The Exhaustive Guide to the Best Hostels in Nicaragua

Driving in Nicaragua is full of beauty

I spent 5 weeks backpacking Nicaragua, from towns in the north like León, Estelí, and Matagalpa all the way down the south in San Juan del Sur and even the Corn Islands. Nicaragua numbers high amongst my favorite countries in the world and even in 5 weeks, I’ve left so much unvisited that a return trip is surely in the cards.

After extensively traveling through Nicaragua and researching the best hostels through a combination of personal experience and in-depth research, I’ve compiled this guide to the best hostels in Nicaragua as I get inquiries at least once a week on where to stay. Please note that I have not personally stayed in each of these hostels, and I haven’t included any hostels that I stayed in that I felt were sub-par.

Street scene in Granada, Nicaragua

I can promise you that you always get my honest opinion, regardless of whether I receive sponsored travel or not. However, for those who care: I paid out of pocket for my entire time in Nicaragua with the one exception of staying at Yemaya Island Hideaway in Little Corn, which isn’t on this list as it’s not a hostel. All recommendations are made personally, though should you choose to use one of these links to book a stay in one of these Nicaragua hostels, I earn a small commission – at no extra cost to you – as a thank you.

General Tips for Hostels in Nicaragua

A few things to keep in mind about Nicaragua hostels, as they have a few unique quirks that you won’t find elsewhere.

1. Hot water in a hostel is rare, and while days there are hot and humid and many normal people don’t mind a cold shower, I started to really miss the feeling of a hot shower. If that’s something important to you, read the hostel descriptions carefully or use a filter search function on HostelWorld or Booking. That said, often, when I was promised a hot shower, it was barely lukewarm and always a disappointment… so, basically, resign yourself to cool showers for the entirety of your time in Nicaragua, and treat hot water as a pleasant surprise.

2. Many times, a hostel will either not have AC, or have a fan-cooled option and an AC option for an additional charge. I generally just had a fan and was OK, but again, go with your comfort level, and use the HostelWorld/Booking filters to help narrow your search.

3. Nicaragua is actually the safest country in Central America, but it’s not immune from opportunistic crime against tourists. While I never had any problems, I always recommend staying places that have lockers available for use and either 24/7 reception or security. I didn’t hear about any thefts or crimes against tourists during my 5 weeks in Nicaragua, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

4. Linens are always included, but I recommend traveling with your own microfiber travel towel to avoid getting charged for renting a towel, as they are often not included.

Best Hostels in Granada, Nicaragua

  • Note: while I did stay in Granada, I don’t think my hostel (Hostal Entre Amigos) is really recommendation worthy. The mattress was inexplicably coated in plastic and which made the sheets slip off constantly. While the staff was super kind and the price was great  – $12 for my own private double – there are definitely better places to stay in Granada, which I am listing below.
best hostels in Granada Nicaragua
My favorite view in all of Granada, from the top of the belltower

Hostal Azul

A spacious and open hostel with loads of natural light and plenty of hammocks to relax in, Hostal Azul receives top marks for cleanliness, in-house facilities, and services such as laundry and airport buses. Cozy and comfy rest areas welcome you to socialize and relax after a long day.

There are a few extras at Hostal Azul that long-term travelers will quickly become obsessed with. Included with every stay is free access to the gym for up to 5 days, a godsend when traveling long-term. They also provide free calling to the U.S. and Canada, Wi-Fi, Netflix, daily activities, and free breakfast each morning.

Optional day tours with roundtrip transportation depart from the hostel every day, while a single block walk will bring you into the heart of Granada and its lovely yellow and red cathedral.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: HostelWorld (9.4)

Just another colorful street scene in Granada, Nicaragua

De Boca en Boca

Staying at De Boca en Boca is a great way to enjoy the blend of lovely nature and colonial charm that Granada has to offer. Located near the isletas and just a few blocks from Central Park, De Boca en Boca has one of the better locations in the city. It’s directly beside Iglesia La Merced, one of Granada’s most pretty colonial-era churches, and nearby a local fruit and vegetable market in case you want to make use of the roomy kitchen.

The hostel offers an open rooftop for travelers to enjoy the balmy Nicaraguan evenings, as well as hammocks to relax in, and an in-house bar. Different levels of privacy are available, as the hostel offers both shared and private rooms, with either en-suite or shared bathrooms.

Other bonuses include free breakfast, wifi, free coffee all day long, in-house laundry, and the ability to organize day tours from the reception.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: HostelWorld (9.4)

Best Hostels in Leon, Nicaragua

best hostels in Leon Nicaragua
Atop the León Cathedral, a 5 minute walk from my hostel there

Hostal Casa Abierta

This is where I stayed in León and I can’t recommend it higher — mostly for the sheer fact that there is a POOL! Once you get to León and realize how freaking hot it is… trust me, my all-caps enthusiasm will make more sense to you. The staff was really kind as well and were always cleaning leaves out of the pool every time I even so much as glanced at it.

The food from the kitchen is really delicious as well — I particularly loved the juices. One other thing I love about Casa Abierta is that they work at being an eco-hostel, always striving to recycle and reduce waste. They host a small organic shop and generally are very eco-friendly and low impact. The vibe is calm, with not too many travelers coming through (probably because it’s listed on Booking, not HostelWorld) which made for quiet vibes — something I enjoyed, but other people may prefer a most social atmosphere.

The location is great as well, about a 5-minute walk to the cathedral and a 7-minute walk to the area where most of the bars, restaurants, and tour agencies in León can be found.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking (8.6) 

best hostels in Nicaragua - a mountain in Léon
The top of Cerro Negro, as seen on a day trip from León

Poco a Poco Hostel

I didn’t personally stay here, but seeing that Poco a Poco has been awarded the best hostel in Nicaragua for 2018, it should probably be included on this list!

From what I can see, the design is a step above traditional hostels, offering expansive common areas, access to outdoor mist showers, plenty of hammocks, an open rooftop area, and even a fully equipped industrial-size kitchen.

Just two blocks away you’ll find the largest bar street in the city. The ease of access to the best bars and restaurants in León will be welcome to weary travelers returning from a long day of volcano boarding down Cerro Negro or relaxing at Las Peñitas. Just three blocks away, you’ll find the main plaza with the famous white cathedral of León, pictured above.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking (9.4) | HostelWorld (9.5)

 

Best Hostels in Estelí, Nicaragua

top hostels in Nicaragua - Esteli
Learning how to roll my own cigars on a tour organized my hostel in Estelí, Sonati

Sonatí

Sonatí is one of the best possible places to stay in Estelí because it’s also one of the largest, most socially responsible tour agencies in Nicaragua. Staying at Estelí means that you’re supporting a project that benefits local communities – plus, it’s a convenient hub for tours, like the cigar factory tour photographed above, which I took for $8 one day in Estelí.

The beds are comfortable, the kitchen is extremely large and well-stocked, and there are plenty of places to lounge and spread out so that you can either socialize with your fellow travelers or take a personal break when needed. It’s definitely not a party hostel, so the vibe is nice and relaxed.

Bonuses: free coffee until noon (breakfast not included) and what passes for “hot water” in Nicaragua– more like barely warm as opposed to the usual freezing temperatures, but still, a delightful change of pace.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking (8.1) | HostelWorld (8.5)

Best Hostels in Matagalpa, Nicaragua

My top hostel in Matagalpa, Nicaragua - Martina's Place
Learning chocolate making in Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Martina’s Place

Martina is a lovely expat from Spain who moved to Matagalpa years back and is running the best hostel in town (though as Matagalpa is not very touristy, that’s not a hard crown to win).

The main dorm room is enormously large – it fits probably well over 20 beds – but it’s really spacious and almost never filled to capacity (I think there were max 3 or 4 other people in the hostel with me at any time during my stay), so that’s actually not a problem even though I normally avoid dorm rooms over 10 people at all costs.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking (8.8) | HostelWorld (9.5)

Best Hostels in Managua, Nicaragua

Photo not my own, because I spent nearly my entire time in Managua crying about my broken laptop

Hostel Maracuya Managua

Honestly, most people say you can skip Managua, and I tend to agree. The exception would be if you have an early morning or late night flight either to/from the Corn Islands or coming/going home. I spent two days in Managua because my laptop wasn’t turning on after a cocktail mishap (yup, don’t drink and blog, folks) and thought I’d have to get it repaired in the capital. I ended up finding Managua’s bad reputation a bit undeserved, but mostly because I loved Hostel Maracuya so much.

It’s in the safest neighborhood of Managua (extremely important because certain parts of Managua are very dodgy) with plenty of restaurants nearby. The vibe is quiet and friendly, and the staff was so lovely — helping me navigate my laptop issues (a major catastrophe when your laptop is your mobile office) and cooking me delicious breakfasts every morning. I wouldn’t recommend anywhere else in Managua.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking (8.4) | HostelWorld (8.7)

Best Hostels in Ometepe, Nicaragua

Sunsets in Ometepe are legendary
  • Note: Ometepe is the only place on this list that I didn’t personally visit — blame the Corn Islands, where I willingly shipwrecked myself from society for two weeks, thus canning my planned time in Ometepe. These recommendations are cobbled together from advice from fellow travelers about what cities are best to stay on in Ometepe (which is larger and harder to get around than it seems) as well as reviews on Booking and HostelWorld. While as a rule, I generally don’t write about places I haven’t been, so many people go to Ometepe that I feel like this list would be incomplete without a section on it.

La Urraca Loca

The twin islands of Ometepe are known for being a lush getaway from the rest of the world. However, as transportation in Ometepe is limited unless you rent a scooter, it’s extra important what location you choose. Balgüe is one of the preferred backpacker spots in Ometepe, making this location pretty picture perfect!

La Urraca Loca has managed to combine a traditional style hostel with the natural world around it, giving you modern convenience and easy access to nature. From free Wifi to on-site Spanish lessons, and free purified water dispensers, to gardens filled with birds, monkeys, and other animals, you really have the best of both worlds. With full mosquito netting in open rooms, the hostel has managed to combine nature and comfort at an incredibly affordable price.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking (8.9) | HostelWorld (9.5)

One of Ometepe’s two volcanoes

Hospedaje Los Chocoyos

If you want to visit the Coibolca Lake, while on Ometepe, this is the only property that claims to offer you front and center access. Other local attractions, such as the Volcano Maderas, the San Ramon Waterfall, and even the Ojo de Agua are close to this hostel as well.

