Category Archives: Nicaragua

Nicaragua

First Time Backpacking in Nicaragua

Backpacking in Nicaragua

Backpacking in Nicaragua is a superb choice for travellers who are new to backpacking and also the more established drifter.  The (mainly) Spanish – speaking Central American country, Nicaragua, was voted eighth happiest country, it’s a nice place to be! It has had a raw past with centuries of civil war and dictatorships and Nicaraguans are tired of it but on the forefront, you would never know. Like the fruits that grow on the trees, the sunsets that fire up the sky, and those pesky volcanoes – Nicaragua is colourful, and hot right now! Here’s everything you need to know before you go.

Backpacking in Nicaragua Itinerary

Nicaragua is sandwiched between Honduras, on top, and Costa Rica on the bottom. Managua (Man-ahg-oo-ah) is the Nicaragua capital and largest city. This is the city, which gets less attention from backpackers, many ‘get in and get out’ to move on to other areas. Slightly north from Managua (2.5 hours by bus) you will find the liberal university town, León, which is the gateway to the infamous tourist attraction – volcano boarding (you bomb down the volcano, Cerro Negro). Hiking up an active volcano and sledging down it is one of the main things Nicaragua is best known for! If you want to find our more about Nicaragua’s history, there is a revolution tour which is worth checking out in León.

Volcano Boarding Leon | Backpacking in NicaraguaAre you brave enough to volcano board?

Thirty minutes by chicken bus from León is paradise which takes the shape of a beach town called Las Peñitas (Pen-yiet-ahs)! North of León is the coffee and tobacco region. Popular stops include Matagalpa and Estelí (Es-tel-lee), both which can be reached by microbus (approximately 2.5 hours from Managua). Somoto Canyon day trips can be organised from both towns. Somoto itself is a little on the quiet side (we opted for a slightly more bustling Estelí after reading Nicaragua travel tips online). Why not visit the Hermit the in Cave if passing by Estelí?

Somoto Canyon | Backpacking in NicaraguaSomoto Canyon – hike, jump, swim / drown

On the east side of Nicaragua lies the Caribbean with its turquoise water and sandy beaches. Most notable stops include the Corn Islands and Pearl Lagoon. The east of the country can be easily reached by air via La Costeña (Managua to Big Corn, 1 – 2 hours flight which leaves 2 – 3 times per day. Book a return ticket to save money).

Little Corn | Backpacking Nicaragua Corn Islands | Little Corn by Don’t Forget to Move

There is also the option of an overland trip via bus (express or chicken – see below) and then boat. This journey takes up to three days. 13 Costa Ricans died when a boat capsized while we were in Nicaragua, scary. Listen to the advice of the navy and do not get on a boat if you feel the weather is unpredictable. This would never happen at San Jorge (port for Ometepe) locals tell us, the coast guard are very strict on that side of the country apparently.

The road less travelled is situated in the south / south east of Nicaragua – San Juan Del Norte (limited boats from San Carlos). During our five weeks travelling around Nicaragua we only met one travelling couple who were considering visiting this area. Let me know if you make it!

South of Managua is the main gringo trail. It starts at the modern, European feeling city of Granada. Granada has lots of foreigner friendly restaurants (although Craig did get food poisoning from a local breakfast joint) and many gyms for those feeling the backpacking belly taking over! You’ll find lots of expats too. Laguna de Apoyo is a popular day trip from Granada.

Granada | Backpacking in NicaraguaGranada Cathedral – Sightseeing while backpacking in Nicaragua

South of Granada is Ometepe (Ohm-eh-t-heh-peh), the figure of eight shaped island, which houses two dormant volcanoes, Conception and Maderas. Ometepe is a hotbed for nature; natural swimming pools, waterfalls, fincas, and is reached by ferry from the port, San Jorge (Hohr-hey) via the town of Rivas (Ree-vahs).

Ometepe Scooter Hire | Granada | Backpacking in NicaraguaCool rider – bike hire is recommended on Ometepe 

Back on the mainland and heading South to Costa Rica is the party town San Juan Del Sur (Sahn – Wahn- Del – Soor), surfer’s haven but close to North American prices. This is where you will find the most popular Nicaragua beaches but be warned, accommodation is often a bus ride away and you often have to pay to enter the beach. Don’t forget your $5 USD exit fee when crossing the border to Costa Rica! What’s your backpacking Nicaragua itinerary? Tells us in the comments below. 

Nicaragua: Length of Stay?

How long should I stay in Nicaragua? Good question and not one I can answer easily for you. We met backpackers on a two month Central America trip who were spending three weeks in Nicaragua (most of whom absolutely loved Guatemala by the way so something to consider when planning a trip to Central America – check out Will at The Broke Backpacker’s backpacking in Guatemala guide). We also hung out with honeymooners who were lazing on the beach for one week. Then there are expats who are volunteering in León or Granada for months to teach English to young people. Not to forget our British tattooist who has lived in Nicaragua for decades.

