Traveling in Nicaragua is a pure delight because here you can still experience the authentic atmosphere of Central America. It’s one of the cheapest and safest countries in the region, and most distances are so short that you never have to travel long to reach the next beautiful destination. That makes Nicaragua an ideal travel destination that many people combine with Guatemala or Costa Rica. In this article, we share our itinerary for Nicaragua, allowing you to visit the country’s most beautiful places. For each destination on the route, we’ve written a separate article with tips for the most enjoyable activities, great restaurants, and comfortable accommodations. This way, you can easily create your own itinerary for Nicaragua and get a good sense of what each destination has to offer. Welcome to Nicaragua!
Why Choose a Journey through Nicaragua?
Nicaragua is the land of colorful colonial cities, lakes, and gigantic volcanoes. It’s no wonder that this destination is rapidly gaining popularity among travelers who want to experience the real Central America without breaking the bank. It’s wonderfully authentic, the local population is incredibly friendly and makes you feel welcome in their country. The colonial cities exude atmosphere, and if you seek nature, you’ll come across the most beautiful landscapes. You’ll almost stumble upon volcanoes; there are as many as 19 of them! Traveling in Nicaragua is incredibly diverse and the perfect destination for anyone who’s up for a bit of adventure. You certainly don’t need to book an organized tour because Nicaragua is extremely easy and enjoyable to explore on your own.
Transportation for this Nicaragua Itinerary
Almost all destinations in Nicaragua are close to each other, making it easy to travel around the country by local bus. Throughout Nicaragua, you’ll find so-called chicken buses. These are old American school buses painted in all sorts of vibrant colors. They got their nickname because locals often bring chickens on the bus. These old buses aren’t very comfortable, but since you often only have to travel for one or two hours, it’s manageable. Plus, it’s a fun experience and costs you almost nothing. For a two-hour ride, you’ll pay about $3. In addition to chicken buses, there are also local minivans that run between many destinations. These are slightly more expensive but offer more comfort.
How Many Weeks Do You Need for This Nicaragua Itinerary?
If you want to leisurely enjoy all the beautiful destinations in Nicaragua, you’ll need a little over three weeks for this itinerary. If you have less time, you can easily complete this route in just under two weeks if you skip Little Corn Island. Most likely, you’ll fly to the capital, Managua. Many travelers visit Nicaragua during a longer journey through Central America. You can take a bus from Guatemala to Leon or from Costa Rica to San Juan del Sur. The direction of your route depends on which destination you enter the country from.
When you fly to Nicaragua, your journey starts in the capital, Managua. This isn’t a place where you’ll want to linger for long because there isn’t much to do. Since you probably don’t want to hop on a bus immediately after your long flight, it’s wise to book accommodation for the first night. La Bicicleta is a lovely accommodation, and we recommend reserving your first night there after booking your flight. In the beautiful garden, you’ll experience an oasis of calm and won’t feel like you’re in a busy city. Additionally, it’s located in a quiet neighborhood near the bus station, which is convenient if you continue your journey the next day!
Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a thrill-seeker, or an architecture lover, the charming city of Leon has something to offer for every type of traveler. The most popular activity in Leon is volcano boarding, where you slide down a volcano at high speed on a board (about 1 mile). Guaranteed adrenaline rush! If you’re a bit less adventurous, there are plenty of other enjoyable things to do in Leon. Explore the beautiful colonial center, learn about the history during the free walking tour, and walk on the roof of the impressive Cathedral of Leon. In this city, you’ll immerse yourself in the rich culture and traditions of Nicaragua. Check out all the tips for Leon to see what else there is to do.
Travel time from Managua to Leon: 2 to 3 hours by bus (about 1 mile)
Granada is the oldest city in Nicaragua and loved by many for its well-preserved colonial architecture, vibrant culture, and cozy atmosphere. Everywhere you look, you’ll see buildings in all the colors of the rainbow, and there are countless cozy restaurants, cafes, and bars. In addition to cultural sights, Granada also serves as a gateway to some of the most beautiful landscapes in Nicaragua, including the islands around Isletas de Granada. Here, you can go kayaking and have a good chance of spotting wildlife. The nearby Masaya volcano is also a must-see in Granada. You can get so close to this volcano that you can see the lava bubbling in the crater. Moreover, there are many more fun things to do in Granada to add to your Nicaragua itinerary.
Travel time from Leon to Granada: Approximately 4 hours by bus (about 2.5 miles)
Isla de Ometepe
The island of Isla de Ometepe is located in the middle of Lake Nicaragua and was formed by two volcanoes that grew together. Life on Isla de Ometepe is wonderfully uncomplicated, and everything moves a bit slower there. Hop on a bike or scooter and explore the most beautiful spots on this unique island. Climb one of the tallest waterfalls in Nicaragua or rent a kayak and search for caimans, monkeys, and tropical birds during the sunset. Isla de Ometepe is a destination that should not be missing from your Nicaragua itinerary. Check out our tips for Isla de Ometepe to get a good sense of the island.
Travel time from Granada to Isla de Ometepe: 2.5 to 3.5 hours by bus and boat (about 1.5 miles)
San Juan del Sur
This small town on the Pacific Ocean is for anyone who loves beach lounging, surfing, and fun parties. Every Sunday is Sunday Funday, and the biggest pool party in Central America takes place. Just outside the town, you’ll find some unique hostels and hotels nestled in nature. Here, you’ll wake up to the sounds of tropical birds, and with a bit of luck, you might see monkeys swinging by from your hammock. Curious where you can find these special accommodations? Check out the tips for San Juan del Sur.
Travel time from Isla Ometepe to San Juan del Sur: 1 hour by boat and then 45 minutes by bus (about 3 miles)
Little Corn Island
Nicaragua isn’t necessarily known for its beautiful beaches, but there’s one destination where you can find them. Little Corn Island is located about 70 km (43 miles) off the Caribbean coast and is a tropical paradise. Nowhere else in Nicaragua will you find such beautiful beaches and blue waters. The untouched island has a laid-back culture, and you’ll almost feel like you’re in a place like Jamaica. It’s not very big, as it’s only 3 kilometers long and 1.5 kilometers wide (about 2 miles by 1 mile).
It will take you some time and money to get there because you first need to fly to Big Corn Island and then take a boat to its smaller sibling. A cheaper option is to travel there by bus and boat, but that will take much longer. So, you really need to have the time for it and find it worthwhile. However, if you love tropical islands, you’re in the right place. The best time to visit Little Corn Island is during the dry season between January and April. For the rest of the year, there’s a high chance of tropical storms, so it’s not recommended. Check out our tips for Little Corn Island to see what there is to do on this tropical island.
Travel time from San Juan del Sur to Little Corn Island: 2.5 hours by bus to Managua, and from Managua, it’s a 1-hour flight to Big Corn Island. From there, you can take a boat to Little Corn Island.
Our Favorite Places to Stay in Nicaragua
During our travels, we always look for the most charming and unique hotels and hostels. From a cozy boutique hostel to a cute beachfront bungalow, as long as it has something special to make your trip extra enjoyable. In Nicaragua, too, we found some beautiful accommodations that we’d like to share with you. Check out the complete list of our favorite places in Nicaragua. This way, you’ll be sure to stay in the most delightful places during your journey through Nicaragua!