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The Corn Islands are a pair of islands roughly 70 kilometres off the western coast of Nicaragua, in the Caribbean Sea. They are known as Big Corn and Little Corn Island.
As the name suggests, Big Corn Island is the bigger of the two. It is geographically larger than Little Corn by 3 times, at roughly 10 square kilometres. It has an airport, cars, shops, ATMs, resorts etc.
Little Corn Island is 2.9 square kilometres, has some beach shacks, basic hotels, restaurants, and all traffic is by foot or bicycle. The island runs on generator power and can only afford diesel to run the generator for part of each day. As a result there is no electricity on the island between 06:00 and 13:00, though some restaurants run their own generators for this time period.
Visiting Little Corn Island was actually the trigger for wanting to visit Nicaragua. I saw some spectacular pictures and since then I have been wanting to visit. We decided to conclude our Nicaraguan adventure with some beach time. Taking life back to basics, is a great way to relax and visiting Little Corn Island is one of my highest recommendations for a trip to Nicaragua.
There are several activities on offer on the island, including kite-surfing, snorkelling, diving and fishing trips. A number of people we met had travelled to Little Corn Island to achieve their PADI diving certificates at an affordable cost. In the evenings there are always things happening such as live bands, quiz nights and so on.
The Lighthouse Hostel have a day tour “Island Trip” which includes a boat ride, snorkelling, fishing, a beach BBQ to cook the fish you caught and beach party to watch the sunset from the beach.
On the whole, the island is so tiny, there isn’t that much to see or do except relax. There are many beaches to choose from where you can swim, snorkel, sunbathe or soak up the atmosphere from the shade.
We decided to walk as much of the island as possible, and as long as you are prepared to get your feet wet, you can walk a large chunk of the islands perimeter. The southern tip and northern easter corner have some rocks and cliffs which make walking a full perimeter impossible.
From the centre of town we walked across the trail from West to East. We walked along the Eastern beaches, through some of the beach bungalow accommodations and up to the kitesurfing school. At the kitesurfing school, you need to go inland for a section to get around a rocky outcropping. Following the trail, you pop back onto the North Eastern beaches and can continue along through to the main Northern beach, Otto Beach. From Otto Beach it is best to walk back through the island main trail, back to town.
If you do this island walk you can do it in less than three hours easily, but I’d recommend taking your time to enjoy the scenery, stop by some of the beach bungalows for a drink or a snack, or take a dip in the sea.
You can rent snorkelling equipment from your accommodation or from a few different places in town, for around USD$3-$5 per day. There are a few spots on the island where you can go snorkelling from the beach. We were advised that the best place to go was the northern Otto Beach. The staff at the Otto beach bar can advise you exactly where to go. This is not a recommendation but more of an necessity due safety, because it is also near a boat route.
To see a greater variety of underwater life, I would highly recommend taking a snorkelling excursion for USD$20. Boat’s leave from the town and an excursion takes around 3 hours. We were taken to three different reef spots around the northern tip of the island.
By taking the boat further off the coast we were able to see a much greater variety of sea life than by swimming from the shore. It was absolutely spectacular. We saw various types of fish of all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes; one or two breed of sting ray; and the highlight were the sharks.
Being in the Caribbean Sea means that fresh seafood is a popular menu item on Little Corn Island, with various species of fish on offer and what I consider the highlight: Lobster!
The best meal for the best price that we had was at Rosa’s, a short way off the main strip in the direction of the west side of the island. It is a very local, family run restaurant. The staff were so friendly. We both ordered a dish with a full lobster tail, it came with a starter and a dessert and was only USD$7.
The Beach Bar, Tranquilo and Desideri were among our favourites places to eat, though they were in the higher price bracket.
A meal recommendation which were were given but did not follow through on is Darinia’s Kitchen.
Accommodation is dependent on budget and travel style. We originally wanted to stay on the northern end of the island, but due to availability this was not an option, so we stayed in town. In hindsight we were very grateful for this, as people staying on the northern end had a 30 minute night jungle hike with no light, sometimes during a tropical downpour.
We stayed at Green House Hostel, which was managed by Corn Island local Georgia. The facilities were really clean, well located and had a brilliant friendly vibe amongst staff and guests. Georgia and the other staff members were absolutely brilliant in providing advice on best beaches for different things, best places to eat etc. It felt a bit like a happy family at Green House and we truly enjoyed our stay.
There are no ATMs on Little Corn Island, so you need to bring your wads of cash with you. Typically everywhere works on a cash basis, even accommodation.
There are a few restaurants/cafes that will accept credit card but there’s an extra charge, around 3%. If you are really desperate for charge your credit card and give you the cash, but the commission on this is 10%.
Also be aware when planning how much cash to bring, Little Corn is very expensive. All prices are listed in USD$, though you can pay with Cordoba. The prices are in my opinion also US prices, meals can be up to USD$18 and activities typically start at $20.
The recommended way of getting to Little Corn Islands is to fly from Managua to Big Corn Island, then take a panga (boat) to Little Corn Island.
La Costeña are the only airline flying this route. If you book directly on the phone with La Costeña you will get the best price, booking online or via a travel agent will incur extra costs. Also via La Costeña directly more flight times are available than online. A return flight should be around USD$165 plus taxes and other charges depending on where and how you book.
Note: Airport tax is USD$2 per person each direction.
If you aren’t sure of exactly how many days you want to stay on the Corn Islands, La Costeña also offer an open return ticket where you can leave the return date open.
On arrival on Big Corn Island a taxi collectivo to the ferry terminal costs 20 Cordoba per person.
The panga (ferry) costs approximately 120 Cordoba per person, ID required. As soon as the ticket booth opens you need to queue for the ticket as there are limited seats. If they decide to send a second boat the price per person increases. The ferries operate on a fixed schedule, and there are only two ‘guaranteed’ departures per day in each direction. Big Corn to Little Corn runs at 11:30 and 16:30 daily. The return trip is at 06:30 or 13:30 daily.
The panga ride to Little Corn is approximately 30-40 minutes and the sea is typically quite rough. Be prepared for a bumpy ride and to get soaking wet! Your main bag will be in the boat storage space. You will have your daypack on your lap, so I recommend protecting it with a bag coat and/or plastic bags.
