Last month, I went to Nicaragua.
It was increíble. .
It had everything I love when I’m traveling–colorful and historic cities, vibrant markets flowing with local fruits and vegetables, kind and welcoming people, budget-traveler friendliness, the mountains (well volcanoes) and the beach.
What more do ya need?
In just two weeks, I visited three cities, swam in two lakes, escaped to an island, hiked to the top of a volcano, and even made it to the ocean.
Nicaragua, a country booming with character, history, and landscapes for days, will have you wondering which part of the country you should explore on your next vacation.
Well wonder no more. Because I’ve got you covered. If you’re looking to…
- see and enjoy several places in a short amount of time…
- travel without a car…
- explore cities, volcanoes, and beaches…
- have the perfect combination of activity and relaxation…
- travel in the south or up from Costa Rica…
- keep your costs low and budget-friendly…
Then this itinerary could be used to plan your next getaway in Central America.
Or your next out-of-country adventure as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica.
Below was the itinerary my partner and I used for our 15-day trip to Nicaragua. We started in San José and traveled up to Nicaragua by bus and continued to use public transportation and taxis to travel from place to place.
Day 1 – SAN JOSÉ → PEÑAS BLANCAS → RIVAS → GRANADA
Day 2, 3 – GRANADA
Day 4 – GRANADA → LAGUNA DE APOYO
Day 5 – LAGUNA DE APOYO
Day 6 – LAGUNA DE APOYO → MASAYA → RIVAS → LA ISLA OMETEPE
Day 7, 8, 9 ,10 – LA ISLA OMETEPE
Day 11 – LA ISLA OMETEPE → PLAYA POPOYO
Day 12, 13, 14 – PLAYA POPOYO
Day 15 – PLAYA POPOYO → PEÑAS BLANCAS → SAN JOSÉ
Day 1: SAN JOSÉ → PEÑAS BLANCAS → RIVAS → GRANADA
We left for Peñas Blancas (the official border crossing city) from the Caribeños Bus Stop in San José at 3am (exhausting but worth it to avoid traffic and arrive at the border early) and arrived at the Nicaraguan border at 9am.
After passing through to Nicaragua, we took a bus to Rivas. In Rivas, we took some time to stretch our legs, explore the city , grab some food, and then took another bus to Granada. The buses in Nicaragua fly and it took us less than an hour to get to Granada from Rivas, arriving in Granada around 1pm.
**Side note about the travel: There are two other buses, TicaBus and NicaBus ($35/person) that go to Managua, Nicaragua from San José and handle all the border crossing logistics for you but we decided to take the cheaper route through the Caribeños bus stop ($9/person). It only took us about 20 minutes to cross through the border on foot so I recommend it if you’re trying to save some money.
Day 2 & 3: GRANADA
In Granada, we stayed at Hostel Oasis which was kinda meh to be honest, but the location was great, there was free breakfast, great views of the city from the rooftop, and a pool.
On our first day in Granada, we got breakfast at Café Sonrisas, a cafe where the workers are hearing-impaired. The menus are laid out in a way that allows people to communicate with their server and point at what they would like to order. The walls are decorated with sign language symbols and on the other side of the cafe there are people making hammocks by hand. Oh yeah, and this place is home to the biggest hammock ever.
After a delicious breakfast of traditional gallo pinto, we spent the day meandering around the city and checking out the beautiful colonial churches and colorful architecture.
When we were out exploring, we stumbled upon CocoBerry Spa around the corner from our hostel and managed to book massages for that very night! It felt ah-mazing. And, they were only $40 each for 60 minutes.
On our second day in Granada we took a day trip to Masaya, a huge outdoor market filled with vendors that sell everything–fruits, veggies, fish, meat, toiletries….everything.
I love salsa too.
We ate pupusas (tortillas grilled with cheese inside)…
Saw giant papayas…
And got some fresh melon juice juice in a bag for the bus ride back to Granada. Everyone was all about the juice bags.
Day 4: GRANADA → LAGUNA DE APOYO
From Granada, we took the same bus we took to Masaya and got off to the road that leads up to Laguna de Apoyo. From there, it was a 15-minute taxi ride to the lake and our hostel, Monkey Hut.
Monkey Hut was a very relaxing spot that was perfect after spending a few days in the city. They had a restaurant on site so we spent the night eating ceviche and watching the sunset over the lake.
Day 5: LAGUNA DE APOYO
In the morning we walked around the lake and scoped out some different lookout spots to soak up the views.
Monkey Hut was a great place to stay because they offer free tubes and kayaks to take out on the lake. The water was perfect temperature and we spent the rest of the afternoon reading, swimming and snoozin’ in the hammocks.
