Nicaragua – Top Places To Visit in 2015

Nicaragua – featuring on a lot of ’emerging hot new’ lists for 2015 – shinesquad’s Alan Greenhalgh and Matthew Devlen take a trip to this colourful, tropical paradise in Central America.

Forget Costa Rica — old news. Industry experts are calling Nicaragua the hottest destination in Central America, and one of its best bargains. The WTTC is predicting an 8.8 percent growth in international tourist spending over the next decade, making it one of the world’s top 10 emerging destinations.

Nicaragua Graffiti


Nicaragua is the largest Central American country – a land of rich biodiversity, with volcanic peaks, rain forests, beaches and nature reserves. In fact, the country boasts nearly 5 million acres of protected parks and preserves, filled with wildlife, including exotic birds, howler monkeys, turtles and giant iguanas.

Perfect for hiking in lush rain forest and smouldering volcanic mountains with views of Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s largest freshwater lake, and Ometepe Island, a UNESCO biosphere preserve. The university town of Leon is known for its cafes, shops, and eclectic museums. Surfers and sun lovers will love San Juan del Sur, a funky beach town along the Pacific Coast. The Spanish colonial town of Granada, with its grand cathedrals and well-preserved historical buildings, is also party central.

This song gives you a flavour: “Nicaragua, what a wonderful spot. There’s coffee and bananas and a temperature hot!

It’s an adventure – hiking, surfing, zip wire, kayaking and volcano climbing – or after all that, just laze on the beach sipping a pina colada. It’s just about comfortable for those who turn left on an aircraft. Toilet paper goes in the bin not the loo. Wifi goes down when the power does too. Oh and don’t mind the insects, they were here first. Scorpions and tarantulas go with the territory.  People are friendly, there’s no begging and it has not been spoiled with any international food chains. Retail is done from the front room. We went in January and it was windy, a few thunderstorms and the temperature around 30 C.

Relax – it’s very laid back – things, if they happen, do so on ‘Nica time’.

Apoyo Lake Resort

Apoyo Lake Nicaragua

Apoyo Lake Nicaragua over to Mombacho Volcano

An easy first night is Apoyo Lake Resort which is an hour’s drive from Managua airport – brightly painted cottages tucked in a forest on a lake formed in the top of a volcano. Think Center Parcs in the jungle – self catering but with a couple of restaurants in the grounds. It’s steep with golf buggies to carry you around. Swim in the lake – warmed by the volcanic thermals, the resort’s infinity pool or a full day’s hike up the nearby Mombacho volcano.

Apoyo Lake Resort

It’s a gentle introduction to Nicaragua.

Masaya Volcano Park 

Drive into the National Park to get close to an active volcano that spews out clouds of sulfur dioxide gas.

Masaya Volcano

Masaya Volcano

The tiny museum has the timeline of the volcano and some gruesome details about human sacrifices!

Scary Stuff - Apoyo Museum

Scary Stuff – Apoyo Museum

Masaya Arts and Craft Market

A laid back craft market

Masaya Craft Market

Art in Masaya Craft Market

San Juan Del Sur #SJDS

San Juan Del Sur on the Pacific coast – a sleepy fishing village until it became a transit point for the California Gold Rush is now Nicaragua’s number one tourist spot and surfer and sun lovers paradise.  A short drive from the town is Playa Hermosa a spectacular stretch of palm fringed white sandy beaches with gently rolling surf.

Playa Hermosa San Juan Del Sur Nicaragua

Surf’s Up – Playa Hermosa

beaches, Nicaragua, Survivor

Hermosa Beach –  about 20 minutes drive from San Juan Del Sur – lives up to the Survivor hype.

Hermosa is home to a few surf schools and location of CBS Survivor series.

Beach Bar Playa Hermosa San Juan Del Sur Nicaragua

Beach Bar Playa Hermosa San Juan Del Sur Nicaragua

There’s a small entry fee and Playa Hermosa Surf Camp has hammocks, showers and beer, cocktails and a great fish burger.

Play Hermosa Beach San Juan Del Sur food

Fish burger Nicaraguan style

It’s a wild place so be careful of stingray and disturbing the sea turtles.

San Juan Del Sur wildlife

Sea turtle on Playa Hermosa just after laying her eggs

We stayed in a newly built self catering villa, Casa Colibri,  centrally located in San Juan Del Sur town with great staff, all mod cons including wifi and a private pool. Book it here on VRBO Listing #626975

Casa Colibri San Juan Del Sur Nicaragua Villa To Let

Casa Colibri in San Juan Del Sur – a great place to stay

Villas to Let in San Juan Del Sur

Inside Casa Colibri San Juan Del Sur – with its own private pool

If you want to get up into the forest from SJDS go to Parque de Aventura Las Nubes for a swing through the trees on a zip wire.

