If you haven’t already noticed, we are quite the fans of tropical vacations. We would use an escape from the cold as an excuse, but with most of this winter being 70 degrees and up in Nola, we will just have to blame it on that lax Latin vibe, blue water, beaches & those accents 💘.
With so many new airlines emerging at MSY like Latin America’s Copa Airlines, hopping over to Central and South America for a few days is affordable and easier than most people think. Nicaragua has been getting lots of attention lately as a hot destination south of the border for the young (and broke) backpacker, and after our recent visit we can totally understand why.
Surfers have flocked to Nicaragua calling it one of the top hidden surf destinations for years, but their secret is out. Even if you’re not the type of babe to hang ten, befriending a surfer or two on the beach is not the worst fate.
One of the most amazing parts about Nicaragua is the diversity of natural beauty it offers. From volcanoes, to beaches, to rainforests, Nicaragua has it all. If we don’t have you convinced yet, it’s also one of the safest destinations in Latin American for travelers.
You’ll fly into Nicaragua’s capital city Managua. While this is where many of the locals work and live, it’s not quite as beautiful as the rest of the country. That’s because the entire city has been rebuilt over the last few decades after it was destroyed by an earthquake in the 70’s. That’s not to say, you won’t enjoy yourself staying in Managua in between your journey around the rest of the country.
Hotel Boutique Villa Maya – Boutique hotels and hostels hidden away in neighborhoods like Villa Maya make you feel like you’re not even in the city. This little place is a peaceful retreat for a night between adventures, starting as low as $65 a night.
La Bicicleta – This eco hostel is run by a group of Nicaraguan babes in the heart of the city, and was recently voted best hostel in Nicaragua. Rates start as low at $15 a night!
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See & Do
Huembes Market – The artisanal markets in Nicaragua are amazing. From handmade hammocks to beautiful artwork, to leather bags all at unbelievable prices, there’s plenty of gifts to buy for your loved ones and of course to treat yourself.
Don’t miss the leather. Stock up on colorful handbags, sunglass cases, wallets & more all made of genuine cow, snake & lizard for 1/3 of the price this would cost you in the U.S.
Joya De Nicaragua – Nicaraguan cigars have become some of the most popular in the world – some even say they are better than Cubans. Stop by Joya De Nicaragua to pick up some cigars, and win major points with you boo, and other cigar-smoking men in your life. You can find these in the U.S., but they’re a bargain here and visiting the official shop is a fun learning experience on one of the top industries in Nicaragua.
Eat & Drink
Food may not be the first thing that comes to mind when deciding to travel to Nicaragua, but Nicaraguan cuisine is absolutely delicious, so go hungry!
Caballo Bayo – The best way to do caballo ballo is at a giant celebration in a local’s home, but if you can’t snag an insider invite they offer it in many restaurants in Managua like La Cocina de Doña Haydée. Think of the Nicaraguan version of fajitas but with lots of special fixins’ like Chicharrón (homemade pork rinds), fried plantains, and pico de gallo salad – a Nica staple you’ll see on the table at every meal.
Cacao – basically the Nicaraguan version of chocolate milk. Need we say more?
Quesillo – Cheese? carbs? We’re in! Quesillo is like Nicarguan fast food. It’s perfect to stop & pick up while on the road to the beach, and is served to go in a little plastic baggie filled with lot’s of deliciousness. If you’re a newbie, the challenge is keeping clean while eating this baby. Trust us – don’t even try. Just stock up on napkins and prepare to get cheesy.
Newbie vs. experienced quesillo eater
Nacatamal – Possibly our favorite of Nicaraguan cuisine, these (giant) tamales are wrapped in banana leaves, boiled and served hot. They are stuffed with corn, rice, potatoes, pork, tomato, olives & more veggies. They are served for breakfast every Sunday. Yumm!
A short 20 minute drive from Managua, Masaya is a good stop for a day trip between Managua and Granada.
See & Do
Masaya Volcano National Park – Nicaragua has one of the most impressive collections of volcanoes in the world. Masaya Volcano National Park has two volcanoes that have both erupted in the past forming its unique landscape made up of rocks and volcanic ash from past eruptions.
What’s rare is seeing an active volcano, and the Masaya Volcano currently is, making this a must-see. Yes – hot flowing lava and all. Ya’ll, seeing an active volcano is such an amazing, and once in a lifetime, experience. There was something so surreal and calming (almost eerie) about the lava, the smoke & the whole experience. Rumor has it, NatGeo is currently filming a documentary on this bad boy. So if you can’t see it in real life, at least you can see it on the big screen one day.
