Nicaragua was exactly what I hoped it would be; cheap, colorful, and beautiful. I fell in love with everything from the beautiful colonial cities to the perfectly conical volcanoes.
My week in Nicaragua with Jessica wasn't a luxury trip – I saw spiders the size of silver dollars, and took only cold showers. But it was exactly what the doctor ordered – more than anything, I wanted to take a break from adulting and feel like a carefree backpacker again. Nicaragua delivered on that.
I'd highly recommend Nicaragua if you like bright colors, adventure, and rum. (Especially if you like rum – I've never been offered more rum in my life).
Here are the five activities I loved most in Nicaragua.
Relaxing + Partying in Colorful San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur is a surf and party town located on Nicaragua's Pacific Coast. It's an infamous party spot, but it's also a great jumping off point for surfing, horse-back riding and beach-hopping.
San Juan del Sur was the perfect place to relax. Whether we were playing cards on a hostel roof with new friends or throwing back Caesars at The Loose Moose, the local Canadian pub, we were always having a great time.
Letting Loose at Sunday Funday
Sunday Funday is a town-wide pool crawl that takes place in San Juan del Sur every Sunday. It starts at about noon at Pachamama and goes until the wee hours in the morning.
Not to be a total backpacker or anything, but Sunday Funday was an absolute blast. I suffered way too many Flor de Caña shots for my taste (sadly, I hate rum), and danced for hours with a handsome Frenchman named Pierre.
For my Sunday Funday hangover brunch, I had a lobster tail. Which is totally not-crazy when a lobster tail costs $6.
Galloping a Horse down the Beach at Sunset
Riding horses with Rancho Chilamate was one of my favorite days in Nicaragua.
We mounted our horses at the beautiful ranch, and rode over lush, verdant countryside for hours. Finally, we reached a remote beach.
As the sun was setting, we galloped through the surf at full force. There are few things I find more exhilarating than galloping a horse down a beach, as cheesy and bad 80's music video as that sounds.
We took a road soda for a ride home, and the lightning bugs flickered in the trees in the trees as we rode back to the ranch.
Riding a Scooter Around Ometepe Island
Ometepe is magical. It's a volcanic island positioned in the middle of Lake Ometepe that looks just like Never Never Land.
One day, Jessica and I decided to rent a scooter and drive it around the island. It was an adventure; we dodged countless pigs, chickens, dogs, oxen with carts and schoolchildren, and used the volcanoes as markers when we got lost.
At one point we turned down the wrong road and were gang-catcalled by a truck full of Nicaraguan men. It was as fun as it sounds.
As we drove, we passed technicolor buildings, saffron yellow churches and volcanic eruption evacuation signs – only on Ometepe.
During these shenanigans we stopped at the Ojo de Agua, a beautiful mineral spring. At the spring we sipped fresh coconuts with rum and swam in the cool, light turquoise water.
Sigh… I still miss fresh coconuts so much.
We headed home as the sun was setting over the lake. Soon the gnats started to come out and Jessica, who was driving, was pelted in the face with bugs.
But catcalling and bugs aside, it was a pretty perfect day.
Taking a Million Pictures of Colorful Granada
As a colonial architecture aficionada, I adored Granada. Yes, the cat-calling is bad, and I wouldn't want to live there. But I couldn't believe how well-preserved they city is, or how colorful its buildings are.
In Granada, we found the best restaurants of our trip: El Pizzaiol, The Garden Café and Pita Pita. Pita Pita was especially amazing and specializes in Israeli food.
My Least Favorite Experience in Nicaragua
Sadly, eating was my least favorite experience in Nicaragua. While I love rice and beans, by the end of the trip I was so sick of gallo pinto, Nicaragua's national dish of mixed rice and beans. Given how near Nicaragua is to Mexico and Guatemala, I was surprised by how monotonous and bland the food was.
My second least favorite experience was taking a near flooding passenger boat, or lancha, to Ometepe. Gallons of water sloshed on the floor as even more water splashed in the through the windows – it's a wonder the boat didn't sink.
On the bright side, Jessica and I decided if our lives go to shit, we're going to open dive-bar on Little Corn named The Sinking Lancha.
Why It's Best to Visit Nicaragua Sooner Than Later
I'd recommend going to Nicaragua as soon as possible, as the Chinese may begin canal construction this year. Granted, the plans are shaky, and the construction may never happen.
(Let's not forget Vanderbilt attempted to build a canal through Nicaragua in the 1850s and it was a total failure – here's hoping China's plans meet the same fate.)
In any case, I'd recommend visiting Nicaragua as soon as possible anyway because it's amazing. And whether or not you're looking to party, Nicaragua has so much to offer.
San Juan del Sur is a fun party town, but if you want great beaches, catch a bus to Playa Hermosa or Playa Maderas (or just stay there). The beach in San Juan del Sur is mediocre as it's backed by a dirty harbor.
Sunday Funday takes place every Sunday in San Juan del Sur and usually starts at Pachamama hostel. It costs $30 and includes a t-shirt and transportation. Buy your ticket the day before if possible.
Horseback rides with Rancho Chilamate cost $69 for a daytime ride and $79 for a sunset ride, and last five hours. You can also stay at Rancho Chilamate, which I regret not doing because the property is so beautiful.
On Ometepe, I stayed at Little Morgan's Hostel. It was a barebones hostel run by a guy from Ireland. While it has its fair share of geckos and centipedes, it's a really chilled out place with hammocks and amazing views of Concepción and Maderas.
We paid $25 for our scooter rental on Ometepe, which appeared to be the going rate. As always, take caution and make sure to take photos of the bike before leaving, and wear a helmet. Read more of my moped-renting tips here.
In Granada, I stayed at Hostal El Momento and loved it. It has beautiful indoor courtyards, a pool and a lively atmosphere.
Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to Nicaragua (especially if you're planning on riding a motorbike!). I've used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.