Our Backpacking Nicaragua Route

  • Managua: 1 night
  • Las Peñitas: 5 weeks (just over) with weekends in Leòn
  • Managua: 1 night
  • Estelí: 2 nights (day trip to Somoto Canyon)
  • Ometepe: 4 nights (2 nights on Moyogalpa and 2 nights on Merida)
  • Granada: 7 nights

As you can see, we never made it to the Corn Islands, which is a sin but by this point (month 11 of our 17 month long – term travel trip) we were constantly fighting with travel burnout so chose a slower paced, the best way to tackle backpacking Nicaragua, trip to Somoto Canyon, over the Caribbean. In our defence, we had just lived on a beach for over one month and neither of us like sand! Plus, we got married in Austin, Texas the week after leaving Nicaragua, that week – long gym pass in Granada was essential! What’s your proposed Nicaragua backpacking route? 

Nicaragua Backpacking Route Map

Check out this Nicaragua map to help visualise this guide to Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan Food

Like our Texan friends, Nicaraguans love the grill! Typical Nicaraguan food consists of rice, beans (often called Gallo Pinto), and either pescada (fish), cerdo (pork), or pollo (chicken). You do get reis (steak) but less so. Typical tourist hotspots will charge 120 cordobas / $4.14 for this meal; you can get it as low at 40 cordobas / $1.38 if you eat with the locals (León). Street food is even cheaper! Expect grills lined up along streets, some will have a few tables. Another favourite meal in Nicaragua is tacos! Deep fat fried tortilla, rolled up and stuffed with meat then served with cabbage (main ingredients in a side salad in Nicaragua) and cream. Food in León is cheaper than Granada. Nicaraguan ‘corner shops’ are called pulpería (Poolp-oor-ee-ah), these vary in quality but you can expect to find some snacks, shampoo, and suntan lotion. Find this post useful? Why not join our newsletter and never miss a post!

Nicaraguan Food | Backpacking in NicaraguaFresh fast food – rice, tortillas, and cabbage are typical Nicaraguan plate filler

Nicaragua Money

Nicaragua is the new Costa Rica! You will hear that frequently during your trip and one of the main reasons travellers are flocking to Nicaragua is because it is cheap! Avoid the big supermarkets, dine with the locals, stay clear of spirits, and your dime will stretch far (say goodbye to Costa Rican prices!)

Cordobas (NIO) is the main currency in Nicaragua. Check here for the current rate. Most cities have ATMs, smaller towns such as Las Peñitas and Little Corn do not. We found BAC (red and white) ATMs to be the best regarding no charges for our British debit cards (see this post for our recommended credit cards for travel). Contrary to belief, Ometepe does have banks.

American dollars do circulate in Nicaragua, change is often given in cordobas and the exchange rate is at the hands of the hotel/restaurant owner! You will see many tours advertised in dollars, you should be able to pay in both. Men with wads of cash stand on the street corners of most cities and greet you from the bus at the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Personally, I try to avoid any situation where I need to use these types of exchanges, for obvious reasons – the exchange is not a good deal. Check out this post for our Nicaragua backpacking budget.

Currency I Long Term Travel PlanningBackpacking in Nicaragua on a budget – fácil

Transport in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is impressively connected via taxis and buses. For shorter journeys opt for the local chicken buses. These are big American school buses, which are often painted in bright colours and equipped with banging sound system. A ten-minute journey can take double or triple the amount of time as taxi ride because of the number of stops the bus takes.

Chicken Buses | Backpacking in NicaraguaChicken buses – cheap, loud, and proud

For longer journeys, which are never that long unless you are taking the overland route to the Corn Islands, use the microbus. This is a small minibus that seats fifteen people plus the driver. Expect to pay 54 cordobas / $1.86 from Managua to Leon (1.5 – 2.5 hour journey) with no room for ripping you off, unlike the chicken buses on the Managua to Rivas, Ometepe, route which was one price for locals, another for backpackers. We even tried to show them the Lonely Planet guide but they still charged us and the other backpackers $15 instead of $2.50. On top of that, they charged two young females an additional fee for their backpacks. Rage! Our friends who own businesses in Nicaragua were really frustrated at this. Anyway, you are on the bus now so sit back and enjoy the ride, the scenery is stunning!

Taxis in Granada and Estelí have set fees of 15 cordobas per person (at time of writing). Taxi rides in the bigger cities of León and Managua do not have set prices – always agree on a fee before you enter the taxi. Write down the agreed amount and show it to the driver. Our taxi drivers changed their minds so many times, causing a real issue at the end of one journey. Luckily our friends and owners of Hostal Monte Cristi cleared it up for us. We were strong and did not succumb.

