Nicaragua Travel Guide – Know before you go
May 9, 2018
Nicaragua Travel guide
This is a complete Nicaragua travel guide that includes lots of relevant and helpful information such as the best time to visit, the top places to see, and amazing things to do in Nicaragua. In this Nicaragua blog, I also explain things like the CA-4 visa, how much things cost, and a few different budgets to accommodate all types of travelers!
Nicaragua is one of Central America’s most visited destinations. Safety and the fact that it is a cheap country to travel play a part in this; however, it is Nicaragua’s diverse and simply stunning attractions that bring people from all over the world.
From volcanoes to stunning beaches, Nicaragua never stopped blowing my mind. One minute I was surfing at a beautiful beach and the next I was hiking through rainforests spotting monkeys and searching for waterfalls. From the moment I crossed its southern border from Costa Rica, Nicaragua opened up its arms and drew me in. To put it simply, I was hooked!
In this Nicaragua travel guide, I dive into everything you need to know before you go and also how to have the most amazing experience you can imagine!
Topics included in this Nicaragua Travel Guide are:
- Visa and entry requirements for Nicaragua
- Currency and ATM’s
- Weather in Nicaragua
- Dangers and safety
- What things cost
- Daily budgets
- Places to visit
- Things to do
Of course getting into Nicaragua is the first step to having an amazing time there, and as such, it is the first topic of our Nicaragua Travel Guide!
No Visa Required
European Union, Australian, Canada, USA and New Zealand citizens can enter Nicaragua with a valid passport without a visa for up to 90 days. In fact, this is the case for most countries.
The entry fee for these countries not requiring a visa is $10 USD, paid at the border upon entry. You will need proof of onward travel and at least 6 months left until your passport expires.
If you wish to extend your stay you can do so by applying at any Nicaraguan immigration office or you could simply leave the country for 3 days and then re-enter with another 90 days. However, you cannot do a visa run to Honduras or El Salvador as they are part of the CA-4 agreement and instead you must head to Costa Rica if you plan to do your visa run by land.
The CA-4 agreement is an agreement between Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that allows free movement between the countries.
With this agreement, the 90 days you get in any one of these countries applies to all of them. Meaning that if you spend 30 days in Nicaragua then you only have 60 days left in Honduras, E Salvador and Guatemala on the CA-4 visa you got when you arrived.
Please note, that you will still need to pay entrance and exit fees to other CA-4 countries. In some countries like Guatemala, you can renew the 90 days in the country, however El Salvador and Nicaragua require you to leave the region altogether for a minimum of 3 days.
There is, however, a list of counties that do require a holiday visa in advance and these include China, Vietnam, Colombia, Peru and many more African and middle eastern nations. This visa can take between 4 to 6 weeks to process and are typically only granted for 30 days.
For countries that do need a visa, you will, in fact, get a visa to Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua when you apply. This is because of the agreement between the 4 countries (C-4 Agreement.)
Nicaragua does impose fines on tourists who overstay their visa, however, they are minimal. The fine is $8 USD and another $2 USD per day you overstay.
The currency in Nicaragua is called the Cordoba. This currency is used throughout Nicaragua and for most locals, is the preferred currency. However, the USD is also widely excepted and many international businesses like hostels and tour companies prefer it. This is largely due to the volatility of the Cordoba and Nicaragua’s lack of financial stability. At the time of writing this, 1 USD is worth 30 Cordoba.
Banks are widespread in Nicaragua. These banks can be used to transfer money or change currency in a safe and secure location.
Western Union is also available in Nicaragua, however, their fees are high and should only be used in an emergency. Western Union is also more likely to change over damaged USD bills but at a poor exchange rate.
Throughout Nicaragua, you can find many ATM’s without a hassle. The only exception to this is on the east coast where it is recommended to carry some emergency cash.
Eftpos (debit/credit card) is not widely excepted in Nicaragua and is only available at larger establishments. Most of these places charge a 5% surcharge (at least) to use credit or debit cards.
The best way to pay for things in Nicaragua is with cash. I recommend withdrawing Cordobas from ATM’s as you need it and always keeping a small stash of USD for emergencies (broken ATM’s, card malfunction or lost, etc.)
During my stay in Nicaragua, I did not find an ATM that would allow me to withdraw money for free with my Australian card. That said, I met travelers from the USA who were able to do so it’s worth looking around or asking other travelers for advice.
Nicaragua, like all Central American countries, has two distinct seasons, the wet and the dry season.
The wet season is during the northern hemisphere’s summer but tends to last a lot longer and is typically from June to October. During these months, Nicaragua is subject to torrential downpours; however, this is mostly in the later months of August, September, and October.
Heavy rainfall in Nicaragua can last for several days. October is by far the wettest month on Nicaragua’s west coast and August on the east coast. With this weather comes large swells from ocean currents – so this time is also a great time to surf!