At night, free Wi-Fi, thick mattresses, high-quality mosquito nets, beachside dining, patio entertainment, and high-quality media access all encourage you to relax and enjoy yourself in the social, but relaxed, atmosphere.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: HostelWorld (8.6)

Best Hostels in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

The quieter side of Nicaragua

Hola Ola Hostel

With 44 different beds, two different pools, plenty of daily activities to meet new people, and a beach path to the city, Hola Ola offers everything you could want from a hostel and more. You can tell that it was thoughtfully designed by a fellow traveler, with enough opportunities to socialize but also places to relax and unwind.

Since it’s a short walk outside the town, the hostel even offers free nighttime shuttles in and out of town. In addition to that, occasional live music nights and quiet dorm rooms allow you to achieve a perfect balance between activity and rest. Breakfast is included, as are linens, but bring your own towel.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: HostelWorld (9.0)

The humble chicken bus, the real Nicaraguan experience
The ubiquitous Nicaraguan chicken bus – an experience that you must have at least once

 

Saltwater Hostel

With a heavy focus on socialization and meeting others, this hostel has great common areas that encourage interaction, while still offering enough privacy to relax at the end of the day: the best of both worlds.

It’s located a bit outside the downtown, with excellent views over the Pacific Ocean, making it more quiet and peaceful than the rest of party-hardy San Juan del Sur. Still, it has easy access to clubs, bars, and San Juan del Sur’s beaches if that’s what you’re after.

At night time, you can watch the sunset from of the many hammocks before climbing into the soft, clean, comfortable beds for a restful and restorative sleep. Breakfast not included, but can be purchased for $3.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking (8.3) | HostelWorld (9.0)

Best Hostels in the Corn Islands

I miss the Corn Islands basically every day.

Three Brothers

With a commitment to cleanliness, a full-sized and fully equipped kitchen, friendly vibes from the owners (even when I woke him up because I had accidentally locked myself out– oops), and more, Green House Hostel is your best bet on the tiny island of Little Corn. It’s located right by the dock, making check-in a breeze compared to other locations on Little Corn, which can take up to 20 minutes to walk to as the island has no motorized transport.

There’s Wi-Fi, but it’s spotty (like much of Little Corn, though pro tip — Café Desideri had some of the best wifi on the island). However, keep in mind that on the entire island, the power goes out from approximately 6 AM to 1 PM daily to conserve energy.

They have dorms, but I booked a private room with a shared bathroom for an affordable price and was pretty happy with my basic room.

There may be better options on Little Corn (I hear good things about The Lighthouse) but this is where I stayed and I was perfectly happy with my stay.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking (7.5) 

Mimundo Corn Island

Many travelers quickly travel through Big Corn on their way to Little Corn, (I did, personally) but if you want to spend a little time on Big Corn, this is the best option. In fact, I’m pretty sure it didn’t even exist when I passed through Little Corn, or at least it didn’t show up on any Booking websites.

If you take the time to enjoy Big Corn too, you’ll be well-rewarded. Amazing views from the balcony let you watch the sun rise and set over the ocean. Walk downstairs, and you can literally enter the ocean in as little as three steps.

Each room has a private en-suite bathroom, and each floor offers a breezy respite from the heat. Communal hammocks offer a fun place to hang out and relax when you need a break from the sun. Boat rental, snorkeling equipment, and anything else you need to enjoy the brilliant Caribbean sea can be easily arranged with reception. AC is available, but breakfast is not included.

To compare prices and read reviews, check out: Booking (8.0) | HostelWorld (9.4)

 

Have any other recommendations for Nicaragua hostels? Leave them below in the comments!

Note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning that if you book or purchase something using one of these links, I will make a small commission at no added charge to you. Thanks for your support.

Nicaragua Packing List: The Ultimate Guide on What to Pack

Packing for a trip to Nicaragua isn’t too difficult. Being a subtropical climate, Nicaragua only has two seasons: rainy and dry, and both have around the same average temperatures (read: hot AF). The rainy season — which is low season — lasts from May to November, peaking in October. That said, despite the rain, the average temperatures still range from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Even in the rainy season, you’ll want to leave the heavy rain gear at home.

Most travelers will want to avoid Nicaragua during its rainiest, with the exception of diehard surfers — the rainy season means bigger swells and better surf. For every other kind of traveler, the period from December to April is the best, but also the most crowded. Not that anything ever gets too crowded in Nicaragua, though! I spent all of January and the first half of February in Nicaragua and found the weather to be perfect, if not slightly on the hot side, with almost no rain.

Wondering what to pack for Nicaragua? I've got you covered (literally!)
The beautiful Corn Islands, Nicaragua

Cities in the highlands like Estelí and Matagalpa are slightly cooler (especially at night!) than those in the lowlands, like Léon and Granada. When you map out your itinerary, add extra layers if you are planning stops in Nicaragua’s highlands.

After spending 5 weeks in Nicaragua, traveling from north to south, lowlands to highlands, and even the farflung Caribbean Islands, I’ve got all the packing tips you need to make sure your Nicaragua trip goes off without a hitch.

Here’s everything you need to know about what to pack for Nicaragua!

What to Pack Everything In

Take it from someone who’s been traveling for the better part of the last two years: Nothing guarantees your sanity more than a well-organized system for packing all your stuff. Unless you are traveling really slowly, you will be packing and repacking every couple of days. Having a well organized system makes the whole process less burdensome, trust me!

You don’t need anything that fancy, but following a few tips to make your Nicaragua packing list more streamlined will buy you serious peace of mind.

Street scene in Granada, Nicaragua
    • Travel Backpack (carry on size or check-in size): While I do love a good rolling suitcase for travels in Europe — that just won’t fly in Nicaragua, especially if you’re taking public transportation and hitting up lots of different places during your trip to Nicaragua. Infrastructure is limited. You don’t want to drag a wheeled suitcase across uneven sidewalks or up endless flights of stairs. I am a light packer, so my Tortuga Backpack is all I need — I spent 4 months traversing Central America with it and still didn’t use all the things I brought in my pack. I used their original version for 2.5 years before Tortuga recently gifted me their newest version to trial, and I love it even more than the original (which my boyfriend now happily uses – in fact, he was even almost more excited than I was when I upgraded my Tortuga and he got my old one).
      • Why do I recommend Tortuga so much? Here’s why: this bag is 45L and has got three main compartments: one for a laptop and other flat objects, one giant rectangular compartment perfect for packing cubes stuffed with clothing, and one smaller compartment with pockets for passports, pens, odds and ends, etc. that I stash all my extras in – plus one small outer zipper pocket for anything you want quick access to. It also has a water bottle holder on the outside as well as buckles so that you can strap something like a yoga mat to the outside. Plus, it’s quite comfortable to wear, with a padded hip belt and comfort-molding shoulder straps complete with a chest strap so that you can distribute weight perfectly across your body in the event that you need to wear your backpack for longer than usual. Check out more specs and details here.
      • Does it pass budget airline requirements? I’ve literally taken it on 50+ budget airline flights at this point and never once been asked to check it in. I do tend to fly with priority boarding so that I can also bring my travel daypack as my personal item, but that only adds a few dollars onto my budget airline ticket, whereas adding checked luggage usually more than doubles my ticket cost.
    • I haven’t personally used a bigger backpack, but I’ve heard excellent things about the Osprey system and I think that’s the only brand I’d trust if I wanted to upgrade my packing capacity. However, I’ve been fine with just 45 liters, personally — but your comfort level varies!
    • Packing Cubes: I have strong, strong feels about packing cubes. It helps you organize your clothing and makes opening your backpack a little less explosive. You don’t really need to be too picky with your packing cubes — anything with a rectangular shape and a zipper will do. I personally use these packing cubes and love them. But really, any will do. And in a pinch, some gallon size plastic Ziploc bags will do the trick. But since they eventually rip and gap, I prefer reusable packing cubes.
    • Laundry bag: Mentally, it makes a huge difference to have a separate laundry bag for all your dirties — it also makes laundry day all the less painful. Again, like packing cubes, you don’t need anything fancy at all – it is just a receptacle your dirty underwear, after all. I do like having a cute one like this one from Kikkerland though, because I’m impractical.
    • Hanging Toiletry Bag: Trust me – nothing will piss you off faster than searching for your toiletries in a never-ending pile of junk. Using a simple hanging toiletry bag (which fits perfectly in the outer pocket of my Tortuga backpack, by the way) is life-changing. It has the perfect number of separators, organizers, and pockets without taking up any excess space. It’s kind of like those tents at the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter — you’d be amazed how much fits in one little pack.
    • Backpack with locking zippers : While Nicaragua is safe, it’s not completely free from petty crime. While wearing a shoulder bag is probably the most secure option, it’s just not comfortable if you carry a lot of stuff with you during the day. I swear by PacSafe and love their PacSafe Citysafe backpack. It’s not horrendously ugly, PLUS it has locking zippers so that you don’t have to be so on edge when you’re walking around a city with your valuables on you.

Essential Things to Pack for Nicaragua

You don’t need to pack that much for Nicaragua, to be honest, but here are the few things I really insist upon.

    • Mosquito repellent: As a tropical country, Nicaragua has lots of pesky mosquitos, especially in the rainy season. Malaria is present in the country and it is classed as low-risk. As someone with depression and anxiety I avoid antimalarial drugs whenever possible, and double up on the mosquito repellent instead. I usually carry a bottle and also some repellent wipes with me if I need to reapply on the go.
    • Water bottle with built-in filter: My go to is the Water to Go bottle as it’s a nice size and filters out 99.9% of contaminants so that you can drink tap water that would normally be undrinkable. This is HUGE at reducing plastic waste. Psst: I have a discount code for those who are interested — type in EA15 at checkout to receive a 15% off discount!
    • Reusable tote bags: Like many countries in the developing world, there is plastic everywhere in Nicaragua. Bring your own reusable tote so that you can signal to it and refuse plastic bags at most establishments and markets. I keep one or two small ones in my larger bag and bring them with me daily, plus I use them as beach bags, separating shoes from clothes, etc.
    • Basic medicine: You will be able to find all this in Nicaragua, but trust me — if you’re experiencing traveler’s diarrhea, just about the last thing you want to do is shuffle to a farmacía and discuss your bowel movements with a pharmacist. I carry Pepto-Bismol for standard stomach troubles, Imodium as a nuclear option for diarrhea (i.e. you have to ride a bus for several hours), some sort of painkiller like ibuprofen for headaches and minor pains, and some sort of motion sickness tablets. That usually covers the bases for me — anything else I need I grab on the road.
    • Some cash in USD: Nicaragua charges $10 USD for a tourist card upon entry – make sure you have it to avoid issues at the airport! I also just like having some extra in case my card fails to work at the airport.

