Well the secret is out, Nicaragua is fast becoming the hot spot and is a great alternative to the more touristy Costa Rica. Once plagued by civil unrest and Contras, the country today is friendly, stunningly beautiful, and cheap.

These unique things to do in Nicaragua along with the most popular Nicaragua destinations are a guaranteed good time. Find out what Nicaragua is best known for.

Retirees, backpackers, and families are flocking to Nicaragua for its quaint charm. It has everything you would expect from Central America.

Great surf, stunning beaches, and lush tropical mountains with endless villages to explore. You can even visit Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America.

While the country has been “found,” now is the time to explore this great country before the resort chains start showing up.

Having just returned from Nicaragua, here are my top TOP things to do in Nicaragua. But first let’s have a look at just how affordable Nicaragua is.

  • Meal for $5
  • Domestic beer $1
  • Hostels $10
  • 5-star hotels $50

Your money goes a long way in Nicaragua and this country begs for the “travel slow” philosophy.

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Getting to Nicaragua 

things to do in nicaragua

Getting to Nicaragua is pretty easy and for U.S. citizens there is no Visa requirement. You can check Visa requirements HERE.

Booking through Airwander has some really great extended layover options right now that are worth a look. Prices seem to vary a lot based on the days of the week you travel so if your flexible have a look at Skyscanner to find the cheapest days to fly.

Once in Nicaragua, the best way to get around is by bus, private taxi, flights, or renting a car. We did a bit of bus travel as well as a car rental and both worked out really well.

Below is a map of Nicaragua that you can zoom in and out on to help orient yourself as we talk about these destinations.


Esteli and Miraflores

We opted to start up north and work our way south to the beaches. Miraflores is a national park just outside of Esteli. There’s no shortage of things to see and do here.

You’ll be hiking around the lush cloud forest surrounded by waterfalls, small farms, and a surprising lack of other tourists.

The park costs $15 USD for a single day trek with meals included. The park does require that you have a guide which is included with the entrance fee. They also offer overnight packages which I would highly recommend.

The multi-day trips allow you to stay with host families where you can really get to know the amazing culture here.

Our favorite thing to do in Nicaragua

When it comes getting a real taste for what a country is about there’s no better way than a homestay.

We opted for a homestay just outside of the park and it was the highlight of our trip. Our host family was La Finca Linda in Coyolito. Highly recommend these folks. To book them head to the hostel in Esteli.

The walkway leading up to our homestay

All of the food was prepared on a wood burning stove and the meals were delicious.

The homestay was perched up high in the hills

The home was absolutely beautiful and the accommodations were clean and comfortable. One of the children at the homestay took us on a half day hike all throughout the hills. It was an absolute blast.

The courtyard of our homestay. Hammocks to the left, dining straight ahead.

Take in Granada

While people often compare Leon and Granada as similar, we definitely preferred Granada.

This well preserved Spanish colonial style town is a real treat on the eyes. The architecture and colors alone make it worth a visit.

Granada sits on the shores of the 19th largest lake in the world, Lago Colcibolca. After you’ve had your fill of town don’t forget to grab a kayak and explore the lake and its many islets.

things to do in nicaragua

Masaya Market

Just a bit outside of Granada is the mighty Masaya market. It’s big, it’s crazy, but what more could you ask for. It’s just a bus ride away.

Las Penitas

The tranquilo surf spot located west of Granada although small, is worth a visit. It’s a sleepy and chill town that doesn’t offer up the party scene like some of the spots down south.

If you only had time for one beach destination I would recommend Popoyo over Las Penitas but if time allows I’d do both.

Best things to do

Surfing – Las Penitas is a popular place to surf especially for beginners. While the waves vary quite a bit based on the season it seems there are always good beginner waves.

Surfboard rentals: $5 half day / $10 full day / Lessons $25

Fishing – An active fishing hub and a beautiful marina where you can take in all the action. Boats are for hire as well should you be interested in trying your luck at some fishing.

Prices vary but a two to three hour trip can be had for under $100 USD.

We stayed at the Simple Beach Lodge which was great.

Simple Beach Lodge

Ometepe Island

The island of Ometepe is made up of two volcanoes that are joined by a narrow flat isthmus. Ometepe sits inland amongst the great Lake of Nicaragua.

