Nicaragua Travel Guide – Know before you go
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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. 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. Famous for sprawling beaches, huge volcanos, and a laid back lifestyle most could only dream of, Nicaragua is a must-visit!
During my visit, 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!
To help you prepare for a trip likely to be as memorable as mine, I’ve compiled all the things I learned about traveling Nicaragua in this one guide.
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
Visa and Entry Requirements
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! Travelers planning to enter Nicaragua will fall into one of the four categories below:
No visa required
European Union, Australia, Canada, USA, New Zealand citizens, as well as a huge list of other citizens, can enter Nicaragua with a valid passport for 90 days without a visa.
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.
Visa on arrival
Citizens of certain countries do not need to get a visa before coming to Nicaragua and instead are given one on arrival. This includes countries such as Colombia, Peru, most of Asia, and Africa.
The visa on arrival will cost $50 USD can be last for up to 90 days.
There is, however, a list of counties that do require a holiday visa in advance and these include China, India, 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 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, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
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.
A full list of countries that require/doesn’t require a visa can be found on this website.
Currency and ATMs in Nicaragua
The currency in Nicaragua is called the Cordoba. This currency is used throughout Nicaragua and for most locals, is the preferred currency.
With that said, 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 34 Cordoba.
Banks are widespread in Nicaragua. Banks can be used to transfer money or change currency in a safe and secure location.
Western Union is also available in Nicaragua, but 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 ATMs 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 ATMs as you need it and always keeping a small stash of USD for emergencies (broken ATMs, card malfunction or loss, 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, so it’s worth looking around or asking other travelers for advice.
Weather in Nicaragua
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, but 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!
Safety in Nicaragua
Nicaragua would have to be one of Central America’s safest countries. Thousands of tourists visit their 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 taxis. At most destinations, taxi drivers would straight out lie about bus times and their availability just 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 about specific destinations and travel routes check out our other posts on Nicaragua so you don’t get scammed!
Like all Latin American countries, general safety precautions should be taken in Nicaragua as well. Check out our blog on safety tips for more information!
What Things Cost in Nicaragua
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 your 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’re 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, basic kitchens were available to use.
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’s rather easy and cheap to travel around.
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 costs $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.
Surf lessons started from $10 USD an hour for group lessons and $15 for private.
Daily Budgets for Traveling Nicaragua
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.
$15-25 USD per day – This budget is quite tight, and in towns like San Juan del Sur, 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.
$23-$40 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 here and there, and go on some tours. However, I did have to use chicken buses and on many occasions, I cooked my own food.
$45-$60 USD 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 private rooms as a solo traveler.
Places to Visit in Nicaragua & Things to do
San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur is Nicaragua’s most visited town. This coastal gem is located on the southwest 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!
Things to do in San Juan del Sur
Learn to Surf – Surfing in San Juan del Sur is one of the best activities and one of the main reasons this small town has become so popular. There are lots of different surf beaches all around the coast providing waves for advanced surfers and beginners.
Sunday Funday Party – The Sunday Funday party is known as Nicaragua’s craziest party. On every Sunday, the party takes you to 5 bars over the day and night and thousands of travelers come for the event.
Join a yoga retreat – Surfing, partying, and yoga, those three activities seem to always be a hit at beach towns – and San Juan is no different! There are lots of yoga retreats as well as studios in San Juan del Sur and it’s the perfect place to learn!
For more, check out our things to do in San Juan del Sur blog!
Ometepe would have to be my favorite place in Nicaragua. This small island is made entirely of two giant volcanoes and is just waiting to be explored! With small towns and villages scattered around the island, the options of where to stay in Ometepe are practically endless.
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 all on Ometepe!
Things to do on Ometepe
Climb Conception Volcano – The hike to the summit of Conception Volcano is one of the hardest hikes I have done. The 8 hour trek took everything I had but the views at the top make it a must-do!
Visit San Ramon Waterfall – San Ramon Waterfall is a 45-meter high waterfall surrounded by stunning greenery. The pool at the bottom makes it the perfect place to cool off in the hot Nicaraguan jungle. San Ramon is the most beautiful waterfall in Nicaragua!
Cool off at Ojo de Agua – Ojo de Agua is a natural spring said to have healing properties. The pool is surrounded by jungle and taking a dip on your visit to Ometepe is a must!
For more ideas, check out our best things to do on Ometepe blog article!
The Corn Islands are two islands located in the Caribbean off 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!
Go scuba diving – With crystal clear water, colorful corals, and calm bays, the Corn Islands are the perfect place to go scuba diving. Even if you don’t have your scuba diving lisence, the Corn Islands are the perfect place to learn with PADI certified dive shops around the islands.
Relax at the beach – The beaches are the highlight of the Corn Islands – the sand is pearly white! Spending most of your days relaxing at the beach is a great way to enjoy the Corn Islands.
Get a massage – What better way to escape the sun than to retreat to a massage parlor. Across both islands you’ll find plenty of masseuses who can sort those sore muscles out for a great prices.
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.
Things to do in Leon
Go volcano boarding – Volcano boarding in Leon is one thing you simply can’t miss in Nicaragua! This awesome activity has you sliding down the side of an active volcano. The best thing is that you can go as fast, or as slow as you want, so this activity is definitely for everyone.
Visit the Cathedral-Basilica – The Cathedral Basilica is one of the largest cathedrals in Latin America. The inside is stunning but the true attraction is the roof. For a small entrance fee, you can wander the roof and enjoy the amazing views as well as the architecture!
Join the city’s free walking tour – With any big city the best way to get to know it is on a free walking tour. In Leon, these will not only sow you were things are, but also give you some background info on the city’s history. The best part is that it’ll only cost you a tip for the guide!
For more ideas, check out our blog about the best things to do in Leon, Nicaragua!
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 that has to be seen to be appreciated.
Things to do in Granada
Visit the Masaya Volcano – The most popular thing to do in Granada is visiting 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!
Take a day trip to Apoyo Lagoon – Apoyo Lagoon is a crater lake that formed inside a dormant volcano. On a day trip from Granada, you can explore the lake and enjoy a fun day out at the beach. There are also some great hostels (such as this one) on the water serving food, booze, and fun!
Climb the cathedral – The main cathedral in Granada is simply beautiful. However, the best views are from inside the Cathedral, so head on inside and climb the bell tower for an epic view through the round window (pictured above!)
For more ideas, check out our blog about the best things to do in Granada!
Before you go…
To me, Nicaragua was defiantly a highlight during my trip through Latin America. The amazing people, sights, and adventure activities had me loving every day. Nicaragua is truly a special place!
Tanks so much for reading our complete guide to Nicaragua. I really hope this travel blog has helped you plan your upcoming trip there. If you found this blog helpful then be sure to check out our other Nicaragua blogs or these related articles below!
October 23, 2020