Nicaragua is starting to pick up popularity from travelers, but it’s still relatively un-visited compared to its neighbor Costa Rica. What a shame! Nicaragua is a beautiful country that offers a ton of variety, low prices, and friendly people.
I barely scratched the surface of the country, with visits to Granada, Masaya, León, Somoto, Managua, and Estelí. Despite not getting the chance to see all of the country (yet!), I thought I’d share the basics as an introduction to the country.
How do I get to Nicaragua?
Do Americans need a visa ahead of time?
Any safety concerns in Nicaragua?
Any health concerns?
What do things cost in Nicaragua?
I spent $564 for 9 days and splurged on a ton of activities, including private surfing lessons, Spanish classes, and guided day hikes. You could easily get by on less than $30/day if you wanted to.
How do you pay?
Plan on paying by cash, as many places don’t accept credit cards and those that do tend to tack on processing surcharges. At the time of my visit, 1 US dollar was equal to 25.005 cordobas and amazingly, almost every vendor will give you an exchange rate of 1 USD = 25 cordobas for easy math. Prices were interchangeably quoted in both cordobas and dollars and both were widely accepted. In fact, every ATM I used offered both currencies for withdrawal.
What’s the weather like?
Were the locals friendly? Any tips on making communication easier?
How do you get around?
Was the food good?
Yes, but admittedly I love Latin American cuisine. Nicaraguan meals are heavy on the carbs, and you’ll often find rice, beans, plantains, and tortillas all on the same plate. Chicken, both fried and roasted, is a popular protein though you’ll also find beef, pork, seafood, and eggs as alternatives. Fruit and vegetables are widely available, especially if you do some of your own shopping at the market. The fruit juices and smoothies were a highlight for me!
Vegetarians may have a little trouble getting by in this country, even though beans and/or eggs are part of nearly every meal. Even “vegetarian” entrees seemed to be cooked with meat bones for flavor as did some sauces, soups, and beans. As a proud carnivore, I didn’t really care about this, but others may want to be upfront about dietary preferences.
Two hints: beef was consistently cooked to well-done or beyond and their cheese is quite salty! Give them both a try, but I learned quickly to stick to other foods.
Read More: What to Eat in Nicaragua
What should I see? Anything overrated?
Well, I loved León and would highly recommend heading to the city for at least a night or two. While you’re there, my favorite tour was hiking Telica Volcano in time for sunset and peering down into the lava after dark, but there are dozens of other touring options as well. The city has a lot of history, everything from its conquistador routes to colonial times to a 20th century revolution. You’ll also find tons of culture through poetry, music, and art.
The other tourist town of Granada has plenty to do and most tourists spend a few nights there. I wasn’t hugely impressed with the city, more because of the touristy atmosphere and not because there’s nothing worthwhile to do. Even though I didn’t like it, I think it’s worth visiting.
If you’ve got time, you may also want to consider a few days in the mountains (Estelí or Matagalpa) or the beach (San Juan del Sur or the Corn Islands). I’m disappointed I didn’t have time for Isla de Ometepe or Rio San Juan, two beautiful natural settings great for hiking, wildlife watching, and more.
I was underwhelmed with my visit to Laguna de Apoyo: it wasn’t nearly as beautiful as I had built up in my head and it was a bit too quiet for my enjoyment at the time of my visit. I’ve heard rumor that in high-season it can be a happening place, though!
Any unique purchases I should consider?
The shopping in Nicaragua appeared to be mostly touristy knick-knacks, which was a shame because I had hoped to do some Christmas gift shopping during my visit! There was some beautiful pottery near Masaya which I was afraid would break over the course of my travels, though maybe you’d have better luck. You may also want to bring home a hammock: Nicaraguan hammocks are incredibly well-made, super comfortable, and a steal at $20 or less.
Otherwise, shop for Flor de Caña rum ($5/bottle and it’s good!), local cigars, Nicaraguan chocolate, and fresh-roasted coffee. For the best prices on some items, head to the local grocery store instead of buying from tourist stands. Yum!
Any last thoughts?
Packing light made a big difference for my trip and allowed me many opportunities to save money and interact with locals by taking public transportation. However, realize that sometimes you’ll spend more time that you want to in transit when using these methods, and there were definitely times when a taxi was worth the additional cost!
Plan “me time”. There is a lot to soak in with incredible natural beauty, interesting local customs, and new experiences and taking thirty minutes a day to reflect on all of this can be worth its weight in gold.
Overall, consider a trip to Nicaragua. It’s a country filled with friendly people and beautiful places and definitely worth a visit, especially considering how easy it is to get there.
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For even more information, read my complete guide to Nicaragua!
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