Nicaragua sits between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and boasts two coasts, each bordering a different ocean. This is the oldest city in Central America with the largest lake; Lake Nicaragua which covers a vast 8,264 sq km and is home to more than 430 volcanic islands. Vast Lake Managua and the iconic stratovolcano Momotombo sit north of the capital Managua which happens to be the place to party. Visit Granada or Leon to discover the Nicaraguan’s rich cultural heritage. The Solentiname Islands will soothe your soul and the Esmeralda Coast is a surfer’s paradise.
NICARAGUA TOP 5 THINGS TO DO
San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur is a town on Nicaragua’s southwest coast. If you like a colorful beach town with a laid back vibe, beautiful beaches and sunsets then San Juan del Sur is the place for you. The beaches Maderas and Marsella, are no longer a well-kept secret. They are now a popular tourist destination for surfers, backpackers, yogis and honeymooners alike. While here head south along the coast to where olive ridley turtles breed at La Flor Nature Reserve.
Beguiling and highly photogenic, Granada is Nicaragua’s fourth largest city and a popular tourist spot. Travelers are drawn here by the colonial-era architecture and the freshwater Lake Nicaragua. The city’s main plaza, Central Park, is dominated by the neoclassical facade of the Cathedral of Granada. The Centro Cultural Convento San Francisco nearby is famed for its displays of pre-Columbian statues.
This is one of oldest rock formations in Central America and has become one of Northern Nicaragua’s main attractions. Somoto Canyon is the place to awaken your inner adventurer so jump from high cliffs and swim in the Coco river amidst this natural wonder. To get to Somoto Canyon go from the city of Leon to Estelí, change buses in Estelí and head to Somoto Canyon from there.
Masaya Volcano National Park
The Masaya Volcano National Park is one of the most popular attractions in Nicaragua as it happens to be one of the world’s most accessible volcanoes, one of only two in the world where you can drive up to the crater lip and look inside and see the bubbling lava pool. Only 23 kilometers from the capital, the Masaya Volcano National Park is the first, and largest national park in the country, consisting of a volcanic caldera with two volcanoes and five craters.
Located between Masaya and Granada, the Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve is one of Nicaragua’s most beautiful natural wonders. Lake Apoyo was declared a nature reserve in 1991 and is managed by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources and comprises one of 78 protected areas of Nicaragua. Stay the night here in one of the beach-front hostels so you can watch the sunrise and set.
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NICARAGUA TOP 3 FESTIVALS
International Poetry Festival
The city of Granada has been hosting the International Poetry festival since 2005, which is the most significant poetry event in the whole of Central America. A beautiful and captivating mix of creativity and culture, this festival is passionately attended by world famous poets each year. In Nicaragua, poets are treated like rockstars!
Holy Week, also known as “Semana Santa”, is a traditional celebration that has been a part of Nicaraguan culture for more than 470 years.
The 14th of September is the remembrance day of the Battle of San Jancito and on the 15th is the celebration of the signing of Independence. Nicaraguans are especially proud of their country and they celebrate freedom and peace throughout Central America. The celebration consists of marching bands, patriotic poems and lots of Nicaraguan flags!
Language: The official language of Nicaragua is Spanish, however Nicaraguans on the Caribbean coast speak indigenous languages and also English.
Currency: Nicaraguan Cordoba.
Visa: Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union require just a passport to enter Nicaragua and can stay for up to 90 days. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after the date of entry. Visas can also be extended at the Office of Immigration in Managua for $12 a month. Use these free online visa checker and calculator tools so you know if a visa for Nicaragua is required (which may depend on the country you are from) and how long it will take to process your visa and the cost.
Electricity: Nicaragua typically uses 110 volt electricity, which is the same as the US. Plugs are typically the 2 pronged flat type so US travelers will not typically need a plug adapter (unless your device requires 3 prongs). Buy a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each new country you visit.
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WHAT TO EAT IN NICARAGUA
Some traditional dishes that you must try in Nicaragua are listed below.
Gallo Pinto: If there is one meal that everyone in Nicaragua and Costa Rica eats, it’s gallo pinto. The “Nicas” eat this staple dish for breakfast, lunch & dinner. This hearty, healthy and filling dish consists of rice and beans as a base with some veggies thrown in.