Note: You can also take a panga from Bluefields on the Eastern Coast of Nicaragua, through to the Corn Islands. I heard that the trip is 6 hours of rough weather, involving crying and puking passengers. There were no positive recommendations for this transport option.
Matagalpa is in the northern, hilly region of Nicaragua, known as the coffee region. We were really interested to head to Jinotega to check out the heart of the coffee region, but with limited time we opted to visit Matagalpa instead.
To be honest Matagalpa was a little disappointing for us. It was a fairly small city, densely populated and very urbanized. We didn’t really enjoying being amidst the hustle and bustle. Also being in the mountains was unexpectedly cold, for which we were most certainly unprepared. Regardless we made the most of our time there wandering the streets checking out the local architecture and the fruit from the street sellers.
The goal of heading to Matagalpa was for the coffee, so we caught a bus further into the hills to coffee plantation Selva Negra. It is a large farm designed for agriculture and tourism. They offer farm tours, cacao and coffee tours; or you can simply pay the entry fee to explore their hill trails by yourself.
Unfortunately due to the rain the coffee tour was cancelled (it was kind of a bonus since the tour was a lot more expensive than we actually wanted to pay USD$22). So after enjoying a cup of the Selva Negra coffee in their lakeside cafe, we explored the hill trails in the forest – which were absolutely wonderful. Lush green vegetation, monster trees and some interesting species’ of funghi. Despite being on the lookout for monkeys we weren’t lucky enough to spot any.
Entry to the farm is 100 Cordoba, or 200 Cordoba which is redeemable but it was unclear in which situation it was redeemed.
The bus ride to Selva Negra was 13 Cordoba on the bus route to Jinotega, and the bus driver was so kind as to tell us when to get off.
We stayed at Hostal Martina’s Place. It was a very large dorm room, though they also offer private rooms. Considering there were so few guests the large dorm was not an issue. The hostel was very clean, with a good location and good facilities. The only strange thing was having to pay a deposit for plates, and cutlery if you chose to cook your own meal.
Hostal La Buena Onda also looked good and also had a tour desk for asking questions about tours.
Express buses travel regularly between Matagalpa and Leon. The journey is 81 Cordoba and approximately 3 hours.
After Managua, Leon is the largest city in Nicaragua with a population of approximately 145,00 people. It didn’t feel like a busy city, though the city vibe was more buzzing than Granada.
We stayed in Leon for several days, left and then returned for another day or so. Leon is a good central point to use as a base for a short while. From Leon there are loads of cool activities to do, some of which we enjoyed and others we would have done if we had more time.
As with any city my ideal way to explore is on foot, take random streets, wander and get lost. The city of Leon is wonderfully charming, it is full of bright colours and colonial architecture, peppered with grand cathedrals and green parks, with volcanos and forests in the distance.
The revolution museum is a place I heard good things about and would like to visit if I were ever to go back.
Aside from some exploratory wanderings around the city, most time spent in Leon was doing tours.
To get to know a bit about the city and the history we did a free walking tour. It was roughly 90 minutes exploring the inner city, and learning the history through the political murals painted in various places. The guide Sebastian was from France but had been a Leon resident for quite some time, and while the accent was a little hard to understand, he had a true passion for sharing the history of culture of this beautiful colonial city with a rather turbulent past.
The tour starts in a small office near the NW corner of the cathedral, opposite the park with the huge mural.
The main cathedral of the city is the size of a full city block and faces Parque Central. It was built to survive earthquakes and so far has held true to construction as it is the only church to have remained in tact during several earthquakes over time. It is perhaps the largest church in Central America and is a beautiful old building that is free to visit.
The most fascinating aspect of the cathedral are the five doors on the cathedral floor. These do not lead to a basement, crypt or cellar, rather they are escape tunnels leading to other churches. The were constructed during the time of pirate raids to help preserve life during pirate attack.
In addition to exploring the interior of the cathedral, I would recommend a visit to the rooftop. Tickets are USD$3 and purchased from a random door found outside at the back of the church. Entrance to the rooftop is from the NW corner. The cathedral rooftop has a beautiful display of domes to wander around and and offers spectacular views of the city and to volcanoes in the distance.
Quetzaltrekkers is the name of one of the many adventure tour operators in the city. We booked our adventures activities with this company as they have a safety first attitude and a community focus. All profits feed directly back into the community to fund education and rehabilitation programs for the children.
All guides are volunteers.
Note: Quetzaltrekkers discount if you do multiple tours.
Telica Volcano is one of the tallest volcanoes in Nicaragua, and it is where you can hike directly to the rim at 900metres and peer into the belly of the volcano. We did the sunset hike up Telica to see it both during the day and at night, with a spectacular sunset in between. Unfortunately there were so many sulfur clouds we could not see the lava, but walking the rim of an active volcano was really quite the experience.
The hike up was relatively short, approximately 45 minutes. We spent some time at the crater edge before walking further away to have a better view of the full volcano. Before sitting on the side of the volcano enjoying a packed dinner, watching the sun set in the direction of the ocean. One of the most beautiful sunsets of my life!
We ended our hike with an attempt to see the glowing lava in the volcano after the sun had set, but the billowing clouds of sulfur weren’t working with us. We hiked to the base of the volcano by torchlight and bumped our way back into town in the 4WD.
The Telica volcano is absolutely beautiful. Being so close to the rim, looking in to the belly of the beast so to speak, is pretty amazing!
The tour cost USD$45 per person (cost varies on group size). The full excursion is approximately 6.5hours and includes transport, water, snacks, dinner and a free t-shirt.
Cerro Negro is a young and active volcano a short drive out of Leon. It’s quite a small volcano, only 500-600metres high, with a wide open top consisting of two craters and a very steep hike up. An eruption spewing fine ash enabled the creation of a new activity Volcano Boarding.
Cerro Negro in Nicaragua is, to my knowledge, the only place where volcano boarding exists as an adventure activity. As such, this activity has been on my bucket list for some time.
