One of the reasons why Nicaragua is such an easy destination for short-term travelers is that much of the attractions are packed into the Pacific Coast. This makes it easy to pack A LOT into a few weeks. Hike the waterfalls between volcanoes on the island of Ometepe; go volcano boarding down the side of an active volcano, Cerro Negro, in Leon; surf the crystal clear waters of Maderas beach in San Juan Del Sur (or just go to party for Sunday Funday); and shop the artisanal markets of Masaya in Granada.
Have more time? You're lucky - there's so much more to explore. Fly to the unspoiled, majestic beaches of the east coast Little Corn Islands and visit a tropical paradise that's truly off the grid.
Here are a few itineraries to get you started:
Typical Tourist Trail.
(Usually Travelers ON A Big Central America Trip).
Overland from or to Honduras stopping at Leon, Granada and Ometepe. Towns like Granada which are quite pleasant, but nothing too special, are hives of activity for budget travelers. The best way to describe them? Picking up where the Bay Island in Honduras leave off. That means good times, good weather and good company.
Many tourists coming from the south via Costa Rica hire cars and drive as far as Granada, though we don' think this is the best way to do it.
FROM THE NORTH.
1. EL CAÑON DEL SOMOTO: If you are coming from the North, your first stop may be Leon, but you would be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t make it over to El Cañon Del Somoto for a private canyon tour. This off-the-beaten track attraction is worth the trip. Try and find your way to Bayardo Soriano, not to be confused with the other Soriano cousin who will rip you off. Bayardo gives tours and lets guests stay in his guesthouse by the canyon. He works strictly from word of mouth, so you won’t find his tours in Lonely Planet.
2. LEON: Make your way to the dingy, but historical city of Leon, where the streets are filled with farmers riding their horse and carriage side by side with the buzzing motorcycles and cars. Leon is quite the anomaly. It’s a progessive city with hostels popping up on every corner, yet, in parts of the city it’s as if time stood still.
Street markets behind the Basilica Catedral de la Asunción, and offer cheap eats cooked by women who will bargain with you for a deliciously crispy piece of pollo (we’re talkin’ a full plate of food for ~$40).
3. VOLCANO BOARDING: The real reason you’re in Leon is to go Volcano Boarding. There are a few places you can do it, but Bigfoot Hostel is the #1 party place to go. You get a free tank top, mojito, cookie, and beer for going with them. Sled your way down the side of (an active) Cerro Negro volcano; it may be one of the coolest things you’ll do in your life. Once you’ve survived made it to the bottom, enjoy a refreshing cervesa and homemade cookie. If sleeping at a party hostel isn’t your style, stay at the quiet, affordable ($8-$10/night) Via Via hostel just across the street from Big Foot.
4. MANAGUA: Managua is the country’s capitol and is your key bus transfer, or flight destination. We skipped it, but the street art that caught our attention on the bus ride through was sincerely cool.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH.
Due to their location, the Corn Islands are not often visited -- but they should be.
As always, we strongly recommend you get out there and explore -- but don't expect too much unless you are big into relaxing on pristine Caribbean beaches with lovely locals. Don't worry about the revolution -- it's long over and there should be no lingering effects to hamper your travel.