And eating mango slices…
For dinner, we went to Paradiso Hostel and had an amazing meal for just $8/each. I definitely recommend this hostel for food or to stay at if you’re traveling with a group or looking for a more upbeat vibe.
Day 6: LAGUNA DE APOYO → MASAYA → RIVAS → LA ISLA OMETEPE
From the lake we took a taxi to Masaya and then a bus back to Rivas and from there took a short taxi to the boating dock where the boats leave for Isla Ometepe. Unfortunately, the ferry was broken and we took the dinkiest little wooden boat across the lake and let me tell you, the wind was FIERCE. I didn’t even know I could achieve that level of seasickness. If you go, just wait for the ferry.
Day 7-10: LA ISLA OMETEPE
We stayed at Hospedaje Soma on the island, which we absolutely loved. It was close to the downtown area in Moyogalpa, the staff was incredibly helpful, rooms where nice and clean, bed-sheets were changed daily, and breakfast was complimentary and made to order. Highly, highly recommend.
Day 7: Charco Verde
And we saw monkeys at Charco Verde…
Day 8: Volcan Concepción
Day 8 was rough. We woke up at 5am to start our 6am hike up Volcan Concepción. With this hike, you can either hike to the lookout point (intermediate, 4-5 hours) or all the way up to the crater (difficult, 8-10 hours). The thing is, once you get up to the top chances are (depending on the season) you won’t even get to see anything through the clouds.
But, we did it anyway. Go big or go home right?
It was challenging. The entire hike was completely uphill and after passing the lookout point, the hike became even steeper and full of loose volcanic rock.
Oh, and super windy…
But, it was worth it. Vale la pena.
We set up the hike through our hotel, Hospedaje Soma, and they took care of all the logistics. Transportation, the hike, and a guide (required) ended up being about $25 / person. We hiked with some other people from the hotel so the price was slightly lower.
Day 9: Ojo de Agua
After hiking the volcano, our legs were DEAD so we headed to Ojo de Agua for some rest and relaxation. This place has a natural pool that has the most frescito agua ever. It was a dream come true for me, my glutes, and my quads.
Afterwards, we feasted on some pretty amazing pizza and bruschetta at Pizzeria Buon Appetito.
Day 10: Playa Santa Cruz
Where we stayed in Moyogalpa didn’t have any beach spots so on our last day we took the bus over to the other side of the island near Playa Santa Cruz to spend a day at the lake. The beach was clean, quiet, and isolated except for when the massive herd of cattle decided to join us for a quick dip.
Day 11: LA ISLA OMETEPE → PLAYA POPOYO
Yes, gracias a Dios we got the ferry off the island.
Once we got off the island, we had to figure out how to get to our next destination, Playa Popoyo. Since Popoyo is a fairly isolated beach and kind of off the grid, and because we were at the point in our trip where we were getting travel-lazy, we ended up taking a taxi from the Ometepe dock all the way to Playa Popoyo, which was about a one-hour ride. We only paid $30 for a taxi and our driver even took us back to Rivas and waited while we ate lunch and bought some groceries for the next part of our trip. Whattaguy!
At Playa Popoyo, we stayed at Buena Onda Beach Resort. The rooms were cute, very clean, and the outside common area was welcoming and comfortable with lots of hammocks, a cabana, a pool table and a pool.
Day 12, 13, 14 – PLAYA POPOYO
We anticipated this place being a little more pricey so we brought enough food for breakfast (peanut butter + honey + bread + bananas) and the classic PCV lunch (tortillas + refried beans + tomato + hot sauce + chips) and then spent money on dinner every night. The first night, we walked to Magnific Rock for happy hour and food. The food was decent but expensive. After that, we found a tiny, hole in the wall local restaurant closer to our hotel and ended up going there every night for pizza and beers.
Most of our days here were spent being lazy, playing pool, reading, swimming and just chilling out at the resort. It was a perfect end to a very active trip.
Playa Popoyo is known for its beginner surfing waves so we did rent a surfboard for a few hours on our second day but, like always, it was a disaster for me. I just need to embrace my Midwest roots and let go of that blue crush dream.
Day 15: PLAYA POPOYO → NICARAGUA BORDER → SAN JOSÉ
We took a taxi straight from Playa Popoyo back to the border, crossed through to Costa Rica and caught a bus back to the Caribeños Bus Stop in San José. It wasn’t the nice, air conditioned double-decker bus that we took on our way up to Nicaragua but, we made it back in one piece. We left the boarder at 7:45am and arrived in San José around 1pm.
Nicaragua, until we meet again!