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Central America Hiking Nicaragua North America Outdoors Travel

Guide to Traveling Nicaragua

If you like warm beaches, hiking, some nightlife, great food and a bit of the city, Nicaragua might just be the place for you! Located in Central America, and neighboring Costa Rica and Honduras, Nicaragua is paradise on a budget. With all around good weather with some occasional showers, it’s the place to be for a chill getaway. The nightlife is quite happening in cities such as San Juan del Sur and Granada but if that isn’t your thing there are so many other things to in Nicaragua.

Cristo de la Misericordia viewpoint – San Juan del Sur

The average 20-something to 30-something-year-old traveler is more about the outdoors and exploring so you’ll find it easy to meet people along the way. Ready to see what this paradise has to offer? Keep reading my guide to traveling Nicaragua.

San Juan del Sur

If you’re looking for beach life and some good surf head to San Juan del Sur. And if you want to party a bit stay for their Sunday Funday. Hostels all over the city host epic pool parties so come ready to drink, swim, and play. But don’t fret if you’re not a party animal because the surf is good and the beaches are beautiful!

Playa Hermosa

Enjoy the best view of the city that overlooks the ocean from the Cristo de la Misericordia. There’s a small entrance fee to enter but you’ll be paid back in VIEWS! It’s a steep walk up so I recommend going early to avoid the heat.

Cristo de la Misericordia viewpoint
Things to do in San Juan del Sur

Beaches – Playa Hermosa
Sunday Funday Party
Viewpoint – Cristo de la Misericordia (Christ of the Mercy)

Enjoying the street food and nightlife
How to get to San Juan del Sur

San Juan del Sur is near the southern border and on the Pacific Ocean side. To get there you would fly into Managua airport, take a taxi to the UCA Bus Terminal (20-30 minute drive). The taxi stall at the airport will charge you a high price so if you want a better deal walk out of the airport and towards the Pan-American Highway. You can take a local bus (also known as a chicken bus) to San Juan del Sur from the UCA Bus Terminal.

Shuttle buses are also an option. They are smaller, more reliable (less likely to break down), and safer (there have been reports of theft on chicken buses so it’s always advisable to keep your valuables close). However, the shuttles are more expensive. If this is the route you would like to take you can book these while you’re in Nicaragua and maybe even get a better rate or ahead of time, online. I did a combination of booking in a day or so in advance and in person. I booked most of my shuttles though Big Foot Hostel.

If you are flying into Managua airport I suggest starting your trip in either Leon or Granada then working your way clockwise or counter-clockwise. You can visit Granda, Laguna de Apoyo, Isla Ometepe, then San Juan del Sur, then carry on to Leon or do it the other way around. Of course, you don’t have to do it in the order but it makes the most sense if you are flying in and out of Managua. Shuttle buses and local chicken buses are available between most these routes.

If you’re coming from Costa Rica and working your way northwest then San Juan del Sur is the perfect place to start the Nicaraguan part of your trip. You’ll go through the Peñas Blancas border before arriving in the surfer paradise. Shuttle buses are a great way of getting there if you think you may get a little lost driving across the border. There is someone with you the entire journey to help you.

A local chicken bus is also an option. This is a cheap but slow option and the bus will stop just before the border. You’ll have to get your Costa Rica exit stamp then proceed to the Nicaragua border and get on another chicken bus heading to San Juan del Sur.

Isla Ometepe

Isla Ometepe is an island oasis composed of two volcanos. If you have a craving for outdoors this is the perfect place to go to. Between hiking, kayaking, and riding bikes around the island, you won’t run out of things to do in the tropical haven.

photo by: Ivana Cajina
Things to do in Isla Ometepe

Outdoors Activities (hiking, biking)

How to Get to Isla Ometepe

Many shuttle bus companies go to the nearby town of Rivas. From Rivas, you’ll take a bus or taxi ride to the port to catch a ferry. It’s a 45-minute ride to get to Rivas from San Juan del Sur, 2 hours from Granada, 2.5 hours from Managua, and 30 minutes from Peñas Blancas. At the moment there are no direct buses from Leon to Rivas, however, you can either go to Managua or Granada then transfer. I would recommend going to Granada and spending some time there. 