The hike up to the crater edge is reasonably challenging with a volcano board strapped to your back, hot weather, a steep climb and high winds. I actually found the last stretch along the rim of the crater quite scary. However the hike is worth the effort. At the top you can see into the crater, feel the heat in the ash and see spirals of sulfur escaping the hot ground. After taking in the wonderful view and active volcano experience it’s time to suit up and go over the safety talk.
With clear instructions the group split into two and lined up behind the ‘lanes’, one by one on the signal of our guide we took turns on our volcano board sledding down the side of the active volcano. The speed is dictated by you, using your body position and feet to control acceleration. As a bit of a chicken I went reasonably slow, I found the experience a little bit frightening but incredibly exhilarating and fun!! So much so, that I opted to risk the scary, windy, walk up for a second ride.
There’s nothing quite like sledding down the side of an active volcano, with wind and volcanic ash in your hair. WOW!
The tour costs USD$30, and is approximately 6 hours. Quetzaltrekkers are the only company who allow the group to make two rides down the volcano. Included in the cost is transport, all protective clothing, equipment, water, snacks, lunch and a free t-shirt.
The taco truck parked on the street 1ra Av. NO between Calle de Ruben Dario and 1ra Calle NO.
Comedor San Benito also on street 1ra Av. NO is brilliantly priced buffet style local food. We ate there numerous times, the food quality and quantity was great. We ate with the locals, and with such a busy location the food was always incredibly fresh.
Antonino’s had some great pizza at a reasonable price. It’s certainly not typical Nicaraguan, but nevertheless tasty, good food.
We had two stays in Leon, three nights and later one night.
We spent three nights at Hostal El Jardin. Location was good, prices were reasonable, some staff were great and others less so. We were very unimpressed with the cleaning. Our private room was not cleaned for our entire stay. I consider this unacceptable since all toilet paper is thrown in an open trash can in a room that is poorly ventilated and close to 30 degrees celsius. Also we used the laundry service for our clothes and we received them back just as dirty as we sent them in, though smelling mildly better.
Our single night stay was at Blue House Hostel when transiting through from northern Nicaragua to Managua. Blue House was also very well located, staff spoke fantastic english. Rooms were better ventilated than at El Jardin and were more spacious. The hostel had quite the party vibe, which didn’t bother us too much as it was only one night.
We travelled to Leon from San Juan del Sur, via Rivas and Managua; then we travelled north to Matagalpa before heading back south to Leon and then Managua.
Connecting between Managua and Leon the UCA buses depart from Mercado Israel Lewites Oeste and cost 61 Cordoba. The trip is around 2 hours.
Between Leon to Matagalpa, we travelled with an expreso bus, for 83 Cordoba. You need to buy a ticket and you are given an assigned seat. The ride takes approximately three hours.
San Juan del Sur on the western coast of Nicaragua in the country’s south is a very popular destination in Nicaragua for two reasons: drinking and surfing. It has a reputation as an epic party destination and is most well-known for it’s Sunday Funday weekly party. As such a popular tourist destination it is important to note, that the region is also catering for US tourists in terms of price!
We weren’t interested in drinking sessions, partying or surfing, but still made the trip out to the region and were happily rewarded for the effort.
In our two days in the region we actually did very little, but the sun, sand and surf were wonderful for relaxing.
We spent some time lazing on the beach soaking up the sunshine and enjoying fresh juice.
If you are into surfing, you can rent surfboards and/or book a surf lessons at the beach.
Our second day in the region, we hitched a ride to San Juan del Sur where we rented a motorbike for $20/day. We had the intention of popping in to various beaches along the coastline, but with limited riding experience and gravel roads, we ended up visiting Playa Hermosa and again relaxing in the sun with delicious food and drink.
The highlight at Playa Hermosa was watching a tub full of baby turtles that had been obtained from the turtle sanctuary La Flor. The baby turtles were released into the ocean at sunset and it was a truly wonderful experience. The turtles were absolutely adorable!
The only downside was the number of tourists picking them up to ‘help’ them into the ocean, rather than letting them find it for themselves.
At Playa Maderas The Jungle Dream is my number one recommendation for food. Their tacos are delicious, staff are friendly, it’s a super chill cafe and the prices are reasonable.
On the beach in front of Camping Matilda is a tiny beach hut run by a local family. The service was wonderful and welcoming. The food was very typical local food, and typical local price which was welcome as everything else was three or four times the price!
In San Juan del Sur we had breakfast at a cafe called Salud Kitchen and while it was certainly pricey, it was absolutely fantastic. The coffee was great, the avocado toast was delicious and the breakfast burrito was out of this world!
Not wanting to stay in San Juan del Sur, we found accommodation just near Playa Maderas at Selina’s Maderas. Selina’s is a chain of hostels found throughout Latin America, owned by “an Arab” (as stated by one of the employees).
The facilities at Selina’s were great, modern and clean and it was a good location. The staff, food and prices were less amazing. The staff weren’t friendly or helpful, the prices were upper end with no inclusions whatsoever and the restaurant menu was limited. When we did eat at the restaurant for exorbitant prices we were left hungry and disappointed. Your best bet is to shop at the grocery store in SJdS and cook for yourself.
We paid $16 per bed in an 8 bed dorm, and were grateful for the wonderfully hot showers.
You get to San Juan del Sur via Rivas. With a chicken bus the trip should cost only 30 Cordoba each way.
To get to Playa Maderas, you can be lucky enough to hitch a ride with someone, or pay for a shuttle ride at Casa del Oro for USD$5 return. To be honest, we bought return tickets and only ever used a one-way the rest of the trips we hitched or used our hired motorbike.
Isla Ometepe is a figure eight shaped island in the centre-western section of Lake Nicaragua, with a population of 47,000 people. The island was formed by the two volcanoes, Volcan Concepcion and Volcan Maderas, connected by an isthmus.
With such a high volume of volcanic, fertile soil, Isla Ometepe has a strong focus on agriculture, with plantations of beans, rice, corn and various fruits.
With two stunning volcanoes, one active and one not-active; various beaches; natural springs; waterfalls; and beautiful nature, Isla Ometepe is also a tourist hot-spot.
