Nicaragua has been rapidly putting itself on the map as a must-see backpacker destination – mostly for being coined the cheapest country in Central America.
We loved the country’s diversity from the colonial charm of Granada to the crumbling facades of Leon, the genuine warmth of a homestay in Ometepe to the epic sunsets over San Juan del Sur as we headed south along the coast.
Most travellers head to Leon for volcano boarding at Cerro Negro. We were keen to be daredevils and give this a shot but after seeing one too many backpackers limping around our hostel with battle scars, we chickened out and decided to give it a miss. I know, we’re big wimps!
We did, however, explore the beautiful rooftop of Leon Cathedral – the largest cathedral in Central America. As you walk barefoot around the dreamy white-washed domes, you’ll totally think you’ve died and gone to heaven (or Greece).
For a tasty Brazilian-Nicaraguan fusion, try Tacubaya. We sampled the slow-cooked shredded beef, with homemade corn tortillas and salad (along with margaritas, of course).
Famed for being the oldest colonial city in Central America, it’s easy to see why Granada stole my heart with its colonial charm.
As you wander through the streets you’ll find centuries-old buildings and grand cathedrals boasting wooden doors and wrought iron.
We found a few fantastic eating spots including The Garden Cafe, Pita Pita, and Lava Rock Grill, where we ate amazing gourmet salads and homemade kombucha, Mediterranean dishes and American-style burgers.
If you want a relaxing day, you can escape to Laguna de Apoyo, a lake located in the huge crater of an extinct volcano. Here you can kayak, swim and relax on the shore.
We opted for a homestay with Duara Travels, a social enterprise that helps connect travellers with locals living in remote villages.
We spent a week living on a farm with a local family in Moyogalpa, a rural village on Ometepe Island. We got to learn about the different crops and animals, try our hand at making corn tortillas, and learn how to cook traditional Nicaraguan food.
We met with the local savings group, Casa Samaritano, an NGO providing psychology assistance and medical treatment to children suffering from disabilities. You can volunteer at the clinic and spend time working with children.
It’s easy to explore the island by tuk-tuk or scooter. There’s plenty of things to see and do from going on a walk at Charco Verde reserve to hiking Volcano Concepcion and swimming at Ojo de Agua, a natural spring.
While some of the eating spots can be a bit touristy and overpriced, we found Nectar Cafe to be fantastic value, and deliciously tasty. Highly recommend trying the veggie burger – and don’t be put off by the fact that the cafe is someone’s casa (house).
San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur is the epitome of a surfer’s paradise, known for its string of beaches that line the Pacific coast. It’s also famed for its lively nightlife and Sunday pool sessions, beckoning backpackers alike.
While we’re not exactly the surf-all-day-party-all-night type, we did enjoy taking a break from the ‘Gringo Trail’ and treating ourselves to a secluded ecolodge close to Playa Maderas.
If you’re looking for a place to chill, make sure you check out Arte-Sano Hotel Cafe. You can take a dip in the petite infinity pool, and enjoy the exquisite views of the dramatic headline and beach. Bliss.
We flew into Managua from Guatemala (to avoid the notorious 20-hour bus ride through El Salvador / Honduras) so we only stayed in Managua for one night.
It isn’t exactly a tourist hot spot. It’s a bit gritty, so it’s probably best to skip this city unless you’re flying into the country. Be aware of dodgy scammers and touts around town, particularly unauthorised taxis. When taking a taxi, we recommend having a map open on your phone to make sure you’re heading in the right direction!