Do remember to ask ‘para dos?’ which means for two, if you are a couple, tres if a trio etc. There are tuk-tuks but not as many as South East Asia. You’ll find horse-drawn carriages in the tourist equipped city of Granada, and horse rides along the beach in Las Peñitas.

Microbus | Backpacking in NicaraguaMicrobuses in Nicaragua 

Accommodation in Nicaragua

There’s a wide variety of types of accommodation in Nicaragua and most will vary in standard too.

We volunteered for five weeks through Workaway , working and living at a small hotel on the beach stretched our budget in Nicaragua.

Managua | Microbus | Backpacking in NicaraguaNicaragua airport hotel in Managua + free dog love 

Nicaraguan Culture

Nicaraguans are very friendly! Ask a local for directions and you’ll get a street full of people helping you out. However, cat calling is a part of everyday life in Nicaragua. Machismo is rife, the only positive thing about this is that Nicaraguan men stare just as long and hard at their native counterparts as they do at foreign females.

Unfortunately, this eyeballing does not equate to loving marriages; broken homes headed by young single mums are chronically evident and it’s not a modern phenomenon, like in the western world. Bizarrely, the Catholic Church still plays a large part of many Nicaraguans’ lives. Many of the men must be praying for their sins to be forgiven as they cheat on their partners and start a second family. Catcalling is renowned in Central American countries, it’s not pleasant.

Fiesta! Many Nicaraguans like to drink alcohol. The local beers are Toña (small 30 cordobas $1 / large 60 cordobas) and Viktoria (slightly cheaper). Rum is also popular! A cocktail will cost around 60 / $2 – 120 cordobas. We never went ‘clubbing’ in Nicaragua like we did in Colombia but we sure did enjoy a couple of daiquiris by the beach and beers in the city.

Las Pentias | Backpacking in NicaraguaLas Peñitas, a piece of paradise on your Nicaragua travel guide 

Nicaragua Weather

The best time to visit Nicaragua is the dry season months of December to February. After February, it becomes very hot and stuffy. We visited in January to March, the heat was bearable with dips in the sea or canyon, however, the city of Leòn was hard work! The north is always cooler. Naturally, the plants will begin to dry out during this season but that did not impact on the beauty of Ometepe. The best advice we were given for Ometepe was to stay on the Moyogalpa side of the island for one night and ask around about the weather forecast before planning bike rides, hikes, or kayaking. September to December is the wet season in Nicaragua, there’s a reason that the country is so lush… It rains hard. Mosquitos are rife all over the country, cover up!

Ometepe | Backpacking in NicaraguaHiking the volcano, Maderas, on Ometepe 

Nicaragua is a fun and cheap country to backpack around. There is enough variety between islands, cities, beaches, and canyons to prevent boredom and the Nicaraguan people are nice. They love to chat about their country (often having a moan about the Nicaragua government!) The efficient and affordable transport links make transit for backpackers easy to manage and budget for. The only tricky part is working out how long to spend in Nicaragua, the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes!

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Six Outstanding Things To Do On Ometepe

Ometepe Nicaragua, Things To Do On Ometepe

Ometepe is Nicaragua’s figure of ‘eight’ shaped island. Surrounded by the Lake Nicaragua and home to two of Nicaragua’s volcanoes, there so many outstanding things to do on Ometepe, so it’s clear to see why so many backpackers make their way to the island from San Jorge port near Rivas. Click here for a map of the island.

Hike A Volcano

Ometepe is home to two dormant volcanoes – Conception, the bigger one, and Maderas. Conception is best reached from the Moyogalpa side of the island, where as Maderas guided hikes are cheaper from the south of the island (Balgüe / Merida area). Conception last erupted in 2012 and Maderas, over 3000 years ago, making it dormant. Conception is a hot hike, take lots of suntan lotion, Maderas is mainly under rainforest, but very muddy! It can get a bit chilly so bring a jumper however; I still managed to get burnt during the lunch stop. Guided tours may start at Finca Magdalena and end at the El Porvenir farm, lasting around seven hours. It is common to spot white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, and sometimes even snakes!

Maderas Volcano, Ometepe Nicaragua, Things To Do On Ometepe

  • Get there: Guided tours do offer transport / self-guided start at Finca Magdalen
  • How much? Anywhere from $10 – $85 (I know! They know ‘money’ here in Ometepe!)
  • Tip: For Maderas, book guide in Balgüe / Merida to save money on ‘transport costs’
  • Self Guided? Is definitely possible for Maderas but you may blink and miss the summit or take the wrong path, missing out on some of the viewpoints. Be careful around previous landslides
  • Like volcanoes? Check out What is Guatemala Know For

Rent a Bike on Ometepe

Ometepe is actually pretty large and the limited transport system makes it difficult to move around. Backpackers are held hostage to their area of choice unless they hire a bicycle, scooter, or motorbike. All three are cheaper to hire in Moyogalpa, for example, the daily price for motorbike hire in Moyogalpa is $20 compared to $35 in Balgüe / Merida. With the wind in your hair and the gravel under your tyres, biking really is a liberating way to see Ometepe’s wonders. Be warned, the island is hot and hilly so bikes without engines are for the fittest of the pack!

