Nicaragua destinations

about An affable all-rounder, Nicaragua embraces travelers with diverse offerings of volcanic landscapes, colonial architecture, sensational beaches, remote, idyllic islands, wave-battered Pacific beaches and pristine forests.


Whether it's dipping your toes into the crystalline Caribbean or paddling out to the crashing waves of the pounding Pacific, Nicaragua's beaches always deliver the goods. The big barrels of the Pacific coast are revered in surfing circles while the clear waters of the Corn Islands are superb for snorkeling. More sedentary beach bums can choose between accessible slices of sand lined with fine restaurants and happening bars, and natural affairs backed by a wall of rainforest. Even the best beaches in the country are refreshingly free of development, so you can experience them just as nature intended.

Outdoor Adventures

Looking for the ultimate rush? Nicaragua's diverse geography, intense energy and anything-goes attitude is perfect for exhilarating outdoor adventures. Get ready to check off lots of new experiences from your list including surfing down an active volcano, diving into underwater caves, canoeing through alligator-infested wetlands, swimming across sea channels between tiny white-sand islands and landing a 90-plus-kilogram tarpon beneath a Spanish fortress in the middle of the jungle. Nicaragua's great outdoors are relatively untamed – at many key attractions, there are no signs and few crowds – making this so-called 'land of lakes and volcanoes' a fantastic place for an independent adventure.

Colonial Architecture

Nicaragua's colonial architecture comes in two distinct flavors. The elegant streetscapes of Granada, Nicaragua's best-preserved colonial town, have been entrancing travelers for centuries with their architectural grace. The town boasts a meticulously restored cathedral, well-groomed plaza and perfectly maintained mansions that shelter lush internal courtyards. Far less polished, working-class León offers a different colonial experience where crumbling 300-year-old houses and churches are interspersed with revolutionary murals, and architectural masterpieces house corner stores. It's a vibrant city that displays its pride in its heritage without feeling like a museum.

Getting Off the Beaten Track

ew destinations have such beauty as Nicaragua, yet remain undeveloped. Before you know it, you've dropped off the tourist trail and into a world of majestic mountains, cooperative farms, wetlands thronged with wildlife and empty jungle-clad beaches. Rent a 4WD vehicle, if you're up for it – it's the best way to access some of the less-traveled corners of the country, or hop abroad an east-coast-bound boat – and forge onward to discover remote indigenous communities, overgrown pre-Columbian ruins and untouched rainforests. No matter how far you go, you'll always find friendly locals willing to share their culture with strangers.


Managua is not the easiest place to get your head around. It has no discernible center; its attractions are scattered around its many neighborhoods and the trick is to know when to go where.

Stay a day or two and you will see that big, bad Managua ain't so bad after all, and that this truly is the heartstring that holds the nation's culture and commerce together. Skip it altogether, and you miss out on the revolutionary landmarks, vibrant dining and nightlife scenes and a slice of down-to-earth urban life that you're unlikely to see anywhere else.

Aside from diving into the spirited whirl of sprawling markets, improbable electric trees, remarkable street art and impressive monuments, Managua also gives you easy access to nearby lagoons, the nature reserve of Chocoyero-El Brujo, plus a smattering of fun beaches like Pochomil.


Barrio Bolonia & Around

Since the days of the internacionalistas (idealistic visitors who came during the revolutionary years in the 1980s), Barrio Bolonia (formerly Barrio Martha Quezada) has been the city’s budget-travel headquarters. It has easy access to Plaza Inter (a shopping center) and most international buses. It's better to take a cab here at night.

Área Monumental & El Malecón

This collection of pre-earthquake and post-revolutionary monuments, parks, museums and government offices was the pulsing heart of Managua before the 1972 earthquake; these days, it only really comes to life in the afternoons, particularly on weekends, when the locals pour out onto the Plaza de la Revolución and the surrounding parks to relax. The Malecón (pier), a pleasant stroll from the Plaza de la Revolución, has once again re-emerged as a family magnet, with waterfront restaurants, water park and numerous kid-friendly attractions. However, at research time, the area was rocked by violence when Nicaraguan police used live bullets against demonstrators. Some of the protestors pulled down several 'trees of life' as part of the anti-government protests.

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Most budget travelers stay in Barrio Bolonia, the grid of streets immediately east of Laguna Tiscapa – due to easy access to the Tica bus station. There's a cluster of luxury hotels near the Metrocentro mall, and a number of appealing budget and midrange options in the suburban-feeling Los Robles and Planes de Altamira, further south, off the Carretera a Masaya.


