Backpacking Nicaragua 2019: Budget Itineraries & Much More!

We were lucky enough to spend 3 weeks backpacking Nicaragua and absolutely fell in love with this incredible country. Here's everything you need to know about planning your own visit.
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Our Experience Backpacking Nicaragua

In 2019 we were fortunate to spend more than 3 weeks backpacking Nicaragua.

And what an incredible 3 weeks it was!

It’s such a diverse country and easily one of our favourite places to go backpacking in Central America.

Incorrect media coverage often paints Nicaragua as an unsafe and unstable country to visit, which really has dampened tourism.

Fears about whether it is safe to backpack Nicaragua have led to a massive downturn in tourism, and we really noticed it when we were there.

Hotels were very rarely half full and streets in the busy cities seemed empty of tourists.

Which is such a shame!

Below, we will dig a bit more deeply into safety in Nicaragua and how to ensure you don't run into trouble (which you really shouldn’t have to worry about!)

And before you visit, there are tonnes of other things to know about Nicaragua.

Such as where are the best places to travel, when to go, how much to budget and much (MUCH) more.

So hopefully this full throttle Backpacking Nicaragua travel guide will provide you with answers to all of your questions and queries and help you to plan the ideal Nicaragua itinerary for your trip.

First up ...

Quick Things To Learn About Nicaragua

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Currency

The national currency is the Cordoba, however the US Dollar is accepted universally as well. In general, we found it slightly cheaper to use the Cordoba.

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Tipping

It is customary to tip 10% in Nicaragua.

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Sim Cards

There are a few companies offering Sim cards to tourists in Nicaragua. Movistar and Claro are the 2 biggest and most popular. You can buy them in kiosks in many of Nicaragua’s biggest cities.

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Religion

By far the dominant religion in Nicaragua is Christianity. With most of those being Roman Catholic.

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Partying

There are a few places to party across Nicaragua, the best ones we found being San Juan del Sur and Granada. In San Juan del Sur, on certain Sundays each month, they do a massive bar crawl where dozens of people pay a fixed amount and then you get access to a number of hostels that have pools and free shots. In Granada on a Saturday night, the partying is best at the Selina.

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History

The Spanish first came to Nicargaua in the early 1500’s and from then onwards divided up the land and ruled it as a colony. Nicaragua gained full independence from the Spanish about 500 years later in 1838. Throughout the 1900s, Nicaragua had quite a tumultuous rule, marked by a series of high-level political assassinations and devastating earthquakes that did not help matters. The 2000s have seen their fair share of civil unrest with the majority of the population living in relative poverty. There has been a lot of media attention about the ongoing political divide in Nicaragua which reached a pinnacle in 2017/2018 but that has now subsided.

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Language

90%+ of the Nicaraguan population speak Spanish. In most tourist areas, the people you meet will speak English, or at least to a certain extent.

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Power Sockets

They use type A and type B, so US appliances work fine.

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Malaria Risk

Nicaragua has a relatively low risk of Malaria, but it does depend on when you visit and which regions you travel to. It’s best to consult a travel nurse for better advice.

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ATMs

We had no trouble finding working ATMs all across Nicaragua. What’s better is that you don’t need to pay any fees to withdraw. We tried to use BAC wherever possible and had no issues with it. I recommend picking up a travel card before you visit, so that you avoid all fees and get the best exchange rates, such as with Revolut or Monzo.

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Safety

In our experience, Nicaragua is incredibly safe for backpacking. We stuck to the popular backpacking spots and used tourist buses/transfers or taxis to get around. We never saw any violence or hostility from locals, and found them to be incredibly friendly and encouraging of tourists. There has been a lot of false news spread about the instability in Nicaragua. This may have been the case in 2017 and 2018, but it was not there when we visited in 2019.

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Travel vaccines

Beyond routine vaccinations necessary for all travel, such as MMR and Chickenpox, before travelling to Nicaragua you should get Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid and Rabies. It is best to speak to your doctor or travel nurse to discuss what you need in more depth.

Best places to visit In Nicaragua

The majority of the best places in Nicaragua for tourists are on the Southern side of the country, below lake Lago Cocibolca.

Why is this?

Well, largely because there is a strip of 27 volcanos that run in a line all along this region.

Many of Nicaragua’s biggest cities were founded around these areas and nowadays they are popular for both farming and tourism.

On the northern side of the country, there are a few popular spots as well.

So, to help you in planning your nicaragua itinerary here’s a rundown of the best places to see.

Leon

If you’re entering from Honduras then there’s a good chance that the first major city you will come across is Leon.

It lies about an hour from the coast and is a great base for exploring a number of interesting sites nearby.

Such as Cero Negro where you can go volcano surfing. Don’t worry, I discuss that in more detail below as one of the best things to do in Nicaragua.

The city itself has a large array of hostels, hotels, restaurants and bars.

You’ll also find a bunch of tour agencies where you can find about things to do in and around Leon, as well as arrange transport onwards to your next destination.

With its cobbled streets and Spanish-style architecture, it almost feels like you’ve stepped into Europe when you visit Leon.

Read Also: 12 Brilliant Things To Do In Leon (Nicaragua): Complete Guide

San Juan del Sur

San Juan del Sur is easily one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua.

