Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Nicaragua Travel
Mark my words: Nicaragua will become the next Costa Rica. With its beautiful beaches, killer surf breaks, cheap prices, colorful colonial towns like Granada & Leon, relaxed & friendly people ~ Nicaragua checks all the boxes for adventurous, fun-loving travelers. In this “Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Nicaragua Travel,” I’ll take you behind-the-scenes of a month of travel in this stunning Central American country…where I spent a lot of time in Granada, on Ometepe Island, & in the uber-popular beachside town of San Juan del Sur.
Map of Nicaragua
Most international visitors to Nicaragua fly into the capital of Managua. I flew up from Costa Rica, then immediately took a taxi to the beautiful city of Granada ~ stopping at Volcan Masaya on the way. Other popular destinations include San Juan del Sur, Leon, & Ometepe Island.
Granada (Beautiful Colonial Town)
San Juan del Sur
Managua (International Airport)
Ometepe Island (Adventure Spot)
Leon (Colonial + Universities)
Nicaragua Travel Overview
- Safety = Safer than the U.S. 85% 85%
- Cost = Food, drink & accommodations all cheap! Great value. 30% 30%
- Adventures = Abundant!!! Surf, hike, go volcano-boarding… 95% 95%
- How Safe I Felt as a Female Traveler = Very Safe 90% 90%
- Nicaraguan People = Hard-working & Friendly 90% 90%
Nicaragua Travel Quick Facts
- Nicaragua in One Word = Lago Nicaragua.
- Nicaragua in a Few More Words = Next-door to Costa Rica.
- Wi-Fi = Pretty good in cities, but if you need to work from your hotel or hostel: check to make sure that they have multiple routers ~ otherwise it can be really slow.
- Global Peace Ranking = #69 out of 163 (U.S. is #103) = Statisically speaking, in terms of all types of violence & conflict: traveling in Nicaragua is safer than doing so in the United States.
- Hotels = Great value. For under $50 US per night, you can find some gems ~ especially in cities like Granada, which offers a ton of options for all price levels.
- Nicaragua Must-Do’s = Hike a volcano…or simply visit one at night ~ like Volcan Masaya, by Granada. Swim in Central America’s biggest lake: Lago Nicaragua. Visit colonial gems such as Granada or Leon…you may decide you want to stay awhile! Go volcano-boarding at Cerro Negro, outside of Leon. Hike BOTH of the volcanoes on Ometepe Island: Concepcion & Maderas (which can be REALLY muddy!!). Surf a world-class break. Partake in San Juan del Sur’s iconic “Sunday Funday.” Cross the border into Costa Rica & head to Tamarindo for more surf adventures…
- Is Nicaragua Good for Solo Travelers = YES. But I really think a country like Nicaragua is better-suited to solo travelers with some experience under their belt; it wouldn’t be my first pick for a first-time solo trip. Better countries for that might be Ireland, in Europe ~ & certain parts of Costa Rica…especially if you’re enrolled in a yoga or surf camp. I was in Nicaragua for a month in early 2017, & had no issues as a solo female traveler. During that time, I spent over two weeks in Granada, & two weeks on Ometepe Island; I avoided Managua, as I’d heard negative things about it & didn’t have much desire to explore there.
- What to Expect as a Female Traveler = Expect some catcalls, especially from groups of men. Fairly harmless, but can be annoying.
- What are the People of Nicaragua Like? I experienced friendly, hard-working people who fully embody the “Work Hard, Play Hard” mentality. They’ll invite you to a local beachside bar & buy you shots of “Flor de Cana” ~ Nicaragua’s national rum, while reggaeton plays in the background. But the next morning ~ they’re up early, seemingly with no hangover: guiding a tour, picking coffee, or working the land. Nicaraguans are quick to laugh, & eager to share the best of their country with you.
- Would I Go Back = YES!! I need to explore more of the beaches! But my favorite Central American country is still Guatemala….which I love more than Nicaragua & Costa Rica.
Get Ready for Nicaragua…
Photos of Granada, Nicaragua
I may be biased, as I spent over two weeks in this city: but I think Granada is an AMAZING place to base yourself if you’re planning to visit Nicaragua for awhile. The city is incredibly charming & full of color, food is fantastic & cheap, & there are all levels of accommodation ~ from beautiful luxury properties to more affordable, long-term hacienda-type stays. There’s also an active nightlife culture, but it’s not as crazy as San Juan del Sur.
Adventures Around Granada….
Plus, the surrounding area offers SO many adventures: like boating on Lake Nicaragua, or exploring the two closest volcanoes ~ Volcan Masaya & Volcan Mombacho. Laguna de Apoyo is also nearby, & is a gorgeous lake where you can paddle board, kayak, or simply nap on the shore in a hammock.
Hotels I Loved in Granada: Hotel Dario is located right on the main drag, in the heart of town ~ & makes for easy walking to restaurants & shops; while Hotel Patio del Malinche is a more romantic option, with a lovely courtyard pool & a safe, private setting. Hotel Casa San Francisco is refined & elegant, also with a pretty turquoise pool.
Photos of San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur is located close to the Costa Rican border, which may help explain its popularity: it’s pretty easy access to travel between the two countries. The crescent-shaped beach here is iconic, as is the party scene ~ this is definitely a place where ex-pats from all over the world come to surf, drink a little tequila, & meet other travelers in a relaxed setting. And there are several good beginner surf breaks nearby, including Playa Santana, Remanso Beach, & Playa Amarillo.
All of this combined helps make this small town so popular & well-known.
Other Tropical Spots in Nicaragua…
Where to Stay in San Juan del Sur: Check out the incredible Hacienda Ecolodge: Morgan’s Rock. Set on 4,000 acres of Nicaraguan jungle, they’ve got their own mile-long beach that’s often frequented by sea turtles ~ & you can rent out a treehouse-like Ocean View Villa or one with a Forest View. This is a special spot…
Photos of Leon, Nicaragua
Why visit Leon, Nicaragua? This is the country’s main cultural hub ~ even moreso than Managua, due to its beautiful architecture, many churches & universities, colonial heritage, & vibrant restaurant & nightlife scene (with lots of Nicaraguan youth, due to the universities). But what draws young adventurers to Leon more than anything else is a special activity that can only be done a few places in the world: volcano-boarding! Catch a guided tour in Leon, & “board” at nearby Cerro Negro volcano.
Photos of Ometepe Island
I really loved staying on Ometepe Island. So much so, I ended up staying over two weeks! I hiked the island’s two main volcanoes with guides, enjoying staying right on the beach….for pennies on the dollar (compared to the U.S.), & found incomparable views all over ~ plus very friendly locals.
Incredible Place to Stay on Ometepe Island: Selvista Guesthouses. This is an eco-treehouse retreat…that will cost you less than $100/night (cheap for a treehouse)! Views are incredible, & accommodations are tastefully decorated in an upscale boho-chic style. There’s a farm & fresh food on-site…
Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Nicaragua Travel
You may not know much about Nicaragua yet ~ but in the coming years, travel here will become more of a “thing.” Remember way back before Costa Rica became popular?
Well, that’s what Nicaragua is like now…
Read Next: Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Costa Rica Travel