Go budget in Barrio Bolonia or upscale in Los Robles, Planes de Altamira or Las Colinas off Carretera a Masaya. Managua has a great dining scene, with everything from cheap and cheerful fritangas (grills) to sophisticated fusion. All the upscale shopping malls have a decent food court.

Drinking & Nightlife

Managua has several nightlife clusters, from the cheaper dive bars in Barrio Bolonia, to the upmarket bars around the Metrocentro mall and inside nearby hotels. There's a good mix of craft beer and cocktail bars along Av Principal Los Robles in the Los Robles/Planes de Altamira neighborhoods, and a few more options in upmarket Las Colinas.


There are dozens of venues around town that occasionally have live music, folkloric dance, alternative theater, poetry readings and other cultural offerings. Your best bet for Managua event listings is Facebook. You can also check Thursday editions of La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario and take a walk through the UCA to see what's on.


There are some excellent places to shop, mostly dotted around Altamira, Los Robles and Las Colinas, from Nicaraguan designer wear and gourmet chocolate to cigars, fair-trade gifts and bespoke wooden furniture. Some of the art galleries sell some of their works.


The Panamericana (Pan-American Hwy) enters Managua from the southwest, via Jinotepe, as Carretera Sur, and exits to the northeast, past the airport toward Matagalpa and El Rama, as Carretera Norte. Running southeast from Metrocentro and Rotonda Rubén Darío is Carretera a Masaya, along which Managua’s swankier discos, restaurants and malls can be found. Heading west are Carretera Nueva and Carretera Vieja (New and Old Hwys) to León. Managua has hundreds of neighborhoods stretched between these highways, and not even the kamikaze taxistas (taxi drivers) know them all.

Área Monumental, on the lakefront site of Managua’s pre-1972 downtown, is home to the Museo Nacional, Casa Presidencial (Presidential Palace) and Teatro Rubén Darío. It’s connected by Av Bolívar, a major thoroughfare, to the Plaza Inter shopping mall, Loma de Tiscapa and Barrio Bolonia, which has most services for budget travelers, as well as some midrange accommodations. Further southwest is Plaza España, next to Rotonda El Güegüense, with banks and travel agencies.

To the southeast is Managua’s modern commercial center, a 2km strip of Carretera a Masaya extending southeast from Metrocentro mall and Rotonda Rubén Darío through the cluster of glittering restaurants and bars known as Zona Rosa, as well as the more upmarket Los Robles and Altamira neighborhoods. Many of Managua's priciest hotels are found in the streets around the Metrocentro mall. Further south, off the Carretera a Masaya, is the exclusive neighborhood of Las Colinas, with its own swanky nightlife cluster. West of Rotonda Rubén Darío is Universidad Centro America (UCA), with left-wing bookstores and microbuses to most major regional cities, including Granada and Masaya.

Rotonda Bello Horizonte, located east of the Área Monumental, is a nightlife district with a few budget lodging options.

Travel with Children

Parts of Managua are kid-friendly. Área Monumental, in particular, has wide footpaths, squares popular with families, plus several parks with play areas. Parque Luis Velásquez has fountains for kids to splash in and there's a bona fide waterpark along the Paseo Salvador Allende on the malecón. There's a good number of highchair-equipped restaurants in Altamira and Las Colinas, and some high-end hotels even have portable cribs.

LGBT Travellers

The gay and lesbian scene is largely underground, but you can find it. There are several gay clubs in Managua, though less of a gay scene than in Masaya. Hotel, bar and other local tips are available by navigating to the Nicaragua section at

What to do in Managua

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Intensely political, buzzing with energy and, at times, drop-dead gorgeous (in a crumbling, colonial kind of way), León is what Managua should be – a city of awe-inspiring churches, fabulous art collections, stunning streetscapes, cosmopolitan eateries, vibrant student life, fiery intellectualism, and all-week, walk-everywhere, happening nightlife. Many people fall in love with Granada, but most of them leave their heart in León.


The City of Churches

With more than 16 places to pray, including several more in Barrio Subtiaba, the city tourist board is lobbying to have León officially declared ‘The City of Churches.'