Laguna de Apoyo – Grab your swimsuit, a towel and plan on relaxing in this paradise all day. It’s a great stop for curing your hangover with a Michelada in hand on the way back to Managua from San Juan.
Once you exit the highway and head toward the lagoon, you’ll see lot’s of places where you can stop and enjoy drinks, food, swimming, and a comfy hammock or lounge chair to enjoy the views. You just pay a small entry fee and you’re in all day. A few of our favorite’s are Laguna Beach Club, The Monkey Hut, and Pájaro Azul.
Grab a Hammock – Masaya has one of the largest markets in Nicaragua with even more to choose from than Huembes. If you ask the locals where to go, you can even go hammock shopping inside someone’s home right where they are made (photo below). The colors are beautiful, and the people are who make them are just as magnificent.
Granada is Nicaragua’s most colonial city with architecture almost reminiscent of Nola. It’s colorful central square is living history at every turn.
Hotel Dario – is located right in the city’s center. The beautiful hotel features an open courtyard with a lush garden and fountain in it’s center in traditional Granada style. Eating at the restaurant overlooking the garden is such a lovely experience. Rooms start at $100 a night.
See & Do
Lake Nicaragua – For just a few dollars, you can hop on a boat and cruise around the biggest lake in Central America. A volcanic chain cuts right through Lake Nicaragua, and this has resulted in the creation of many small islands and groups of islets that you can see from the boat, and even some you can visit. Don’t forget to bring some cold cerveza Toña along for the ride.
Cathedral of Granada – The city’s iconic yellow church sits right in the central plaza. Take a look inside, and then head out to the plaza where there’s always lots going on!
Eat & Drink
Vigorón – While Vigorón can be found all over Nicaragua, it’s said that the best is in Granada where it was invented. The street dish is made with boiled yucca (a root vegetable, similar to a potato) in a banana leaf, topped with cabbage salad and chicharrones. It will run you about a $1 so grab seconds if you’ve got room, and order a cacao to accompany it!
San Juan Del Sur
The most popular of destinations in Nicaragua, you can’t miss San Juan Del Sur. The Pacific beach town offers lots of options for dining, drinking, nightlife and stunning beaches.
Hola Ola Hostel – Hola Ola is an international oasis where the fun never ends right in the heart of Nicaragua’s booming beach town. Rooms start as low as $12 a night.
See & Do
The Christ of Mercy Statue – Need Jesus in your life? Climb up to the giant Christ of the Mercy statue overlooking the bay for an amazing 360 degree view of the town.
Partying – San Juan Del Sur is the party town in Nicaragua. Hit up the main strip in front of the beach. There are plenty of bars, clubs & restaurants to stumble into any night of the week for a beach night out that can be as late as you’d like it to be.
If you’re in San Juan on a Sunday, don’s miss the legendary Sunday Funday Pool Crawl, a day of drinking, DJ’s and dancing with a bus taking you to three different hostel pool parties.
Many of the ultimate parties take place on New Year’s Eve on secluded beaches a few miles away from San Juan. One of the most epic of them all is known as Moondance. This party literally goes until the sun comes up (see below), and the drinks never stop flowing. If you need a nap in between partying, there are plenty of hammocks on the beach for that.
Eat & Drink
Lobster & Fresh Seafood – Treat yourself like a queen because lobster is ridiculously cheap and amazingly fresh here. Three lobsters for lunch on the beach? Why not! The fish is fresh and delicious as well.
Flor De Caña – You’re going to be partying in San Juan. Nicaraguans drink this stuff like water (with the price in Nica, we can’t blame ’em). You’ll want to consume lots of it while you’re in one of the rum capitals of the world. Bring back a bottle or two for your friends as well.
Micheladas – the ultimate hangover drink. You’ll need a few of these to come back from a night of drinking Flor De Caña! Ya’ll – we could drink these on the beach all day. Think Bloody Mary, but they are made with beer and lots of refreshing lime making them easy to go down. Make sure you order yours with Toña or Victoria, the two Nicaraguan beer staples.
Toña and Victoria – Don’t forget to drink your share of Nica beer by itself as well. Their main two beers offered are both easy drinking. Try Toña if you like a lager, and Victoria if you’re more of a Pilsner babe.
Your Own Private Beach
Need to recover from Moondance? Head to one of the more secluded beaches for the day for some me time. Some of these beaches are a bit of an off road trek to get to, but so worth it!
We saw and did so much, but there’s still so much more to this little paradise. We’re already planning our next trip back!
Need more recommendations, or see something we missed? Add it in the comments!