Motorbike, Conception Volcano, Ometepe Nicaragua, Things To Do On Ometepe

  • Get there: Moyogalpa, or organise through accommodation
  • How much? Bikes from $5 – Motorbikes up to $35 per day

Ojo de Agua

This watering hole is perfect for swimming. Ojo de Agua (Eye of the Water) is well maintained and offers rum in coconuts, as well as glistening turquoise waters. The brave amongst us can tackle the Tarzan swing!

  • Get there: Ojo de Agua is situated in the middle of the island
  • How much? 80 cordobas / £1.98

Follow The Gringo Bricked Road

Ometepe has had a fair bit of cash injected into the island and this is evident from the RUTA (European Union) symbol splashed on uniforms and displayed on shop walls. There is a neatly bricked road which runs from the port town, Moyogalpa (where you get off the boat) through to Balgüe where many of the popular accommodation hot spots can be found.

This paved road discontinues on the road to Merida; this is where the hiring of a motorbike would be advised, as the road is very bumpy. There are lots of cafes, restaurants, finca farms, and even a beach (Santo Domingo) along the way. Rancho Merdia seemed liked a really chilled out spot, we had a drink there. We were told the best sunsets are viewed from this area of the island.

  • Get there: Hop off the boat, explore Moyogalpa, hop on the bus to Balgüe or Merida, or hire a bike

Kayaking Rio Istián / Istián River

Warning: this is a seasonal activity. Do not waste your money in dry season (February to March) as there is no water in Rio Istián. Wet season promises bird watching and caiman spotting while you kayak through the swamp water right of Conception. In dry season you can expect a very choppy fight against the water (think training for Skookumcuck Narrows, Canada) to the arrival of a dry water bed then a walk around what should be Rio Istián.

    • Get there: There are two companies on the waterfront just before you reach Merdia
    • How much: $20-25 per person for a guided tour
    • Duration: Three hours

Ometepe video time!

San Ramón Waterfall

San Ramón Waterfall, or Cascada San Ramón, is located at the southern slope of Maderas volcano. The access point is at the Biological Station and involves a 3km hike, 2km of this can be accessed by wheels, but the final 1km is a trickier path so must be done on foot.

  • Get there: Entrance at the Biological Station, passed Merida
  • How much: 40 cordobas / 99p

»»» Read more: don’t miss Nicaragua’s answer to paradise

Managua to Ometepe

The bus from Managua Huembes terminal (southbound) to Rivas should cost you $2.50 / £1.75 maximum. We were ripped off at charged $15/ £10 along with the other backpackers on the bus. This was our own fault for allowing the bus guys to pull us on the moving bus. Two girls were also charged $5 / £3.50 per backpack on top of this ridiculous charge. On the way back we paid much less!

The bus stops in Rivas on the side of the road, there will be taxis waiting. Do not pay more than $1 per person. This taxi takes you to San Jorge port (approximately 15 minutes).

San Jorge Port Managua to Riva Bus, Ometepe Nicaragua, Things To Do On Ometepe

San Jorge Boat to Ometepe

There are two types of boats from San Jorge port. The ferry is larger and far more comfortable than the smaller boat, which is called a lancha. Life jackets were available on both boats. Both boats port at Moyogalpa. Backpacks can get wet if riding the lancha on the top deck so bring a bin bag or similar. Older blog posts say you can pay for the ticket on the ferry, this was not the case, we did however pay on the lancha (on the way back). Both boats were approx. 70 cordobas / £1.74 each and take about 1 hour. The companies that run these boats follow strict weather guidelines.

San Jorge Port, Ometepe Nicaragua, Things To Do On Ometepe

Ometepe Accommodation

There is plenty of choice of accommodation all over the island. The best advice we were given was stay one night in Moyogalpa to suss out the weather on the island and ask around for tips from travellers who are leaving. Our first night was spent at Hotelito y Restaurante Aly, which was way cheaper than the competitors.

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6 Outstanding Things To Do On Ometepe, Nicaragua

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Easy Estelí and Self Guided Somoto

uided Somoto Canyon Nicaragua via Flickr Tobias Eder

Estelí is a small town found in the north of Nicaragua. It’s similar to Santa Marta in Colombia in the sense that it is used as a springboard for the discovery of other places including Somoto Canyon National Monument, which can be explored with as part of a tour, or how we roll: self-guided Somoto!

Estelí

There isn’t much to Estelí, similar to León (although different because there is lots to do in León – check out our post on things to do in León), it’s just a real-life town. people go to work, hang out in the central square using the free WiFi (!), and the church bell tells you when to wake up (or an air raid siren in Estelí’s case!) Do expect to see men in cowboy hats and boots, very cool!

