How to Travel Nicaragua in One Week
Nicaragua is the biggest country in Central America, bordering El Salvador and Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south.
The country is referred to as the “land of lakes and volcanoes.” It has a Pacific coast with awesome surf, a Caribbean coast with great scuba diving, old colonial cities, cloud forests, nature reserves, and as its nickname implies, eighteen volcanoes and the region’s largest lake, Lake Nicaragua.
Tourism is developing, but is nowhere near the level experienced in neighboring Costa Rica, meaning you still feel like you have landed in an untouched paradise.
If you want to take in the full beauty and variety of the country, I’d recommend spending not less than 2 weeks, however if you are really tide with your time, it is doable to see the highlights within a week.
Important: Even though the distances between the different places don’t seem much looking at the map, transportation (mainly by bus) will slow down your domestic travel – a lot.
I spend eight days in Nicaragua without a hectic schedule and covered some of the highlights.
This is the route I took – Managua – Leon – Granada – Isla de Ometepe – Managua
Day 1: Arrival & León
If you arrive in Nicaragua on an evening flight, the best is to stay overnight in Managua before heading to León.
I chose Hotel Don Carmelo for the night which I can totally recommend. The hotel offers fair prices and provides complimentary airport pick up and drop off at the bus station on the next day.
The next morning, after breakfast, you can take the free shuttle of the hotel to the main bus stop in Managua.
From there you hop on a shared mini van to León. As with any overland transportation in Nicaragua, there are no fixed timings for public transportation.
The ride will cost you NIO 54 and takes 1.5 hours. You’ll arrive at the main bus station in León which is a little bit outside of the city center.
From there, simply get one of the many tricycles for USD 1 per person to drop you in the town center.
You’ll arrive in León around lunch time and will have the whole afternoon to explore the city.
The center is absolutely walk-able and concentrated. León is an old, charming colonial town, full of history and culture, and situated near some beautiful natural landmarks.
The difference to Granada is that León is more authentic and what I liked the most, less touristy.
While walking around, you will pass by many colorful buildings, churches, plazas and local street markets.
The highlight is the impressive Santa María de León Cathedra right by the Parque Central. You can climb on top of the cathedral and its white domes and enjoy the best views over the city. Just make sure to get there before 4.30 pm as that’s when it closes. The entrance fee is NIO 86.
Day 2: Volcano Boarding at Cerro Negro
Central America’s youngest volcano and one of Nicaragua’s most active volcanoes offers the great thrill of volcano boarding.
Tours can be booked with any of the small tour operators in Leon’s city center, even at last minute (prices don’t differ a lot between the different agencies). Half day tours leave Leon either in the morning around 8 am or in the early afternoon at 2 pm, and cost about USD 30 including entrance free, fruits and all equipment..
This leaves you with having the morning or afternoon either to relax or explore more of Leon.
Day 3: Playa Las Peñitas
A great chill out day trip from León is to explore the nearby beaches.
Playa Las Peñitas is a small fishing village located on the Pacific coast. You can easily get there within 30 min either by taxi (about NIO 250) or by local bus (NIO 30).
The beach is known for being much less crowded than San Juan del Sur, but offers the same great waves for surfing.
You can chill by the empty beach the whole day and get lunch and dinner at one of the beach front restaurants (they have some awesome fresh fish). If possible stay until the early evening to enjoy the beautiful sunset before heading back to León.
Day 4: Granada
Leave León in the early morning as the trip to Granada will take you roughly half a day.
There is no direct bus to Granada and you will have to change buses in Managua (bus ticket for the two trips costs about NIO 80).
For spending the afternoon in Granada I suggest to rent a kajak (USD 15 for 1.5 hours) and explore Lake Nicaragua.
Lake Nicaragua, also known as Lake Cocibolca, isn’t just the tenth largest freshwater lake in the world, and the second largest in Latin America – it is a kayaking and canoeing paradise due to its still waters.
Day 5: Granada
Take this day to explore the streets full of brightly colored buildings, horse-drawn carriages, markets and churches of colonial Granada. Granada was built with Spanish colonial architecture that remains in place today.
Even though quite touristy, the city still has its own charm and is probably the most visited destination in Nicaragua. The city is perfect for a self-guided walking tour where you can take lots of impressive, colorful pictures.
The city’s most notable attractions, the main church – known simply as “Cathedral” – and the Plaza de España, offer magnificent views of Lake Nicaragua. Admission to the church is USD 1.
Day 6 & 7: Ometepe Island
Leaving from Granda you can take the chicken bus for around NIO 50 to Rivas. From Rivas there are frequent ferries leaving to Ometepe Island.
Isla Ometepe is made up of two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas, joined together by a small strip of land. The view from the ferry is magical so have your camera ready.
Once you arrive on the island, you can take the local bus or taxi to your destination or even rent a motorbike (car rental is not available!).
I suggest to stay in the east part of the island as most of the natural attractions are located there.
For the 1 1/2 days you spend on the island you can chose to hike the San Ramon waterfall, ride horseback to the Ojo de Agua (a natural swimming pool), kayak on the Istian river or rent bicycles to explore the island.
Heading back to Managua from the Island will take you about 4 hours.
If you have enough time and your departure is only on the next day, take a day to relax at one of the hotel pools. I stayed at the Hotel Los Pinos and would highly recommend it in terms of value for money.