try to canoping through the reserve Indio Maiz. And the food is sooooooo much more! I miss Nica just for the good! To actually see and feel Nicaragua you meed at leasta month! There is so much todo and taste… I hope you enjoy it!!!!!

  18. warren

    Im Nicaraguan and I recommend visiting places like El cañon de Somoto, Las Isletas, El chocoyero, El Salto en Esteli, Selva Negra (mountain hotel)… there´s pretty nice surfers hostals like Surfing Turtle in Poneloya Beach or Surf Ranch in San Juan del Sur Beach ( this happens to have a pretty cool skate park), Montelimar (all inclusive-at pretty fair price)
    . Theres also some luxury hotels like Guacalito, Aqua Wellness, Jicaro Lodge, Morgans Rock and many more…
    Do try the nearby beaches north and south San Juan del Sur… they are less crowded and somehow sands are different ( some have white sand )… Playa del Coco has nice Hotels with apartment-like facilities.. Granada is a nice city to visit for its Colonial architecture and has the biggest lake in centralamerica. Managua is relatively safe but do walk accompanied by a local at least while visiting Markets or poorer neighborhoods… in Managua you can visit Salvador Allende port, and the nightlife is pretty busy in Zona Hippos (that whole street of bars they where talking about on a previous post). The local food is great, but theres also a lot of non-Nicaraguan cuisine places that are pretty cheap… I ate a plate with about 30 fried shrimps for about 8 bucks just yesterday at a Chinese Restaurant.

  19. Joaquin Ruiz

    Carlos Amargo,

    Y que tiene si no le gusto la comida? Hace de cuenta que la comida no es algo de gusto propio. Lo importante es que vino a conocer Nicaragua y le gusto, le gusto tanto, que escribió un articulo! Deja de estar de resentido y criticando al chavalo pq no le pareció que la comida Nica es la mas rica.

    También, yo soy de Managua. Y también soy de la opinión que Managua es una ciudad sin gracia. Es una opinión y cada quien tiene derecho a su opinión. El puerto Salvador Allende esta bonito, pero las atracciones de Managua son incomparables al las del DF, Bogota, San Jose o otras capitales en la región. Eso si, tenemos ciudades lindisimas como Leon y Granada.

  20. warren

    sorry about the double post. I forgot to mention: We have been visited by many celebrities that are starting to see Nicaragua as a Hide-away / escape / relaxing place… even as a retirement ( because its nice weather, safety, and cheap prices )… Morgan Freeman, Amy Lee, Woody Harrelson.. Some TV shows have been filmed here like SURVIVOR.
    Visit Laguna de Apoyo Hostals like Norome o La abuela and Catarina Mirador.

    visit for information on most Nicaraguan destinies ( Im not affiliated with the site in any way).

  21. Hey, Matt!

    What’s your plan for the nearest time.

    I’m a blogger from Ukraine and currently explore Mexico.
    Whould be great to meet up if you’re around or our paths will cross over.

    Sincerely, Orest

    P.S. Your blog and personality was one of the examples for me when I just started and now my blog is doing pretty well even in such narrow economy as Ukrainian language market. Thanks to that I was able to visit 48 countries so far and spending already second winter in exotic country with my fiancee.

  22. Susan

    I really loved the Masaya volcano – off the road to Granada since you can go right up to the edge of the volcano and look in! There are also several great ziplines in Nicaragua outside of Managua that take you through the mountains and coffee plantations. Selva Negra was beautiful and take the tour while you are there!! Very informational! Laguna de Apoyo ( a crater lake- you had a picture from the top of the lake, but go down to the edge and swim in it!) It has several hotels along the shoreline that allow you to go there for the day and use the pool/ facility if you buy their lunch, so that is a really nice day trip and SO PEACEFUL! Nicaragua is a relatively safe country, but I wouldn’t recommend travelling alone. Stay alert when riding on the buses and taxis. I recommend renting a vehicle straight from the airport so that you can get to where you need to go – just make sure you know the rules for driving or you will probably be stopped by their eager police officers!

    • I just wanted to add to interested visitors that you can use the application “Waze” on your Iphones, if you have a data package on your phones that can be used in Nicaragua, all you do is type in where you want to go and it will take you. I was supprised the day I used it to go from Jinotega to Esteli via La Concordia, it guided me perfectly. I want to reiterate what other have already, that visitors need to travel north as well and not just stay along the beaches, there are great places to visit, great Natural Reserves as well as beautiful Coffee Plantations that will great you with open arms.

