The Top 14 Incredible Places to Visit While You Are in Nicaragua!
Nicaragua is a small country in Central America filled with beauty from coast to coast. Nicaragua has something for everyone, whether you are into active volcano hiking, discovering nature, or relaxing on a beautiful secluded beach. Here we explore 14 unique places that could be part of your Nicaragua itinerary for a memorable trip in Central America!
San Juan Del Sur
The quaint Fishing Village that grew into a fun Beach Town
One of the most popular places to visit in Nicaragua is a small town called San Juan del Sur. This fun beach town is located on the sunny Pacific coast, only 20 minutes from the Costa Rica border crossing of Penas Blancas. It is a perfect place to add to your Nicaraguan travel itinerary if you are heading south to Costa Rica.
San Juan del Sur was originally a fishing village that grew into a fun town for backpackers, surfers, families, and entrepreneurs. You can still see fishermen on the street selling their fresh catch of the day. The town has recently exploded into a vibrant Latin American tourism destination that still retains its charm and uniqueness.
San Juan del Sur is a bustling beachside community that offers many delicious restaurants, fun bars, and beautiful hotels. It is a great place to meet other travelers and enjoy the nightlife and social events, such as Sunday Funday and the Farmer Market. You can also enjoy diverse activities such as surfing, fishing, sailboat tour, diving, snorkeling, horseback riding, and visiting a few of the many beaches surrounding town.
This Central American town also attracts many surfers. The conditions for surf lessons are good almost every single day of the year! The most famous surf beaches around San Juan del Sur are Playa Maderas, Playa Remanso, and Playa Yankee.
La Isla de Ometepe
The Volcanic Island on Lake Nicaragua
Ometepe Island was formed by two volcanoes, Concepcion (1,610m/5,279ft) and Maderas (840m/2,756ft). To access Ometepe Island, you will need to take a ferry from San Jorge, only 25 minutes driving from San Juan del Sur.
The two volcano summits of Ometepe Island are currently inactive. The abundance of natural wonder to explore on this island makes it a perfect travel destination for nature lovers. The most common tours on Ometepe Island include hiking the volcanoes or the San Ramon waterfall with a local guide. Also, kayaking on the lake, wildlife spotting, and renting a bike to zip around La Isla de Ometepe. Make sure to check out Santa Cruz, Balgue, and Moyogalpa while visiting Ometepe Island.
Day trips with tour operators are available to visit Ometepe Island. Still, we recommend staying at least one night to fully experience this mystical island and the volcanic lake of Nicaragua.
The Beaches of Popoyo Area,
On the Pacific Coast
If you are visiting Nicaragua, you cannot miss the beauty of the Pacific coastline, and the best way to do so is to enjoy the white sandy beaches of Popoyo. Popoyo is located two hours from Managua and about an hour and a half from San Juan del Sur. Like San Juan del Sur, Popoyo is world renown for its surf breaks and international surf contests.
The beach towns in this area, such as Guasacate and las Salinas, have been recently discovered by many travelers and ex-pats who enjoy the quietness and the stunning sunsets over the blue waters of the Pacific coast.
Popoyo is an excellent place for practicing different types of surf and Spanish classes at one of its many Spanish Schools in Nicaragua. Both beginner and advanced wave riders will find wave options depending on which beach you visit. The waves are best during the summer months.
An Old Colonial City of Central America
Granada is one of the oldest colonial towns in Nicaragua and Central America. Granada is an hour and a half from San Juan del Sur and one hour from Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua.
As a colonial city, Granada features charming cobblestone streets, a leafy central plaza, and various colonial architecture and patios. This makes it one of the must-visit places to add to your Nicaragua travel itinerary. Granada has many restaurants, bars, and hotels, making this town a great place to meet other travelers and enjoy the culture of Central America. You can also visit a UNESCO Cathedral featuring stunning views of the city.
While staying in Granada, you can organize a day trip to one of the following attractions: Laguna de Apoyo, volcano Masaya, Ometepe Island, Mombacho Volcano, and more.
La Laguna de Apoyo
A Beautiful Central American Volcano Crater that turned into a Lagoon
The Laguna de Apoyo is a 6 km natural crater lake that was formed by the volcanic activities of the Apoyo Volcano. It is located about half an hour from Granada and one hour and a half from San Juan del Sur. You can easily book a day trip to La Laguna de Apoyo from Granada, San Jorge, or San Juan del Sur with a private transfer.
La Laguna de Apoyo is the perfect place for relaxing among the cloud forest vegetation, while only feet from its quiet waters. It’s a great place to swim, hike, and kayak as this natural wonder is surrounded by local wildlife, such as birds, howler monkeys, and iguanas.
A few bed and breakfasts and hotels offer shared and private rooms for you to stay and relax after your day exploring the Laguna de Apoyo. We like to include a stop to la Laguna de Apoyo before flying back from Managua’s capital city.
Masaya Volcano National
An Active Volcano in Nicaragua
The Masaya Volcano is an active volcano located about 30 minutes from Granada and a little more than two hours from San Juan del Sur. You can organize a day trip with private transport from San Juan del Sur and Granada, or take the chicken bus to the entrance of the Masaya National Park.
Although the volcano is active, don’t worry, it’s very safe. It would be a fantastic introduction to the volcanoes of Central America and a highlight of your trip to Nicaragua.
