We had such a good time in Nica that we just had to jam pack our Nicaragua Guide with loads of helpful goodies about the awesomeness of Nicaragua. Now you know you can have just as much fun as we did, no excuses!
Nicaragua is not only such a beautiful country, it is quite possibly the most relaxing country in all of Central America. The lifestyle here is ‘mucho tranquillo’ aka super chill. They have a term in the smaller towns where power cuts are frequent, “it’s Nicaragua” this is meant to put your mind at ease so as not to worry about anything, it’s loosely similar to the kiwi saying, “She’ll be right.”
There are huge diversities in this small country ranging from the Caribbean influenced East to colourful colonial cities and the perfect waves of the beach/surfer towns in the west Pacific Ocean regions.
Expats are found in all the strangest corners of Nicaragua etching out their own slices of paradise due to the country still being so cheap. Neighbouring the expensive Costa Rica and the dangerous Honduras, backpackers from around the world stall in Nicaragua to enjoy one of the best spots on the gringo trail.
Utila/La Cieba, Honduras to Leon Nicaragua – $72US – $80US
When we were finally ready to leave this beautiful island, we took the first ferry from Utila to La Ceiba at 6.45am ($24US). Once we collected our belongings, a man with a sign for Leon was waiting; this should be with Tornabe shuttle Bus Company. The cost of the shuttle is $80US, we luckily bargained the price down to $72US each – definitely worth a try.
The company advertises Free WIFI on-board, fresh fruit, movies and A/C. Note the WIFI only works in big cities, so infrequently. On the website it states the shuttle bus could take up to 15 hours but lucky us we got stuck at the border and the ride took us over 17 hours. Our driver said they sometimes have trouble at the border and it can often take even longer.
Leon to Granada – Total C$79 ($2.74US) each
You will need to do this trip in 2 legs. There are no mini/chicken busses that will take you directly to Granada, instead you will need to change at Managua and get another chicken bus to Granada.
Head to the main bus station (this is around a 15-20 min walk from the centre), find a mini bus with “Managua” written on it. The buses run from early morning until 9pm at night, they will leave when full so you could wait up to 15 minutes. Ask the driver the price and confirm the destination (UCA terminal – it is the last stop). Our journey to Managua cost C$54 each and should take 1.5hours. The last stop is UCA terminal, the same terminal where you change to another minibus with Granada written in the front window. It will again leave once it is full and costs C$25 each. This ride had a lot more people crammed in and took around 50 minutes to Granada. We recommend getting off at Parque Central, it’s closer to all the gringo accommodations.
- Alternatively you could catch a direct shuttle from Leon to Granada for $10US but what’s the fun in that?
Granada to Ometepe ferry – Total C$124 ($4.30US) each
This is a 3-leg journey to get to the island of Ometepe from Granada. Head to the bus station to Rivas, here you will need to board the chicken bus with “Rivas” written on it. This will cost C$31 each and take 1.5hours. We left at 3pm from the bus station to Rivas and arrived at 4.30pm. There are no buses to San Jorge ferry terminal, a taxi should not cost more than $1-$2 and take 10 minutes (be careful as the taxi drivers always try to rip you off here). We made the last ferry at 5pm with only 10 minutes to spare. We bought tickets for the Lancha boat (smaller boat) to the main town Moyogalpa on Ometepe for C$31 each. The ferry ride takes just over an hour.
Once you arrive on Ometepe Island the buses are infrequent and being the last ferry there was no bus in site. We hired a scooter for both of us for 2 days and headed to our accommodation on the other side of the island. There are many scooter/bike shops in Moyogalpa, so you can shop around and find the best price, it should cost you around $20US a day.
Ometepe Island to Playa Gigante – Total C$240 ($8.33US) each
We left the island on a Sunday meaning both the ferries and buses were infrequent. We caught the 11am ferry from the island back to San Jorge. This journey was on the bigger ferryboat costing C$50 each. Once on the main land found another backpacker heading to Playa Gigante whom we spilt the taxi fare with as no buses were going direct from Rivas on a Sunday. We found a taxi for $20 and between the three of us paid C$190 each. The taxi ride took 30mins to get there.
