8 Best Places to visit in Nicaragua (and 24 Fun Things to do!)
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Nicaragua is filled with amazing places to visit. In this blog, we share the 8 best places to visit in Nicaragua that should be on everyone’s itinerary as well as some things to do in each destination and where to stay.
Nicaragua is my favorite country in Central America.
For one, the country is super easy to travel. With a clear and fun backpacking route of amazing places to visit, it’s an easy and stress-free place to explore. Chicken buses and cheap shuttles are available in every city, so, you’re never far from your next destination, which I loved.
Nicaragua’s also cheap, like really cheap. In fact, it’s one of Central America’s cheapest countries to travel. Food is dirt cheap and beers, well, let’s just say you won’t need to worry about what’s on your tab! Hostels and hotels also come at decent rates and there are plenty of options for every budget.
But unlike other countries in Central America, Nicaragua is actually much safer. The locals are friendly and crime rates are lower, especially in tourist destinations.
These three major travel components make Nicaragua an attractive place to visit and after visiting myself, I totally understand why.
I traveled much of the country and loved it. I explored many of the top places to visit in Nicaragua and loved every one of them for their own reasons. And in this blog, I’ll share the best places I visited in Nicaragua that should be part of your Nicaragua itinerary.
1. Isla de Ometepe
Isla de Ometepe is easily one of the most unique places to visit in Nicaragua. This small island is made up of not one, but two volcanos, and sits within Lake Nicaragua (Nicaragua’s largest lake.)
Funny enough, both of the volcanos that make up Isla de Ometepe are active, a fact that I was a little nervous about. The largest and most active volcano, Concepcion, last erupted in 2010, however, recent eruptions have been small.
Ometepe is home to a small local population who have called the island home for thousands of years. The people of Ometepe live in small villages around the island with the largest being Moyogalpa.
All ferries to the island land in Moyogalpa and it’s a popular place to stay for its convenience. However, there are much better places to stay in Ometepe, including Balgue, which is ideally located in the middle of the island.
Renting a motorbike or scooter is the easiest way to see the island and with limited traffic, it’s also really safe. I myself explored much of the island in one day, however I’d recommend coming for at least 3 to 4 days to truly appreciate its beauty!
Isla de Ometepe is safe, easy to explore and filled with friendly faces.
Things to do on Ometepe
Visit San Ramon Waterfall: San Ramon Waterfall was the most spectacular waterfall I visited in Nicaragua. At 45 meters high and surrounded by tropical jungle, it’s the perfect place to cool off. Although not the easiest waterfall to get to, the journey is worth it!
Ojo de Agua: Ojo de Agua is a small natural spring and the people of Ometepe believe it has healing powers. Although I am unsure if that’s true, it’s a beautiful place to relax and escape from the heat on Ometepe.
Hike Concepcion Volcano: The hardest, but also the best thing I did on Ometepe, was the hike to the summit of the Concepcion Volcano. This 8-hour hike takes everything you’ve got but the views from the top are out of this world! The hike must be done on a guided tour for safety reasons but if you love hiking, this is a must-do!
Visit Punta Maria Jesus: Punta Maria Jesus is Ometepe’s most popular sunset spot. This small point gives you a great vantage point on the island where you can see both volcanoes. It’s also a great place to swim during the day and easily visited from Moyogalpa.
For more info on the activities above and more, check out our full blog about the 13 best things to do on Ometepe.
Where to Stay on Ometepe
Hostel Life is Good: For those on a budget, Hostel Life is Good is one of the best options on the island. The hostel is located in Moyogalpa and offers a great social atmosphere as well as cheap food and drinks.
Totoco Eco-lodge: Totoco Eco-lodge is easily one of the best places to stay on Ometepe. This is where I stayed and I loved it! Located in the town of Balgue, the hotel has breathtaking views and a stunning infinity pool. It’s also ecofriendly and supports local schools and community projects.
Selvista Jungle House Volcano: There are some great Airbnb’s on Ometepe and Selvista is one of the best! This entire house is also located in Balgue and the main room is high in the treetops surrounded by nature. This is a very romantic place to stay!
