We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Last-minute trip to Nicaragua -- advice?

New York City, New...
Level Contributor
16 posts
7 reviews
Save Topic
Last-minute trip to Nicaragua -- advice?

My husband and I are planning an 8-day trip to Nicaragua in January. I've read a lot of good advice here, and have just a few questions.

We will not be renting a car and will likely take private drivers or minivans between locations, and hire drivers and/or guides for side trips. We are big walkers (from NYC), so are happy to get around urban areas on foot. We'd prefer to choose one or two locations as a base and fan out from there -- not to move around too much.

We love wondering around cities and towns, looking at architecture and soaking up as much of local culture and life as we can (markets, food, etc.). We would also like to see at least one volcano, some jungle (hopefully with animals) and a beach, but all of these would be side/day trips. The question is, what's the best way to see what we'd like to see in the time we have?

We're planning to spend at least half of our time in and around Leon. The question is, do we move to another spot for the second half or try to do what we can in and around Leon? If another spot, it seems like most recommend Ometepe as a not-to-miss place, so we might try to get down there (private car to ferry, probably). Would this be a good use of our time and/or would we regret it if we missed Ometepe?

Also, would it be a mistake not to spend a day in Granada? We tend to like places that don't feel too prettified and touristy, which is why we're thinking of Leon over Granada. We could also possibly see Grenada for one afternoon and evening on our way back to the airport.

As for volcanos and jungles, we like to hike, but are best suited for "easy" or "moderate" trails. We are definitely not up to advanced hikes. I'm also not really interested in ash boarding or zip lining, preferring to walk/hike around to see what we can see.

Any advice would be appreciated!!


Punta Uva, Costa...
Level Contributor
291 posts
119 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Last-minute trip to Nicaragua -- advice?

I'm so sorry you only have 8 days! You can definitely do all you would like to using Leon as your base. Ometepe really is great but I wouldn't recommend it as a base - it's a destination until itself as it requires a ferry with schedule limitations.

It's tough to recommend or dissuade you from Grenada, but it is definitely more touristy than Leon - not my cup of tea but others rave over it.... I find Leon more affordable and genuine and the day trips not quite as tourist packed as some of those around Grenada (such as Masaya, San Juan del Sur, etc.).

It's easy enough to travel from Leon to Ometepe, especially if you are using tourist shuttles, that you can fit both Leon and surrounds, and Ometepe, into your itinerary.

Managua, Nicaragua
Level Contributor
1,380 posts
50 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Last-minute trip to Nicaragua -- advice?

I think thats the first time ive ever heard anyone say that Masaya was more touristy than Leon. Interesting.

In my opinion, i would put both Leon and Granada at close to the same level of touristy. At the center, both are filled with foreign owned eco-hostels, tour guides/tour offerings, real estate offices. Granada maybe a little more affluent, or older crowd. Leon for the younger hippie/adventure crowd. The only difference is that Granada is still touristy to the edges, and Leon really only around the central part. Once you get outside of that to the edges, it gets a little more like the real Nicaragua. Too bad not many people have any reason to head to the edges of the town though since there isnt much there.

Anyway to answer the original questions. Leon and Granada are by far your best for architecture. Both are old colonial towns, and there isnt too many other places that will offer much in the way of city-wide architecture outside those towns.

You can get your volcano and hiking fixes near both cities, as they both sit near multiple volcanos.

To get your beach fix, Leon is easier and closer to the beach. You also can try the town of Chinandega as thats close to a day trip to the beach too.

Managua is by far the best spot for markets and food. It has by far the most and biggest markets, and the most variety and availability of foods.

Ometepe is a great destination. Its a terrible base because who wants to waste hours a day going back and forth on a ferry, but its worth a couple days for a destination. You can get your jungle and volcano fix here too. But its not a day trip. By the time you get to the ferry and to the island, youd need to turn right around to catch the last ferry off the island and get back home. So while its a good destination, it will eat up at least 2 full days if not more, depending on how much you want to see and do there.

You may want to think about maybe going north from leon instead of south. Most all tourists go south, so the north is far less touristy. Esteli, Matagalpa, Somoto, even Chinandega to a lesser extent (though the first 3 are in the mountains and are prettier). They wouldcover your jungle, and hiking and outdoors type stuff easily. Plenty of animals, etc.

Level Contributor
354 posts
30 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Last-minute trip to Nicaragua -- advice?

Leon is the most beautiful colonial city and interesting history and museums.

And you can do day excursions to :Las Penitas Beach for surfing or vistiting Reserva Isla Juan Venado (Mangrove Swam, nice for see turtles, crocodiles birds etc) Hiking on one of the many Vulcans just around Leon

the second part of you trip i would stay not in a city instead i would stay iin Laguna de Apoyo a Crater Like filled with the cleanest water of Central America and surround by lush Jungle Vegetation. there you can swim, kayak, sail, dive, hiike and watch animals like monkees, birds, iguanas, deers, butterflies and many more. The Laguna is very central located so you can do daytrips to Granada, White Villages, National Park Vulkan Masaya, Mombacho Handycraft Market Masaya..most of this sight are within 1/2 of reach. And hotels in the Laguna can offer transfer or tours.

