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

Nicaragua Bucket List: 25 Epic Things to Do in Nicaragua

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 most affordable places to travel in all of North America, with budget-friendly hostels and lots of affordable things to do.

Nicaragua is far cheaper than its neighbors Costa Rica and Panama, but it’s just as full of adventures.

In fact, it’s one of the cheapest countries in the world to travel!

If you don’t know what is there to do in Nicaragua, you’re in luck – this country has something for everyone.

colorful houses in granada nicaragua
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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 to help you plan your trip.

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

Best Things to Do in Nicaragua

Volcano board down Central America’s youngest volcano.

Allison wearing hiking boots, shorts, and a red shirt, hiking up a mountain in order to go volcano boarding, one of the more unique things to do in Nicaragua

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… truly, 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.

It should go without saying, but make sure you have travel insurance in Nicaragua, especially when doing crazy things like this!

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!

Cliff jump and swim through Nicaragua’s canyons.

Allison wearing a bathing suit and sneakers while canyoning in Somoto, a fantastic place to visit in Nicaragua

The incredible Somoto Canyon was only “discovered” in 2004, and it’s a well-kept secret (though less guarded as each year passes).

Few people 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 who tried to go on their own found it rather difficult.

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 Estelí, Casa Vínculos is among the best-rated rated in town and an excellent bargain.

See lava bubble and glow at Masaya.

Looking into the lava at Masaya and seeing it glow in the dark

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 b*tch that is Mother Nature like staring into the eye of a bubbling orange lava pit!

At Masaya Volcano, 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.

Best as a day trip from Granada, a night tour to Masaya 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!

Swim in an ancient volcanic caldera at Laguna de Apoyo.

a giant lake in a caldera where you can swim in nicaragua

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 actually 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.

the lush green landscape of the miraflor nature reserve in nicaragua's northern area

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.

You can easily make it a day trip by asking around in Estelí.

Where to Stay: Same as my recommendations for Somoto Canyon, Casa Vínculos.

Party in San Juan del Sur.

the orange and white church in san juan del sur with orange and blue benches

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.

Where to Stay: Pick a place wisely — the hostels in town are very party-heavy. If you have more of a budget, Hotel Alcazar has some of the nicest rooms in town.

Sleep on top of an active volcano.

Allison wearing hiking clothes and sitting on the side of a crater of a volcano in Nicaragua, Telica volcano

Telica Volcano is another one of Nicaragua’s most active, and it also 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, though not quite at the level as you can at Masaya.

We didn’t have any luck to see the red lava, 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 leading up to the volcano aren’t well marked and there aren’t too many people around.

This is the tour I did — I recommend it highly!

There’s nowhere to stay on Telica — just your tent — so see my references above for where to stay in Leon.

Scuba dive – or just relax – in the Corn Islands.

The pristine waters of Little Corn, one of my favorite places in Nicaragua, with a sailboat out on the turquoise and dark blue sea.

The untouched paradise of Little Corn Island 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 peaceful 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 (I found the diving there comparable to Roatan and Utila, though not quite as good as Cozumel).

Little Corn is one of the cheapest places in the world to get SCUBA certified; when I was there, it only set me back about $330 USD.

If you’re already certified, dives here are cheap. When I was there, you could get a package of fun dives, 5 for $150, or single dives for about $35 each.

Make sure you have dive insurance if you dive in Nicaragua! I use DAN, and I use that in addition to my regular travel insurance.

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 Reefs, where I was a guest for two nights and was the highlight of my time in Nicaragua!

Learn how chocolate is made in Matagalpa.

a man and a woman in matagalpa making and packaging chocolates

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 around $6 USD, 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, Maria’s B&B can’t be beat in Matagalpa!

Visit a coffee farm.

the lake at serra negra near matagalpa where you can enjoy a cup of coffee

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 USD, 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 less than a dollar and enjoy the views of the pond.

You can also 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.

Allison Green wearing a blue dress sitting on top of a white cathedral in leon

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!

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

Pay your respects to those who died in the Revolution.

a small, humble museum room with some artifacts

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.

Learn how to roll Nicaragua’s finest cigars.

an older woman smoking a cigar at a nicaragua cigar factory

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 around $10 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.