2. San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur needs no introduction. It’s Nicaragua’s most popular and well-known beach town and easily one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua.
What I love so much about San Juan del Sur is the laid back lifestyle, small cafes, beautiful beaches, and fun atmosphere.
San Juan del Sur is a super popular surf location in Nicaragua with the most popular surf beaches being Playa Hermosa and Playa Maderas. At both beaches, you get consistent waves that every surfer loves.
The town is one of the most expensive in Nicaragua due to the large number of international visitors, however, it’s still cheap in my opinion. With plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops, San Juan del Sur is a great holiday destination in Nicaragua and you could easily spend weeks here. In fact, many travelers do get stuck here. Luckily it’s a great place to “get stuck”!
Things to do in San Juan del Sur
Learn to surf: For those who don’t already surf, San Juan del Sur provides a great opportunity to learn. Around town, there are plenty of surf schools who both rent surfboards and teach surfing. I personally did surf lessons in San Juan del Sur and loved them. Each lesson cost Bailey and I $25 USD for over an hour and included board rental and a shuttle to Playa Hermosa, a great surf break for learning.
For more info, check out our full blog about surfing in San Juan del Sur!
Sunday Funday Party: The Sunday Funday “pool crawl” is Central America’s biggest party. Over the day and night, you’ll visit five bars along with hundreds of other travelers. Of course, the party only happens on Sunday so make sure you’re there!
Watch the sunset (every night): The sunsets in San Juan del Sur are out of this world and there’s plenty of great places around town to watch them from. For me though, simply heading to the beach in town, grabbing a few beers along the way and parking up on the sand was enough. From here, you can watch the sunset over the water!
There are actually a lot more things to do in San Juan del Sur – read our blog for details on 15 fun activities and attractions around town!
Where to stay in San Juan del Sur
Casa Oro Eco Hostel: Casa Oro Hostel is the perfect place to stay in San Juan del Sur for anyone on a budget. The hostel has a central location, offers surfboard lessons and rentals, shuttles to all the beaches, and a restaurant and bar. You can book Casa Ora on Booking.com or Hostelworld.
Nuestra Casa: For a quiet, comfortable hotel that won’t break the bank, Nuestra Casa is a great option. The hotel has a small pool, great reviews, and is only a few blocks from the beach. You can’t ask for much more without choosing a luxury stay.
Hacienda & Ecolodge Morgan’s Rock: If you are after a luxury stay then you can’t beat this small boutique hotel. They specialize in bungalow’s some with private pools overlooking the ocean. Although located 7 kilometers out of San Juan del Sur, you’ll have an almost private beach all to yourself!
3. Apoyo Lake
If you’ve ever wanted to spend a few nights in the crater of a volcano then Apoyo Lake is likely going to be high on your list of places to check out in Nicaragua.
This unique crater lake is located only 20 minutes by taxi from Granada, which temps many people to simply visit for the day. But to me, the magic of Apoyo Lake happens after dark when the lake calms and the night sky above the crater lights up in an array of stars.
It’s also just a cool place to stay and one you can certainly brag to your friends about when you go home. During the day you can enjoy the lakes warm water by renting a kayak, paddleboard or simply go for a swim.
The Paradiso Hostel is a great place to go regardless if you’re coming for the day or night. The hostel offers a day pass for $7 USD that allows you to use their facilities from 9 am to 5 pm. Included in the price is the use of kayaks, ping pong, Wi-Fi, and more. During the day this hostel was really the place to be on the lake where lots of travelers were hanging out.
I’d recommend at least one night at Apoyo Lake. I personally stayed two and found it to be a great amount of time!
Things to do at Apoyo Lake
Mirador de Apoyo: To get the best vantage point of Laguna de Apoyo head to the Mirador de Apoyo (aka Mirador de Catarina.) Catarina is the name of the town on the rim of the volcano and at the viewpoint, you’ll get the best views of the lake. You can get a cab to the viewpoint or walk if you’re up for it.
Relax, relax, relax: Visiting Apoyo Lake is more about doing nothing than anything. It’s a relaxing place that is quiet and far from the hustle and bustle. So, take this time to relax and unwind as I did!