Rico Restaurants in Estelí

There are a few over-priced gringo restaurants in Estelí. We spent a couple of afternoons in Luz y Luna Cafe, using the Wi-Fi. For dinner, we mostly opted for Nicaraguan fare (meat, rice, beans, tortilla, 80 cordobas / £2) or street food which was similar with the addition of papas, fried potatoes with meat and veg inside (same price). Churros filled with dulce de leche were awesome too!

Self Guided Somoto I Esteli Nicaragua Food_

Somoto Canyon National Monument

The main reason that travellers head to the north is to hike Somoto Canyon, and rightly so, it was beautiful. Large overpowering rocks with blue waters, your voice echoes, definitely a feeling of inferiority to nature is captured there!

Self Guided Somoto Nicaragua

Please excuse the quality – taken from action cam!
Here is the action:

Somoto Canyon Guided Tours

There are many guided tours around Somoto Canyon for varying abilities. The shorter four-hour tour takes you through the canyon withthe opportunity to swim and some companies even organise tubing but the tranquilo kind, no rapids!

The longer tour takes six hours and offers a variety of hiking, canyoning, swimming, jumping off rocks, and a boat trip.

The companies appear to provide waterproof bags – this is essential!

Self Guided Somoto Hike

After being ripped off in Ometepe, we opted to attempt a self-guided Somoto hike. It wasn’t massively successful in the sense that we didn’t see the whole canyon but we did hike, canyon, swim, and jump off some rocks so a good day out!

Self Guided Somoto Canyon Fail

After entering the park, do not continue down the path, take a right at the houses (down a garden path almost), an easy mistake to make! We hiked along a path then began climbing on rocks to avoid the water for as long as possible, this took over an hour. After one fall (me), one lost hat (Craig, he managed to retrieve it!) we couldn’t escape the water any longer. Stupidly Craig had his mobile phone, so we had to do a few manoeuvres to ensure it didn’t touch the water (thrown to me in the water, from Craig on a rock / bag on top of head whilst wading), this was a challenge.

After some swimming and watching a tour group do some jumps, we lunched and headed back which took under an hour.

»»» Like swimming? don’t miss Nicaragua’s answer to paradise

Estelí to Somoto Buses

There are frequent buses which run from Estelí to Somoto however there is no specific time. There is definitely a 07:30 express bus which most tourists use (75 cordobas / £1.88) each from the Cotran Norte bus station on the Pan – American Highway. The journey took 1.5 hours. From Somoto we took an overpriced taxi to Somoto Canyon (150 cordobas / £3.76) for about 15 minutes. The driver dropped us off at a tour company who tried to sell us a tour, we politely rejected and headed for the entrance. A ranger then tried to sell us more tours, again we rejected and set off on our way.

The way back was a bit of a disaster. After waiting twenty minutes in basking sun, we hailed a taxi for 15 cordobas / 38p, then our chicken bus broke down. Option one: hang out by the side of the road with the other 30+ passengers and hope not to die in the heat. Option 2: walk back to bus start ion and wait on next bus, probably around a forty minute walk. Thankfully we hailed a taxi and caught next bus (journey around 2.5 hours).

Where We Stayed

Warning! Excitement levels high! Hot water in the shower for the first time in six weeks, all thanks to Hostal Los Altos. This very European feeling, beautifully decorated hotel offers escapism in Nicaragua. The compact room had air con, a TV, and clothes storage.

Los Altos I Self Guided Somoto I Esteli Nicaragua_

A choice of breakfast was included and dished up in the outside dinning room, a lovely way to start the day.

Self Guided Somoto I Esteli Los Altos Nicaragua

The family run hotel staff are a delight and helped us with advice on bus times and availability of ATMs via email (there are ATMs in Estelí!)

Facebook: Hotel Los Altos, Estelí
Contact: +505 8858 1662
Cost: Approx. £54


Estelí is an easy town to spend a few nights in, using it as a gateway to nature’s fincas and Somoto Canyon.

Esteli & Somoto Canyon Nicaragua

Have you been to Nicaragua’s north?

Any questions?


Feature image by Tobias Eder via Flickr CC 2.0
Thank you to Hostal Los Altos for the two nights stay, an honest review as always

How Much Does Nicaragua Cost?

Nicaragua, the land of lakes and volcanoes, is the seventh country of our (Gemma and Craig) 17-month career break to the travel the Americas and Europe. This is our first time in Central America and what a treat the ‘new Costa Rica’ has been. We’ve made a home in the beach town of Las Peñitas, hiked up an active volcano and boarded down in the León, swam in Somoto Canyon, scootered around the lush island of Ometepe, and hit the gym in the European feeling city of Granada. Here’s our backpacking in Nicaragua budget (which is month twelve of our backpacking trip). This guide will include a breakdown of the daily essentials – accommodation in Nicaragua, transport, food, trips, socialising, as well as what we spent on luxuries (NOI – USD – GBP).


