Discover tips + tricks for filling your Nicaragua adventure with simplicity, creativity and endless enjoyment.
Nicaragua is one of those under-the-radar travel destinations people often put off in favor of Costa Rica… until they finally pull themselves to Nicaragua’s near-empty, pristine shores and realize they’ve totally scored.
We've heard many people say they hesitate to spread the word about this underrated location because they don’t want it to get overrun by tourists. But we don’t mind spreading the word, as we’ve found Nicaragua to be the type of place that primarily attracts eco-conscious travelers who enjoy stellar waves, shockingly affordable rates, the allure of unfettered Mother Nature, and never-ending chill vibes. Essentially, good people.
We love Nicaragua so much we were engaged and married there, and purchased an acre in Rancho Santana as a wedding gift to ourselves. We’re currently plumping up our piggy bank so we can one day build a home there. So yup, our hearts were stolen by Nica.
While it’s hard to go wrong in Nicaragua, there are ways to ensure your vacation to this cool kid of Central America is infused with ease, minimal costs, adventure and chances for lots of those coveted ah-ha moments.
1. Employ a chef
Not having to cook or clean seriously elevates a vacation. However, booking accommodations with a kitchen and making your own food can equal major savings. So what are us cash-strapped, don't-want-to-be-a-short-order-cook-on-vacation travelers to do? Hire a chef!
And yes, we know you might have rolled your eyes right there, and we get it - hiring a chef sounds like a mega-bouji luxury. But in Nicaragua, chef services are affordable, and support the economy.
The chef we use in Nicaragua completes the shopping before we arrive, makes us breakfast and lunch, accommodates dietary preferences, and does all the clean-up. For these services she charges $4-$7 per person, per meal, not including the cost of food. On our last trip, this averaged out to about $150 per person for ten days – a cost that would be near impossible to beat if you were eating out every meal.
So if you’ll be staying in a vacation home, ask the owner to connect you with a reliable and quality chef. An added perk of this service is that you’ll get the chance to know a local, who will probably feel like family by the end of the trip. And be sure to ask them for insider travel tips, as they’ll likely know the best beaches, shops and other attractions that aren’t overrun with tourists.
Note: If you’ll be staying in a remote area, know that you’ll likely have to provide accommodations for the chef. Many homes come with a special room for this purpose.
2. Hire a driver
Nicaraguan roads are not well marked. It's easy to take a wrong turn. In addition, many of the best beaches (especially if you’re surf-searching) are at the end of obscure dirt roads. Do yourself a favor and hire a driver. Much like the chef services, this convenience is much more affordable than it would be pretty much anywhere else, and gives you the opportunity to discover off-the-beaten-path geographical gems you likely wouldn’t have found on your own.
And you (like we used to) might be thinking, “but I’ll have GPS, so I won’t need a driver.” Even if you purchase an international phone plan, service in Nicaragua is super spotty, and GPS directions are not nearly as clear or reliable as they are in many other countries. On one trip, we almost missed our flight because we were relying on GPS. We ended up paying a stranger to drive to the airport so we could follow him.
Find a reliable driver by asking the contact at your accommodations for recommendations at least a month before you arrive. Be sure to tell them how many people will be in your group so they procure a large enough vehicle, and get a firm quote for the cost, making sure your group brings enough cash for payment, as it’s unlikely they’ll be able to accept credit cards.
3. Settle in an area that suits your family’s interests
Tranquil bays, beaches with pumping surf, jungle escapes, lake houses with volcano views, artsy towns, and more are available in this dynamic country. Get a general consensus from your travel group of the types of environments and activities they’re interested in, then focus your accommodations search in the areas that best meet those preferences.
Here’s a mini-guide to get your started:
- Have an avid scuba and snorkeling group? Head to Nicaragua’s East coast, specifically Little Corn Island.
- Looking for surf? Stay on the Western coast, especially the southern communities of Hacienda Iguana or Rancho Santana.
- Yearning for lake and volcano views? Post up on Lake Nicaragua.
- Hoping to commune with tropical flora and fauna? Book a spot near Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge, Montibelli Wildlife Reserve, or El Chocoyero Reserve.
4. Explore outside your community
You’ll find that many popular hotels and vacation homes in Nicaragua are located within gated communities. While many of these communities provide almost every conceivable amenity, they won’t provide the chance to gain a well-rounded perspective of the local culture.
If this cultural immersion is important to you, ask your driver to take you to beaches, villages, galleries, hiking trails or other destinations that are outside your community and allow you to experience an aspect of the culture or natural environment you’re interested in. Areas like Masaya, Los Pueblos Blancos, and Granada are great places to start.
5. Have a conversation with a local
Nicaraguans are some of the most fascinating folks we’ve ever communed with, as they’re filled with stories of revolution, artistic exploration, volcanic eruptions, and eccentric folklore, marriage advice, and insights on pretty much every other topic you can think of. And there’s no need to fret if you don’t speak Spanish, as many Nicaraguans speak English, and translator apps make it possible to have in-depth conversations in two different languages. Eric once used the “Speak & Translate“ app to engage a local musician in a two-hour, heartfelt discussion on our last trip. There were tears and hugs shared.
6. Soak your five senses in the natural habitats
The fauna of Nicaragua is remarkable, as it's home to Howler monkeys, cougars, three-toed sloths (!), sea turtles, jaguarundi, margay, ocelots, armadillos, and many other furry, scaly, and shell-y animals.
And then there's the flora. With seven types of forests, like tropical rainforest, cloud forest, mangroves, and tropical dry forest, and a rainbow of flowers, such as orchids, sacuanjoche (spiral shaped flower), night blooming cactus, Cochliostema (violet-blue flower), African tulip tree, and other fragrant gems, Nicaragua is the place for nature walks (and for us hippies, forest bathing.)
Gift yourself some whole-being nourishment by taking a slow and silent walk on a jungle path, or along the beach, while tuning in to each of your five senses. Enhance the experience by bringing a journal, sketchpad, camera, or other creative-medium-tool of choice and recording the magic of what you’re hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling.
Because young children aren’t conducive to silent walks, consider waking up early and exploring before your family emerges, or asking a fellow adult to hold down the fort while you commune with the monkeys.
7. Ignite a passion project
There is seriously inspiring juju swirling through the air in Nicaragua. Take advantage of this creative-force by daydreaming about a passion project you’ve been putting off, or haven’t even realized you want to do, then begin mapping out how you’ll bring it to fruition.
This is a primo activity to engage in when you’re on that aforementioned nature walk. Bailey came up with the idea for Intrepid Travel Tribe, and started crafting it, during a beach meditation on our last trip to this surfers' playground.