The main goal of our visit to Isla Ometepe was to hike Volcan Concepcion. Many claim this to be Nicaragua’s hardest hike. In addition to hiking, we wanted to see more of what the island had to offer. We spent three nights on the island, allowing us two full days on the island, one spent hiking and one spent exploring.
Despite it not being a particular hub for tourism, we stayed in Moyogalpa. For people planning to hike Volcan Concepcion, this is the best place to stay. For those more interested in simply exploring the island, staying in Balgüe would be my recommendation.
We booked our tour up Concepcion through our accommodation, Hospedaje Soma. The tour needs a minimum number of people to run (from memory it is a minimum of 2-3) and the cost is calculated based on the number of people in the group. With a party of six people we paid USD$21 per person for the tour, plus USD$3 entry fee to the Volcan Concepcion nature reserve. No food or water is provided so you must pack and carry your own.
The full hike to the crater at 1610 metres takes 9-11 hours, and is a reasonably extreme incline, so be prepared for some hard work!
We were collected from our hostel by our guide Wilmore at 06:30 and driven the 10-20minutes to the base of the volcano. We registered and paid our entry fee, grabbed some walking poles and headed off up the mountain.
Our guide Wilmore was absolutely brilliant and absolutely the best guide we could hope for. He had a focus on safety, the environment and sharing knowledge about the area, it’s history, flora and fauna.
The hike is approximately 7.5 kilometres. The first 2.5 kms are reasonably flat terrain, the remaining 5 kms are a 25-30% incline. If we didn’t have walking poles we would have spent a great deal of time using our hands as well as our feet!
The lower section of the hike is through beautiful, dense, green jungle. We were lucky enough to see some white-headed capuchin monkeys and some families of howler monkeys. At the end tail end of the hike, we spent a half hour just watching the families moving about the trees.
From approximately 900 metres altitude the trail incline increases and the vegetation disappears. At some point the clear skies turned to cloud and we spent a large proportion of the hike walking through misty, wet clouds. Reaching the craters edge was exciting, not to mention a little scary as the high winds seriously affected our ability to stand upright. Despite the complete lack of visibility, it was incredibly exciting and rewarding to reach the crater’s edge at 1610metres. Quite the achievement!
A great way to see the island is to rent a scooter, motorbike or ATV. We paid around USD$20 to rent a motorbike for the day. Due to leg pain from the hike, we had a late start and didn’t get to see much – but what we did see was fabulous!
Firstly it’s important to be aware that there are few sealed roads on the island. The road from Moyogalpa to Balgüe in an S shape (west then east across the isthmus) is sealed and easy enough to travel. Basically anywhere else you need to be prepared for slow, off-road travel. This being said, places I would have liked to have visited include Volcan Maderas’ crater lake and San Ramon waterfall.
One of the funniest things about riding around the island is crossing straight over an active, functional airstrip without any kind of warning signs. Hopefully they actually put security at the road crossing when plane landings are anticipated!!
A site that we visited in our adventure around the island, was Ojo de Agua, Eye of Water. There are mixed reviews of the place, and I would have to say that I thought it was wonderful – but I will explain.
Ojo de Agua is essentially a man-made public swimming pool in the jungle that is fed by natural spring water. The fact that it is a natural spring is quite clear in what you read, but there are fewer references to the fact that the spring water feeds into a man-made constructions. So many people are disappointed with their experience.
Entry costs around USD$3 per person, there are change rooms, toilets, a restaurant and many sun lounge chairs on site. There’s also a banana plantation and trails through the agricultural area of the site.
The pool has deep and shallow sections, a tarzan swing and a slackline. After a seriously epic hike, I found it relaxing and rewarding to enjoy some time by the pool.
We had two fantastic meals out in Moyogalpa that are worth mentioning the restaurant Mar Dulce and the random, hard to find, local restaurant.
Reviewed as the best place to eat in Moyogalpa, Mar Dulce can be found on the main street in town. They have a decent range of food options covering both Italian, Mexican and Latin American dishes. We had a two person serve of mixed, chicken & beef, fajitas that were simply divine. The serving size was massive and we barely managed to finish it all.
The other restaurant that we ate at was a local restaurant with very typical Nicaraguan food at a great price. You can find it on Google Maps under the name Pollo Cervecero bar y comedor. The staff only speak Spanish, but are more than happy to help you as much as possible with their snippets of english. The food was fresh, delicious, a great price (222 Cordoba for 2 people including beers – USD$7) and a great location by the beach.
We enjoyed our breakfasts at our accommodation Hospedaje Soma, included in the room cost was a choice of four breakfast menus, all of which were delicious and hearty.
We splashed out on a private room with shared for three nights at USD$30 per night including breakfast. The facilities were modern and clean. The staff were absolutely wonderful, knowledgeable and helpful. They were ready to answer any and all questions we could think of, and were happy to arrange our tours and motorbike rental.
They were an easy 10 minute walk out of town and it was a very peaceful place to stay. I would highly recommend staying there if you plan to stay in Moyogalpa.
As mentioned in my post about Granada, Rivas is the central transport hub for getting around southern Nicaragua.
We travelled to Isla Ometepe from Granada, which meant first taking a chicken bus from Granada to Rivas for 50 Cordoba per person.
From Rivas you need a taxi collectivo to San Jorge Ferry Terminal. a Taxi Collectivo is just a taxi that functions similarly to a bus, when there are enough people to fill the vehicle, they depart. It should be quite cheap per person, but we got screwed over into paying 450 Cordoba (USD$14) for two of us for a 10 minute taxi ride!
There are two ferry types travelling between San Jorge and Moyogalpa, one is a smaller passenger ferry and the other for cars and passengers. The larger one is a bit slower but more stable, and slightly more expensive. In terms of scheduling, the passenger ferries are more frequent, and the larger ferry will have a scheduled time but then wait until it is full before departing. The passenger ferry cost 45 Cordoba per person.
Check this site as a guideline for ferry times.
We took the Car ferry to return to San Jorge for around 50 Cordoba per person.