Playa Gigante to San Juan Del Sur – Total C$60 ($2) each
Catch the chicken bus from Gigante bay at 7.30am; this is the only bus that runs each day so make sure you don’t miss it. This bus is C$30 each and will take you to Rivas in 1 hour. Change in Rivas for a San Juan Del Sur chicken bus. This is also C$30 each and takes 40min.
Alternatively you can take a direct taxi for $20 and takes 30min.
San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua to Monte Verde, Costa Rica – Total C$382 ($13.25USD) each
San Juan Del Sur to Nicaragua border
We got up early to catch the 8am shuttle to the town from Naked Tiger hostel (They offer free shuttles to town every 2 hours). We then hopped on any chicken bus going out, this usually goes once it is full. You need to take this bus to the main intersection in La Virgen this ride will cost you C$25 ($1.30USD) each.
When you get off you need to cross the road and wait at the bus shelter for the next chicken bus going to Penas Blancas, this is the last town and will take you right up to the border. This ride will cost a total of C$40 each ($2.12USD), C$20 for the journey and C$20 for the backpack.
Crossing the border into Costa Rica
Once at the border you will need to pay a total of $4USD to exit, make sure you check the stamp and it is clear on your passport. The walk to the Costa Rica border is less than 1km long so it is easily done with your backpacks on. Check out our useful notes below that will save you money!
While the entry into Costa Rica is free, make sure you have evidence you will leave the country.
- Do not pay for the immigration slips from the people outside! Once you get to the Costa Rica border you can get them there for free.
- When entering Costa Rica you need an outbound flight or bus. This shows proof you are leaving the country. Costa Rica is so awesome customs think we won’t ever leave. We showed our tickets on the laptop as we didn’t have time to print them off and this worked fine. (There are websites to generate fake flight tickets without actually booking or paying anything.)
Costa Rica Border to Monte Verde
At the border you can buy “Chicken” bus tickets at the stalls. These are the cheapest buses in Costa Rica and they are the nicest! It was like travelling in luxury for us. We bought a ticket from the border to La Irma for ₡2200 (Costa Rica Colon) $4USD. This journey is 3 hours and the bus stops on the side of the road. Once you get off walk across the road to the intersection and there will be a bus stop shelter and a road sign a little down the road that says Monte Verde. The last bus is around 3pm and costs ₡1500 (Costa Rica Colon) $3USD. This is why you start your journey early in the morning, as you never know how long it can take at the Costa Rica border.
Leon, Hostal El Jardin – C$208 pp/pn ($7USD each) dorm bed
The hostel has a very chilled/relaxed vibe compared to the big party hostel – Big foot. El Jardin is in the centre of town, walking distance to all the top attractions. The kitchen is really nice, the staff friendly and breakfast is included. The best free breakfast we have had on this trip, you can choose between 2 menus – Scrambled eggs and toast or pancakes with banana! The wonderful kitchen hands make it fresh to order and clean your dishes… oh the little things in life. The hostel, like it says in their name has a nice garden filled with hammocks that you can chill in. They can organise tours such as volcano boarding and shuttles. This is a cheap and cheerful hostel that we recommend staying in.
Granada, Hostel Libertad – C$145 pp/pn ($5USD each) dorm bed
Perhaps we should have read trip advisor before staying at this hostel with more negative feedback than positive. We had booked a private room and were taken around the corner to a separate building with no immediate access to the pool or kitchen. The room was large although the bathroom was more of an outhouse with an outdoor shower. The communal area had hammocks and was clean and quiet. We found nothing really special about this hostel.
Ometepe, The Lazy Crab Hostel – C$144 pp/pn ($5USD each) dorm bed
This was a hostel we had researched, heard good things and wanted to visit. The major problem with this hostel is the location. It will cost a 20USD taxi from port to the hostel each! We rented a scooter to explore the island and overcame the location issue that way. It’s a really great hostel with a lazy and relaxed vibe. Ometepe is the place you go to unwind, so the lazy crab was perfect. They had no rooms available when we arrived and instead put a bed in an open-air loft for us covered with a mosquito net. This fix it solution was meant to be only for one night but we liked it in the loft so much listening to all the animals at night that we asked to stay put!
