Nicaragua Travel Guide
Though Nicaragua suffered in the 1980’s due to the incursion of the Contras in their attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government of the day, the turmoil that rocked the country is a distant memory in the present day.
Indeed, Nicaragua is Central America’s safest country, which is interesting when you consider the fact that it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere besides Haiti. Sitting next door to the comparatively expensive nation of Costa Rica, Nicaragua is quickly becoming an adventure destination for tourists looking to keep their travel costs down.
From the colonial charm of Leon and Granada, to the hidden Caribbean getaway known as the Corn Islands, there is much to love about this country.
Currency: Nicaraguan Cordoba
Languages: Spanish, English, Creole
What To Do
After arriving in Managua, hop the first bus you can to the west, which will take you to the colonial city of Leon. Being a lively rival with Granada, a popular activity in Leon is to take in a baseball game, all of which are hotly contested between the two Nicaraguan cities.
When you aren’t watching Nicaragua’s most popular sport, be sure to drop by Leon Cathedral, which is the largest church of its kind in Central America. For a nominal fee, you can send the church-tower, which gives photographers the best possible view of the city.
Before leaving the region, be sure to sign up for a volcano boarding tour if you are so inclined. While this exciting adrenaline sport can involve some rough tumbles, those that are up for the challenge will have a thrilling time hurling themselves down the side of local volcanoes.
After connecting through Managua again, this time, catch a bus to the east, which will lead you to the grand colonial city of Granada. Home to Nicaragua’s moneyed classes versus the working class people of Leon the walk through the streets here will be a much more clean and polished experience, which can be either good or bad, depending on your preferences.
There are a number of cathedrals here that are worth checking out, with La Merced granting a killer view of Lake Nicaragua in the distance from its bell tower. At the Marina along the Lakeshore, you can not only have a delightful brunch, but you can also organize a boat tour to the Isles of Granada.
Created thousands of years ago when a local volcano blew its top, the miniature islands are home to restaurants, private mansions, and park land that are enjoyed by the local people.
If you are waiting for your flight to the Corn Islands and are looking for a way to kill the time while in Managua, day trip that is well worth while is a journey to Masaya Volcano. Known as the only volcano in the Western Hemisphere where you can drive right up to the rim using your car, it is the best place for slackers to get a view of this geological phenomena up close.
After dark, one can observe flowing lava at the bottom of the caldera, so try to organize a tour in the evening if this is a sight that interests you.
When the time comes for your flight with La Costena (Nicaragua’s national air line) to the Corn Islands, it will be a day that you won’t soon forget. Most Caribbean islands these days are well explored and are a known quantity to most North American and European tourists.
Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island are different, as the difficulty in accessing this archipelago has kept it relatively unspoiled. Flights are booked solid weeks in advance during high season, so if visiting this paradise is a priority of yours, be sure to reserve your tickets early. Failing this, you can try to get tickets on standby, but it is a less than reliable strategy.
Alternatively, you can take a chicken bus from Managua to La Rama, and then take a river boat to Bluefields, and then take a cargo ship to Big Corn Island, but it is time-consuming and uncomfortable process that can take more than 24 hours from end to end.
Once you arrive the, all the frustrations and tribulations of getting there will be well worth it, as a deserted beaches of Big Corn and Little Corn Islands will be yours for the enjoying. The latter is more popular with tourists, and has better infrastructure, but this does not extend to the power situation, as electricity is not available in the morning hours, and sea conditions can make supplies limited at times.
Don’t let this situation put you off though, as the lack of cars, deserted beaches, and the easygoing nature of the people will win you over within the space of 24 hours.
On the mainland, the massive scale of Lake Nicaragua makes arriving at Isla Omtempe an experience that almost equals that of going to the Corn Islands.
Formed by volcanic activity over the years, the conical volcanic mountains will stick out like a sore thumb as you make your way to words this island that is populated by humble farmers. When you are in exploring plantations, there are plenty of hikes to do, and beaches to relax on.
Those wanting to take in the best beaches on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua will want to locate themselves in San Juan Del Sur, as the surf here is excellent, and the nightlife is legendary in traveler circles.
Be wary on the latter point though, as safety is a concern in this tourist town after dark. Do not try to walk from your accommodation to the bars; get a taxi there and back instead.
What To Eat
Nicaragua has a number of excellent main dishes, so take time to go to local eateries to try as many as you can.
If you are having trouble deciding on which ones to have, we recommend that you start with the Arroz a la Valenciana, which is a paella that resembles the one found in Valencia, though it has a Central American twist to it.
Made by taking chicken, chorizo, rice, onions, bell peppers and tomatoes, and cooking them in a beer and wine broth, it is a savory feast that you will not want to miss.
Vigoron is another main dish you might want to sample during your time in Nicaragua. A plate that consists of cabbage salad, boiled yuca, and chicharron wrapped up in a banana leaf, this dish is a popular meal that is often served to visiting relatives and friends when they come over to one’s house.
When you are on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, be sure to try some Rondon during your visit. The what often consists of a variety of seafood that happens to be lying around at dinner time, a typical Rondon will usually have snapper, sea bass, lobster, as well as meat from a variety of land animals like wild boar and chicken.
Prepared in a coconut broth, it is a meal that you will not forget long after your visit to Nicaragua has been concluded.