It’s a small town located right on the coast, about an hour south of Ometepe.

Here, you will find tonnes to do, and it’s a very popular spot for both yoga and surf retreats.

We ended up staying near to San Juan del Sur for more than a week, discovering a number of beaches in and around the area.

If you want to relax and unwind for a few days or more, then San Juan is a great place to do exactly that!

You’ll also find a number of hostels, bars and restaurants all throughout town, with many right on the beach.

So if you’re looking to drink or even party, then San Juan del Sur is a great place to do it.

On many Sundays, they also organise a massive hostel/bar crawl which is a surefire way to meet tonnes of travellers and get as drunk as you want for very cheap!

Read Also: 9 Brilliant Things To Do In San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

Ometepe

Ometepe is an island located just offshore from Rivas, in the middle of Nicaragua.

It’s surrounded by a large freshwater lake called Lago Cocibolca.

I highly recommend you visit here and it was perhaps my favorite place to visit in Nicaragua.

Why?

Well, it’s basically an island paradise which feels a world away from the busy nature of many of Central America’s other most popular tourist spots.

To get there, you take a short ferry from a place called San Jorge.

Tickets cost just $3 and the journey takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.

As a foreign tourist, you should also expect to pay a small fee of around a dollar before you board your ferry over to the island.

On the island, there are a number of hotels to choose from, many based quite close to the port and other further inland nearer the volcanoes.

We chose to stay near to the port in a place called Hospedaje Siero.

It was actually really cool and I would highly recommend it; though the rooms are basic, they are clean and the staff are really friendly.

Best of all, there is a big open field in front of the homestay, and every day a few dozen locals get together to play baseball. It’s a great place to chill with a beer and unwind while watching them all play.

From here, we hired a moped for the day, which was plenty of time to head out around the entire island and see all of the popular sites.

Perhaps the best thing to do in Ometepe, aside from renting a moped, is to head to Punta Jesus Maria for the sunset, which is truly spectacular on a clear day.

Read Also: The Ultimate Guide To Visiting Ometepe, Nicaragua

Granada

Granada is another one of Nicaragua’s busy colonial cities, complete with cobbled streets and Spanish-style architecture.

It’s a popular backpacking spot as you can arrange a number of day tours taking you the regions most spectacular volcanoes and lagoons.

Many of the best things to do in Nicaragua can be found in and around Granada, and I discuss these in much greater depth below.

But just being in the city is a treat enough as it is.

In the main square you’ll find a large church, with vendors outside selling food and drinks underneath the trees.

There are also a bunch of locals selling souvenirs and other typical tourist junk.

Just down form there is a long strip with a few dozen restaurants, most of which have outdoor seating.

They are all incredibly cheap and offer happy hour drink deals that seem to last all day!

If you visit on a Saturday during football season, then you’ll find hundreds of locals out getting drunk all day!

We were there when Real Madrid were playing Barcelona and there was a great atmosphere all along the strip with many of the restaurants playing the matches outside.

You will also find tonnes of tour agencies offering local experiences and tickets for onward travel.

Read Also: 18 Fantastic Things To Do In Granada, Nicaragua

Other great places to visit in Nicaragua

  • Managua - Managua is Nicaragua’s capital city. We only had chance to stay there for one night as we had a 12 hour bus ride early the next morning. As such, we didn’t get to see much, aside from TGI Friday’s! There isn’t a whole bunch to see and do there, and it is certainly a lot busier and more built up than many of the other places to visit in Nicaragua.
  • Rivas - Rivas is a small town located close to the ferry terminal before you head over to Ometepe. There are a few things to do in Rivas, but not enough for us to deem it worth staying there a night.
  • Bluefields - Bluefields lies on the southeast coast of Nicaragua. If you choose to backpack this part of Nicaragua, then you will find a few things to do, including visiting museums, churches and beaches. It’s also possible to arrange tours into the Caribbean from here.
  • Corn Islands - The Corn Islands are 2 islands that lie off the eastern coast of Nicaragua. They are roughly 70km away and can easily be reached by boat. These islands are perhaps the places to visit in Nicaragua that we were most gutted about not visiting. You can stay on each island for a few days, and discover just how beautiful and relatively untouched they are compared to many other islands in the Caribbean.
  • Somoto - Somoto is quickly becoming one of Nicaragua’s more popular backpacking destinations. And for one main reason … Somoto Canyon. This giant canyon covers an area of around 170 hectares and is a great spot to visit, due to the breathtaking natural beauty of both the cliffs and the flowing river.
  • El Transito - Located on the east coast of Nicaragua, roughly halfway between Leon and Managua, El Transito is a popular spot to go surfing in Nicaragua. We chose not to visit as we had plenty of time for surfing scheduled in San Juan del Sur.
  • La Boquita - La Boquita is another popular surfing spot in Nicaragua. If you are keen to do lots of surfing, then you could spend weeks just backpacking Nicaragua’s eastern coast, and stopping off at spots like El Transito, La Boquita and San Juan del Sur.
  • Masaya - We visited a few of Masaya’s most popular spots, most notably the Masaya Volcano, as a part of an evening tour from Granada. You can choose to stay here if you like, or just do day trips as it is only half an hour away.