On arrival in San Jorge we ended up taking a Taxi Collectivo directly to San Juan del Sur (rather than going via Rivas) together with another couple. We paid USD$7.50 per couple for this trip.
Note: If you are going to get scammed for transport costs it is pretty likely to be in Rivas! Bus prices are fixed, but you need to watch out for taxi drivers. You will be told things like “you missed the last bus and will have to take a taxi”. Tips for avoiding being ripped off, ask locals what the price SHOULD be for a particular trip and try to team up with others heading the same way as you to get a bulk discount or collectivo price.
Granada is a wonderfully colourful old colonial city positioned on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, a popular destination on the tourist route and the second stop on our Nicaraguan adventure.
The city of Granada in the province of Granada, was founded in 1524 under Spanish rule. It is located at the northern end of Lake Nicaragua and is a central point between two active volcanos, Masaya and Mombacho.
Granada’s location for settlement was a strategic choice, with access to fresh water, waterways for trade, and fertile volcanic soil for agriculture. The well positioned, busy trading port became a target for pirates and plunder. Making for a rich history.
The city is quite large, with a population of over 100,000 but, as the city is sprawled over a large geographic area, it doesn’t feel at all crowded. Granada’s city centre is buzzing with life, and is a display of well maintained, spectacularly colourful, colonial architecture.
Granada tends to compete with Leon as the most popular city for tourists to visit in Nicaragua. I feel it’s truly personality and interests that affect which one you prefer. As someone with a preference for quaint and charm, Granada was certainly my preferred city.
During our days in Granada we did a combination of tours and self-exploration.
My first and foremost recommendation for Granada is to get lost. Wander the streets at random, say hi to all the friendly locals, appreciate the brightly coloured buildings, the fascinating and intricate door designs and taste some of the treats for sale by street vendors (I generally stick to the fresh fruit options).
All the churches have different architecture and colouring, and they are fascinating to visit. They each cost $1 to enter.
The main cathedral has a wonderful ceiling painting and the view over the plaza from the tower is gorgeous! Iglesia La Merced also has a spectacular view, some people prefer it to the cathedrals view, but I thought they were both equally interesting.
The Mercado Municipal is the local market, you can buy anything and everything here: fruit, vegetables, fresh meat and fish, socks, underwear, shoes, brooms, bed linen, plastic buckets…the list goes on. It’s a really interesting place to explore, but be prepared for crowded, dark spaces.
There are some food stalls where you can buy a cheap, fresh, local meal. I was nervous ordering food when I did not know what I would get, but my local lunch was absolutely delicious! It was a server of grilled beef, served with a gallo pinto (rice and beans) and a salad for only a dollar or two.
North of the city centre, near Xalteva church is a tiny Cigar factory called Doña Elba. Their daily production is 300-350 cigars all hand rolled and pressed.
You can get a free (donation based) tour of this tiny factory and if you want you can learn to roll your own cigar for $7.
The staff at the cigar factory were lovely and despite not being smokers, nor having a particular interest in cigars, it was a very pleasant experience.
Thousands of years ago Mombacho Volcano erupted and threw rock and ash into Lake Nicaragua forming an archipelago of 365 islands. Most of the islands are vegetation and wildlife rich dur to the rich, fertile volcanic ground.
Many of the islands are inhabited or for sale, they are largely foreign owned due to the very high price tags. Two of the islands have monkeys, but they did not come to be there naturally and are simply to appease the tourists. Sadly they get fed Oreos and other things to bring them close to the tourist boats.
It was quite interesting to zip in and around the islands, to see the huge houses, and the variety of birdlife and vegetation, but it was disappointing to see the monkey so far from their natural habitat.
The Las Isletas tour cost $18 per person for a 3 hour tour. They run from 9-12 and again 2-5pm.
From Granada an evening tour to Masaya Volcano is quite common, you can also self tour but we booked a tour. Masaya Volcano is the smallest but most active of the active volcanoes in Nicaragua. It is 635 metres above sea level, and the lava level is currently up to 270 metres above sea level.
We had hoped to hike the lava tubes, but as they are at 250 metres above sea level, they were under the current lava level.
For the majority, the tour is spent in a van travelling, and we had a brief visit at a museum on the way up. The main event however, is a visit to the volcano crater after the sun has set. Vehicles are sent up in batches, after arriving at the car park you are given 15minutes to look around and take your photos and you must then get back in the van and leave. As the volcano is so active, the sulfur fumes are dangerous and also it’s ridiculously popular, the visit is very short.
Despite being a short visit I considered it worth the time and money. I thought it was truly a great experience to look down into an active volcano, and see the glowing red, fast-flowing river of lava below!
The Masaya Tour cost $20 per person and was around 3 hours in duration. It was operated by TransTours, but we booked through El Caite Hostel.
If I went back to the Granada region in Nicaragua I would take some extra time to do some hiking and ziplining at Mombacho Volcano; explore Chocoyero Nature Reserve to see El Brujo; and visit the craft markets at Masaya.
Two fantastic restaurants I can recommend in Granada, are more American cuisine and prices than Nicaraguan, but the food was absolutely delicious.
For great steak, my recommendation is El Zaguan. I enjoyed the surf and turf – steak with a full grilled lobster tail on top and it was absolutely amazing.
For fresh healthy, salads and wraps, as well as modern versions of local dishes, great coffee and smoothies, then The Garden Cafe is worth a visit. They also have a great little store and an amazing selection of books to read.
A local dish recommended to us was Vigaron, this can be purchased in the central park at the cafe/stall with the colourful umbrellas. Vigoron is a traditional dish served of Yucca, chicharron (pork crackling), pickled tomato, cabbage and something else green.
Through relatively random travel choices, we stayed at three different places in Granada. Two of which I would happily recommend, and the third I would strongly advise against.
El Caite is a hostel two blocks back from Parque Central. It was a fairly busy hostel but with a great location and good facilities. There was a really friendly vibe amongst guests. The only downside was that the staff didn’t speak much english and this leads to some issues with booking tours,.