I would avoid Managua if you can since it’s known for being a place where people get robbed/mugged. I can’t speak firsthand as I never went to Managua but want to pass on the information I was told. If you’re flying in there, please be vigilant.


If you’re over the outdoors and want the “real” Nicaragua head to Leon. This city is full of busy locals and a mix of baroque, neoclassical, and colonial architecture. Enjoy the city views from the roof of the Basilica Catedral de la Asuncion (Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, and also known as Our Lady of Grace Cathedral).

Rooftop at Basilica Catedral de la Asuncion

And if you miss the beach, it’s only about a 45-minute open-air shuttle bus away. Big Foot Hostal offers this service and will take you to their beach property in Las Peñitas where you can swim in the pool, ocean (however the waves can be quite strong), eat, and enjoy the sunset.

Las Peñitas Beach
Sunset at Las Peñitas Beach

For the adventurers, don’t miss volcano boarding on Cerro Negro. It’s an adrenaline-rushing experience that you’ll be talking about for years. Many companies offer this excursion daily. you’ll be suited up in a jumpsuit to protect your skin from the volcanic gravel as you sled down on your board.

Things to do in Leon

City Exploring
Volcano Boarding
Cathedral Roof – Basilica Catedral de la Asuncion
Beach – Las Peñitas, a short ride away from the city

How to Get to Leon

Leon is about a 2-hour ride from Managua Airport. It’s accessible by shuttle bus ride and by local chicken bus via the UCA Bus Terminal.


Don’t forget to make a stop in the gorgeous Spanish colonial town of Granda. There are great things to do here and amazing food to eat. It’s also an easy stopover to get to Laguna de Apoyo (more on Laguna de Apoyo below).


I absolutely loved the architecture and colors of the city. Get lost walking the streets to take it all in. Enjoy the views from above at the Iglesia La Merced’s bell tower and the viewing deck that overlooks the Parque de Granada at the Cathedral of Granada. There is a small entrance fee for the two but so worth it!

Cathedral of Granada
View from inside Cathedral of Granada
Things to do in Granada

Architecture crawl
Enjoy the views – Iglesia La Merced, Cathedral of Granada
Food & Bars – Calle La Calzada
Volcano Watching – Masaya
Kayaking excursion – Islets de Granda

View from Cathedral of Granada
Masaya Volcano
How to Get to Granada

Granda is an easy reach from Managua Airport. It’s a 1-hour shuttle bus ride and also accessible by local “chicken” bus via the UCA Bus Terminal.

Laguna de Apoyo

Just a short drive from the city of Granada is the “resort-like” town of Laguna de Apoyo. At the laguna enjoy the crater lake, sip on mojitos and hang out in a hammock! It’s all about relaxing and enjoying the small things in life. But if you must adventure, kayaking, swimming, and paddle boarding are all available. I stayed at Paradiso Hostel and had the best time! It’s resort life on a budget. Both dorm-style rooms or private rooms are available.

Things to do in Laguna de Apoyo

Kayaking/Paddle Boarding
“Resort” life

How to Get to Laguna de Apoyo

It’s easiest to get to Laguna de Apoyo from Granada as it is a quick and cheap shuttle away. You can book your shuttle with your accommodation directly or take a taxi. There are no direct buses from Granda but you can take one from Managua that is bound for Granda and ask the bus driver to drop you off at Laguna de Apoyo or “la entrada de la laguna.” You’ll have to flag down a taxi from here to take you to your hotel/hostel.

Paradiso has its own shuttle that goes to and from Granada and leaves twice a day. This was easy and affordable. The ride is about 30 minutes.

SIDE NOTE: If you’re trying to pack light check out my packing light guide! This is all I took on my 2-week trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica (minus the dog). My main backpack is 24 liters and took a smaller backpack as my purse. I wore my running shoes and just packed flip flops to save space and still had room for my laptop.

I hope you enjoyed my guide and now know some places and cities to visit in Nicaragua. If you like this post, Pin it for later!