What to Wear & Bring in Nicaragua

Admittedly, this is a list for female travelers — menfolk, sorry, but I trust you know how to dress yourselves in summer, so just follow that.

Women have a bit more to contend with when it comes to traveling Nicaragua — especially if you are traveling solo (which I did – and for the record, I felt safe — though I’ve written a more detailed post on travel safety in Nicaragua here). Catcalling in Nicaragua is incredibly common. While I wish it was different, it’s true. That said, I didn’t feel particularly uncomfortable or unsafe, as compared to prior experiences in places like New York City and Marrakech.

Trying to pretend to be stylish in the Corn Islands

I didn’t really find that how I dressed had much of an impact on how I was treated by men. Generally, if you look white or light-skinned, you are going to attract more attention. So dress to make yourself comfortable first (with the obvious exception of dressing modestly if you plan on visiting a church).

    • 3-5 lightweight summer dresses: Or really, however many you can pack without being cramped or ridiculous.
    • 5+ tees & tanks: The more neutral, the better. You will sweat a lot, so minimize your white. I suggest black, gray, and a few bright colors.
    • 1 pair jeans: While it’s too hot many days to wear jeans, if you’re in the highlands, you’ll be glad you brought them. They’re also perfect for chilly nights or for when you want to blend in (most Nicaraguan women wear jeans all the time, even when it’s over 90F outside)
    • 2 pairs shorts: I bring one pair of loose-fitting linen shorts for hot AF days, and one pair of denim shorts for when I want to look a little cuter.
    • 1-2 skirts: I suggest bringing one black skirt and one printed skirt for flexibility. I loved having a midi-length skirt. The extra fabric around your legs traps some cool air, making you feel less hot, and I liked the additional coverage it gave me.
    • 1 pair hiking boots (optional, but recommended): If you plan on hiking any of the volcanoes – and I urge you do – there’s really no substitute for hiking boots. Volcanic gravel is very loose. Sneakers will suit you in a pinch, but you’re much better off with proper boots. I wore these on days that I flew and tied them to the outside of my backpack when traveling between cities. I loved my Ahnu boots but if you have a pair at home already bring those so you don’t have to break them in.

      How to style your hiking boots. Or not.
    • 1 pair sneakers: For days when you spend a lot of time on your feet, but aren’t necessarily climbing volcanoes, these will do the trick. I usually wear a pair of black Nikes as I find they look cute even with my dresses and I’m all about options.
    • 1 pair sandals: Having a cute and comfortable pair of sandals does wonders for the psyche. I’m obsessed with my Birkenstocks and will never go back.
    • 1 rain jacket: Even if you don’t plan on traveling in the rainy season, sometimes the weather has other plans. I also used this as a lightweight jacket during nights in the highlands (Estelí, Matagalpa) where the weather was a bit colder. I love my Marmot rain jacket.
    • 1 cardigan: For when you want a little warmth, but not as much as a rain jacket will give. Most buses won’t have AC, but if you take a shuttle, sometimes they blast the AC and it’s good to have an extra layer.
    • 1-2 bras: I trust you’re all big girls and you know what you need when it comes to bras. I personally brought 1 regular bra and 1 sports bra and switched between the two.
    • 7+ pairs of underwear: The more underwear you bring, the longer you can go between washes. I don’t recommend bringing stuff to do your laundry on the road – it’s a waste of time and money. There are plenty of laundromats catering to backpackers in Nicaragua, plus you’re supporting the local economy. If you really need to clean some clothes in a pinch, a bar of soap and hanging it somewhere
    • Bathing suit: You’ll definitely want it, whether you’re taking dips in a hostel pool, going to the beach, learning to surf (in which case I recommend bringing a rash guard too) or diving in the Corn Islands.
    • Binoculars: OK, calling binoculars something you wear is a bit of a stretch, but you’ll certainly want a lightweight pair of good quality binoculars you can toss around your neck for jungle hikes and birdwatching.

What to Pack for Nicaragua Hostels

If you’re staying in hotels, you can skip this part, but there are a few specialized things you might want to bring in case you are staying in a hostel.

    • 1 pair flip flops: Guys. Athlete’s foot is no joke. I’ve dealt with ringworm before (which is basically athlete’s foot on any part of your body that’s not your foot) and it is miserable to get rid of. Save yourself the trouble. Buy a pair of cheap rubber flipflops. /end PSA
    • 1 travel towelMany of the hostels I stayed at did not provide free towels. Bring your own to avoid rental fees.
    • 1 eye mask: I swear by this contoured eye mask as it doesn’t put uncomfortable pressure on your eyes but completely blacks out any light. Great for inconsiderate roommates and early nights in when you’re beat but your bunkmates have other ideas.
    • Some earplugs or good noise-canceling headphones: I love Hearos — they’re the gold standard for ear plugs. I’ve also been eyeing these noise-canceling headphones but can’t justify the purchase at the moment. One day!

What Toiletries to Pack for Nicaragua

Nicaragua stores will have most of the things you want and need… but just in case.

    • Hand sanitizer: Many public restrooms don’t have soap, so having some hand sanitizer is always good.
    • Kleenex packets: Like above — public restrooms may be lacking in the toilet paper department, so having some Kleenex in a portable sleeve is a nice choice.
    • LUSH solid shampoo: Life-changing. Just trust me. Buy online or in store from LUSH and you’ll save serious money over Amazon.
    • Sunscreen: Nicaragua is sunny AF (unless you’re traveling in the rainy season). My skin is really sensitive on my face, so I use this fancy Japanese sunscreen to prevent acne, and I buy a more standard sunscreen on the road.
    • Travel medications: I listed them above, but just to reiterate — stomach medicine, motion sickness pills, and some sort of painkiller are my standards.

What to Pack for Safety in Nicaragua

For whatever reason, people think that Nicaragua is unsafe… when in fact, it’s statistically the safest country in all of Central America. Use common sense and you’ll be perfectly fine in Nicaragua.

The one major safety note I should mention: keep your valuables with you and in sight when on a chicken bus as they’ll often tie your backpacks to the roof of the bus or put them far away from you on the bus. This isn’t to be sketchy; it’s because the buses are insanely crowded. That said, I do recommend bringing the following:

  • Combination locks: In Nicaragua, you’re probably at the greatest risk of theft from your fellow travelers. Prevent crimes of opportunity with simple measures like having a combination lock and keeping your valuables locked away. I always check hostels on Hostelworld to ensure they have lockers available because I travel with so many valuable electronics.
  • Daypack with locking zippers: Backpacks are easy targets — I wrote above about how much I love my PacSafe Citysafe backpack. After nearly being pickpocketing while wearing a different backpack in Vietnam, I now carry no other kind of daypack.

Don’t bother with a money belt. Thieves know about them. You’re better off carrying your wallet deep in a slash-proof backpack (like the one mentioned above) or bag tightly zipped. One other thing I recommend is to have a second checking account and two debit cards if possible. Keep them in different spots in case you get pickpocketed. This way you won’t be screwed while you wait for your bank to send you another card!

Electronics to Pack for Nicaragua

There are really no special considerations when it comes to packing electronics for Nicaragua except for the one: do not bring a drone. They are 100% illegal in the country, and if you are caught, it will be confiscated and I have no clue if you’ll be able to get it back.

Other than that, bring whatever you’re comfortable bringing. As a travel blogger, I bring my entire life with me on the road, which includes a laptop, camera, multiple lenses, smartphone, GoPro, and more. I always make sure that I stay at hostels with lockers so that I can lock up my valuables. People who are more paranoid/responsible than I am may want to bring a portable safe for peace of mind.

  • Laptop, if necessary: I bring my Macbook Air everywhere but other people may prefer a tablet or an inexpensive netbook. I work on the road so a user-friendly, lightweight laptop is a must.
  • Kindle Paperwhite: English-language bookstores are few and far between outside of expat-haven Granada. I love the Kindle Paperwhite because the screen is glare-free, making it easy to read at the beach or in direct sunlight.
  • Travel camera: I use a Sony A6000 because it’s lightweight for a professional caliber camera, inexpensive, and a HUGE step up from a smartphone. You may want to replace this or add a GoPro too, especially good for adventure activities like volcano boarding and diving (just check to see if you also need an underwater house for your GoPro if you dive, as many of the newer models are only good to 10m — not nearly enough for divers)
  • Portable charger: As an electronics-addict, I’m always running out of juice. Bring a portable charger to save yourself many headaches! Anker is a reliable brand and what I personally use.
  • Adaptor, if necessary: Nicaragua uses the same plugs as America and Canada, so if you’re coming from Europe or the UK, you will need an adaptor.

***

Well, nearly 3,000 words later, I think I’ve finally exhausted all the things you need to bring for Nicaragua. While this sounds like a lot, I was able to fit it all into a 44L backpack (carry-on size) and daypack because I chose lightweight fabrics and packed carefully.

Is there anything I’ve forgotten? Is there anything else you’re wondering if you should bring? Let me know in the comments!

Note: This post contains affiliate links to items I personally used on my trip to Nicaragua. If you make a purchase using one of these links, I will make a small commission at no additional charge to you. I received a free Water-to-Go bottle to sample it and can recommend it without reservation. If you’d like one, you can use my affiliate code — EA15 — to purchase one of your own at a 15% discount.

Is Nicaragua Safe? My Perspective and Recent Safety Updates

Update (June 7, 2018): The situation continues to deteriorate with recent violence in Masaya and Granada, with over 120 casualties and over a thousand people wounded. Personally, I wouldn’t travel to Nicaragua at this time while the protests are ongoing.

Safety update (May 24, 2018): While protests are ongoing in Nicaragua, the situation is more peaceful than during my last update. I believe now it is safe to visit Nicaragua, but I’d avoid Managua, where most of the protests have been occurring.

A reader named Christian, a Nicaraguan living in Managua, recently commented: “I’d say to still avoid Managua, tourist places are safe especially at the south of the country (Granada, Ometepe Island, San Juan del Sur)

There are not violent protests anymore and looks like everything is coming back to normal.”