Kayak or paddleboard on the lake: Of course, if you do get the itch to get moving then head to the water for some kayaking or paddleboarding. The lake is dead calm and protected from the wind so it’s a great place for water activities.
Where to stay in Apoyo Lake
Paradiso Hostel: As mentioned above, you can’t go wrong with Paradiso Hostel. The rooms are clean, the food is good, and the place is super social. You’re bound to have a fun time here!
Casa Bella: For those wanting a more quiet stay but are still budget conscious, Casa Bella is a good choice. It’s located not far from Paradiso Hostel but in a more quiet area offering a more tranquil experience. The hotel’s reviews are also outstanding!
Apoyo Lodge: There aren’t many luxury stays at Laguna de Apoyo, however, Apoyo Lodge is one of the few. Located in a quiet area on the lake, this lodge is pure luxury. Also, breakfast and dinner are included in the room rate.
Leon is one of Nicaragua’s larger cities. For that reason, it can often get a bad rep. However, Leon is actually a very interesting and fun place to visit in Nicaragua.
Often Leon is one of the first or last places people visit as it sits close to the border with Honduras. For me, it was just that and after visiting Leon I headed off to cross the border from Nicaragua through Honduras and onto El Salvador.
But Leon wasn’t just a stop-off location and I actually fell in love with the city for a few reasons. Of course, the main one was the sheer amount of amazing things to do such as the super famous Cerro Negro Volcano boarding (that can’t be missed.) However, the other was the inner cities beauty and charm.
Not only did Leon offer plenty of social bars to have a drink, but also lots of cafes and restaurants. I spent my days wandering the colonial architecture stopping for lunch and coffee along the way. Then, at night headed to the bars for free salsa lessons and cheap beers.
Overall, Leon is a cool city to visit and one I’m sure you’ll enjoy while visiting Nicaragua!
Things to do in Leon
Cerro Negro Volcano Boarding: The Cerro Negro volcano boarding is not only one of the best things to do in Leon but in all of Nicaragua! In fact, I’d say it was my overall favorite activity I did during my trip. The tour has you sliding down an active volcano on a makeshift board having the time of your life. Its fun, dirty, and downright scary!
Visit the largest Cathedral in Central America: The Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the largest cathedral in Central America and it’s located in the heart of Leon. A visit is a must, but, be sure to climb onto the roof. From the top, you get amazing views of the town.
Party at ViaVia Leon Hostel: ViaVia Leon Hostel is the best place to enjoy a social drink with other travelers in Leon. The entire bottom floor of the hostel is actually a large bar and restaurant open to the public. Most nights they have live music as well as games and free salsa lessons. The beers are cheap, the food’s good, and the atmosphere is electric!
For more check out our guide to the best things to do in Leon, Nicaragua
Where to Stay in Leon
ViaVia Leon: ViaVia Leon isn’t just a great place to party. The hostel itself is centrally located, the rooms are spacious and there is a great social atmosphere. This is a great place to stay if you want to meet other travelers. You can book ViaVia on Booking.com and Hostelworld
Hotel Austria: In the medium budget range, Hotel Austria is a top choice. Great location close to the main cathedral, the reviews are outstanding, and the price for a private room with breakfast is cheaper than you’d expect!
Hotel El Convento: Hotel El Convento is a beautiful luxury hotel in the center of Leon. The grounds of the hotel are immaculate, the rooms spacious, and they also include a really good breakfast in the room rate.
Move over San Juan del Sur there’s a new surf town in Nicaragua that’s gaining popularity. Popoyo is a (very) small beach town located on the west coast around 2 hours from San Juan del Sur. The town was made popular by surfers just like San Juan del Sur, however, it’s nowhere near as big and the surf is better! Imagine San Juan del Sur 20 years ago – that’s Popoyo now!
For those who like to avoid the tourist hubs or want a little more adventure then heading to Popoyo is a must-visit destination in Nicaragua. The small town is home to some pretty good waves perfect for all levels, however, its most famous waves are only for the pros with waves up to 3 times overhead!
