Lying in a hammock by the ocean I realized three things:
- I don’t know how to properly lie in a hammock.
- This is the most relaxed scene since Tahiti and
- Holy sh*t! Have I really been sleeping here for six hours?
The plan for my trip to Nicaragua included wandering Spanish colonial cities, volcano boarding and watching sea turtles nesting. I would not check off all three of those boxes, but I would find myself losing time just relaxing over coffee, at the beach, or learning the ideas and interests of other travelers.
This intense relaxation is in stark contrast to the pace in Nicaragua. Despite the Spanish influence, Nicaraguans are early to bed, early to rise and while there’s nothing wrong with that (says the guy sitting on the beach at 3am), it’s definitely not what I expected.
If you plan on visiting Nicaragua, you might be interested in these articles as well:
- Nicaragua country profile
- How I planned my trip to Nicaragua
- Nicaragua final preparations and packing list
- Volcano boarding: Snow schmo. Slide down volcanic rock on the side of an active volcano using a wooden plank. This is an awesome experience and great story to tell. I HIGHLY recommend using Quetzaltrekkers if you go to Cerro Negro. You will have the chance at two runs instead of the typical one, plus – and this is my favorite – any proceeds go to local children at risk.
- Nicaraguan coffee: So, so good. I couldn’t leave without stocking up on some coffee, so while in Leon I decided to find a shop, co-op, or other such boutique to buy local coffee. No pasa nada… So where’s the best place to buy local coffee? The supermarket. Duh. So much coffee in one aisle. But out of the whole aisle, only three bags were not/not ground already. Interesting. In the end, I came home with FIVE bags of it.
- Chocolate Museum: In this colonial mansion you’ll find not only a great breakfast buffet, but a museum where you can make your own chocolate! If you’re a chocolate lover, take the tour, try the chocolate drinks that the Mayans and Aztecs first drank and leave with the freshest bar of chocolate you’ve ever had!
I completely skirted Managua. Based on everything I had read, there wasn’t much to see, plus most of the security warnings for the country involved the capital city. My research was confirmed by every traveler I talked to: The group of British girls who said it was a waste of time; the Dutch photographer whose camera, passport and other valuables were stolen in broad daylight; the local driver who shuttled me from Granada back to the airport also agreed that there were much better things to do and see in Nicaragua.
A very blue collar town, locals are up early and the streets empty out before dark. It feels a bit eerie the further you get away from the main square, but I didn’t experience anything strange. I would avoid walking alone at night as a rule, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the city. Kids in school uniforms rule the streets in the morning, lunch break and just after class lets out. I spent a day and a half here and felt I saw most everything on my list.
After Leon I spent a few days on the beach hoping to see some turtles (no luck) before heading back inland. Much livelier than its sister city, Granada is a fascinating splash of colonial colors and architecture. The camera toting traveler will find endless opportunities for great pictures here. Streets stay active till late in Granada, wandering at night, even after midnight felt easy and safe. Bars down on Calle La Calzada stay open and packed until late.
If I didn’t have to, I probably wouldn’t drive here – definitely not at night. On the way to Leon from the airport we saw the remains of four accidents, seven horses just walking on the roads and so, so many motorcycles, often with multiple passengers but no lights or helmets.
The good news is: Public transportation can get you most anywhere here and is pretty safe, but you may have to get creative. To get from Poneloya to Granada I took a donkey cart, a small fishing boat, a school bus, a van and a micro bus. There were zero safety issues that I noticed, and the best part? The total cost was $7.
*I hired a car when going back and forth to the airport in Managua.
I experienced no issues during the trip.
I heard one anecdote about the hijacking of a hostel shuttle bus crossing the border from Nicaragua into Guatemala. The passengers were robbed, tied up and left by the road. I haven’t found anything on the interwebs about this specific incident, but there are other reports of buses being stopped and robbed in Honduras and Guatemala. If you plan to cross into Guatemala by land I would ask around and see if any other travelers have heard anything similar.
The workaround? Flying as opposed to overland travel. You can also hire a bus that comes with an armed guard.
Outside of that, the photographer I met told the story of being robbed during the day in Managua… twice. Day one they got his camera gear and passport, some valuables. Day two they went for his bike, which he was able to stop mid-theft. The moral? Stay out of Managua.
I purchased a local SIM card the first day here for $2 and ten minutes of my time. Not bad.
Jeans and short sleeves are the norm for the majority of the population. You will see some shorts on occasion. Most folks are sportin dark shoes. I wore a pair of Solomon SpeedCross 3s which attracted a TON of attention.
I hope this helps you plan your next trip to Nicaragua, or maybe helps persuade you as you decide on your next travel destination. Were I to do it again, I would plan for more time to explore and really get out to see the natural wonders of Nicaragua like Ometepe Island, the mangroves, coffee plantations and I would definitely go see a sea turtle nesting.
Have you been to Nicaragua? What did you think?!?
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