If you are a Nicaraguan or a traveler who is currently in Nicaragua, feel free to leave a comment and I will gladly update this post to reflect what the situation on the ground is like in Nicaragua now. Thank you!

Important safety update (April 25, 2018): At the moment, Nicaragua is experiencing civil unrest and violent protests. As of April 23rd, the U.S. has ordered all family members of government personnel stationed there to leave, and there is an ongoing travel advisory (see full text here).

Over 30 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and police, mainly in the capital city, Managua. I last visited Nicaragua in January/February of 2017, so my experience below reflects that time. Many governments are advising against visiting Nicaragua at this time. If you do go, avoid Managua and perhaps Léon, which has historically been one of the most politically active and revolutionary cities in Nicaragua. I’d imagine things are calmer in Granada, San Juan del Sur, and Ometepe, which host more expats and are more touristic.

Below is the text of the article as it appeared before the protests began in April, which was first published January 20th, 2018 following my visit to Nicaragua in 2017.

Safety Note: Now more than ever, I recommend ensuring you have travel insurance when visiting Nicaragua. I used the World Nomads Explorer Plan to cover me from anything from volcano boarding to scuba diving while I was in Nicaragua, at very affordable prices. Especially with the current political situation, you’ll want to be covered if you visit Nicaragua.

It’s unfortunate but true: women travelers everywhere have different safety considerations than men. And this is doubly true in Latin America, with its strong patriarchal culture. When I told people back home that I was spending 4 months traveling alone through Central America, I had many surprised and nervous reactions. But were they warranted?

Well, I learned it firsthand when I traveled alone for five weeks in Nicaragua — yup, no one but me, myself, and I. After all that time, exploring from north to south, from smaller towns like Estelí and Matagalpa to larger cities like Managua and Léon, all the way to the Corn Islands in the Caribbean — I’d say I feel vaguely qualified to answer the common question: is Nicaragua safe?

Driving in Nicaragua is full of beauty

Note: Keep in mind, of course, that this is my personal experience and is thus incredibly subjective. I’ve traveled a lot — to around 50 countries, at last count — and I’ve lived in some places that are very unfriendly to women. These opinions come from an experienced solo traveler who is familiar with Latin American culture and fluent in Spanish. Your comfort level may vary based on your experiences and personality!

Here are my main takeaways about travel safety in Nicaragua.

Yes, traveling as a woman is safe — but the patriarchy is strong.

If you’ll allow me to generalize, Latin America has a very patriarchal and male-dominated culture. So is traveling there safe?

I’d say yes – with a few caveats. For one, you have to be comfortable with a certain level of stares and comments. For another, you have to trust your gut. If something tells you that a person’s intentions are not good, listen to them. Exit the situation, even if you feel like it’s rude. Your safety matters more than a stranger’s feelings. Always.

If you’re used to life in a big city and ignoring men who call out to you on the street — you’ll be just fine in Nicaragua. I found that my years of living in New York City had steeled me pretty well to Nicaraguan catcalling and I wasn’t very affected by it. That said, I did limit the amount of time I walked at night alone (keep in mind sunset is rather early in Nicaragua due to its latitude, so it’s not realistic — nor necessary — to always be home before dark).

When all else fails, remember: women are your allies. Make eye contact, smile, say hello, chat with them, and don’t be afraid to stick close to them if you feel you’re getting unwanted attention. Women look out for women, generally, and I’ve found that local women will look out for you and tell men where to go if necessary.

Catcalling is ubiquitous, but you need to use your gut to assess safety

I had heard that catcalling in Nicaragua was incredibly commonplace, and I can confirm that. Catcalling is a major part of a woman’s daily lived experience in Nicaragua.

In the cities, it’s rare to go more than a few blocks without a hissed “compliment” or suggestive comment. I found catcalling to be less common in smaller towns like Las Peñitas and in the Corn Islands, but it was still present nonetheless. Nicaragua is safe for women, but still — catcalling is a fact of life.

For me, having a plan of action was important mentally. I had two tiers of responses. I’d respond to innocent holas and buenos días with a polite but curt response as I continued walking past them, without making eye contact. If someone threw in a bella or a baby  or anything beyond that — they were promptly ignored.

95% of the time, the interaction stopped there. It was rare that someone would continue to bother me or ask me why I ignored them, or took my hurried hello as an invitation for further discussion. I’m comparing this experience to my time living in New York, where ignoring men quite literally got me called a bitch or a whore multiple times a week.

I found that men in Nicaragua were quick to assert their dominance with some catcalling, but often left it at that. While not necessarily pleasant, I didn’t find that it made me feel unsafe. Trust your gut and know the difference between an uncomfortable but isolated sexualized comment and an actual threat.

Taxis are insanely cheap and worth every cordoba

I’ve never traveled anywhere where taxis are as cheap as Nicaragua, and I used them liberally during my five weeks in the country.

The reason why they’re so cheap is that they all work essentially as colectivos – aka, collective taxis. So don’t be surprised if you flag a taxi, only to have them stop for other travelers. This is how it’s supposed to go. That’s why they’re so cheap!

On average, I paid 10 to 30 cordobas (the equivalent of 30 cents to $1 USD) to travel from point A to point B within a city. Taxis don’t have standard rates — much less meters, for that matter. Always agree upon the fare before entering the taxi. A simple Cuanto cuesta ir a ___? will show that you understand how the taxis work in Nicaragua and that you aren’t likely to be tricked (just make sure you have enough Spanish to understand their response!). I’m not sure how it would go if you spoke English to the taxi driver. I never tried, seeing that I’m comfortable speaking in Spanish.

Let me just say: I think it’s a bit gauche for foreigners to argue over every last nickel and dime, especially when we enjoy relative wealth compared to Nicaraguans. By all means, don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of to a ridiculous level. However, do keep in mind that you’re often arguing over the equivalent of a few dimes. If a taxi driver truly is overcharging you and you’re not comfortable with it, simply decline politely and wave down another.

Be prepared to be assertive on chicken buses

I don’t want to gloss over my five weeks in Nicaragua without mentioning one very uncomfortable experience I had. This literally happened on my way to the border with Costa Rica departing Nicaragua. I was especially frustrated because up until the final day of my travels in Nicaragua, I had felt pretty safe in Nicaragua as a woman. But this was different.

The humble chicken bus, the real Nicaraguan experience

On the chicken bus from San Juan del Sur to Rivas, where I was going to transfer to the border bus, a man decided to take advantage of the fact that we were on a crowded bus. I was packed three to a seat with two other female travelers, sitting on the outside seat. It was a very packed bus, I’ll grant. But there was nothing natural about the way this man was standing with his dick thrust proudly in my face — basically straddling me — with a sick grin on his face.

I know that crowded forms of transit are a thing. I lived in New York City for nine years, for Christ’s sake. I get it. But something just felt off. I was half worried that I was being oversensitive, but I also felt frozen. The girls next to me sensed my discomfort with the situation and asked if I wanted any help with telling off this man — but I just felt so oddly frozen, so afraid to escalate the situation, so I told them I was fine. Of course, I wasn’t, but I didn’t know the proper course of action, so I sat through it. I wish I could say that I raised my voice and got loud and told this guy where to go in some particular colorful Spanish, but I didn’t.

The thing about sexual harassment is that you never know how you’re going to respond to it until you’re in the situation, and once you’re in the thick of it, the situation is often fraught with variables. I didn’t want to seem like an insane gringa shouting out a local guy over nothing. I didn’t want to seem oversensitive, or rude, or racist. So I sat.

What can you learn from this? If you speak Spanish, practice a forceful but polite way to express discomfort. A simple “Puedes moverte por favor?” is good to have in your back pocket. If that’s too much, shifting your body with an icy “pardon” (bonus points for a well-placed glare) should work too. Or simply get up and move if you are uncomfortable. I was tired from five straight weeks of traveling Nicaragua and navigating the constant question between deciding if comments were harmless or if they had bad intent. Upon leaving the country, I think I let my guard down a bit and wasn’t expecting this. I didn’t respond with as much strength as I wish I had.

I want to share my experience with you so that you can be prepared. But the last thing I want to do is have my one bad experience to dissuade you from visiting Nicaragua. This is nothing that wouldn’t happen to women elsewhere in the world, sadly. I spent 5 weeks visiting over 10 different cities in the country and this was the only experience that left me unsettled. So please go to Nicaragua — but just have a snappy fuck-off response in your back pocket, and be ready to use it.

Give trust freely, but cautiously

Like I said above, I don’t want one bad experience to sour you on Nicaragua or Nicaraguans. Nicas are extremely kind and helpful people, quick to assist, give direction, and support you in times of need. There’s no reason to distrust locals. Generally, if you are traveling as a solo woman, people want to point you in the right direction and ensure you have a positive experience in their country. I was always helped to the correct bus, never overcharged on public transportation, given the right change, etc. during my travels.

renting a car in Nicaragua? Don't miss Granada and the lovely views of the Cathedral

In my opinion, the risk of scams in Nicaragua is smaller than in Belize and Guatemala, and the people of Nicaragua are generally very honest and kind. But keep in mind this one rule of thumb: if you get a bad feeling from someone — it’s probably for a reason. Walk away. Ask around and get another opinion. Ignore. Being safe is always — always — more important than being polite.

Again: Be sure you use travel insurance when in Nicaragua. I used the World Nomads Explorer Plan to cover me during my time in Nicaragua, at affordable prices.

So, is Nicaragua safe? I’d say yes, definitely, but never ignore that voice in your head. It’s often right.

Have you traveled in Nicaragua? What has been your experience and your perception of safety in Nicaragua?

The Nicaragua Bucket List: 25 Epic Things to Do in Nicaragua

Learning to surf in Las Penitas is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua

Note: Nicaragua is currently experiencing some major political unrest, so please check current safety warnings before planning your trip.

Nicaragua was just made for bucket list adventures – with nearly 20 active volcanoes and two equally epic coastlines, it’s heaven on earth for the adventurous spirit. The icing on the cake? Nicaragua is one of the cheapest places in all of North America, with a dorm bed starting at $5 USD per night. Nicaragua is far cheaper than its neighbors Costa Rica and Panama, but it’s just as full of adventures.

If you don’t know what is there to do in Nicaragua, you’re in luck – this country has something for everyone. I spent over five weeks in this small yet action-packed country and had the adventure of a lifetime. From hurdling down the slope of an active volcano to scuba diving in the Caribbean sea, I couldn’t simply pick a top 10… so here are the 25 best things to do in Nicaragua before you die.