Our 10 favourite things to do in Nicaragua

There are tonnes of things to do in Nicaragua, and it’s a great place to visit for people of all ages!

But in particular, it’s the perfect place to visit if you are into nature and seeing volcanoes.

Here’s a quick rundown of what we believe to be the 10 best things to do when backpacking Nicaragua.

1. Go volcano boarding!

“What, what?! You can go volcano boarding!?”

Hell yeah you can!

If you decide to stop off in Leon, which you definitely should, then the best activity to do there is to go volcano boarding.

It’s a day tour that costs around $25 and which takes you to the famous Cerro Negro volcano.

It’s unique in that it is covered entirely in black ash, and is the only place in the world you can go boarding.

You hike up to the top with your wooden board and then get kitted out in overalls and gloves to protect your skin and clothes.

You then ride all the way down, reaching some pretty decent speeds if you get your technique just right.

It’s a really cool experience and easily the most adventurous and adrenaline-pumping Nicaragua tourist attraction.

2. Relax by Apoyo Lagoon

Apoyo Lagoon is an epic lagoon that lies in the heart of a now-dormant volcano. It is halfway between Managua and Granada and is a popular spot for day tours.

The most popular being a tour that drops you off at Paradiso Hostel for the day.

The hostel has its own private beach, as well as kayaks, paddleboards, beach bar and even a pool table.

You can swim in the lake, relax on the beach and unwind with a cocktail if you wish.

We really loved Apoyo Lagoon and would highly recommend it as one of the best things to do in Nicaragua.

However, my biggest piece of advice would be not to book a day tour there with an agency.

They will quote you roughly $25 per person, which turns out to be a massive rip-off.

Instead, it costs just $10 per person if you arrange in direct with the hostel.

The tour providers are simply taking a big cut for transporting you there and back, and then paying the entrance fee to the hostel.

To book a space, it’s best to message them on Facebook.

3. Learn to surf

One of the top things to do when backpacking Nicaragua is to take time to learn to surf.

Or, of course, hone your already radical surfing skills.

In the section above on best places to visit in Nicaragua, I listed San Juan del Sur, El Tránsito and La Boquita as 3 of the top destinations for surfing.

However, there are likely plenty more to choose from.

We ended up spending 10 days in San Juan del Sur, and stayed with two surf camps/retreats when there.

These are Rapture Surf Camps and Costa Dulce.

Rapture is ideal for beginner surfers who are young and looking to party as well as learn to surf. They offer free yoga lessons every day and the team is really cool.

Costa Dulce also offers yoga and surfing packages, but is much more of a health retreat.

We really loved Costa Dulce, as it is much more secluded and the accommodation and food is literally out of this world.

You won’t have much chance for partying at Costa Dulce, but instead you use it as a time to relax and unwind, as well as learning to surf if that’s what you’re into.

Alternatively, you can just stay in a cheap dorm or hotel in San Juan del Sur and then take day trips to the numerous surf locations located up and down the coast from the town.

This would be your cheapest option.

4. Go on a yoga retreat

Following on nicely from this, you could instead use your time in Nicaragua as a time to escape the hectic nature of day to day life with a yoga retreat.

Costa Dulce is the best place we found for yoga retreats in Nicaragua as their secluded nature and modern, clean amenities make it really comfortable and beautiful.

They have their own private beach and rooms are open to nature.

But of course, there are plenty of other yoga retreats in Nicaragua to choose form if you don’t  plan on visiting San Juan del Sur.

Many offer packages including yoga, pilates, food and other activities which will help you to escape and rejuvenate.

Good sites to help find such retreats include ...

5. Enjoy the incredible sunsets

Easily one of the most enjoyable things to do in Nicaragua is to take time as often as possible to watch the sunset.

All throughout the country, there are awesome sunsets every night, especially along the coast and on Ometepe island.

Probably our favourite sunset in Nicaragua was at Punta Jesus Maria in Ometepe.

This is a spit of beach that sticks out from the mainland and is surrounded the lake on either side.

As long as it’s a clear night, which it was for us, then you get to enjoy unblemished views of the sun setting over the horizon, with the volcanoes to your back.

There is also a cool little bar there, so you can grab a beer or a cocktail as you enjoy the setting sun.

Our favourite sunset spots in Nicaragua include ...

  • Punta Jesus Maria (Ometepe)
  • The main beach in San Juan del Sur
  • The scenic view point at Costa Dulce (Playa Escameca)

6. Look into an active lava-filled volcano!

Masaya volcano should be on everyone’s Nicaragua to-do list.

Why?

Well, it’s one of the few places in the world that you can stare down into an active volcano and see bubbling magma!

Also, it’s probably one of the safest and easiest to reach as you don’t need to hike up it.

Instead, it’s possible to drive there or take a cheap tour from places like Massaya, Granada or Managua.

It’s best to head up around sunset time, as the magma is most easily visible in the dark.

That way, you can then park up at the top, enjoy the sunset and then stare down into the abyss, watching the magma bubble away just 50 or so metres away from you.

7. Ride a moped across Ometepe

I have often said that riding a moped is one of the best things to do anywhere in the world.

In Asian countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Bali, we tend to rent a moped at almost every place and use it to get around.

