Backpacking, Central America, Nicaragua

Backpacking in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is actually the larges country in Central America. With access to both the pacific and the Caribbean ocean and some incredible landscapes scattered with volcanos. Inbetween that, and the beautiful towns covered in colonial architecture, Nicaragua is a perfect place to visit. Backpacking in Nicaragua, and in general the Nicaragua tourism has suffered from the recent unrest in the country lately.

According to “Traveling Central America” groups on facebook though, it’s still fine to travel Nicaragua. And when I went, I didn’t see anything to the unrest and had an absolute blast. In this article, I’ll let you in on some of the best places to visit in Nicaragua.

Why visit Nicaragua?

Nicaragua was, if I dare to say it, my favorite country in Central America. Although it is really hard to choose a favorite!! I could’ve stayed there for months on end. It’s safe to say that I’m going back to explore more of this beautiful country. But for now, here is some information on 5 places you should definitely plan to visit if you’re going to Nicaragua! As well as what things to do in nicaragua.

LEON

If you’re coming from the north, and maybe like I did, from Honduras and beautiful Utila, one of the first natural stops on the route, and for sure the easiest stop is Leon.

What to do in Leon Nicaragua

Leon considered being one of the safest cities in Nicaragua, but also one of the safest cities in Central America. Or, thats at least what I was told during my time in Leon. The city has a beautiful white Cathedral located in the main square. You can actually walk around on the also white, roof of the cathedral, barefoot. Not only is the roof covered in some impressive architecture, but also has the best view over the city of Leon.

here are so many places to see in Nicaragua, Leon White Cathedral

Leon is also home to a big university city as it’s home to the second oldest university in Central America. Taking the number of students into account, the city has some pretty good parties too, especially during the weekends. Everything from salsa parties with danceclasses, to the normal reggeton party.

Volcano Boarding

The area also has lots of hiking opportunities, day trips, but also overnight trips of several hikes. But of all the things to do in Leon, it is definitely most famous for the possibility of doing volcano boarding on the nearby volcano Cerro Negro.

I don’t know if you’ve done any research about backpacking Nicaraguya yet. So you might wander what the heck Volcano boarding is, and if it actually is what it sounds like it is. And to that I, can tell you that yes, it pretty much is. And we’re not “just” talking about a volcano here, but actually one of the active volcanoes in Nicaragua.

Volcano boarding consist of you carrying a homemade board(pictured above) to the top of the Volcano Cerro Negro. Make sure that you check out the crater on top, there was actual smoke coming from the ground there when I was there! When you’ve enjoyed the view, you put on a one-piece, protective glasses, and gloves. Then you set off from the top to the bottom of the volcano. Dust, small stones, wind, and absolutely no steering. I absolutely loved it!

Read my detailed post about how to visit the roof of the Cathedral de Leon, and how to do volcano boarding on Cerro Necro!

GRANADA

Granada is a beautiful colorful colonial city in the heart of Nicaragua. It doesn’t have ocean access, but there are a lot of things to do in Granada and in the area, never the less.

What to do in Nicaragua, Granada main square
A part of the beautiful Main Sqare in Granada. You can pay to go up in one of the towers of the church. A perfect place to get a overview of the town.
the very cute and colorful streets of Granada Nicaragua
The very cute and colorful streets of Granada, you can actually see the churchtower from the curch on the pictuere above, in the distance.

Visit Volcano Masaya with its open crater

From Granada it’s easy to visit the active Volcano Masaya. So active volcanoes is actually a pretty normal thing in Nicaragua, but Masaya is special. You can actually go to the edge of the crater and look down at the magma.

The best time to visit is after dark so that you’ll be able to see the orange glowing stone mass better. It’s a short drive from Granada to the Masaya National Park. When there you have to pay about 3.5$ to enter the park. After some quing you drive to the top of the volcano.

Visit Active volcano Masaya in Nicaragua

When stepping out of the car on top, you’ll see the orange smoke above the crater and smell the sulfur in the air. You’ll get to look into the crater and see glowing and bubbling magma flowing below you. Visiting Volcano Masaya is to date one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. Be aware that you only get 20 minutes on top, mostly for your own health sake. But also so that the other people waiting in line can get the same experience.

Here are a couple of picture from the top of the volcano. It was pitch dark, and with a crappy cellphone, this was as good as the photos got. I promise though. It doesn’t get much better then looking down into a crater if an active volcano to see bright orange lava!

Tour to Volcano Masaya – To get a tour, we just walked the streets of Granada and asked for prices in the tour agencies. The prices variated a lot, but the absolute cheapest we found was 12 $ US per person, excluding the entrance fee to Masaya National park. I heard that another option is to get to the park entrance yourself, and then take a tour from there. This, however, is a bit more complicated, but fully possible with bus from Granada or Managua.

Visit Active volcano Masaya in Nicaragua
My silhouette, in the yellow magma smoke. If you didn’t put that togehter already.

Visit the Apoyo Lagoon outside Granada

When staying in Granada you should also try to visit the Apoyo Lagoon. It’s a huge lagoon in a volcanic crater. The deepest part of the lagoon is said to be about 100 meters below the sea level and the surface of the lagoon is about 75 meters above sea level. You can visit Laguna Apoyo from Granada as a day trip, or stay the night on one of the resorts or hostels there.

Seeing the moon rise with a great group of people, after a relaxing day of swiming in this huge crater lake.

Omotoepe

Does a huge volcanic Island in the middle of a gigantig lake sound to crazy to be true? Well, yes, it actually does exist!

The view of Omotepe from the Ferry, crossing over to the Island.