Curious to see what to do in Nicaragua? Let’s get started!

Volcano board down Central America’s youngest volcano

Volcano Boarding, one of the Nicaragua top things to do

Of all the top things to do in Nicaragua, volcano boarding down Cerro Negro is perhaps the most unique. Cerro Negro is a young volcano at only 150 years old, and it’s also one of Nicaragua’s most active. In fact, it’s overdue for an eruption, adding an extra death-defying element to your 30+ mph hurdle down thousands of feet of volcanic gravel. It’s one of the most popular activities to do in Nicaragua, and you can’t go far in the country without seeing a backpacker wearing a volcano boarding T-shirt.

This one’s not for the faint of heart — I fell three times and lived to tell the tale — but it’s an adrenaline rush that only Nicaragua can offer. Volcano boarding is something you have to do with a tour; it’s impossible (and unwise!) to do independently. It’s the most popular thing to do in Leon, so be sure to book ahead to reserve a spot.

Pro Tip: It should go without saying, but make sure you have travel insurance in Nicaragua, especially doing crazy activities like this! I use World Nomads Explorer Plan to cover me from anything from volcano boarding to scuba diving at very affordable prices. Trust me — this is not something you want to skimp on.

Where to Stay: I stayed in a dorm at Hostal Casa Abierta and loved it, especially the excellent outdoor pool (perfect for hot Léon) and the delicious restaurant. It’s quiet but well-kept, with its own eco garden and sustainability measures, which I really liked! If you’re not into hostels, Casa Azul is a great value for your money and offers more privacy with other perks like a pool, health food, and more.

Cliff jump and swim through Nicaragua’s version of the Grand Canyon

One of my favorite things to do in Nicaragua - Canyoning in Somoto, a fantastic place to visit

Somoto Canyon was only “discovered” in 2004, and it’s a well-kept secret (until now – sorry y’all) as few outside of Nicaragua have even heard of it. Those who go will be rewarded with turquoise blue water surrounded by limestone cliffs reaching hundreds of feet high. You can jump off cliffs up to 33 feet high or just swim and float through the peaceful water — no matter how you enjoy it, Somoto is one of the best things to see in Nicaragua, so be sure you make time for it if possible.

Be sure to reapply your sunscreen carefully under your life jacket, so you don’t end up permanently branded with a tramp stamp suntan like I did. Ooops. I suggest you go with a tour like I did; my friends at Two Scots Abroad attempted self-guiding Somoto and ended up with a bit of a miss.

Where to Stay: Stay in Léon or if you want to attempt to self-guide, check out Estelí. You can get to Somoto easily from there, about 1.5 hours away. For hostels in Estelí, I recommend Sonati (who can help you book tours for a little cheaper than if you went from Léon). For hotels, Casa Vínculos is the highest rated in town and an excellent bargain.

See lava bubble and glow at Masaya

Looking into the lava at Masaya is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua - what to see? Everything!

In Granada and wondering what to do? Nicaragua’s most lively volcano is right outside the city!

There’s nothing that makes you respect the badass bitch that is Mother Nature like staring into the eye of a bubbling orange lava pit. At Masaya, you can peer into the volcano from a safe distance, though because of the noxious fumes they limit your time at the crater to about 10 minutes. Still, it’s an incredible experience, and definitely one of the most iconic things to do in Nicaragua. At about $15-20 for a night tour, it won’t break the bank, either, for one of the most exciting Nicaragua points of interest.

Best as a day trip from Granada, and surely should top any list of must dos in Nicaragua.

Where to Stay: I prefer to stay in Granada and take a tour, though it’s possible to stay in Masaya as well. For hostels, I recommend El Caite since they have a pool and Granada is hot, hot, hot. If you prefer hotels, try Hotel Colonial – the nicest in town and not too expensive – or Mansion de Chocolate, which has its very own, super excellent chocolate spa (I didn’t stay here, but visited the spa several times during my extended stay in Granada).

Swim in an ancient volcanic caldera at Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo is a lake formed in the caldera of an extinct volcano between the capital of Managua and the tourist favorite of Granada. At 175 meters (574 feet) deep, this natural lake is surprisingly warm thanks to the geothermal activity below.

Hostels nearby offer amenities like kayak and stand-up paddleboard rental. You can do a day trip for as little as $12 including roundtrip transportation and day access to amenities. Now really, where else can you kayak inside a volcano? There’s a reason this is one of the most popular places to visit in Nicaragua, so join the crowds and enjoy it.

If you don’t feel like making the day trip to Laguna de Apoyo and would prefer some nature right in Granada, kayaking the Isletas of Granada are a great second choice! Check tour availability here.

Where to Stay: Same as above – stay in Granada; my recommendations are above!

Learn to surf in Las Peñitas

Learning to surf in Las Penitas is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua

Many people go to San Juan del Sur to learn to surf, but I preferred quiet little Las Peñitas, about a 30 minute chicken bus from León. Lessons start around $20, cheaper than San Juan del Sur where they’re around $30, and the beach in town is much lovelier than San Juan’s. If surfing’s not your thing – the sunsets ain’t bad either!

The die-hards amongst us can choose a surf camp, but it’s also possible to pick lessons á la carte as you prefer.

Where to Stay: For a hostel, I recommend Mano a Mano Eco Hostel. For a guesthouse, I’d suggest Nayal Lodge.

Hike in the Miraflor Nature Reserve

Nicaragua’s north is untouched and pristine, and Estelí makes the perfect base for jumping off to nearby Somoto Canyon and Miraflor Nature Reserve. You can even arrange 3- to 4-day long homestays with local families who live within the nature reserve if you really want to get off the beaten path and discover Nicaragua’s north, or you can easily make it a day trip for around $20-25 per person.

Where to Stay: Same as my recommendations for Somoto Canyon. For hostels, Sonati; For hotels, Casa Vínculos.

Party in San Juan del Sur

Partying in San Juan del Sur is one of the top things to do in Nicaragua

This little touristy town in the very south of Nicaragua (that’s where the “del Sur” comes in) is surprisingly charming despite the legions of Sunday Funday-ers. Sunday Funday is a massive pool crawl that takes place — you guessed it — each Sunday, with an open bar across 3 different hostels.

The bad news is that this’ll cost you a cool $30 USD, a fortune in cheap Nicaragua. My liver definitely cannot make $30 worth of beer worthwhile, so I passed. If you’re younger and hipper than I am, this is one of the can’t-miss things to do in Nicaragua.

Not enough boozing for you? There’s also a nightly open bar sunset cruise.

Where to Stay: Pick a hostel wisely – some places in San Juan del Sur are super party-heavy, which may not be your speed. Saltwater Hostel is a good mix of social and chill. If you have more of a budget, Hotel Alcazar has some of the nicest rooms in town.

Sleep on top of an active volcano

Sleeping atop Telica - one of the best things to do in Nicaragua

Telica Volcano is another one of Nicaragua’s most active, but it has the best view of all of them (and that’s saying something, as Nicaragua has nearly 20 of them). It’s home to a constantly smoking lava pit and views out to the Pacific as well as San Cristobal. Since it’s located right on the Ring of Fire, you can also see the other surrounding volcanoes (five of ’em in a row) all the way down to Lake Nicaragua.

The smoke from the crater may look ominous, but it’s actually a good sign — my guide told me that when it stops smoking, that’s when it’s time to run! On lucky nights, you can look down and even see lava glowing, not quite at the level as you can at Masaya. We didn’t have any luck, but the sunset and the following morning’s sunrise were more than worth the climb. In my eyes, this is one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua, so if you’re into hiking, be sure to make time for Telica. I recommend doing this as a tour unless you’re a super experienced hiker, as the paths leaidng up to the volcano aren’t well marked and there aren’t too many people around. Check tour availability here.

If you want a bigger challenge, you can also do a one-day hike up San Cristobal, Nicaragua’s highest volcano

There’s nowhere to stay on Telica — just your tent — so find a hotel or hostel in Leon for before and/or after your hike.

Scuba dive – or just relax – in the Corn Islands

Little Corn, one of my favorite places in Nicaragua

Little Corn will forever have a little piece of my heart – this gem of an island is simply special. In contrast to the lovely laidback island life, the surrounding reefs are teeming with active marine life. Swim with nurse sharks, parrotfish, spiny lobster, barracudas, blowfish, and more. It’s one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua, if not the entire Caribbean.

Little Corn is one of the cheapest places in the world to get SCUBA certified; it’ll only set you back $330 USD. If you’re already certified, dives here are cheap. You can get a package of fun dives, 5 for $150, or single dives for about $35 each. Again, make sure your travel insurance covers diving, as some plans exclude it — I use the Explorer plan from World Nomads which includes coverage for dive-related accidents. Their standard plan does not.

Where to Stay: There aren’t too many options for hostels – I stayed in a private room with a shared bathroom at Three Brothers and thought it offered great value for money. If you have more money to spend and want something a bit fancy, you can’t go wrong with Yemaya Island Hideaway, where I was a guest for two nights and was the highlight of my time in Nicaragua! You can read my full review here.

Learn how chocolate is made in Matagalpa

Learn how chocolate is made in Matagalpa - one of the most delicious things to do in Nicaragua

Wondering what to visit in Nicaragua’s northern highlands? If in Matagalpa, be sure to check out El Castillo de Cacao, a small little chocolate operation where for $6 you can receive a tour showing you how they make their own chocolate from nearby farms.

It’s no Willy Wonka, but it’s a charming and humble little factory — and samples and coffee are included, of course! As chocolate is one of the most important crops in the country, it’s definitely one of the most iconic (and delicious!) top things to do in Nicaragua.

Where to Stay: In my opinion, Martina’s Place can’t be beat in Matagalpa! Both dorms and private rooms are available.

Visit a coffee farm

Nicaragua is renowned for its delicious coffee, and Matagalpa’s surrounding highlands are some of the best places to grow coffee in the world. If you take the chicken bus from Matagalpa towards Jinotega, you can stop at Selva Negra and take a coffee tour for $20, including tasting the best of Nicaragua’s coffee scene.

These tours only happen once or twice daily, so be sure to call ahead to inquire about schedules. If that’s not in your budget, you can get a cup of freshly brewed coffee at the restaurant for a mere 50 cents and enjoy a hike around the surrounding cloud forest, which is extremely well marked with clearly defined paths.

