Looking for a travel guide to Nicaragua – the safest country in Central America? And that it’s one of the cheapest travel options in Latin America? On Airbnb, entire homes are renting for $35 USD right now! In the capital city! WHAT. YES. LET’S ALL GO THERE RIGHT NOW.
Today, expat Celine is giving us all the travel tips for Nicaragua – what to do, where to go, what to eat, and how to avoid cultural blunders!
Hi, I’m Celine! I’ve been living and working for the past six months in Managua, Nicaragua as an advisor with a local microfinance bank. I’ve been travelling around the country for work and I live with a host family, so I have been able to collect lots of local travel tips.
THINGS TO DO IN NICARAGUA
In my opinion, Mombacho Volcano is the most beautiful in Nicaragua. You’ll hop onto a huge army-style vehicle to drive the steep road to the top. Hire one of the park’s guides to take you out on the trails (you can choose from one, two, or four hour options).
Mombacho is a cloud forest, so come prepared to get wet as you walk through the clouds. But when the sun breaks, you’ll be able to see families of howler monkeys, a view of the colonial city of Granada, and even the stunning Apoyo Lagoon in the distance.
DON’T MISS MANAGUA
The guidebooks may tell you to avoid Managua because of its dangerous reputation or because there’s nothing to do for tourists. I’m here to tell you that this isn’t true! I may be biased because I live here, but Managua has lots to offer to tourists, especially those that are interested in learning more about Nicaragua.
Head down to the Puerto Salvador Allende get a view of Lake Managua, take a boat cruise or just enjoy some seafood at one of the many restaurants. Don’t miss the replica that portrays Managua before the earthquake of 1972 that destroyed most of the city.
If you get the chance, check out the offerings at the Teatro Nacional Rubén Darío. You can usually catch an awesome show or concert for less than $7. I especially recommend “folklore nicaragüense,” which are presentations of traditional dances based on Nicaraguan myths and legends.
Finally, there are some great places to shop for reasonably priced souvenirs. Check out the Roberto Huembes market. It is safe and you can literally buy ANYTHING. Another favourite is Chureca Chic, a social enterprise project which sells beautiful jewelry made by women in their entrepreneurship training program.
SLED DOWN CERRO NEGRO
Since Nicaragua is so famous for its volcanoes, I will return to volcanoes for my third recommendation. As much as this might look like a tourist trap, where else in the world can you sled down an active volcano? Also, I had two Nicaraguans on my tour—even the locals love it! I did Cerro Negro with Volcano Day Tours, but almost all of the tour outlets from León offer the same services.
PLACES TO GO IN NICARAGUA
One of the most interesting places I’ve visited in Nicaragua. When you arrive at Selva Negra near the city of Matagalpa you’ll feel like you’ve arrived in some Bavarian village. Selva Negra (“Black Forest” in English), was founded in 1891 by German immigrants to Nicaragua who had hoped to travel to San Francisco during the gold rush.
Instead they stayed in Nicaragua and founded a coffee farm and lodge which has been a tourist resort since 1976. Selva Negra is a great place to relax, learn about coffee production, or do some hiking. If staying here isn’t within your budget, you can still visit for the day…and don’t forget to try the coffee and German-style cakes!
While Granada is known as the jewel of Nicaragua, León, the country’s other colonial city is packed with revolutionary history and culture. Don’t miss the Cathedral, which is the largest in Central America. You can climb to the top and get a great view of the city and the Nicaraguan volcano range.
If you’re feeling sweaty (Leon is known for being the hottest city in the country), head over to Las Peñitas, a beach town about 12 miles from the city of León. I love Las Peñitas because its quiet and less touristy/expensive than the beaches around San Juan del Sur.
KAYAK IN OMETEPE
Ometepe, an island in Lake Cocibolca, is one of the most stunning places in Nicaragua. It is known for eco-tourism, hiking and cycling but I think that the best way to see Ometepe is by kayaking! Since the island is volcanic, you can kayak between two volcanoes (Concepción and Maderas) and explore the Rio Istián, an intricate swampland full of turtles, birds, and floating plants.
THINGS TO EAT IN NICARAGUA
TRADITIONAL NICARAGUAN BREAKFAST
Start your day off right with eggs, gallo pinto (rice and beans), cuajada (Nicaraguan cheese), tortilla, and some strong coffee.
This famous dish from Granada is made with boiled yucca topped with chicharrón (fried pork rinds) and a cabbage and tomato salad. I promise that it’s much more delicious than it may sound!
TAJADAS CON QUESO
My absolute favorite Nicaraguan food. Crispy plantain chips topped with fried cheese and cabbage and tomato salad.
Don’t miss Nicaragua’s amazing desserts. My favourites are arroz con leche (rice pudding) and buñuelos (yucca based donuts filled with cheese and slathered with local honey). Also, check out these two bakeries for the best baked goods in the country: Pastelería Sampson (Managua) and El León Dorado (León).
CULTURAL TIPS FOR NICARAGUA
Don’t expect people to speak English- most people do not. On this note, practice at least a few words in Spanish before you arrive. This will help you enormously when telling the driver where you need to get off while riding the “chicken bus” or when trying to connect with the locals.
Nicaraguans are very courteous, so make sure that you say “Buenos días” or “Buenas tardes” when entering a store, restaurant, or taxi.
Nicaraguans are a bit more conservative compared to North Americans and Europeans when it comes to dress. This means that flip flops and beachwear are fine for the beach, but you’ll want to be a bit more put together when walking around the city or going to a restaurant.
Nicaragua is very safe (even Managua), but just use common sense. In Managua especially, ask the hotel or restaurant to call a taxi and stay aware of your surroundings.
CHEAP TRAVEL TIPS FOR NICARAGUA
Take micro or “chicken buses.” Micros are like mini-buses and they head out from the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) to cities like Masaya, León and Granada. Chicken buses head out from other terminals for cities that are a bit farther away, or between cities and rural destinations.
Both types of buses are very safe and cheap…and they will give you the local experience! You can get from Managua and León on a micro for 50 córdobas (US$ 1.70)!
Another important tip is to avoid restaurant chains, including fast food. Prices at many fast food restaurants are comparable to prices in North America. Besides, you came to Nicaragua for tajadas con queso, not for McDonald’s!
Like most places, you’ll find cheaper, more authentic lodging options through Airbnb. Here’s a three-bedroom house with a pool for $57 a night and here’s a gooooorgeous bungalow for $62. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!
Thanks so much for sharing, Celine! Do any of you guys have travel tips to share?