Nicaragua and Guatemala are both great choices for travelers looking to experience some of the best that Central America has to offer. They are both relatively safe places with a lot of natural beauty, interesting history, and friendly people. However, there are some key differences between the two countries that you should take into account when making your decision.

The Climate

One of the biggest differences between Nicaragua and Guatemala is the climate. Nicaragua is located in the tropics of Central America, so it is hot and humid all year round. Guatemala, on the other hand, has a more moderate climate with cooler temperatures at higher altitudes. This can be a big factor to consider depending on what kind of activities you want to do while you’re there and what kind of weather you prefer.

The Landscape

The landscape is another big difference between Nicaragua and Guatemala. Nicaragua is home to some of the most beautiful beaches, colonial cities, but also 19 volcanoes in Central America, while Guatemala has a more diverse landscape with mountains and rainforests.

The People

The people of Nicaragua and Guatemala are also quite different. The Nicaraguan culture is heavily influenced by Spanish colonialism, while the Guatemalan culture has a stronger indigenous influence. This means that you can expect to find different foods, music, and traditions in each country. If you’re looking for a more traditional experience in Central America, Guatemala is definitely the place to go.

The Culture

Along with the people, the culture in Nicaragua and Guatemala is also quite different. In Nicaragua, you’ll find a lot of Spanish colonial architecture and churches. The locals are generally friendly and welcoming, and there is a strong focus on family values. In contrast, Guatemala has a much more diverse culture with many different indigenous groups represented. There is an abundance of ancient Mayan ruins throughout the country, and the locals are known for being very passionate about their traditions.

The Language

In Nicaragua, Spanish is the official language, while in Guatemala, Spanish and Maya are both official languages. This can be a factor to consider if you’re looking to learn or practice your Spanish while you’re there.

The Cost

Another big difference between Nicaragua and Guatemala is the cost. Nicaragua is typically cheaper than Guatemala, except when it comes to utilities and energies. That said, some places in Nicaragua are more expensive than in Guatemala, especially the tourist spots like San Juan del Sur, and Granada.

The Food

When it comes to food, Nicaragua and Guatemala offer different experiences than the rest of Central America. In Nicaragua, you’ll find a lot of Spanish-influenced dishes like Gallo pinto (a rice and bean dish) and nacatamales (a type of tamale). The food is typically hearty and filling, with plenty of options for vegetarians.

Guatemalan cuisine, on the other hand, is more diverse due to the country’s indigenous influences. You’ll find a wide variety of stews, soups, and tacos filled with meats and vegetables.

The Entertainment

In Nicaragua, you’ll find a lot of nightclubs and bars catering to tourists, especially in San Juan del Sur and Managua. There is also a strong surf culture, so if you’re into surfing or want to learn, Nicaragua is the place to go. Guatemala doesn’t have as many nightlife options as Nicaragua, but it does have a lot of ancient Mayan ruins that are worth exploring.

The Flights

The final factor to consider when deciding between Nicaragua and Guatemala is the cost of flights. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of competition within the airline market in Central America, so that tickets can be quite expensive. However, if you’re lucky enough to find a good deal, Nicaragua and Guatemala are accessible from most major cities in the US and Canada.

Safety

Finally, it’s important to note that both Nicaragua and Guatemala are generally safe places to travel in. However, as with any destination, it’s always important to take precautions and be aware of your surroundings.

Note that Nicaragua is classified as safer than Guatemala.

Getting Around

Both Nicaragua and Guatemala are easily accessible by public buses. There are plenty of options for getting around, and the prices are relatively affordable. The main roads in Nicaragua are generally paved and good so many tourists choose to rent motorbikes or cars when they are visiting. Although there are many steep hills in Nicaragua so make sure your vehicle is equipped for the hike.

Guatemala’s roads are best traveled by private vehicle (private transfer, taxi, or rideshare) or tourist shuttle (minibus or coach). You can also take chicken buses or drive yourself—though we don’t recommend this option if you are not familiar with the Guatemalan roads.

The Currency

In Nicaragua, the official currency is the Cordoba, while in Guatemala, the official currency is the Quetzal. However, both countries accept US dollars as well.

Accommodations

Nicaragua and Guatemala offer a wide range of accommodation options, from budget-friendly hostels to luxurious villas. It’s important to research the options in advance and book early to get the best rates.

You can get a bed in an shared hostel dorms for $5-20 per night on average, and a private bedroom without AC for $20-70 per night on average. You can also rent luxury homes on the beach for $350-900/ night, or stay at La Santa Maria. Check our pricing!

Travel Tips

For Nicaragua:

  • Covid Testing Every tourist or local who wants to enter Nicaragua, whether arriving by air or overland, must present a negative Covid-19 test. RT – PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
  • Tourist Visa: When entering Nicaragua, you can purchase Nicaraguan tourist cards at the airport.

For Guatemala:

  • Covid Testing: To enter Guatemala, those aged 12 and over must show proof of full vaccination. Those aged ten and over must show a negative PCR or antigen test conducted no more than 72 hours prior to travel. Expect movement restrictions, strict enforcement of mask-wearing, restrictions on social gatherings, and other sanitary measures in public spaces.
  • Tourist Visa: Without a visa, passport holders of these countries can remain in the country for a maximum period of 90 days within a period of 180 Days. Within this duration, travelers can visit any region of Guatemala without any restrictions.

Top Travel Destinations In Each Country

Nicaragua:

  • San Juan Del Sur
  • Ometepe Island
  • Granada
  • Leon
  • Little Corn Island

Check 14 must see places in Nicaragua!

Guatemala:

  • Antigua
  • Tikal
  • Guatemala City
  • Livingston
  • Lake Atitlan

Bottom Line

So, which one is right for you? If you’re looking for sun-soaked beaches, surfing all year round, Spanish colonial architecture, and friendly local culture, then Nicaragua is your best bet. If you’re interested in learning about ancient Mayan civilizations or want to experience a more diverse and traditional Latin American culture, then Guatemala is definitely worth checking out. Whichever country you choose, we guarantee that you’ll have an amazing time traveling to Central America.

Nicaragua and Guatemala both offer an incredible amount of natural beauty, history, and culture. It can be tough to decide which one is right for you but hopefully, this blog post will help make your decision a little bit easier.

Contact us if you are interested in investing in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua or would like to stay at La Santa Maria while discovering the beauty of Nicaragua!

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