Nicaragua Holiday Planning Guide
Still emerging as a major tourist destination, Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America, entices travelers with a rich history and remarkable natural beauty just waiting to be discovered. A holiday in Nicaragua allows you to explore a vibrant culture, scenic beaches, and plenty of spots off the beaten path. Majestic volcanoes, lakes, and forests offer numerous chances for adventures, while major cities boast splendid colonial architecture. With access to coastlines on both the Pacific and the Caribbean, a vacation in Nicaragua appeals to those looking for thrilling surfing experiences, dramatic views, or a chance to spread out on a deserted tropical beach.
Places to Visit in Nicaragua
Regions of NicaraguaManagua Department
: Densely populated, Managua Department is the heart of Nicaragua's urban life; coastlines on Lake Managua and the Pacific Ocean flank the capital, full of colonial history and modern museums. Granada
: With biking and hiking opportunities, Granada is a must for an adventurous Nicaragua itinerary, full of gardens, historic sites, and breathtaking views of the nearby volcano. Leon Department
: Despite destruction by pirates in 1685, Leon's cities remain a treasure full of history and iconic Nicaragua attractions, some included on the World Heritage List. Esteli
: Known for its national parks, this department reflects the natural beauty of Nicaragua with waterfalls, nature reserves, and a diverse wildlife. Rivas Department
: Famous for its beautiful beaches and fertile ground, Rivas serves as the agricultural center for the country with tobacco, sugarcane, and other plantations, as well as small, charming villages all around.
Cities in NicaraguaManagua
: The national capital captivates visitors with a blend of historical sights and cathedrals, as well as thriving nightlife and urban spaces.Granada
: Located on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, Granada possesses the grandeur of colonial architecture with cultural hot spots, as well as green spaces and a gorgeous waterfront. Leon
: Literary enthusiasts must include the city of poets in their Nicaragua travel itinerary; here, intellectual life blooms and cultural events are the talk of the town, along with many of the city's museums. Matagalpa
: Nature lovers flock to Matagalpa to discover the country's natural beauty in waterfalls, scenic hillsides, and plantations. Masaya
: If you're looking for Nicaragua vacation ideas, the City of Flowers is the perfect place to relax and soak in the beauty of a small city at the foot of an active volcano.
Popular Nicaragua Tourist AttractionsIslets of Granada
: Created by a volcanic eruption, this archipelago today features lush vegetation with diverse wildlife--plus hotels, shops, and residential areas. Mombacho Volcano National Preserve
: A gem of Nicaragua sightseeing, this preserve offers different hikes up the dormant volcano, with views of the city and surrounding dwarf forest. ChocoMuseo
: Gastronomers and chocolate lovers will savor the chance to learn about the process of chocolate production and taste the products on site.
Masaya Volcano National Park: Locally called the Gates of Hell, the two active volcanoes in this park let off plenty of steam and a strong sulphuric scent that gives it its infamous name. Laguna de Apoyo
: This lake's dark, sandy beaches draw tourists for a day of diving and swimming, as well as paragliding and bird-watching in the forests nearby.Volcan cerro negro
: Central America's youngest volcano is the perfect spot to include in your Nicaragua itinerary if you want to combine learning with adventure as you hike the forested hillside to the hot, steep top.Ojo de Agua
: The clear spring from an underground river separates into two small pools, perfect for a cooling, relaxing moment. Isla Ometepe
: Admire the volcanic peaks rising from fertile grounds next to wide, sandy beaches, plus archeological sites dating back to precolonial Aztecs. San Juan del Sur Beach
: Shaped like a crescent moon, this bay's perfect waves attract surfers and water sport enthusiasts from all around the world; afterwards, relax on the beach or in the seaside bars. Puerto Salvador Allende
: The harbor's serene atmosphere makes this a favorite family attraction in Nicaragua, with different sports facilities and green spaces.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Nicaragua
Cuisine of Nicaragua
The national cuisine highlights its two coasts with an abundance of seafood dishes mixed with fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables. Grass-fed beef is served up as steaks cooked on wood in both modern and traditional restaurants, while corn in various forms makes the base of most dishes. Try specialties like nacatamal (pork or chicken tamales) and the national dish of gallo pinto (red beans and fried rice). At some point during your trip to Nicaragua you should try perrereque (a savory corn-cake) and a type of custard called atolillo. Drinks too are made of corn, including chicha, a sweet beverage from purple corn and spices, and pinol, which is a thick paste. Surprisingly, the national cocktail, the Macua, doesn't include corn--just fruit juices and white rum.
Shopping in Nicaragua
Traditional products such as hand-made clothing, handicrafts, and shoes serve as perfect memorabilia from your Nicaragua holiday. Find these products at any of the smaller flea markets, or, for a wider selection, head to Mercado Roberto Huembes
or the crafts market
. Traditional colorful garments made from leather, cloth, and hemp thrill fashion lovers, while wood carvings, ceramic figurines, and a plethora of typical souvenirs will make the perfect gift for anyone back home. Feel free to haggle with the vendors even at farmer's markets, where the selection includes not only delicious fresh fruit and vegetables, but also flowers, meat, spices, and hand-woven baskets.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Nicaragua
Interesting Facts About Nicaragua
● Nicaragua has the world's only volcano to be fed by two separate flows of magma.
