Nicaragua: a country with lots of diversity, from lush volcano islands to colorful cities. Here’s my experience, traveling for three weeks through Nicaragua together with my boyfriend.
What I loved about this country
Cultural shock – in a good way
When I hopped in the shuttle that brought me to the surf camp near San Juan del Sur I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was something I had never seen. I had never experienced a cultural shock like this, and I’ve seen quite a few places. There are still a lot of places where there are no tourists at all and the animals live in co-existence with the people: there are horses, cows and dogs everywhere, walking where they please.
I visited Nicaragua in February and was welcomed by a lovely 28-35 degrees Celsius. Good to know: from December until March, it’s windy season in Nicaragua – which can be a lovely cooling breeze but also a storm that prevents you from sleeping. Sun is out most of the times and I loved to skip a part of the Dutch winter and spend it here.
Like I said: this country has a lot to offer. There are volcanoes, there are beaches (on the Pacific and the Caribbean side), there are colorful cities, lush nature parks and more. There’s just so much to see.
What I didn’t love about this country
I’ve been reading blogs before I went to Nicaragua, some were scaring me (mostly because of the stories about criminal taxi drivers) and some were really reassuring, written by solo female travelers. But none of the blogs prepared me for all that lying. Só many people, from bus drivers to people that sell tickets for buses or boats, lie. They will tell you that the bus you want to take doesn’t go. Or they’ll say that the bus doesn’t exist at all. Let me repeat: even bus drivers will tell you this. I had never had so many people lie to my face and it took a big part of feeling safe away. I wasn’t comfortable in any taxi after that, just because I didn’t feel like I could trust anybody anymore.
So – in my opinion – there are two options: you try to take buses anyway, don’t listen to the locals and look on the internet for the time and locations of the bus (it’s super cheap and a proper Nicaragua experience) ór you can let your hotel order a taxi for you but this can get quite expensive (from $20-$100).
The places I’ve visited
I started my journey with a week of surfing in DreamSeaSurf Camp near San Juan del Sur. Then took a taxi and the ferry (choose the big ferry if you get seasick) to Isla de Ometepe. From there we went to Popoyo which was surfer heaven. Up next was Granada (from Popoyo to Granada costed us $60 by taxi) and then back to Managua airport for a flight and boat ride to the Corn Islands.
Near the popular beach and party town San Juan del Sur you can find DreamSea, a surf resort. DreamSeaSurf really is a dream and the vibe of this place is amazing. Everything is made with natural materials like bamboo and rattan, and the team totally build almost everything themselves. All the tropical plants everywhere definitely put the cherry on top, it’s impossible not to be amazed when you see this place for the first time. There are surf classes most of the days, some yoga classes and if you like – you can go surfing everyday. Read more about this here.
Isla de Ometepe
Up next was an island with two volcanoes (Concepcion and Maderas): Isla de Ometepe. Like I said: if you get seasick easily, go for the larger Ferry. They don’t go that often, but it’s worth it. You can find the time schedule of the ferries here. The city around the harbor is cute and with lots of restaurants. Once you get to the other side of the island, near Merida, the roads start getting really bad and you will be confronted with the poverty. But that side is definitely more lush than the other side. Fun things to do: watch sunset at Punta Jesus Maria, walk around Charco Verde and see monkeys, rent kayaks (preferably with a guide) and go up the lake and into the swamp of Rio Istián, eat chocolate breakfast at El Pital, hike up the volcanoes, hike up to the waterfall or drive around the island.
While most tourists go to San Jan del Sur for surfing, the locals mostly prefer Popoyo (or Playa Maderas, where we went during the DreamSeaSurf camp). Why? The waves are great (and high!), the beach is beautiful and there’s that catchy surf vibe going on. I stayed two nights in Popoyo, which was perfect. Read more about Popoyo here.
I spent three days in beautifully colored Granada. It’s completely different to the beach side of Nicaragua and also very different than Ometepe. The architecture is amazing and there’s a lot to do (like making your own chocolate!). Just be careful for the pickpockets. Want to know more about Granada? Read all about it here.
There are two Corn Islands (Islas del Maïz): Big Corn and Little Corn Island. I only spend a day on Big Corn and seven days on Little Corn because that’s the advise we got and I think that was a great decision. On Big Corn, there are more families and elderly people, on Little Corn it’s mostly visitors in the age of 20-40. But Big Corn Island is beautiful as well. The Corn Islands were a British protectorate from 1655 until 1860 and The Nicaraguan government annexed the islands in 1894. The islanders are Afro-descendant, English-speaking Creole people. So, completely different than the people on the mainland. The islanders were my favorite inhabitants of Nicaragua, they were só nice, so relaxed and friendly. And most of all, nobody on the island lied to me. That was very pleasant. Curious to learn more about what probably is one of my favorite islands ever? Read my blog about Little Corn Island.
Here’s what I packed
Curious to know what I packed for three weeks of backpacking, surfing, yoga and chilling? It’s important not to pack too much, but know that Nicaragua can get very expensive (from sun lotion to rash guard), so make sure you bring your stuff. Oh and you can also get your laundry done at several places.
- A black bathing suit by Hunkemöller, strapped on the back so it stayed in place during surfing. Hunkemöller makes great swimwear that stays in place, is comfortable and even a bit sexy. This suit has some cut outs on the side and is high waisted. The back is completely open, but the shoulder bands won’t fall down during any activity because they’re strapped on the back. Check out all the fun beachwear items at Hunkemöller.com.
- 2 yoga outfits by B Active Wear, I also wore one in the plane ride to Nicaragua.
- Two bikini’s, one by Beachlife and one by O’Neill.
- Three bathing suits, one bikini and one surf suit (rash guard and bottoms) by Beachlife.
- Two long dresses, for the evenings.
- Two short dresses to wear in the day time.
- Two skirts and a few tanktops.
- A pair of shorts, might come in handy during surf class.
- Two sunglasses (in case you lose one during surfing because you forgot you were still wearing it, like I did – oops!)
- Two pairs of Havaianas, a fancy pair and a basic pair.
- Organic, natural and vegan Sun Lotion that doesn’t hurt the reef and Face Cream.
- Very little make-up, doesn’t stay on during surfing and well, your fresh made friends like the natural look.
- A thin, but big scarf – for when it get’s colder, or to use as a head band (like I did in the pic above). Mine is from Barts.
- Some vegan Eat Natural bars, in case I got hungry on the beach.
- Ear plugs – February is part of the windy season and that can cause a lot of noise when you try to sleep.
- A sleeping mask, waking up with the sunrise is the best, but just in case you want to sleep a little longer.
- A small hairbrush, a bamboo toothbrush, natural toothpaste, an oil and shampoo.