Alan Greenhalgh and Matthew Devlen in Nicaragua

Alan Greenhalgh and Matthew Devlen in Nicaragua – a pair of helmets?

Parque de Aventura Las Nubes

10 platforms and 7 zip wires in the jungle


Parque de Aventura Las Nubes – viewing platform

The four wheel drive to the platform is a bone shaker but with great views down to San Juan Del Sur and neighbouring beaches. The zip wire course of 10 platforms is safely managed and great fun – especially the vertical drop and rope staircase.

In San Juan Del Sur, El Gato Negro is the place to chill with tamarind tea, toasted bagel and a book. They also sell this fantastic jam from Condimentos El Carrizal made by a local women’s cooperative project supported by CasaLlanta, which was started by one of the early US property investors in San Juan del Sur in order to put something back into the local community. See the website:


El Carrizal Jam Mermelada

The Jam Project Cooperative San Juan Del Sur

San Juan Del Sur

Cafes along the beach of San Juan Del Sur

El Barrio is a popular place to eat and get wifi and there’s El Pollito which serves tasty chicken and roast potatoes. SJDS restaurants here.

San Juan Del Sur

Colourful surf town SJDS Nicaragua

Be patient and kick back – SJDS happens at a slower pace and you might not quite get what you ordered.

Ometepe Island

Take one of the ferries over to Ometepe, a volcanic island in one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. Go as foot passenger, don’t take a vehicle, as you’ll have more chance of getting on and off the island if the weather gets choppy.

Ometepe island ferry boat timetable

San Jorge Ferry port to Ometepe

There are two volcanoes on the island – the larger Concepcion (1610m) – an all day hike and the easier Maderas where you can go up on horseback to the San Ramon waterfall. You can hire kayaks at Caballitos del Mar in Merida paddling along the lake to Rio Istian where you can spot egrets, turtles and monkeys – we weren’t lucky enough to see crocodiles, but we were making so much noise getting our oars tangled in the overhanging branches and weeds. Read more about kayaking here 

Isla de Ometepe

Island life – Ometepe a UNESCO biosphere habitat

If you are more culturally inclined there is a pre Colombian ceramics museum which hundred of artefacts from thousands of years.  Funeral urns, pots and even a whistling vibrator.

El Ceibo Pre Colombian Ceramics museum on Ometepe Island

El Ceibo Pre Colombian Ceramics museum on Ometepe Island

There are great places to stay on Ometepe – Villa Paraiso on the beach or the great value and friendly La Omaja – with cottages in the grounds and an infinity pool overlooking the lake.

La Omaja Hotel Nicaragua

Sunset from La Omaja residences on Ometepe Island

Food is fresh and safe to eat – lots of lake fish, chicken, meat, eggs, rice, corn and beans. All organic on Ometepe because of the rich soil and high price of fertilisers. In other places it’s the typical tacos and quesadillas.

food and drink

Lake fish with tostones – fried plantain slices

La Omaja Hotel Nicaragua

Breakfast – eggs, potatoes, bacon and bread

The local beer Tona is excellent – sparkling clear and cheap.

Tona beer

Lips not Tona! Our favourite drink in Nicaragua


A party and cultural city with a very lively and pretty main square.

Granada Nicaragua

Stay in this great place La Islita Boutique Hotel with only eight rooms built around a mango tree with a swimming pool and beautiful paintings and antiques.

Granada hotel Nicaragua

Courtyard swimming pool of La Islita Boutique Hotel Granada

Take a boat trip to the small islands on Lake Nicaragua – rather like a Starline tour of the homes of the rich and famous. On one of the islands is a colony on monkeys who come down every time a boat approaches in the hope of scoring a banana.

Monkey Island in Lake Nicaragua

Monkey Island in Lake Nicaragua

There are some nice souvenirs to be had – whether it’s the hippy wrist bands from the beach, chocolate from quality local  producer Momotombo, coffee beans, richly coloured fabrics and t shirts or decorated pots.

Nicaragua Iguana Pot

Souvenir tourist pot for only $10

 The entry tax at Managua Airport is US $10 payable in US dollars or Córdobas.


See Nicaragua on its way up – go now before everyone finds out about it.

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