Totally recommend and if you’re lucky they might put you in the loft. Book in advance because this place was sold out both nights we stayed.
Gigante Bay, Camino Del Gignate – C$317 pp/pn ($11USD each) dorm bed
This has been one of our favourite hostels in Central America; if you surf then this is the place. Camino Del Gigante is situated right on the beach and only 15min or 45 min walk to some of Nicaragua’s notorious surf breaks. The hostel has a lot of activities on offer, booze cruises, Taco Tuesdays, Surf Lessons/Rentals, Scuba Diving and Rappelling. But bear in mind there is no ATM’s here so bring plenty of cash, you can pay for accommodation and bills over C$150 by card at this hostel. We loved it so much here we stayed 2 weeks volunteering. It was a lot of fun and in two weeks we made friends for a lifetime. Still not convinced? They have free yoga every morning at 7.30am, what more could you want? Get down there now!
San Juan Del Sur, Naked Tiger Hostel – C$380 pp/pn ($13.50 USD each) dorm bed
An old friend from back home recommended us this place to stay. If you are looking to party Naked Tiger is amongst the best places to stay in all of Nicaragua. The hostel is situated on a hill behind the small town and beach, creating the perfect view of an amazing sunset going down behind the giant Jesus statue. They are also one of the four hostels to host the notorious Sunday-fun-day. If you stay here you get half price tickets ($15USD usually $30USD). Being just out-of-town is no problem as the hostel also provides free shuttle service to and from town every 2 hours otherwise it’s a 40minute walk (the food is just as good or better than anything in town). Naked Tiger Hostel has a really cool atmosphere, location and super friendly staff. We highly recommend staying here and making your Sunday-fun-day a spectacular one. Check out our experience of Sunday-fun-day and see more on what it’s all about!
Gallo Pinto– Gallo pinto is a delicious pan-fried mixture of rice, beans, garlic, onion, peppers, and spices. You will find this on the side of your plate in most meals throughout Central America.
- Nacatamal– This savoury and sweet dish was traditionally eaten mid-morning. However, today it can be found in most local cafes, street food stands, and restaurants. It is made by stuffing a banana leaf with cornmeal, seasoned pork, potatoes, peppers, onions, olives, and raisins. The banana leaf is then wrapped and tied with a string, and steamed for hours before being served.
- Indio Viejo– An indigenous traditional dish. This is a stew of veggies, pork or chicken, tortilla dough, and orange juice. Indio Viejo is typically served with rice and plantain chips. It is a hearty and comforting family style meal.
- Vigaron– Originally created in Granada, Vigaron can be spotted in street food carts as well as in the home or in restaurants. Vigaron is a piece of yuca covered in chicharron, cabbage salad, and tomato served on top of a plantain leaf.
- Plato Tipico– In most Latin countries including Nicaragua, you can always find a typical plate of either beef, fish, or chicken served with beans, rice, plantains, and a salad. It is served in almost every restaurant, food cart, and home.
- Tona/Victoria – Both delicious local beers found everywhere in Nicaragua, Victoria was my favourite.
- Next to Hostal El Jardin is a small local restaurant Teali with very nice food for very cheap prices. Try the mango juice!
- Spend some time in the Garden Café, a beautiful little bookstore/coffee-house. We loved the special Nica-breafast. A little expensive.
- Pan De Vida Bakery – We found this small bakery down past the main strip of restaurants. It has fresh sour dough bread and some delicious cakes made fresh daily. We just about died and went to heaven while eating the mango walnut bread
- Comedor Jackeling – Do your self a favour and order the chicken kebab here. Right on the beach beautiful environment and delicious food.
- Camino Del Gigante Hostel has some of the best food in town. The Nachos and Pizza’s are the big favourites.
- On the way back from the beach pick up a delicious Ice Cream at the only ice cream shop in town and they are super cheap!
San Juan Del Sur
- Find the local food market. Just off the main road the market has a small entrance surrounded by clothing stalls. Inside three small restaurants offer large meals for less than C$100
- Naked Tiger – hopefully you are staying here anyway. The food from the kitchen is delicious.