The dry season is pretty much the rest of the year (November to May). During these months Nicaragua can receive little to no rain. During the later months of the dry season is when temperatures peak in Nicaragua and strangely enough the start of the dry season (December, January, and February) are the coolest months.
Nicaragua is subject to hurricanes. June to November is the official hurricane season, although they are most common from August to October.
During my stay, there were several warnings and just after my visit, large rains caused by these hurricanes produced flooding that damaged many popular tourist towns including San Juan del Sur. This is definitely something to think about when booking your trip.
The best time to visit Nicaragua
To most tourists, the best time for you to visit would be from December to April when the rains and humidity are low. During these months you can relax on the beaches and explore the countryside without the worry of hurricanes or torrential downpours.
If you like surfing then visiting during the wetter months is more likely to impress you as large swells that come from the south hit Nicaragua’s west coast!
Nicaragua would have to be one of Central America’s safest countries. Thousands of tourists visit its shores every day and most leave without any hassles. With that said, Nicaragua is not immune to petty theft, pickpocketing, and other scams.
Some of the most common scams I found during my visit were with taxies. At most destinations, taxi drivers would straight out lie about bus times and availability to get a fare. This seems obvious but I found this very prominent in Nicaragua as opposed to other countries in Latin America.
If you need information on specific destinations and travel routes check out our other posts on Nicaragua so you don’t get scammed!
Other than that, the only other thing worth mentioning is drugs. Drugs are common in Nicaragua, especially in towns like San Juan del Sur. Here, drug dealers wonder the streets offering out all sorts of drugs to tourists. In no way are drugs legal in Nicaragua and they are rather strict even with tourists. I am not here to tell you how to enjoy your holiday, but please be careful as there is no way to tell what you are taking!
Nicaragua is Central America’s poorest country and therefore is extremely cheap. You could argue all day about whether it is the cheapest or not, but one thing for sure, Nicaragua won’t break a backpacker budget!
The prices mentioned in this Nicaragua travel guide are averages from my time there.
A dorm bed at a hostel rages from $7-$11 USD depending on the city you are in. Typically speaking, accommodation in San Juan del Sur will be more expensive than say Granada. For a private room, you would expect to pay $20-$30 USD for a shared bathroom and $35 USD for a private bathroom. These prices are more inflated in San Juan del Sur where a private room will cost $50 USD and above.
Every place I stayed at included free wifi and many did offer a free continental breakfast. In most hostels, kitchens were available to use, however they were very basic!
Common street food like hamburgers, quesadillas, and hotdogs typically only cost around $1.5-$2 USD. At a local restaurant, you can get a meal for $3-$4 USD and this would include rice, beans, salad, and meat.
At a nicer restaurant in a touristic area, you would expect to pay $8+ USD for a nice local dish or pizza. Beers are really cheap and will only set you back around $1.50 for 1 liter at a local store.
Local markets are extremely cheap and buying fresh, local produce is a great way to save money and eat a little healthier.
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America but with a well-defined backpacker trail, it is rather easy and cheap to travel.
The local transport is known as “chicken buses”. This the cheapest way to go. These chicken buses are essentially just old school buses that run from town to town. They tend not to travel large distances, so it is often required to take more than one bus to reach your destination.
If you can stand the overcrowded, hot, chicken buses then you will save a ton of money. I found that a bus from one town to the next would only set me back $1 USD and that was a tourist price! To get from Granada to Leon it only cost $3 USD the whole way.
Another popular form of transport is shuttles. Though I never used these shuttles except to cross into El Salvador, they seemed very affordable and a lot more comfortable. Typically these shuttles cost around $10 USD. For reference, the shuttle from Granada to Leon was $14 USD compared to the $3 USD for the chicken bus.
Tours in Nicaragua are fairly priced in my opinion. I did not go on many tours, but I did do the most common one, the volcano Boarding in Leon. This tour is a half day tour and it costs around $50 USD. The company I did my tour with was called Tierra Tours. They charged $50 USD and that included lunch, a beer, and a shirt. They were a good company and I would have no problem recommending them to others.
Surf lessons started from $10 USD an hour for group lessons and $15 for private.
It is important to note that this is an average of all places in Nicaragua as some areas are more expensive than others. These budgets are for one person per day.
$15-20 USD per day– This budget is quite tight and in towns like San Juan del Sur and doesn’t leave much left over for food. This budget would require you to stay in the most budget of dorm rooms, cook your own food or eat cheap street food, catch only chicken buses, and skip all tours.
$25-$35 USD per day – This was my budget and a rather nice one for those who don’t mind the backpacker lifestyle. On this budget, I was able to occasionally stay in a private room (with Bailey), eat out at local restaurants, party, and go on some tours. However, I did have to use chicken buses and on many occasions, I cooked my own food.
$35-$50usd per day – On this budget, you could essentially eat out at nice restaurants most nights, take shuttles from city to city, stay in private rooms (with two people) and party. You could spend a lot more than this if you party every night and are staying in privates as a solo traveler.