I had to smile 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: If you want a hotel, Casa Vínculos is the highest rated in town.

Chase waterfalls in Estelí.

Tisey Estanzuela waterfall in nicaragua near esteli

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, which you can find in town when you visit Estelí.

Where to Stay: See recommendations for Estelí above.

Kayak in Nicaragua’s idyllic mangroves.

sunset near the mangroves of nicaragua with water and boats

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.

woman receiving a chocolate massage with a flower in her hair, looking relaxed

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 $40 USD or so, 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 chocolate workshops in Granada that 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.

green and blue houses of granada in the colonial area

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!

Where to Stay: See above recommendations for Granada.

Get the best view of Nicaragua’s most iconic church.

brilliant skyline view of the granada cathedral at sunset with lovely colors.

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.

Allison Green eating a lobster tail while at a restaurant in Nicaragua

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!

You can get a whole lobster meal for about $10 USD 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.

There are lots of fun things to see in Ometepe to make it worth your while, so swimming in the springs is only one of many things you can do!

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.

the concepcion volcano in nicaragua with smoke at the crater

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.

colorful woven hammocks and basket chairs in nicaragua at masaya market

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 Nicarin

This is more of an inevitability than a thing to do, but alas.

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 Nicaraguan than that!

Important Safety Notes 

Travel Insurance: Nicaragua is generally a safe but developing country, and accidents, illness, or theft can happen anywhere. There have also been intermittent protests and unrest between 2018 and 2022, which could potentially impact some travel plans. Have travel insurance just in case – I use SafetyWing.

Mosquitos: 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, unless you’re pregnant and concerned about Zika, protect yourself anyway with mosquito repellent.

I also carry around a few mosquito repellent wipes with me in my backpack in case I forget to bring spray.

Petty Theft: Nicaragua is one of the safer countries in Latin America. However, crimes of opportunity happen everywhere.

Pay attention to your belongings, especially on public transit, and I recommend this anti-theft backpack with locking zippers if you chose to carry a daypack.


  1. We just did the Masaya Volcano trip a few days ago, and all I can say is WOW. It was amazing, even if I did spend way too much time thinking about how the lava reminded me of playing Mario 64 as a kid.

    1. Isn’t it incredible? I’ve never seen anything like that. I really hope you’re enjoying your time in Nicaragua!! It is definitely one of my favorite countries in Central America — just so many fun things to do. Really try to get over the Corn Islands if you can! And hahahah on the Mario, I can totally relate. Bowser boss battle flashbacks!!

    1. You should! Definitely try Mombacho near Granada (you can take transit up most of the way and then do a hike from the summit) and Masaya (volcano tour at night, totally safe and so cool! – not really hiking since they drive you, but a great experience)

  2. I heard so many great things about Nicaragua and after reading your post I can really understand why. This post just put Nicaragua a lot of places higher up on my bucket list 🙂

  3. Oh my this is AMAZING! The lava pit is ridiculous! I’ve never seen anything like that. Nicaragua is ultimate destination if you want some adventure. Saving this for future travel plans, thanks Allison!!

  4. As I am planning my trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and reading through dozens of blogs and overwhelming myself, yours is one of the best and cleanest list of things to do that I have come across so far. Very well written, nice pictures and thanks for sharing! If I end up booking the places you have suggested, will make sure to use your links!

    1. Rohini, that’s so great to hear! I’m glad you found this list useful and easy to use 🙂 I totally feel you on getting lost down a rabbit hole of blog posts when trying to plan! Thanks for using my links, it helps keep the blog going!

  5. I generally don’t find lists like this super useful but i completely agree with the comment above. This is the best list ever… so excited for Nicaragua now

    1. As someone who shares your skepticism of lists, I’m so happy you found it useful! I hate blogs with super vague information so I’m glad you found this useful. Feel free to email/comment with any questions, I hope you have an AMAZING time in Nicaragua!

  6. I was born and raised in Nicaragua until the age of 15 and now live in NYC and heading to Nicaragua tomorrow for two weeks after 14 years of absence, can’t wait to see my beautiful country again. Thinking of Gallo Pinto, Tajadas, Pitaya, etc, and fritangas of course.

