We just got back this week from 8 nights in Nicaragua and had the most amazing time. One week is not nearly enough time to get to everything and while we were there we were already compiling our list of "To-Dos" for trip number two!
We arrived late and also left very early so for our first and last nights we went with the Best Western Las Mercedes. Now that we've been, if I had to do a hotel near the airport again I would defintiely try to venture somewhere else. Yes, the Best Western is convenient in that you can literally walk across the street to the hotel but it was overpriced and the worst service we had all week (Including non existant wake up calls, a ridiculous deposit for pool towels, rude counter service).
We used Adelente Express (http://www.adelanteexpress.com) to get from Managua to San Juan del Sur (and again from SJDS to Granada) and they were fantatic - really nice drivers, on time, and even bring drinks in a cooler for the ride. We spoke in Spanish the whole time so I'm not sure English levels, but both of our drivers were great in telling us all about what we were passing, history, etc.
We spent 4 nights in SJDS at Pelican Eyes and it was amazing. Typically I am a pretty low budget traveler, but I'm so glad we splurged for Pelican Eyes. We had a habitacion (Habitaction Casa Aguas Azules - highly recommended) and it was $155 a night but I can't even believe it was that cheap for what we got. It was quite large with the bed on one side of the room and had large, full length wood doors you could close to separate bed from sitting area. Sitting area had couch, table, rocking chairs, tv and small kitchen area. The bathroom had a beautiful tiled double headed shower, two sinks... and the best part of the room was the view and the deck. The entire front of the room was glass doors that you could open entirely to our wrap around deck/balcony that had several lounge chairs. It was a wonderful way to relax and watch sunsets or star gaze.
There are two restaurants and 3 infinity pools - we had our breakfast (which was included) every morning at the upstairs restaurant that I thought had a much nicer view overlooking the infinity pool and then the bay below.
We only had one dinner at Pelican Eyes and it was delicious, and we also went for drinks at the bar while using their lap top computers a few nights before heading out into town for dinner. All of the staff were incredibly accomodating and really helpful.
We ate two nights at a restaurant only a few blocks from the hotel called Colibri. It was fantastic and such a cute environment - a garden restaurant with fountains and great artifacts from all over the world. They make some really great (and strong) sangria as well!
For activities in SJDS we went horseback riding (about $10 for an hour) and then got dropped off at the Flying Frog Canopy Tour which was fun, although I'm sure even better in the wet season when the two waterfalls you zip by are actually "there". We also hired a local taxi driver to take us up to Majagual -a beach about 20 minutes north of SJDS. It was a cute beach with only a few other people on it.
I had a massage at La Bella Luna - they will come to Pelican Eyes (and possibly other hotels...?) but it is cheaper to actually go to them and they have a nice airy house that they use for their services. And by US standards, really great prices.
Another day we did the Pelican Eyes full day sailing tour. You leave at 9am and sail south for 2 hours, then get to jump off the boat (or they'll take you in another motorized boat) to Playa Brasilito. You are so far south you can actually see the coastline of Costa Rica, and it is right next to the beach where the turtles come ashore and lay eggs in season. The water was crystal clear, warm and they have hammocks set up on the beach. While sailing down they put out fishing lines and anything that is caught is added to the fresh lunch they cook you on the beach - it was a great way to spend 3 hours. Then on the sail back there is more fishing (we caught yellowfin tuna and a 30 pound jack cravel), more open bar, and just lazing around. Just bring a lot of sunblock!
After SJDS we spent 2 nights in Granada which just wasn't enough time. We stayed at Casa San Francisco and our room was $60 a night. It was really great though, the staff is so helpful. Carlos was awesome from the first minute (and speaks perfect English for those who need). We had dinner in their restaurant (Los Chocoyos) one night and it was really good - and really inexpensive. I got a $5 enchilada and it was huge. My boyfriend's filet was actually four tasty filets over mashed potatoes and capers.
Carlos set us up with Mario and Miguel - brothers who are both taxi drivers - and they took care of us the entire time we were there. They went everywhere, waited, came back, and answered tons of questions. I definitely encourage anyone to use them if they need a driver - 838-1210 is Mario's cell. If he isn't available he then just sets you up with Miguel.
They took us to Masaya market, which was nice to get a lot of our gift shopping out of the way although most of the stalls sell the same thing so it really becomes a question of which one do I buy from. We also swung by San Juan del Oriente (one of the Pueblos Blancos) It is just a street with a number of stores selling, again, similiar crafts - but all gorgeous.
We also did the 1km crater hike of Volcan Mombacho - it took us just about an hour, and it was nice because of the canopy cover which made the temperature nice and cool. It wasn't that difficult of a hike, I think next time we would try the 4km Puma hike. The rest of our time was just spent walking around and exploring Granada - the architecture and colors are astounding, took tons of photos.
This was a long review but hopefully helpful for future Nica travelers!