  23. sara bolt

    It’s great that you love it. If you like hiking go into the North, near La Dalia is a great hotel: la sombra and you can go hiking to the mountains of Peñas Blancas, there’s Centro de Entendimiento con la Naturaleza and they make tours into amaazing cascades.
    And if you like more spicy food, eat en el Mercado de San Juan del Sur, fried fish with salsa ranchera is absolutly delicious ;D

  24. Lulu Griffin

    My daughter & I went to visit my son in March, 2013 in Leon. He went in search of a dream. To surf and run a surf camp. He left with a back pack and his surfboard zipped in a bag. He’s been there since Nov 1, 2011. I as a mother, worried sick about him going alone at 27, not knowing a soul and how safe or unsafe it might be. My only way to know if he was ok was if he posted on Facebook. Then, he left his iPhone on the beach and it got stolen. He worked cooking for a hostel in San Juan del Sur for room & board and he surfed. Every day :) He then decided to check out other areas and moved up to Leon. Worked for another hostel, met other business owners sho loved him and helped him get to where he is. The natives gave him a nickname. He was known everywhere he went. He loves the people and history and country.
    When my daughter & I went, he wasn’t yet running the surf camp. We tented a car and went to Matagalpa, Jinotega, & Esteli, all places he had been. We went north to Selva Negra where he had never been. A shower with HOT water was a new experience for him in Nica. Leon is hot. No need for hot water! He loved it. So did we. After a night there, we headed to Canon Somoto to meet a tour guide his friend arranged for us. My gosh, I was in the water in the river in the canyon feeling like I was in a National Geographic magazine. The guide took us to his home after to meet his wife. When I tell you the people of Nicaragua are friendly, they are. Very. His friend, our taxi driver to and from the airport, was so nice. Employees at ghe hostel were. On the road to Canon Somoto, we needed to eat breakfast. A home had a sign for desayuno. We were in such a poor area. The woman was SO proud of her yard and told us to walk and see it while making our breakfast. We ate off a mish mash of old cracked dishes. The sour cream and cheese freshly made from the neighboring animals was the freshest and best I ever had. The poor there survive off the land and what they have and are still warm and lovely people. We also did volcano boarding at Cerro Negro, rode horseback on a tour to a lake in a crater of a volcano. We were there for only 8 days and did a lot. He’s coming home for my wedding this year and we will go back to visit him next year and see other places on this list of 15 that I haven’t done or seen yet. I can’t wait.
    I had never been outside the U.S., Montreal, a few islands on a cruise. I absolutely LOVED my time there and felt my son is VERY safe there. I met a group of 6 sweet kids from Norway in our hostel in Leon who save to go there yearly for a few mos. some take courses at the university. It’s safe, it’s beautiful, it’s friendly, and interesting. Go visit! And check out Thunderbomb Surf Camp!

  25. Linda

    Hi there, and thank you for visiting our beautiful Nicaragua and writing such nice comments about it. We’ve got a great little paradise there :) I was a bit confused though, when you mentioned the food was bland. I love gallopinto and binge on it every time I get a chance (I live in mexico and it doesn’t exist here), but Nica food has some awesome and flavorful dishes. To start, we have the best meat quality out there and churrascos are to die for. We have vigoron, nacatamal, tostones and fried cheese, quesillos and a variety of native drinks that are a must try….. bon apetit!

  26. Just discovered your blog – great post on Nicaragua! We went there for the first time in 2012 and loved it so much we’ve thought about going back. Thanks for some new suggestions.

  27. Thanks for sharing! Nica just looks so amazing and I’ve only heard good things. The idea of getting to stay longer and work on a farm sounds very appealing and being able to get involved is so rewarding. Soon enough I will head to Central America. Great blog!

  28. Great article… the only thing I don’t agree with is your comment on Managua.
    Being the capital city Managua has a great history, from political, archaeological, cultural and social aspects.
    Maybe it’s not tourist friendly, but this definitely put it in the “off the beaten path” category.
    There are all sort of monuments, specially related to the recent war history.
    The fact that Managua was complete destroyed by an earthquake in 1972 and 6,000 people were killed, and more than 250,000 were left homeless… and there are still a few of the ruins standing in what used to be the center of the city.
    Interesting places like Rubén Dario National Theater, one of the few buildings that survived the earthquake, is considered to have one of the best acoustics in the region.
    I could go on but I’m gonna leave it to you and other travelers to explore, visit and learn about our not-so-attractive-but-definitely-interesting capital city.

  29. Catherine

    I’ve been to Nicaragua twice, both times as a solo female traveller, and have felt incredibly safe and welcome. Volcano boarding is a rush, but the key is not to fall off the board! The volcano gravel will tear up your flesh…I have the scars to prove it! Best to bring a small first aid kit…if you don’t need it, someone else in your group probably will.

