Nicaragua is another one of those countries who’s existence I was aware of… and that’s it I’m embarrassed to admit. It was not on my travel radar since I knew next to nothing about it, besides the fact that it was above Costa Rica and had a civil war years ago. Next thing I knew, I was packing up my backpack and heading off to Nicaragua with my best friend because a friend told me he loved his trip… that’s a whole lot of trust to put into someone’s opinion, but I did try to do a bit of research beforehand. Let’s just say we were not left disappointed once we got there.
1. Volcano Boarding
What is that you ask? Picture this : climbing to the top of a volcano in sweltering heat with a metal/wooden board strapped to your back, sit or stand on it, and slide down through the ash at speeds of up to 80km/h (I’ve heard of people who have defintely gone faster). This is the only place in the world you can go volcano boarding, who would want to miss their chance at eating their weight in volcano ash on their way down?!
2. Volcano Hiking
There’s a whole chain of volcanoes ranging through Nicaragua, some are still active like Telica. The ones around Leon make for beautifully isolated treks that take you through villages, fields, and jungles to reach the craters. Many people passing through Nicaragua skip over the volcanoes to spend more time in the cities or at the beach, but this was the 100% the highlight of my trip! You can have your pick between 1 day to 7 day treks through Telica, San Cristobal, El Hoyo, Consiguina, Mombacho, Concepcion, Matera…. enough options there?
3. Isla de Ometepe
An Island. A lake. What’s so special? The feeling I got when I stepped off the ferry onto Ometepe is intangible. It’s as though you’re on a different planet where time slows, you learn to appreciate the moment and notice all the magical details around you. Stay in an ecolodge to wake up to the sound of monkeys and the volcano view from your balcony, ride on horseback down the beach (with no rules might I add), rent scooters to explore the island, swim in natural spring waters… I can go on all day but it’s one of those things you need to experience for yourself!
The first city on this list is generally just a pitstop for people heading to Cerro Negro for volcano boarding, usually an in and out stop. If that’s all you’re planning on doing then you’re missing out! Leon is a university town that contains a treasure trove of museums and galleries, as well as colonial churches just waiting to be explored. Even the rooftop of the Leon Cathedral alone makes the entire stay in the city worth it!
5. San Juan del Sur
The infamous San Juan del Sur, aka Little Canada. No seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever met a higher concentration of fellow Canadians outside of Canada, there’s even a Canadian bar. Surfers, sun seekers, party animals, and backpackers rejoice! This is a classic developped backpacker town, extremely crowded by Nicaraguan standards but still laid back. Whether you’re looking for good eats, Sunday Funday pool parties or surfing beaches, this is where everyone seems to stop by at least once in Nicaragua.
Granada is the second city stop you could make in Nicaragua. I listed it second because honestly I preferred the atmosphere in Leon, and Granada can be a bit more dangerous at night. That aside, I have to admit Granada is one gorgeous city. Those colours! The churches! That colonial architecture! It’s definitely worth a visit and rivals any other Central or South American colonial city. There are also plenty of daytrips you can do to the Masaya Volcano, Masaya town, las isletas de Granada, Catarina etc…
7. Chicken busses
Less than 50 cents a ride between cities, you might actually be riding on the bus with chickens. Even if there aren’t chickens on all the busses, singing along to Adele in spanish (blasting from 90’s style speakers tied down onto the roof) on a yellow schoolbus extravagantly decked out in colours made up for it. There’s just something about riding through the Nicaraguan countryside with the windows rolled down feeling like you’re in a cheesy music video.
8. Pacific coast beaches
San Juan del Sur isn’t the only place you’ll find surfing beaches on the coast. Actually, I wouldn’t recommend going to the real beach at San Juan at all. Head over to Playa Maderas, Playa Yankee, Playa Hermosa or even higher up to the less populated beaches such as Playa Popoyo, the choices are endless. Each beach is a little bit different, and many have surfing schools or yoga retreats located there directly. Paradise found.
9. Caribbean vibes on Corn Island
If you’re in search of crystal clear water and caribbean island vibes, you’ll have to head a bit out of the way. I didn’t get to go but just search up pictures of Corn Island and your screen will be flooded with scenes of idyllic beaches on a tiny island. As most of the attractions were concentrated on the Pacific coast, we didn’t have time to fly over to the islands. Already plotting to go back to Nicaragua just for this.
10. It’s underrated
We were hesitating between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, but the cheaper prices and Nica’s reputation of being similar to CR about 20 years ago eventually swung us towards Nica. Less people, slightly off the beaten path and more authentic is always a bonus if you ask me. Asides from San Juan del Sur, most places were untouched by mass tourism but were still able to meet plenty of other travellers. So seriously. What are you waiting for? Go by yourself, grab your significant other, or convince your best friends like I did. As if being in a stunning country weren’t enough, my trip was made 1000x better by my best friend being there the whole time, wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course it’s actually also her birthday today and I would do anything to be back there with her so HAPPY BIRTHDAY VERO ❤️