The secret to happiness in Nicaragua is surprisingly simple yet very, very effective is what we wrote in our post ‘Watch out! Happiness in Nicaragua is increasing rapidly’. It’s about appreciating the little things in life and not thinking too much to prevent hurting your head! We’ve also summed up 8 reasons why Nicaragua is among the happiest countries in the world. In this post, we have written down some of the best places in Nicaragua worth visiting according to the locals!
Best places in Nicaragua worth visiting
First impressions of Nicaragua in Granada
Granada is the first place we visit in Nicaragua and we feel it is one of the best places in Nicaragua to start. Like its all-time rival Leon, Granada has some of the most well-preserved colonial architecture in Nicaragua. The reasons for this is that it was the first big Spanish settlement in the country. It is also a relatively small city so you only need your feet and some water discovering this beautiful colonial city.
Hostel la Siesta – A more than decent place just a few minutes away from the central park of Granada. The 7 rooms are all around a flowered and quiet courtyard where a delicious breakfast is served. Make sure you book a room with a fan! We think this is your best value for money in Granda.
The Garden Cafe – Before, during or after strolling through Granada … this place is perfect anytime. It also goes with a story. It was created by Damien from California and Xiomara from Managua who as young dreamers saw the need for healthy food as well as sustainable job generation in Granada, Nicaragua. It was opened in 2007 and now ten years later it generates 30 full-time, year-long jobs which positively impact over 100 family members. And if this amazing story is not convincing enough to visit this place: the food and drinks are very good too!
Sundowner from the cathedral – The most photographed icon of Granda is the Lady of the Assumption Cathedral. Make sure you also take a look inside and climb to the top for an amazing sunset over Granada.
Mansion de chocolate – The place for chocolate lovers and much much more. It is located in the center of Granada and comprises five courtyard gardens, each with its own distinctive flavor. This chocolate-themed hotel brings together a mix of 9 professional specialized services with delicious chocolate themes from a choco spa, choco tours, choco workshops to an all you can eat chocolate buffet breakfast. Don’t tell you dietist you go here!
Café de los suenos – This hidden gen in the center of Granada is the dream of Malena from Mexico and Simon from Quebec that came true in 2012. Everything is home and handmade. We found this the place to relax and enjoy healthy dishes and great drinks wrapped in a colorful atmosphere … one of our favorite spots in Granada. When we visited the website was offline so use google to get here (link google maps).
Shopping at Masaya market – On our first morning in Granada we took the ‘chicken bus’ to Masaya market. As we described in our blog ‘happiness in Nicaragua is increasing rapidly’ it’s a bus ride full of experiences: people are both smiling, talking and in between and sometimes during those two activities taking a small nap. A 30 minute ride in an authentic crazy colored bus with latin vibes pumping from the speaker will get you at the little chaotic and very authentic market. Partly focused on tourists but we felt that it is still mainly a place where the locals go for shopping. Great place for buying some souvenir, eating some comida tipica and taking some excellent pictures.
Boat tour to las isletas – A few minutes by boat and you can see a whole different part of Granada: Las Isletas. This group of 365 islands is located in Lake Nicaragua, just southeast of the city. The islands are of volcanic origin and were formed when the Mombacho volcano blew much of its cone into the lake thousands of years ago. You can book tours but we just strolled around the lake and you will have vendors buzzing around you like flies. We arranged a private tour and visited a few islands, including monkey island and the old fort. It’s amazing to see the “weekend-houses” build on these islands, definitely the Hollywood scene of Nicaragua. But besides that, plenty of beautiful nature to absorb.
El tercer ojo – Only to look at the styling of this places makes visiting this bar and restaurant worthwhile. It is the hippest and liveliest place in Granada with silent movies projected on the wall at night and frequent live music. Food is not comida tipica but more Asian style with sushi, Indian and Thai food. Don’t miss the daily happy hour starting at 5 pm.
Best places in Nicaragua – Granada
Caribean vibes on Ometepe Island
Ometepe is definitely one of the best places in Nicaragua worth visiting. It is a Carribean island that we think was accidentally moved from the Caribbean to Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. Waterfalls, hiking, swimming, motorbiking, and kayaking in a peaceful, tranquil setting is what is awaiting you here.