  7. What a great list!! Do you speak Spanish? If not, did you find it difficult to navigate through the country? I can speak basic conversational Spanish and am hesitant to travel without a better understanding of the language. Thanks!

    1. Hi Sarah, sorry for the delay in answering your question – my wifi has been spotty in Turkey. I’m fluent in Spanish so I had no problems navigating my way through the country, but I think you will be fine with a basic understanding of Spanish. I frequently travel places where I don’t speak the language and manage to get around anyway! Nicas are super friendly people, and the country has lots of English-speaking tour offices where they can help you book tours, shuttles, etc. as needed – so don’t worry, you’ll be fine there 🙂

    1. Hi Daphne! Thank you! So I had 5 weeks and this was my route, though you definitely could do it differently as I stayed for two weeks in the Corn Islands. Flew into Managua –> Granada –> Léon –> Las Peñitas –> Estelí –> Matagalpa –> Corn Islands (flew via Managua) –> Granada again –> San Juan del Sur. I’d also recommend adding Ometepe between San Juan del Sur and Granada, or skipping the second trip to Granada. I wish I had gone but I was feeling kind of burnt out and just wanted a place to catch up on work after wifi trouble and nearly destroying my laptop in the Corn Islands.

      Btw, if you fly to the Corn Islands, I recommend calling them and requesting them to book you on an open ticket — it’s cheaper than buying one ways online – I think only $130 roundtrip?

  8. Hey Allison, any recmendations on a 2-week trip (wish we had more time!)? We’re planning our honeymoon and are really thinking Nicaragua. Thank you!

    1. Hi Toni! Oh that’s so great to hear, congrats! I would say fly into Managua, then fly straight to Little Corn for 3-5 days for some beach time (I highly recommend Yemaya Island Hideaway if it’s in your budget, Little Corn Beach & Bungalow if you want something mid-range, and Grace’s Cool Spot if you’re on a budget). After Little Corn, go to Leon (2-3 days), doing a volcano hike or going to the beach at Las Peñitas, Granada (2-3 days) visiting Masaya and Laguna de Apoyo, then Ometepe (2-3 days) before going back to Managua. You could switch it around and add Estelí or Matagalpa if you really want to get off the beaten path (in that case I’d skip Granada/Ometepe) but this is probably the best route to see the best of Nicaragua 🙂 Don’t skip Little Corn!! And congrats!

        1. Well, yes, it depends what you consider driving distance though. Distances in Nicaragua aren’t that far, but enter things into Google Maps to see how far things are apart. For example, Léon is like 2-3 hours from Granada and Granada is like 2-3 hours from San Juan del Sur.

  9. HI Allison – great article – so much helpful info! I’m planning a 9 day trip to Nicaragua, flying in and out of Mangua. Any suggestions on what would be the most logical itinerary. I’d like to do Leon, Granada, San Juan del Sur, Ometepe island and the corn islands? Is that too much to fit into 9 days? Also is there other ways to get to Corn Islands other than fly, if so how long would a chicken bus then boat take? Any help at all would be greatly appreciated! 🙂
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Mia, so sorry for my delay in responding. For your time, I would say that’s too much. I would say either cut out Corn Islands or San Juan del Sur (I wasn’t a big fan, tbh). If you’re short on time, you definitely don’t want to do the chicken bus then boat way to Corn Islands… that’ll take you at least 2-3 days as the boat schedule is not at all formal, and it takes a looooong time to get to the coast. https://www.alongdustyroads.com/posts/2014/11/15/how-to-get-to-the-corn-islands-without-flying has a great resource.

      My suggestion would be: Managua straight to Leon (2 days)–> Granada (2 days) –> Ometepe (2 days) –> go back to Managua and fly to Corn Islands (3 days – make it worth the flight) and back on your final day, assuming you can make the flight times work (if not, do Corn Islands first).

      Or if budget is an issue strike Corn Islands and go to San Juan del Sur instead, but it’s more of a party place and the beach in town is pretty crappy TBH — you have to take a shuttle or bus to one of the nicer beaches, but even those have absolutely nothing on the Corn Islands.