Unfortunately, moped rental isn’t as easy to come across in most of Central America, so it is a novel opportunity if you get the chance.

Well, riding a moped all around Ometepe ended up being one of my favourite experiences from Nicaragua.

They’re easy to rent and loads of people do it.

Probably because they have pretty good roads there and there isn’t very much traffic.

Also, it’s the best way to get around and see all of the cool sights which are spread out across the island.

Planning a route around Ometepe is also very easy, as there is only one main road leading around!

For help planning an itinerary, you should check out this in-depth guide Cazzy wrote on visiting Ometepe.

8. Swim in Lago Cocibolca

As a part of your journey around Ometepe, make sure you take time to go for a swim in the lake.

On the section of land connecting the two volcanoes, there is a strip of homestays and restaurants that have immediate access to the beach.

We rocked up to one restaurant and found ourselves to be the only people there!

I went for a swim in the sea and came out to enjoy a cheap and tasty meal.

It’s strange in a way, because there is nothing but water for miles in front, it feels like you are at the beach.

However, the water is all freshwater, so you aren’t left with that annoying sticky feeling you get after swimming in seawater.

It really was perfection!

9. Discover the colonial cities

If you are a big fan of colonial cities in Europe, which we are, then you will feel right at home in Nicaragua.

Leon and Granada are both wonderfully designed, complete with cobbled streets and old-fashioned colonial designs for the buildings.

It felt at times as if we’d been transported back to Turin in Italy.

10. Take a coffee tour

Okay, I’m going to make a statement here that has taken a lot of thought and discussion between me and Cazzy, but I think we are finally ready to admit this …

Nicaragua has the best coffee anywhere in the world!

We are big fans of coffee, especially Cazzy, and have been lucky enough to try coffee freshly grown in almost all of the most popular coffee-growing countries.

This includes the likes of Guatemala, Vietnam, Colombia, Peru and many more.

Well, we’ve concluded that Nicaraguan coffee is by far the best, Indeed, Nicaragua is famous for its great-tasting coffee beyond just our taste buds, however you may not agree seeing as coffee is a very personal thing.

Either way because it’s so good, Nicaragua is perhaps one of the best places in Central America to go on a coffee tour and learn how it is made.

It gives you a much better appreciation of how coffee is painstakingly grown and roasted, and how you can identify good and bad coffee.

Choosing your Nicaragua itinerary

In my opinion, what helps make Nicaragua such a great country to backpack is that it’s so easy to design an itinerary.

If you have just a week or two, then you can stick to the south western side of the country, below Ometepe.

Here, you’ll find everything you could wish to experience from the country, as well as great transport links between destinations.

Best of all, the trips between each destination shouldn’t take more than a few hours; which means no sickly 12 hour bus journeys!

If you wish to experience the whole country, and visit areas on the north-western side of the island, then you could squeeze this in within just two weeks, but your itinerary would be full.

But if you have 3 or 4 weeks to spend, then that’s tonnes of time to see everything and more!

So here goes. To help you plan your ideal Nicaragua backpacking route, I’ve put together some itineraries ranging from 1 week right up to 4 weeks.

1 Week Nicaragua Itinerary ideas

Leon (3 nights) > Ometepe (2 nights) > Granada (2 nights)

  • This quick 7 night itinerary will give you enough time to see 3 of Nicaragua’s best places to visit, and will mean you have plenty to do every day.
  • By ending in Granada you are then close to the capital if you choose to get a bus or flight to your next destination (or back home).

San Juan del Sur (5 nights) > Ometepe (2 nights)

  • We met a lot of people at the surf camps in San Juan del Sur who were spending 5-7 days exclusively in San Juan del Sur at a surf camp or yoga retreat. But before leaving to fly home, most were taking a day or two to spend exploring Ometepe. It really is a lovely and unique place, and is just an hour drive and a short boat ride away.

Managua (1 night) > Bluefields (1 night) > Corn Islands (5 nights)

  • If you are interested in visiting Nicaragua just to relax and chill, then the Corn Islands won’t disappoint!
  • They are literally like paradise, with many people choosing to visit up to 2 weeks just on these 2 islands.
  • I can’t say exactly how long to spend on each one, but here’s an interesting forum discussion which might help you decide.

2 Week Nicaragua Itinerary ideas

Leon (2 nights) > San Juan del Sur (1 night) > Retreat (5 nights) > Ometepe (3 nights) > Granada (3 nights)

  • This is a rough outline of the route we took through Nicaragua.
  • We actually spent a little over 2 weeks, but that’s because we spent a couple days in San Juan del Sur not doing much except working.
  • In my opinion, this route gives you a great mix of Nicaragua’s best sites, including volcano hiking opportunities, the chance to surf and time spent relaxing and unwinding.

Somoto (2 nights) > Leon (3 nights) > Masaya (3 nights) > Managua (1 night) > Bluefields (1 night) > Corn Islands (4 nights)

  • If you want to visit the Corn Islands when backpacking Nicaragua, then this version of a route means you skip San Juan del Sur and Ometepe for the relaxation of the beautiful Caribbean islands.
  • But it still allows you the chance to take part in many of Nicaragua’s best volcano trips.

