Nicaragua often is called a surfer hotspot. This is true but also as a non-surfer I really loved travelling Nicaragua. In this post I want to tell you a little bit about my personal travel experience in one of Central America poorest nation. In 2017 I spent 3,5 weeks travelling Nicaragua. Partly with a friend, partly as a solo traveler. I loved Nicaragua. Its stunning nature, the beautiful beaches, the relaxed atmosphere and lifestyle, being unplugged from the world or a time. I spend countless of hours watching sunset’s, exploring the jungle and endless beaches. Hitchhiking through the country and driving/ wandering on unbeaten paths just hit my travel-heart.
If you want to know about the general travel advices for Nicaragua please check my article here.
My route backpacking Nicaragua
I started my trip in Managua where I met a friend of mine flying in from Panama. From there we started the trip:
Managua – Las Penitas – El Transito – Popoyo – San Juan del Sur – Playa Marseilla – Ometepe – Granada
The capital of Nicaragua is not a place where you want to stay. As I arrived late in the night on the airport of Managua and the next day a friend of mine flew in from Panama, I stayed in one guesthouse in center. From the airport I took a taxi to the guesthouse which charged me incredible 10$. First the taxi drivers asked or 20$, but I already knew that this is overpriced. After bargain quite hard for some time on agreed to drive me for 10$.
After a good sleep and a nice breakfast from the mother of the family owning the guesthouse, I wanted to explore the city. Long story short, there isn’t really much to explore. It is a dirty city without any real hotspots. I also didn’t felt safe walking through the markets. Managua is known for it’s pocket pickers and I got crazy looks everywhere. As this is nothing new to me I was wandering through the streets but I couldn’t find anything besides some nice graffiti walls to take photos from.
Luckily in the afternoon my friend came to I packed my stuff to get back to airport. This time I used a shared taxi. This means I just waited on the street like hitchhiking until a private car stopped. The driver already had 3 other passengers in. After agreeing about the price (4$) he first drove the others to their destinations and then me to the airport.
We had already planned to immediately go to the bus station and hitting north after her arrival. We left the airport to find a shared taxi again, which was even with the surfboards no issue. Nicaraguan people are good in improvising. Just 1 hour after her arrival we sat in a Minibus driving north to Leon. After just a short 2 hour drive through green nature we arrived in Leon and hopped on the next bus to our final destination or the day: Las Penitas!
Las Penitas is a beautiful, remote little fisher village on the coast next to Leon. It basically is just one long street with hostels, restaurant and houses of natives. There are a few tiny shops but that’s it. Las Penitas is kind of a hippie and surfer paradise.
Good waves, a long and beautiful beach, relaxed and positive vibes everywhere.
If you are not surfing just enjoy the people, the beach and the atmosphere. The ocean is not really to swim in as it is very turbulent. Good for the surfers – not so good for the swimmers. I just grabbed my camera and spent my time photographing when I wasn’t just chilling on the beach and chatting with other travelers.
In the night there is always something going on. Just join one of the parties on the hostels or on the beach and have a great time.
We stayed in the hostel called Caracolito 7$ per night for a bed in a 6-person dorm. I liked the hostel. Everything was out of woods even the bathrooms which where really big. The have open space everywhere, a good and big kitchen, a big common space and swing chairs. This hostel is well located and has a really chilled and relaxed vibe.
As we were lucky we met another traveler knowing Nicaragua very well, as she almost lives there. She was moving south to another village the next days and we were going to join to here. That’s how we made it to the paradise called “El Transito”!
El Transito, what shall I say!? When I arrived there my first thought was:
“You made it, you are at the end of the world – at the perfect end of the world!”
This small, remote fisher village with quiet and long beach with a hill on one side, which is framed by sunlight during the sunrise, ended by the rough and wild pacific. It just took me 1sec and I was in love.
El Transito is the perfect place if you want to leave the real world and spent some time unplugged in paradise. There are not so many hostels but it is already developing. I guess in a few years it won’t be so off the tracks anymore. When we visited it, there was not even a real street going to the village.
We drove from Las Penitas to Leon with the chicken bus, caught another colourful bus and jumped off after a est. 30 minutes drive in the streets in the middle of nowhere. There we were, now already a group of 5 girls with 5 surfboards sitting on the streets and waiting or someone to take us to El Transito. It took 1 hour until we found a ride to bring us over bumpy paths to El Transito.