  10. Hi Allison,
    Would do you speak Spanish? I am a little nervous of the ease of getting around the places you have suggested with my very minimal Spanish skills. Thanks!

    1. Sorry for the brutal sentence structure there. Also, how would you recommend getting out of Managua to Leon? Thanks!

    2. Hi Kathleen! Yes, I’m fluent in Spanish and it definitely helped. However, it’s not 100% necessary, as all hotels/hostels/tour agencies will speak English. You may have trouble in the more off the beaten path places, though, like Matagalpa which have less tourist infrastructure.

      The best way to get from Managua to Leon is to take a taxi from the airport to UCA central bus station (aim to pay $10), then a minibus to Leon (these are quite easy to find!). Once in Leon, you can take a collective taxi or tuk tuk pretty much anywhere in the city for $1 or less – ask the fare before you get in.

  11. Hi Allison,

    This is an absolutely sensational read, thank you very much. I am planning my first solo backpacking adventure to Nicaragua in December and wanted to ask a few addition questions. Do you know anything about doing scuba diving in Nicaragua? Also what’s the most logical route for about 8 days there? I plan to hostel it up. And I’ve also noticed that everyone has pretty much said fly into Managua and then leave and go elsewhere and I was curious about that. Is the capital really that bad/ not exciting ? Thanks in advance for any help you can lend!

    1. Hi Jordan! So, scuba diving is really only good/possible in the Corn Islands, and it’s amazing there – I got my open water scuba certification there. But it’s far away (if you have limited time, you have to fly from Managua, really, which of course puts a damper on your diving time). So if you go to the Corn Islands, I’d say 3-4 days there, then split the rest of the time either in the North (Léon (2 days) — Esteli (1 day) — Matagalpa (1 day) or South (Granada (2 days) — Ometepe (2 days) — San Juan del Sur optional) — it depends on your interests. The first is better if you want to get off the beaten path, the South portion is a lot more well-traversed.

      1. Hi Allison! I’m considering my second solo trip in Nicaragua in December. I’m thinking 7 days. I was looking at a yoga hostel in the jungle but after reading your article.. I’m thinking I may want to bounce around rather than one place. How do you book stays? Do you book ahead online before the trip or just book the first hostel then book the rest when you arrive to the next destination? It seems scary to not have stays booked ahead of time but I’m sure it ok. Any suggestions on this? Or the top 3 must see places? Thank you, Stephanie

        1. I booked the first hostel before arriving then made up my plan as I went. I always booked something the day before and it was never a problem and that was in peak season when Nicaragua was a lot more popular than it is now because of the current political climate. Top must see places are Granada, Ometepe, and Léon in my opinion. But check to see how safety is in those places as protests and police violence in retaliation to the protests have been rocking Nicaragua really hard this year — I was there in 2016 so can’t give up to date advice on the current safety. Enjoy and stay safe!

    2. And yea, the capital is not that safe, and not exciting — really nothing to see, as much was destroyed by an earthquake in the 70s and ended up in a massive urban sprawl. I haven’t heard much good feedback about it, and as a general rule I avoid capital cities in Central America with the exception of Mexico City <3

  12. headed to Nicaragua for a 5 week language immersion program! thanks for sharing… can’t wait to explore all of these places!!

  13. We are looking to travel to Nicaragua with 4 adults and two kids. My husband is thinking that renting a car might be the best option to get from town to town, however I’m thinking that getting a driver might be less stressful. Sound like you took public transport mostly, but would you have any guidance for a larger group?

    1. Hi Yvette! I would think it would be quite easy to hire a driver or charter a shuttle van. When I wasn’t feeling up to navigating public transport, I took a shuttle from Granada to Leon for $12 per person I think – I would imagine you could get your own shuttle van for 6 for not too much more than that per person. There are a number of agencies selling tours in all the downtown tourist areas in Granada, Leon, SJDS, etc. that can help you arrange that. I didn’t drive so no experience with how the roads are, but I don’t recall the traffic being particularly crazy there… so up to your comfort level!

    2. We just returned from our trip to Nicaragua and rented a car right at the airport. Once we managed to get ourselves out of Managua we had no problem at all as long as we stuck to the main routes; google maps was very useful. If going off the beaten path take a tour as they use 4×4’s and know where they’re going. If taking the ferry to Ometepe make sure you book way in advance to take your vehicle across and back. You and your children will love it. I’ll be returning soon.