One destination m

New York City, New...
Level Contributor
16 posts
7 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Last-minute trip to Nicaragua -- advice?

Thanks for the replies. I didn't really mean we'd use Ometepe as a base, though as I read my post I see that that's what I was implying. We would use Leon as a base for four or five days, then shoot down to Ometepe for the final days. I realize it's a day of travel, so we'll need to weigh whether it's the best use of our time.

The Leon at the "edges" sounds like the kind of thing we'd definitely want to see. We went to Angkor last year, and our favorite thing about Siem Reap was walking a few blocks off the main blocks to where people live, go to school, do their shopping, etc. It was only a small window into the lives of the locals, but much more of one that we would have seen from the tourist areas.

I also like the idea of either just taking day trips from Leon or going further North for a couple of days. I'll research that option a bit. We would be able to hire a driver up and back if we went North or would we need to rely on buses?

And any advice regarding which volcanos and jungle environments don't involve intense hiking. As I mentioned, we're up for hiking, but are not up to the more advanced trails.

Anchorage, AK
Level Contributor
49 posts
48 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Last-minute trip to Nicaragua -- advice?


As previous posters mentioned 8 days isn't a ton. We recently did Masaya/Grenada, the Rio San Juan, Ometepe, San Juan Del Sur (hated it), and Laguna de Apoyo. We're saving the west and north for another trip. Anyways, we loved Ometepe and spent four nights there in Merida at Hari's Horses. I think the island was a great place to relax and not nearly as difficult to get around on as people mention (yes, the road past Santa Cruz is bad but not that bad). One thing that I would mention about Ometepe is that in January and February the winds pick up and you can get stuck there for an extra day or two. The day before we left Ometepe in late November all of the afternoon ferries were cancelled. If I were in your shoes I might save Ometepe for another trip when you have the time and flexibility to devote to it. In it's place I'd end my trip with a couple of days at San Simian inside the crater at Laguna de Apoyo. You can hit the Pueblos Blancas and Mombacho as well as Masaya (not nearly as touristy as Grenada IMO). If you head to Masaya have lunch and a refresco in the parque central. It's a ton of fun.

Level Contributor
2,332 posts
61 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Last-minute trip to Nicaragua -- advice?

Leon sound like a fantastic place to stay and there are many activities as Salta mention. Climb on Cerro negro, hiking at moonlight with quetzal trequers. Juan venado island San jacinto Mud pools etc, and as many mention Granada is over rated etc but will be nice if you take your own conclusions do a day trip from Leon visiting the most active volcano in Nicaragua which is Masaya spend the night in Granada explore the city in the morning and then you can continue to Ometepe which is another fantastic place to relax and enjoy the beauty of Nicaragua BTW you will find more wild life here than in many other volcanoes in Leon

Enjoy Nicaragua



New York City, New...
Level Contributor
16 posts
7 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Last-minute trip to Nicaragua -- advice?

Thanks, all. Lots to consider.

And I appreciate the heads-up about the winds on Ometepe. I'd hate to miss our flight home! I'll report back on what we end up doing.

New York City, New...
Level Contributor
16 posts
7 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Last-minute trip to Nicaragua -- advice?

One more question:

I just booked our flights and I need to figure out whether to stay at a hotel in Managua (near airport) the night we arrive or if we should get a private car to take us right to Leon that night. Our flight gets in at 9:40, and I'm guessing that by the time we get our luggage and through customs, it may be 10:30 or after. Best to travel to Leon in the morning?


Charleston, South...
Level Contributor
10 posts
6 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Last-minute trip to Nicaragua -- advice?

If you do go to Ometepe, be sure to go to Chaco Verde and hike there. They have an easy trail and a more intense trail. We were just there, and we saw birds, lizards and the coolest monkeys on the easy walk. Also, there is a forest walk loop in Santo Domingo that I enjoyed. Wear good shoes on that one as the trail is lava rocks but not too strenuous. We saw forest bats there. We stayed at Xalli, which I recommend highly.

We were unimpressed by the beach outside Leon but did feel Leon was more authentic than Granada. We stated at Casa Colonial, which we liked. Rosario is very nice and helpful about local events. We saw a wonderful horse parade because of her that was a very local event.

We enjoyed relaxing at San Simian in Laguna de Apoyo. That is definitely worth a visit IMHO and not a bad base for seeing the surrounding area. Nice bird life there.

Good idea to use drivers. We were pulled over in our rental five times in 12 days by police trying very hard to find some infraction. Two of them were fine routine stops with no hassles. Not so for the other three. Harassing visiting drivers doesn't help develop the tourist industry.

Enjoy your trip.

10. Re: Last-minute trip to Nicaragua -- advice?

-:- Message from TripAdvisor staff -:-

This topic has been closed to new posts due to inactivity. We hope you'll join the conversation by posting to an open topic or starting a new one.

To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html

We remove posts that do not follow our posting guidelines, and we reserve the right to remove any post for any reason.

Removed on: 12:17 am, December 27, 2014