Leon (3 nights) > El Transito (3 nights) > La Boquita (3 nights) > San Juan del Sur (5 nights)

  • This chilled out route through Nicaragua is great for those of you looking to make the most of many of the country’s top surf spots.

3 Week Nicaragua Itinerary ideas

Somoto (2 nights) > Leon (2 nights) > El Transito (2 nights) > La Boquita (2 nights) > San Juan del Sur (3 nights) > Ometepe (3 nights) > Granada (2 nights) > Managua (1 nights) > Bluefields (1 night) > Corn Islands (3 nights)

  • This route gives you plenty of time to spend a couple nights at most of Nicaragua’s most popular tourist sites.
  • If you’re not interested in surfing, you could even cut out La Boquita and El Transito and instead spend a few more nights on the Corn Islands.

4 Week Nicaragua Itinerary ideas

For a 4 week itinerary, you have plenty of time to fit in all of the major places to visit in Nicaragua.

My advice would be to use the 3 week itinerary above, and add in a few extra nights whenever suits you best.

This could include:

  • More nights spent at surfing spots along the coast, such as El Transito, La Boquita and San Juan del Sur.
  • A 7 night surf or yoga retreat in San Juan del Sur.
  • A few extra days relaxing on Ometepe or the Corn Islands.

Top tips for planning your backpacking route through Nicaragua

As you can see, there’s an almost endless array of itineraries to choose from for Nicaragua.

Those above are merely suggestions, and by no means your only options.

Instead, use them as mere bases from which to craft an entirely unique route based on what you most want to see.

Here are a few of my top tips & things to bear in mind when planning your Nicaragua travel itinerary:

  • In my opinion, Granada and Massaya are almost interchangeable - If you are strapped for time, then it’s not worth staying in both. This is because many of the best things to do in Granada area day trips to places in or near to Massaya, such as the volcano or Apoyo Lagoon. With that being said, if you do choose to stay in Massaya, then a day trip to Granada can still be very nice, as it’s a wonderful place to explore for a few hours.
  • It’s a good idea to spend at least 2 or 3 days in each place - This is important for if you plan on spending just 1 week backpacking Nicaragua. Rather than trying to cram in 4 or 5 places, instead, you're better off sticking to just 2 or 3 locations, and enjoy them to the max.
  • Be realistic with transport - Getting from the south to the north side of the country is actually quite tricky and a long bus ride. So don’t try to include both sides if you only have a week or so to spare. Instead, if you want to cover both sides of the country, then I’d suggest spending at least 2 weeks, ideally 3 or more, in Nicaragua.
  • I probably wouldn’t choose to stay in Rivas - If there is anything you particularly wish to see there, then it could probably done when passing through.
  • Check your seasons - This is particularly important if you plan on surfing in Nicaragua. Though they do get surf all year round, the end of March up until September is the best period to find consistent and decent waves. I can confirm this as, when we visited in late February/early March, the surf was small on a lot of days.

When is the best time to visit Nicaragua?

Nicaragua’s climate can be broken up into 3 main periods. These are …

  • November - April: This is officially Nicaragua’s dry season. Though you will still experience showers every now and then, you can usually can guarantee you will have great weather for most of your time here. We visited in February and had great weather all throughout our stay. Temperatures increase steadily from November through until April. Temperatures then tend to peak around April/May.
  • May - June: Though May through till June is officially the start of the rainy season, it’s still avery popular time to visit Nicaragua. It makes for ideal snorkelling and bird watching weather, so long as you are happy with heavy rain showers every now and then. From further research, apparently most of the rain in this time happens either overnight or in the afternoon, so morning’s are the best time to get out and do your sightseeing.
  • July - October: This is Nicaragua’s rainy season, where the weather can get pretty intense. Apparently, heavy storms can affect road and travel conditions so makes backpacking harder.

Busiest tourist periods in Nicaragua:

As you might imagine, the start of the year is the most popular time for tourists heading to Nicaragua.

This is because temperatures aren’t yet too hot, whilst you can bet on usually pretty calm weather.

However, from everyone we spoke to in Nicaragua, tourism in Nicaragua is down all throughout the year.

Their unstable political situation from the previous couple of years has severely dampened the industry as far fewer people are choosing to visit.

What this means is that, regardless of which time you choose to visit, then you shouldn’t find it too busy.

We were there in February 2019 and we had cheap access to hotels and resorts at all places.

Hopefully, in the next few years, tourist numbers should pick up again.

Backpacking Nicaragua: Sorting your Nicaraguan visa

You’ll be pleased to hear that entering Nicaragua if you’re a UK or Irish citizen isn’t complicated at all.

This is because Nicaragua is part of the C4-4 Visa agreement between 4 awesome countries in Central America.

This includes, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

What this means is that you can travel visa free between the four countries for up to 90 days (3 months).

You can leave and re-enter the countries listed above as many times as you want within that time period.

It’s important to avoid confusion. This agreement does NOT mean you get 90 days in each individual country. You get 90 days across all 4 countries.

Overstaying your visa can lead to large fines and then some…

This does mean that you might not get a stamp on your passport for some countries. For us, we didn’t get stamped in or out of Nicaragua, or El Salvador.

I kind of wish we did get those stamps since we are collecting them, but, ah well!