  14. Hey Allison, great list a very interesting! We’re heading to Nicaragua for the first time in May we have around 7 whole days on the main island and 7 days stay in the corn islands. For the main island stay we were planning on doing 3 nights in Leon ( volcano boarding, city touring), 3 nights in Isla Ometepe and 2 nights in Granada (lake apoyo and volcanos Masaya and city exploring) . We’re not looking to do any beach trips as we’ve got the week in the islands. Do you think that itinerary is ok? Would you change it in anyway?

  15. I’m just starting to plan our trip to Nicaragua in November or December…but you’ve definitely helped me decide to go to Little Corn island…I kept getting mixed reviews on SJDS, it’s definitely not for us…I’m so excited to also check out Granada, Ometepe and Leon. Your list was the best thing I’ve read about Nicaragua and made my planning so much easier! Thank you and happy travels:)

    1. Thanks Kristen, I’m so glad to hear that! Little Corn is so, so, so much better than SJDS, you’ll definitely not regret it 🙂 I’m glad that it was helpful in planning, feel free to reach out if you need any additional help in planning your trip!

  16. Hi Allison from Alison
    Your blog is amazing .
    Can you tell me where and how much would a flight be to Corn Islands please , I just used google flights and it came up with a ridiculous 800$ surely that’s not correct, which app or site do you book your flights with .
    Look forward to your reply
    New Zealand

    1. Hi Ali! Thank you so much. A flight to the Corn Islands from Managua should cost about $130-160 roundtrip on La Costeña Airlines if you book roundtrip in advance. (One-ways are more expensive.) You can book an open ticket roundtrip if you don’t know exactly when you’d like to leave and then call a day or two before and reserve your seat for the return. I recommend calling La Costeña to book rather than booking online as I personally was able to get a cheaper price this way — not sure why but that’s how it worked out for me!

  17. ALLISOOOOON!!! You are a freaking life saver! My friend and I decided to go to Nicaragua after reading an article saying it’s a dope spot but then we couldn’t find ANYTHING for recommendations and I’ve been dying for the beach. Your article here is the best we found and I wanted to thank you for it. I’m def using your links so you can collect those coins for referrals. I wanted to know if you had a referral for a hotel in Managua? I used your link to book Mansion de Chocolate in Granada.

    1. Weeza, that’s so nice of you to say! I’m so glad you found this article useful and that it’s been helpful in your travel plans (and jealous that you stayed at Mansion de Chocolate — I got two spa treatments there and hung by the pool but never stayed!) I do actually have a recommendation for a place in Managua! I stayed there for 1 or 2 nights post Corn Islands (which I hope you have time for!) when I was having a Macbook crisis. I was a bit nervous about Managua from what I had heard but I can vouch that this is probably one of the safest neighborhoods in Managua (they also have 24/7 security) – Hostal Maracuya. It’s a hostel but they have double rooms, etc and are super friendly. Here’s a link (affiliate): https://www.booking.com/hotel/ni/maracuya-managua.en-gb.html?aid=1211027&no_rooms=1&group_adults=2

      1. Thanks for info! My friend would prefer a hotel, so if you have a referral for that, I’d appreciate it. Sorry, should have mentioned that = )

        Also, do you recommend bringing US currency with me and exchanging or getting money out of the ATM while in Nicaragua?

        1. Sent you an email about the hotel recommendations. I would recommend just getting money out of the ATM in Nicaragua but I always bring about $50-100 USD cash just in case my card doesn’t work and I can’t get in touch with my bank.

  18. HI Allison, thank you for your blog and sharing your pictures. Can you advise how can I watch the sea turtles in Nicaragua? I read that I can visit them at the La Flor Wildlife Refuge.

    1. Hi Fariza! From what I know, your best bet is to go to Las Peñitas near Léon and organize a trip to Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado, where there are often sea turtles. I’m not sure about La Flor Wildlife Refuge, so you’d have to reach out to them directly (looks like they’re down near San Juan del Sur). Or, you can go to the Corn Islands (flying — about $160 roundtrip) and have a chance to snorkel and dive with them!

