Nicaragua. Land of coffee, volcanoes, chocolate, lakes and surfing. Backpackers have headed here for years, but the advent of the internet and the Instagram-heavy blogger has made more people head to its shores. Including us. Normally, we’d give you a place by place guide to a country, but since we blasted through Nica in no time at all, here is a very quick pros and cons guide to the most common stops on your Nica route:
Léon, one of Nicaragua’s two cultural capitals. Famous for being the seat of Nicaragua’s revolutions, being full of slightly crumbling cathedrals and its proximity to a couple of sand-board friendly volcanoes. It’s cheap, it’s dirty and has a buzzing nightlife. If you like your towns rough and ready, Léon is for you. If you have a sensitive nose and can’t abide by litter, maybe skip it and head on South to Granada instead.
The actual capital to stop Léon and Granada bickering about it. Famous for… well… being a bit murder- and kidnap-happy and not a whole lot else. Even Lonely Planet describe it as “a shambles” (before going off all doe-eyed about its vibrancy and authenticity, but I’m not going to do that). It’s big, dirty, chaotic and dangerous. Go if you like express kidnapping or really, really need to be near the airport.
Like Léon, but prettier. The second of the cultural capitals, Granada actually was the capital city while Nica was occupied by the Spanish. It’s always been more conservative than its northerly, hated neighbour, and it shows. Its centre is primly maintained, with shiny cathedrals and a manicured town square. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its problems though; petty crime flourishes here, especially after dark. Go if you are into colonial architecture, good food and an interesting nightlife scene. Don’t expect western levels of sophistication though, this is a town that is firmly Latin American in its feel.
An island formed by twin volcanoes rising out of the colossal Lake Nicaragua. Very beautiful, peaceful (everywhere but Moyogalpa where you can party all night long) and full of wildlife, it is an impressive site. The hike up Volcan de Concepcion is famously beautiful. Avoid Ometepe if you can’t handle bugs – it is very insect-heavy.
San Juan del Sur
A pretty and very popular surf town. Not authentic, barely even Nicaraguan but it is popular for a reason – it is cool. Surfers flock here from all over the globe to go to the surrounding beaches, and the town’s party scene reflects their well-known need for some après surf fun. It isn’t cheap, it isn’t cultural but it is very, very fun. Every backpacker going through Nicaragua will stop here, guaranteed.