NICARAGUA BACKPACKING ITINERARY
Nicaragua is the Mecca for Central American backpackers. The people are so warm and friendly, amazing beaches, party towns, serene landscapes and volcanos. Nicaragua is small, very easy to travel around and, best of all, is super friendly to your wallet. We had the best experiences of our time in Central America here in Nicaragua and, hopefully, our guide will help you do the same.
UK citizens do not require a visa to visit Nicaragua. So long as your passport is valid for 6 months you may stay for up to 90 days. Officially, you can be denied access to the country if you are unable to provide proof of onward travel, but you would have to be the most unlucky person on the planet for that to happen to you. At the time of writing this, due to the current political situation and protests, there may be enhanced measures at the borders. Under normal circumstances you would most likely be asked where you plan on going and how long for, but that's about it.
Note! - We were also asked to show our yellow fever certificate.
Entry fee: $12 (£9.25)
Exit fee: $3 (£2.30)
Airport exit fee: $35 (£26.90) - Usually included in ticket price.
From Costa Rica (Penas Blancas) - Assuming you'll be arriving by bus, first thing you'll need to do is double back on yourself about 75 yards to a small window where you need to pay the $8 (£6.15) exit fee to leave Costa Rica. There will undoubtedly be a small line so you know you're in the right place. Very important that you keep the receipt! Back past where the bus dropped you off, enter the immigration office to the left to get your exit stamp. Cross over into Nicaragua and you'll come across the "tourist bus station" right in for the of the immigration office. There'll be a bunch of guys trying to sell you tickets but ignore them for now as you can get the much cheaper chicken buses a little further down the road. Pass through the immigration office where you need to pay the entry fee. The official fee is $12 (£9.25) plus a $1 (£0.75) border zone entry fee. Depending on the agent they may try and charge you up to $20 but just stand your ground and they will eventually relent. Once you've passed immigration and had your bags x-rayed, you will exit via the back door. Take a left here and you'll find yourself in a mini market where you can get some food, water or beers. This is also where you can catch the chicken buses from.
From Honduras (Guasaule) - Honduran immigration is a breeze to pass through. There is no official exit fee, although that doesn't stop them from trying their luck sometimes. Take a right out of the office and cross over the bridge into Nicaragua. The office will be right in front of you where you need to pay your entry fee and put your bags through an x-ray. To get to the bus station from this point is about a 10 minute walk, although there will be dozens of tuk tuks all over the place. Follow the round straight down for 6-8 minutes until you see a small road on your left, turn there and that will lead you to the bus station.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
San Juan Del Sur -
San Juan Del Sur - Typically the type of tourist hotspot we would recommend avoiding, but this is one not to be missed. This small town has it all - a beautiful beach, lots of shops and restaurants and dozens of clubs and bars. If you want to spend your day chilling on the beach and then your evening socialising amongst great company, this is the place for you. It's easy to see why some people end up staying for weeks or even months.
Hostel recommendation - The Thirsty Turtle is a new hostel owned by a couple of young, Canadian friends who fell in love with the town when visiting a little while back. It's only a short walk to the beach and it has a pool and bar with cheap beers and a great, friendly party atmosphere. They also have a cute little dog named Winston and they offer a free shuttle service between the hostel and the party area of town.
Ometepe Island -
In the middle of Lake Nicaragua sits this beautiful island which is famous for its twin volcanoes. Another spot where you could easily spend a week or two. To get to the island you need to take the ferry from Rivas. It's 30 NIO (£0.75) to enter the port and then the ferries are either 35 NIO (£0.90) or 50 NIO (£1.30). Trust us when we say you'll want to fork out the extra 15 NIO for the better boat. You have been warned.
There is so much to experience on the island, here are some of the highlights:
- Hike the volcano
- Punta Jesus Maria - small beach where you can watch a wonderful sunset
- Green Lagoon
- Ojo de Agua - Natural pools set in picturesque surroundings. 150 NIO entry (£3.85)
- El Pital - Yoga, healthy smoothies, vegan chocolate and tranquil surroundings.
The best way to enjoy the island is to rent a scooter. You can get one for the day for around $20 (£15.40).
