Hello my friends! I’ve already taken you up to Canada, down to New Zealand, and across the ocean to Europe and Africa, but I haven’t gotten a chance to share any travel tips for South or Central America. Let’s fix that!
Costa Rica’s southern neighbor, Nicaragua, is a vibrant country that’s perfect for backpackers, surfers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Here, you’ll find volcanoes, Pacific beaches, canyons, cities, and plenty more to fill up your trip. As you should for any country that’s foreign to you, do a bit of research on its culture, language, and current events before you go— pick up a bit of Spanish and connect with local Nicaraguans! It’s not only the polite thing to do, but also key to getting the most out of your trip.
- Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve
Located near Granada and Lake Nicaragua is the Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve, which is a lovely landscape perched on top of a dormant volcano, surrounded by farms, coffee plantations, flora, and fauna. You can explore the preserve’s caters and cloud forest via self-guided hiking trails, or pop by the Visitors’ Center for one of the guided tours. Enjoy panoramic views from the top of the volcano, as well as some of the 50 species of mammals, 174 species of birds, and so many more creatures that live here!
- Islets of Granada
In the enormous Lake Nicaragua you can find 365 little islands that come together to form an archipelago called the Islets of Granada, or Las Isletas (the city of Granada is only one of many cities that border this lake). Here, you can grab a kayak and go paddling around the islets, some of which remain completely uninhabited. This is a great way to see a bit of nature, especially if your accommodations are in Granada.
- Somoto Canyon
Fans of cliff diving should absolutely plan a day trip to the Somoto Canyon National Monument, a water-filled gorge surrounded by limestone cliffs. You do have the option of visiting on your own, but if you want to get the most out of your visit—complete with rappelling down rocks and white-water rafting, you’d be better served booking a tour. As would be the case for any of these spots, don’t forget the sunscreen!
- Corn Islands
If Las Isletas didn’t give you enough of an island vibe, go ahead and make your full escape to the Corn Islands, floating off the Caribbean coast. You’ll likely fly into Big Corn from Managua, which is a beautiful, bike-able place to stay. Otherwise, take a 40-minute boat ride to backpacker-friendly Little Corn Island, which also has accommodation but no cars or banks. Enjoy the peace and quiet, then go scuba diving and explore the nearby reefs!
- Laguna de Apoyo
Thanks to a crater formed by a volcano between Managua and Granada, there’s a lovely laguna here for locals and tourists alike to enjoy. You can go for a swim, or visit a nearby rental spot to do some kayaking or paddleboarding. Although the volcano that formed this crater lake is safely extinct, deep geothermal activity still keeps the laguna a pleasant, warm temperature.
- Cerro Negro
If swimming peacefully near an extinct volcano isn’t enough of a thrill, how about hiking young, active volcanoes scheduled to blow? Now that’s living. As if exploring an active volcano isn’t already dangerous, volcano boarding is a hugely popular activity at Cerro Negro, located about 50 minutes away from Leon. This consists of hiking up the Cerro Negro volcano, then sliding down the 700-meter slope on a wooden board. The tour guides will help, but make sure you have good balance!
- Isla de Ometepe
For a more laid-back experience, I’d recommend a hike on one of the two volcanoes on Ometepe Island, a volcanic island floating in Lake Nicaragua. The Volcán Concepción is for serious hikers, taking anywhere from 9-12 hours to complete, through thick vegetation and the cloud forest. Hiking the Volcán Maderas can still take a while (up to 8 hours), but won’t require as much bushwhacking. Either way, your best bet is to go with a tour guide so you don’t get lost!
- San Juan del Sur
If hiking and climbing aren’t your thing, how about some surfing on the Emerald Coast? San Juan del Sur is a fishing village and beautiful beach destination in Southwest Nicaragua, not far from Costa Rica. Here, backpackers, surfers, and tourists love to lounge on the sand, take surfing lessons, or explore the colorful city itself. Stick around until evening for a gorgeous view of the sunset!
- Colonial Granada
If you’re longing for a city stay after all that hiking and surfing, spend some extra time in the colonial city of Granada, especially if you’re a fan of cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and colonial style. Beyond having a nice ramble, visit the Museo Convento San Francisco for a touch of history and spooky catacombs, as well as the majestic Granada Cathedral. Rest up in a local hostel or cushier spots like Hotel Colonial for a good night’s sleep. Of course, don’t forget to take some aesthetically pleasing pics for your social media feeds!
- Masaya Volcano
For those in the mood to go beyond dormant volcano hikes or even volcano boarding, the Masaya Volcano National Park is where you should go to spy some active, bubbling lava. This is among the most active volcanoes in Nicaragua, which you can visit for a daytime or a nighttime visit. The night tour is your better option to witness the glow of the lava, and it’s easily accessible by car. This would be a great option for a day trip after having meandered around colonial Granada!
And there you have it, nature fans and adrenaline junkies: 10 ideas for day trips, longer stays, and other adventures you can have in Nicaragua! Now that Spring is here, I’m ready to head south, grab my swimsuit, and go exploring.
Looking for some other ideas? Well how about 10 cheap spots in Europe, or some great countries to visit in Africa? Happy travels, everybody!