The town itself of Popoyo is tiny and you’ll only find a few hostels/hotels as wells as small shops. But if you ask me, that’s what gives Popoyo its attractive charm.
Many visitors come here for the day from San Juan del Sur. If you can, my recommendation is to come for a few nights, enjoy some beers, waves and have some off the beaten path fun!
Things to do in Popoyo
Learn to surf: Surfing the most popular thing to do in Popoyo. For beginners, head to one of the board rental shops to sign up for lessons. These range from 1 hour up to multi-day courses.
Salinas Hot Springs: Las Salinas is a natural hot spring located in Popoyo. Using naturally hot water there are three pools filled with spring water from beneath the ground. Although the smell is off-putting, the pools are great for your skin! The spring costs $3 USD to enter.
Swim at the Tidal Pools, Guasacate Beach: If you head to Guasacate Beach around low tide you’ll be welcomed with beautiful tidal pools. These are perfect for swimming and viewing a range of marine life. This activity is completely free too!
Where to Stay in Popoyo
Popoyo Surf Camp: If you came to surf and socialize then the Popoyo Surf Camp is the place to stay. I personally stayed here and loved it! They have a pool for the hot days you’re feeling lazy and offer really high-quality surf lessons. This was one of my favorite hostels in Central America. You can book on Booking.com or Hostelworld.
Casitas Pacific: Surprisingly, there are a lot of really good mid-range hotels in Popoyo. Out of them, Casitas Pacific stands out the most to me. Located right on the beach, the hotel offers a great bar, pizza restaurant, massages, and yoga. For the price, it’s one of the best value places in Popoyo.
Punta Teonoste: Located a few kilometers from town, Punta Teonoste offers a more luxurious stay on a quiet beach. The hotel has a beautiful oceanfront pool, great service, and amazing food. For those after a romantic and quiet stay, this is the place!
6. Corn Islands
The Corn Islands are Caribbean paradise just waiting to be explored. The two islands, Big Corn and Little Corn, are famous for pristine beaches, turquoise water, and that Caribbean lifestyle that sees you sipping coconuts, eating seafood, and catching up on some much-needed rest.
Big Corn is the larger island of the two (well duh?!) and on the island, you’ll find shops, roads, ATMs, and lots of hostels and hotels. Big Corn is also where the airport is and where you’ll land on your way here. Most people simply leave Big Corn right away and head for the smaller, less populated Little Corn.
Although I can agree that Little Corn is the nicer Island, spending a day or two on Big Corn is a great way to see how the locals live, and by the way, the beaches are just as nice!
Little Corn is still home to hotels and hostels, however, you won’t find any ATM’s on Little Corn nor are there any roads or cars for that matter. The island is only 2.9 square kilometers so everything is within walking distance.
Getting to the islands is easiest by plane from Managua with two flights per day. You can get a ferry to the islands but that’s very time-consuming. To be honest, there’s so much I could tell you about the Corn Islands, however, this guide to the Corn Islands says it all!
Although a little out of the way, the trip to the islands is worth every minute and penny. In my opinion, the Corn Islands are easily one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua.
Things to do on the Corn Islands
Scuba diving: The Corn Islands offer great scuba diving opportunities. Not only is the visibility amazing, but you can encounter interesting marine life such as hammerhead sharks and huge stingrays. There are specific hammerhead shark tours that take you to places they are known to visit or you can just do a standard dive to a reef around the island.
Beach hoping: You can walk the entire Little Corn in a few hours, so why not do it? Explore, visit beaches, stop at cafes. Just go and see where your day takes you, that’s what traveling is about!
Pamper yourself: The Corn Islands are a great place to enjoy some morning yoga or a massage. Most hotels offer these or you can find small shops around the islands. I actually left the Corn Islands refreshed and found my time there a holiday from my holiday!
Where to Stay on the Corn Islands
Dream Catcher: On Little Corn, accommodation is limited especially in the budget category. However, a great place to stay and where I stayed is at the Dream Catcher. The hotel is simple, clean, located right on the beach, and includes an amazing breakfast.