“Isla de Omotepe” is an island consisting of two huge vulcanos, The active Volcano Concepción, and Volcano Maderas. The island is located in Lake Nicaragua. The lake has an area of more than 8000km2 ! That’s so big I can’t even begin to grasp it. It totally seemed like the ocean when we were there, except for the fact that it’s all fresh water. The island of Omotepe is also really big, it has an area of 276 km2. Basically, to put it into perspective, the island is 31 km long and 5 to 10 km wide. Visiting Ometepe island is a must do, and one of the first places I would go back to.

Sunset at Punta Jesus Maria

The Island has waterfalls, freshwater pools, amazing hiking oportunities, among others to the top of Volcano Concepción at about 1200 meters.

Spend a couple of days here relaxing, explore the surroundings on a scooter, motorbike or four wheelers. See the sunset from Punta Jesus Maria and drive back to your hostel in the dark. Smell the fresh countryside air as farmers and animals look back at you from the side of the roads.

The Island of Omotepe is truly a place for adventures!

Popoyo (Guasacate)

The little “town” of Guasacate stole my heart, much due to the amazing people who inhabit the place. But also because of the beautiful beaches, amazing sunsets and sunrises and magical bioluminescence in the water!

Surf Beaches of Nicaragua Popoyo What to do in Nicaragua

Spend your days surfing, relaxing on the beach and cuddle up with the pig that runs along the beach every time the sun sets. It’s so easy to get into the relaxed vibe of the place and the wonderful people there! It’s a bit tricky to get to if you want to do it the low budget way but definitely doable, and worth it. Popoyo with its great surf has some of the best beaches in Nicaragua. Along the beach, there are several areas with different kind of waves, for all kinds of levels. That includes some for me, a complete beginner.

San Juan Del Sur

If you’ve been traveling through Central America, you’ve probably heard tales about “sundayfunday“. You’ve probably even seen people walking around in the famous tanktops.

San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua.

What to know about Sunday Funday in San Juan del Sur

If you haven’t heard of it, in short, it’s a huge pool-crawl that is arranged every Sunday. It starts at 1 pm and goes on until the late hours, with an afterparty after you’ve been to about 4-5 different locations with pools. The tickets are very expensive if you ask me, from a low budget backpacker perspective. Tickets for Sunday Funday sell for about 30$ and that includes one tank top and transportation between the party locations. No drinks, no food.

I highly recommend staying in one of the collaborate hostels the night you want to do Sunday Funday. These hostels are not the cheapest in San Juan del Sur, but that way you can grab the Sunday Funday ticket for 15$ instead. That makes it worth paying the 14$ dollars a night that one night. And just do what I did, the next day, go find a cheaper hostel a couple of streets away. The cheapest deal for a bed in a hostel dorm I found in San Juan del Sur was about 8$.

What to do in San Juan del Sur

With that said, San Juan is more than just partying. It’s a great base for surfers, and to visit amazing beaches located close to the city. 

Yankee beach San juan del sur, beaches of nicaragua. What to see in Nicaragua
Playa Yankee

Visit some of the beaches close to San Juan del Sur

We found a guy with a pickup truck and got him to drive us, about 7 people, to a beach called Yankee beach. An absolutely beautiful, big deserted beach. There was no one, but us and 2 surfers there. Another popular surf beach in the area is Maderas Beach, and for more relaxed beachtime, you can check out Marsella Beach. Other then that, if you have a car, San Juan del Sur is the perfect place to base yourself out to check out more of the beaches of Nicaragua.

Hike to Mirador del Cristo de la Misericordia

There is a Christ statue on a mountain top not far from San Juan, called Christ of the Mercy. Like in some other cities in Latin America like Lima and the world famous Rio de Janeiro. The Jesus statue in San Juan del Sur is one of the tallest in the world and from the Mirador del Cristo de la Misericordia has a great view as one of the talest points of the bay.


I hope this gave you some ideas about how to spend your time in Nicaragua!

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Kemi
    February 7, 2019 at 12:26 am

    Looks very fun and relaxing. I love small towns and Central America has loads of them. Volcano boarding?? Hmmn. Fun to try once.

  • Reply
    Arunima Dey
    February 7, 2019 at 4:09 am

    I keep hearing that Nicaragua, along with Honduras, is one of the most dangerous countries to go. In fact, my professor told me I might as well go to Iraq. Jeez. So, I am particularly thrilled to have read your adventures. Posts like these are important to spread awareness. 🙂

  • Reply
    Sippin Gypsy
    February 7, 2019 at 4:42 am

    It sounds like you had an amazing time! I can only imagine how crazy this Sunday Funday pool parties must be! Thanks for the tips for what to do and where to go!

  • Reply
    Jayashree
    February 7, 2019 at 6:59 am

    Lovely pics to view over and over again. Wonderful description. Loved reading. <3

  • Reply
    Alex Trembath
    February 7, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    We are considering Central America for our next big backpacking trip, so this was fascinating to read, and you’ve covered so much information. Love that you included some much of your own experiences too. Sounds like a great country to visit 🙂

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    February 8, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Looks like an awesome place to explore. Our boys LOVE volcanoes so they’d love this!!! Did you find it to be a safe location?

  • Reply
    Melissa
    February 10, 2019 at 9:55 pm

    I’ve never been to Nicaragua despite dating a Nicaraguan for years. I want to get me some of that volcano boarding action! What an experience! My son would absolutely flip for that!

  • Reply
    Nina Out and About
    February 10, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    I’ve never been to South America, but it looks gorgeous. Sandboarding and looking into the crater look like so much fun!

  • Reply
    The Travel Bunny
    February 11, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    I have never heard about volcano boarding before. It must be such a thrill ride! Is it ok for people who have never been skateboarding or snowboarding?

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