33 things we love about Nicaragua

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Last Updated on November 16, 2016

Every once in a while, a country really takes us by surprise, like our deep love affair with Mexico. We had an inkling we would love Nicaragua, and after spending six weeks here, it was easy as pie to come up with a long list of favorites. Read on for thirty three things we love about Nicaragua, in no particular order.

1.    Leon
Well, we say in no particular order, but number one is by far our Nicaraguan number one. Leon is our favorite city in Nicaragua. It is constantly buzzing with vibrant, friendly locals, interesting colonial architecture, one of Central America’s most stunning cathedrals and countless restaurants and bars to eat and drink your nights away. We could easily spend much more time in this scorching hot city!

Orange truck in Leon Nicaragua

2.    Gallo Pinto
This dish, called ‘painted rooster’ is the national dish both of Nicaragua and Costa Rica (we preferred its taste in Nicaragua). Consisting of rice, beans and a magical mix of spices, we could literally eat Gallo Pinto morning, noon and night, although it is usually eaten for breakfast.

3.    La Calle Calzada in Granada
Normally we wouldn’t choose the main tourist center of a city as one of our favorite spots, but Granada’s Calle Calzada is lined with full green trees and one brightly colorful house after the next, from the Cathedral all the way down to Lake Nicaragua. Strolling past the (admittedly overpriced) restaurants and bars, the street is buzzing with diners, drinkers and street performers ranging from acrobats and breakdancers to a slew of international jewelry-sellers.

Calle Calzada Granada Nicaragua4.    Counting the stars on Little Corn Island
Every evening, as we walked back to Little Corn Beach and Bungalow hotel along the deserted beach, we swear we could see almost every star in the sky, which really made us realize just how remote this little island was in the middle of vast Caribbean sea.

5.    Pigs roaming the beach of Poneloya and the streets in Balgue on Ometepe Island

Poneloya Pig on beach

6.    The California feeling of San Juan del Sur

7.    Flor de Caña rum

The national rum of Nicaragua, this drink is sold throughout the world as one the best rums. Luckily, in Nicaragua, this homegrown drink is both delicious and cheap! Nicaraguans traditionally order an entire bottle, along with water or Coke, and split it across a table of four…often times, they then order another!

8.    The horse-drawn carriages
All over the country, in little villages as well as big towns, the horse-drawn carriage is a part of everyday life.

church & horse carriage in Masaya Nicaragua9.    El Desayunazo
Our favorite breakfast place in Leon, which made for some of our top food moments of 300 days of travel! We usually ordered Gallo Pinto and Huevos Rancheros.

10.    Riding our rented bicycles around Granada
We would encourage anyone who visits Granada to get out and see beyond the well-maintained town center. Our ride revealed a city with a very uneven distribution of wealth, much different to Leon, as well as the striking ruins of the old hospital and a peaceful poetry park far from the city center.

11.    The perfectly shaped volcano Concepcion of Ometepe

Volcano Concepcion Ometepe Island12.    Leon’s Central Market
By far one of the cleanest markets in Central America, Leon’s market is filled with friendly vendors, super cheap fruits & vegetables and is a ‘real’ market not overrun by tourists.

13.    The relaxing effects of a lazy day at Laguna de Apoyo

14.    Public transportation is easy
Throughout Nicaragua, using public transportation is easy. The buses are cheap, never as crowded as Guatemala, and some were even pretty comfortable.

15.    Cheap street food in the Parque Central in Granada
Eating out in Granada can be ridiculously overpriced, aimed at the surprisingly large number of high-end tourists who flood the city. However, the city’s central park is anchored by four outdoor restaurants which serve up typical Nicaraguan food at typical Nicaraguan prices, plus there are several street food stands spread throughout the park, too.

Street food in Granada16.    The Colibri Hostel in Leon
This hostel
was our home for two full weeks, and we can highly recommend staying here.

17.   Toña beer
Maybe it was due to the hot, sunny days, but we loved Nicaraguan beer more than any other in Central America and Mexico. Our favorite by far was the delicious Toña beer! We miss you Toña!

18.    The creative street art in the northern city of Estelí

Esteli street art19.    Rocking chairs!
We loved rocking away in them or just watching the Nicaraguans chilling in their rocking chairs on the sidewalk in front of their house.

20.    Exploring  Masaya by horse-drawn taxi
Sure, you can jump in a horse-drawn carriage made for tourists in Granada, but while we were in the nearby city of Masaya, we discovered that the locals get from A to B by way of horse-drawn taxi. For less than a dollar we got a ‘lift’ from the central park down to the beautiful promenade overlooking the lake and the Masaya volcano.

21.    Macuá
The national drink of Nicaragua, Macuá is a sweet cocktail with Flor de Caña rum and several fruit juices. Fabulous!