  30. Elaine

    My eyes have been open, still in my planning stay of my trip, never even thought of visiting this part of the world, now for me it’s a must. I will be a mature solo female traveller, on a budget so any links to working/volunteering for bored, and safe contact to help me get around would be greatly appreciated. Also when is the best time of the year too visit !! thank you all, especially you Matt you are my inspiration, been following you for weeks now and you have no idea how much of a help you have been for me.

  31. Kerry

    Okay, I have a serious question. Really. How many tarantulas did you see? We were going to visit this year, but I bought a Moon guide and it said that basically tarantulas are everywhere and you should either get used to shaking out your bed clothes, regular clothes, and shoes if you don’t want to share your space with them. How true is this for places like Granada and Leon, or was this meant to cover the more natural areas?

    • Jessica

      you do need to shake your clothing and shoes out and check the bed before you get in, scorpions are very common as well as tarantulas. I know the scorpions are not deadly they hurt like hell and cause flu like symptoms my step dad was bitten by one in his home.

  32. Wow! Sounds really awesome Matt. I’ve never heard of volcano surfing or been to Central America. It hasn’t has particular appeal. Perhaps I should?
    Thanks for sharing!

  33. Sylvia

    You need to add Estanzuela right outside Esteli. It is a waterfall and when I went there were no other tourist. It was breathtaking, both times I went.

  34. Matt, I swear every time I come on your site I learn something totally new. And not just new like ‘hmm, that’s interesting,’ but new like “YOU CAN GO VOLCANO BOARDING?! WHAAA?”

    Thanks for blowing my mind on the daily.

  35. Jessica

    Absolutely Love Granada , my mom lives there and Owns a wonderful little restaurant in her house!! Its a beautiful place to travel, I highly recommend Apoyo Lagoon it is breathtaking, and An Juan Del Sur is a gorgeous little beach town!!!

  36. Eva

    Managua is a beautiful city that get’s a bad reputation because of travelers that don’t understand it. It is tricky but has a warm heart and it is where we actually have a night life. You can’t tell people not to visit Managua, you can’t just disregard it because you did not learn how to appreciate it. Nicaragua and every one of it’s cities, towns and nooks is worth discovering. I wouldn’t tell people not to read your blog just because you didn’t see potential in our beautiful and crazy city.

    • Lorraine

      I’ll be in Managua for a couple of days. What can you recommend doing? What are the best places to shop? Anything I shouldn’t leave Nicaragua without?

  37. sara

    Don’t listen and don’t skip Managua… its not a beautiful city, but you can meet great people, go to great parties and be real, for once, as a tourist. You want to go to “gringos” cities, see what all the tourist see? good for you, but if you want to understand Nicaragua, you have to go to Managua, and enjoy it. I lived there 6 years, i learn to hate it and love it, be carefull if you talk s*** about it, we are a lot to actually love it <3

  38. Hey Matt,

    Thanks for the post. I have not visited Nicaragua and this will definitely help. Have the government preserved the palace of Samoza, the dictator who ruled the country as a museum? Does tourists have an access to this place? It will be worth visiting such place and understand the history of the country.

    Can one manage with English easily or do i need to start my Spanish classes :-)

  39. The sunsets in San Juan del Sur were the highlights for us over our 20 days in the town. These amazing displays of color and contrast were amazing to watch everyday. We have fond memories of Nicaragua and its people and want to go back soon as well…especially before all the mass tourists come.

  40. Nicaragua is a amazing country.There is so many beautiful places.Visiters feeling very nice when they see the amazing and advanturvers places in Nicaragua.volcano boarding is very cool there is enjoying fying.i like Nicaragua very much.

  41. SL

    Glad I got to do so many of the things you listed here!

    Hiking volcanoes is tough, but SO worth it. Getting to the top of Concepcion was one of the most physically grueling things I’ve done ever, but when you’re at the top lying on the grass, listening to a bunch of drunk Norwegian men singing, and smelling the sulfur coming out of the volcano… talk about a rewarding experience.

    Nicaragua is beautiful, and I’d love to go again (though seriously about gallo pinto – too much!).

  42. Allie

    Thank you for a good review of my country; however, I’ll disagree with your comment regarding the food. I could tell you that we can go months without repeating a dish. We have an amazing selection of soups, rice, stews, salad, meats, sauces, etc. I can go on and on. Gallo pinto is a classic dish and you’ll find it everywhere. We are certainly not limited to burgers and fries. Next time, make sure to adventure into our culinary world. You won’t be dissapointed but you must be willing to try.

