Nicaragua Travel Guide
- Lush rainforests
- Beautiful white-sand beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts
- Diverse wildlife, including howler monkeys and spider monkeys
- Spanish Colonial sights in Leon and Granada
- Mountainous areas with cloud forests, coffee plantations, and cool climate
- Big, beautiful lakes; Lake Nicaragua is massive -- about the same size as the country of Puerto Rico
- Ometepe, an island in Lake Nicaragua with small beach resorts and two volcanic peaks
- Low crime and friendly locals
- Numerous cigar factories, some offering tours
- Handful of luxury resorts in the Rivas region
- Very poor country
- Some roads need improvement
- No non-stop flights to Managua from New York City, Los Angeles, or San Francisco (though there are non-stop flights to Liberia Airport in Costa Rica, a 2-hour drive to Nicaragua's Rivas region)
- Granada: Historic Spanish Colonial city on Lake Nicaragua with notable churches and lively festivals; within a 30-minute drive of Mombacho Volcano
- Leon: Rivals Granada for both Spanish Colonial history and tourist attention; home to the largest cathedral in Central America
- San Juan Del Sur: Popular coastal town with lively nightlife and colossal Christ of Mercy statue; part of the Rivas region, which has numerous excellent white-sand beaches
- Matagalpa: One of Nicaragua's major commercial centers; located in a mountainous region with cool climate, coffee plantations, and eco lodges
- Ometepe: An island in Lake Nicaragua with small beach resorts and two volcanic peaks
- Esteli: Major cigar-producing center
- Masaya: Popular craft market and important producer of Nicaraguan handicrafts (especially ceramics)
- Catarina: Has a great viewpoint overlooking Laguna de Apoyo and Granada; one of the "Pueblos Blancos" (White Towns) in the region, so-called because the buildings and streets were once limestone-white
- Caribbean Coast: Gorgeous beaches and islets, including Pearl Cays and Big Corn Island; more relaxed and less touristed than the Pacific Coast
- Managua: The country's capital, where the airport is located
What It's Like
Nicaragua is still a diamond in the rough. It offers many of the same splendors that draw travelers to its neighbor to the south, Costa Rica -- lush rainforest, beautiful white-sand beaches, volcanoes, and rich wildlife -- but it's a much poorer country and it shows. However, it seems to be on a similar trajectory as Costa Rica was in terms of its growth as a tourism destination: It is already popular with the backpacker and adventure travel crowd, just as Costa Rica was before it saw an explosion of resort development. The handful of luxury resorts in Nicaragua are proof that the upscale travel market here is already emerging, and Mukul, the super-exclusive property that opened in February 2013, is helping to bring the country into the international spotlight.
Those planning a getaway to Central America should note that there are a few advantages to traveling to Nicaragua over Costa Rica. Nicaragua has much more Spanish Colonial history and charm, with historic churches and plazas in the towns of Granada and Leon. Because it is relatively undiscovered compared to Costa Rica, it also offers a more authentic experience -- visitors might see locals riding horses and carts through the streets, fruit stands selling unripe mangoes and jocotes (tart snacks popular among the Nicaraguans), and one of the country's many lively street festivals. Plus, prices for just about everything, including food and transportation, tend to be far cheaper.
Many travelers associate Nicaragua with the Sandinista Revolution and Contra War, and are hesitant to travel to the country because of its violent past. But today, Nicaragua has a warm, welcoming attitude toward tourists and low crime statistics; according to the country's tourism board, it is the safest country in Central America.
Where To Stay
Most tourists will flock the beachfront resorts in the Rivas region of Nicaragua, where the laid-back party town of San Juan Del Sur is located. The Caribbean coast also has impressive beaches but is less developed. Those interested in Spanish Colonial sights and history should consider brief stops in Granada or Leon.