Where to Stay: See above recommendations for Matagalpa!

Stand atop the largest cathedral in Central America

In a country not particularly known for its architecture, the Cathedral de Léon is one thing you simply must see in Nicaragua. It’s iconic for a reason: how incredibly dreamy is that white rooftop? They keep it so white by requiring you take off your shoes — wear socks or be prepared for your feet to scorch!

From there, you have an amazing view of the volcanoes surrounding León – you can see Cerro Negro of volcano boarding fame, Telica, Momotombo and Momotombito, San Cristobal, and others flanking the city. Definitely one of the most photogenic things to do in Nicaragua – I may have had a 30-minute long solo selfie shoot, #sorrynotsorry.

Where to Stay: As before – Poco a Poco Hostel for budget; Casa Azul for mid-range.

13. Pay your respects to those who died in the Revolution

Wondering what to do in Nicaragua’s revolutionary city, Léon? Visit the Museo de la Revolución, of course! It is not really a traditional museum; there are no informational placards and very few artifacts to speak of. What makes this collection of rooms — mostly filled with simply framed photos resting on the floor — a museum is the people who guide you through it: survivors of Nicaragua’s bloody revolution. Listening to the guide will help you understand the issues both historical and present which face the country today. One the biggest Nicaragua points of interest in Léon for good reason!

If you’re looking for further history, there are also guided historical walking tours of Léon.

Learn how to roll Nicaragua’s finest cigars

Learn to make cigars from a badass lady - one of the top things to do in Nicaragua

When you think cigars, your mind naturally goes to Cuba – but did you know that hundreds of Cubans fled to Nicaragua after the Cuban Revolution and brought their tobacco farming knowledge with them? Now, Estelí makes some of the finest cigars in the world, and for a mere $8 you can take a tour of one of the city’s many small cigar factories selling the best of Nicaragua.

One of the most badass grandmas in the world, who had been working at the factory for nearly 50 years, carefully taught me how to roll cigars. Perhaps the proudest moment of my life was when she deemed me fit to work in the factory and dubbed me “la reina de la fábrica” — Queen of the Factory. Learning to roll cigars from the pros is definitely a can’t miss thing to do in Nicaragua’s north, even if you’re not a cigar smoker!

Where to Stay: Sonati is great and will help you book your cigar factory tour as well, or stay at a hotel – Casa Vínculos is the highest rated in town.

Chase waterfalls in Estelí

If you’re in Estelí looking for some exciting things to do, Nicaragua’s waterfalls can’t be missed! The cigar factories of Estelí are so cool, but you leave them feeling as if you’ve just lost a year of life from your lungs because the fumes are ridiculous.

Refresh your poor lungs at one of the many beautiful waterfalls flanking Estelí. Tisey Estanzuela is the most well-known and is quite close to town – about two hours’ walking distance or a cheap, quick taxi ride away. If you want to go further afield, there are day trips to Colocondo and Quiabuc las Brisas, each for around $20-25 for a day trip including transport, guides, and meals. Again, Sonati organizes a lot of these tours!

Where to Stay: See recommendations above

Kayak in Nicaragua’s idyllic mangroves

Kayaking through mangroves of Isla Juan Venado, a nature reserve near Las Peñitas on Nicaragua’s northern Pacific coast, is one of the most peaceful things to do in Nicaragua. Look for birds and other native life, and if you’re lucky, you may even see a turtle laying its eggs in the sand, as this is a protected turtle sanctuary. It’s one of my favorite places to visit in Nicaragua, and it’s peaceful and not very touristy.

Where to Stay: I recommend staying in Las Peñitas and getting a day tour or overnight stay. For a hostel, I suggest Mano a Mano Eco Hostel or for a guesthouse, I’d suggest Nayal Lodge.

Get a chocolate massage

You may be exhausted just reading all of the epic things to do in Nicaragua…. so why not take 5 (or 60) and relax with a chocolate massage at the luxe Mansion de Chocolate, a colonial era building turned hotel and spa in the beautiful city of Granada? For a mere $34 USD, you can get lathered up in chocolate, scrubbed off, and then have an invigorating massage to soak up all that cacao-y goodness.

Not into the massage, but still curious about chocolate? There are also daily chocolate tours leaving Granada which teach you how to make chocolate.

Where to Stay: If you’re on a budget, try El Caite. If you have some extra cash, though, you can stay at the Mansion de Chocolate itself for not that much money!

Photograph the colonial buildings of Granada

Granada is an Instagrammer’s dream and its colonial architecture is one of the top attractions in Nicaragua – houses of every color line the streets. From deep cobalt blues to vibrant yellows and hot pinks, basically every color you can think up has a home here. The doors are no less stunning, and so fun to pose in if you can grab a photo buddy. One of the can’t-miss things to do in Nicaragua without a doubt!

It’s also possible to tour inside the colonial homes of Granada as well if you’re interested in taking a peek inside!

RELATED: 13 Things to do in Granada, Nicaragua’s Colonial Gem

Where to Stay: See above recommendations for Granada.

Get the best view of Nicaragua’s most iconic church

The best view in Granada costs only a buck, and it’s a Nicaragua must see. Climb to the top of Iglesia de la Merced’s belltower and marvel at the view of the yellow and red postcard-perfect Granada Cathedral. Lake Nicaragua even peeps behind it to make a photobomb appearance so you can really grab the perfect photo. Go around 5 PM for the best light and a sneak glimpse of sunset before the belltower closes at 5:30.

Where to Stay: See above recommendations for Granada.

Try the local food

Nicaragua’s food will never win any awards for creativity, but it’s not without its comforts. Gallo pinto – a simple side of rice and beans – will adorn basically every local meal you eat in this country. Have it with pollo asado (grilled chicken), tajadas (super-thin plantain chips), ensalada, and maduros (sweet roasted plantains) for the most Nica of meals. Other things to try include vigerón in Granada, a dish made of yucca, cabbage, and chicharrón, and nacatamales, a Nicaraguan spin on the tamale.

Also, if you like lobster, this is one of the cheapest places in the world to eat it! Get a whole lobster meal for $6-10 in certain parts of the country, particularly the Pacific Coast and Little Corn Island.

Swim in a natural spring on Isla de Ometepe

El Ojo de Agua is a natural swimming hole on the stunning Isla de Ometepe, an island composed of two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. Nicaragua is freaking hot pretty much any time of year, so cool off with a lovely dip at this natural beauty.

Where to Stay: I didn’t make it to Ometepe – I blame the beautiful Corn Islands for holding me captive for two weeks – but I’ve heard to skip Moyogalpa, the port city. Instead, try to find accommodations in Altagracia, Balgue, or Mérida on Ometepe.

Hike Nicaragua’s toughest volcano, Concepción

Warning: not for the faint of heart. I didn’t even attempt this one after hearing from countless people that it took over 10 hours and was the toughest thing they have done in their lives. At 5,282 feet or 1,610 meters, altitude is not what’ll get you here: it’s the sheer steepness of the incline, muddiness of the paths, and relentlessness of the Nicaraguan sun.

After climbing Telica and Cerro Negro, I can attest that climbing any volcano in Nicaragua is tough, and Concepción only ups the ante. Maderas, the other volcano composing Ometepe, is also tough but supposedly not quite as difficult. It is illegal to hike either volcano without a guide, and with good reason – people have lost their lives trying. A guide will cost you around $50-70 for a day hike.

See a Pacific sunset

Seeing a pacific sunset, one of the simplest yet best things to do in Nicaragua

As a California girl, the Pacific holds a special place in my heart. Whether you watch the sun sink into the ocean from the chilled out beach town of Las Peñitas, the surf mecca of Popoyo, or the party city of San Juan del Sur, you can’t go wrong with that view. One of the simplest yet best things to do in Nicaragua.

Check out a traditional craft market in Masaya

If you’re a souvenir person, Nicaragua’s got your back. Quite literally, in fact, if you opt for their most famous export, the high-quality hand-woven hammocks. These’ll set you back about $20 apiece. Ceramics, jewelry, and embroidered clothing also round out the craft offerings you’ll find here. Masaya’s craft market is the most traditional in the country. Just make sure to ask to be directed to the municipal or local market – prices are half the price of the tourist market!

Where to Stay: Masaya is easy enough to get to by chicken bus from Granada, but if you’d like to stay and get a more local experience, there are lots of affordable places to lay your head at night in Masaya. The best-reviewed guesthouse in town is Hostal Casa San Miguel.

Ride a chicken bus

The humble chicken bus, the real Nicaraguan experience

If you haven’t taken a chicken bus, I don’t think you get to say that you’ve been to Nicaragua. The humble chicken bus will take you virtually anywhere you need to go in this country for a song – I never paid more than $2 for a single journey, and often less than $1. These are converted American schoolbuses tricked out to the nines with distinctly Jesus-y vibes. Enterprising locals swarm the bus at every stop, selling sodas, tajadas, enchiladas (which are basically empanadas with salad), cakes, coffee, you name it. It doesn’t get more Nicaragua than that.

 

Important Safety Notes: 

    • Nicaragua is a safe but developing country.  Don’t forget travel insurance! I use and recommend World Nomads – it’ll cover you in cases of theft, medical emergencies, and accidents. Get your free quote below.
    • Nicaragua has a tropical climate with mosquitos year-round, particularly in the rainy season. Zika, dengue fever, malaria, and chikungunya have all been reported there. While there’s no reason to cancel your trip on account of it, protect yourself with mosquito repellent (I carry around a few mosquito repellent wipes with me in my purse in case I forget)
    • Nicaragua is one of the safest countries in Latin America. However, it is an impoverished country and crimes of opportunity happen everywhere. Pay attention to your belongings, especially on public transit, and I recommend purchasing a backpack with locking zippers if you chose to carry a daypack.

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There are so many epic things to do in Nicaragua - why not try volcano boarding, surfing, camping on an active volcano, or diving in the Caribbean?


Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you purchase something using one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no added cost to you. No BS – I only recommend accommodations, services, and products I believe in.

13 Things to Do in Granada, Nicaragua’s Colonial Gem

Granada is definitely one of Nicaragua’s more touristy cities. And who’s to blame them? Its famous yellow and red cathedral is practically a postcard come to life. The streets are colorful and (fairly) clean, the crime rate is low, and it’s still one of the cheapest cities around. There are tons of unique things to do in Granada and its surrounding area, so plan for sufficient time to enjoy this gorgeous gem.