The C4-4 agreement applies to all those within the EU, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Japan, Israel and New Zealand.

If you’re from the US and wanting to visit Nicaragua, you can do so visa free. When you’re at the airport you get a “tourist card” that entitles you 90 days in Nicaragua.

Your passport needs to have 6 months validity and you need proof of onward travel.

For all other nationalities, simply check your government website for information on your entry requirements for Nicaragua.  

Bear in mind that, when you enter Nicaragua either by land or air, they will scan all your baggage.

With regards to entrance and exit fees with Nicaragua, it can often feel confusing. With us, we had to pay extra fees for entry on top of our ticket into the country via bus.

It’s about a $10 entrance fee and a $3 exit fee...this will change daily!

How Do You Get To Nicaragua?

Getting to Nicaragua isn’t particularly hard, here are the 2 most popular modes of entry.

Flying to Nicaragua

Nicaragua has an international airport in its capital: Managua. You can get international flights from the USA, Canada and beyond. Most of these flights are not direct and will require a stopover.

Flying internally within Nicaragua, or even within Central America from Nicaragua is crazy expensive. It’s not worth the money, especially if you are on a budget backpacking Nicaragua.

But, if you are interested in flights, we recommend using Skyscanner to find the best prices on the web!

Getting a bus to Nicaragua

This is what we chose to do, and is a great choice if you are backpacking your way throughout Central America.

It’s possible to get buses into a few different spots in Nicaragua.

For example, we took the bus all the way from San Salvador (the capital of El Salvador) through to Leon.

It cost us $45 for the full trip and took roughly 12 hours in total.

Getting around Nicaragua

Getting around Nicaragua is fairly straightforward, and as mentioned above, many of the best places to visit are close together.

If you follow something like the Nicaragua itinerary that we did, then you won’t have a journey of longer than 3 hours.

Here are the main methods of transport we used to get around Nicaragua

1. Minibuses

Local tour operators run between all major backpacking destinations in Nicaragua.

From our experience, you can book each journey a day or two before you are scheduled to leave.

If you visit during peak tourist months, then perhaps you will want to try and book a little further in advance.

But as of our visit in February 2019, finding transport really wasn’t an issue.

2. Local buses

To ensure proper safety during your time in Nicaragua, it's probably a good idea to use tourist buses to get around wherever possible.

I can’t comment on the safety of all local tourist buses, and, as with any country, you can always find your fair share of scare stories when it comes to straying off from tourist buses.

That being said, we used the local bus to get from Granada to Managua.

This was because there were no tourist buses to be found, and getting a taxi for the hour or so ride it was, ended up being ridiculously overpriced.

In contrast the local bus we took cost just a couple of dollars each and was fast and clean.

3. Taxis

Taxis seem to vary quite a lot in price, depending on which part of Nicaragua you are in.

For example, the price to get a taxi to Managua from Granada was about $30.

In comparison, we took a taxi from San Juan del Sur to Rivas (a journey of about the same time and distance) for about $10.

As such, I recommend getting taxis between some locations, as they are quicker, ore convenient and often comfier than riding in buses.

But they will only work out affordable over short distances and when you can share the ride with others.

4. Moped

Mopeds are, hands down, the best way to get around anywhere in the world (as long as it’s not not snowing, raining or just generally very cold!)

All of our best adventures from around the world involve us renting a moped for a day or two and exploring the local sights and attractions.

We used a moped in Ometepe and had a great day exploring.

However unlike in Southeast Asia, renting a moped isn’t practical, or even possible, in most spots in Nicaragua.

Finding the best Accommodation in Nicaragua

Decent accommodation is relatively cheap and easy to find everywhere in Nicaragua.

Especially as of 2019 when tourism is still severely down and most hostels and hotels have had to cut their rates in order to bring in more business.

We stayed in nice hotels and other forms of accommodation all across Nicaragua.

For 100% of our bookings in Nicaragua we used Booking.com.

This is for a few reasons, such as …

  • They have the biggest selection of hostels, hotels, resorts, homestays, villas, and all other types of accommodation.
  • They offer the best prices.
  • They are really easy to use.
  • We get cool discounts and perks because we are genius members (only takes 3 bookings).

If you aren’t yet a member, then you can sign up through this link and get 10% off your first booking.

That being said, there are a number of other sites you can use to find accommodation. Ultimately, it largely comes down to personal preference.

For finding cheap budget hostels, you can try:

For hotels:

For homestays:

  • Airbnb (we used them in other parts of Central America)

Other generic hotel search engines include:

Or, for free accommodation, why not check out Couchsurfing.com?

We used them back in 2016 to stay with a local couple in Santiago, Chile, and ended up having the time of our lives!

Nicaragua travel guide: How to dress

The dress code in Nicaragua isn’t particularly strict.

It is a Christian nation, so you should act and dress respectfully if you choose to visit any churches; so basically, no bikinis or tops off.

In many rural areas, it is traditional for Nicaraguan men and women to dress fairly conservatively.

In fact, despite incredibly hot days, you will very rarely see older Nicaraguan men wearing shorts.

However, this tradition doesn’t extend to tourists or younger generations.

You will not be out of place if you are strolling around tourist areas in shorts and a t-shirt.