Once we arrived there we got a room and jumped into the waves. There are a few hostels at the beach. One is more of a all-inclusive hostel for rich backpackers. There were a lot of young people booking a room including all-inc package with yoga and surfing. This is one of these luxurious hostels that actually are no hostels anymore. Same is the price with 40$ per person per night minimum.
The other hostels are really basic so don’t expect much from them. They are still pricy with 15$ per night in a dorm. That’s the price you have to pay for this paradise.
We stayed at the surf hostel directly on the beach. They have a really nice common area, a good kitchen, bar and cool, young guys working there. When I was in El Transito in 2017 some hostels were built up so by the time you are reading this I assume the situation has changed a bit.
Our whole time in there we just enjoyed the nature, the ocean, bonfires at the beach by night, food and drinks with the locals and other travelers. We had power-breakdowns all the time, so this made is even more relaxing as we were forced to unplug ourselves from the world.
After a few days we decided it is time to hit the road again. Me and my friend split up with the group as the others were going to stay and wanted to go to the next surfer spot.
As there is just one bus leaving El Transito in the morning at 6am and this is just happening sometimes we needed to find a ride to Managua by ourselves. Luckily one of the locals took us in his 4×4 to the bus station of the capital where we caught a bus to El Popoyo. We had to change in the middle in Rivas, which gave us the opportunity to buy food or the upcoming days, as we already knew in El Popoyo we wouldn’t find any shops.
El Popoyo is pretty much the same as El Transito. We couldn’t find any affordable and free hostel when we arrived. After doing a little bit of searching we found a hippie campground on the beach. There we rented a tent for 5$/night and enjoyed living outside again.
As they had a outdoor kitchen and we had bought everything we needed at the market in town we could take care o ourselves. We lived the perfect dropout-life there.
After being outside living the hippie life we decided it’s time to get back to civilization for doing laundry and to buy some equipment.
San Juan del Sur / Sunday-Funday
San Juan is a little town mostly consisting out of restaurant, bars, hotels/hostels and shops. The beach is not really nice and in the water uncountabel numbers of yachts are parked. To San Juan del Sur most of the Backpackers come with two goals:
- Refill the supplies and buy equipment for surfing
- Sunday-Funday Party
For us this was the same. Doing laundry in of the shops, buying new equipment and some FipFlops and to enjoy a bit if civilisation again and attending the Sunday-Funday-Party. This Party is the backpacker event in Nicaragua. Actually it is a massiv pub crawl hosted by four hostels every Sunday.
It starts at PachaMama where you also get the tickets in the morning. The tickets are 30$ which is crazy but hey, it is for the experience. During the event you get free shots from time to time and the general price for drinks is 2$. Included in the ticket price is a free Tanktop.
The Party starts at 1pm at the first hostel PachaMama and than you get driven to the next hostels. You party at the pools, beach and my highlight the Naked Tiger Hostel. This hostel is in the mountains over the town at you have an amazing view while partying on different levels. You meet all kind of travelers at this party and will just have a good time. Depends on your endurance but you can party here until the next morning.
This party is just FUN!!!!!.
We didn’t stayed in one of the party hostels as I don’t like the hussle of those hostels. We booked beds in a 10-bed-dorm in the Casa Ora Hostel and paid 6$/night. I didn’t likes this hostel. It was dirty, just one bathroom for 10 people and there was absolutly no social vibes going on. As a solo traveler I wouldn’t want to stay there.
La Playa Marseilla.
La Playa Marseilla was a highlight for me in Nicaragua but not because of the beach or anything but because of the best hostel I have ever stayed in.
El Clandestino is a Eco-Hostel made mostly out of natural resources from the local area. It is run by a german couple with 2 kids. I met several travelers who have been there already mulitple times, sometimes even for over a month. This hostel is build up as tree houses in the middle of the jungle.
The monkeys are jumping through the place and the whole jungle is living and growing around you. From some spots you can see or hear the ocean and you get awoken by the noise of the nature and the screaming of the monkeys in the morning. I just love living in the nature and this hostel give you the opportunity.
They have proper toilets and showers and get their water from a self-made fountain. They even have proper wifi during the power breakdowns.
All the guests were surfers with a hippie heart. We had incredible nice evenings cooking together, enjoying some drinks, playing the guitar and games while chatting over the world and life.
If you ever have the opportunity, go and visit this hostel! (Dorms were 15$, but as all dorms were booked they were so friendly to give a double room for the same price. THANKS!!)
