Top 5 Must Visit Destinations in Nicaragua by John Early

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Top 5 Must Visit Destinations in Nicaragua

By: John Early

Nicaragua has quietly become one of the top travel destinations in the world and hot spot for surfers and backpackers on the Central America circuit. With the country realizing its potential as a destination for tourism, Nicaragua is finally catching up to its more developed and highly visited neighbor to the south: Costa Rica. Being Central America’s largest country, Nicaragua is also home to some incredible gems you can’t find elsewhere in the world. Here are my Top Five Must Visit Destinations in Nicaragua:

Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo is a nature reserve consisting of a thermally vented 48-square kilometer body of water contained inside the crater of the Apoyo Volcano.  20,000 years ago, the volcano imploded on itself and has continued to fill with both rain and subterranean water. Nicaragua has fortunately also limited development along it’s rocky and sandy beaches. The end result is a giant, pristine lake with some of the cleanest and clearest water in Central America…along with the opportunity to check off ‘Swim in a volcano lake crater’ from your bucket list.

Where to Stay:
For a true escape into the serenity of what Laguna de Apoyo has to offer, check in at Apoyo Lodge ( While it is often booked for yoga and other retreats, mornings there will make you feel like you woke up in the mansion of a Colombian Kingpin. (Private rooms are between $50-80)

What to Do:
Backpackers and travelers alike agree that Paradiso Hostel ( is definitely the main spot on Apoyo when it comes to great food and drinks with plenty of hangout space on their rocky beach and multiple patio platforms. They also have paddle boards and tubes to float in for both day-trippers and guests.

(Dorm beds are $12 and private rooms start at $40)

San Juan del Sur

There is something infectious about this little local fishing village turned surf and party mecca. Besides also being a new locale for nearby yoga retreats, it is home to the infamous Sunday Funday Poolcrawl, AKA the biggest weekly party in Central America. Whether you go for it’s long beautiful beach, carefree vibes, central location for surf spots or its unlimited fuel to fiesta, it’s the community’s mix of welcoming locals and young entrepreneurial expats that will make you stay longer than planned.

Where to Stay:

Whether you’re looking for a dorm bed, quiet private room or tours and transportation to any of the nearby beaches, Casa Oro Eco Hostel ( has everything under one (giant) roof. It’s located in the core of San Juan and only a block from the beach and is a great place to meet fellow travelers without the partypacker atmosphere. Their café also has the best samosas in town!

(Dorm beds start at $10 and private rooms start at $38)

What to Do:

Besides (or in-between) the constant parties that San Juan is known for, it’s also central to some amazing beaches and surf breaks. Here is a break down of the main spots:
Maderas – most consistent surf (beginner to advanced), most popular beach for a day trip
Remanso – small surf (ideal for beginners), quiet and chill beach that’s closest to town
Playa Hermosa – private beach access ($3), normally has the fewest surfers, expensive food and drinks
Playa Yankee – great advanced surf, isolated beach with no major amenities
Playa Escameca – beginner to intermediate surf (often close-outs), beautiful beach with minimal amenities

The short but steep hike up to San Juan’s Jesus Statue (Cristo de la Misericordia) is worth the uphill climb to get incredible panorama views of the entire bay and area. The best time to go is before sunset but before 5pm as they close public access at that time.

($2 entrance fee)

Isla de Ometepe

Lake Nicaragua—the largest in Central America—is home to a biosphere unlike any other in the world. Ometepe is a twin volcano island surrounded by fresh water—the only island of its kind on the planet. From it’s fertile volcanic soil, black sand beaches, immense natural wildlife and archaeological sites from pre-colonial Aztecs, it’s amazing that more backpackers and eco-tourists haven’t discovered it yet!

Where to Stay:

Finca Mystica ( is an affordable and very accommodating and isolated island escape. It has incredible food and located close to a rocky beach and all the main activities by the Maderas Volcano.

(Large dorm beds are $13 and private cabins are $38)

What to Do:

The majority of eco-travelers visiting Ometepe will go to hike one of the two volcanoes on the island. While it’s not common for people to hike Concepción due to the sheer size and endurance of it, many people love the intense jungle hike and climb up Maderas. You will encounter several different climates hiking up (dry tropical to wet tropical) but be warned that there are no major viewpoints or photo ops once you get to the top – if you can even see anything at all!
(a local guide is needed, approx. $10 per person)

Other great activities include:
-horseback riding to the Maderas waterfall (apprx $40 pp)
-kayaking the island estuary (apprx $25 pp)
-the cool volcanic springs of Ojo de Agua ($3 entrance)


Léon is the second largest city in Nicaragua (after the capital city, Managua) and was founded in the 16th century. Spanish colonial churches, historic buildings and local markets fill the beautiful downtown core. Although it’s rival (and more polished) colonial town, Granada, is the more popular tourist destination in Nicaragua, Léon offers the history and local charm without feeling like a tourist. Also, backpackers are now flocking to this university town because the nearby active volcano, Cerro Negro, is one of the few places in the world where you can go volcano boarding!

Where to Stay:

The party hostel in town is BigFoot Hostel ( and they also provide daily tours for volcano boarding down Cerro Negro ($28 pp). Just be wary of their bar’s Lava Shot Challenge!
(Dorm beds start at $8 and private rooms at $28)

What to Do:

Besides volcano boarding you can book in with Mas Adventures ( for their Revolution Tour – taking you through the history of the city’s colonial buildings and Nicaraguan revolution that was instigated in Léon.

Léon also happens to be one of the hottest cities in Central America, so a day trip to the nearby beach and surf of Las Penitas is worth the short 40 min ride.

Corn Islands

The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is home to a set of islands that are a world away from the rest of the country. The Corn Islands consist of Big Corn and Little Corn—the latter being a car-free paradise which is home to world class deep sea diving, incredible seafood cuisine and a fusion of Rasta culture. You might have trouble understanding the locals—but it isn’t because they speak Spanish. The islanders speak a mix of English, Miskito and other Caribbean dialects…but as long as you can say “Jus’ chillin’ mon”* you’ll fit right in.

Where to Stay:

Little Corn Beach and Bungalow ( is the best place for the fusion of luxury and the real Corn Island experience. Their restaurant, Turned Turtle, also has some of the best food and cocktails on the island (their infamous Pina Colada is simply amazing).

(Cabins range from $60-$200)

For backpackers, The Lighthouse Hotel ( has quickly become one of the best options for those looking for a higher quality stay. (Dorm beds start at $15 and private cabins for $55)

What to Do:

There are plenty of options from scuba diving, deep sea fishing and paddle boarding at sunset, but most would agree you can’t beat Corn Island hammock nap!

I would recommend walking and exploring the entire circumference of the island (approx. 2 hours) with a stop up ‘The Lighthouse’ which is actually an old satellite tower with incredible 360 degree views of the island. Also, you can’t stay in the Corn Islands without trying the local ‘rondon’ seafood soup specialty!

The tourism sector in Nicaragua is currently booming as people discover its natural and cultural wonders. Now is the time to visit this country while tourism is still a relatively fresh concept: prices are cheap and the travel trail isn’t overrun but still has all the amenities for a foreigner. You’ll be sipping their delicious Flor de Caña rum from a coconut exclaiming the local slang diacachimba in no time!

About the Author:

John Early is an author, musician and tour manager. He has just released his book Tales of the Modern Nomad – Monks, Mushrooms & Other Misadventures


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1 Comment

  1. Bablofil says:

    Thanks, great article.

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