8 of the Best Things to do in Nicaragua
Amongst the things to do in Nicaragua is visiting colonial towns, relaxing on tropical islands, chilling out on beaches, exploring volcanoes and of course party.
Nicaragua is the perfect destination for adventure lovers and those who enjoy spending time outdoors. When planning your trip
Check out the full list of things to do in Nicaragua here.
8 Things to do in Nicaragua
When planning your trip to Nicaragua, make sure to include a few of the below sights and places to see.
See also: Most Budget-Friendly Destinations To Spend Your Gap Year
1. Go Canyoning at Somoto Canyon
The first activity on this list is a bit off the beaten path but this makes it all the more fun. On our trip, we only saw one other pair of tourists. It is a quick and easy stop if you cross the border from El Salvador or Honduras.
The Somoto Canyon National Monument protected area covers an area of approximately 170 hectares (420 acres). Because of the interesting geology, the area is also labelled as a geopark.
Your day trip will start with a drive from Somoto to a spot where you can leave your things. From here, a quick hike will bring you to the canyon where the action begins.
You’ll be able to jump and swim plenty. Swimming is mandatory so you should be a confident swimmer but only one jump of around 1 m (3 ft) is. If we did it, you can too! If you are a more avid cliff jumper than we are, there are plenty of optional jumps up to 12 m (40 ft) or even higher depending on your climbing skills.
If you’re in the area and you have the time, we advise you to spend at least two full days because Somoto is a cute little town and there are plenty more things to do in the area like vising hot springs or petroglyphs.
2. Explore the beautiful churches of Leon
The charming colonial town of Leon does 100% belong on your itinerary as it’s one of the top things to do in Nicaragua. Founded in 1524, it is one of the oldest cities in the Americas. Next to its stunning street art and delicious street food, the old churches are its most distinctive feature.
Make sure to walk around and find the colourful Iglesia El Calvario, the yellow Church of the Recollection, the San Francisco Church, and many more.
Of course, the highlight is the white Leon Cathedral. Make sure to climb to the top to enjoy the view. You have to take off your shoes to walk over the white surface of the roof. This place definitely makes for the best photo spot in Leon.
In our opinion, the best time to visit is around sunset. You can enjoy the golden hour as well as see Leon during daylight and lit up in the evening.
3. Go volcano boarding on Cerro Negro
This is not only the most famous day trip from Leon but also the best. In contrast to what you might think, it’s not only for daredevils. Yes, you can go down the volcano at 100 km/h (60 mph) but you can also break with your feet and go way slower.
Related tour: Hike and Volcano Boarding on Cerro Negro
Of course, every boarding down a volcano starts with climbing up a volcano. The hike itself is quite manageable and you can also pay one of the guides to carry your board (which I found rather unwieldy) for you. On top you’ll put on the sturdy onesie and glasses you’ll get provided as well as a cover for your mouth and nose you 100% want to bring. Make sure to cover up as much of you as possible because the little rocks will go everywhere. We have combed them out of our hair for days.
Most tours come with some sort of food and drinks. Morning tours might come with a volcano-cooked breakfast and evening tours with drinks. Additionally, you’ll get a shirt making you part of the volcano boarding team you see backpacking around the whole of Central America.
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4. Party at Sunday Funday in San Juan del Sur
This is by far the most famous party in Nicaragua (next to the Tree House Party in Granada) – maybe even in all of Central America so make sure not to miss it.
San Juan del Sur is a lovely town on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua full of surfers as well as surf and yoga retreats. Every Sunday the scene changes as dozens of backpackers flock to the town to join the legendary pool party.
The party itself is a pub crawl through 5 different hostels and bars. It starts at 2 pm so prepare yourself for a full day and night of partying. Eat something in advance as the locations don’t offer any food but plenty of cheap drinks.
Currently, the cost is 30$ including free shots and shuttles in between the places as well as the obligatory shirt you’ll see all around Central America.
Pro tip: You can save 15$ if you stay in one of the hostels that participate in Sunday Funday.
5. Rent a scooter on Ometepe Island
While not hidden anymore, Ometepe is still undisputedly a gem of Nicaragua. And while tourists have found this place, it still managed to keep its rustic charm. Ometepe is the largest island of Lake Nicaragua and is formed by two volcanoes.
We were doubtful when we arrived but renting a scooter is by far the best way to see the island. Public transport is sparse making it hard to really move around and taxis and tuk-tuks are surprisingly expensive by Nicaraguan standards. Nothing gives you the same freedom as exploring a place with a scooter and Ometepe is one of the best places in Nicaragua to do so. The roads are not in the best condition but there is not much traffic. Beware that you need more sturdy off-road bikes instead of scooters for the more remote roads, especially south of Balgue and Merida.
On Ometepe, you can climb not one but two volcanoes, enjoy the many beaches and the warm waters, cool off in fresh spring waters, explore waterfalls, hunt for petroglyphs, rent kayaks, see the most magnificent sunsets, indulge in chocolate and so much more.
6. Go snorkeling on Little Corn Island
If you only visit one place on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua let it be Little Corn Island. If you have the money, it’s a quick little plane ride away from the capital Managua. If you have the time, it’s a long and exhausting bus and ferry ride away from it.
Once you arrive, it’s a true Caribbean paradise. There are no cars and barely even bicycles. But no worries, the whole island is walkable. On the west coast of the island where the ferry arrives, you’ll find many bars and restaurants, on the east coast of the island, there are many lovely beach bungalows for rent and the most beautiful beach on the island is Otto Beach on the north shore.
Otto Beach is the best spot when you want to go snorkeling on your own from the beach. There is even a small hut renting snorkel equipment. Our advice is to go on a guided snorkeling trip you should be able to book in every accommodation. You can see much more wildlife including sharks. If you want to try out scuba diving or you’re a certified diver you can also go on some nice and relatively cheap dives here.
7. Combine culture and party in Granada
The beautiful colonial town of Granada is a must-visit on your Nicaragua trip. It’s the oldest colonial city in Nicaragua and the all-time-rival of Leon.
Its party scene is where Granada wins against its rival Leon: Beginning right at the central park with the cathedral, Calle La Calzada is the nightlife hub of Granada with many bars and restaurants. It’s full of tourists, loud, and lively.
If you want even more party, go on the Booze Cruise. Every Wednesday, you can combine exploring the beautiful Isletas in lake Nicaragua with – well – a booze cruise. The best? It costs only 20$ including 5 drinks.
The Tree House Party is even more infamous. This jungle rave takes place every Friday in the Treehouse Hostel at the base of the Mombacho volcano. The 20$ entrance fee secures you a shuttle and – you guessed it – a shirt!
The next morning, you can relax in one of the quaint courtyard cafes in Granada.
8. See lava at Masaya Volcano
This is our favourite day trip from Granada, possibly in all of Central America. Why? Because you can see an active volcano without any hiking.
If you book a tour, your operator will pick you up in the evening to drive you all the way to the parking lot next to the rim of the crater. Walk a few steps on paved ground and boom – you’ll get rewarded with views of lava in the crater. As the sun sets, you’ll be able to see ever more clearly and possibly even see the lava bubbling. The best effort-to-effect ratio if you ask us.
Some tour operators combine a visit to the volcano with a visit to Masaya market which is a shopping paradise.