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Of course, if I could go back in time and tell myself that not even a decade later I would be traversing this country by motorcycle for over a month, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. And Nicaragua turned out to be nothing like my imagined doomsday exaggerations. It is actually an incredible place full of friendly people, breathtaking views, and the most dangerous thing we encountered while there were its fire-breathing volcanoes.
These days, many travelers are touting Nicaragua as “the new Costa Rica.” My personal opinion after having visited both countries is that Nicaragua is really unlike Costa Rica, and one should not go to Nicaragua thinking it’s simply the cheaper version of Costa Rica (which I originally had thought). First of all, they are climatically very different, which makes the wildlife and vegetation of Costa Rica more rainforest-like, whereas Nicaragua has a larger variety of volcanoes and lakes to explore. Also, because of Nicaragua’s recent popularity, Tim and I did not find it to be that much cheaper than Costa Rica (nor did we find Costa Rica to be as expensive as everyone said). But when people call it “the new Costa Rica,” if they mean that Nicaragua is the new tourist hot-spot of Central America, then that could very well be true.
While in Nicaragua, Tim and I visited archeological sites (Viejo León), boarded down a volcano (Cerro Negro), and hung out on the lakeside beaches of Ometepe Island. Overall, we had an incredible time with almost no bad experiences (heat and mosquitoes excluded).
So if you want to visit Nicaragua, which you definitely should, then here are my top three suggestions on what to do based on our own travels:
My Top 3 Suggestions of What to Do in Nicaragua:
3) Visit the Colonial Cities of Granada and Leon
Leon and Granada are not near each other, so if you are visiting Nicaragua and need to pick one of the two, I would say Granada is the more famous of the two and is cleaner, well-restored, and has nicer hotels and restaurants. It even has a whole fleet of horse-drawn carriages to take you around town instead of taxis. Plus, it’s near to the views and fresh breezes of Lake Cocibulca (a.k.a. Lake Nicaragua, where Ometepe Island is). Unfortunately, all these wonderful things mean Granada is expensive. And touristy.
During our stay in Leon, it was so full of mosquitoes, that we actually had to set up our tent inside our room to sleep in. And it was sweltering inside that tent, so we placed a fan to face inside, and it was still hot. True, it was the height of the dry season and the hottest part of the year (March), but it was almost unbearable for us. But don’t worry, if you visit, you don’t have to suffer like we did. Simply find a place with AC and you’ll be just fine.
Unlike Cerro Negro, Momotombo, and San Cristóbal, Nicaragua also features many dormant volcanoes and ancient volcano-made craters. We hiked up one of these near Managua called Apoyeque, and even though the hike was so hot I just about thought I was going to die, once reaching the edge of the crater, we were greeted with pristine views and refreshing breezes from this crystal lake inside what had once been a massive bowl-like volcano. There was nobody else there, and no houses or any other structures in sight. Even though we were a short day trip from Nicaragua’s capital city, I felt like I could have stepped through a portal in time and might have been standing somewhere in the Jurassic period with Pterodactyls flying overhead.
1) Ometepe Island
Pictures just don’t do it justice, because once you’re there, you’ll realize what a perfect piece of paradise the island of Ometepe is. There are white-face monkeys that swing from the trees, black sand beaches lined with colorful hammocks, heavenly fresh-water swimming holes such as Ojo de Agua, and there are even wild horses roaming the island and beaches! And because it’s an island in a lake and not the ocean, the horses just live out on the beaches eating the grass and drinking the water, they swim and then find shade in the palm trees to escape the heat of the day, much like the people of Ometepe. Pure divinity!
The worst part of Ometepe for us was the ferry over. Not that there was anything wrong with it: it was reasonably priced, and it left on time (more or less). But it’s just that whenever we put our bike on a floating craft of some sort, it’s always a bit nerve-wracking. And it was hot on the ferry and people were fighting for seats, but it was all worth it because the destination was so great.
A few things I found interesting or surprising about Nicaragua:
And finally, if you are thinking of one day visiting the country...
A few of my tips of what to expect in Nicaragua:
Nicaragua is hot (have I mentioned that yet?), and you can say goodbye to taking hot showers (but you won’t want them anyway). Most of the time our showers consisted of a water spout coming out of the wall, but that was fine with us, and we found ourselves sometimes taking showers three or four times a day just so our brains didn’t boil in our heads.
And lastly, in order to fully enjoy Nicaragua, you have to be alright with a bit of grime, crazy drivers, and unexpected road conditions. You have to come to the understanding that things will take a long time, nothing will run on a schedule, and plans may have to change. But if you can do that, you will have a great time in Nicaragua, (and this could probably be said for the whole of Central America).