Hotel recommendation - Hotel La Casa De Gio. Set in a quiet area this little gem has everything you need. Decent Wifi, comfortable rooms, a well equipped kitchen and a cute courtyard.
Managua may now be the capital city of Nicaragua, but you'll be better off visiting Leon. It's full of museums, churches, plazas and bustling markets. You won't find yourself lacking for something to do, photograph or eat.
A beautiful colonial city full of brightly coloured buildings. The city is situated on Lake Nicaragua where you can go kayaking for the day. After checking out the churches, the street performers and the artisan markets, you can spend your evening in the beautiful central plaza listening to live music.
Lago Apoyo -
Lago Apoyo is not your average lake. This stunning lake is formed in a volcanic crater. The water is naturally heated and clean; perfect for a swim. The rim of the crater is lined with trees and thick fauna and, when coupled with the bright blue water and lunchtime sun, makes for a truly photogenic moment. There are a number of resorts where you can use the facilities for the day for a small fee.
Somoto Canyon -
Pretty high on most backpacker's Nicaraguan itineraries, this protected covers some 170 hectares. An adventure hotspot where you can trek, climb and swim in crystal clear water surrounded by towering cliff faces. You can arranged tours here from most of the major cities and. Tourist spots or you can simply catch a bus there and enjoy it in your own way.
BUDGET & MONEY
Great news is your money goes quite a long way in Nicaragua. On average, for 2 people, we were spending about 1,170 NIO (£30) per day. That included accommodation, transport, activities, food and, of course, beers. Nicaragua's currency is the Corboda (NIO) and its exchange rate to GBP is currently around £1=40. USD are also accepted in most places (for a less favourable exchange rate, of course) and some places advertise their prices in USD.
A private double room in a hostel or cheap hotel will set you back 400-470 NIO (£10-12) and you can find dorm beds for as little as 156 NIO (£4).
As with everywhere, you can spend as much or as little as you like on food. To be honest, Nicaraguan cuisine isn't much to shout about but you can get a decent and filling meal from a street vendor for as little as 50 NIO (£1.30). There are plenty of markets and supermarkets if you want to cook for yourself and there are an abundance of restaurants which cater to western tastes, obviously at a higher cost.
Being a country where a lot of visitors, and indeed locals, like to party and enjoy a few cervezas, beer and cocktails are pretty cheap. Local beers start at 30 NIO (£0.75) and rum or vodka cocktails at 50 NIO (£1.30).
We'll get on to transport in more detail in the next section, but it's super cheap, very uncomfortable and highly entertaining.
If you aren't familiar with the infamous Central American "chicken bus" then just picture an old American school bus painted in bright colours, with loud music, crammed to the point of bursting with people (and sometimes livestock, hence the name) flying around at the speed of sound. It may not sound tempting, but it is the easiest way to get around Nicaragua. They're cheap and plentiful and, although each bus doesn't go far (2 hours at most), you will never be far away from a connecting bus.
- Penas Blancas to Rivas - 45 mins - 30 NIO (£0.75)
- Rivas to San Juan Del Sur - 45 mins - 30 NIO (£0.75)
- Rivas to Granada - 1.5 hours - 75 NIO (£1.95)
- Granada to Leon - 3 hours - 90 NIO (£2.30)
- Leon to Somotillo - 2 hours - 75 NIO (£1.95)
At the time of writing this (July 2018) Nicaragua is currently in the midst of a political fiasco which has escalated to deadly clashes between protestors and the police. Whilst the situation isn't expected to last, you will need to exercise extra caution if you are visiting soon. A large part of the economy is dependant on tourism so most people are extremely accommodating of tourists in this difficult time.
Under normal circumstances, Nicaragua is somewhere where we would recommend being a little more vigilant than usual although most places are perfectly safe if you keep your wits about you. As with any destination on the backpacker trail you need to keep a sharp eye on your belongings on buses and in and around stations, cities and major attractions as petty crime and bag theft is always a concern. It is not uncommon for tourists to be targeted in violent robberies at night so try to avoid being out alone after dark and only use registered taxis which staff in most bars, clubs and restaurants will call for you.
Final thing; make sure to have these numbers saved in your phone -
- Police: 118
- Ambulance/Fire: 128/911
- Tourist Police: 101
- Your Embassy (UK): +506 2258 2025