Los Pueblos Blancos
The Villages of the Artisans
Los Pueblos Blancos in Nicaragua are a group of little towns that are often referred to as “the white villages.” The reason behind their name is that almost all of their churches and houses are painted white. The list of Los Pueblos Blancos in Nicaragua includes: San Juan de Oriente, San Marcos, Niquinohomo, Masatepe, Catarina, Diriá, and Diriomo.
Each of these towns is specialized in either artisan leatherwork, woodwork, bamboo work, or pottery. Catarina is the gardens of Nicaragua and where you can find an abundance of trees and plants for sale. Enjoy your time discovering their shops and workshops while getting to know the local culture.
There are not many touristic hotels around the Pueblos Blancos but you could still find a private hotel room in one of these little towns. You can also book a day trip from San Juan del Sur, visit these small towns, and buy arts and crafts directly from the artists.
Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve
“The Roof of Nicaragua”
The Mombacho Volcano summit is one of the highest points in Nicaragua. Its surrounding nature reserve offers fantastic views of Granada, Lake Nicaragua, and the Pacific coast. Mombacho Volcano can be visited as a day trip from both Granada and San Juan del Sur.
You can hike (2 hours) or take a shuttle to the summit of Mombacho Volcano. There are two craters where you can see sulfuric fumaroles gases. The view from the crater’s summit is spectacular! Once at the summit of Mombacho Volcano, you can enjoy many hiking trails among the cloud forest populating the Mombacho Volcano.
The City of Culture and Revolution
León was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba. It became the first capital of Nicaragua until 1852 when Managua took over due to its growth and progress. Leon is less than two hours from Managua and about four hours from San Juan del Sur.
León is rich in culture, and you can visit the numerous cathedrals and monuments built during the colonial era. León is also an incredible city for food lovers as it has some of the best restaurants in Nicaragua.
You can take a day trip to Playa las Penitas, only 20 minutes from the city center of Leon, or book a volcano boarding day trip to Cerro Negro.
Chinandega and its Surroundings
The City at the Foot of Volcan San Cristóbal
Chinandega is located in the North of Nicaragua near the Pacific coast. The city is known for its many beaches, seafood restaurants, and fishing vessels as it features a close marina. A day trip to Chinandega and its surroundings would be a great way to discover the charm of northern Nicaragua and learn about this beautiful region.
You can hike the San Cristobal volcano, go volcano boarding on the Cerro Negro volcano, or visit the nearby Flor de Cana Distillery, all close to Chinandega city center.
Esteli and Matagalpa
The Region of Coffee and Cigar Plantations
Located about three hours from Managua, this northern region is known for its vast plantations of coffee and tobacco. Esteli and Matagalpa are also surrounded by a few nature reserves, including Reserva Natural Miraflor and Reserva Natural Tisey La Estanzuela. The nature reserves are a great place to explore local flora and fauna.
While in Esteli and Matagalpa, you can visit a cigar and coffee plantation. Also, try the variety of local food, drinks, and crafts from this region. You could also check out el Jalacate which is a mountain that has been carved by Alberto Gutiérrezsince the 70s’.
The Natural Wonder of Nicaragua
Somoto Canyon is located close to the border of Honduras with Nicaragua. Somoto Canyon is about four and a half hours from Managua and less than two hours from Esteli.
The canyon is only accessible by foot or horseback riding, featuring lush vegetation and waterfalls that cascade into deep pools. You can also see local wildlife such as monkeys, iguanas, toucans, and butterflies.
This secluded hidden gem of Nicaragua is worth the visit. You can swim the Somoto Canyon and its pools or hike the many trails around the canyon with a local guide.
The Corn Islands
A Caribbean Gem in Nicaragua
The Corn Islands consist of Big and Little Corn Island, located off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. The Corn Islands are only accessible by plane or boat. You can take a one-hour flight from Managua to Big Corn and enjoy the Caribbean vibes for less than $140 round trip.
Big Corn Island features coconut trees, palm trees, white-sand beaches, and coral reefs. You can explore the island on foot or rent a bike to get around it faster.
Small Corn Island is a 30-minute boat ride from Big Corn Island and has no vehicle traffic. It’s a small island where you can enjoy incredible scuba diving and snorkeling or simply relax on the breathtaking beaches of the Corn Islands.
Rio San Juan
The River in between Nicaragua and Costa Rica
The 200 km San Juan River flows between Nicaragua and Costa Rica and features a tropical jungle and lush environment. Rio San Juan is less than five hours from Managua, and six hours from San Juan del Sur, on the eastern side of Lake Nicaragua.
You can visit the river by boat or kayak as it flows through dense jungles, rivers, lagoons, and wetlands filled with local wildlife such as crocodiles, macaws, monkeys, iguanas, pumas, and snakes.
You can visit el Castillo, a fortress in Granada built by Spanish conquistadors to defend against pirate attacks, or book an overnight glamping tour with a local tour guide. You could also plan a 4-day trip and paddle all the way to the Caribbean Coast through the natural reserve Indo Maiz.
Thanks for reading
La Santa Maria Resort would be happy to help coordinate your stay in San Juan del Sur and schedule exciting day trips to maximize your time in Nicaragua and discover this incredible culture and country!