  43. I’m going to Nicaragua for about five weeks this summer. I can’t wait! I’m going to try to spend time in Matagalpa, Esteli, Leon, Granada, and Ometepe. This post gave me some great ideas of things to do!

  44. Thankfully, traveling and adventure runs in my family. My nephew begged my brother to let him “Volcano Board” on Cerro Negro, and he finally relented. A little banged up, but some fun pictures and video made him a star with his friends back home.

    I have not had the opportunity to visit yet, but from the pictures and video from my brother and his family, we are making plans to go as well. Is there a particular time of year you suggest?

    Robert Bruce
    Travel Ambassador

  45. Nancy brown

    Spent 2 weeks in Nicaragua in February. Awesome, beautiful country with lots to do. Volcano boarding was a thrill, as was surfing in San Juan del Sur and scuba diving off Little Corn. This was our first experience with some loose planning. Trying to shed my Detailed planning approach as I head towards my RTW in 2017. Nica is full of great people, good cheap food and decent beer and yummy rum!

  46. Great site and into to Nica. I was in love with Costa Rica and still really like but Nica is like a time machine you can go back into to time. Pre-Starbucks. Great place to make out with Mother Nature!

  47. Augustin C.

    Hi Matt,
    I’ve been to Nicaragua quite a few times as my mother is from there, and thank you for the article, as it provided me with a good baseline to show some friends around the country.
    Do you have any contact information regarding the hike in Miraflores and the volcano-boarding?

  48. Stephanie

    Very informative article and comments!
    I’m possibly planning a trip to Nicaragua as a surprise for my boyfriend, although either of us have traveled to Central America.
    Problem is we can’t go for more than 5-6 days because of work.

    I’d love to hit up all those awesome places (or as many as I can given the limited amount of days).

    Main question, where is a good city/ town to stay where we can hop to these places easily and it’s central? I don’t mind moving cities midway through either. Maybe by the beach for half, the other either more in the wildlife or even in a cool city. We tend to like more layback areas rather than overpopulated with tourism.

    Any thoughts?!

    Thanks in advance!

  49. Abner

    Definitely you have forgotten many places … I will mention a few here for you to have in mind for your next trip:
    1. Peñas Blancas Massif:
    This place is wonderful for walks and to meet with nature. You will see a cascade of over 100 meters.
    2 Somoto Canyon:
    The best place for hiking, throughout central america. It is a canyon several miles long with small waterfalls. You can practice rappelling and enjoy the cold waters of the river.
    3 Jinotega:
    You can visit the National Forest Reserve, El Jaguar. You will see how the process of how the coffe is made, the entire process from the court to the tasting. If you like the adventure of the canopy, there is one 2.5 miles long, among the pine forest, it is called; The Brellera and is located in San Rafael del Norte.
    4 Volcan Mombacho (worth commenting a little more)
    You can camp at 1600 meters of altitude above sea level and enjoy walks 2-5 hours watching the unique fauna and enjoying a temperate climate.
    5 White Villages: Pueblos Blancos
    If you like clay pottery and learn a little more from the Nicaraguan culture should visit Niquinohomo (Birthplace of national hero Augusto C. Sandino), Masatepe, San Marcos, The shell and especially San Juan de Oriente and Catarina. The whole route you can do it in a day.

    I live in Nicaragua and i highly recomend you to come to our little piece of land in the middle of the Americas !! Los espero pronto !!

  50. Richie

    One major thing left out of your list are the festivals that go on. Matt how long were you there? And you didn’t see a festival? You can do this and that and go here and there, but experiencing the culture is #1 in my book!

    Speaking of books, there is a great one that details Nicaragua’s festivals:

    I can forgive you because it is not the kind of thing most tourists know about. Next time you are in town be sure to check them out! In fact, Halloween is coming up and they throw an insane festival called Los Aguizotes in Masaya. Don’t miss it!

  51. Hi Matt, I’m planning on a 1-week trip to Nicaragua in January. My friend and I prefer off-the-beaten-path travel, but with only a single week, I don’t know how far off the path we can really get. Do you have any suggestions for where the best place(s) to send just 6 nights in Nicaragua would be?

    Thanks – and thanks for the fantastic blog!

  52. wendy

    Hi Matt and all other the rest of the fellow nomads.

    We are heading off to Nic for 8 days and just trying to figure the best use of time. Anyone find Ometipe worth the effort or is there something better to spend our time seeing? Already doing Leon, Cerro Negro, Granada, Massaya V(hopefully at night) and the final three in San Jaun Del Sur (surfing/exploring/hanging out). Traveling with teens so looking for some adventure/beauty/culture.

