The trip has now been over for 45 days, and I’ve enjoyed posting my recaps on the blog… it helped keep the memories alive, and made me appreciate some of the smaller details of the trip that only made a bigger impression on me upon recounting them. So without further ado, here is how you should (and should NOT) do Nicaragua.
Originally, my travel plans were loose but covered the main Nicaragua hit list: Leon, Granada, Corn Islands, Ometepe Island, and San Juan Del Sur. Compromise led to choosing SJDS as a base with day trips planned to Granada, Ometepe, and the beaches surrounding SJDS. The latter is NOT the way to get the most out of Nicaragua. Unless you’re a surfer or attending a surf camp, get out of SJDS and explore the rest of this diverse country. There’s so much more to see, and I can’t knock the quaint coastal town with awesome surfing, but SJDS was not the Nicaragua I came looking for. I was happiest when I was out and about, and I think you will be too.
If you really want to use a city as a base, pick the more centrally located Granada. You will cover a wider swath of the country this way.
Do: Rent a 4WD
If you have the cash to spend on a car rental, this is a great option that will allow you the most flexibility when seeing the country. A 4WD is strongly recommended if you’re headed out of the city (and you should – head out of the city that is), as a lot of roads off the main highways are not paved and quite steep (I learned this the hard way).
Intercity taxis are also a pretty good option, and will be worth it if you’re travelling in a group. Public transportation was not recommended by the people we met in SJDS who had gotten there using it, as they all felt a bit unsafe (so heed the warnings in guidebooks).
More on getting around Nicaragua: Frommer’s | Getting around in Nicaragua
Don’t: Avoid rainy season
I live in a country that is blessed with lots and lots of precipitation, so I try to avoid ones that are in their most precipitous months. But, rainstorms in the Central American area are known to come hard and fast and fizzle much like they come in, which I found to be true (mostly). Rainy season lowers the prices, decreases the crowds, offers some respite from the very hot temperatures, and the vistas, well, they are the real highlight. Not convinced? Check out The Expeditioner’s take on why you should consider travel during the rainy season. Fair warning: the bugs, oh the bugs! They are out en masse.
Do: Stay in alternative accommodations
Hostels are a fine way to meet people while traveling, but it’s not every day you get to stay in a full-fledged treehouse. I’m a big fan of Airbnb for exactly this reason. We stayed in Casa Arbol, a cliffside house built into the treetops near Majagual, a few kilometers outside of SJDS. The space was modern, and separated from the elements by an overhanging roof and insect screens. Fall asleep to the sounds of cicadas, howler monkeys, and the waves crashing on the shores of Playa Maderas (a 15 minute drive away). Enjoy the sunsets while cooling down in the plunge pool, or maybe watch it while lazing on one of three hammocks.
More unique Airbnbs to stay in: Airbnb | 10 best Nicaragua Rentals
… an ecolodge/community feel? Check out Hulakai Hotel or Maderas Village in Playa Maderas.
… a boutique hotel? Oyster | 8 best boutique hotels in Nicaragua
... budget accommodations? Tripadvisor | 30 best cheap hotels in Nicaragua
Don’t: Stay on the beaten path
How can a country that is off the beaten path (as a whole) have a beaten path? Savvy backpackers have blazed some pretty awesome trails and come back to tell the tales to their friends (and the internet). Without these intrepid souls, we wouldn’t know how cool Nica is, but the time has come to blaze some new trails and expand the repertoire of things to do. I recounted my own list of microexperiences that made my trip special. Here is Pink Pangea’s list of things to add to the quintessential Nicaragua trip (do you research before you head to Chacocente to watch the turtles. I missed them by two months!). So while my experiences did march down that familiar path (I visited Granada, and took a truck up to the peak of Mombacho), I can tell you that there isn’t anything like taking a gander down some unfamiliar road and go exploring a bit.
Maybe it’s just me but when I found out that Nicaragua is nicknamed the land of lakes and volcanoes, I pictured lazy boat rides through lush waterways, volcanoes smoking in the background, mosquito netting, a Central American version of The African Queen. The romance of exploration still exists in Nicaragua, and it would be a shame to miss the uniqueness of having all that (mostly) unspoiled land as the travelers of yesteryear had them. Most of all, no matter what path you choose, remember to take it all in.
Want to see more pics of my time in Nicaragua? Head to Instagram and look for me @portjam, or search for #PortjamInNicaragua!