Nicaragua, the "land of volcanoes" with over 40 volcanoes across the country,
is still in the early stages of discovery with as much to offer as any
country in Latin America. The country rewards travelers with rainforests
busy, top surfing beaches, active volcanoes, and misty vistas over one
of the strangest and most beautiful lakes in the world, Lake Nicaragua.
Hotels in Nicaragua are improving all the time, but lower your expectations the farther you get away from the capital or tourist centers like Granada and San Juan del Sur. Even in increasingly popular destinations like the Corn Islands and Isla de Ometepe, luxury hotels are still in short supply. In general, though, the country does offer a great variety of accommodations, from all exclusive resorts on the Pacific coast to authentic Spanish colonial houses in Granada. The Northern Highlands and the lake islands offer rustic working farms with lots of personality but little in modern amenities.
Hoteliers are generally friendly and helpful. They will even suggest other housing arrangements for you if you'd like a more or less expensive room at a different hotel or alternate housing location (such as a Bed and Breakfast) or even a whole house.
Choose only the taxi operators with the red and white license plates. A trip from the Airport to Granada is about $25-$35 during the daytime. Be sure to negotiate the price. An alternative option for transport, are small van-sized air conditioned buses that run approximately every 30mins to/from Granada. They can be booked from the dispatch center for a reasonable cost.
Bus: There is a service to most large towns. Booking seats in Managua in advance is advisable. Most buses are former American school buses.
Taxi: Available at the airport or in Managua. Prices should be agreed before departure. No tip is expected.
Driving in Nicaragua
Cars can be rented at the airport but making prior arrangements before your trip is highly recommended. The roads in Managua are very congested, the streets are often not clearly marked and it is easy to get lost. Give careful thought before renting a car. Being involved in an accident, whether or not it is your fault, is an extremely frustrating and time consuming experience, even a minor fender bender. The process becomes even more involved if there is an injury involved, again, even if it is not your fault.
Travel throughout southwestern Nicaragua is not difficult, the main roads are in fairly good condition and gas stations are reasonably spaced. Travel to northwest is less developed but is also fairly OK once you stick to the main road. Getting to the Atlantic coast can be tricky. Side roads into the countryside are less developed and should be avoided unless you know where you are going and have a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
Things to See and DoEsteli
Very few visitors to Nicaragua are likely to have heard of Estelí – even though it is the second largest city in the northern half of the country. It is a small and quaint place to stay in order to explore northern Nicaragua's nature parks (Miraflor, Cantagallo, Tisey) and cities, which are off the beaten path. As the gateway to the northern regions of the country, it sees a lot of commercial traffic. People living in the surrounding areas often come to Estelí to sell their products and buy supplies and the agricultural sector is the largest sector in the area. Tobacco is a major industry and high quality cigars are easy to come by in the city. The city currently has a population of roughly 120,000 people and it is growing with each passing year.Granada Granada has some of the best architecture in Nicaragua and due to the recent investment in tourism, has become very popular among travelers. Take in the magnificent buildings in the Plaza de Independencia or head to the Reserva Nacional Volcán Mombacho, to hike the slopes towards the volcano's crater. The view over Masaya, Granada and the Lago de Nicaragua is amazing.
Like most colonial cities in this part of the world, the whole metropolis is built around a main square known as Parque Central. This is really Granada's social, cultural and economic hub, which comes alive every evening. It is in and around Parque Central that you will find Granada's Cathedral, City Hall, Cultural Centers, Banks and hundreds of small shops and stalls which are dedicated to the sale of traditional food and hand crafted goods. To the west of the main square, you will find the central market – great for fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, cheese and meat.
We usually do not single out specific companies, but the restaurant, El Zaguan, deserves a special mention if you are a steak lover. Located in the road behind the cathedral, it is a bit pricier than most in Nicaragua, but worth the experience.You may also make your way down 'La Calzada' Avenue, which is flanked by large colonial houses known as "casonas" and interesting churches. It ends on the shores of Nicaragua Lake where you will find a beautiful boulevard for pleasant evening strolls. Most of the attractions can be reached on foot and are most enjoyable.
Lake Nicaragua can literally make you forget everything. The water itself is full of fish, along with about 350 small to medium sized islands. The best, and biggest, of these is Ometepe, where you can explore volcanoes, caves with petroglyphs or simply relax and picnic by the beach, but also stop by the fortress on San Pablo, the archeological park on Isla Zapatera, and the eerie tombs and carvings on Isla El Muerto. Nearby Granada is on the mainland coast, and has some nice colonial architecture itself.Isla de Ometepe
An island formed by two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas, located in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. Hiking the volcanoes, kayaking and cycling are the main activities here with several eco tourism hotels emerging. It's beautiful, the locals are friendly and the food and accommodation is cheap... a great place to unwind for a few days.
