The best things to do in Nicaragua-tourist attractions. This is a guest post from friend and fellow travel blogger Maria Alexandra from LatinAbroad.com.
Nicaragua vs. Costa Rica — this was my dilemma when planning a Central American adventure trip. Naturally, Costa Rica popped up everywhere as the adventure and ecotourism hotspot of the region. Upon further research though, I discovered that Nicaragua is too often overshadowed by its more developed neighbor — and unjustifiably so. In fact, I found that the many things to do in Nicaragua are comparable to those in the CR: and can be done for significantly less money. So our expert tip for you? Discover the hidden Nica gems and the country’s significant biodiversity before they are overrun by ‘the Gringo Trail.’
Isla de Ometepe: Hiking, Wildlife, Culture, Relaxation
Looking for the best things to do in Nicaragua and only have a week or less? Looking for a good mix of adventure and relaxation? I highly recommend Ometepe. It is my favorite Nicaraguan destination due to its uniqueness and variety of activities available to travelers. The volcanoes that formed it, Concepcion and Maderas, offer challenging trails to experienced hikers — and stunning views from above. Another option is to rent a bike and go ‘finca hopping,’ exploring ancient petroglyphs, and bountiful coffee plantations.
In order to maximize your time though, I highly recommend you book through hyper-local agency Ometepe Secret Adventures. Not only is it co-owned by the only female tour guide in the island, but they will also help you save a lot of time by packing several adventures in one day (without feeling overwhelmed, mind you!). Not the active kind? Simply book your transportation and have Lucie and Arcelia escort you around the island. Maybe even ask for a customized FOODIE TOUR, having them stop at what they believe to be the best restaurants around.
When it comes to culture, another unique Ometepe experience is a Nicaraguan homestay at Puesta Del Sol. This fascinating initiative, known as “rural community tourism,” involves several families of a neighborhood working together to host tourists and have all proceeds go back to those same families. Sustainable tourism at its best.
Granada and Leon: Adrenaline, History, Architecture
This Nicaraguan tourist attractions have mixed reviews (about both cities): whoever prefers Leon says that Granada is now a tourist trap; while those who prefer Granada say Leon is dilapidated. If you have time to visit both do so, as they will offer great contrast to your trip.
For example, Granada is extremely colorful and well preserved, with excellent infrastructure for travelers and expats. Its nickname, La Gran Sultana, reflects its Moorish background. Additionally, you may mix history and nature during your visit there by arranging a day trip to Masaya Volcano: probably the easiest ‘caldera hike’ in the world. In fact, many people take their cars up its rim and, if it’s not that humid, you may even be able to witness lava at night. It is hit or miss though, so I recommend you talk to the good people at Va Pues to find out whether the tour will be worth it during your visit.
In contrast, ‘historical rival’ Leon gives out an aged, nostalgic aura — and a more Castilian appearance. It is also a bit more difficult to navigate if you don’t speak Spanish, so arranging a tour here might be the best option for you in that case. Like Granada, you can also visit a nearby volcano: Cerro Negro. From there, adventure junkies can have the thrill of a lifetime by volcano boarding down its gravelly basaltic cinder cone.
Jiquilillo: Surfing, Hiking, Voluntourism
On the next things to see in Nicaragua is another well-rounded destination, Jiquilillo, a sleepy beach town on the Pacific Northwest. I love it because it perfectly embodies most of the things to do in Nicaragua: its shore breaks are great for surfing at all skill levels; the volunteering opportunities seem to be endless; plus there’s the stunning crater lake and extinct Volcano Cosigüina, which can be a challenging 4 x 4 ride, but a relatively-easy hike once on its skirts.
There are 2 accommodation options recommended in the area: Rancho Esperanza, the only hostel there, and Monty’s Beach Lodge, a more comfortable, mid-range option. They are a short 5-minute walk from each other, so you may volunteer and take part of community initiatives at both properties.
Craving more adventure? In addition to surfing, hiking, and volunteering, you may also go kayaking in the vicinity. Just inquire within.
Corn Islands: Diving and Snorkeling
The Corn Islands, located on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, are picture-perfect. They offer incredible seafood, diving, snorkeling, and yoga for a great value. However, don’t expect great shops and nightlife: this is no San Juan Del Sur.
Particularly interesting is Little Corn, as it has no cars and no crowds. Moreover, electricity is only available in 12-hour cycles: between 6:30 AM and 6:30 PM, to be exact. For this reason, this island is only suitable for adventurous souls who really wish to unplug and are up for some rugged, off-the-beaten-path R&R.
Travelers seeking more luxury (and 24-hour electricity) should stay at Big Corn instead. Be aware though, a wider food selection here comes at a higher price. While there are some taxis and golf carts available to get around the island, it is still significantly undeveloped in comparison to other Caribbean destinations. As such, you should only come here if you’re looking for a quiet place to work from; enjoy water activities; and/or simply want to relax by a gorgeous beach.
San Juan Del Sur: Nightlife and Adventure Sports
I personally skipped San Juan Del Sur because it is infamous for nonstop partying. In fact, local Nicas told me that the beach is too crowded, plus its waves aren’t even that good in comparison to other breaks in the area. However, if you have a crazy night or 2 to spare during your trip to Nicaragua, a stop here is an option.
Dancing, surfing, and drinking are pretty much the activities of choice for most SJDS visitors. Yet, if you delve deep enough, there are other things to do in Nicaragua ‘s party coast. Some examples include a walk to the stunning lookout Mirador del Cristo de la Misericordia or Plaza Del Arte (‘art plaza’); play paintball, go wall climbing, flip out of the AirPad Drop and/or even pull some tricks at the largest skateboard plaza within the country by paying a visit to the Surf Ranch Action Sports Resort.