  19. Allison:

    Am planning a trip with my 9 year old daughter this summer. She’s game for adventure, but 9. My travel Spanish is pretty good. Would appreciate your thoughts on any don’t-miss experiences for a 9 year old, and neighborhoods that are safe but as Nicaraguan as possible? Am thinking volcano and a horse ride?

    1. For kid-friendly, I’d say kayaking through a nature reserve and horseriding on the beach (Las Peñitas town, about 30 min away by bus from Leon – ask Barca de Oro, linked above, they can help organize actitivies). Very safe and very local Nicaraguan town, quite small.

      When in León anywhere near the Cathedral is a good neighborhood – but there’s not as much for kids here, as it’s more about history and architecture. I wouldn’t recommend volcano boarding for kids, and the volcano hikes I did were all quite strenuous.

      Granada is very kid-friendly with lots of beautiful places. I’d recommend a day trip to Laguna de Apoyo or save that, kayaking in Las Isletas which is an area of 365 little islands in Granada. For a more kid-friendly volcano I’d opt for Masaya in Granada. You can drive up to the top, no crazy hiking required, and see the lava below as shown in the picture!

      If you have more time check out Ometepe or the Corn Islands. I’d give San Juan del Sur a pass as it definitely doesn’t feel “Nicaraguan” – it’s been overrun by expats everywhere close to the beach – and the nicer beaches are up and down the coast from it.

  20. Hey Allison,
    I’ll be travelling to Nicaragua in January 2019 and would like to do a few weeks at a Spanish school. Can you recommend any schools and is there any particular town, city or region that might be a good place to learn.
    Many thanks, Andrew

      1. Hi Andrew! I didn’t do a Spanish school personally, but I know for sure there are schools in Granada, Léon, and Matagalpa. I’m sure there are some in Ometepe as well but I can’t confirm. Honestly, I think you’re good anywhere – it depends what you want. Granada is a lot more colorful and expat/foreigner-friendly, Léon is more local and historical and hotter but close to beach and volcanoes to hike, and Matagalpa has slightly cooler weather, is much more local, and doesn’t have so much “to do” for tourists but has a more ‘everyday life’ feel. So three very different lifestyles, so I’d go for whatever suits your fancy best! Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

  21. Hi Allison, great post! I’m planning a trip shortly and wanted your thoughts on our route. Planning on spending 7 days in Nicaragua and then heading to Costa Rica (sadly I have to cut out the corn Islands). Our flight wouldn’t get in to Managua until midnight so I’m not sure if heading straight to Leon is feasible. I would appreciate any feedback.

    1. Hi Vicki, thank you! Hmm, I’m not sure. Personally, I’d probably stay in Managua that night. I was able to find this — http://www.ridewithless.com/ — that says they offer 24/7 service from Managua Airport to Léon. Or you could opt for a private taxi which I would guess would be around $60-80 USD (I took a taxi from Managua to Granada when I arrived at night and it was about $40, and the trip from Managua to Léon is about twice as long)

  22. Hey Allison, like everyone before I have to say…. great blog. I think we have just decided that’s where we’re going in April!
    I just wanted to ask you, for the 5 weeks you were there, what kind of budget did you have? We will be going around 5 weeks as well, so would be great to an idea…..
    Thanks and all the best

    1. Hi Stevie! So, my budget was around $30-50 per day as a solo traveler staying in hostels, eating my meals out, taking public transport, and doing lots of activities. If you go to the Corn Islands, you’ll definitely spend more there, especially since flying there is pricy. It’d be helpful to know a bit more about your travel style to be able to answer your question better 🙂

      1. Thanks Allison…..

        We’ll be active as much as we can be. Snorkeling, hiking, swimming, volcano boarding, surfing….. basically everything that you’ve done haha.
        We’re not party animals but like an occasional beer. We travel quite simple and want 3-4 weeks of traveling and adventure and 1 week of chilling out ….probs on Corn Islands (you’ve convinced us to be there hehe). We don’t usually organize any accommodation beforehand, happy to just turn up somewhere and figure it out then. Is this easy to do there too? Airbnb or Couchsurfing quite active over there you know? Happy as long as its cheap and meeting locals and staying with them is even better.