Macua Cocktail22.    South Bay beach on Big Corn Island
The beautiful white-sand beach is lined with palm trees and crystal clear water.

23.    El Rincón Pinareño restaurant in Estelí
This clean, bright local favorite has a large menu with Cuban and Nicaraguan dishes. We had the best Yucca dish in all of Nicaragua here, plus they offer a great selection of mouth-watering cakes.

24.    Chicken Buses, literally.
Latin America is famous for their ‘chicken buses’ but Nicaragua had more chickens and roosters per capita than anywhere else we experienced in Central America.

Chicken on bus in Nicaragua25.    Boarding down the Cerro Negro Volcano near Leon

26.     Pan y Paz
The French owner of this Leon cafe makes deliciously fresh chocolate croissants and brie baguettes – a rare find in Central America!

Pan y paz in Leon27.     Passionate politically-charged poetry
Poetry in Nicaragua remains a relevant political tool and reveals the passion of the people. The national newspaper includes a poetry section every day, and internationally-famous poets, like the Leon local Ruben Dario, are cherished by all.

28.    Mama Sara
Mama Sara runs a little (unmarked) guest house in San Juan del Sur, and was one of the warmest Nicaraguans we met. She treated guests like her very own children, making us traditional food and drinks, and always making sure we had everything we needed. If you arrive in San Juan del Sur and a nice lady on her bicycle introduces herself as Mama Sara, make sure to go to her house at once!

29.    Choys Maní
This tasty little chocolate bar is similar to a Snickers but much better.

Choys Mani chocolate bar30.    Pathways on Little Corn Island
This tiny Caribbean island has no roads, only pathways, which makes the island feel that much more remote.

31.    The revolutionary spirit of Leon
Leon was the home of the revolutionaries, and this passion can still be seen in the street art, graffiti, murals and museums.

A C Sandino Wall Painting in Leon Nicaragua32.    Cooking an Old Indian with Doña Ana

33.    Mariposa
We haven’t spoken much about our love at first sight experience in Leon as it was too close to our hearts. We fell in love with Mariposa, a little stray dog in Leon who instantly became attached to us. We bought her food, took her around town with us each day, even bought her a collar and leash. She was so well-behaved and loved us so much, people on the street would always remark what a great dog she was as we walked by. We almost took her with us. But after several long discussions we decided it would be better to find her a home in Leon and vowed not to leave until she was in safe, loving hands.  The owner of the Via Via hostel took her in, and Mariposa got a new family with three other canine brothers and sisters. If you go to Leon, make sure to give a bit of your patronage to the caring, good people at Via Via (and if you ask about Mariposa, please give us an update!)

Dani & Mariposa in Leon

If you have visited Nicaragua and share our love for the country, please add your favorite things in the comments below!


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  1. Oh man I fell in love with Nicaragua. Its the first country I have literally fallen in love with and already told myself I have to come back one day and spend like a year here. I love everything about it… I can name a million more reasons why I love Nicaragua.

    1. Hey Jaime! Feel free, we’d love to hear all your reasons! We just loved it too, and know what you mean about living there. We’d probably rent a place in Leon for a while, too…you know, after we manage to see the whole world and make our way back 🙂

  2. I am bummed that we are not going to get to Nica on this trip. We are literally on the doorstep, but it’s just not in the cards. Oh well, your post gives us 33 reasons to get our asses back here 😉

    1. Pete, you guys will love Nicaragua! Let us know when you go and we can give you a few more tips, too! Ireland is sure to be just as amazing, just in a different way! Have fun!

  3. Thanks for the wonderful post. Now I have to go there…Sigh…My love for sweet plantains and alcohol help! I love Gallo though, is it similar to Tona?

    1. Mica – you totally can’t skip Nicaragua. Of anywhere in Central America, we would say that Nicaragua and Guatemala are both definitely must-visits. Plus Costa Rica. Oh, and Panama. Let’s see there was also Belize… 🙂 No, but seriously, we met no one along the way who didn’t love love love Nicaragua. ps Tona is way better than Gallo and there are plenty of plantains to get gobbled up. And don’t even get us started on the rum….:-)

    1. Oh wow! Small world! We absolutely loved Nicaragua and would go back for sure! How long did you live in Nicaragua? We could see ourselves in Leon more than Granada, but actually stayed in Granada two weeks this time around! Glad you like the site…

  4. OK you guys… you have just convinced me of where I’m going in December! Nicaragua looks just great. I have a moth… will this be enough time to see a lot of it? Is this enough time to do the Corn Island? I’ll say it again, SO happy I found your blog

    1. YES! That’s great – you will not regret your decision, Andrea! Nicaragua is STILL one of our all-time favorites. A month is a good amount of time to see the country – including the Corn Islands. If you’re planning to fly in and out of Managua, I’d recommend spending the last few days (or a week) on the islands and then fly straight back home from Managua.

