Backpacking Nicaragua – My overview.
This page is my overview of backpacking Nicaragua, covering the country, some tips, general things to know, transport and accommodation options, general costs and my experience of the country.
Volcano boarding to the Sunday funday…Nicaragua is your central American mix of adventure and pub crawls!
Like with all Central American Countries, Nicaragua’s landscape and terrain will jump out at you. This hotbed of active volcanoes and jungles sandwiched between the Caribbean and pacific seas will blow you away and just makes this country amazing to backpack through.
Backpacking Nicaragua is a strange mix of being as relaxed as you can possibly get, having your adrenaline jacked up to the max with some crazy parties thrown in there for good measure. You may have heard of the ‘Sunday funday’ pub crawl, or a backpacker talking about volcano boarding or even people taking in old Spanish colonial architecture. Well Nicaragua is the country where all this happens. Oh, and it’s also the cheapest Central American country.
A few tips:
- Volcano boarding is a must do, one of the best things I’ve ever done.
- There is a big chance of coming off your board and flying like superman while Volcano boarding.
- Be prepared to come away with a few scratches and bruises but they are well worth it.
- Bigfoot hostel in Leon is the most popular and biggest party hostel – Also a lot of backpacker tours are organised through them.
- Nicaragua is a hikers dreams, so many hiking options and routes through mountains and volcanoes.
- Street food will blow you away, so many great options of local dishes but also expect a lot of hot-dog and burger stands.
- Check out the markets in Leon, there’s nothing like it.
- Nicaragua is the most basic of the central American countries, don’t expect much luxury.
- You will find better options for accommodation while walking around rather than through the internet.
- Nicaragua is a great place to learn Spanish; the cheapest classes in Central America.
- It’s good to know some basic Spanish as locals don’t speak much English.
- When in Granada if you love pancakes and waffles you must try out Kathy’s waffle house.
- Ometepe Island is well worth the visit.
- Nicaraguans love to party as much as backpackers – Leon is a great night out and great to mix with locals.
- Be prepared for the heat – It get unbearably hot, there were days I couldn’t leave my hostel it was that hot.
- Beers are cheap but spirits are expensive.
- When in San Juan del Sur check out the other beaches in the area.
- Nicaraguan’s are generally friendly and easy to talk to.
Some things to be wary of:
- Over zealous tour touts will try to sell the world to you but really it’s just an overpriced tour. Remember if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. However be polite to them but don’t accept at first, once you are friendly with them haggle and get the price down.
- Nicaragua is a very poor country, the people are friendly in general but don’t flash your cash, that will make you a target for petty criminals.
- When doing any tours leave your valuables in a secure place.
- Although Nicaraguans are friendly when partying in Leon on a Friday or Saturday night be mindful of pick-pocketers.
- When in Managua don’t get into taxi’s from the streets, get your accommodation to order one for you.
- You can pay in US dollars in some restaurants and hostels but they will give you change in Nicaraguan Corboda and not at the correct exchange rate. To avoid the hassle even if they insist on US dollars just pay in Nicaraguan Corboda.
- If you go on the Sunday-funday pub crawl, be wary drugs will be offered to you, unless you know what you’re doing don’t be stupid. Police will target you.
- Be sure to check your accommodation out before paying for it (had some horrible experience with accommodation backpacking Nicaragua.)
- Be wary of other backpackers saying they have lost all their money or been robbed; they haven’t they’re just looking for handouts (No time for backpackers like that). Seen it happen a lot in Granada.
Basic things to know:
Official Language: Spanish.
Is English Spoken: Not a lot.
Currency: Nicaraguan Corboda.
Backpacking Nicaragua is: Cheap
To check live rates at XE.com
Things to know when budgeting for Nicaragua:
Nicaragua is the cheapest central American country, however that sometimes can become a problem. How? Because when things are cheaper you start to relax with your budget and before you know it you’ve spent far more than what you wanted to. I know because this happened to me while traveling Nicaragua.
Unlike in most countries transport and accommodation will not be the main source of expenditure, moving from place to place is quite cheap especially if you use chicken buses or shuttles. And away from the bigger party hostels like Bigfoot in Leon accommodation is the cheapest in Central America.
Eating in western restaurants will be more expensive, local cafes, street vendors or cooking yourself will be the cheapest options. Nicaragua has some great street food, especially BBQ meat subs on street grills. Also drinking beers and not spirits will keep your budget in check. (yeah I know easier said than done)
Most of your expenditure will go on tours and activities and trust me, you’ll want to do everything! Many tour operators will try to up sell you, adding different activities on, trying to charge you more than they should. You should always shop around, don’t accept the first price they offer and be confident to haggle prices down. Let them know another operator has offered you a lower price and watch them drive their own price down. However remember not to be rude when haggling; it’s a game. If you’re rude then they will be rude back and you wont get anywhere.
You might have noticed I haven’t gone into specific pricing, as prices always change and information becomes irrelevant. When I was in Nicaragua, I was getting by on $10 a day when not doing any activities but day’s when I was going activities that could rise to $15-20 per day.
Unlike other Central American countries there is a welcome relief when traveling around Nicaragua – Nothing is too far apart so you don’t have to put up with horrible long bus journeys. Well that’s if you’re not planning on arriving and leaving by land. There is also a good choice of cheap options available when wanting to move from A to B.
Chicken Buses – Old American School buses converted into local public buses. (Don’t be surprised to see livestock on these)
Collectivos – Mini-vans that wait until the are filled up and run certain routes.
Moto taxi (Tuk-Tuks) – run locally in some towns and cities.
Private bus – Transnica and Ticabus
Private mini-van shuttles – Safe and comfortable if not full.
Popular tour Companies:
Lots of local tour companies to choose from too.
Like with all Central American Countries there are plenty of accommodation options. Although there are plenty of hostels available, Nicaragua has a lot of cheaper options that are not advertised online.
- Hostels – A wide range of options to choose from.
- Guesthouses or hospedajes – smaller than hostels run by families.
- Budget hotels – Great to have some privacy and some much needed air-con.
- Air BnB – Available in Guatemala.
- Couchsurfing – Stay with locals.
- Camping – There are safe spots dotted around Nicaragua to camp.
My overview of backpacking Nicaragua:
Nicaragua was a great experience for me, it’s another Central American country that I loved. The first half of my trip had my adrenaline jacked up with climbing Volcanoes, walking round the rim of a semi active volcano (no chance of it erupting but still smoldering), boarding down the side of them and few adventure sports. The second half was more relaxed and slow-paced with a few drunken nights thrown into the mix.
To be fair even though the first half of my trip was the adrenaline rush, I actually preferred the slow pace and charm of Granada to Leon (no just because of Kathy’s pancakes.)
Unfortunately I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked backpacking Nicaragua as I had to get to Colombia as a friend who coming out to meet me. I would love to go back and explore the Caribbean side of the country.
Some of my highlights:
Exploring the markets in Leon.
Mixing and getting to know locals.
The numerous hikes.
Adventure sports in Leon.
Climbing an active volcano.
Boarding down the side of a volcano.
Partying in Leon.
Drinking with locals.
Haggling at markets in Spanish.
Relaxing and doing the bare minimum in Granada.
Pancakes and coffee at Kathy’s waffle house in Granada.
Some of my dislikes:
Not being able to discover the north.
Not spending as much time as I would have liked there.
Some of the accommodation.
Overzealous touts trying to sell overpriced tours to me.