»»» Going to Nicaragua? Check out our massive travel guide here


Accommodation in Nicaragua

Accommodation in Nicaragua is very varied and manageable for travellers on different types of budgets. Every city and most towns have high end to budget hotels, backpacking hostels, and guesthouses.

We spent most of our time in local run guesthouses as they are quiet and offer private rooms with fans and bathrooms for cheap ($15). The island of Ometepe is awash with accommodation which is slightly more pricey than other areas of the country. July’s Restaurant and Maria (Moyogalpa side of the island) was $15 walk-in fee.

Bizarrely many hostels and guesthouses advertise via Airbnb as well as the usual Hostelworld and Booking.com. We reviewed two hostels during our time in Nicaragua (Hostal Monte Cristi in Managua and La Gordita in León). Before we backpacked around Nicaragua, we lived and volunteered at the beach hotel in the photograph below. This was organised through Workaway.info. Your Nicaragua backpacking budget can be kept under control or there is luxury for those who want to splurge.

Accommodation in Nicaragua- Budget Month 12

Ahhh, Las Peñitas!

  • Accommodation in Nicaragua Total: 4710 Cordobas / $162.32 / £132.50 for 2

Food

I never want to see tacos again, oh wait, we’re in Texas now, more tacos! Street food is also very popular in Nicaragua. This may consist of meat (pork or chicken mostly) on the grill, rice, and a cabbage based salad. I ate three ‘papas’ in one day in Estelí (North Nicaragua), which are deep fat fried potatoes with meat and vegetables in the middle!

Two of the guesthouses we stayed in had kitchens, one of which was very well equipped. The other was pretty basic and busy but I did manage to cook in a couple of nights in Granada as well as going to gym. It was refreshing to do ‘real life’ activities like cooking (which I normally despise) and fitness (which I miss).

The sweet demon in my life in Nicaragua was Churros. Churros are sweet deep fat fried pastry often filled with something sugary like chocolate spread. Really not helpful considering we were about to get married in Austin the next month! I avoided bread and chose (really decent) salads in Granada, which was our last week in Nicaragua before South By Southwest music festival and then the elopement.

Food, Backpacking in Nicaragua- Budget Month 12

So many tacos!

  • Food in Nicaragua Total: 18,300 cordobas / $630.65 / £514.79 for 2

Socialising in Nicaragua

Local beer in cheap in Nicaragua, Craig continued to drink a beer a day at £1.50 for a litre bottle of Toña until he fell sick in Granada (bacterial infection).

I had a couple of glasses of red throughout the month, not the cheapest option! We were not won over by the party scene in any of Nicaragua’s cities but I’m interested to hear from any other backpackers who did fiesta! Most of the socialising went on in guesthouses and hostels from what we could see or was reserved for San Juan Del Sur in the south (surfing and Sunday Funday), which isn’t our scene.

  • Socialising Total: 4950 cordobas / $170.59/ £139.25

Nicaragua’s Top Trips

Although the party scene was pretty poor for us in Nicaragua, the adventure activities are plentiful! This is the land of lakes and volcanoes remember so if you are into hiking, kayaking, swimming, surfing, canyoning, and you have a need for speed then this Central American city is for you.

Most of our outdoors activities took place on Ometepe. We hired a scooter to move between the different areas of the deceivingly large island, hiked the volcano, Maderas ($25 each), tried to kayak Rio Istián ($20 each, waste of money – see here), and swam in a natural watering hole. Bliss!

We walked through Somoto Canyon and swam in the water, I didn’t do many dives as we attempted (a fail!) to do a self – guided tour to offset the money wasted attempting to kayak over a dried up swamp! 


» Fancy hiking in Nicaragua? Check out our hiking packing list


In León, we took a Revolutionary Tour which was interesting, and of course, hiked up Cerro Negro and boarded down it at 55 MPH. Boom! It was thrilling.

Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro| Backpacking in NicaraguaEat my dust! Yup, that’s me (Gemma)! 

  • Trips in Nicaragua Total: 4050 cordobas / $139.57 / £113.93 for 2

Transport in Nicaragua

Favourite mode of transport over the past month? Motorbike ($20 per day on)! Craig drove us around the gringo bricked road as well as the bumpy local ‘roads’ of Ometepe. The freedom was liberating, I imagine it’s tough being confined to the infrequent bus timetables on the island.

The cheapest way to get between the cities and towns of Nicaragua is by chicken bus. Annoyingly, we got ripped off on the bus from Managua to Rivas, which should have been $2.50 but they charged us $15.

We were on a moving bus so had little way to get out of it, always agree a price before you get on the bus! The microbuses are a set price so there is little room for victimisation.