  5. My friend and I are talking about going here in early October. Do you find there are still alot of fun and relaxing things to do in Nicaragua during the rainy season?

    1. Hi Mary, I think you’ll be fine if you visit in October. Even though it’s rainy season, it usually only rains a couple of hours in the afternoon, and the rest of the day it is sunny. You can still head out and explore in the mornings for example, and spend the rainy hours relaxing back in your hotel or in a cafe with a good back 🙂 I hope you’ll love Nicaragua as much as we did!

  6. So excited to come back here and read this post – am heading to Nicaragua at the end of September for two weeks, and this post has made me look forward to the trip all the more. I’ll be studying Spanish at a little school out of Managua so don’t think I’ll get much time to visit a lot of Nicaragua, but it sounds like such a great country with beautiful people that no doubt I’ll be back later. I’m hoping I can sneak in a weekend trip to San Juan del Sur! 🙂

    1. Oh, that is fantastic! I hope you will have time to see some of the country – but it is relatively small, and I think you could even go to Leon for a day trip (~2 hours from Managua), and to Granada for sure, and Masaya! And yes, definitely try to spend a weekend in San Juan del Sur 🙂 You won’t regret it! Enjoy Nicaragua, Rebecca!

  7. Hey guys nice work on ya info, we have been travelling central for a few months now and just left via via last night on way to granada wish we could of asked about the dog for ya , oh well keep up the good work

    1. Gary – we still haven’t heard anything about this dog who still has a special place in our hearts, almost two years later… Hope you are enjoying Nicaragua as much as we did! 🙂

  8. I lived in Managua for two years and absolutely LOVE the Nicaraguan countryside. I too fell hard for a dog- I wound up bringing her back to the US with me. 🙂

  9. Hello! I love your website. Thanks for all the amazing tips. I am thinking of going to nicaragua with a girlfriend in late March/early may and thinking of spending about 10 -12 days there. Do you have recommendations on where to stay? We are on a budget but would like to share a private room in a hostel or bed and breakfast. We don’t need anything fancy, just looking for friendly and fun places. Your help is appreciated!

    We were also thinking of going to costa rica but prices seem to be quite expensive. I would be happy to check out places such as Belize and Panama instead. Let me know if you can help in any way.

    Thank you so much 😉

    1. Hi Emilie, we’d be happy to help – can you let us know which places in Nicaragua you’re thinking about going? When we know which towns you’ll be visiting we’d be happy to share our recommendations 🙂 Belize is pretty much on par with the prices in Costa Rica, btw. Panama is a little bit cheaper but we didn’t find any places there that we truly loved. We preferred Belize for sure (the Cayes).

  10. Hi, thanks for your reply! We were thinking Granada, San Juan Del Sur and Leon. If you think those are good spots to check out let us know things to see/places to stay!

    Thanks so much for your help 🙂

    1. We actually only found a place in Leon that we really liked (Hostal Colibri) but stayed in cheapie places in Granada and San Juan del Sur. In San Juan we just followed a lady who picks up travelers at the bus to her house and decided to stay (she rents out several rooms to travelers). In Granada are some good hostels now though, we’ve heard good things from people who’ve been there more recently than we have. I’d recommend checking for hostels with a rating of at least 90 per cent. All three places are great, btw! Completely different vibe, but all gorgeous in their own way. Enjoy Nicaragua 🙂

  11. Hello Globetrotters! Your website has been SO helpful, I can tell that Nicaragua holds a special place in your hearts. My boyfriend and I will be spending 11-12 days exploring around the northwestern side of the country, mostly the city of Leon. After much research we are trying to decide if we would rather enjoy the tranquility of the Corn Islands as opposed to the culturally rich city of Leon and surrounding areas. Have you spent much time on the Caribbean coast of NIca? Would you recommend either or?

    1. Hi Kimmy, thanks for getting in touch! We haven’t spent any time on the Caribbean coast – we flew straight to the Corn Islands from Managua. It’s hard to decide between Leon and the Corn Islands – they’re so different but both have very charming aspects. 11 – 12 days would allow you to fly over to the islands AND see Leon and maybe Esteli, too? Combining a colonial town for the true spirit of Nica and some beach time on the islands would be perfect, IMHO!

  12. What a great post. I love how you included some little-touted, under the radar highlights about Nicaragua. Much of what you have written is often skimmed over in traditional guidebooks and articles. (And from our vantage point in San Juan del Sur you’re spot on about Mama Sara. Did you try her lemonade?)

    1. Thanks so much, Claudia! Also – I am so happy to hear that Mama Sara is still going strong 🙂 I have to make it back down to San Juan del Sur soon!

  13. The wonderful Mountain town Ocotal and the chicken Buses to Honduras.

    Living with no running water, Fresh Mango’s, Avocados and Limes!