        Thanks Allison

  23. I just booked a flight to Nica for my husband, 15 year old daughter and myself for the first 10 days of July. Your blog was very helpful. We plan to “wing” it and rent a car and drive around. Are the roads good?

    1. Hi Gloria, Nicaragua is a great place to wing it! You can definitely rent a car. The roads are in decent condition and you won’t need a 4×4 unless you’re really going off the beaten path. Public transportation is also accessible and shuttles are a good compromise if you don’t want to be stressed with a car (most shuttles will cost about $10-15 per person to take you from city to city in air-conditioned comfort). But if you prefer the autonomy and adventure of a road trip, Nicaragua’s roads are decent, but definitely not up to North American/European standards.

  24. I love it!! I went to Nicaragua last year and I ABSOLUTELY loved it! I would also like to add a little tip. Whenever you guys visit Granada, a lot of tour guides WILL approach you telling you to take a trip to Isletas. DO IT! you won’t regret it. We were a group of 15 (husband’s family LOL) and we only paid 70$. It’s really nice taking in the view, and the fresh air from the boat ride. AND 2 of the islands have restaurants WITH POOLS! how cool is that? lol they can drop you off at one of the islands and then they go back and pick you at the end of the day. You don’t have to pay anything to enter the island, just whatever you eat and drink. I’m going back in June and definitively following your tips for my future country exploring! 🙂 Traveling is Life 😀

    Awesome blog!

    1. Thank you Kendy!! I actually didn’t do the isletas because I had researched it a bit and read about how most tours take you to a place called “Monkey Island” where someone stranded 4 monkeys several years ago and now brings tourists to interact with them and feed them :\ I’m very hesitant with animal tourism as I don’t want to support anything unethical. It’s awesome to hear though that going to “Monkey Island” isn’t mandatory part of the tours and that you can go to see other islands, and I had no idea that there were places with restaurants and pools!! It’s definitely on my list for my next time I return to Nicaragua. I’m so excited to hear you’re going back in June (and a little jealous!) — I hope you have a fantastic time. Be sure to make it out to the Corn Islands if you have time this time around. And yes, I totally agree – traveling IS life! Thanks 🙂

  25. Hi Allison

    My bride (of 32 years) and I really enjoyed your tips on “25 Bucket List Things to Do in Nicaragua”. We have a trip planned there April 10 to 19. Our abbreviated itinerary is to fly into Managua and stay at the Hilton for 2 days, hopefully see Granada for a day and Masaya lava flow at night. Then fly to the Corn Islands for 3 days. Next fly back to Managua, and take the ferry and a rental car to Ometepe for 3 days, then back to the Hilton in Managua, maybe drive to San Juan Del Sur for a day trip and see cloud and rain forests near Granada.

    However, my better half has been reading Lonely Planet and googling “safety in Nicaragua” and we are a little concerned about our well-being there. She went for her inoculations today and the nurse, an extensive world traveler, told her it is a singularly dangerous place, that if, for example, we wear Merrell hiking shoes we will attract robbery by being rich American tourists.

    We have traveled to India, Costa Rica, Kauai, Culebra (3 times) and extensively in the Yucatan, and have never felt unsafe. But we are worried by what we have heard about Nica. I’m getting too old (65 years) to fight my way out of these situations, and we totally get not inviting crimes of opportunity in under-developed, impoverished countries. But we are a little concerned.

    What can you tell us on this topic?

    Thanks so much in advance for your expertise.

    1. Hi Sterling and Laureen! Your itinerary sounds great. To be honest, I’m actually a bit surprised to hear that! I traveled Nicaragua completely alone for 5 weeks as a solo woman in her late 20s. I had very few issues – only catcalling from men, which is a reality everywhere for solo women travelers, but wouldn’t affect you two traveling as a couple.

      I’ve been to Puerto Rico (San Juan – Culebra looks beautiful though and is on my list!), Costa Rica, and the Yucatan as well and felt just as safe in those places as I did in Nicaragua. Even Managua, which I had heard no good stories about, ended up feeling pretty safe since I did my research and chose a good neighborhood (and I’m sure the Hilton in Managua will be perfectly fine). All in all, I was in Nicaragua for 5 weeks and I didn’t hear any bad stories about robberies or even scams.

