Dive Into Nicaragua
It offers a variety of activities—surfing, hiking, zip lining and kayaking. The rivers and lakes provide an unbroken connection from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, while the southern Pacific coast is home to excellent surfing. For adventurers who want to stay dry, there are 24 volcanoes in Nicaragua, including Cerro Negro, a volcano with black, sandy slopes that you can sled or sandboard. But if you don’t really want to spend your entire vacation outdoors, there are plenty of other activities for you to enjoy. For example, Leon and Managua feature universities, historical ruins and celebrations of the country’s cherished art, poetry. Whether chasing an adrenaline rush or listening to poets’ prose, dive into Nicaragua’s distinct mix of natural splendor and man-made art.
Mapping Out Nicaragua
Nicaragua has three regions that vary in weather and population—the Pacific Region, the Central Region and the Caribbean Region. In the Pacific Region, there are great surfing options at places like San Juan del Sur and the city of Leon, both fairly close to the coast. On the other side of the coast, the Caribbean Region, you’ve got several nature reserves. Many resorts establish themselves on the beaches of both coasts. On the other hand, many also set up along the Central Region, further inland near the volcanoes and other natural formations like Lake Nicaragua. There are great eco-tourism activities here among the volcanoes and rain forests. The huge Lake Nicaragua offers several tours among the breathtaking volcanic scenery. There are several national parks here as well. Wherever you go in Nicaragua, you are guaranteed a great vacation in nature.
Nature Reservations Required
From three different kinds of tropical forests to volcanic islands in freshwater, this country bursts with beautiful nature. Head to one of many nature preserves and eco-tourist attractions around the country to play in, learn about and admire Nicaragua’s natural splendor. Check out Ometepe, the volcanic island in Lake Nicaragua, by taking a ferry from San Jorge, Granada or San Carlos. Once you're on Ometepe, you can tour Concepcion, the island's active volcano, or Maderas, the jungle-covered volcano with a crater lake. At Punta Jesus Maria, you can walk out far into the lake on a sand bank to get panoramic views of Ometepe. If you like your volcanoes attached to the mainland, head to Mombacho Volcano for canopy tours in the surrounding cloud forests, and keep your eyes peeled for exotic animals. Whatever you prefer, there’s more than enough nature here to keep you happy.
Everybody's Gone Surfin'
We don’t know if there’s a way to say "cowabunga" in Spanish, but Nicaragua is a great place to find out. The southern Pacific coast offers some beautiful beaches to hang ten. San Juan del Sur is Nicaragua's surf town. Though increasingly recognized as a great surf spot, the crowds here are still smaller than Mexico or Costa Rica. As this destination becomes more well known, the town and the surrounding beaches are connected by increasingly sturdy infrastructure. Still, you're likely to be slowed by some livestock crossing the road. Playa Madera is about 30 minutes to the north, and it is the most popular of the breaks around San Juan. Hop further north to Playa Colorado, where a river completes its journey to the sea and the waves are killer. So "killer", in fact, that the International Surfing Association hosted its 2012 World Masters Surfing Championship at Playa Colorado.
Unexpected Poet's Mecca
Poetry is a big deal in Nicaragua. Poets contributed a lot to the Nicaraguan identity, and people here know it. Especially loved is the Nicaraguan native Rubén Darío, for whom a national holiday was created. For 2 weeks in early January, Matagalpa celebrates the poetic culture with presentations, competitions and even floats. Also during that time, the city of Leon conducts its own symposium on Dario’s work. In the second week of February, the city of Granada hosts the International Poetry Festival. Hundreds of poets from all around the world flock to this city on the coast of Lake Nicaragua to recite and discuss their craft. These poets from places as diverse as New Zealand, India, Japan, Senegal, the US and more conduct readings and discussions. The festival also hosts a carnival which includes a parade and poetry readings by the participating poets at street corners.
Catarina's Culture and Flora
For a unique cultural and shopping experience, head to the quaint town of Catarina. This town near Apoyo Crater Lake offers beautiful carved, wooden furniture, baskets and more. Explore the merchants for a great gift or keepsake. And even though visiting this community will give you a deeper insight into Nicaraguan culture, don't think you'll have to go way out of your way to get here. Catarina is centrally located south of the capital city of Managua, west of Granada, east of Pan American Highway and north of Lake Nicaragua which is home to the volcanic island of Ometepe. From there, visit the tropical nurseries around Catarina. Lush and bursting with colorful flora, these sites are little slices of Eden. Finally, make your way to the viewing point on the rim of the Apoyo Crater Lake to see Lake Nicaragua and the volcanic peaks on Ometepe Island in the distance.
A Better Way to Play in the Sand
Really love snowboarding, but ready for a temperature change? We've got a solution for you: sandboarding. Cerro Negro is one of the many volcanoes in Nicaragua, but it offers the unique activity of sandboarding. That’s exactly what it sounds like. Take a snowboard and put it on this tropical climate on the side of a volcano. Sandboarding and sledding down Cerro Negro is possible thanks to the fine, black sand that covers the volcano’s gentle slopes. So trade in white powder for black, and strap in for a ride that's simultaneously new and recognizable. You’ll have a blast enjoying these familiar activities in an exotic landscape.
Nicaragua Quick Facts
110 V, same as US.
All U.S. citizens must have a valid passport when traveling to and from Nicaragua. The passport must be valid for a minimum of 6 months beyond the scheduled return date.
The rainy season provides lots of fresh water, but the water shortages are possible during the dry season. The tap water is drinkable but heavily chlorinated. Bottled water is recommended.