    Hanging out in the hammock drinking Mango juice until the afternoon heat breaks!

    Noca Tamales.

    1. Jim – now you make me want to jump on the next plane to Nicaragua!! Maybe I can fit in a couple of weeks there before heading back to Europe from the U.S. 🙂

  14. We’re booking a last minute 2 week vacay to nica… We want to see a bit of adventure and countryside along with lots of beautiful beaches. Do you think it’s completely safe to travel there now? What about weather from July 30-Aug 14… Will we be drenched the whole time?

    1. I think it’s completely safe, Jaimee! Just be vigilant in Managua, I’d say. The weather should be good – even if it rains, it’s only for a couple of hours in the afternoon. The rest of the day will be nice. Have you decided which places you’ll be visiting? Enjoy Nica!

      1. We’re trying to decide what kind of adventure to do for our first week… Would like to hike a volcano and surf a bit, maybe Ometepe? What are your thoughts on the best volcano to hike? There are so many great surf beaches that we just have to pick one to stay a few nights at.
        THen I think we’re going to head to the Corn Islands, will they be nice this time of year? Worth the trip?

  15. I love this article, is spot on, I was born in Leon, came to live to the states in miami where I still reside at 13 years old, I’ve only been back twice since, but I wanna take my fiancé so we can both enjoy my beautiful country. Hopefully we’ll go within the next 2 years, God willing, you guys are great, and hope you go back again to enjoy the country some more!!!!!!!

    1. Rick – I will definitely be back! I hope you get to take your fiance soon! I’ve heard that the country is changing so quickly – I can’t wait to see how it’s changed since my last visit (only in good ways I hope!)

  16. I just got back from Nicaragua last Wednesday and I spent a month and a half there I have to say that this was the best time of my life and I would love to move and live in Nicaragua, the people are people with a lot of love, Granada is great, Managua as well and also Leon but for me the best place, which I totally recommend everyone is the beautiful port of corinto, this port has the best beaches, islands and people, what I most love about Nicaragua is that you can see the stars and it has the best sky in the night and that is not dangerous at all I would be out in corinto at 3:00 am and nothing will happen, hope you visit the best country in the world, I miss Nicaragua a lot.

    1. So happy to hear you loved Nicaragua too! I can’t wait to go back there 🙂 After visiting over 50 countries, it’s still one of my top 5!!

  17. been following you for a few years! Your insights made Guatemala a wonderful fun adventure for three 3 week trips. This January we are off to Nicaragua to explore and perhaps buy a little house. We are passionate about our 7 rescue dogs and loved your story of Mariposa. I promise if we get to Leaon I will find her and send pictures. You did a wonderful deed and deserve to know her continuing tale ( or tail!) keep posting !

    1. Kira – thank you so much!! Your comment made me so happy.. I still think of Mariposa often and was actually thinking of going back to Nicaragua soon to find out what happened to her. I can’t wait to hear if you see her. Enjoy Nicaragua! You might end up with another rescue dog 😉

      1. Nica Trip booked & have decided that part of our Leon experience in January will be Mariposa hunting!
        Waiting to hear back about a room at ViaVia now.
        Was Mariposa a puppy when you found her? Just trying to understand is she will be much bigger.
        Whom shall I ask if I dont see her?
        Any other traits or identifiers I can keep in mind?
        I will try to remember to bring the picture of your and her with me. I knew at first sight it was love with many of my dogs especially Satchel we have a bond that even makes my husband jealous

        1. Kira, your email totally made my week!! Do you know how often I still think about Mariposa? I am not sure what happened to her but I suspect she ran away from ViaVia after we left 🙁 I’ve had several people email me that they were going to look for her in Leon but I never heard back with feedback from anyone, so I have no idea what happened.. I uploaded some of the pictures I took of her in Leon into a Flickr album, have a look: .. Somebody told us that she’d babies not too long before we ‘adopted’ her, so I assume she wasn’t a puppy anymore, but a fully grown dog. I hope you’ll find out something when you get to Nica in January! Enjoy your trip and THANK YOU SO MUCH!!

  18. What are your favorite cheap (and safe) places to eat in Leon? I’ve gone with students several years and we are always looking for new places, but can’t risk having the group get sick. There are also a few vegetarians in the group.

    1. Hi, it’s been so long since my visit – I don’t even know if the places I went to all those years ago, and which I loved, are still around. I usually use the Foursquare app to find decent restaurants in places I visit, they have reviews in there and a rating, similar to Yelp.

  19. My daughter is in Leon right now on a Mission trip! She has also fallen in love with the people and culture. She said that their church services are the most amazing services and so pure. She said that even though the poverty is so low there that people would still offer them things even though that may have been all they had left. She returns home tomorrow and will start her senior year in high school and is already making plans to come back next summer. She said until you experience it, you can’t quite explain the love you have!

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