Nicaragua highlights – our itinerary in the land of volcanoes

Impressive achievements in a sport but I can’t remember which. Fighters for freedom, revolution, communists or just against the wrong power? That was the mix of notions we arrived in Nicaragua with. As soon as we set foot in the country, we felt nothing of the history would matter as Nicaragua was making its present peaceful, relaxed and full of hope for both travelers and locals. So highlights of the country and our Nicaragua itinerary would come slowly and gently.

Let us show you where the journey took us, how we followed the volcano line, and how we ended with a dream-inspiring sunset every evening. This is country number 6 from our Central America Grande journey.

Hiking the Telica volcano near Leon in Nicaragua

Region and weather

There is a line of volcanoes passing through the whole country north to south. We were saying that we followed the volcano, making sure there is at least one very close to where we were. The landscape was just sharply different than the one in Honduras.

Maybe the winter was over, maybe the rain was gone. We were contemplating the blue skies and suffering from the heat. It was like that in Leon, Telica volcano, Granada, the tiny islands around, Masaya volcano, Ometepe island with its Madera and Concepción volcanoes.

When we detoured to San Juan del Sur and the Pacific, we realized the rain was hiding there. We had decided to chill anyway. We didn’t know that it will follow us all the way to Costa Rica.

Our Nicaragua itinerary

We started with a long journey from Honduras. The immigration and border control of Nicaragua is one of the slowest and most ineffective on the planet! Our data was sent one day before and still, we had to wait for two hours of fake checks. Other highlights were sanitizing the bus we came with and taking our body temperature.

Local woman is caring a fruit basket on top of her head in Leon, Nicaragua

León was hot and dry and full of life. Its colonial streets were full of merchants, students, and walkers. Every second shop offered trendy clothes and shoes at affordable prices. We did not buy anything though.

Telica volcano was calling. After some off-road driving and a non-steep hike, we were at the crater. It was smoking so hard that we had to keep a piece of cloth in front of our mouths. The sulfur smell was strong.

We are standing on the edge of Telica Volcano's crater near Leon in Nicaragua

We hurried to catch the sunset and experienced a thrilling view. Some other volcanoes in the line were making the scenery even more unbelievable. A small cave made of cold lava welcomed us with tens of tiny bats.

We returned to the crater to check if we can see the volcano on fire in the dark. The smoke was even thicker but the sky was clear with so many stars. Returning to the city, we rewarded ourselves with a beer. Our volcano guides took us to eat some street local food.

The old cathedral in Granada, Nicaragua looks like a castle
Small islands in the Nicaragua lake near Granada, Nicaragua

Granada had an even more colonial feel and colorful vibes. We stumbled upon another religious procession that made some noise and contributed to the festive feel.

Many little islands in lake Nicaragua called isletas made a half-day trip with a boat. We saw a fortress, some monkeys ruling their own tiny islands, some private mansions, and hotels. It was time for us to chill with a Toña or Victoria in our hands.

The Masaya volcano is not exciting to get to. You have to enter with a car, waiting in line for an hour or so, and you have about 15 minutes to view it up close from the platforms. But once you’re there, you’re in the middle of the action! It’s bubbling, it’s on fire, it’s cooking! You can see some lava moving in this big oven! It’s the strongest light in the night and everyone hopes it doesn’t erupt till they are there!

Overlooking at the Ometepe Island's volcanoes in Nicaragua

Getting to Ometepe was an adventure – this time we spend the first two hours on the chicken bus waiting! The scorching sun was not enough – there were also tens of sellers of semi-spoiled food passing on and on. It was so full of people that we really thought the driver won’t stop to pick up more. The conductor was playing Tetris with human bodies.