San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur is Nicaragua’s most visited town. This coastal gem is located on the south-west coast and is famous for amazing surf, beautiful beaches, and a cracking nightlife!
San Juan del Sur is an extremely popular place to learn to surf and with many different surf schools in town, it’s not hard finding a place right for you! You simply cannot miss San Juan del Sur on your trip to Nicaragua!
Ometepe would have to be my favorite place in my Nicaragua travel guide. This small island that is made entirely of two giant volcanoes has something for everyone.
Whether you want to go waterfall hunting, hike a volcano, sip great coffee, relax at the natural pools, or just enjoy the amazing sunsets over the volcanos, you can do it in Ometepe!
The Corn Islands are two islands located in the Caribbean sea on Nicaragua’s east coast. The two islands, named Little Corn and Big Corn, are famous for beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear water.
Unfortunately, during my visit to Nicaragua, a hurricane was making its way through the Caribean and therefore, I had to cancel my plans to visit the Corn Islands. So please, if you went there, let me know how it was and if you have any amazing snaps I can use for this blog, comment below!
Leon is one of Nicaragua’s larger cities. Visited mainly by tourists for the Volcano boarding (which simply can’t be missed) this city can be a little underwhelming. However, exploring the city can still be a great time with many cool local bars, a beautiful white cathedral, and of course, the volcano boarding! Leon is definitely worth a mention in my Nicaragua Travel Guide.
Granada is a beautiful colonial town that is filled with busy markets selling everything from clothes to fresh local fruit and vegetables every day and night!
The town square is beautiful and is surrounded by well looked after colonial architecture. The main church is a must-see and climbing the church’s tower offers some pretty amazing views.
A popular attraction which draws people to Granada is the Masaya Volcano. The Masaya Volcano is an active volcano that glows red at night as hot lava swirls around its mouth. It is really cool!
Volcano Boarding in Leon
As far as unique things to do in Nicaragua go, volcano boarding would have to be number one!
Just outside of Leon is a dormant volcano called Cerro Negro. This volcano stands 750m high and has a steep 45-degree edge that makes for the best natural slide!
Once you make the 45-minute hike up with all your gear it’s time to let go and let gravity do its job. As crazy as it sounds, you can actually go as fast or slow as you want (so even if you’re a little scared, give it a go you won’t regret it!)
Located in the town of San Juan del Sur, the Sunday Funday party (pool crawl) is as crazy as parties get. Spread across 5 bars over the day and night this party is something anyone who enjoys letting there hair down cannot miss!
Hundreds of backpackers head to San Juan del Sur every Sunday just for the party. It’s a great way to meet people and have a great time!
Learn to Surf
Nicaragua is one of the best places in Latin America to learn to surf. With hundreds of locals who offer cheap surf lessons and several surf camps, it’s pretty easy to see why.
The most popular place to learn is San Juan del Sur and this is because of the variety of waves. At one beach huge swells challenge even the most experienced and at others, smaller swells mean the perfect place for newbies to learn.
Visit the Masaya Volcano
The Masaya Volcano offers a rare and interesting perspective of an active volcano. At this volcano, you can literally stare into its molten core and watch lava flow through its red center.
The best way to see the Masaya Volcano is during the night as the lava is more pronounced in the dark.
San Ramon Waterfall Ometepe
Of course, Ometepe is in your travel plans but is the San Ramon Waterfall? If not, then you should add this stunning place to your list now!
The San Ramon Waterfall is over 45m high and is located deep in the jungle on the side of Volcano Mader Ometepe Island. By no means is this waterfall easy to get to but it sure is worth it!
Walk on the rooftop of Basilica Catedral de la Asuncion
Located in the center of Leon is a white Cathedral called Basilica Catedral de la Asuncion. This cathedral is pearl white and is beautiful both outside and in.
Surprisingly, the best place to enjoy the cathedral is on the rooftop! During the day it is possible (for a small fee) to wander around the rooftop and take in some amazing views and architecture. It is a rare experience being allowed onto a church roof so this just had to make it in our Nicaragua Travel Guide.
Ride a chicken bus
There is no more authentic, local experience than riding a chicken bus. These local buses pack out with people (and sometimes animals) as they head from town to town. They are filled with locals and have so much character.
I must tell you now that they can smell, they are hot and sometimes you won’t get a seat but you must do it at least once. This may not seem like your typical thing to do, but it’s totally worth it just for the story!
To me, Nicaragua was defiantly a highlight during my trip through Latina America. The amazing people, sites, and adventure activities had me loving every day. Nicaragua is truly a special place!
I hope you have enjoyed reading this Nicaragua Travel Guide and it has helped you plan your trip! If you have any other experiences or places you think we missed then please don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments. We are always working on improving our guides so travelers have the best experiences!