5 Awesome Places to See in Nicaragua

I went to Central America for the first time in early 2001. With the low costs, beautiful beaches, hot weather, nice locals and interesting expats-I was hooked quickly to the lure of Central America. Back in 2003, I did a massive overland backpacking trip with my friends from Panama to Mexico and every country in between. Because of timing, scheduling or whatever reason we only spent one night in Nicaragua in the capital of Managua as we drove from Costa Rica to Honduras. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed by Managua and always vowed to go back and see and do more. I just got back from an 8-day trip to Nicaragua and loved every second of it! Here are 5 awesome places to see in Nicaragua!
Nicaragua, Big Corn Island
Granada

Unfortunately I would have a hard time including Managua in a 5 awesome places to see in Nicaragua post. So instead of spending much time there aside from a quick tour around from my driver, we bee-lined it straight for Granada about an hour south.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Granada, cathedral
Granada is a beautiful colonial town that resembles Trinidad, Cuba or Antigua, Guatemala. Like most colonial towns, there is a main square and a cathedral and the streets are lined with colorful shops and buildings.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Granada, cathedral
We stayed at the Gran Francia Hotel; which is a pretty nice boutique hotel just off the main square and a block from the main bar and restaurant street. I would recommend staying here, it has a nice lobby pool and rooms were only $100.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Granada, Gran Francia, pool
For the record, Nicaragua is a very cheap destination and you can stay in hostels and cheap hotels for a few bucks a night if you wanted to. I’m too old to stay in hostels and I like to have a bit of luxury, air conditioning and my own bathroom so we pretty much stayed in all top places on this trip.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Granada
Like most towns in Nicaragua, Granada is surrounded by nature and there are a lot of things to do around the city itself. We only had one night for Granada and focused on the city itself as my two best friends and I were catching up and traveling together for the first time in almost 10 years. The best way to see Granada is to just stroll the streets, sit in the cafes, bars and just take it all in.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Granada, friends
The food in Granada was marginal at best. Of 4 meals I had in Granada, the best was a steak dinner I had in the hotel restaurant at the Gran Francia. That said, Granada is a great place to have a few beers. Toña is an excellent beer and is generally served ice cold; which makes it even better. It’s about 10000 degrees in Granada and Nicaragua in general so that’s much appreciated!

San Juan del Sur

Oh the plans we had for San Juan del Sur. The little beach town is a hub of budget travelers and backpackers. It is surrounded by surf spots, beaches, volcanoes and other places of interest. However, San Juan del Sur sucks you into the laid back vibes and it’s hard to break free. San Juan del Sur easily imprisoned us and that turned out to be exactly what I needed.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur, San Juan
We AirBnB’d a hillside villa overlooking San Juan del Sur that had ridiculous sunset and morning views. It was actually my first time ever using AirBnb, well actually my buddy Jake booked it, but it worked out nicely. It was a massive, modern, air-conditioned, 3-bedroom villa for only $300 a night. It was perfect and I actually was able to get some real sleep, like more than 4 hours…it was a thing of beauty.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur, San Juan, sunset
San Juan del Sur is a place for excellent food, decent beaches and meeting other travelers. San Juan del Sur is a backpacker place. It reminds you of Thailand in that it’s mostly backpackers because it’s so cheap. It’s also full of people who are running away from something, whether it’s an ex, the law or whatever. You always find these types of outlaws in places like San Juan del Sur. Central America is flooded with these kinds of people and to be honest, I love it-keeps it interesting!
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur, San Juan, sunset, cristo
As I said, there is a lot to do in San Juan del Sur but we really didn’t do anything except chill out, go to the beach, hang out and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. The one thing we did do was the infamous or famous Sunday Funday.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur, San Juan, Sunday Funday
This is basically a massive booze cruise that moves from place to place over the course of the day. It reminded me of a party in Corfu, Greece or one of the Mediterranean islands mixed with the Full Moon Party in Thailand. It is literally the most uncultured/un-Nicaraguan thing to do. It’s only Westerners.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur, San Juan, sunday funday
I had a blast but I wouldn’t do it again. I’m past that part of my life and we ended up cutting out early from the party to go watch the Maryland game at our favorite, and the only sports bar in town, Dorados. We frequented there, as it was the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and my school played twice.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur, San Juan, Dorados, tv
However, I would go back to San Juan del Sur to chill out and honestly, I wouldn’t do anything differently although I would make the effort to climb nearby Ometepe. We had planned on it but it’s a 12-hour commitment and we couldn’t be bothered. After all, we were on vacation.

Big Corn Island

Back in 2003, we debated going to the Corn Islands in Nicaragua but decided to spend a week in the Bay Islands of Honduras instead. As a result of that, I always wanted to go back and visit. I had been to the nearby Colombian island of San Andres as well but the Corn Islands required some real effort to get to.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Corn Islands, Big Corn Island, Big Corn
It used to be you had to get overland to Bluefields and then fly or boat to Big Corn, but now you can fly direct from Managua, as we did. This makes it much easier and we had a blast.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Corn Islands, Big Corn Island, Big Corn, sunset
Big Corn is a pretty island. It is somewhat developed as places like the Corn Islands go but not really. There is one road that circles the island and you can drive it by golf cart in 20 minutes.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Corn Islands, Big Corn Island, Big Corn, road, water
Big Corn Island is super laid back and there’s not a lot going on in terms of nightlife or anything really but it’s a great place to go to the beach and just chill out. We stayed at Paraiso on the southwestern part of the island not far from the airport. It was on a nice beach and close to the port.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Corn Islands, Big Corn Island, Big Corn, sunset, beach
Honestly, my favorite thing about Big Corn Island was the food. It was amazing. In the Corn islands, lobster is not a treat; it’s a staple food. But they do it as good as anywhere I’ve ever been. There is a restaurant called Comedor Maris that I would rank in my top 20 meals of all time. The lobster, shrimp, ambience and of course beer were perfect. We ate there each night on the island!
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Corn Islands, Big Corn Island, Big Corn, palms
That’s really it for Big Corn, it’s pretty self-explanatory and you really can’t go wrong. Rent a golf cart, get a massage, eat your face off, go to the beach and chill. That’s what the locals do so take their lead and enjoy!