At the end of our trip we had another two nights in Granada before flying out. We thought we would splash out on a private room, so we booked Hotel Casa Generalife but were most disappointed to find that our superior room with a garden view was simply a painted concrete room with no view, and the ensuite was only separated from the bedroom with a flimsy curtain. We promptly booked our second night at another hotel.
The night we spent at Hotel Glifoos was not in any way disappointing. The welcome was warm and helpful the hotel itself felt more homely, clean and modern. The facilities were better and it was a fantastic location. Only a block and a half from Parque Central but with no street noise.
Our first trip to Granada was from Laguna de Apoyo; we took a local shuttle from Paradiso hostel directly to Mercado Municipal in the centre of Granada for US$3 per person.
If you wish to head south from Granada, to either Isla Ometepe or San Juan del Sur, you will need to go via Rivas. The local chicken bus departs from a stop three blocks south of Mercado Municipal and costs 50 Cordoba per person.
Note: the chicken buses always have their route name on the front of the bus so they are easy to identify.
We travelled from Managua Airport by taxi to Mercado Roberto Huembes Bus station for 100 Cordoba per person.
From the bus station we took a chicken bus to central Granada for 21 cordoba per person.
Returning to Managua Airport for a 7am flight, we took a private shuttle for US$35 organised through the hotel. We were actually driven by the Hotel Glifoos Hotel Manager, David, who was a truly wonderful man.
Laguna de Apoyo is a lake inside the caldera of an extinct volcano. It is in the provinces of Granada and Masaya with the province border crossing through the lake.
Laguna de Apoyo was declared a nature reserve in 1991, and is a popular place for people to visit for both day trip and a few days away. Many people with limited time visit as a day trip from Granada, but those with more time tend to stay a night or two.
Arriving in Managua at 10pm, we had organised an airport pickup to take us straight to our accommodation at Laguna de Apoyo, and we started out vacation with two days on the side of the lake.
This was a brilliant way to switch from work mode to holiday mode. We arrived at night time, tired from travel, and we woke up to blissful calm. We watched the sunrise; easing into the day listening to the birds chattering, the howler monkeys howling in the distance and the wind lightly rustling through the leaves of the trees.
No matter where you stay by the lake, all accommodations provide kayaks and inner tubes for enjoying time on the lake. Some accommodations have a pontoon to which you can swim out and then enjoy the sunshine. The accommodations also typically have hammocks and beach chairs, some also have barbecues and picnic tables at your disposal.
We had a great time paddling around in the kayaks and lazing on the pontoon.
In addition to enjoying the water activities, you can walk along the waters edge to check out other accommodations, restaurants and quiet spots to soak up the scenery. I believe there are some hiking trails in the area and that the view from the crater rim is spectacular, but we didn’t get to either of these things. For those who dive, there is also lake diving.
There are several accommodation options by the lake and on the crater rim. We chose to stay on the Granada side of the lake, by the water at a place called The Monkey Hut.
The Monkey Hut is a great spot for peace and quiet, there weren’t many guests there and it was a very relaxed place to be. A dorm bed cost USD$16.10 per night, and includes coffee, tea, purified water and the use of kayaks, inner tubes, pontoon, hammocks, beach chairs. I made the booking via email and WhatsApp.
We loved the Monkey Hut for the peace and quiet, but if you are travelling solo or are a bit more social, then neighbouring Hostel Paradiso would be my recommendation.
The only downside of The Monkey Hut was the food. They did have a restaurant, but it was not on site, food was delivered plastic wrapped and the price/quality wasn’t amazing. Paradiso however was fantastic, with a huge range of options. It was a 3-5 minute walk between the two sites. At Paradiso we were able to get a day pass for free in order to make use of the restaurant (if you want to use the swimming facilities – kayaks etc. then you need to buy a day pass for USD$6)
We travelled to The Monkey Hut direct from Managua airport with a private transfer organised by Monkey Hut for USD$40 fo two people.
On their website Money Hut have directions for how to get there by car, taxi, shuttle or bus from Managua, Masaya and Granada.
Making use of the daily shuttle from Hostel Paradiso, we paid USD$3 per person for the ride to Granada. The shuttle goes between 3-5 times daily. Their website also provides some transport directions.
Nicaragua has been on my “To See” bucket list for some time, so when a cheap flight popped up I had to jump on it. I then explored Nicaragua for 3 weeks with my partner.
Extended posts on each of our Nicaraguan destinations to follow.
We flew into Managua, but being a big city and having heard negative things about it, we arranged an airport pickup to take us straight to Laguna de Apoyo.
A visit to Laguna de Apoyo was the best way to start our trip, by giving us time to slip into holiday mode relaxing by the lake. (2 nights)
From Laguna de Apoyo we headed south to the colonial city of Granada, where we explored the city and neighbouring natural sights such as Volcan Masaya and Las Isletas. (2 nights)
From there we travelled further south and a little east to Isla Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua, where we completed the steepest hike in Nicaragua, up Volcan Concepcion. (3 nights)
We then headed north to Leon, in order to hike Volcan Telica and surf down the slopes of Cerro Negro. (3 nights)
From there we went to the coffee region of Matagalpa in the north-east, but when we found it wasn’t what we had hoped for we returned to Leon. (2 nights)
From Leon we bussed down to Managua in order to fly to the Caribbean for some days of sun and snorkelling on Little Corn Island. (4 nights)
To finish the trip we spent the last days in Granada writing postcards, and people watching by the plaza. (2 nights)
Including flights, accommodation, tours, food and everything else we spent under €3000 for two people for 3.5 weeks including travel time. While the national currency is Cordobas, Nicaragua makes extensive use of the US Dollar. You can pay in either currency, but you will notice that the majority of prices are listed and quoted in US Dollars. Whenever bargaining, be sure to check what currency you are discussing!
We flew with United Airlines from Amsterdam to Managua return for €330 per person when a cheap deal came up online through TicketTippers.
The flights from Managua to Big Corn Island are through the regional airline La Costeña. We booked with a travel agent in Leon at a cost of USD$195 per person return, however if you book on the phone directly with the airline the cost is around USD$165.
Note: if you book online it is around the same price as a travel agent, but fewer of the flight times are available for booking.
