Helena VDH.

Eight incredible must see destinations in Nicaragua + itinerary

Nicaragua is loved by backpackers for its beautiful beaches, unreal volcanoes, raging parties, awesome hostels and budget-friendly price tag. Many hostels are nestled right on the ocean, where you can walk from your bed to the water in under a minute. Having such easy access to tan, swim, surf and frolic about by the sea was my favourite thing about travelling the country!

This blog will give you eight of the best destinations in Nicaragua with an itinerary to follow, starting from the North of the country. As a new addition to these blogs, I’m also including my favourite hostel, favourite cafe (cause I love a bougie bitch coffee) and the best things to do in each place.

If you’re heading to Nicaragua solo and feel apprehensive you might be alone – do not fear! Travelling Central America is awesome for meeting like-minded backpackers as everyone generally follows the same gringo trail. When I was in Nicaragua, I travelled the whole country with the same group of friends for six weeks and it was one of my biggest highlights in a year of travelling Latin America. Keep reading to get your itinerary sorted!

1. León 

León is a city in the North of Nicaragua and it’s the place travellers generally start after arriving from Guatemala or El Salvador. The most popular things to do in Leon are volcano boarding, partying on a pub crawl, visiting the León Cathedral and going on a walking tour to learn about Nicaragua’s interesting history. You can also jump on a chicken bus (public bus) for 45 minutes to get to Las Peñitas beach for baby turtle releasing and pretty sunsets. Many travellers I met were split on whether they preferred León to Granada, but I much preferred it. I had a fab time there and thought the nightlife and locals were a lot nicer here than in Granada. 

Duration: 2-3 days
Favourite hostels:
Poco a Poco Hostel or Hostal La Tortuga Booluda for more chill
Favourite cafe:
Pan & Paz French Bakery
Best things to do:
Walking tour, visit the León Cathedral, volcano boarding, turtle release by the beach.

2. Las Peñitas Beach

Las Peñitas Beach is 45 minutes from Leon but it feels worlds away. It’s a teeny tiny town with a handful of hostels, right on the water. There isn’t much to do except surf, chill and swim and it’s a great place to unwind. I spent Christmas in Las Peñitas at Mano a Mano Hostel and loved waking up to the ocean every morning with a coffee.  

Duration: 2-3 days (or 10 days like me to chill the hell out)
Favourite hostels:
Mano a Mano Hostel or Surfing Turtle Lodge
Favourite cafe:
There are none but you don’t need them at Mano a Mano!
Best things to do:
Relax, surf, swim, play volleyball, get tanned up, release turtles, watch the sunset.

3. El Tránsito

El Tránsito is another cute little beach town in Nicaragua. I didn’t go but I wish I did! There is a popular hostel called Free Spirit Hostel and it’s right on the water, like many fantastic hostels in Nicaragua and I heard amazing things about it.

Duration: 3-5 days
Favourite hostels: Free Spirit Hostel
Favourite cafe:
Surf Coffee
Best things to do:
Again, it’s a place to surf, chill and enjoy the ocean. 

4. Granada

Granada is the town closest to the famous Treehouse Hostel, where you can rave and party in the jungle – it’s one of the best and most popular parties in Nicaragua. Personally, I didn’t love Granada as a town, but I loved the Treehouse Hostel. If you can get a booking there, I’d recommend staying at the hostel and taking in nature, then visiting Granada through the day (it’s about 30 minutes from the town). You can wander cobblestone streets, eat nice food and be hungover after jungle raving. 

Duration: 3 days – make one night a Friday for the jungle rave
Favourite hostels: Treehouse Hostel or Hostel Oasis in the town
Favourite cafe:
The Garden Cafe
Best things to do:
Not much other than visiting the Treehouse Hostel

5. Popoyo

Popoyo is my favourite place in Nicaragua, it might even be my favourite place in all of Central America. It’s a stunning little beach town with hostels that back onto the ocean and an excellent community vibe. There are a few ‘comedors’ selling cheap local food, a market with a wonderful selection of cooking supplies and a couple of cute cafes to read or work. You can also explore other beaches in the area surrounded by gorgeous mountains and cliffs. There’s one hostel on the water called Amahula Hostel, it’s a bit bougie and expensive to stay but you can visit it for free. They hold banging DJ sets overlooking the beach on a Friday night, along with many other fun events. So if you fancy partying, you can, or if you just want to chill in Popoyo, you can do that too. I absolutely loved it there. I spent 10 days in Popoyo (shocking) and could genuinely live there with the nice community and beaches.