What to pack for Nicaragua

Deciding what to take to Nicaragua can vary depending on which time of the year you are visiting.

However, it always tends to be very hot, so plenty of shorts, t-shirts and dresses are a good way to go.

A pair of jeans and a hoodie will come in handy from time to time, especially in the cooler months where evening temperatures can drop.

They are also both necessary if you decide to see more more adventurous trekking, such as when climbing up the Cerro Negro volcano to go volcano boarding.

Below is a quick overview of many of the most common items you will find in a decent Nicaragua packing list.

What you'll need
WHat We Recommend
Rucksack

A decent rucksack is a must regardless of where you choose to go travelling. The majority of backpackers we come across tend to have an Osprey bag, and I don’t blame them. They are long-lasting, great quality and comfortable. I have used an Osprey bag ever since we started backpacking in 2016.

Comfortable shoes

Decent shoes will come in handy all across Nicaragua. There is plenty of opportunity for walking and hiking, so plan ahead and make sure you have a decent pair that will last the whole trip.

Hiking shoes

If you plan on doing a lot of hiking up volcanoes, which you should consider, then hiking shoes might come in handy. Full disclosure, we didn’t take hiking shoes to Nicaragua, simply because they are big and bulky and we couldn’t spare the room. If you have spongy trainers, then these should be able to cope with most of the walking you will need to do.

Reef Flip flops

For all that time spent on the beach and casually strolling around town, I recommend wearing flip flops. In particular Reef flip flops. These bad boys are extra comfy and hard-wearing. Yes, they’re a little more pricey but I definitely think they are worth it.

Jacket

For those colder evenings and rockier volcano climbs, a light jacket will definitely come in handy in Nicaragua.

Long trousers

Similarly, a pair of long trousers or jeans will also come in useful. For me, I only tend to take one pair of jeans with me when backpacking hot countries like Nicaragua. Very rarely will you need to wear them night after night.

Cap

A cap is a great way to keep the sun off your face during long, hot days in Nicaragua. Remember, temperatures reach as high as mid-30s in March-April time, so take care not to get burnt.

Deet

Yes, mosquitos and other midges/bugs are a real nuisance in Nicaragua. They come out in the evening just after the sun goes in, and are extra annoying in parts of Nicaragua when you are by water.

Suncream

Factor 30+ and above is a good port of call for Nicaragua. It’s always best to buy it at home before leaving as decent suncream can be very expensive and hard to come by when abroad.

International Travel Adaptor

We always take 2 international travel adaptors with us wherever we go. This means we always have a way to charge our devices, regardless of which country we are in and which plug sockets they use.

Eating and Drinking in Nicaragua

We were big fans of both food and drink in Nicaragua.

Typically, you will find tonnes of tacos, burritos and wraps filled with chicken and beef.

In popular tourist areas, you will tend to find all kinds of restaurants serving a variety of international cuisines.’

In towns and cities on the coast, seafood dishes are very popular, perhaps the most famous being ceviche.

This is a seafood dish, made of chopped raw fish, onions, salt and citrus flavourings.

I wasn’t a massive fan, but the locals seem to absolutely love it!

You can often pick up cheap combo deals on ceviche and beer.

For more information on typical Nicaraguan dishes that we didn’t try, this guide is really helpful.

When it comes to alcohol, Nicaragua is known for serving lots of beer and lots of rum.

In particular, Flor de Cana. In the UK, this is actually quite an expensive rum, and one that’s relatively hard to come by.

On the flipside, a 50cl bottle of this can cost as little as $4USD in Nicaragua!

When it comes to beer, the most popular seemed to be Tona, and you can pick these up in bars for as little as 50 cents during happy hour.

Above all else, I recommend you take full advantage of coffee in Nicaragua.

In our opinion, it is the best coffee anywhere in the world, and my only regret is not bringing enough of it back home with us, as it’s so hard to find!

Useful online tools for Your Nicaragua trip

No 21st century backpacking guide would be complete without a section on a few online tools.

We use a bunch of sites and apps to help us travel more easily and to save money all over the world.

So here’s a quick rundown of which apps are most helpful when planning to and actually then backpacking across Nicaragua.

Accommodation:

  • Booking.com and the Booking.com app - We used these guys for every place that we chose to stay in Nicaragua. We find that their website is better for actually searching and filtering properties, and the app is perfect for when you are on the ground and looking to get to your accommodation. It has a few useful tools, such as the ability to see exactly where your hotel/hostel is on a map of your choosing (like Google Maps).

Flights:

  • Skyscanner - We always use Skyscanner when booking flights. They give you the cheapest deals regardless of which route you are taking and compare not only the airlines, but a whole host of the biggest 3rd party flight ticket providers.

Transportation:

  • Aventon - Sadly, User is not yet available in Nicaragua, and neither are any of the other big ride-sharing apps. However, in Managua they have an app called Aventon. This is almost identical to Uber, and is perfect for getting around the city if you do decide to visit. Hopefully it will start to spread to other cities in Nicaragua in coming months and years, but there are no guarantees.

