Traveling in Nicaragua
I have been to Nicaragua 3 different times and I will certainly be going back again. Not only is it a substantially cheaper option than to going to Costa Rica, but Nicaragua boasts the same features and attractions without being spoiled by “eco tourism.” You wont find any yoga retreats here, bitch. The cities are beautiful and filled with interesting history. The rocky past of the countries civil unrest has not carried it too far past the original conflict. You can still see the flags of Sandinistas (FSLN) flying all over the country from the Democratic Socialist group who overthrew the government in 1979 and maintained power for 10 years, until a civil war broke out, ending in the early 90’s. The people are proud of their rich culture and eager to discuss their history and politics. I speak Spanish pretty well, but I often have trouble understanding what my Nica friends are saying to me. There is some serious slang in Nicaragüense. It can even be broken up into which region of the country you are from. Transportation is super easy to get all over. There are some rough parts of the capital, but there’s nothing that would bring you to those areas as a backpacker.
The Cost of Traveling in Nicaragua
- Currency: Cordóba
- Exchange Rate: 30 Cords = $1 US Dollar
- Private room: $20 USD
- Cerveza Toña: $1 USD
- Almuerzo (Lunch): $3-$5
Tips for Traveling in Nicaragua
- Make sure you check to see if you have to buy a ticket before you get on a bus or you will be stuck standing
- Listen to the music on the radio. There is some great music coming out of Nicaragua
- Don’t let the police bully you or intimidate you.
- Eat at the fritangas
Things to do in Nicaragua
- The volcanic island of Ometepe
- The volcano in Masaya
- Somoto Canyon
- Playa Matilda and Playa Malleras in San Jaun del Sur
- The Spanish colonial city of Granada
- The city of León and the beach there
- La Cuneta Son Machin
- Eat at the Fritangas-Late night fried food sold to go in styrofoam containers off of somebody’s front porch. Awesome drunk food.
- Chilero-A table hot suace that is made with cut up carrots, onions, chili poweder, and vinegar. It usually sits out on the table in the hot sun for days, soaking up the flavors around it.
- Cacao-Milk in a bag with crushed up fresh cacao
- Roscias– The pride of the Somoto region, these are little cornmeal rings baked in a cob oven. About 1 in every 10 has sugar in the center, but it’s cheating to just pick those ones out
- Cerveza Toña– The local lager
- Cerveza Cristal– I think there is a different beer called Cristal in every Spanish speaking country I’ve ever been to…
- Flor de Caña– The national rum and my favorite rum in the world.
- Cigars– Nicaragua has some very nice cigars. Don’t miss out. Obviously, the ones sold in a gift shop are not authentic or good.
The capital is a great place to spend a couple of days. You can walk around lake Managua and get lunch at one of the restaurants. There is a great museum and very old cathedral by the state capital. The city itself is really hard to navigate. No maps have it perfect. It was not built on a grid like a lot of cities. Roads just started being formed and now that its a huge city they just go all over the place and its total madness. There aren’t really street names either. You have to know land marks to get a taxi to know where to take you because an address won’t get you anywhere.
León is a really cool town to hangout in. There are several great cathedrals to check out as well as some really important museums. León was a key city during the revolution and there are remnants of battles that were fought there all over town. There are walls that still have bullet holes all over them. This city is covered in art work about the revolution. It is a great idea to go to the museums and get some background before you go out looking at all of the murals people have painted in the streets.
No trip to Nicaragua is complete without a visit to the famous colonial town of Granada. You can spend the day walking all over town looking at old buildings and stop and have some great Nicaraguan coffee somewhere. There are all kinds of good places to eat in town. Walk down by the lake and walk down it as far as you want to see even more places to eat. You can go up in the bell tower of one cathedral in town for a great view.
This is the island with an active volcano on it. You can literally see lava at night. There’s a big ferry that goes out to the island and once you get there you will find micros that drive around. We stayed in a bungalow right on the shore line. There is a good coffee place right by the docs when you arrive run by some European expats. You can hike the volcano and even go down in it if you book a tour group. There are all kinds of cool tours and stuff to do on the island. We just walked around a bunch and tried to catch iguanas. It’s really just a cool place to be.
San Juan Del Sur
The actual town of SJS isn’t that cool in my eyes. It is where a lot of travel agencies and tour companies are based for renting four wheelers and surfboards and stuff. A lot of people make it their base and then take buses out to the better beaches during the day. You can stay on the better beaches but space is often limited. Some of them like Playa Malleras have spots where you can pay to pitch your tent and it’s right on the beach. We stayed in a hostel that was on Playa Malleras. There were bioluminescent waves that time of year and we were the only ones staying there besides the kids running the place.
Matagalpa is a cool town in the mountains. A lot of coffee that is grown in Nicaragua comes from Matagalpa. We stayed on sustainable coffee farm for a couple of nights. There are also a lot of gangsters in Matagalpa. Drink some coffee and then go get a tattoo. Then check out some of the markets while you are there. The town is on the side of a mountain, so you can get exhausted pretty quick walking around. I bought a vile of snake venom in Matagalpa once. They told me I can wash my hair with it…
Somoto is not really a destination for most people traveling in Nicaragua. Most people will only make the trek if they are going to go tubing down Somoto canyon (canon de Somoto). However, my first glimpse of Nicaragua came from doing volunteer work in some of the villages surrounding Somoto. It is in the far North of the country, about 15 minutes from the border with Honduras and very rural. You can still see a bullfight here and donkeys wander the streets aimlessly. I have met some really good people in Somoto. There are also some pretty bad people there. The center plaza is a nice place to hangout and you can go get some authentic food close by or an ice cream to cool off. There are a bunch of kids in “rock gangs” that come out at night and throw fucking rocks at each other like a bunch of savages…