  53. Steph

    We have a trip booked in March and are SO excited! My husband’s cousin works in Nicaragua (he’s a geologist) which is why we decided to visit…we booked a condo at Hacienda Iguana and can’t wait. After a snowy, cold Canadian winter so far, March can’t get here fast enough!!

  54. Robyn

    Hey Matt loved your article! thanks for sharing. My husband and I have 10 days planned for Nicaragua in May with our 2 year old daughter, we are adventurous and wondering what would you plan to do if you were us?? We love everything you have mentioned above but any advice/itinerary would be great!

  55. Sally

    Can anyone recommend a good guide for Miraflores / Somoto Canyon? I have heard very mixed things about Treehuggers and no reviews about Zuvy. (Those are the only two I’ve found.)

  56. Justin S

    My fiance and I are going to Nicaragua in March for our honeymoon, specifically the Granada and Esteli areas. Thanks for all the great ideas!

  57. Diane

    Fabulous ideas and what a superb country Nicaragua seems to be! I’m aiming to go for 2 weeks for a surprise 50th birthday for hubby. Just about to look into Airbnb to stay with Nicaraguans! Can’t wait….so excited, thanks for all the great inputs from everyone, it’s going to be magical! Adios Todos!

  58. i thoroughly enjoyed reading your post, Matt. It brought back lovely memories of a one-day trip I took last year from Costa Rica to Granada. I absolutely fell in love with Nicaragua and can’t wait to go back. I agree, it’s not going to stay untouristy for long.

  59. Alex Rivas

    I really appreciate your time to share this tips with us. Actually I was born in Nicaragua but raise in USA since a kid so I really don’t know Nicaragua but I be visiting this year, so I appreciate your info it was very helpful to me. Keep up the great travel advise!

  60. Thank you for the lovin’ up of Nicaragua. Next time you visit, we need to get you in the saddle for some horseback riding to the beach.

  61. Natalie

    So many delicious food options you have to try! Most of it is very flavorful. Next time you go, try to see if you can try some of the more traditional foods like baho, sopa de queso (eaten during Easter), vigoron, enchiladas Nicaragüenses, indio viejo and yummy desserts (like pio quinto or picos)! The Caribbean side of Nicaragua has yummy food infused with coconut. Thanks for the of ideas. It’s been so long since I’ve been in Nicaragua and this is making me want to explore it some more!

  62. marisol

    can anybody recommend something to do next month with an 8 months old? i cant think of anything besides going to the beach… of course volcano boarding and that kind of stuff is impossible with my baby girl

  63. Hi, we have a nice team in San Juan del Sur. We confirm seriously our tour who may be one of the best attraction in San Juan del Sur, a beach tour.
    Our team assist and aedvice every one and partice we devotion in Nicaragua business development.
    Our group has also an activity of tour operator through Bon Voyage Nicaragua S.A.,we custom road all over the country.

    Marisol, the volcano boarding or Cerro Negro volcano is perfect for every one with gas activity, color and landscaps to discover. For the boarding, speople goes down walking it takes only 20 minutes, 1 hour to walk up.

    All our team are available at : [email protected]

  64. Marit

    Suggestions on where to stay with a few kids in toe? Hikers, and busy ones, wanting to volcano board and all. Best areas to use as home-base, preferably beach area with restaurants, bars, to visit nearby? Super excited to visit. Thank you for all this great information!

  65. Bryce

    Traveling with 2 and we want to visit granada, leon, sanjuan del sur, and ometepe islands. what would be our best option for transportation? should we rent a car or rely on public transport? are scooters an option? thanks

  66. I was thinking the same thing, it looks like a Costa Rica N°2. If it’s cheaper than Costa Rica I might end up there. I’m glad I learnt spanish at school !

  67. Dan

    #16 cigars. Some of the best cigars in the world come out of Nicaragua. I want to go back just to tour more of the factories.

  68. Juliska

    Hi. Love your critique. My sweetie is a “Nica” so we ve been going for several years prior to spawning. Last year,the kids went for the first time and did some of the places on your list. I agree its changing. We are hoping the canal is not constructed or it will change some of the places. Spot on about craving different cuisine but its part of traveling. Suggest the Reserve de la.Flor south of SDSJ for the turtle refuge and the boat ride from Rama to Bluefields for the wildlife. There are six indigenous groups living in rain forests. As for size and personality for.those from the States, its the size of Texas with some parts having the personality of Texas whereas other parts the landscape is similar to California without the crowds then of course you have the Caribbean tropical influence on the East Coast. Cheers.

  69. luca

    I guys, I went in Nica last year and it was really fantastic. I visited all country but the most interestic thing it was been the est coast from san juan del northe to bluesfield and pearl lagoon.

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