Little Corn Island Beach and Bungalow: If you have a higher budget then you really will enjoy your stay at Island Beach and Bungalow. The hotel is one of the luxury hotels on the island and you can expect beautiful rooms, great service, and a stunning location.
Famous for its well preserved colonial architecture and cute central plaza, Granada is my favorite city in Nicaragua. Wandering the main square, it’s easy to lose track of time between the small cafes and restaurants and beautiful palm trees. For just a second, you’d think you weren’t in a big city, but instead a small town.
Granada has become a huge part of the typical traveler route through Nicaragua, and for good reason! Not only is the center of the city stunningly beautiful, but, the city’s location can have you in almost all of the places on this list in just a few hours. For many, Granada is the perfect base to explore and enjoy all the best things to do in Nicaragua.
The center of the city is safe, home to lots of great bars, restaurants, museums, and historical monuments making the city the best place in Nicaragua to touch up on your history and learn more about Central America’s largest country.
However, Granada is also authentically Nicaraguan and a short stroll to the central market has you rubbing shoulders with locals in one of the country’s largest markets. For those mainly visiting towns like San Juan del Sur, this is a unique chance to see just how the majority Nicaraguans live.
Things to do in Granada
Visit the Masaya Volcano: Visiting the Masaya Volcano is easily one of the highlights of Granada. From Granada, you can join night tours to the volcano which have you staring into its lava core as it glows bright red in the night. The volcano is actually located in Masaya (more on that city below) but tours are very common from Granada. This is an amazing chance to see an active volcano’s core up close!
Climb the Cathedral of Granada: The Cathedral of Granada is a stunning cathedral in the main square of the city. Although you can simply take in its beauty from the outside, you simply must climb to the top to get breathtaking views of the city.
Explore the colonial architecture: While in Granada, be sure to take a walk around the city. Wander around and find small cute streets and explore the stunning colonial architecture. It’s amazing what you’ll find and just how beautiful the city is!
Where to Stay in Granada
Oasis Hostel: Having a pool in Granada is a huge bonus as the city can get very hot. For those on a budget, Oasis Hostel is the best hostel with a pool in the city. The hostel is affordable, centrally located, is a great place to meet other travelers. Plus, they have a range of rooms from dorms to privates. You can book on Booking.com and Hostelworld.
Hotel con Corazón: In the medium budget range there is a lot of great choices in Granada, however, Hotel con Corazón is a stand out favorite of mine. With a beautiful pool, included breakfast, large rooms and friendly staff, I really love this hotel that’s centrally located in Granada.
Hotel Plaza Colon: If you’re lucky enough to be a luxury traveler (I’m so jealous) then Hotel Plaza Colon is the best choice in the city. The hotel is located in the main square but after passing through the front doors you wouldn’t know it. With a beautiful pool, including breakfast and all the extras you’d expect from a top-rated hotel, Hotel Plaza Colon is perfect!
Masaya is a small city near Granada that offers a really unique experience in Nicaragua. Although most famous for the Masaya Volcano, the city’s handicraft markets are also a top attraction I wouldn’t miss in Nicaragua.
This craft market, Mercado de Artisanal, is one of the best places in the country to pick up a souvenir and much of the crafts are handmade goods. The city’s central market is also a really neat place to visit and like Granada’s, is really authentically Nicaraguan.
Unlike most of the places on this list, Masaya is best visited on a day trip or tour from Granada. Of course, you can stay in the city if you want, but, with a full day, you can really see the best things to do in the city and be satisfied you did it well.
Things to do in Masaya
Visit Mercado de Artisanal: As mentioned above, the artisanal market is one of the best places to pick up a souvenir in Nicaragua. The market is really colorful and the prices for goods are cheap.
Explore the Masaya Volcano: The main attraction in Masaya is the Masaya Volcano. You can tour the volcano during the day or night but for me, the night tour was a highlight. Staring into an active volcanic core was out of this world!
Before you go…
Nicaragua really is an adventure-lovers paradise filled with amazing places to visit and incredible things to do. From the south to the north you’re in for a real treat and this list of the best places to visit is the perfect place to start!
July 16, 2020