Let me just start by saying this- Nicaragua exceeded the expectations.
I typed “Nicaragua” in the search box of Facebook to see what other female travelers who have visited had to say about it. The first few comments I saw were discouraging. Some people recommended it while other said it is not safe and they would not recommend Nicaragua to a solo female traveler. It did not help that Nicaragua also had a level 3 travel advisory due to the unrest that happened in subsequent years. I figured because of all these, tourism would take a huge hit in Nicaragua and even though I was a little discouraged, I decided to believe the people who raved about it and decided to go in order to make my own experiences.
As a word of advise, regardless of what the travel advisory says about a certain country, always exercise caution if traveling alone or in a group! Leave expensive items in your home country and if you do travel with it, leave it in a safe in the hotel. Do not leave the hotel with your passport, and always keep your belongings close to you while out and about.
Back to Nicaragua, I am happy that I made the decision to visit Nicaragua because this beautiful country has something for everyone. If you are a surfer, beach bum, city bum or even a nature lover, this country has it all. For my 5 day trip to Nicaragua, I combined the different highlights of the country and I am here to help you with planning an unforgettable trip.
Flight: $280 RT from Chicago, Spirit Airlines
Hotel: Average $40 per night but I stayed in what would be considered more upscale hotels. Hostels are as cheap as $8 a night in Nicaragua
Car rental: $30 a day for the rental (www.expedia.com). Insurance cost $12.99 a day for the option that covers the other driver only in case of an accident and $35 a day for the option that covers you and the other driver in case of an accident. This was my most expensive expenditure, but I recommend renting a car to see as much as possible in 5 days. The car gives more flexibility compared to public transport. Buses are much cheaper options of transportation and I recommend it for travelers who have more time or who are traveling on a budget.
Food: It depends. I ate mainly at popular restaurants or beachside restaurant and spent $5-$25 per meal. I spent more time sightseeing vs researching what and where to eat so I just walked in to any restaurant I saw which looked good.
Beer: $1-$2 per bottle, Cocktails $2-$4 per drink.
US citizens are able to get visa on arrival for $10. Residents of other countries should visit the website of the Nicaraguan consulate to determine the requirements to obtain a visa.
Here is my 5 day Nicaragua Itinerary and I hope it helps you plan your trip because I highly recommend this country:
I arrived in Managua Airport at 1am and I proceeded to the Budget counter in the airport to pickup my rental car. I drove to Granada after picking up my car and it was only a 1 hour drive. When I arrived in Granada, I got some rest, woke up at 9am and started exploring this cute and colorful city. I recommend spending 1 day in Granada because the things to see are around the city center and it is best to get a hotel or hostel in the city center or close to the city center for accessibility. I stayed in Hotel Plaza Colon which is right in the city center so I was able to walk around from my hotel.
Exploring the city of Granada started with the Cathedral. Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral, also called Granada Cathedral, is a vibrant yellow building located in the center of the city! Aside from the beautiful architecture and the amazing paintings on the ceiling, the highlight of the Cathedral is the Bell Tower. The entry fee to the tower is $1 per person and you get to climb up to the top of the tower to see amazing views of the city. Granada is truly gorgeous and seeing it from that high up brought it into perspective for me. I walked around the city center some more after the Cathedral and decided to visit the lagoon outside the city. If you started the day early, touring the city should take a few hours and this leaves plenty of time to explore other parts of town.
Laguna de Apoyo
With extra time to spare, I decided to drive to Lagoona de Apoyo which is 30 minutes outside of Granada. There are hostels right on the lagoon which offer beautiful views of the surrounding area but since I rented a car, I had the flexibility of driving back to Granada. I highly recommend spending time in Laguna Beach Club. The club is on the lagoon and the entry fee is $6. This fee includes access to the beach, the beach chairs and access to unlimited kayaking for the day! You can’t beat that for the price.
The club opens from 9am – 6pm and it also has cabanas which can be rented for the day or overnight each for under $20. I absolutely enjoyed my time at the lagoon because it was not crowded, and it was a relaxing way to spend the evening.
I enjoyed visiting Ometepe Island but it was not my favorite part of Nicaragua. Ometepe Island is filled with black sand beaches and it has a cute town- this made the visit worth it. There were a lot of beaches however in San Juan Del Sur (touching on this below) so Ometepe could have been skipped.
If you love black sand beaches and Ometepe seems like your kind of island, you are probably wondering how to get there?
There are tours that go to Ometepe Island but getting there on my own was cheaper for me. I drove to San Jorge ferry terminal and paid $1.50 for a one way ticket to Ometepe Island. I took the 7:54am ferry because I wanted to have enough time to see as much as possible. The ticket can also be purchased on the ferry.
I was researching the best way to see the island on the internet and I came across a tour company on Facebook called Green Expedition- Ometepe. I spoke to Kenny who organized the tour with the company. When I got to Ometepe, they were waiting for me at the ferry terminal with my name on a board. I rented a scooter for the day with Green Expedition, and they provided me with a scooter driver since I cannot ride a scooter. I paid $30 total for the driver and the scooter.
Ometepe Island was an adventure of it’s own because we explored the island on a scooter and saw:
Punta de Jesus Maria- Beautiful black sand beach
La Ojo de Aguna- Beautiful lake
Lagoona Chaco Verde- A lake which has a beautiful black sand beach. Walking around the lake takes about 35 minutes.
Rivas Province- Beautiful beach with a swing
The day ended around 5pm just in time to take the last ferry at 5:20pm and watch the beautiful sunset! I drove to San Juan del Sur after arriving in San Jorge terminal and it was only a 30 minute drive.
