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Nicaragua

Nicaragua Packing List: The Ultimate Guide on What to Pack

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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 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.

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.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    jos thomassen
    January 28, 2019 at 8:59 pm

    Great advice; thank you !
    I would like to add some things though.

    First: check with some authority: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/nicaragua
    Sometimes it’s better not to go at all -)

    My list of things I consider more or less important. My advice is bases on 2 months cross country in sometimes quite shabby surroundings in times when taking the last bus was not advised by locals.

    Copy and scan your passport and tckets and health insurance papers etc. and save it in the cloud / give copy to travel partners. This is my most important advice; not having these can completely ruin your holidays.

    Bring ducttape, rope (not the bungee type but more like dental floss) and an oversize mosquito net; you will need it because the available nets are often inadequate.
    Bring a thin sleeping bag without filling; not to keep you warm but to keep all insects and other uninvited guests out… not too warm off course.
    Wear decent clothes; the people of Nicaragua will appreciate your respect. Cover arms and legs to protect from sunburn and insects.
    Have cash on you but not much; both US and Cordobas; $100 will get you a long way; check if ATM’s are available before taking the bus or panga and make sure your ATM / creditcard is accepted before entering the country off course. $20 in your pocket and $80 in your socks is prudent advice.

    Last but not least: buy local toilet paper and plastic bags. You will need it.

    Enjoy Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan people; both are heartwarming.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      January 29, 2019 at 2:43 pm

      Thanks for your comment! Definitely important to keep aware of the safety situation. As far as I see things are a lot better now that last year around April/May but I’m not on the ground there now so it’s hard to know. Anyway, this is definitely good advice if you are staying off the beaten path in Nicaragua! Personally, I found the mosquito nets and dorm beds, etc. all fine in the cities and on the Corn Islands, but I imagine I’d want all that if I was staying in more remote places. The cash and information document information on the cloud though is always prudent and a very good tip!

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