Another fun part of that trip was the ferry to Ometepe Island. It was like time traveling to the past. The ferry was pretty much the same as it was the year they started the line. It sailed slower than some swimmers swim. The inside seating area has seen at least one war and the toilets wouldn’t even start talking…

Ometepe Island is formed by two volcanoes that rose above the lake. We stayed in a local house right at the lakefront with waves splashing at the wall and all kinds of insects welcoming us. Basic, but authentic experience.

We hired a scooter to sight-see the island. The real magic revealed itself on the road. Villages, cattle, wild horses, schools, majestic volcanoes, views towards the lake, beaches, natural springs, and lots of green everywhere!

Sunset over the sea in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Our last stop was San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast. Rain spoiled our surfing and beach-hopping plans so we dedicated ourselves to chilling, blogging, eating local food, and admiring the sunset over the whole bay.

Sunsets in Nicaragua are a big deal! The last one in SJDR was just taken out of a super cool and expensive postcard! Even street dogs got romantic with that view!

Nicaragua didn’t let us go easily – we had to wait almost two hours at the border. Even the free wifi, the cookies at a great discount, and the lady who was selling alternative medicine didn’t improve the situation.

The people

We loved how relaxed, calm, and positive Nicaraguans are. Nicas are aware of the situation, and the challenges the country faces and still they remain hopeful and positive.

A taxi driver was explaining to us how things are getting better, how tourism flourishes together with the country (and visitors have so many cultural things to do in Nicaragua), and how many Nicas go abroad to earn money and support their families. A positive taxi driver – that speaks a lot about a place!!!

Travelers we met were also in harmony with the environment – enjoying life, contemplating nature, and totally chill and relaxed! I think we all need a bit of Nicaragua in our inner selves!

Sunset over the sea in Ometepe island, Nicaragua

In a few words

  • We expected some gorgeous volcanoes. Nicaragua did live up to the expectation. But the amazing sunsets were a bonus! No matter if you hike a volcano, stand on the beach, walk in a colonial town, splash in lake waves or just stop on the road – the sunset won’t disappoint!
  • The zen atmosphere is enjoyable and you can feel it everywhere – people are calm and relaxed, smiling and positive. They deserve a lot of admiration for that. Being cool and full of hope is not an easy job these days.
  • Another thing to consider is that the country is still affordable and most of the places and experiences are not overpriced. People coming from Panama and Costa Rica find heaven for their wallets there. Some say Nicaragua is the next big tourist destination so make sure you visit it before it heats up and probably becomes pricey and too crowded.
Nicaragua highlights, Pinterest photo
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10 Responses

  1. I loved Nicaragua especially Granada. I visited most of the same places as you did except never made it to San Juan del Sur.

    • We almost missed SJDS but we like we stayed there – it was a different (ocean and beach) vibe and we loved it!

  2. The views from the volcano are stunning – must have been an incredible feeling to experience such beauty.

    • Nicaragua is the land of volcanoes! You can hike a different one each day and you’ll be occupied for a while! The beauty is thrilling!

  3. hotmamatravel

    My best friend is from Nicaragua and I have so many great things. I really want to see the volcanoes!

    • So great you have a local friend! If you go together, you’ll experience both the amazing nature and the amazing people of this country!

  4. Carol

    Great capture of your vacations. Lovely photos and videos, especially the volcano! Just stunning. I love colonial towns ad I hope to see what Nicaragua has to offer. Is it something teens would enjoy?

    • Thank you, Carol! We met a lot of teens with their families in the colonial towns of Granada and Leon. They are full of fun things to do, and also nightlife is bustling. When you combine that with hikes to volcanoes, we believe teens will be super thrilled! 🙂

  5. What a wonderful recap of Nicaragua. I only had a chance to experience a dip into Managua from Costa Rica as a day trip. I too was less than impressed with the tortoise-like border experience. But the country was beautiful and I’d love to return.

    • Thank you! We didn’t go to Managua as we wanted to spend our little time in there on the places we believed we’ll enjoy the most. But Nicaragua is definitely worth more than a day trip from Costa Rica 🙂