What to See and Where to Go in Nicaragua
When you come from Honduras, like us, then you might feel like entering an oven right at the border of Nicaragua. For me, as I hate the cold, this was a pleasant feeling. Yet, the heat in Nicaragua even made me sweat and gasp for a breeze. Our trip through the country became a mix of city sightseeing and beach escapes with fun things like sailing and hiking.
I still can’t believe that we managed to climb up one of the most active volcanoes of Nicaragua. The view was rewarding and the breeze up there made us forget for a moment that our legs were on fire! Check out our Video on YouTube with some images from our trip or read on for some tips on activities and places to visit.
Border Crossing from Honduras to Nicaragua
We took a bus from Lake Yojoa in Honduras at 6 o’clock in the morning. It took us about 2 hours to get to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, and another 45 minutes to figure out which bus leads us to the border. We decided to go with local buses, because the direct tourist buses to Leon or Granada seemed to be a rip-off. It was pretty easy in the end. We just asked around the bus terminal in Tegucigalpa, which local bus goes towards the border of Nicaragua, and a couple of dollars later, we were on a bus for a fraction of the price we would have paid for a direct bus.
Once at the border around 4 hours later, we hopped off the bus and walked through border control of Nicaragua after checking in with the immigration office. Make sure to bring US dollars, as you have to pay a fee of 10 USD and around 100 Nicaraguan Cordobas. Then, you simply walk over the bridge that leads to the first village in Nicaragua (not even 5 minutes away). Right after the borde, you’ll find plenty of local buses that will take you to any destination in Nicaragua. My advice, do the border crossing on your own and with local busses, so you save yourself quite a bit of money.
Unless you are a slow traveller like us, check out this ‘Nicaragua itinerary‘ for two weeks. If time doesn’t matter, keep reading to follow our route.
By 6 pm, we arrived in León, our first stop in Nicaragua. Boiling hot and exhausted from a long trip, we stumbled into the first hostel that we could find. We were on the look-out for accommodation with some other guys from our bus and they told us that they would stay in León for a while to learn Spanish. Later on, we saw that this is apparently the thing to do in León, as the city has a vast selection of Spanish schools. We also noticed that León has a huge variety of clothes and shops that made my fashion heart pump higher! We spent the next day roaming around the little streets, hunting for clothes and cool drinks to get used to the heat. Honduras really was so much cooler, gah…
A couple of days later, we decided to leave León because we were desperate for a cool breeze from the ocean. At least, that’s what we thought…the only refreshing thing in Las Peñitas was the ocean itself and the beer, if you drank it fast enough before it got warm. Consequently, I spent a lot of time in the water and wondered if I am too weak for this heat, or simply not used to it anymore! After the cold waves in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, our bodies seemed to be adjusting, just not quickly enough. Yet, what we saw was great and helped to distract us from the heat. At the end of the day, we still loved being there very much.
Las Peñitas is a really small fisher village with few activities besides hanging out at the beach, kayaking in the mangroves, swimming or surfing. It’s also a good place to enjoy some yummy seafood for a reasonable price and usually, an ocean view as most restaurants are along the beach or along the little lagoon area.
When you travel long-term, you have those days when you want nothing but rest. In Granada, we stayed 3 days but did not do much other than working on our computers in our hostel and walking around the streets of the old town. What we did discover, though, was the national dish called ‘Vigoron’ which was a mixture of cabbage, Jukka (native potato), meat, tomatoes and chilies… all neatly served on a banana leaf. We combined it with the very traditional, non-alcoholic ‘Chicha’, a beverage made out of fermented maize, sugar and in our case it had some raspberry juice. Yummy! 😀
Due to the low water level in Lake Nicaragua, the ferries no longer run from Granada directly to Ometepe. You’ll have to take the bus to Rivas, which is the closest town on the main road just 15 minutes away from the ferry dock. To get from Rivas to the ferry, walk away from the bus stop and ask for the corner where the local bus leaves every 20 minutes. If you’ve made it through the hassling taxi drivers, then you’ll realise that the bus costs a fraction of what they just offered you for their lift.
There are plenty of little bays and beaches along your way and sometimes you even have to stop to let some horses or cows pass by…
Climbing Volcano Concepcion
Nicaragua has some of the most active Volcanoes in Central America and we climbed one of them! This was one of our most exhausting experiences in Central America so far. The hike to the top of Volcano Concepción takes about 4-6 hours, depending on your pace, of course. The top part is the trickiest of the entire hike, as it gets very steep and you walk on gravel and loose bigger stones. If you arrive before 1pm, you will be fine, time-wise, in order to make it back before dark.
We started our hike a bit later than planned and got to the top at 2:30pm, so a friendly tour guide who was on his way down with a group pointed out that we wouldn’t make it all the way to the top and back. We had about 50 meters left to the crater, but it would have taken at least another hour due to its steepness. We decided to call it a day and not push it to the very top (for us, this was already an accomplishment and the view from up there is breathtaking!)
Our last and favourite stop in Nicaragua was Playa Gigante. If you haven’t done so, then make sure to check out the post about our sailing trip along the coast. It was really one of the highlights of our stay in this country, and we were very tempted to stay for much longer…perhaps this is a place to go back to, one day!