Whilst Guatemala is long the darling of budget backpackers, and Costa Rica takes the crown for holiday-makers and retirees, Nicaragua has the potential to become Central America’s #1 destination.
We spent two months here, where we learned how to surf on gorgeous empty beaches, went up volcanoes slowly and down them very quickly, understood the true meaning of slow travel on the Corn Islands, stuffed ourselves with gallo pinto, had more rum than you can shake a stick at and got in touch with the country’s past on the streets and in its museums.
a hidden caribbean paradise
We had never heard of the Corn Islands before we set foot in Nicaragua, but now we can’t shut up about them. Deserted white sand beaches, perfect Caribbean ocean, awesome locals, excellent snorkelling and some of the best (and cheapest!) seafood you’ll ever have.
If this isn’t on your itinerary, then it’s time for a re-think. It isn’t as expensive as people may tell you and the journey there may end up as one of your most epic travel experience all on its own.
surfing surfing everywhere
Cheaper surf than Costa Rica, better sites than El Salvador - that’s all you need to know.
Though San Juan del Sur is the most popular and well-known spot (particularly if you want to party), there are a number of other small towns all along the Pacific coast (we recommend Gigante and Popoyo) well worth checking out. For the wealthier surfer, there are a growing number of surf camps and resorts, but also plenty places which will simply rent you a board for the day.
If you’re looking for somewhere relatively affordable to learn, look no further than Nicaragua.
orange is the new black
The only place in the world where you can don an orange jumpsuit and throw yourself down a highly active volcano – why wouldn’t you want to give it a try!? Ranked #2 of CNN’s Thrill Seeker’s Bucketlist, you might hit a top-speed of 90km/h, or you may fall flat on your arse, but it’s certainly a memorable experience with some gorgeous backdrops.
Check out our post on the great day we had boarding with Bigfoot Hostel.
One of our favourite things to do when travelling is to rent a motorbike, hit the open road and see a place at our own pace. Unfortunately, Central America is not Asia when it comes to letting tourists loose on motorbikes, but that all changes on the unique island of Ometepe.
In the middle of Lake Nicaragua, with one or two volcanoes always in the backdrop, farm life being herded down a main road and lush greenery, two-wheels is the perfect way to explore the island. With about 20-30% of the roads being dirt-tracks, you can also mix it up and test your off-road skills. The island also has outdoor activities, such as a challenging ten hour hike up Volcan Concepcion.
Just try to get there before the Chinese build the bloody canal and ruin it.
grit and grandeur
We can’t get enough of colonial cities, and Granada is certainly one of the best in Central America. Spend your days with camera in hand, wandering through the colourful back-streets where horse and cart are still commonplace or take some time to explore the real Granada living around the market.
Here’s our guide on what to hit and what to miss in the city.
our pick on the pacific
Ah, Gigante. How we loved you – the secluded beaches, piglets running wild, the excellent surf and magnificent sunsets – it really is the picture postcard off-the-beaten-track destination and you’ll never want to leave. For us, it was the best beach spot on the west coast.
This could have been #1 on our list, if only it wasn’t so over-priced. Here’s our guide.
visit the home of the revolution
The museums in Leon aren’t the most impressive for their exhibits – consisting mostly of yellowing newspaper clippings and photos, portraits of key protagonists and the odd piece of military hardware. However, it is the former guerilla guides – the living exhibits if you will – who make a day of historical enquiry a must-do activity in the city. Their experiences and anecdotes (only in Spanish) – set against a backdrop of impressive political street art - add a whole new dimension to understanding the events which shaped this country in the latter-half of the twentieth century.
For more information, check this out.
kayak inside a volcano
We have sat waterside at a lot of lakes in Central America. A LOT. And Laguna de Apoyo is definitely one of our favourites.
200 metres deep, and 200 years old, this vast expanse of blue – only an hour outside Granada and Managua – will provide a warm and soothing retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life. Go kayaking, hang out on a floating deck or just enjoy swimming in the lovely water on a day trip or longer stay.
Don’t bother with a shuttle bus, make your own way there with our guide.
rum days are fun days
The dark stuff will be the catalyst for many a good night spent in Nicaragua, so make the most of it whilst you’re here. Recognised as one of the finest rums in Latin America, if not the world, Flor de Cana has won more than 100 international awards since the turn of the century. Pretty crazy considering you can wander down to any local store and buy a litre for around $5!
Just make sure you remember to take a couple of bottles of it with you when you cross the border - we guarantee you won’t regret it!