Little Corn Island

Little Corn is about 7 miles from Big Corn and is much smaller. There is no airport and the only way to get there is by boat. There is a ferry but it was cancelled the day we went for a daytrip so we ended up taking a lobster boat that looked like the Bubba Gump from Forest Gump.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Corn Islands, Little Corn Island, Little Corn, boat
Little Corn is a pretty little island. We were actually delayed a bit getting out there so our time was pretty limited. My buddy Rob actually lives on Little Corn and met us at the dock and showed us around.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Corn Islands, Little Corn Island, Little Corn, boat
The beaches on Little Corn are more tropical looking and there are no roads on the islands. You walk or ride bikes everywhere-that’s pretty awesome. The main town is where all the backpackers stay and drink. That’s basically what Little Corn is; a backpacker haunt. It would have definitely been a fun place to stay over but we had to get back to catch our flight the next day. The boats are very unreliable and you cannot risk the schedule.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Corn Islands, Little Corn Island, Little Corn, hammock
Rob took us around the island and to eat at a small beach restaurant called Full Moon. Again, an absolutely awesome lobster and shrimp meal that may have even been better than Comedor Maris on Big Corn. Basically, eating in the Corn Islands is amazing!
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Corn Islands, Little Corn Island, Little Corn, road
While I wish we had a night on Little Corn, I was pretty satisfied with our time there. I feel like Little Corn is much like other backpacker islands around the world I’ve been to and I didn’t miss out on much. That said, if I ever go back to the Corn Islands, I would split my time between the two starting on Little Corn.

León

León is a cute little town very similar to Granada in my opinion. Colorful streets, cathedrals all over, and little shops, bars and restaurants. I found León a little grubbier than Granada but that gave it a little character.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Leon
We stayed at a place called San Juan de León; which looked like a convenience store from the outside but wasn’t too bad inside and it was only $60 a night. I probably wouldn’t stay there again but it did the trick and had a cool lobby pool.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Leon, Cerro Negro, volcano Boarding
Our sole purpose in going to León was the go volcano boarding down Cerro Negro. It’s about a 45-minute drive from town if your driver can figure out where to go. We did a private tour and our driver was a bit stupid but we eventually made it!
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Leon, Cerro Negro, volcano Boarding, hike
The hike up Cerro Negro takes about 45 minutes. It is an easy hike with pretty awesome views. The only issue we had was there was hurricane force winds-literally over 100mph! That made walking up a bit difficult especially as you’re carrying your wooden board.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Leon, Cerro Negro, volcano Boarding, view
But we all made it, managed not to get blown away and then we were off! The actual volcano boarding lasts less than a minute down about 2400 feet. It is pretty fun and I wish I could have done it again!
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Leon, Cerro Negro, volcano Boarding, volcano
You will get dirty. You will get volcanic ash all up in you and down your shoes. For days, you’ll be picking ash out of weird places thinking, how the heck did it get there! But it’s well worth it and very fun.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Leon, Cerro Negro, volcano Boarding
Volcano boarding Cerro Negro was the activity highlight of the trip for us and I highly recommend it. It’s only about $25 or so and there are dozens of little tour companies in town you can book a group trip from. We did private because we wanted our driver to take us to the beach immediately after.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Leon, Cerro Negro, volcano Boarding, Las Penitas
We went to Playa Las Penitas as we had heard it was a great little beach town where all the León and Managua locals went on the weekend. It also happened to be the start of Semana Santa, their Holy Week.
5 Awesome Things to do in Nicaragua, Nicaragua, Leon, Cerro Negro, volcano Boarding, Las Penitas, beach, playa
Las Penitas was packed for sure but to be honest it wasn’t that nice. The beaches were ehh and littered with trash. We ate at the top local spot and the service was horrific as was the food. Basically we weren’t impressed although we were able to wash off the volcanic ash in the Pacific Ocean so that served its purpose right there!

Comments

  1. I think it’s very cool how you and your friends still travel together. Thanks for sharing stories of your vacation, even though it seems that’s all you do 😉

  2. Alexandra says:

    I’ve been dying to go to Nicaragua. I was so jealous of your photos and snaps. Have a great time in Europe and can’t wait to watch your snaps and photos. Thanks for sharing so much with us who can’t travel ourselves.

  3. Can I have your life?! I love how you go on “vacation” to get away in Nicaragua!

  4. Awesome and lovely article. You can post beautiful beaches picture. Nicaragua is a most beautiful site for Central America. It is the best suitable place for traveling. I’m very much helpful to read this article. Thanks sharing this idea.

  5. Thanks for sharing Lee whats your snapchat?

  6. It looks like an amazing place to escape for holiday trip with our friends.I’d love to visit Nicaragua with my friends. Thanks for sharing your experiences

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