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.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Nicaragua Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

Horseback riding on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua!

 

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.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Granada, Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World

View from La Merced, the famous belltower in Granada, are absolutely stunning.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Granada, Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World

Another beautiful square in Granada, with a view towards Iglesia de Xalteva.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Granada, Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World, Granada

You can take a horse-drawn carriage ride around Granada’s beautiful colonial center!

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Granada, Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World, Granada

This is the view from a “Yoga Pavilion” in one of Granada’s many luxury hotels…with views towards Volcan Mombacho.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World

More beautiful architecture & lush foliage in Granada…

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.

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Granada sits right on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, which makes it very easy to jump on a boat tour.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Granada, Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World, Lake Nicaragua

And on these tours, running into monkeys is practically guaranteed!

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World, Volcan Mombacho

I took a guided tour to Volcan Mombacho, which is located about an hour south of Granada. Incredible views.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World, Volcan Masaya

But my favorite volcano near Granada is Vocan Masaya. This photo was one of the first I took, right after arriving in Nicaragua ~ it’s an easy drive from the Managua Airport.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World, Volcan Masaya

I lreturned to Volcan Masaya on a “Night Tour,” & got some amazing photos of the fiery inferno in the dark.

Laguna de Apoyo, Ultimate Girl's Guide to Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World

Laguna de Apoyo is a large lake located 30 minutes west of Granada; we paddle boarded & kayaked here.

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.

San Juan del Sur, Ultimate Girl's Guide to Nicaragua Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

A large, white Christ statue presides over the turquoise waters of San Juan del Sur. Photo by Magnific Rock.

San Juan del Sur, Ultimate Girl's Guide to Nicaragua Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

Many people come to San Juan del Sur for this: the party scene! Sunday Fundays are legendary here. Photo by Explore with Lora.

San Juan del Sur, Ultimate Girl's Guide to Nicaragua Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

Sunset in San Juan del Sur.

Other Tropical Spots in Nicaragua…

Rancho Santana, Ultimate Girl's Guide to Nicaragua Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

Sunet in Rancho Santana, a newly-developed luxury community, north of San Juan del Sur.

Little Corn Island, Ultimate Girl's Guide to Nicaragua Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

For true tropical escapism: head to the Corn Islands, located in the Caribbean Sea off of Nicaragua.

Cayo Crawl, Laguna de Perlas, Ultimate Girl's Guide to Nicaragua Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

Laguna de Perlas is located on the eastern side of the country, & also has major tropical vibes. It’s far less touristy over here…

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.

What are the Best Cities in Nicaragua? Girl Who Travels the World

Inside the Museum of the Revolution, in León, Nicaragua ~ a city known for its culture.

What are the Best Cities in Nicaragua? Girl Who Travels the World

The famous white Leon Cathedral.

What are the Best Cities in Nicaragua? Girl Who Travels the World

Volcano-boarding at Cerro Negro is one of the TOP draws for young tourists to Leon. Photo by Outside Online.

What are the Best Cities in Nicaragua? Girl Who Travels the World

Beautiful architecture in Leon, which is also located close to the Pacific Ocean.

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.  

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About half-way up the Volcan Maderas hike, looking across to Volcan Concepcion.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ometepe Island, Girl Who Travels the World

Climbing up (muddy) Volcan Maderas!

Top 5 Adventures on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Incredible view from my hotel in Altagracia, on Ometepe.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ometepe Island, Girl Who Travels the World, Top 5 Adventures on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua, Girl Who Travels the World

One of my favorite photos from Cental America…of Volcan Concepcion at sunset.

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

xoxo Noelia

Read Next: Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Costa Rica Travel