Mountain Standard Time (UTC/GMT -6 hours)
Peak travel times are during holidays, such as Christmas/New Years and Easter.
Tips & Transportation
Best Bookworm Nook: El Gato Negro
So you're in San Juan del Sur to surf, and you're looking for a place to curl up with a mug and a book. Grab your favorite collection of stories, and head to El Gato Negro Bookstore and Coffee House. This small, super cozy coffee shop is decorated with bright colors and an assortment of furniture that includes everything from tables and chairs to couches and hammock chairs. The kitchen serves up delicious java as well as breakfast and lunch fare. Tuck in to a plate of blueberry pancakes in the AM or a turkey sandwich in the PM. You can also find reading material online, since El Gato offers Internet access. But if you need to plug your electronics in, be prepared to pay a small fee, as electricity here is pretty expensive. If you forgot to bring a book, you can browse the selection and purchase one. So plop down into a seat with a cup of coffee and crack open your book. El Gato's chill atmosphere makes for an awesome morning.
Best Breakfast Joint: El Desayunazo
For a delicious breakfast in Leon, El Desayunazo is a sure bet. The restaurant excels at both English and Nica cuisine, and the wait staff is efficient and friendly. If you're feeling nostalgic for breakfast foods, try the pancakes or the English breakfast meal with eggs and bacon. The breakfast burrito is also well-liked by the restaurant's patrons. The coffee is delicious and bottomless. El Desayunazo closes at noon, and the restaurant is locally popular. So the seats fill up, and there may be a wait. Even if you're not usually an early riser, get up with enough time to eat here. You'll love the meal and the relaxing start to the day, and then you can always go take a nap with a full tummy. Thanks to tasty food and friendly, efficient service, El Desayunazo has become a go-to location for expats, tourists and locals.
Best Coffee and Customer Care: Libelula Coffee Shop
Also in Leon, this popular coffee shop gets a lot of rave reviews for excellent java, desserts and customer service. Located a little off the main drags and near Leon's Central Park, it is definitely worth the trip for a relaxing morning or afternoon. If you're a fan of lattes and cappuccinos, look no further. Libelula features an extensive coffee menu. There are even fun, frozen drinks for kids, in sweet flavors like caramel and Oreo. The shop also sells an assortment of pastries. The atmosphere is comfortable and friendly with courteous servers. This contributes to the laid back ambience that, along with the excellent coffee, lures in expats and locals day after day.
Best Place to Play Frisbees: Marsella Valley Nature Center
Located just five miles north of San Juan del Sur, Marsella Valley Nature Center offers a few different eco-attractions. Go for a nature walk on the nature center's trail, and immerse yourself in the diverse Nicaraguan ecosystem. You'll likely see an array of creatures such as monkeys, tropical birds and rare insects. As you walk through this environmental haven, you'll sense the habitat around you teeming with life. With so much diverse life, Marsella Valley is an exciting and awesome place to be. Marsella Valley Nature Center is also the site of Nicaragua's only frisbee golf course. Even if you've never played frisbee golf before, you should give this a try. First of all, you'll be playing frisbee golf in Nicaragua, and that's pretty cool. Secondly, the price is right at only $2.40 for 12 holes plus disks. So get out there to commune with nature and fling some frisbees.
Ometepe: Potential for Awesomeness
The Island of Ometepe is no secret. The volcanoes that comprise the island loom large on the horizon in Lake Nicaragua, and with daily ferries, hotels and activities, Ometepe is a well-recognized destination. However, the activities on the island itself are not always easily identifiable. So we're going to tell you about a couple of the coolest and most appreciated activities on this gorgeous island. Tours of the island are wonderful, and you have a couple of options. There are tour guides who live on Ometepe and know the island inside and out. They'll be able to point out all the finer points of the incredible natural beauty around you. There are horse back riding tours that go to dramatic waterfalls and personal guided tours from guides born and raised on Ometepe. Academics can check out Museum El Ceibo on Moyogalpa, while the fitness buffs can take kayak tours around the island.
Augusto C. Sandino International Airport (MGA) is located in Managua, Nicaragua's capital. The fifth busiest airport in Central America, MGA is an attractively designed airport that houses 11 gates with jetways and serves an even mix of US, Central American and Caribbean destinations.
Immigration & Customs
US citizens need a passport. All foreigners entering the country pay a tourist fee of $5.00 (USD). Each passenger or head of family will fill out a customs declaration form to declare baggage. A red light will flash on to let you know if your bag is to be checked. Or a green light will flash on if your bag will not be checked, and you can leave.
Getting to Your Hotel
Depending on your vacation objectives, consider either renting car or taking a taxi from the airport. If you want the freedom to roam Nicaragua's lush Pacific coast, rent a Jeep with 4-wheel drive and start exploring. If you're just going to beach bum it up, a taxi may be a more appropriate choice. In some cases, hotels provide transportation to and from the airport for their guests. The hotel representatives for these resorts are stationed near the luggage collection area.
Getting Around Nicaragua
Radio-dispatched taxis are available at MGA. Before entering a taxi, negotiate the price, ensure the taxi has a red license plate and check that the number on the back of the taxi is clear. Also, make sure the company name and logo are clearly visible. You can also arrange a limo or private charter. Though more expensive, these services often include a driver who meets you at arrivals. Public buses (often times reappropriated school buses) operate on routes between and in the major destinations. Some express buses travel between important urban centers and make fewer stops for a faster transit. The buses are more affordable, but not as efficient or comfortable as taxis or charters.