Nacatamales: A nacatamal is a traditional dish found in Nicaragua similar to the tamal. The nacatamal is perhaps the most produced within traditional Nicaraguan cuisine and it is an event often reserved for Sundays at mid-morning, it is usually eaten together with fresh bread and coffee. Similar to Mexican tamales, nacatamales are larger, filled with meat and vegetables and steamed in banana leaves.
Quesillo: This cheesy treat is sold all across the country as street food. In Nicaragua, quesillo refers to a dish typically made from a thick corn tortilla wrapped around soft cheese (similar to mozzarella cheese), pickled onions and sour cream or liquid cheese and vinegar.
Elotes: A very popular street food in Nicaragua, Elotes are grilled corn smothered in cotija cheese, mayo, butter, lime and spices.
Indio Viejo: Indio viejo means ‘old Indian’ in Spanish and is a traditional stew that date backs to pre-Columbian Nicaragua. Indio viejo utilizes the staple crop of Nicaragua, corn and includes vegetables such as garlic, onions, sweet peppers, and tomatoes.
WHERE TO STAY IN NICARAGUA
Nicaragua is a very affordable destination to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in Nicaragua is super easy because there’s so many options whatever your budget.
Hostels and dormitories make travel to Nicaragua affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget. Whether you’re a backpacker, flash-packer or a luxury vacationer, Nicaragua will not disappoint you. A basic hotel room in Nicaragua can cost less than $30.
If you’re looking for accommodation that includes luxury amenities and comforts then there will be endless options to choose from in the big cities and popular tourist hotspots like Managua, León, Granada, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Chinandega and Masaya. Whatever month you choose to visit Nicaragua, it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best places to stay have been snapped up already. Nicaragua is a very popular year-round destination.
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Nicaragua. However, if you are backpacking in Nicaragua or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in Nicaragua very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies where ever you go.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
BEST TIME TO VISIT NICARAGUA
The best time to visit Nicaragua is during the dry season, between December and April. Nicaragua has two seasons: rainy (from May to November) and dry (from December to April). Nicaragua’s dry season begins in November, when the majority of places enjoy dry, sunny days and mild temperatures. This makes it the ideal time for exploring the colonial cities, beaches, volcanoes and nature reserves the country is so famous for.
NICARAGUA TRAVEL BUDGET
Nicaragua is generally an affordable destination for travelers on all budgets. The cost of your trip to Nicaragua really depends on the level of comfort you want. If you are backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating fast food then budget between $35 to $50 per day. If you prefer to stay in 3-4 star hotel rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $50 to $100 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants then budget at least $250 plus per day.
IS NICARAGUA SAFE FOR FEMALE TRAVELERS?
Just like most countries in Central America, Nicaragua is a relatively safe place to travel to. Thefts, bag snatching and scams are prevalent in all big cities so be mindful while here. Based on my own travel experiences in Central America I wouldn’t leave home without travel insurance no matter how safe the destination is considered. You can still miss flights, lose your luggage or break a leg, especially if you’re as accident prone as I am. For this reason I recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks before your trip to Nicaragua.
NICARAGUA VISA CHECKER
NICARAGUA FLIGHT DEALS
NICARAGUA TOURS & ACTIVITIES
NICARAGUA PACKING TIPS
Packing for a trip to Nicaragua, like most other places in Central America, is a breeze. You really don’t need as much travel gear as you may think for a trip to Nicaragua.
That said, the gear you do bring on your trip should be the very best option available for you and that doesn’t always mean the most expensive. Jetset Bunnies around the globe are always discovering the latest and the greatest in travel gear for women and this is where we share our awesome finds with you.
Packing for a trip to Nicaragua, like most places in Central America is easy, just remember to pack lightweight and breathable clothing for dry season and warm, waterproof clothing for trips during the rainy season. Be prepared for the weather to get extremely hot during the summer so pack a high factor sunscreen and a sun hat. If you forget to pack something you can buy anything you need while you’re in Nicaragua. Prices are generally higher in smaller boutiques (aimed at tourists) than they would be online so expect to pay a premium if you don’t have the option of shopping around due to time restraints on your Central America trip.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to Nicaragua include, most importantly, a good quality travel backpack. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Read our related blog post with advice on how to choose the best backpacks for women travelers. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.
So if you’ve found your travel inspiration, figured out the practicalities and got the travel gear it’s time to stuff it all in a bag and go right? Well, no, hold your horses, you see there’s an art to packing which we have (almost) perfected. Hop to our Travel Packing Tips for all of the latest on this topic.