Colonial Cities and Volcanoes Galore: Travel Advice for Three Weeks in Nicaragua

8 October, 2013 (12:20) | Budget Travel, Nicaragua, Travel Itineraries | By: darngooddigs


One of the views from Soma Surf Resort in Popoyo, Nicaragua.

This past summer we spent three weeks traveling around Nicaragua with our eight year old son. Here is our advice to make the most of your trip:

1. What to read before you go: We were especially interested in learning about the Sandinista revolution, before and after. The two books below were both informative and enjoyable reads:

  • Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua, by Stephen Kinzer
  • The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War, by Gioconda Belli

2. Where to rent a car: We wanted a 4×4 to have the freedom to travel on bumpy dirt roads, and we definitely needed the all-wheel drive on Ometepe Island and on some mountain roads in the north. After lots of research, we found Armadillo to have the best rates – and Peter was very professional and reliable. But renting a 4×4 was much more expensive in Nicaragua than Costa Rica, for example, and our Armadillo car was not shiny brand new.

3. Favorite hotel for under $100: Hands down, the Soma Surf Resort near Popoyo Beach was incredible.

4. Favorite destinations:

  • Ometepe Island
  • Popoyo Beach
  • Granada
View of Granada Cathedral from church bell tower.

View of Granada Cathedral from church bell tower.

5. Where to go: Here is our itinerary for 19 nights in Nicaragua:

Leon – We flew into Managua, got the 4×4 from Peter who was waiting in the parking lot, and headed directly for Leon. We stayed at the lovely Hostal Mariposa, and rode the bus to town in the mornings. Benjamin loved the pool, the owners and guests were very friendly, and Leon felt like an authentic Nicaraguan city with colonial streets. Taking the rooftop tour of the Cathedral gave us a good bird’s eye view of the city.

Esteli – We had some bad timing in Esteli. We arrived just as the city was preparing to shut down for the Independence Day celebrations. We did get to check out the cowboy boot stores (didn’t buy) and get a quick private tour of a cigar factory in town. We only stayed for one night at the Villa Riviera, owned by Esther, a Dutch woman in one of the gated communities just outside town. Breakfast was delightful in her little garden.

Jinotega – We spent one night in the coffee growing mountains north of Jinotega at a place called La Bastilla Ecolodge. The food was delicious and the staff friendly – but we didn’t linger more than a day because the attached school we hoped to visit was on vacation and the weather was rainy. So we headed to Matagalpa, with a stop in Jinotega on the way.

Matagalpa – We just spent an evening and morning in this city, walking around town when the rain let up. Again, the country was still on vacation so we didn’t make it to El Castillo de Cacao for the chocolate tour. We did, however, eat several of their delicious chocolate bars during our trip! Our highlight from Mataglapa was dinner at the hidden Italian restaurant, La Vita e Bella.

Laguna de Apoyo – This is when our vacation started to feel more relaxed, and the weather started to brighten. We stayed at San Simian Eco Lodge for two nights. Our Mango Hut was comfortable, and the outdoor shower with hot water was fun (moreso when the electricity was working). Breakfasts and dinners on the terrace were yummy. Our day trips to Masaya Volcano, Masaya Market and Coyotepe Fortress were all worthwhile.


Kayaking on Ometepe Island.

Ometepe IslandFinca Mystica was a treat. Ryan and Angela are creating a special place, with yummy food and an amazing vibe, though be prepared for a mean dirt road to get there. Benjamin decided to spend his birthday at Ojo de Agua natural springs, and then we ate some fresh pasta at Cafe Campestre, saw some petroglyphs on the road to Hotel Finca Porvenir, and finally celebrated his birthday with our new friends back at the Finca. Our hosts even made a special carrot cake with chocolate icing for everyone. Be sure to stop at the Cornerhouse in Moyogalpa for the best batidos on your way to or from the ferry. We took the San Jorge – Moyogalpa ferry because the times worked best for us, though we heard the San Jose ferry might be nicer. And make reservations in advance if you have a car.

San Juan del Sur – We heard that this beach town might be too touristy, but we still dug it. A lovely restored church with town square, excellent bakery at Pan de Vida , and we enjoyed eating dinner watching the sunset while Benjamin played in the sand on the beach. Plus, Casa del Soul was amazing – spectacular views, terrific pool and breakfast. We recommend hiking down to the sandy beach in Nacascolo Bay, about 45 minutes away.

Popoyo – We’re not surfers, but we still enjoyed the scene around this famous break beach. Soma Surf Resort was the nicest place we stayed on our trip – with its infinity pool, yoga platform, colorful hammocks, incredible views of the green countryside, outstanding service, and deluxe rooms. Somehow it cost us less than US$100 a night, when it felt like one of those exorbitantly priced private luxury resorts. The surf is rough, so choose your swimming beach carefully. Still, we watched the surfers tackle immense waves at Popoyo, snorkeled in the tidal pools, and grabbed lunch at the Magnific Rock Hotel.

Granada – We spent our last four nights at Miss Margrit‘s Guest House in the colonial city of Granada. This traditional hacienda with its double courtyard was another highlight. We explored the town, tried out many of its restaurants, took a chocolate making class at the Chocolate Museum, hiked around the top of Mombacho Volcano, bought pottery in the white villages, took in the views and the local scene at the Catarina Mirador overlooking the Laguna de Apoyo, and rented bikes.

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Comment from Suki F
Time May 3, 2014 at 2:32 am

You forgot Masaya! It is such fun and scary adventure!

Comment from Fabiana
Time November 18, 2014 at 1:26 am

Cool! It will be helpful, I am starting to plan my first visit to Nicaragua.

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