      I think if you’re reasonably alert and don’t invite opportunity by getting drunk on the street, wearing expensive jewelry, putting your wallet in your back pocket, etc. you will be fine. I’d consider canceling the Hilton in Managua and staying in Granada or San Juan del Sur instead — Managua is a bit dull, and there is a higher risk of crime there compared to the other cities in Nicaragua. But Managua is not so bad and I’d just have your hotel call you a cab to avoid scammy taxis. There’s really no need for elevated concern, and Nicaragua is actually the safest country in all of Central America.

  26. LOVE this list. I’ve been to Nicaragua twice.. once for a missions trip and once for a few days of volcano boarding and volcano hiking. I would love to go back and have more time for all the things on this list! You’ve done such a great job of showcasing what an amazing country it is. I had no idea about the cliff jumping/grand canyon-esque area to hike. And I’d love to see Granada. And an active volcano…. Oh I can’t wait to go back. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

    1. So great to hear that even after two trips to Nicaragua you’re still finding more to discover 🙂 It’s such a diverse and beautiful country with so much to see!

  27. Amazing post and thank you for the suggestions.
    I just want to inform you about the misconception of Volcan Concepcion. I am here in Ometepe now and the going price is around $30 for a guide, and if you aren’t unfit it should take about 7 hours.
    Also, im staying at Hostel Cocos and the lady said she knows a guide who will do it for $15, the same goes at Hospedaje Central.
    I will do the hike in two days and let you know how it goes 🙂

    1. Hi William, thanks for your feedback! Perhaps those are the rates with unofficial guides? I don’t know because I didn’t do it personally but that was what I heard when I went (early 2017). I’ll update the post shortly to reflect the range of rates. And good luck with the hike!

      1. The hike was $15 with the guide through Hostel Cocos. (I would recommend everyone to stay here, the lady is amazing)
        3 of us did the hike and we paid an extra $10 ($3.33 each) for a tuk tuk as we wanted to leave at 5am.

        We started out ascent at 5:20am and reached the peak by around 9:15am.
        We left at 10am and I was down by 12pm, but the others took maybe an hour or two more. I was running to catch the 12pm bus from the road to get back to town and leave Ometepe

        I will have some photos and information about it on my blog wherewillygo.wordpress.com if you want to check it out in a couple of weeks 🙂

  28. I absolutely fell in love with Nicaragua.Actually there is a lot to see in Managua. Try going to Puerto Salvador Allente, next to that you see Nicaragua’s Palace of the people, they’re old cathedral, and another palace.

  29. Hi Allison,

    Great post! My husband and I (both 30) like to do many of the things you mentioned on trips abroad and be as active as possible (biking, surfing, hiking, boating, etc.). We are planning a trip in spring 2019/ What would you suggest for a good itinerary/regions to stay in for a 5-6 day trip. I wish we could stay longer, but we have so much travel planned next year already that we can’t get away for too long! Thank you 🙂

  30. Hi Allison,
    My husband and i are thinking of going to Nicaragua for 2 weeks in mid Feb we are worried about the political situation we are in our early 50’s and we won’t be doing any high active excurtions but do plan on doing some light hiking to volcanos and BTW this would be my 2nd trip there and i have been to LCI and cannot go this time but will next trip we also will be looking for the perfect place to buy land for our later retirement, where do you suggest ? Thanks

    1. Hi Sylvie. I haven’t been since 2017, before the political situation started to get sour, so I can’t really speak to its updated situation. If you’re looking for land for retirement, Nicaragua seems a little volatile and I wouldn’t recommend it. I know Belize is quite popular for foreigners, especially since they are an English speaking country, as well as Panama. Perhaps those might be a little better suited for retiring in? Ecuador is another popular option with retirees, especially Cuenca.

  31. Great post, Allison! I visited San Juan del Sur where I stayed in an ecolodge/ sea turtle sanctuary. It was the most magical experience to see them hatch in the light of the moon and scurry out to sea.

    I also got to visit Masaya Volcano and Grenada which I highly recommend. Nicaragua is truly an underrated destination.

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