- Check out El Gato Negro bookstore for great drinks and a good read.
Must see & do
- Leon is one of the oldest towns in Nicaragua and has the most colonial churches and cathedrals per capita than any other place in the country – go for a wonder and check them out.
- Volcano boarding – race down the volcano at 30mph on a piece of wood. Go with Quetzal trekkers, slightly cheaper ($30USD) and all the money goes to street children
- Explore the many markets of local foods and souvenirs
- Looking for some history? Check out the Museum of Revolution
- Check out Masaya, an active volcano you can pop your head over and see real-life Lava!
- Go to the top of the bell tower for a great view of Granada
- Explore the colonial streets and enjoy the many colourful doors.
- Tree house is a unique party hostel just outside of Granada run by an Australian guy. It is literally in the trees and known for its awesome parties. If you are staying in Granada you can take free shuttles up to the tree house in the evening and they will take you back to the town once the party has finished.
- Rent a scooter and explore what this Island has to offer.
- Kayak around the coastline or at sunset for some amazing pictures
- Hike 4km up to San Ramon waterfall, this is one of Ometepe’s attractions and is a height of 56meters.
- Ojo de Agua – Relax in some natural springs where the water is crystal clear and comes from an underground river from volcano Maderas.
- Hike the volcanoes – There are two volcanoes Concepcion and Maderas. Both have different slopes and difficulties and the views from the top are spectacular.
- Head out at local surf breaks and ride some waves. There are lots of surf schools for beginners and world class breaks at Playa Armarillo and Playa Colorado are walking distance.
- Take the Tuesday Booze Cruise from Camino Del Gigante Hostal.
- Camino Del Gigante also offers Scuba, Fishing, Rappelling, Surf board Rental and horse riding excursions.
- Take a boat trip to open up access to all the surf breaks unreachable by foot.
- Climb to the top of the Giants foot for a view reaching miles in all directions. On a clear day you can see Costa Rica down the coast.
San Juan Del Sur
- Experience the notorious party in Central America… Sunday Fun-day! Well known party which happens each Sunday in the town of Sun Juan, definitely line up your travel dates for this fun-day event. Check out our experience of Sunday-fun-day and see more on what it’s all about!
- Climb up Jesus statue at the top of the hill, it overlooks the whole town and coastline giving you some breathtaking views.
- If you want to go horse riding, check out Rancho Chilamate – a beautiful eco ranch just 20minutes from the town with happy horses. They are a solar powered community dedicated to making a better environment. This is the place to stay to unwind in nature.
- Catch some waves at a nearby beach – Playa Hermosa
- Playa El Coco is a 35min drive from San Juan. It is host to thousands of sea turtles that lay their eggs along the beach from October to April. It costs C$200 to access the beach, which goes towards the efforts of protecting the eggs.
Tips & Advice
- We had some things stolen in Nica. So keep your wits about you and keep valuables close.
- If you want to surf for over a week I recommend buying a board. You can pick up decent 2nd hand boards around $150 then sell them back after for $100ish. Much cheaper than the $15 per day rentals that come with the risk of you paying for the board fully if you are unlucky enough to break it.
- Entry fee into the country is $12USD
- Exit fee out of the country is $4USD
- Take the chicken bus everywhere, transportation is very cheap
- Nicaragua is the new Costa Rica, only cheaper. Head over to this beautiful country and see what it has to offer before all the tourists start bumping up prices.
- If you want to learn Spanish, go to Gigante Bay and stay with a home stay family. This is perfect if you love to surf!
- Bring small souvenirs from your country it makes as good gifts for home stay families and children.
- You can only drink the tap water from Granada
- Refill your water bottle at water coolers from hostels and hotels to save money and the environment.
- Haggle at the markets, don’t be afraid to bargain and get a good deal.
- Try volunteering at a work-away. These are great if you have not a lot of money but plenty of time!
Helpful words and phrases
The main language is Spanish in Nicaragua
Please Por Favor
Thank you Gracias
You’re welcome De Nada
Pardon me Perdone
English? Habla Ingles?