The 1639 Iglesia de San Francisco is one of the oldest in the city – a national heritage site with lots of gold, a gorgeous nave and a rather rococo interior. It was abandoned between 1830 and 1881, then refurbished with two elaborate altarpieces for San Antonio and Nuestra Señora de la Merced (Our Lady of Mercy). The attached Convent San Francisco, founded in 1639, was badly damaged during the 1979 battle for León. Check out what used to be the convent at Hotel El Convento next door.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, built in 1743, is León’s only church that's oriented north–south; it’s historically connected to the city by the 1850 Puente Guadalupe, built across the Río Chiquito. And don’t let the dumpy, modernist, neoclassic exterior of 1625 Capilla San Juan de Dios fool you – when it’s open, the interior is one of the city’s prettiest, with lots of precious wood and a very human scale.

For something completely different, swing by ultra-Gothic 1884 Iglesia Zaragoza, one of the best spots for film students to stage a vampire flick. They could also use one of the several ruined churches around town, including Ruinas Veracruz and Ruinas Iglesia Santiago in Barrio Subtiaba, and Ruinas San Sebastian, near La XXI (the 21st Garrison).

Worth a Trip: León Viejo

Buried and lost for over 300 years, this was Nicaragua’s first capital – a rough-and-ready settlement that some say was doomed from the start. Founded in 1524, the town was governed by unusually cruel and money-hungry tyrants, whose public spectacles included beheadings and setting wild dogs on captured natives in the central plaza.

Tour outfits in León arrange visits to León Viejo (US$45). Buses run hourly between León and La Paz Centro (US$0.80, 45 minutes), meeting Puerto Momotombo buses (US$0.50).

Barrio Subtiaba

A regional capital long before León moved in, the barrio (district) of Subtiaba takes its name from a local tribe who still count themselves apart from León, and Nicaragua, as a whole. After refugees from León Viejo arrived in 1610, the two separate towns coexisted as equals until 1680. Flexing their rebuilt military muscle, the Spanish forced 12,000 indigenous inhabitants of Subtiaba to become part of León, basically relegating them to slave labor. Tensions simmered for two generations, until a police crackdown in 1725 inspired a revolt. Although the insurrection was violently shut down by the Spaniards, Barrio Subtiaba was able to remain a separate entity until 1902, when it was finally, officially, annexed to the city.

It’s a solid 20-minute walk or US$1 taxi ride to Subtiaba from the León cathedral, or else you can take one of the covered trucks (US$0.20) plying the streets. Catch a Subtiaba-bound truck at the southwest corner of the Parque Central (in front of Sandinista headquarters) and yell ‘Catedral Subtiaba’ as they haul you inside, which might be while the truck is still moving. Hang on!

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León probably packs in more hotels and hostels per square meter than any other place in the country – it’s hard to imagine them all filling up, although it may happen around the Christmas or Easter high season. Still, you'll have better selection if you plan ahead.


León has an excellent dining scene, with everything from local fritanga stalls serving bajón extremo (BX, the typical Leónese dish), to sophisticated fusion restaurants and international cafes.

Drinking & Nightlife

Given the city's lively student population, there are plenty of places to get your drink on – 1a Calle SO, west of the park is a particularly good area to go bar-hopping. Many hostels have bars for their guests and there are several good dance floors right in the center of town.


La Casa de Cultura often has folk music and other events, while several bars host live music and a couple of venues offer indie films and stage performances.


The Museo Histórico de la Revolución sells revolutionary memorabilia and there are several good shops in town that sell local handmade crafts.


León actually has a system of clearly signed and logically numbered calles (streets) and avenidas (avenues), allowing anyone to pinpoint any address. Unfortunately, no one actually uses it, preferring the old reliable ‘2½ blocks east of the Shell station’ method instead.

Just for kicks, this is how it works: Av Central and Calle Rubén Darío intersect at the northeast corner of the Parque Central (central park), beside the cathedral, forming the city’s northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest quadrants. Calles running parallel to Rubén Darío are numbered NE (Calle 1 NE, Calle 2 NE) north of the cathedral, SE to the south. Av 1 SO (suroeste; southwest), one block from Av Central, forms the park’s western boundary, paralleling Av 2 SO and so on.

Calle Rubén Darío is the city’s backbone, and runs east from the cathedral to striking Iglesia El Calvario, and west almost 1km to Barrio Subtiaba, continuing another 20km to the Pacific. The majority of tourist services are within a few blocks of the cathedral, with another cluster of museums and churches in Barrio Subtiaba.

