Welcome to my article on the best things to do in Nicaragua! My name is Alexia – a 31 year old who spent her childhood growing up in a small town next to Lyon in France. When I was a child, I had already developed a passion for discovering the world. I loved watching TV programs about wildlife in Africa and about world culture and civilizations.
I also think that the Indiana Jones movies gave me the desire to travel and live out incredible adventures. Unfortunately, my parents weren’t used to traveling and so I had to wait until I was a teenager to experience my first foreign country. When I got older – and started to work and earn my own money – I saved all I could to buy tickets to fly far away.
Two Amazing Weeks in Nicaragua
Last year, my husband and I organized a trip from Ushuaia to Alaska. We wanted to travel the Pan-American Highway and planned to visit all the countries that traverse this 30,000 km road. The goal was to travel for six months from January to August. But with the pandemic, we had to go back to France. This year, we decided to travel again and start our journey on this epic road. Nicaragua was on the list and borders were open!
Nicaragua looked like an amazing country with many hidden gems to explore. When we travel, we try to have just a bare minimum of information about a country so we have no preconceived notions and can simply enjoy what we see in front of our eyes as we go from destination to destination.
We spent more or less two weeks in Nicaragua. It was definitely not enough time! We arrived in Granada from Costa Rica by bus with a company called Ticabus. The journey across the border was very easy and smooth. Granada is a colorful city. We really loved the atmosphere here.
Then we spent a few days on Isla de Ometepe which is an incredibly unique island with two volcanoes in the middle of a giant lake. Next, we took a rest at Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve to appreciate the sun and warm water. Finally, we finished our trip in Leon – a peaceful and safe city. It was a short trip of around two weeks but we made some great memories.
My Favorite Place in Nicaragua: Isla de Ometepe
Our favorite place in Nicaragua (the destination we fell in love with most) was Isla de Ometepe. The experience we had there was wonderful for many reasons. First of all, the two volcanoes – especially Concepcion which is one of two volcanoes that form the island of Ometepe – were spectacular. We had the chance to see the peak of Concepcion without any cloud cover.
The landscapes all around Ometepe are gorgeous. There is an incredible volcano lookout on the airstrip. Honestly, I have never seen anything like this before! Moreover, we rented motorbikes. This is the best way to go exploring and immerse yourself in the greenery. It’s easy to drive around too. To cap it off, we stayed in a homestay with a lovely family. We loved sharing meals together and listening to their stories about the island.
Top 10 Things To Do in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is an often overlooked destination in Central America which is strange because the country offers so much. We had a blast here and only have good things to say about it! From exploring Isla de Ometepe on motorbikes to volcano boarding at Cerro Negro to watching the sunset on the roof of Leon Cathedral – there is never a dull moment in this country. Below are my recommendations for the best things to do in Nicaragua.
1. Spend at least Three Nights at Isla de Ometepe
Isla de Ometepe was our favorite place in Nicaragua and it’s definitely one of the highlights of the country. Book yourself into a homestay and enjoy the many wonderful activities on the island such as exploring the island on motorbikes, relaxing at Playa de los Mangos, checking out the views from the airstrip lookout and taking photos of the twin volcanoes.
2. Go Volcano Boarding at Cerro Negro
Volcano boarding (otherwise known as volcano surfing) at Cerro Negro is an amazing experience! It’s one of the only places in the world where you can do this activity. On certain slopes of Cerro Negro you can slide down the volcano. Hiking up the slopes is hard but sliding down is a lot of fun!
3. Watch the Sunset on the Roof of Leon Cathedral
Leon Cathedral is a beautiful church in Leon with gorgeous white rooftops. The church combines baroque and neoclassical architecture in a stunning way. Visitors can climb to the top and appreciate the views. This is a highly “Instagrammable” spot and it makes for some wonderful photos. Be sure to visit at golden hour as the sun sets majestically over the city of Leon.
4. Swim in Ojo de Agua on Isla de Ometepe
Ojo de Agua is a natural spring located on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua. You can soak yourself in clear and medicinally healthy fresh water. The water has a volcanic origin which makes it rich in certain minerals. The native plants and wildlife that surround Ojo de Agua are also quite beautiful.