You get to this amazing island you first take some taxis or buses to get to San Jorge and from there take a ferry. The boat ride to the island is relaxing and gives you a magnificent view of this special place. The two volcanoes which dominate the landscape penetrate the clear blue skies and offer the hint that this is a place where adventures can be had, and travel memories made.
Casa del Bosque – We feel that this jungle oasis just outside Balgue is the most beautiful place you can stay in Ometepe. This bed and breakfast accommodation lies on the organic farm that produces fresh organic products. They have several options to sleep there so check their website to see what you prefer. We stayed at Casa Mono Congo which was beautiful! Be prepared to fall asleep with jungle sounds and be woken up by some howling monkeys! Because we didn’t read the instructions well enough we tried finding this place on our own…which is quite a challenge. Just go to the associated restaurant Cafe Campestre to have you picked up an brought to this amazing place.
Cafe Campestre -Local, wholesome and tasty food is what they make with ingredients straight from their own organic farm. Balgue does not have many options and this place offers one of the best and freshest food.
Drive around on a motorbike – Exploring Ometepe by bike, scooter or motorcycle is our favorite activity on this island. The roads are not that busy and the views are diverse and stunning. Imagine yourself riding your bike with a volcano on your left, jungle in front of you and the beach on your right. There are many small villages and all picture perfect. If you’re able to ride a motorcycle please choose this option as many of the roads in Ometepe are unpaved and bumpy. A scooter may also take you there but this will be challenging on some roads. We strongly advise you to check with your rental company what the quality of the roads you plan to drive on is. A number of roads are not suitable when you’re not used to off-roading.
Charco Verde – This natural reserve Charco Verde is a protected area located between the two volcanoes of Ometepe. We spend a few hours here when exploring the island on our motorcycle. With just a one-hour hike on our sneakers through the forest, we saw the butterflies, the lagoon, the beach … and a lot of howler monkeys!
Kayaking Rio Istián – A beautiful however a little exhausting activity is kayaking the intricate river and swamp land of the Rio Istián. can be explored on a kayak trip. Nature is beautiful and full of monkeys, birds, and carpets of floating water plants. We drove our motorbike to Merida where they offer many tours. Be aware that you first have to paddle 3 km across the lake to reach the river mouth which can be quite rough when the wind is not working with you. Total tour takes about 3 to 4 hours depending on how fast you are able to move with a kayak!
Hike the volcanoes – Let’s be honest … we didn’t hike the volcanoes ourselves. Yes, call us lazy or stupid but we just didn’t have the time. The heroes we met that did climb one and some even both volcanoes told us that it is tough but it is more than worth it! The most popular by far is Volcan Concepcion. However, before you get too excited, do bear in mind that this is not an easy hike, to say the least. Please be aware that you will need a guide to accompany you. Don’t be stubborn nor stupid, some tourists lost their lives climbing the volcano alone.
Best places in Nicaragua – Ometepe
Costa Dulce: VIP treatment at Playa Escameca Grande
We are traveling on a budget but sometimes we are allowed to cheat. And cheating at this mesmerizing place in Nicaragua is more than worth it!!
Costa Dulce hotel & retreat center – We thought we were staying only a few minutes outside of San Juan del Sur but paradise lies a little further away. Around 30 minutes over a non-paved and very bumpy road is needed to reach this beautiful place that is nothing like the screaming San Juan del Sur. The Costa Dulce Hotel and Retreat Centre is a retreat to nature, the jungle, and the beach. They are committed to a grassroots approach to tourism and a more sustainable future through improving the social, economic and environmental well being of the surrounding communities. They call themselves a Yoga and Surf paradise but we feel they are too modest. It is heaven! Be prepared to have your breakfast, lunch, and dinner here because San Juan del Sur is quite far and you’ll need a taxi to get there.
Relax, try some surfing, do some yoga, go paddling … everything feels right at this place. Not one of the best places in Nicaragua but THE best place.
San Juan del sur
As we spend most of our time at Costa Dulce we only spend one evening in San Juan del Sur. You can have a good party here, the sunset is amazing and there are more than a handful of nice restaurants still to us it felt a bit noisy and touristic compared to the other parts of Nicaragua. We had dinner at a local restaurant on Avenida la Mercado and some drinks at the SJS Cerveceria. There are also many places right at the beach which are a little more expensive.
Best places in Nicaragua – San Juan del Sur