You may find yourself staying longer than you planned – but at a mere $5 per night for a no-frills dorm bed in the heart of downtown, it won’t strain your wallet. It’s a great place for independent travelers to Central America, so be sure to add it to your itinerary if you’re planning a trip to Nicaragua.

1. Snap photos of Granada’s colorful houses

Photography is one of the most fun things to do in Granada

Of all the things to do in Granada, this is my favorite. Every day I wandered the streets with a camera, snapping away happily. Granada is simply a photographer’s dream. From the candy-colored colonial buildings to the way the way the sun hits the city as it sets, to the tiny peeks of Mombacho off in the distance you get on certain streets, there’s really no city I’ve seen that quite measures up to Granada for charm.

2. Escape the Nicaraguan sun in Granada’s largest private pool

Granada is beautiful, but it’s also hot. Really freaking hot. For $6 USD, you can get a day pass to enjoy the “Mombacho Beach Club,” the private pool and bar at Mansion de Chocolate. The 60 foot long pool is hidden in the courtyard of a luxe colonial villa, a true hidden gem in Granada. You also can get access to the pool with any spa service, which – since they start at $9 USD for a pedicure or $12 for a 30 minute body massage – is a pretty great deal!

3. Get the best view of Granada atop Iglesia La Merced

Sunset views - another one of the best things to do in Granada, Nicaragua

Up the belltower of Iglesia La Merced, about three blocks from Parque Central (an accurate name, albeit quite smaller than this New Yorker’s idea of Central Park) is the best view of Granada. Go around 5 PM (it closes at 5:30) as the sun begins to set for some truly epic sunset photos and the best view of all of Granada. The best dollar you can spend in all of Granada!

4. Day trip to Laguna de Apoyo, a natural lake in a volcanic crater

Laguna de Apoyo is one of Granada’s most loved day trips: where else can you swim 200 meter deep water in the caldera of an extinct volcano? Daily shuttles will whisk you away to nearby Laguna de Apoyo for under $15, which includes roundtrip transport and a day pass to use the amenities of one of the hostels on the lake. Note: it’s cheaper if you book directly from the Bearded Monkey Hostel! You can borrow kayaks or standup paddleboards, relax on the beach, take a dip in the warm waters, or  just drink some beers on the shores of this natural beauty.

5. Watch live lava bubble and glow at Masaya Volcano

Definitely see Masaya volcano - one of the best things to do in Nicaragua

For a geology nerd like I am, this is easily one of the coolest things to do in Granada – or even all of Nicaragua. It’s best to go with a tour, as it’s very difficult to go independently at night (it’s much easier by day). A tour will cost you about $15-20 and include roundtrip transport and the entry fee. You’ll arrive there early, before the park reopens after dark, and have to wait a bit. Pro tip – leave your transport and go to the small store nearby for cheap Toñas to pass the time. The vendors walking around will charge you nearly a dollar more!

6. Embrace Nica time in Granada’s Parque Central

Parque Central is the heart of Granada, and one of my favorite things to do in Granada is just observing people going about their daily life and taking a beat to rest in the park. Just don’t go near sunset – whatever kind of birds there are in the park go absolutely insane when the sun starts to set and you can’t get a peaceful, non-bird-crap filled second. Much better to go in the daytime.

7. Drink Granada’s best cup of coffee at Garden Café

Nearly everyone who goes to Granada will end up at the Garden Café at one point or another – it’s fairly cheap, the staff is friendly and fluent in English, they make great sandwiches, and the coffee is the best I found in the city. Sandwiches will run you about $4-6 and coffees about $1-3. They also make a killer michelada, which I had many of while “working” on my blog.

8. Visit the lovely churches of Granada

Church hopping is an iconic thing to do in Granada

As a Catholic country, Nicaragua has no shortage of beautiful churches. What I thought was so fascinating about Granada was how diverse the architectural stylings of all the churches were. Iglesia Guadeloupe and La Merced are both rather plain and almost like abandoned castles in their stateliness; Iglesia Xalteva and the famous red and yellow Granada Cathedral are a riot of color.

9. Stroll along Granada’s waterfront or kayak Las Isletas

Lake Nicaragua stroll, a popular pastime in Granada Nicaragua

Granada is right alongside Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. While it’s a popular activity to rent a kayak or go for a tour of “las isletas” – the series of 365 mini-islands in the middle of Lake Nicaragua near Granada that came from Mombacho’s last eruption – I opted not to. Why not? There’s an island where they’ve stranded five monkeys and dubbed “Monkey Island” that they take all the tourists to. I didn’t want to support that, and there are plenty of other things to do in Granada. Instead, I opted for a stroll along the waterfront. Note: this area is supposed to get sketchy at night – I didn’t test my luck – so save your walks for daytime.

10. Recharge with some yoga at PURE

If you’re tired of ticking off all the various things to do in Granada, PURE is a great place to unwind. They have drop-in yoga classes ranging from vinyasa flow to gentle yoga to acro yoga, all for $5 per class. Another great deal is the hourlong massage + yoga class + vegetarian meal deal for $31 USD. Just the perfect thing to treat yourself while sticking to your budget!

11. Visit a cloud forest atop an active volcano

Nestled on the bank of Lake Nicaragua, Mombacho looms on the horizon of Granada’s colorful colonial streets. While it once was violently active – an eruption left so many mini islands in the lake there’s literally one for each day of the year – it’s now peaceful enough to be home to beautiful flora and fauna. There are various hikes you can do of varying intensities. The Crater trail is short and you are permitted to do it without a guide; the Puma trail is the longest and requires you to go with a (paid) guide.

12. Get a chocolate massage

Yes, as in get covered in chocolate, scrub it all off, and then enjoy a dreamy massage afterwards. The price tag for this one of a kind experience? Only $34 for one hour.

13. Enjoy happy hour on La Calzada

La Calzada is Granada’s main tourist stretch, with no shortage of bars and restaurants for you to choose from. Around sunset, lots of great happy hour deals abound — think al fresco two-for-one mojitos accompanied by views of the iconic Granada cathedral. Yes please!

 Granada, Nicaragua is packed with things to do - travel to the active volcano of Masaya, kayak the isletas, or take in the gorgeous colonial architecture.

Paradise in Little Corn: Yemaya Island Hideaway Review

Little Corn Island is a special place, unlike any other place I’ve been to before.

On a tiny island of fewer than 2,000 people, it doesn’t take long to start feeling at home. Nearly 50 miles from the Nicaraguan mainland, without a single car, you’ll breathe air so fresh and see water so blue the world feels like a dream you’re lucky to have.

And that dream gets taken up a notch at the most luxurious lodging on Little Corn – Yemaya Island Hideaway.

Rooms

My cabana at Yemaya was spacious and airy, with a gorgeous seafront view. The decor was peaceful yet understated – with that sea view, there’s no need for flashiness!

Each cabana has a terrace with amazing views of the blue, blue sea. I couldn’t help but spend hours relaxing there and reading eBooks each day. Any guide to the Corn Islands will mention this famous strip of beach — it’s the place to be during the day on Little Corn.

As someone who tries to travel more sustainably, I really appreciated the steps Yemaya is making to reducing waste. Hotels are often big offenders when it comes to single-use plastic waste — but not Yemaya.

Rather than offering plastic water bottles, they had reusable glass bottles of ice cold filtered water available in the mini-fridge. There were no plastic bottles for the complimentary toiletries, either – they came in refillable ceramic containers.

And we need to talk about this bathroom! The shower had the perfect water pressure and actually having reliable hot water again was a revelation. Maybe those sound like they should be a given at such a nice hotel, but after weeks of cold trickles masquerading as showers, I was in absolute heaven. The plants and the skylight streaming in natural light were lovely touches as well.

Check prices, availability, and room details here.

Grounds

Yemaya has an on-site spa offering a variety of facials, massages, and other treatments. I didn’t partake, but I’m sure it’d be a heavenly experience if your budget affords it. I did, however, take full advantage of their jungle yoga studio!

They have mats, blankets, blocks, and other yoga accessories available for free use. You can also request classes taught by certified yoga teachers if you’d rather practice with an instructor’s guidance.

The restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner, and the beach bar is available for lunch. The breakfasts I ate at Yemaya were some of the best I’ve had in Nicaragua, and reasonably priced at about $8-10. They offer a much better value than the dinner, which was delicious but on the expensive side, with limited options.

The beach bar, on the other hand… now I could (and did) eat those lobster tacos every day!

Activities

Yemaya offers complimentary stand-up paddleboard rental and kayaks for rent from the beach bar, and snorkel gear is available to borrow from the reception. I tried to paddleboard for the first time, but the waves were a bit much that day so it ended up being more of a sit-down paddleboard than stand-up. Still quite fun, though!

The snorkeling, on the other hand, was much more successful. Just off the beach, there are some amazing coral reefs with colorful fish swimming everywhere!

If you’re looking for a more adventurous day out, Yemaya also offers snorkeling trips further out from the beach on their sailboat, deep sea fishing, and trips to the Pearl Keys. They can also arrange diving with one of the local dive shops.

Final Thoughts

What impressed me most of all about Yemaya was not just their beautiful grounds or the comfortable rooms, but the staff’s helpfulness and generosity.

When I spilled a drink on my laptop and it shut down completely, the staff brought me a container with what must have been ten pounds of rice to save it (and save it they did!). They also prepared me some ginger tea in advance of my boat trip back to Big Corn as I get seasick, which was a huge help.

Yemaya is definitely not a budget stay, but it offers excellent value to those who want a unique luxury experience.

In short, there’s really no place quite like Little Corn, and Yemaya’s beaches are the best on the island.

For those who’d like a taste of luxury but can’t afford the cost of renting a cabana, I highly recommend making a day trip to Yemaya and eating breakfast or lunch there to have a taste of their hospitality and their delicious food!

Click here to check out prices, availability, photos, and more details.

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Little Corn Island, Nicaragua is a Caribbean paradise, and Yemaya is by far the best place to enjoy all it has to offer.

Note: I was provided with two nights of accommodations at Yemaya Island Hideaway in order to review it. All opinions shared are honest and sincere.

Telica Volcano: Nicaragua’s Best Sunset Hike

Perhaps I should have been worried when they told me they had to cancel the Telica Volcano hike two days prior due to a “minor eruption.”

Or perhaps I should have hedged a bit when we set up our campsite just past this ominous sign.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so excited about spending a night just a few minutes’ walk from Telica’s constantly smoking volcanic crater on the Ring of Fire.