The beach itself is a bit crowded during the day as all travelers living in San Juan del Sur are coming here during the day. Before 10am and 5pm it is a small and nice beach with incredible sunsets. There are several small restaurants and bars hidden in the jungle. If oyu don’t that they exist you would never find them. Just ask the people at the hostel they will tell you were to go. Beside that, just chill, go surfing or explore the jungle and enjoy a unique atmosphere.
To get to Ometepe I got the shuttle from Marseilla to San Juan del Sur and from there the chicken bus direct to Rivas. The port is in San Jorge which is also just a 10 minutes drive from Rivas. Don’t believe them when they tell you there wouldn’t go a bus to the port and you have to take a taxi to get there. Busses are going from Rivas to San Jorge, it’s just not so obviouse from where as there is no specific bus stop. Ask locals on which corner they are going to stop so you don’t have to pay a overpriced taxi.
Arriving at the port you can buy the tickets directly there. The whole ferry trip will take between 1 hour and 1,5 hours and cost you 1,50$ to 2$ depending which boat you are taking. It is a nice and chilled ride. The schedular for the ferries you can find here
Ometepe is an island with two vulcanos in the middle of the fresh water lake nicaragua. It is one of the biggest lakes of the world and there are even fresh water sharks swimming in its water.
The two vulcanos are the Maderas and the Concepción. You can climb up both of them, but most of the people climb up the Maderas as this is the easier one. The Concepción is just for experienced and really fit mountaineers. The Maderas is a 8 hour hike and also not so easy but doable. Definitly get yourself a guide as people hikking ungiuded have already lost their lifes on this vulcano. You will start very early in the morning and be back in the late afternoon. I unfortunally was still suffering from a foot injury and couldn’t go up there myself, but Ometepe has so much more to offer.
First thing I did when I got on the island was searching for a scooter rental as I knew without your own vehicles it is kind of hard to get around on the island by myself. There are public busses running over the island but they will just go on the one paved mainstreet. Also there are just a few going during the day and you never know when and where they will stop. Most of the things to see and do are not along this mainroad. If you don’t have your vehicle you are bond to organized tours or will do a lot of walking.
I was lucky and could negotiate the owner to 50$ for a 3,5 days rental.Normal price is 20$ to 25$ per day. Gas in Nicaragua is really cheap, 1 Liter is around 1$. There is one paved mainroad going through the island and is connecting the Conception-Part with the Maderas-Part. This street is in very good conditions and it is easy to drive on them. As soon as you have to leave the mainstreets things get a bit dirty. The paths than are not taken care of at all. You will drive on sandy and and muddy off-road paths. If you are a untrained driver please yourself on the proper street before you hit the ways off-road.
If you want more information about exploring Ometepe on a scooter, just check out my post here.
On Ometepe I stayed in La Urraca Loca and paid 6,50$ for my bed in the dorm. The hostel is really cute and I met amazing people there. It is actually just a guest house with dorm and privat rooms in the garden of the privat house of the owners. You life again in the nature and everything is build up my the owners themselves. They offer breakfast and due to the small place all the guests bonded with eachother quite fast. We were out for dinner all together as a group of 10- 15 people every night.
After I was set up with a scooter and a helmet I went to my hostel and explored the island. As Ometepe has so much to explore I will write an extra articel about my adventures on Ometepe.
After exploring Ometepe for 3 days I made my way to Granada. Granada is a small, cute colonial town. I liked Granada the most out the towns I have seen in Nicaragua. Granda has everything a town can offer.: Beautiful churches and places, small hidden streets, very good markets, shops, restaurants, some Nightlife and is nestles on the Lake Nicaragua.
In Granada you can do several activities in and around the La Nicaragua. I went kayaking with a friend from the hostel and a giude. The tour went through the jungle and villages living on and in the water. The villages still like from fishery and what they can get out of the water and the nature. We went to all the little islands, a monkey was climbing on my shoulders, we tried some friuts growing in the water and swam in the lake. The tour charged 10$ and took in total 3hrs and was totally worth it!
Granada is the perfect end of your journey through Nicaragua. You can get all your souvenirs here from the markets and little shops and you can get a shuttle to the airport in Managua which saves you a night the bad capital of the country. I stayed in the Hostel called de Boca en Boca which is a nice, clean hostel with good and positive vibes. It costs 8$ per night in a dorm and offers a airport shuttle to Managua which charges 20$. They have a really good kitchen, a small bar and I loved the pancakes for breakfast.
I had an amazing time travelling Nicaragua and everybody who wants to wander on unbeaten tracks I can just recomment to visit this country.
If you want more information or more details on the given information just contact me. I am happy to help people to travel.
Get lost, but don’t get hurt!