Nicaragua has a special place in my heart. As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Nicaragua, the country was my home for over 2 years. On a recent trip back to relive my time there, I was reminded of how great of a travel destination it is. Nicaragua has beautiful nature, great surf, is inexpensive and safe. The people that live there are extremely hospitable and accommodating. Even though Nicaragua is no longer a well kept secret in the travel community, there are still plenty of places to get off the beaten path. If you're looking for a new adventure, we can't recommend this Central American country enough. Here are 12 incredible things to do in Nicaragua.
The colonial city of Granada offers some incredibly preserved architecture and is one of the most popular places to visit in Nicaragua. Walk the streets and explore the Spanish colonial buildings and churches, most of which are painted vibrant colors and feature beautiful doors that are no less incredible. Besides wandering around the city, you can take a boat ride or kayak around the islets in the lake nearby. Granada also has the best assortment of restaurants and bars in Nicaragua.
Zip Line on a Volcano
Take a short day trip from Granada to Mombacho Volcano to zip line through the treetops in a jungle setting on the side of one of Nicaragua's many volcanoes. Mombacho Volcano offers some great hikes as well but if you're short on time, we highly recommend the zip line experience.
Visit Ometepe Island
One of the most unique places in the world, Ometepe Island, is a small island located in the biggest lake in Central America and is made up mostly of two large volcanoes. Outdoor activities are a big draw to Ometepe, and you can expect great experiences whether you're cycling, kayaking or hiking. If you're up for the challenge, hike one (or both) of the island's volcanoes. It truly is a challenge to hike either volcano and you'll need to start early to beat the heat. Make sure you use a guide for your hike.
See Lava at the Masaya Volcano
Nothing will make you respect mother nature more than staring into the bubbling lava of an active volcano. This is exactly what you can do on Masaya Volcano. You can look into the volcano from a safe distance that you can reach by tour, hiking or driving straight to the top. Be aware that you should not stay longer than a few minutes at the volcanoes peak because of the strong fumes.
Visit the Craft Market in Masaya
The craft market in Masaya is another great day trip from Granada. It is by far the largest craft market in Nicaragua and offers beautiful textiles, paintings and other crafts. There is a separate "locals" market in Masaya that is equally interesting to explore but features less souvenir items and isn't curated for tourists. There is very limited accommodations in Masaya so we recommend visiting on a day trip.
Swim in Laguna de Apoyo
A relaxing spot nearby Granada and the capital city of Managua, visit Laguna de Apoyo to relax for the day or spend a few days at a guest house or hostel on the lagoon. Laguna de Apoyo was formed in the crater of an extinct volcano and offers beautiful views and incredible nature. Sail, fish, swim or hike around the lagoon or just take some time to relax.
Surf along the Pacific Coast
The beaches on the pacific coast of Nicaragua are beautiful and most offer excellent surfing opportunites. Nicaraguan surf beaches are a less crowded alternative to it's neighbor in Costa Rica but offer similar swells. The sunsets aren't bad either!
Another colonial city, Leon is less colorful than Granada but still has some amazingly preserved architecture, including the largest cathedral in Central America. You can climb to the roof of the cathedral for some great views of the city. Leon is the former capital of Nicaragua and remains the country's "intellectual capital" boasting one of the main universities and several museums. Make sure you visit the Revolution Museum, especially if you are interested in learning about the Sandanista movement and U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. Additionally, many murals marking the political impact of the war between the Somoza regime and the Sandanistas can be spotted around the city.
Go Volcano Boarding
A day trip from Leon, visit Cerro Negro (the youngest volcano in Central America) where you can hike up and actually sled down the active volcano. Organized tours leave Leon in the mornings and are one of the most popular activities in Nicaragua. While there are ways to slow down or speed up, be advised that you can be seriously injured while volcano boarding.
Swim through Somoto Canyon
Somoto Canyon is still a fairly under the radar tourist activity in Nicaragua. A day trip from the city of Esteli, you can jump off the canyon cliffs and swim in the turquoise water below. There are several tour companies that will take you to explore the canyons or you can do self guided tours. Please use extreme caution if not on a tour and you want to jump from cliffs. We have had close friends severely injure themselves.
Escape to the Corn Islands
One of the best getaways in all of Nicaragua are the Corn Islands located off the Caribbean coast. There are two islands - Little Corn Island and Big Corn Island. Big Corn is slightly more expensive and offers more resort style accommodations. Little Corn Island is quieter, cheaper and extremely laid back. It is the perfect place to snorkel, dive, or just read a book on the beach. Little Corn Island is also one of the cheapest places in the world to get scuba certified.
Relax in Pearl Lagoon
Another Caribbean destination where you can really slow down and experience other cultures that Nicaragua has to offer is Pearl Lagoon. Most of the towns population is Creole but there are also indigenous groups like the Miskito and Garifuna that make up the towns inhabitants and the main language spoken here is English. Not a major tourist destination, Pearl Lagoon is hard to get to but it is truly a special place in Nicaragua and well worth the trip. The Pearl Cays off the coast of Pearl Lagoon are especially worth the visit, where you can rent a boat guide and have a whole Caribbean island to yourself for the day.