Travel with Children

Nicaragua, like all Latin American countries, is relatively easy to travel around with children, despite the lack of infrastructure. Parents rarely pay extra for hotels, transportation or other services for youngsters small enough to fit comfortably on your lap, and even complete strangers will make an effort to entertain children.

What to do in Leon

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Granada - Nicaragua's oldest town is also its most beguiling and photogenic. It’s no wonder many travelers use the city as a base, spending at least a day bopping along cobblestone roads from church to church in the city center, then venturing out into the countryside for trips to nearby attractions. Just out of town, adventures take you to an evocative archipelago waterworld at Las Isletas and fun beaches at the Peninsula de Asese. Volcán Mombacho has walking trails, not to mention a few hot springs dotted around its foothills. The Laguna de Apoyo is another must-see: its clear turquoise waters and laid-back waterfront lodges offer a splendid natural respite.

Culturally curious travelers might consider a trip to community-tourism operations in nearby villages such as Nicaragua Libre, or out to Parque Nacional Archipiélago Zapatera, home to one of the most impressive collections of petroglyphs and statues in the country.


Statuaries Of Nicaragua

Of all the archaeological sites currently under investigation (and the scores more waiting for funding to be adequately explored), four statuary sites stand out. The figurative pieces found here range from 1m to 4m tall and are probably between 1200 and 1400 years old. The best guess for construction methods is that they were carved using obsidian tools, sanded smooth, then possibly painted. While there are stylistic overlaps, work at each site displays its own distinguishing characteristics.

Chontales Statuary

These finely detailed statues with expressive features are taller and thinner than others. Main sites are in Boaco, Matagalpa and Zalaya. The theory is that they were originally used as building columns. Make up your own mind at Juigalpa’s incredible Museo Arqueológico Gregorio Aguilar Barea.

Isla de Ometepe

The squat, realistic figures at Isla de Ometepe are thought to represent chiefs and other dignitaries. Only a few examples are on display, beside the church in Altagracia. It’s thought that there are many more, buried over the years beneath the ashes of Volcán Concepción’s eruptions.

Isla Zapatera Statuary

While the best examples from this site are on display at Granada’s Convento y Museo San Francisco, there are various remaining pieces on the island – mostly at Pensacola, Zonzapote, Punta de las Figuras and Las Cañas. These figures show advanced workmanship and feature human-animal hybrids, probably referring to myths that humankind emerged from beneath the earth.

León Statuary

Including the Isla de Momotombito, this is the least-known of the four. In 1854 there were a reported 50 statues in this collection – today, sadly, most of them have mysteriously disappeared.

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There's a huge range of sleeping options in Granada, from budget-friendly hostels and guesthouses to some of the country's loveliest and most characterful boutique and historic hotels, inside former colonial buildings.


Granada caters to international tastes with a wide variety of cuisines, and new options are opening all the time. The city has excellent street food too. Look for it around Parque Central and Mercado Municipal in the morning, and just before sunset, at fritangas (grills) set up around town.

Drinking & Nightlife

Granada hops most nights, but Thursday to Saturday is when the real action takes place. Most people start or end the night off at one of the numerous bars along or just off Calle La Calzada, known for outdoor drinking and prime people watching.


For a city of this size and popularity, there aren't as many cultural offerings as you'd expect in Granada, though live music and film screenings happen on and around Calle La Calzada on weekends.


There are several excellent shops where you can buy high-quality crafts handmade in Nicaragua, as well as gourmet coffee. Granada is also the best place in Nicaragua to find English-language books (including Lonely Planet guidebooks).


Granada is not actually on the Interamericana (Pan-American Hwy), but instead is linked to the Costa Rican border and Managua by two spur roads. The town’s layout is a logical Spanish grid, centered on the cathedral and Parque Central. Calle La Calzada runs eastward from the park about 1km to Lago de Nicaragua and the ferry terminal. South of the dock, a lakefront park extends toward the docks where day cruises depart for Las Isletas.

Calle Real Xalteva is the principal road heading west of Parque Central, past three important churches to the old Spanish fortress. Calle Atravesada, one block west of Parque Central, is the main north–south artery. It connects the Mercado Municipal (close to the Rivas- and Masaya-bound buses) at the southern end of town with Parque Sandino, the old train station and the main highway to Managua, just north of the city.

What to do in Granada

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