● You can see 86 out of all 88 constellations in the night sky from Nicaragua.
● Lake Nicaragua is home to the only freshwater sharks on the world.
● The country's name is a blend of "agua" (water) and "nicarao," which was the first indigenous tribe to live next to the lake.
● Out of all the sports in the world, Nicaraguans' favorite pastime game is baseball.
Things You Should NOT Do in Nicaragua
Avoiding tap water will save your stomach from distress and temporary imbalance during your Nicaragua holiday, since its chemical makeup is completely different than in North America or Europe. The water makes a fertile ground for insects who are most active during the wet season, so areas with rice fields, lakes, and marshes have a dense population of mosquitos--bring insect repellent to avoid any danger. Besides mosquitoes, beware of scorpions and venomous spiders. A poisonous atmosphere can also arise with political topics, and mentioning Costa Rica or any other issues may cause distress. Since a large part of the local population is Christian, consider dressing modestly. Ignore catcalling, which can be a common occurrence in urban areas.
Holidays & Festivals in Nicaragua
Nicaragua holidays include a number of celebrations, including New Year's Day and Christmas Day, but the country's unique events make for the most interesting displays of culture. With a large number of festivals, these colorful and joyous celebrations are a perfect addition to your Nicaragua trip. Every year on January 19-20, Diriamba (or the San Sebastian festival) features a religious feast combining dance and music with food and traditions of the indigenous culture. Similarly, Palo de Mayo, or May Pole, is celebrated on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua with vivid music and cultural activities that reflect the country's British influence. History enthusiasts will appreciate the Crab Soup Festival on Corn Island, held each August to commemorate the freeing of slaves. The last Sunday in October brings a typical festival of dance, when everyone dresses up in costumes in the Masaya region. Leading up to Christmas, the cities of Granada
organize La Purisima and La Griteria parades to celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Jesus Christ through song and dance.
Useful Nicaragua Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Nicaragua
Because of historical circumstances, Spanish remains the most widely spoken language throughout Nicaragua, with a small addition of Miskito. Most residents of the country don't speak any other language, so learning a few Spanish phrases will go a long way with the locals and ease the communication with shopkeepers, servers, and taxi drivers. Greet everyone will a simple "hola" or "buenos dias/tardes/noches" (good day/afternoon/evening). For introductions, follow a simple hello with "Me llamo…" (my name is…) and ask someone's name with "¿Cómo se llama usted?" For tourists not looking for friends, expressions such as "estoy perdido" (I am lost) or "yo no hablo espanol" (I don't speak Spanish) could come in handy. But most importantly, prepare for a shower of hugs and kisses from friends you make on your Nicaragua holiday, since locals are known for their friendliness and hospitality.
Climate of Nicaragua
Nicaragua delights everyone with its tropical climate that dominates the coastal lowlands, perfect for a relaxing vacation. The highlands have a cooler climate, but all of Nicaragua has only two seasons, dry and wet. The dry season stretches from December to April, when the temperatures are at their peak. Since rain is unlikely and the landscape remains richly green, December and January are the most popular months for Nicaragua tours. Temperatures hover between 30 C and 35 C (88 F to 95 F) with pleasant winds from the sea. The wet season sees cooler air with more rains and stronger winds, when average temperatures drop to 27 C (80 F). The daily showers provide the best conditions for the forests and gardens to thrive, and also coincides with the best surfing time in the year.
Transportation in Nicaragua
A large and developed network of roads in the country enables travelers to construct a diverse Nicaragua itinerary and get from place to place fairly easily. The quality of the infrastructure varies, however, from dirt roads to well-maintained two-lane highways; always familiarize yourself with the quality of the roads on your route and consider renting a vehicle with four-wheel drive if venturing beyond the capital and main highway. Buses and boats connect all major cities across the country, though most buses don't have regular stops other than the local market; on the contrary, they only stop when someone tells them to do so, meaning a passenger has to let the driver know. Alternatively, you can fly between cities with the domestic airline. When it comes to Lake Nicaragua, a ferry and a few boats travel across, giving you an opportunity to enjoy views from the largest freshwater lake in Central America.
Tipping in Nicaragua
When it comes to showing appreciation for good, hard work, feel free to leave tips during Nicaragua vacation. Drivers and local guides accept $5-10 per person per day, while anyone helping you with your baggage at an airport or a hotel appreciates even $1, and hotel housekeeping $1 per day at the end of the stay. If you want to show appreciation for restaurant or cafe staff, add an extra 8-10 percent to your final bill, but keep in mind this is an optional practice. Note that these values should be converted and given in Nicaraguan cordobas, since the recipients will have a difficult time exchanging small bills in foreign currencies.