The northern half of Ometepe holds the perfectly cone shaped and active valcanoe Concepcion. While the southern half is dominated by the extinct valcono Maderas.

While Concepcion is is predominantly lava rock, Maderas is covered in cloud forest with a lagoon in its centre.

With the addition of its rich history of different tribes and culture, this paradise island is an oasis of Nicaragua.

Best things to do

  • Both volcanos can be climbed but expect a long day of at least 8 hours. While you can climb these on your own, guides ($20 USD) are highly recommended as the route finding can be tricky.
  • Grab a kayak or SUP and cruise the shores of Ometepe. Keep your eyes out for caiman and howler monkeys along the shore. Or you can opt for a 3-hour Kayak tour for $25 USD.
  • Enjoy one of the many black sand beaches that line the shores
  • Getting around on the island is best done by renting a motorbike but beware the road gets rather rough in spots.
  • Ojo de Agua (Eye of Water) is a crystal clear lagoon that begs for a swim. The two pools fed by thermal springs provide for a continuous flow of fresh water. Wooden lounge chairs and gazebos line the shore and there’s even a restaurant tucked in amongst the lush forest.

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Where to stay

All sorts of accommodations are available ranging from the popular Landing Hostel (near the ferry terminal) to more luxurious spas and resorts.

Ometepe is well known for its eco-resorts and we opted to stay at the Totoco Eco-Lodge. It was a quiet and relaxing place with a small bar and restaurant serving up local cuisine with ingredients grown on site.

The lodge was located high up in the hills and offered a stunning view from its pool.

Popoyo Beach

The once quiet but now popular surfing town, Popoyo beach, sits due west of Ometepe on the pacific coast. Popoyo beach takes it down a notch from the more rowdy San Juan del Sur to the south but not too worry you can still drink your night away.

things to do in nicaragua
Jill pulling some cactus quills from a dog on the beach

Popoyo beach serves up some world-class surfing along a pristine stretch of sandy beach. The beach is lined with numerous bungalows, hotels, and hostels all offering up food and drinks.

Best things to do

Popoyo is all about the beach and surfing. Surfboard rentals and lessons can be had just about anywhere.

  • On the southern end of Popoyo sitting up high on the bluff is Magnific Rock Hotel. While I prefer my accommodations to be on the beach, Magnific Rock is definitely worth a visit. With the best view in Popoyo be sure to grab a bite or a drink and take in one of Popoyo’s famous sunsets.

One of the many restaurant/bars lining the beaches of Popoyo

Where to stay

If you are up to splurge a bit ($50 a night) I highly recommend Casitas Pacifica. The rooms were modern but with a perfect blend of bamboo and wood accents. The staff were nice and the food was terrific.

There are numerous hostels as well ranging from just dollars a day on up.

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Somoto Canyon

This recently discovered and lesser known gem of Nicaragua is perhaps the closest thing they have to a slot canyon. The turquoise blue water has carved out this narrow canyon which offers ample swimming or cliff jumping should you desire.

You can navigate these waters on your own or book a guided trip where you can just leisurely float through the canyon on inner tubes. Getting to Somoto is about 1.5 hours by bus from Esteli. You will then need a cab to get you to the park entrance.

Corn Islands

On the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua sits the the Corn Islands. With the calm and crystal clear waters of the Caribbean here you will find some the best snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, and just straight up relaxing.

You can fly or take a boat to the island of Big Corn where you can then take a boat over to Little Corn. Big Corn is a bit pricey and has a more resort like hotels, while Little Corn is more of a backpacker community.

A popular place to stay is Mimundo Hostel as it is right on the water.

Masaya Volcano National Park

With 19 active volcanoes, no trip to Nicaragua would be complete without staring down the gut of one of these mighty giants.

At Masaya Volcano National Park you can do just that. While they offer both day ($5) and night ($10) viewings go for the night as it is spectacular.

Masaya is about 20 minutes from Granada with plenty of buses or taxis to get you back and forth.

Well I hope these things to do in Nicaragua sparked your interest in this terrific country. We can’t wait to go back. If you have any specific questions please shoot us an email.

Happy travels!

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