An airport transfer from Managua to Laguna de Apoyo cost USD$40 for 2 people; and a transfer from Granada to Managua Airport for 2 people was USD$35.
Taxi’s anywhere can be ridiculously expensive as the drivers try to rip off the tourists. I have been scammed out of $15 for a 5 minute ride. Try to take Taxi Colectivo where possible as they will also pick up additional passengers and it brings down the cost for everyone.
Note: there are pirate taxi’s you need to be aware of. When taking a taxi check that the number plate has horizontal striped colouring Red, White, Red. Official taxi’s have these plates, and usually also the ‘Taxi’ bubble on top of the car. I also always take a photo of the licence plate before I get in and ensure that the driver see’s me doing so.
We mostly stayed in hostel dorms that we booked through HostelWorld paying between USD$6 and $14 per bed.
On a few occasions we splashed out for a private room, which we booked via booking.com paying between USD$19 and USD$30.
We saved some food costs by trying to always book a hostel that included breakfast. The best free hostel breakfast was most definitely at Hospedaje Soma on Isla Ometepe; the best paid hostel breakfast was at Hostel Paradiso at Laguna de Apoyo.
We occasionally booked rooms by sending WhatsApp or Facebook messages directly to the accommodation. This was typically a great way to find availability and costs for places not listed on the common booking sites.
It depends on how adventurous you are with food as to what your food budget is likely to be. We enjoyed some street food, as well as some nice restaurant food. We found that some towns had really well priced meals at USD$6-9 like Granada and Isla Ometepe; but some places were closer to American pricing around USD$10-$18 such as San Juan del Sur, Leon and Little Corn Island.
There’s a great local restaurant, Comedor San Benito in Leon where you can get more food than fits in your belly for only $4. Another one is an amazing local shack called Rosa’s on Little Corn Island where you can enjoy a spectacular 3 course lobster meal for only $7.
By comparison you can eat a ridiculously amazing lobster and steak meal (surf’n’turf) for USD$18 at El Zaguan in Granada, or the most amazing breakfast burrito at Salud! in San Juan del Sur for around $8.
Tours were always the most expensive thing we did, but were a great way to experience numerous things you can’t do solo. Tours for things like volcano hikes and snorkelling trips will typically cost around US$20-25. The cheapest (paid) tour we did was a 3 hour tour through the islands of Granada for US$18, and the most expensive tour we did was a 6.5 hour tour and sunset hike up the active volcano Telica for US$45 including dinner, snacks and a free t-shirt.
The Balkans, or Balkan Peninsula is a region named after the Balkan Mountains, and that borders on the Adriatic, Ionian, Aegean and Black Seas. It is a large geographical region encompassing several countries. I spent a week in the region visiting four cities within these three countries: Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor and Budva, Montenegro; and Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
It wasn’t the most active sightseeing week, as we were plagued with constant rain. Regardless of the weather, everything we saw was fantastic, beautiful and my mother and I had an amazing time.
Dubrovnik is a city I have long wanted to visit. The old walled city was rumoured to be beautiful, and it most certainly lived up to expectations. Also for those Game of Thrones fans out there, various sites in an around the old city of Dubrovnik were used in the filming of the series.
I loved the city walls, surrounding a sea of orange tiled roofs; the old architecture and wonderful charm of this old town.
Croatia is a small EU country on the Adriatic coast, with a recent turbulent history. Croatia was part of Yugoslavia from 1918 through to the 1990’s. Yugoslavia was made up of what is now known as Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Macedonia and Kosovo. Croatia is a long country with a huge amount of coastline very popular for tourism, as a result it was of great economic importance to the ruling region of Serbia.
In 1991 Croatia made the decision to become independent and this didn’t go down well with the Serbs; who followed the announcement with a war that continued until 1995.
Croatia sustained heavy bombing and vast amounts of damage. With the tourist economy a sore point for the Serbs, they set their sights on destroying the Old City of Dubrovnik. As a UNESCO World Heritage listed site, this was considered an international war crime.
The heritage city of Dubrovnik was more than 50% destroyed in the war, though you wouldn’t know it today. Dubrovnik received money for rebuilding from UNESCO, though it only covered 20% of what was needed. The resourceful Croatians managed to raise the remaining 80% themselves.
To maintain the original look and feel of the city many craftsman had to relearn the traditional trades in order to rebuild using the same materials and same method as original construction. While many things could be remade using new materials and old methods the roof tiles proved a problem. As they could not remake the roof tiles, they bought up original tiles from owners of private houses in the region who had undamaged roof tiles and paid for them to have new roofs.
The city of Dubrovnik has a population of approximately 42,000 people, roughly 800 of whom live in the old walled city. Tourism to the city is absolutely crazy and they are now looking into the introduction of a cap on the number of daily visitors. In 2017 this tiny city had 1.18million visitors, not including the tourists coming in from cruise ship visits; on a summer day there may be 7000+ tourists trying to explore the town. For this reason I was rather grateful to visit during cold wet November, as the season was shutting down and stores were closing for the winter; there was not a single tourist queue to be found.
The Old Town was built during the 13th to 17th century on a small valley by the sea. the Northern and Eastern sides of the city are each on a hill, while the main street of town, Stradun is near sea level. As a result the old city has many steps, 5,435 in fact (the most direct route from the centre to our apartment involved 144 steps). The city is surrounded by a city wall 2 kilometres long, protected by five fortresses. The greatest enemy to Dubrovnik were the Venetians.
Dubrovnik was a small republic during the 14th to 19th century; and at that time 14,000 people lived within the city, with the gates always closed.
There are a few notable constructions within the old city, amongst which is the Onofrio fountain. The Onofrio fountain is fed by a well some 12 kilometres away. It is found just inside Pile Gate, the Western entrance to the city. It was designed by an Italian architect, and facilitated the peoples’ ability to live within the city walls without the need to leave in search of water. It’s a beautiful fountain with many taps, and intricate carvings. It also has a dog sculpture, ‘Kučak’’ guardian and protector of the values of the Republica, on top of it.