Day 3 – 5
San Juan Del Sur (SJDS)
San Juan del Sur is the pacific side of Nicaragua because the coast is shared with the Pacific Ocean. It is such a beautiful city and it is known for it’s numerous beaches and surfing. I was not short of things to do in San Juan del Sur and I mixed my stay with activity and beach relaxation. With my rental, exploring SJDS was easy. However, hotels offer shuttle services to popular beaches for $5-$10 per ride. This quickly adds up if you are the type that wants to see as much as possible like me. Here are the things I did during my 3 day visit in SJDS:
Hike to Christ of the Mercy
This monument is a statue of Jesus of top of a hill in SJDS. It is similar to Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer and getting up the hill was very easy. I drove to the foot of the statue and climbed few stairs up. Taxis also go up the hill as well if renting a car is not an option. The entrance fee was $2 for foreigners and the view of the city from the top of the hill was magnificent!
Playa Hermosa is a relaxing beach. The entry is $3 and it includes access to the hammocks and benches. There is also a restaurant on the beach which offers food and cocktails. The food though a little expensive is still affordable. I got a platter with beef, fish, chicken, lobster tail, fries and rice for $25 and it was a big portion.
Tree Casa is a hotel outside of SJDS. Why will I go to another hotel you ask? It has the most extensive pool and a slide!! It also has a tree house which I thought was so cool! The entry to this hotel is free and I thought it was nice of them to allow non-guests to use their facilities. They have a bar and restaurant (the lamb was the BEST) but it is not mandatory to purchase anything to use their facilities. They also offer towels for free!
I used Parque de Aventuras Las Nubes for my ziplining experience. The ziplining experience cost $39 per person. The day started at 8:30am and I was picked up from the hotel. We headed to pick another couple and started the drive to the canopy.
The canopy tour includes 10 platforms and 7 ziplines with a rappel and suspended stair bridge included. The rappel and suspended stair bridges were challenging but it was worth it! By the time the ziplining experience was over, I was able to relax by the bar and took in the beautiful view of the forest. We headed back to the hotel around 12pm and at this time, there were 8+ people waiting for their zipline experience, so I definitely suggest going early.
Sunday Funday is a pool party hopping experience which starts in hostel Pachamama, Naked Tiger and 2 other bars! The ticket cost $30 cash and you can purchase the ticket around 3:30pm at Pachamama. The party is lit to say the least but if bar hopping is not really your speed, you can skip this event! I left Sunday Funday at the second bar because it was overwhelming, and I decided to watch the sunset at San Juan del Sur beach instead!
Playa la Flor and El Coco Beach
These beaches are 45 minutes away from SJDS but worth it if you are looking for a deserted and quiet beach outside the city. Playa la Flor does cost $8 to enter but it is famous as the birthing grounds for turtles. The turtles come out at night and if you don’t have a car, you can book a tour to the beach. There is a season for turtle watching but if you still decide to go to the beach instead, I suggest going to El Coco next door which is free.
Surf lessons with Coqui at Playa Remanso
This experience is the ultimate highlight of San Juan del Sur! I met Brittney and Steve while ziplining and they told me the main reason why they visited SJDS was to learn how to surf. They encouraged me to take surfing lessons with their instructor Coqui and I agreed. The lesson duration is 1 hour and half and it cost $25. The lesson took place in Playa Remanso beach and I arrived there at 3pm to start my surf lesson. The lesson was fun but I was only able to partly stand on the board once while surfing a baby wave. I kept falling in the water every other time. After 45 minutes, I told the instructor I was done because I kept falling in the water and my eyes were red!
I highly recommend him! He is so patient and knowledgeable. If you want his information please send me an email or DM me on Instagram.
Where to stay in SJDS
I stayed in Aqua Viva Hotel. This hotel is situated at the top of a hill in SJDS which makes it a great viewpoint, but the issue is driving up there! It is such a steep hill so driving there will be difficult for someone who does not know how to drive up a hill. If you decide to use taxis it might be better, but it is a difficult hotel to get to. If you can find a way around getting up to the hotel (the manager Carlos is such a great resource with directions), I recommend this property.
If Ometepe Island is not your speed, you can drive to Leon to see the Cathedral from the rooftop which I was told is beautiful. You can also participate in Volcano boarding in Leon. Big foot hostel hosts these tours and I considered going but decided to stay longer in San Juan del Sur in order to avoid driving all the way North to Leon.
Volcano boarding is a fun activity where you hike to a volcano and slide down on a board. It is similar to sledding, but this is happening on black sand instead of snow. The activity cost $25 per person and the tour starts at 9am. Tickets can be purchased on Big Foot Hostel’s website.
With more time, Little Corn Islands should be considered. I did not get the chance to visit, but I know I will return to Nicaragua in the future for volcano boarding and a trip to the Corn Islands (CI). The flight to CI leaves from Managua two times a day but I recommend booking the flight early because the tickets sell out pretty fast. The ticket cost $160 – $170 RT and it takes you to the Big Corn Island. From the big CI, you can take a short ferry to little CI which is the Caribbean side of Nicaragua. While researching places to stay in little CI, I found this hotel called Yemaya Island Hideaway which has a terrace that opens to the beach some of the rooms even have a private plunge pool! How romantic!
I hope by blog post has inspired you to visit Nicaragua. Please comment and share the post so that other people outside by community can also be inspired to travel! I am always so happy to share information with people on my website.