The little town of San Jorge, located in Rivas, is the main departure point of ferries from the mainland to Ometepe island, arriving at Moyogalpa. There is also an option to take a boat from Granada to Altagracia, but it takes much more time and it is not a frequently used option.Leon This city in the North West was Nicaragua's capital until 1857 and to this day remains the country's "intellectual" capital as it is home to the National University. Remnants of the political war between the Somozas and Sandinistas can be seen in the graffiti and murals around the city. It's also worth visiting the Ruben Dario museum and the Leon Viejo ruins for a true sense of the city. It's a university town, so you get a more modern, liberal atmosphere. This place doesn't cater to tourists/ travelers. You just feel like you belong.
The best views of the city, and the surrounding mountains from the top of the cathedral for an entry fee of $1.
Volcano Hikes. There are many options provided by different providers, best to shop and compare. Options can include hikes, volcano boarding on Cerro Negro, spending the night on the top of El Hoyo.
San Juan del SurOne of the most visited destinations in the country. Known for surfing on unspoilt beaches, the majority of which are located throughout the municipality, including the most famous ones: Marsella, Maderas, Majagual, La Flor, El Ostional, El Coco, Las Salinas, El Astillero and El Yankee. Some have hotels, private houses or communities offering lodging options.
The infrastructure of the city of San Juan del Sur has changed in recent years. Today, there are a lot of foreign investors in the local real estate. Tourism has also brought economical development to the city with improvements in public areas, such as the waterfront and the central park.
Holy Week (around easter) is one of the busiest seasons. During this period, hundreds of locals and visitors, especially young people, visit the city for its many beach parties. December 31st is also a time of many parties in San Juan del Sur.
Artisan Villages in NicaraguaWithin the rural areas of Nicaragua you will come across homes that are also used as workshops by artisans. Nicaraguan artisan villages afford a unique opportunity to gain insight into the skill behind local handicrafts.
Masaya City Best-known for the 19th century artisan market, every road in the Monimbo suburb contains at least one workshop. Common crafts in Masaya include hammocks, leather, fabric and wood items. Interestingly and amusingly, several "native" crafts of Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica are actually made by Monimbo artisans in Masaya. Masaya is easily accessible from both Managua and Granada, making it a fantastic day-trip.
Catarina, a quaint colonial village, is situated on the edge of Apoyo Crater Lake. It is renowned for the lovely nurseries of potted plants that spill into the roadways. This Nicaraguan artisan village is home to wood workers as well as bamboo basket weavers. Catarina is also easily reached from both Managua and Granada.
San Juan de Oriente boasts the title of Central America's best-known ceramic village. Ceramic work has been taking place in the village for over 2000 years and the majority of village members work in creating pottery items. It is a remarkable to see these world-renowned artworks being created in their home environment - a truly rewarding cultural experience. San Juan de Oriente is located right beside Catarina.
Masatepe is a producer of hand crafted wooden rocking chairs that grace homes throughout Nicaragua. In fact large numbers of wood and wicker furniture pieces are created in this village. It is a marvel to view the artisan at work as he tirelessly creates masterpieces using basic tools whilst sharing his craftsman's knowledge with others. Masatepe is but 15 minutes from Catarina and convenient to visit from Granada and Managua.
Condega is a quiet village beautifully set in the northern mountains. A Nicaraguan artisan village, Condega produces exquisite pottery from red-clay. Actually, Condega is an indigenous expression for "land of pottery". Near the village you will discover a woman's cooperative. Here you will find some of the most magnificent pottery works you will ever see. The village is quite a way out but can be accessed from Matagalpa, Managua and Leon.
Jinotega is probably better known for coffee production and its magnificent Cathedral. However it is also home to artisans who create impressive black ceramics. The small settlement near Jinotega is where you will find the specialists in this form of handicraft. Jinotega can be visited from Managua.
Matagalpa is a hilly city and Nicaragua's coffee capital. Within and around the city you can explore textile and black ceramic workshops. Cotton textiles are progressively increasing in popularity after disappearing for many years. Matagalpa is some two hours from Managua.
Camoapa lies within the cattle area of Boaco, an area of Nicaragua that is often neglected by tourists. Here artisans create a type of "Panama" hat with a unique Nicaraguan feel. Camoapa's weavers will provide a warm welcome and will likely show you how they create their lovely hats. Camoapa is a fair drive from Managua.