But then I wouldn’t have had this view, or this story, and I remember that my goal for 2017 was to say yes to anything that intrigued me – even if it scared me. Even if it meant sleeping atop Telica Volcano – one of Nicaragua’s most active – for the night.

What It’s Like to Hike Telica Volcano?

I awoke the day of the Telica volcano hike, body and ego both bruised from volcano boarding the day prior. A migraine had pounded in my head all the previous night, and I was prepared to call off the hike and beg for a refund. But remarkably, I woke up with a clear head and actual energy for a change, as if I had sleepwalked and drank a pot of coffee in the middle of the night.

So I grabbed my gear and walked to the Quetzaltrekkers office, where a delicious and hearty breakfast of eggs, potatoes, veggies, and toast awaited – the closest thing to a proper Western breakfast that I’ve had since in Nicaragua.

We loaded up our backpacks with tents, 8 liters of water, and other camping gear, and that’s when I had my first “oh shit” moment. I have a terrible back and shoulders, just part of life being a secret 80-year-old. I felt the pack dig painfully into my shoulders right away. As we wove an intricate and seemingly random series of turns through the streets of León towards the bus station, I rued each and every step.

After getting off the bus in San Jacinto 30 minutes later, we were greeted with the smell of sulfuric pits, where geothermal activity made mud gurgle in the sun, like water left to boil on the stove too long. We walked through the dried husks of abandoned corn fields, occasionally stepping over a low point of a barbed wire fence. I was glad I splurged on a guided tour — the trails were not clearly marked for tourists and could have potentially resulted in a lot of backtracking with a heavy pack in the hot sun.

After about 45 minutes of walking through the hot sun on flat terrain, straps digging firmly into my shoulders, my shoulders ached, my enthusiasm flagged, and I was wondering how the hell I was going to do this.

Luckily when I shared my concern with one of my guides, he saw that I wasn’t distributing the pack’s weight properly. He helped me jerry-rig a solution, tying the waist belt tighter to sit on my hips and creating a chest strap out of a spare T-shirt (the backpack I borrowed for the trek didn’t have one). As with everything I do, it was the pinnacle of fashion.

I felt like a whole new person — I had no idea how much having my hip belt fitted properly could make a difference (I’m still a hiking newb, y’all). I marched on with renewed enthusiasm until we reached the base of Telica Volcano.

telica volcano from afar

Luckily, Telica is not that tall – just over 1,000 meters (3,481 feet for my fellow metric-shunning Americans out there). This meant we could do the major part of the ascent in just over an hour, though the climb was admittedly rather steep. Luckily, portions of the hike were quite well-shaded, and there are three designated resting places on the hike – one about 10 minutes in, one about 30 minutes in, and another basically at the top.

I blew past the first resting spot and didn’t want to break momentum; nearing the halfway point, I started to walk more slowly, focusing on my breathing. With the sun on my face, pack on my shoulders, and eyes fixed on the trail, I felt like I was truly meditating for the first time in my life: focused almost entirely on that present moment, the sensations in my body as I simultaneously pushed it and listened to it.

The last thirty minutes were a little harder, but I kept pushing through it, relishing the moments of shade and picking up my pace in the sunny patches.

We stopped at a local cooperative on the top of the volcano for lunch, and holy shit, gallo pinto had never tasted so good. It was a simple meal – rice and beans, scrambled eggs, tortillas, and hot sauce, but I greedily ate every bite of my enormous portion.

We set up our camps and afterward made our way to the crater, where I took some spooky shots, then walked over to the sunset viewpoint for the most epic sunset of my life.

Only in Nicaragua can you buy a beer for a buck fifty on top of a volcano

After the sunset, we tried to peek into the crater to see the magma below, but it wasn’t visible that night – the sulfur cloud was too thick. We had a delicious meal of pasta with vegetables and fire-roasted marshmallows for dessert.

Twilight slipped into the darkest night sky I’ve seen since the Sahara, and countless stars sparkled overhead. Without wifi or artificial light to distract me, exhausted by the climb, I slipped into sleep in my tent by 9 that night.

I awoke at 3 in the morning with the sudden remembrance that I was atop a highly active volcano in a highly seismically active region. Try going back to sleep after that thought.

I somehow managed – thank you, long hike and carb OD- and was awoken at 5 in the morning to make the short trek to the sunrise spot. Using our head torches, we walked and walked until we reached the spot. We waited and waited… and then this happened.

Imagine watching the sky turn from pitch black to yellow-blue, illuminating the peaks of five volcanos all lined up in a row like highly dangerous dominoes…. and then turning around to see this crater smoking peacefully a couple hundred meters away.

After some oatmeal and a small struggle with my tent, we packed up our bags, mercifully lighter after having eaten and drunk the majority of their contents, and set back off to civilization. Behind us, Telica Volcano continued to smoke and gurgle, active yet peaceful. For now.

Tips for Hiking Telica Volcano

Unless you’re a very inexperienced hiker, Telica Volcano shouldn’t present any particularly crazy challenge.

  • I was very grateful that I brought proper hiking boots (I love my Ahnus), though it definitely would have been possible to do the hike in running shoes if that’s all you have with you.
  • I highly recommend going with a tour guide, as the path is not very well-marked and our guide was taking on a strange path through corn fields and over fences. I would have struggled to find the right path, but I did meet other hikers who had done the hike independently up to the top, so it is possible. I went with Quetzaltrekkers and would recommend them to others happily.
  • If you go without a guide, be sure to talk with locals to make sure there hasn’t been any recent activity. The volcano is still very much active, but there are monitoring stations on the volcano so it is possible to get up-to-date information.
  • Ensure you have enough water for the hike – I’d recommend having 4 liters or so.
  • Be sure to pack in and out all your garbage and leave no trace

 

Volcano Boarding in Leon: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

While Nicaragua is not a tourist hot spot quite yet, there is one thing it’s well-known for: volcano boarding down Cerro Negro, Central America’s youngest volcano located a short distance from León.

Are you brave enough to try volcano boarding in Leon?
Got my hiking boots on, so I must mean business. Also, I promise I don’t have one small leg and one giant one, I’m just seemingly incapable of standing up properly… which doesn’t bode well for volcano boarding.

There are many companies that offer volcano boarding tours, typically for $25 to $30. Bigfoot Hostel is one of the better-known operators, thanks to their catchy, photogenic orange jumpsuits on offer. Many say the hostel’s former owner, Daryn Webb, invented the sport. Meanwhile, Mas Adventures‘s Anry claims to be the first to ever board down Cerro Negro. Who knows what is true! Meanwhile, I opted for Quetzaltrekkers, as they donate all profits to local nonprofits that work with at-risk youth. As a bonus, they’re the only company that allows you to board down twice.

All over Nicaragua, you’ll see backpackers in volcano boarding shirts, and it seemed like a foregone conclusion that I’d end up going down nature’s biggest slide. Yet as I watched the group go before me, I began to ask myself when the hell I became to susceptible to herd mentality. The hourlong hike up had been gorgeous, though a bit tough on the knees. Loose black brittle rock was everywhere, a reminder of Cerro Negro’s youth and temperamentality. Meanwhile, everywhere you looked that had been untouched by this volcano’s fury was lush and green. You could see the very edge where Cerro Negro’s lava stopped flowing, a black border drawn in the jungle.

A much better attempt at posing.

At the top,  I became more aware of just how high I was…. 2,388 feet up, to be exact. Now, I’m not typically afraid of heights. I’m also not typically wrapped in a thick denim jumpsuit on a flimsy piece of plywood flinging myself down volcanoes for sport.

As we got ourselves into our jumpsuits and protected every square inch of skin, I began to realize just how stupid of an idea this was. I watched as person after person slid down the mountain without serious injury, and a pleasant sense of complacency washed over me.

Soon enough, my turn arrived. I got off to a slow start before picking up speed and falling over sideways. I picked myself back up quickly and continued on, fairly unfazed. A first time became a second, and yet fear didn’t really kick in yet – I was more irritated with myself that I couldn’t just slide down a volcano like a normal person. I got back on the board and got to the steepest part of Cerro Negro, where I must have reached about a speed of about 30 mph…. before I veered off to the left, yet again, and flipped board-over-heels. Twice.

The wind knocked right out of me, it took me a second to remember to get up and give the guides the signal that I was all right. I sat back on my board, feeling a bit dizzy and more than a little anxious. I still had a good half of the volcano to go, at what seemed like at least a 30-degree slope. I’d already fallen three times, flipped my board, and gotten volcanic gravel in my eyemask. So yeah, not exactly rocking this whole volcano boarding thing. Yet I didn’t want to admit defeat and walk down the rest of the way.

So I split the middle – I planted one hand firmly behind me as I went the rest of the way down, slowing my speed down to a good 15 mph and making it safely down the volcano. Not the biggest adrenaline rush, granted, but at that point my objective was to just get down the volcano without needing to find out firsthand the generosity of my travel insurance. By the way, it should go without saying, but if you’re dumb enough to try to board down an active volcano, please at least be smart enough to purchase travel insurance! I use and recommend World Nomads.

This wasn’t me… but it very well could have been. Photo credit to Quetzaltrekkers.

 

A moment of temporary composure. Please note my extremely #highfashion hiking boots and the half pound of volcanic gravel on my board. Photo credit to Quetzaltrekkers

I must give credit where credit is due: despite my multiple wipeouts, I had little more than a tiny scrape on my arm where some gravel had managed to get into the tied-up wrist of the jumpsuit. And a few purplish-yellow bruises, though to be fair, I’ve bruised myself far worse by walking into a newspaper dispenser on New Years’ Eve after the terrible decision of trying Fireball whiskey. While volcano boarding is undoubtedly a dangerous activity, the guides do make every attempt to keep you (as) safe (as you can be while you hurdle down a very-active volcano at speeds approaching 45mph).

When our guide asked if we wanted to give it a second go, my brain screamed, “oh hell no!” Perhaps not surprisingly — no one else on my tour that day felt compelled to give it a second go. I felt relieved. I may have been a wimp, but I was a wimp in good company. Oh, and alive. Yeah, that’s good too.

Hurdling down a 2,300 foot volcano on a piece of wood... What could possible go wrong? Read all about my misadventures volcano boarding in Leon, Nicaragua!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you purchase something using one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no added cost to you. No BS – I only recommend accommodations, services, and products I truly believe in.