With pristine beaches, beautiful colonial towns and tropical islands galore, it’s hard to understand why Nicaragua so rarely appears on people’s travel itinerary. Perhaps its ultra-popular, eco-tourism neighbour Costa Rica has stolen all of the limelight. Or maybe its proximity to the historically dangerous Honduras puts people off.
Either way, Nicaragua has sat in the dark for too long. It’s time it made an appearance on your travel list. With a price tag that will stretch your budget far further than many other travel hotspots, there is more than enough to keep you entertained for weeks on end. With this in mind, here is our pick of the top places to explore in Nicaragua.
Brimming with gorgeous colonial architecture and vibrant colours, Granada is the perfect place to shoehorn yourself into Nicaraguan culture. The colonial city is found on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. The main square is always a hive of activity as travellers and locals flock there to relax and eat raspados, a bowl of shaved ice covered in sweet syrup.
Leading off the plaza is the main strip where restaurants serve cuisine from around the world. The friendly waiters vie for your custom and cocktail bars blast out reggaeton beats while drinkers sip fruity beverages. It’s also a great base for exploring the surrounding area in a series of day trips. Granada is closely located to Lago Nicaragua, Laguna de Apoyo and Masaya, famed for its huge, sprawling market.
Isla de Ometepe
It isn’t often that you come across a volcanic island sat right in the middle of a lake. Let alone one as jam-packed with natural beauty as Isla de Ometepe. The towns of Moyogalpa and Altagracia provide the island with a more urban space. While several smaller villages like Balgue offer visitors the chance to reconnect with nature.
The Ojo de Agua, a stunning freshwater lagoon, is an idyllic place to chill out for a day. Then head to the Punta Jesus Maria, a strech of black sand leading out into the lake, a perfect place to watch the incredible sunset. Of course, if you’re up for a real challenge you can also hike up the volcanoes and discover the magical waterfalls and rocky creeks on your way up.
Another colonial town, Leon has a few notable differences to Granada. For starters, it’s home to the notorious sport of volcano boarding. This consists of thrill-seekers hiking to the top of a volcano and then proceeding to slide down it on what is essentially a makeshift toboggan. While it sounds like a crazy idea, it’s actually pretty good fun.
For something a bit more relaxed, the Cathedral in Leon is the biggest in all of Central America and is fascinating to explore. You can even climb up to the roof for some outstanding vistas of the town. The town itself is rich with history and has boutiques, cafes, market stalls and gourmet restaurants sitting on every corner.
Little Corn Island
Welcome to Little Corn Island, the smaller, but much more beautiful, sister of the nearby Big Corn Island. A visit here will transport you back in time to an era long before tourism and even before colonialism. When the world was a much simpler place. At just 1.6 sq km, the island is easily walk-able and truly feels utterly untouched. Electricity is sparse and usually only switched on in the evenings, giving visitors the perfect excuse to disconnect for a bit.
Daily activities include lying in a hammock, chilling on the beach, taking a dip in the sea and walking around. The only real challenge about this island is getting there. The options are either taking a tiny plane from Managua or long boat journey. However, it’s well worth the effort for the boundless relaxation time in store for you on arrival.
San Juan del Sur
Once you’ve finished your digital detox on Little Corn Island, San Juan del Sur is the perfect destination for getting back into the swing of real life. With a vast array of both day time and evening activities, this little coastal town is guaranteed to pump you full of energy. The beach in San Juan del Sur is certainly worthy of some attention, but the beaches a little further afield are equally deserving of a visit. You’ll be spoilt for choice and will wish you could stay forever.
There are also excellent opportunities to see turtles coming to shore to nest, a spectacle that no-one should pass up. In the evenings it’s time to grab a few drinks at one of the beachside bars and dance the night away as the heat starts to evaporate.
Fancy experiencing Nicaragua for yourself? Join our group tour The Way To San Jose which pulls together some of Central America’s highlights.