Help me experience the Best of Nicaragua!
November 26, 2008 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Best of Nicaragua: In search of all the best Nicaragua has to offer.

I'm planning a trip to Nicaragua in late December and surprisingly, I'm finding online resources a little scarce. I was hoping I could harness the power of MeFi and get some first-hand perspective on the wonders of the country. I'd like to focus on the following, but I'm open to any suggestions:
- Best City/Village
- Best Hike
- Best Beach
- Best Volcano
- Best Market
- Best Bars
- Best Off-The-Beaten-Path Hidden Gems

Thanks all!
posted by kmtiszen to Travel & Transportation around Nicaragua (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I lived in Nicaragua from 1999-2001, and visited once since then.

My recommendations:

Granada and Leon are both beautiful cities. Managua is a dump, avoid it as much as possible.

Best Hike: Climb Ometepe! Or go to Selva Negra and hike around until you find the howler monkeys.

Best Beach: La Flor, just South of San Juan del Sur. There is a daily bus, but you might have better luck hiring a driver to take you there. It is stunningly beautiful, and is also protected because it's where giant sea turtles lay their eggs. Pristine, but if you stay there, you will need to camp and carry in all supplies.

Best Volcano: Ometepe. It's a neat little island.

Best Market: eh, they were all pretty much the same to me, and not great. carry as little cash as possible and wear no jewelry, watches, etc. the markets are notorious for pickpockets. and don't go if you've got a hangover...the smell of fish guts and banana peels in the hot sun? not pleasant.

Best Bars: San Juan del Sur has fantastic beachfront bars

Best Hidden Gems: The little towns in the North can be spectacular, but unless you speak very good Spanish and/or know a Nicaraguan who can take you there, it would be tough to do it. Little Corn Island is great! The whole Atlantic coast is very unique and very different from the rest of the Country- much more Carribean/rasta than hispanic culture.

Feel free to email me if you have any specific questions. Depending on how much time you have, I would recommend Granada, San Juan del Sur, and La Flor as the best starting places if you only have a week or so. If you have more time, head north to Selva Negra. Or do Ometepe or Little Corn Island.
posted by emd3737 at 8:32 AM on November 26, 2008

I was in Nicaragua a bit over a year ago. I don't have all the answers you want, but I'll share what I do know.

I was based out of Managua, but went to various sites. For the beach, I went to San Juan del Sur, which is recommended. It's a rather small, quaint, quiet (at least when I was there) town, with small hotels literally right on the street in front of the beach. Getting there can be a pain, as the roads are simply horrible. You can take a private car from Managua for about $70us, or take a bus for far cheaper. Montelimar is supposed to be very nice as well, but it's more of a resort, so it's recommended you go with someone special.

For volcanoes, I went to Masaya, which is just out of Managua. You can literally walk right up to the top of it (and get choked by the gasses and such). Recommended. I saw Mombacho from afar, but it was very impressive looking.

For cities, I only visited Leon and Granada. These are old colonial towns that are seemingly overrun by Americans.

There is a gigantic market in Managua. One of the largest in latin american, I believe. You really can get lost in there. There's also a famous market in Masaya, but I did not visit it.

The only nightlife I ran report is about Managua. There are a few nightclubs in one small area near the Carretera highway. I don't recall their names other than one called Chaman, which was relatively nice. Frequently by locals.

Sorry I don't have more to offer.. My experience in Nicaragua was only ok. The people are very nice, however, and you can find some english spoken in plenty of places. Just be careful of the police, as they seemingly are constantly on the lookout to shake down tourists whenever possible.

If you have any specific questions that I can answer, I'll keep reading this thread for awhile today.
posted by eas98 at 8:39 AM on November 26, 2008

This AskMe I asked a while ago has some suggestions.

From the trip that followed, one of my favorite visits was to the town of San Juan de Oriente, about an hour outside Managua, which is full of potters. Browse, but don't buy, from the touristy ones on the main street. Ask for directions to the side-street studio of Miguel Angel Calero. Fabulous stuff in pre-Columbian styles. Buy, but haggle.

Be aware that there's a bit of unrest in Managua these days because of the recent disputed election.
posted by beagle at 9:25 AM on November 26, 2008

i live in san juan del sur and only have a couple pointers that emd3737 didn't cover.

if you do ometepe climb maderas, not concepcion. concepcion is a monster that literally kills a couple unprepared gringoes a year. there's more flora and fauna on maderas, anyway.

playa la flor is beautiful, but you just missed turtle egg laying season, so i wouldn't get your hopes too high on that. all roads to beaches north and south are accessible now, though.

i highly suggest not getting your hopes up too high for san juan del sur. the beach is kind of gross in town because it is a working port, and it is a minimum half-hour drive to a beach in either direction. don't get in a cab and go to the southern beaches (playa yankee [surfing], playa coco [pretty and has a restaurant that actually makes a good wienerschnitzel], playa la flor [nature reserve]) all by yourself. only go to them with a group. northern beaches (playa maderas [surfing and board rental available], playa majagual [pretty], playa marseilla [don't waste your time]) are good to go on your own.

and san juan seems like it should be quiet, but it is crazy loud, and will be INSANELY loud at the end of december. club music everywhere all the time, and dirt bikes and ATVs tearing up the street. if you listen hard enough, at any point in this town, at any time, you can hear "apple bottom jeans, boots with the fur..." i think they are going to make it the national anthem.

as for shopping, there is real nicaraguan shopping at roberto huembes in managua. that's where the main bus station is, anyway. you definitely want to follow emd3737's advice there. between managua and grenada, though, there's a town called masaya. that's where all the tourist shopping is. it's at the antiguo mercado. just because it's tourist though, doesn't mean they aren't good. i had a custom hammock made there that fits three people and is wider than it is long for $45. probably would be $200 in the states. also, if you are into guitars, there's a good acoustic guitar craftsman there, great guitars, will custom make one in two weeks, and great prices.
posted by bryak at 9:32 AM on November 26, 2008

I heartily recommend the Moon Guide, and not just because a friend of mine co-wrote it. It's pretty much the only decent book out there.

I lived for a summer in Granada, and it's pretty and has historical curiosities, but I honestly didn't feel like there was anywhere in the western half of the country that was really worth more than a few days, with the possible exception of León.

Ometepe is indeed fantastic, as the others have said; I personally didn't like San Juan del Sur (it reminded me of a thousand other tacky beach towns) but there were some good day hikes around there...head out to the lighthouse if you go. Laguna de Apoyo is supposed to be a can't-miss sight (I missed it), but the big famous market in Masaya was overhyped.

One thing I would recommend that I know I'm in a distinct minority on: go to Managua. Wander around. It's a very unusual city, a living patchwork of civilization and devastation. I didn't feel it was unsafe anywhere during daylight hours, and it really has some see-it-to-believe-it sights. The main thing to keep in mind is that not everything will work like you'll expect, but it's quite a trip.

posted by kittyprecious at 12:15 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your suggestions!

kittyprecious, I agree with you on the Moon guide (kudos to your friend!). It seems to be the only book out there worth its cover price.
posted by kmtiszen at 5:31 PM on November 27, 2008

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