The Top 5 Must-Visit Places in Nicaragua

Nicaragua has quietly become one of the top travel destinations in the world and a hot spot for surfers and backpackers on the Central America circuit.

Nicaragua has quietly become one of the top travel destinations in the world and a hot spot for surfers and backpackers on the Central America circuit. With the country realizing its potential as a destination for tourism, Nicaragua is finally catching up to its more developed and highly visited neighbor to the south: Costa Rica. Being Central America’s largest country, Nicaragua is also home to some incredible gems you can’t find elsewhere in the world. Here are the Top Five Must Visit Places in Nicaragua:

1. Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo is a nature reserve consisting of a thermally vented 48-square kilometer body of water contained inside the crater of the Apoyo Volcano.  20,000 years ago, the volcano imploded on itself and has continued to fill with both rain and subterranean water. Nicaragua has fortunately also limited development along its rocky and sandy beaches. The end result is a giant, pristine lake with some of the cleanest and clearest water in Central America…along with the opportunity to check off ‘swim in a volcano lake crater’ from your bucket list.

2. San Juan del Sur

san juan del sur bay at night illuminated
San Juan del Sur Bay at night illuminated

There is something infectious about this little local fishing village turned surf and party mecca. Besides also being a new locale for nearby yoga retreats, it is home to the infamous Sunday Funday Poolcrawl, AKA the biggest weekly party in Central America. Whether you go for its long beautiful beach, carefree vibes, central location for surf spots or its unlimited fuel to fiesta, it’s the community’s mix of welcoming locals and young entrepreneurial expats that will make you stay longer than planned.

3. Isla de Ometepe

I was wandering the paved and dirt roads of this beautiful island on my scooter, when I checked my GPS and realized the beach was near. When I arrived, I saw not tourists, just local Nicaraguan farmers and their livestock. Everyday they get to see this view of the active Volcán Concepción which is one of two volcanoes on the island.

Lake Nicaragua—the largest in Central America—is home to a biosphere unlike any other in the world. Ometepe is a twin volcano island surrounded by fresh water—the only island of its kind on the planet. From its fertile volcanic soil, black sand beaches, immense natural wildlife and archaeological sites from pre-colonial Aztecs, it’s amazing that more backpackers and eco-tourists haven’t discovered it yet!

4. Léon

About to try our hands at volcano boarding
About to try our hands at volcano boarding.

Léon is the second largest city in Nicaragua (after the capital city, Managua) and was founded in the 16th century. Spanish colonial churches, historic buildings and local markets fill the beautiful downtown core. Although its rival (and more polished) colonial town, Granada, is the more popular tourist destination in Nicaragua, Léon offers the history and local charm without feeling like a tourist hotspot. Also, backpackers are now flocking to this university town because of the nearby active volcano, Cerro Negro. Not surprising when you find out that it’s one of the few places in the world where you can go volcano boarding!

5. Corn Islands

Little Corn Island Sunset - Photo by Josh Fink

The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is home to a set of islands that are a world away from the rest of the country. The Corn Islands consist of Big Corn and Little Corn—the latter being a car-free paradise which is home to world class deep sea diving, incredible seafood cuisine and a fusion of Rasta culture. You might have trouble understanding the locals—but it isn’t because they speak Spanish. The islanders speak a mix of English, Miskito and other Caribbean dialects…but as long as you can say “Jus’ chillin’ mon”* you’ll fit right in.

*Don’t believe me? Let a local explain the Nicaraguan way to properly “chill out”


The tourism sector in Nicaragua is currently booming as people discover its natural and cultural wonders. Now is the time to visit this country while tourism is still a relatively fresh concept: prices are cheap and the travel trail isn’t overrun but still has all the amenities for a foreigner. You’ll be sipping their delicious Flor de Caña rum from a coconut exclaiming the local slang diacachimba in no time!

John Early is an author, musician and tour manager. He has just released his book Tales of the Modern Nomad – Monks, Mushrooms & Other Misadventures It colorfully captures a decade of global backpacking with a wild fusion of stories, photos, sketches and quotes with travel insight you’d never get in your guide book. For more info or to order your copy visit Modern Nomad or follow him on Facebook

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