On April 6th, 1667 Dubrovnik experienced a terrible earthquake but surprisingly the San Xavier Church and anything built near the city walls survived. The earthquake affected architectural design in the city; with the construction of balconies being forbidden. The Earthquake marked the beginning of the end for this small republic.
Dubrovnik is 95% Roman Catholic, but the people are very accepting and respectful of other religions. Their city is has allowed the building of several religious buildings within the walls. There are Catholic churches, a Jesuit Church and a Franciscan Monastery. There is also an Orthodox Church, though it was built to face away from the main street, because if the pope were to visit they did not want him to be confronted by other religions.
Wandering the tiny alleys of this old walled city is a spectacular way to spend the time, as every corner oozes charm. I really loved Dubrovnik old town.
To learn some history of the city and get a local’s perspective on life in Dubrovnik, take an Old Town Walking Tour. The cost is 90 Kuna for 1 hour.
For the Game of Thrones fans, there are several GoT walking tours available.
Take a self-guided walk around the city walls and around St Lawrences’ Fortress. You do not have to complete both activities in one day; but the combination ticket is single use per activity. The ticket costs 150 Kuna.
Take a cable car trip up the mountain for some spectacular view of the old city and coastline. The Cable Car cost is 140 Kuna for a round trip; though active people may like to walk up and/or down using the marked trail. Note, if it is windy, the cable car will not operate for safety reasons.
Take a trip out to Lokrum Island; the ferry costs 40 Kuna. On arrival you need to pay a parks entrance fee. Some ferries are more expensive, but already include this fee. Note: in low season, nothing is open on Lokrum – so be sure to bring food and water.
If you have extra time in the area, it’s worth taking a local bus to the neighbouring town of Cavtat. It’s a beautiful spot to enjoy a stroll and a lazy lunch.
From Dubrovnik we booked a day tour to Kotor and Budva, Montenegro with one of the many tour operators in and around the city of Dubrovnik. We paid 315 Kuna per person for a full day tour with Amico Tours.
Montenegro is a small country, just under 19,000 square kilometres, with a population of 660,000 people. Like Croatia, it has a coastline on the Adriatic Sea.
Montenegro got it’s name from the Spaniards entering by ship, from the black (Negro) mountains (Monte) they could see from the sea.
Like Croatia, Montenegro was a part of Yugoslavia, who managed to gain independence in 2006. At the time they took on the Deutsch Mark as their currency, so when Germany changed to the Euro, so did Montenegro despite not being a member of the EU.
The small town of Kotor, predominantly of Venetian Architecture is a walled city built around the 14th century. This small city is the 2nd largest walled city, 4.5 kilometres long, in Europe, according to my tour guide. The city of Kotor has a population around 13,000; approximately 1,000 of whom live within the city walls.
While we could clearly see that it was a beautiful city with stunning old buildings, and an impressive city wall which we would have liked to climb, the torrential downpour with only brief bursts of sunshine limited our options.
Budva is one of the oldest settlements in Montenegro, at around 2,500 years old. Similar to Kotor, it is an old town built in Venetian times, though less money was spent on it in comparison to Kotor. It’s walled city is tiny in comparison to that of Kotor.
Budva is much more popular for tourists, with it’s 34 beaches and many nightclubs. The party-tourism focus falls less within my interests than the smaller town of Kotor.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is inland from the coast of Croatia and has very little coastline itself. Bosnia is the northern region of the country and Herzegovina the southern region. In this view I visited Herzegovina only. The day tour to Mostar and Kravice Waterfall from Dubrovnik cost around 350 Kuna per person, and I cannot recall the tour company I went with.
Within Bosnia-Herzegovina are three main religious groups: Bosniaks, Muslim Bosnians form the majority at approximately 50% of the population; the Croats: Croatian Roman Catholic are approx. 15% of the population; and the Serbs: Serbian orthodox christians at approximately 35% of the population. Muslim is the predominant religion as the country spent around 450 years under Ottoman rule.
The city of Mostar is considered the most important city in Herzegovina, is the cultural capital and is the fifth largest city in the country. The city is split by the Neretva River, and the two sides of the river provided quite some segregation in community. One side was muslims and the other Christians/Catholics. This meant the city had two of everything, two schools, two universities etc.
The highlight of Mostar is the bridge connecting the two sides of the city. The term Most means bridge and the Mostari with the bridge keepers. The bridge was designed an built during ottoman reign though it was bombed in 1993 during the Bosnian war time and rebuilt soon after.
The bridge was listed by Lonely Planet as one of the worlds most beautiful bridges, and I don’t disagree. It is absolutely spectacular, a perfect deep curve over clear blue waters. It is simply stunning.
The old town of Mostar is worth visiting for it’s charm as well as its bridge. Beautiful cobble stone streets and old ottoman architecture.
Something that I consider worth mentioning about Bosnians, they cook fantastic meat. I had a Bosnian housemate for some time and she made the most amazing meat dishes. While in Mostar, I’d recommend eating at Šadrvan to enjoy some of the national meat specialities.
Our day trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina included a stop at the Kravice Waterfalls. The waterfalls are approximately 25 metres high split across approximately 20 waterfalls, falling into a beautiful lake below.
If you had enough time, this would be a fantastic place to spend a day to sit, picnic, swim and enjoy the beauty of nature.
We stayed in a private Airbnb apartment just inside the city walls on the sea side. It was a fantastic location, the apartment was neat and tidy, and the host very helpful.
At €36 per night for two people, it was reasonably priced.
If you aren’t already an Airbnb member; please sign up using my link.
Being based inside the city walls and with constant rain we mostly stayed inside the city walls for our meals. I expected the restaurants within the walls to be the most expensive, and while they were probably more expensive than restaurants outside the walls, I was pleasantly surprised with the relative affordability.
The shuttle bus to and from the airport is only 40 Kuna per person one way and is a 30-45 minute ride. It travels quite frequently and takes you directly to the entrance of the old walled city of Dubrovnik; Pile Gate.
Taking a taxi if the bus schedule doesn’t work for you is around €30 one way. They accept both Euros and Kuna.
We flew Amsterdam – Dubrovnik return with Croatian Airlines for €402 for two people. Note we travelled in low season and booked the flights some months ahead.