Navigation:

  • Google Maps - Google Maps is awesome, as it contains a treasure trove of information on best places to visit and eat at. You can also download maps for offline use, so that you can still get around whenever you don’t have WiFi or data.
  • Maps.me - Similar to Google Maps, in that you can download offline maps for future use. We always used to use Maps.me, but seem to have now swayed towards using Google Maps almost exclusively.

Nicaragua Budget: The cost of backpacking Nicaragua

You’ll be happy to learn that the cost of backpacking nicaragua isn’t very high.

It is similarly priced to many other nearby Central American backpacking destinations, such as Mexico and Guatemala.

Here’s a more detailed rundown of how much things cost in Nicaragua for backpackers.

The cost of Accommodation in Nicaragua

When we visited in 2019, the cost of accommodation all across Nicaragua is quite low.

This is because of dampened tourism and hotel/hostel owners dropping their prices in the hopes of bringing in more customers.

That being said, accommodation is never too expensive anyway, especially compared to Western prices.

Cheap hostels can be around $USD5 per night, and mid-range hotels are about $10-$15 for a double room with aircon.

Expect to pay a lot more for more up-market venues with pools and resort-like features like yoga classes and surfing.

The cost of transport in Nicaragua

Transport across Nicaragua is fairly cheap and tourist buses run between most popular destinations.

Here’s what we paid for a few different routes:

  • Minibus from Leon to San Juan del Sur - $20
  • Taxi from San Juan del Sur to Rivas - $15
  • Boat from Rivas to Ometepe - $3

The cost of food and drink in Nicaragua

We tended to eat in half-decent restaurants where a main meal is likely to set you back between $4 and $5.

During happy hours, drinks deals are about $1 to $1.50 for cocktails and less than a dollar for beer.

The cost of activities and attractions in Nicaragua

The most expensive thing we paid for in Nicaragua was our half day trip to Cerro Negro.

This was $24 in total and included transport there and back, a guide, entry fees and all necessary gear.

So as you can see, you shouldn’t expect any day trips in Nicaragua to set you back very much..

So, what should your Nicaragua backpacking budget be?

For us, the total cost of backpacking Nicaragua for 2 and a half weeks was around $500-$600.

It worked out roughly $30 each per day, which is a pretty solid mid-range budget.

We stayed in decent accommodation everywhere we went, and chose to eat in restaurants that cost a little more but were cleaner and serving better food.

We also drank most days, having a cocktail or two with dinner because they were so damn cheap!

I rented a surfboard a few times and we did all of the most popular Nicaragua attractions.

We used buses to get into, out of and all around Nicaragua, and also chose to use a taxi to get from San Juan del Sur to Rivas, which cost a little more than a taxi.

As such, I would say that $30 is a good amount of money per day to have a really nice and comfortable trip.

However, it is equally as possible to spend as little as $15 per day.

We could have quite easily saved half our daily budget by staying in cheap hostels and eating at local joints or from street vendors.

If you have more than $30 to spend a day, then that's awesome. You’re in for one heck of a trip!

Drone laws in Nicaragua

Simply put, drones are very illegal in Nicaragua.

From all of the countries we have so far visited with our Mavic Pro, Nicaragua seems to have the strictest and least forgiving rules.

Not only are you not allowed to fly drones in Nicaragua, you are not even allowed to take them across the border.

Upon entering a land border, customs officials search everyone’s bags.

If they find a drone, then they will force you to put it into storage there and then and pay them for the privilege.

However, based on numerous tales online, I would highly recommend that you don’t do this.

There are far too many cases of travellers returning 2 or 3 weeks later to collect their drone and find that it is missing.

Instead, you should try and do what we did.

Which is to leave it at a hostel or hotel in the country you visit prior to Nicaragua.

For us, this meant leaving it at a place in San Salvador, and then stopping back off there afterwards to collect it.

This is not ideal, but seems to be a lot safer than leaving it at a dodgy border control office.

Why are drones illegal in Nicaragua?

According to online sources and people we spoke to in Nicaragua, their government is afraid that outside nations are using drones to spy on them.

Sounds crazy, right?

Well apparently it’s the truth!

Due to all the recent political instability, high ranking government official fear drone users are taking footage to then report back to foreign political enemies.

That being said, I asked this question to a hapless border official and she couldn’t tell me why they were illegal.

In fact, at first she told me that drones WERE legal!

So even those in control of policing the borders have very little clue what’s going on.

Either way, my advice is to avoid the risks of flying your drone in Nicaragua and keep it far from the border if possible.

Final thoughts and advice from our Nicaragua Itinerary

From people we have spoken to inside and outside of Nicaragua, the biggest issues seems to be that of safety.

The tourism industry there has literally more than halved in recent years, due to a fear that it is an unstable and unsafe country to visit.

Well, I can confidently report that we saw absolutely zero violence, corruption or antisocial behaviour whilst we were there.

Of course, we obeyed a few pretty basic safety rules that we follow everywhere in the world.

Such as not walking out late at night in poorly lit areas and not flashing cash or valuables around town.

If you are sensible and respectful, then you will find Nicaragua to be a country filled with friendly, warmhearted people who really do want tourists to come visit.

The money you spend there goes a very long way towards improving the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of families who rely on tourism.

So give it a go, and, like me, you might just fall in love with everything you see there.

If you have any more questions, just drop me a comment below!

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