A ferry was required to get to Ometepe, we took the local lancha on the way back to San Jorge Port which instantly made everyone look sick!

Ometepe Ferry | Backpacking in NicaraguaThis is a ferry, not a lancha!

  • Nicaragua Transport Total: 2040 cordobas / $70.30 / £57.38 for 2

Luxuries

The only luxuries we’ve splurged on this month was our tattoos in León which came to $120 for the both of us. It took around eight hours so excellent value for money.

I had also been attending yoga on a Wednesday at 200 cordobas / $6.89 and bought a weekly gym pass in Granada ($15).

White Dragon Tattoo Colonial Leon, Nicaragua

The most permanent souvenir – White Devil tattoos, Leòn

  • Total: 4517 cordoboas / $155.67 / £127.07 for 2

Overall total
$1329| $332 per week | $47 per day (for 2)

If you are heading to Nicaragua don’t forget to check out our extensive backpacking guide which will help you plan out a route, duration of stay, and provide more details on food, where to stay in Nicaragua, transport, and culture. Just click the image.

Backpacking in Nicaragua

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A Local’s Guide to Las Peñitas

Las Penitas, Nicaragua Bomalu Hotel Hammocks

Managua’s too dodgy, San Juan Del Sur’s too party, Granada’s too expensive, León’s too hot! Common gripes we’ve heard from fellow travel lovers in Nicaragua. Do not stress! We have your private paradise covered. It’s nestled away in a short but sweaty bus ride from León – welcome to Las Peñitas, Nicaragua!

Craig and I spent five weeks living in this paradise for free! By free I mean we offered our skills in exchange for our keep and one meal so I can say with confidence that here is a local’s guide to Nicaragua’s best-kept secret! Whether you are here for a day trip from León or taking a break from the backpacking trail, Las Peñitas has lots to offer.

Las Penitas, Nicaragua Sunset

Las Peñitas Beach

Las Peñitas is a playa, approximately 5 km of sand with lots of beachfront cafes and bars for you to enjoy the views of the lapping waves and incredible sunsets. The Marina is the best spot to catch the sunrise and the rocks, where the surfers in Nicaragua hangout, is the hotspot for the sunset.

Locals take over one side of the beach during the weekends and then leave for the city on Sundays. They tend to stay in the sheltered hammocks, away from tourist accommodation options. It is a real shame but you can expect a lot of trash left on the beach post weekends. Why not do a bit of a beach clean?

There is a small shop (pulperia) which sells candy, laundry powder and fruit until it sells out on the main road just before the beach.

Las Penitas, Nicaragua Beach

Las Peñitas Surf

Many surfers in Nicaragua head to Las Peñitas for a tranquilo surfing trip. The quality of the waves varies from day to day. Think you’re a good surfer? Watch out, the local kids will put your skills to shame! They are extremely talented.

The waves of Las Peñitas are wild. They make for a fun afternoon jumping in them, over them, and through them. Hold on to your bikini bottoms ladies, one swipe and the sea has claimed them!

  • Surfboard rental: $6 half day / $10 full day / Lesson: $20

Horse Riding in Paradise

There are many four legged friends in Las Peñitas, the street dogs are plentiful and like most Nicaraguan towns, pretty well looked after. The larger of the four-legged animal kingdom, horses, are available for rent. With a guide, horse riders will trot along the sandy shores with the wind in the hair.

  • Horse Riding: $14 approx.

Mangrove Trip

Fancy seeing cute turtles? This is often possible through a trip to the mangroves of Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado!

  • Mangrove Trip: $12.50 (short) $25 (long) approx.

Marina and Fishing

Las Peñitas has a beautiful marina where you can watch the fishermen set up their boats at sunset and return with the catch of the day late morning. Travellers are also invited to take a fishing trip with the local fishermen!

  • Fishing: $40 per hour / three hours (1 – 4 people)

Las Penitas, Nicaragua Marina

Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

The number one thing to do in Nicaragua is volcano boarding. This is when you hike up an active volcano and sledge down it. It’s thrilling and it happens close to Las Peñitas. Most visitors stay in the city of León and take a day trip to Cerro Negro volcano from there but if you would prefer to set up the seaside you can still take the bus into the city and catch a day tour like this one here.

Restaurants in Las Peñitas

So much choice to meet every budget!

Budget: Carmen’s Restaurant, which is actually Carmen’s house with tables and chair set up next to her sleeping husband in the hammock and the friendly parrot! Fish selected from the fridge or meat, rice, and salad for 80 ($2.82) – 100 cordobas.

Healthy: Simple Beach Lodge have kick-ass chefs who rustle up healthy wraps, baguettes (90 / $3.18 – 120 cordobas), a popular and pretty cheese board, as well as fruit smoothies. Breakfast (90 cordobas) of pancakes, eggs, fruit, or chocobanana (dessert for desayuno) is available from 07:30.

