Offical langauge: Spanish
Currency: The Córdoba
Nicaragua is a tropical Central American country with a multiethnic population and an incredibly high degree of biodiversity. The population of Nicaragua is around the 6 million mark. The capital is Managua and its metropolitan population of over 2 million makes it far and away the biggest city in the country, as well as one of the biggest in the region. Nicaragua has an area of over 130,000 km2, which makes it the biggest country in Central America, although it is only lightly populated in many rural areas. Nicaragua is famous for its lakes, rainforests and volcanoes, making up a dramatic and imposing landscape that captivates visitors. It is becoming increasingly popular with tourists, as the infrastructure improves and the conflicts and social problems of the past fade away. In fact, it is now considered one of the safest countries in the region for international tourists to visit.
Must see places in Nicaragua
Hot and sticky Granada is the oldest of the country’s Spanish colonial cities and has been massively important in terms of commerce throughout its history. The city has a dignified feel to it and shares the Moorish style of the city of the same name in Spain that it was named after. There are some great options for getting out of the city too, with the magnificent Mombacho Volcano and Lake Nicaragua easily reached from here.
This is a hot city which is fairly low key during the day but which offers more entertainment when the sun goes down and the temperature drops. The food kiosks around the central park offer a good place to sit and watch the locals go about their business. Getting around this small city is easy but even if you enjoy walking you might want to go for a short trip on the famous bus pelón while you are here.
Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya
It is with good reason that Nicaragua is known as the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes. The landscape is dotted with lakes and volcanoes and this national park gives you one of the easiest ways to get out from Managua to see something truly spectacular. Masaya is an active volcano and it is highly likely that you see sulphuric smoke billowing out of it when you visit. Explosions are fairly common but there hasn’t been any lava flowing out of the crater during the last couple of centuries. It is a fascinating place to visit and it is also a lot cooler up at the top than down as sea level. You will find a good visitor centre and an exciting observation platform here. It’s a fun place to go for a hike or to have a picnic.
The lovely city of León was once the capital of the country and retains an air of grandeur and importance. Bullet marks on some buildings pay testament to the power struggles that happened here in the past but these days it is a relaxing place to take a stroll and enjoy the fine weather. Among the highlights are León Cathedral, which is the biggest in Central America, and the friendly people. There are some beaches not too far away but the powerful waves mean that swimming isn’t an option for all but the strongest swimmers.
The town of Estelí is probably best known for the number of lovely murals that have been painted on the walls in different parts of it. Apart from that, the real charm of the place lies in the fact that you can easily get out to the countryside. Once you do this you can do stuff like visit a cigar factory, see how the local women make paper or go for an old fashioned hike.
Isla de Ometepe
This island sits in Lake Nicaragua and offers a spectacular view, as twin volcanoes greet the intrepid visitor. This is one of the top spots to head to in Nicaragua, even though it is only lightly populated. There is a nature reserve, a lovely waterfall, a museum and a beach to explore here. The boat crossing to get here can be rough but it is worth it, as the island offers some amazing hiking opportunities and the chance to go horse riding or head out to explore on a hired motorbike.
The city of Matagalpa is the gateway to the fabulous mountainous region of Nicaragua. This makes worth visiting if you want to get out to see the area’s coffee and tobacco farms. Visiting Matagalpa is also recommended for anyone who wants to do some hiking in the mountains, look for wildlife, explore the local chocolate factory or check out some traditional villages. The Spanish called this place the Frontier of the Jungle but the huge growth in tourism recently means that you won’t feel as though you are stepping into the unknown. English is more widely spoken here than you might think.
If you like the idea of mingling with locals on a sandy beach then Poneloya is a smart choice. This is a popular weekend spot for Nicaraguans that is close to the city of León. It is usually busiest from December to March but even then you might find it fairly empty during the week. There are some cool restaurants strung along the beach. If you want to travel on further than a boat ride to the Isla Los Brasiles is likely to see you end up in a completely empty beach. There are also some volcanoes just a short taxi ride away.
Juigalpa is a pleasant city with some good parks, a zoo and a museum. However, the main reason to come here is to watch the fabulous patron saint festival on the 15th of August. This is one of the most exciting festivals in the entire region and visitors tend to come to Juigalpa from far and wide in order to enjoy it. The bull riding event is one of the highlights but it is scary and the deaths of riders are pretty common.
Things to do in Nicaragua
If you love to put on some sturdy boots and explore the natural wonders of the planet then Nicaragua will bowl you over. You can hike up volcanoes, you can hike in sprawling national parks and you can just head out to see what else you find that might interest you. There can’t be many better countries for people who enjoy an active outdoors lifestyle.
Visit the Towns
Away from the big city of Managua there are some fine, laid back towns and cities spread across Nicaragua. Most of these are small enough to be easy to explore on foot, with a central plaza for people watching and a park for relaxing in. The likes of León and Granada are the most famous but Matagalpa, Poneloya and Chinandega are places you won’t forget in a hurry once you have sampled them.
Speak to the Locals
Nicaragua is also a country where it is easy to have fun and walk about with a smile on your face. The famous friendliness of the locals is one of the big reasons why so many tourists visit here each year and why a decent number of foreigners have set up home here. It also makes Nicaragua a popular place to learn Spanish. If you don’t have time for a series of Spanish language classes then just speaking the odd word to the locals in markets and restaurants will let you appreciate how open and friendly they are.
Love the Festival Fun
If you are planning on visiting Nicaragua then it makes sense to try and get here when one of the big festivals is on. The locals love their parties and a good number of them are spread over the year. In Managua there is the famous festival for Santo Domingo de Guzmán and the Happiness for Life Carnival, while the patron saint festival in Juigalpa is also worth checking out.
Eat the Food
One of the great things about the food in Nicaragua is that it changes from one region to another. The Pacific facing side of the country is where you are most likely to find corn based meals and locally grown fruits. On the Caribbean coast the cuisine involves a lot more coconut and seafood. The drinks are also interesting, with corn being added to make fantastic drinks like Chicha and Pinolillo. Gallo Pinto is a dish you are sure to come across on your travels and you won’t want to go home without having tried a traditional meal of rice and beans.
Best time to visit Nicaragua
Tourists visit Nicaragua between November and June
For most of us it makes sense to visit the beautiful country of Nicaragua during the dry season, which means between November and June. Having said that, if you don’t want to be too hot then you might want to avoid the months of April and May. Over on the Atlantic coast it rains almost all the time, so there isn’t too much point taking into account the different seasons. The year is split into just two seasons in Nicaragua. These are the dry season and the rainy season. The rainy season is usually stated as running from July to December but the amount of rain that falls varies greatly from one part of the country to another. The temperature tends to stay very constant here throughout the year, with the lower lying areas being hotter than the mountainous regions.