Duration: 3-100 days (never leave, stay forever)
Favourite hostels: The Barrel or Big Surf House – they’re less than 50 metres apart so you can easily bounce between them
Favourite cafe:
Amahula Cafe (attached to the hostel)
Best things to do:
Chill, party on a Friday, surf, see the tide pools, explore the beaches, watch sunsets everyday.

6. Ometepe 

Ometepe is a small island near Granada surrounded by volcanoes and it’s picturesque and peaceful! You can ride scooters around the island, hike volcanoes, swim in lakes and visit tasty wholesome cafes. 

Ometepe is large so hiring a scooter is a bit of a must as public transport is expensive and time consuming. I stayed in the Moyogalpa area, closest to the boat port of Ometepe but if I had my time again, I’d stay on the other side of the island near Balgue. On this side, there are more hostels and all the activities are closer. They also have more cafes and we all know cute cafes are right up my street. 

In Ometepe, there’s a thriving permaculture hippie hostel called El Zipolite that’s worth a visit, even if you don’t stay there. When I say it’s a hippie hostel, it’s a proper hippie place. If staying in that kind of hostel isn’t for you, definitely visit the farm to check out the permaculture and go for their famous pizza night of a Tuesday and Saturday. They sell tasty woodfired pizza, host fire shows and play good house music, it’s a fun time. If you want to have even more fun and really soak up the nature, buy some magic mushies from the hostel and wander around the farm in the daylight before you eat all the pizza. My favourite friends and I did this and it was a lovely experience.

Duration: 4 – 5 days
Favourite hostels: Hospedaje Soma in Moyogalpa or Hostel El Pital in Balgue (or El Zipolite for hippie vibes)
Favourite cafe:
Cafe Campestre – make sure you get a brownie!
Best things to do:
Hike conception Volcano, Swim at Ojo de Agua, watch the sunset at Playa Mangos, visit San Ramon Waterfall, scoot around, visit the hippie hostel, take mushies, kayak around the lake to see the mangroves.

7. Corn Islands

Another place I didn’t get to but I HAVE REGRETS and I wish I could’ve been assed to go. There are two islands that make up the Corn Islands – Big Corn and Little Corn. Big Corn is more commercial and Little Corn is very chill with no cars and only dirt roads. It’s a long, tumultuous bus journey to get there or you can get flights from Managua cheap enough if you book in advance. If you have the time and energy to go, definitely do because everyone I met who visited the islands absolutely adored them.

Duration: 3-7 days (if you do the bus you’d want to stay at least five nights)
Favourite hostels: Three Brothers
Favourite cafe:
Tranquilo Cafe
Best things to do:
Chill, swim, snorkel, explore the island, go off grid.

8. San Juan Del Dur 

San Juan Del Sur is in the South of Nicaragua and is generally the last spot on the gringo trail before Costa Rica. It’s renowned for its nearby surf beaches and the Sunday Funday bar crawl. The beach near the town of San Juan Del Sur isn’t amazing but you can get shuttles out to great surf or ‘chill by the water and tan’ beaches. The Sunday Funday party is what San Juan Del Sur is famous for. You and a bunch of backpackers go on a pub crawl around the town and yeah it is a touch expensive and full of gringos but it’s also an absolute blast, so embrace that shit.

Duration: 3-5 days
Favourite hostels: Saltwater Dreams for chill time and Hola Ola for parties
Favourite cafe:
Simon Says Cafe
Best things to do:
Sunday Funday party, surf, visit The Art Warehouse, hike Cristo de La Misericordia, explore nearby by beaches.

Woooo I hope this helps you have an absolute ball of a time in Nicaragua and enjoy all the fun in the sun! What do you think of the new favourite hostels and cafe additions to this blog? Would love to hear it!

Yours in parties and beach time,