5. Relax at Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve
Having a break for a few days at Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is a great way to recharge your batteries as you plan your next adventure in Nicaragua. Set in a lush forest crater, this majestic crater lake is regarded as the country’s most pure and deep lake. You can swim in the warm waters, kayak on the lake and listen to the sound of monkeys in this paradise.
6. Explore the Colorful City of Granada
Get lost in the streets of Granada and discover colorful colonial buildings. This is the oldest town in Nicaragua, so it’s best appreciated by exploring the many churches on offer. After you have gone exploring, you can head outside of the city for adventures at Isletas de Granada and Mombacho.
7. Try some Freshly Caught Fish from Lake Nicaragua
Lake Nicaragua, otherwise known as Lago Cocibolca, is the largest lake in Central America and one of the largest in the world. It’s bursting with many species of fish which, if freshly caught, are delicious to taste with the right recipe. We enjoyed ordering fish from restaurants while at the lake.
8. Party on a Festive Saturday Night in Granada
As mentioned above, Granada makes for a great base to explore a city and book some nearby adventures. But before you leave this city, you can’t miss the opportunity of partying on a Saturday night. The atmosphere is raised to another level and there are some fantastic bars and nightclubs to enjoy.
9. Visit Punta Jesus Maria on Isla de Ometepe
Punta Jesus Maria is a narrow spit of land on Isla de Ometepe which is formed in a remarkable way by water currents. You can walk along the stretch of sand as the water splashes you from both sides. It almost feels like you are walking on water! This phenomenon can reach up to 1km.
10. Enjoy a Homestay Experience with a Local Family
What better way to meet locals and enjoy a cozy experience than by staying with a local family in their homestay. Some of the best homestays in the country are the following: La Casa Carina (Granada), Casa Romano Hostel (San Juan del Sur) and El Arca de Noe Guesthouse (Granada).
Kindness of the Nicaraguan People
We realized immediately the kindness of the Nicaraguan people. I remember arriving very late in Granada and a small restaurant that was just about to close prepared us some dishes. It was a wonderful gesture. Nicaraguans are very kind people and they helped us whenever they could.
The best way to meet locals is to stay in homestays. This is great for two reasons: you can learn more about the country and you will have all of your questions answered. Even if they have suffered from the consequences of the pandemic, the locals are still respectful to foreigners and they do their best to look after you. We shared meals and long conversations with family members in Ometepe and it was one of my best memories from this trip.
Food Culture & Restaurants in Nicaragua
We found the food in Nicaragua to be pretty similar to other countries in Central America, especially to Costa Rican dishes like Gallo Pinto. This is a traditional dish consisting of rice and beans. Both countries claim it as their own. I really loved the fresh fish in Isla de Ometepe that was cooked on a BBQ. Our homestay family prepared it for us and it was delicious!
In terms of the best restaurants, there is an excellent restaurant on Playa de los Mangos in Isla de Ometepe which offers incredible views. Another fantastic place is Paradiso Hostel & Restaurante at Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, even though the food there couldn’t really be called “traditional”. Finally, be sure to have breakfast at Selina.
Best Accommodation in Nicaragua
As well as staying at some of the quaint homestays throughout the country, I can recommend the Paradiso Hostel for accommodation. This place is absolutely awesome with beautiful views of the lake, clean rooms and it’s reasonably well priced. If you book your stay there, you can use their kayaks and enjoy access to the beach for free.
We also had a great time staying at our hostel in Leon. It was called Hostal Tortuga Booluda. The best thing about this place was seeing the turtles walking around everywhere in the common areas. Quite the unique experience for a hotel! Hostal Tortuga Booluda also had good prices.
Need to Know Before you Go
Traveling in Nicaragua is pretty easy. I consider it to be a safe country as long as you apply common sense (like any country). The greatest difficulty is the current pandemic. A COVID-19 PCR test can only be done in one center in Managua (the capital city) at the cost of $150 USD per person. Other than that, Nicaragua is a beautiful country with so much to see!
I would like to leave you with my favorite memory of Nicaragua. It was in Isla de Ometepe when we drove for the last time to the airstrip and quickly looked at the volcano. We thought there would be clouds but this time we could finally see the crater as we had never seen before! We stopped and enjoyed the sunset. Every other time we were disappointed with the cloud. On our final visit, we had the chance to see it and it was epic!