Nicaragua Travel Guide
Still smarting from the Contra deal of the eighties, this country is only just emerging from conflict. Nicaragua’s currently calm atmosphere allows travelers to finally enjoy some of its stunning landscapes and cultural gems.
Many areas welcome foreigners with a warmth and hospitality that makes up for the still developing tourist infrastructure. Outside the crowded capital of Managua, the intellectual center León and the colonial buildings of Granada offer gateways to abundant breathtaking, off the beaten track locations. Nicaragua has everything from revolutionary graffiti, mangroves and volcanoes to tropical forests, coral reefs and brilliant beaches.
When to Go
For the most part, the country has a tropical climate with a dry season that runs from December to May, and a rainy season from June to November.
For the Pacific coast, December to January is the best time to visit, as the temperature is pleasantly cool and the foliage is lush. However, with the exception of mid-April to mid-May, when the heat is at its strongest, anytime is a good time to visit.
Getting There & Away
Flights into Managua’s international airport are available from Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Spain and the USA. Buses enter Nicaragua from El Salvador, Costa Rica and Honduras. You can drive into the country along the Pan-American Highway, which runs from Alaska to Argentina. There are several airlines offering domestic flights within Nicaragua, and given the difficulty of travel in some areas and the distances involved, this is often the best way to get around. Public transportation is often slow and over crowded and the traffic is dangerous, to say the least.
Health & Safety
Despite its history of conflict, Nicaragua is now one of the safest countries in an otherwise dangerous region. That being said, you should remain safety conscious. Don’t demonstrate visible signs of wealth in public; ask locals for advice about safety issues and stay at reputable establishments. Pickpockets are particularly active around the Managua’s Ticabus bus terminal and it is advisable to keep your eye on your luggage at all times when using public transportation.
It should be safe to drink the tap water in Nicaragua. In fact, the water is so over-chlorinated that you might not like the taste. Bottled water is cheap and easy to find though, so you shouldn’t have any problems. Outside Managua and especially in smaller hotels, water is sometimes unavailable for several hours a day during the dry season.
Food & Hospitality
There is a wide range of accommodation available in Nicaragua from luxury hotels to budget guesthouses. Hacienda-style accommodation, jungle lodges and beach bungalows cater to the more upscale crowd, and many offer tours and promote eco-tourism. There are several nightclubs in the capital and all of the major resorts generally have some kind of evening entertainment option. Be prudent when out after dark, especially when traveling alone or when in Colon or Managua.
- One day Managua.
- One day León.
- One day Granada.
- One day Isla de Ometepe.
- Three days Corn Islands.
- Two days in tropical Bluefields.
- A week on any of the country’s top-notch beaches.
Managua: a quarter of the country’s population inhabits this lakeside capital, not all of them with a roof over their head either! Although the entire city center was destroyed in two successive earthquakes, the Palacio Nacional and the lakeside cathedral are still impressive.
León: colonial architecture and Spanish-style buildings mingle with walls covered in revolutionary graffiti in the intellectual and radical heart of Nicaragua.
Granada: for a peaceful afternoon, take a stroll through the colonial buildings of Nicaragua’s oldest Spanish city, then cool off in the waters of Lake Nicaragua under the shadow of the Mombacho volcano.
Isla de Ometepe: the largest of 310 islands on Lake Nicaragua, the two volcanoes that make up Isla de Ometepe have become a popular destination for hikers who want to scale the peaks or catch glimpses of howler monkeys and green parrots.
Corn Islands: a popular holiday resort for both Nicaraguans and foreigners, the beaches are beautiful and the surfing is good.
Turtle watching: whether you participate as a conservation volunteer or just stay up all night to watch the huge turtles come ashore to lay eggs, there is something remarkable about the whole experience.
Hiking: scale the twin volcanic peaks of the Isla de Ometepe or spot orchids in the cloud forest on one of the many trails in the Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve.
Surfing: there are many beaches on the east and west coasts with good surfing and resorts that are geared towards the sport. Bring your own board though, local surfing shops are a little understocked!
Fishing: deep sea and fly fishing on the lakes and streams in Nicaragua are all possible, which means no matter where you are, you can still catch a big one.
Diving: several dive companies offer diving trips off the coast of the Corn Islands as well as in the waters inland. Explore virgin coral reefs and volcanic lagoons with thermal currents.