Nice environment: Bomalu is the perfect escape from the midday sun. Salad, sandwiches, and some specials including paella are available but the main attraction are the hammocks!

Burgers: Canadian run, The Lazy Turtle, offers a variety of burgers including a Canadian special (approx. 200 / $7.06 -300 cordobas)

Pizza: Keeping it Canadian, a very nice Canadian couple run Dulce Mareas which offers pizzas (approx. 100 / $3.53 – 200 cordobas) and specials throughout the week. They have a fancy coffee machine too. The brownie and ice cream is not to be missed.

Marina View: Barca de Oro aka ‘the French restaurant’ has strong WiFi as well as an incredible BBQ every Saturday. Nice view of the marina too.

Ambience: Sua Grill & Chill serves food, cocktails and live music on a Saturday night. Bliss!

Plus many more waiting for you discover them! Be wary of ‘Nicatime’ some restaurants have a ‘relaxed’ concept of time!

Las Penitas, Nicaragua Bomalu

Stop! Hammock time, Bomalu, Las Peñitas

Partying in Las Peñitas

Las Peñitas is more paradise than party but you won’t go without choice in regards to bars at the playa Las Peñitas.

  • Simple Beach Lodge, grab a Toñya (30/60 cordobas) and watch the sun lower then smash into lots of shades, smothering the sky.
  • Coco Surf, this simple beach hut bar is in stills so you can enjoy the sunset from up high and daiquiris are only 60 cordobas / $2.12, half the price of the popular Playa Roca!
  • Big Foot Hostel buses in city guests during the day to chill out by their seafront hostel and bar. Good tunes, nice backpackers.

Las Penitas, Nicaragua Coco Surf CocktailsCocktails at Coco Surf, Las Peñitas

How to Get to Las Peñitas

In Leon, head to the mercadito (just outside of central Leon) and queue for the chicken bus at the side of the market. The journey takes around thirty minutes and costs 14 cordobas / 49 cents. The bus will take you through Poneloya first of all and then down Las Peñitas. In order of hotels, cafes, and bars mentioned above from the start of Las Peñitas

  • Bomalu Las Peñitas
  • Playa Roca
  • Simple Beach Lodge (two surf shops next door)
  • Coco Surf (surf shop)
  • El Pirate
  • Carmen’s Restaurant
  • Dulce Mareas
  • The Lazy Turtle
  • Barca de Oro

A taxi from Leon to Las Peñitas should cost USD $10. Agree on this beforehand and make sure that it is for two people (or how many is in your group) and not just one. Find out the process in full here.

Las Peñitas Accommodation

There are hotels in Las Peñitas as well as hostels and private rentals. Many of the hotels also serve food so holidaymakers can pop in for meals without being paid guest or swing by for a swift drink (and use of WiFi!) I would highly recommend staying or dining at a hotel with hammocks. You really can’t beat swinging an afternoon away reading a book before the sun sets.

Las Peñitas hotels

  • Barca de Oro is located by the bus turning circle on the marina. It has private rooms and dorm beds, serves food – the weekly BBQ is popular.

»»» Private rooms for under $30, click here for rates and availability

 

 

  • Simple Beach Lodge is Playa Roca’s quieter neighbour. This clean and neat boutique hotel is one of the best-rated hotels in Las Peñitas on Booking.com.

»»» Private rooms for under $35, click here for rates and availability

Las Peñitas hostels

Mano a Mano is an eco-hostel made from recycled materials which is very in keeping with the Las Peñitas vibe.  The hostel offers four dorms, two for eight people or one for five, which is great for group travel. Rooms have fans and beds have much-needed mosquito nets. You can charge your devices in the lockers.

There is a communal kitchen with a fridge (do your shopping before you leave León). Cocktails are also served onsite.

»»» Dorms for under $15. Check availability and book here

Las Peñitas to Leon

Day-trippers should begin to leave around 4pm – 5pm, the chicken buses run every 30 – 40 minutes but at no set time, listen out for the horn tooting it’s way along the road. The bus turns and stops outside Barca de Oro at the marina so if you hear it toot as it heads towards the turning point you know you have a couple of minutes to run out to the bus stop on the opposite side of the road.

It’s not uncommon for passing locals to ask if you want a lift, they’ll tell you how much a taxi costs and then barter. We were ripped off and left stranded on the road to Leon when we refused the new amount, a passing taxi soon picked us up for 20 cordobas each!

Best Time to Visit Las Peñitas

Like most of Nicaragua, the dry season is a more appealing time to visit Las Peñitas. Weekends, especially Sundays, are busier as locals from Leon leave the hot city in search of nature’s air con at the beach. There are still stretches of untouched sand on Sundays, so don’t be put off if that is the only day you can visit.

Las Penitas, Nicaragua Sunrise

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Las Penitas, Nicaragua

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