Nicaragua has long been thought of as a destination just for backpackers looking to rough it in Central America. That couldn't be further from the truth. In recent years, this little country has been enthusiastically developing its tourism sector to appeal to all types of travelers. No matter what you're looking for in a tour, chances are you can find it in Nicaragua.
With its towering volcanoes, white sand beaches, and charming colonial towns, Nicaragua is a fantastic destination to consider. When you travel to Nicaragua, you’ll find the locals to be generous and genuine and the landscape a stunning tropical kaleidoscope.
If you have backpacker-like sensibilities and want to avoid the trappings of resort tourism and overpriced packaged tours, then head to this small Central American nation where authentic adventure tours abound.
For such a small country, Nicaragua sure packs in the adventure. Zip-lining through jungle canopies and kite-surfing on Central America’s largest lake are just some of the ways to get your adrenaline pumping. Yet what really stands out is the volcanic terrain. Lace up your boots and climb one of the country’s 19 active volcanoes!
Cerro Negro is a very popular destination. This volcano has the perfect combination of gravel and steepness to allow you to go boarding down it at an exhilarating speed.
Scuba & Beach Tours
With coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Nicaragua has no shortage of opportunities for ocean lovers. On the remote Corn Islands, you can scuba dive in warm crystal clear waters in the morning and sip rum out of a coconut with your feet in the white sand in the afternoon.
The Pacific Coast boasts some world-class surfing, with conditions perfect for beginners and experts alike. So get ready to hang-loose as you catch that epic curl.
From the colonial lakeside town of Granada to the markets of Afro-Caribbean villages, Nicaragua is a cultural mosaic that will surprise every visitor. The arts are alive and well here. Visiting family-run pottery workshops, coffee cooperatives, traditional dance performances, and poetry festivals are just some of the cultural activities to experience. Consider a tour that focuses on the cultural angle of Nicaragua to learn just what true “Nica” hospitality is.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit Nicaragua
Nicaragua can be visited any time as it enjoys hot tropical weather year-round. April and May are the hottest months with temperatures soaring well into the nineties. September through November can be very rainy, so it’s best to avoid these months. December through February offers the coolest weather with the least amount of rain. Just keep in mind that there will be huge crowds at the beaches the week of Christmas and New Years.
It can rain on the Caribbean coast any time of year and severe tropical storms can be an issue August through September.
Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter, also brings huge crowds to the beaches. Many businesses shut down this week. However, it is still a good time to visit Nicaragua if you want to experience the near constant religious processions and celebrations that take place in the cities.
What to Look for in a Tour to Nicaragua
Nicaragua has a lot to offer. Choose a tour that provides a trip that’s perfect for you. Make sure that your tour includes the activities you want, whether you want to climb volcanoes, visit lively food markets, or soak up the sun on a hidden beach.
If your tour has a lot of athletic activity, inquire about the fitness level required and check to make sure they have trained and certified guides. Some tours include food and accommodations in the tour price, but some do not. Find out exactly what is included before you book your tour.
Fortunately, Nicaragua is one of the least expensive places to travel in Latin America. Most activities are quite affordable. For instance, a day of volcano boarding can cost less than $50. Hotels, restaurants, and transportation are inexpensive throughout the country. You can take an air-conditioned door-to-door shuttle for around $15. A big lunch should set you back less than $5. A full-service tour can run about $500-$1000 per week depending on the activities involved.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Most tours will provide any equipment you might need, though it's a good idea to confirm this before booking. Renting equipment is cheap. You can leave your surfboard at home and rent one at the beach for just a few dollars.
One thing you’ll notice in Nicaragua is that it is loud. Even the avocado vender might be advertising over a concert sized speaker turned up to full blast at six in the morning. Bring earplugs if you are not a heavy sleeper.
If you’ll be visiting during the rainy season, a poncho is a must. Plan on dressing for warm weather no matter when you visit. Bring comfortable hiking shoes, sunscreen, and a hat for any active outdoor activities. Women should consider wearing conservative clothing when not at the beach to avoid unwanted attention.
Other Tips for Traveling in Nicaragua
You can’t help but notice the poverty in Nicaragua. Many people are living on the edge here. Fortunately, recent developments in tourism are doing a lot to provide jobs and income for many Nicaraguans. The money you spend goes a long way towards improving the local economy.
Children may approach you to ask for money. It is recommended that you refrain from giving them any as this practice encourages them to look for handouts instead of going to school. Ask your guide what is appropriate if you’re in doubt about what to do in a situation like this.
Haggling is often expected in markets. This is a great way to connect with the locals. Just remember that you will often be haggling over the difference of just a few dollars, so keep it playful!
Personal space might mean something different to Nicaraguans than it does to you. Expect people to crowd you while you wait in lines. Someone might even touch your shoulder or take you by the arm to get your attention. This is not meant to be rude. Just think of it as another cultural difference.
Outside of the tourist industry, very few Nicaraguans know English. Learning a few useful phrases in Spanish will be greatly appreciated by the Nicaraguans you meet.
Health & Safety
Healthcare in Nicaragua is basic but affordable. Mosquito-borne diseases are rare, but still present in some areas. Use insect repellant when outside in the early morning and evenings and consider taking anti-malaria pills if you’ll be going to rural swampy areas, such as the Carribean coast.
It’s important to stay well hydrated, especially during the hottest months to avoid heatstroke. It is not safe to drink the tap water, but inexpensive bottled water is available just about everywhere. Also, check your shoes for scorpions before sticking your feet in them.
Nicaragua has a reputation as a dangerous place. This is mostly the consequence of years of civil war in past decades. Since then, Nicaragua has done a lot to build up its image as a safe destination for travelers. It has some of the lowest rates of violent crime in the region.
Unfortunately, recent events of civil unrest have shaken that peaceful image of Nicaragua. Roadblocks and demonstrations are possible at any time. Tourists are not a target of these, but they can be inconvenient. Your tour operator should understand the current situation and help you avoid any potential hiccups.
As with anywhere else in the world, practice common sense. Don’t go out alone at night in cities and be careful not to flash your valuables.