My travels through Central America were a true adventure. Following a painless – albeit hot and longer than expected border crossing leaving Costa Rica – I entered Nicaragua, home of lakes, volcanoes, and beaches.
I spent two weeks in the country, travelling northwards with my partner Ryan – our endpoint was León. Painless chicken bus and microbus journeys, really lovely people, dirt cheap beer, and local rum made our fortnight a memorable time. Not to mention the volcano boarding! More on that later…
As with all of our travels in Central America, we entered and travelled overland. And compared to some countries, time spent on buses was minimal. Why? The section we toured (the west side of the country) wasn’t that big.
Right, let’s jump in…
Nicaragua was ace. We stuck to the west because of time constraints, but still felt we got a rounded experience. From the chilled beaches of San Juan del Sur to the colonial vives of Granada, we managed to both relax and feel like we did a lot.
Sitting in the heart of Central America, Nicaragua lives up to its nickname of “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes”. There’s the Pacific to the west, the Caribbean sea to the east, and natural beauty aplenty.
The colourful, colonial city of Granada on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, the pair of volcanoes on the isle of Ometepe, and the beauty of León Cathedral were just a few highlights.
And what excellent value, too – as with all of our travels in Central America. There was a host of accommodation for all budgets; the same for food. We mostly stuck to hotels and guest houses in the $25-$55 a night range – and did that with ease.
Similar to my Guatemala budget guide, I’ll be referencing costs in dollars (or the native currency), because most readers are from the States. The Nicaraguan córdoba (NIO) is the native currency – at the time of writing, $1 equates to around 35 NIO.
As always, a brief note before I carry on: I paid for everything myself – this is a comp- and press-free post.
My husband and I made the bold (and never regretted) decision to take a year out to travel. If you’re considering it, I highly recommend taking the plunge.
Nicaragua came about 6 weeks in, so we were into our travelling groove by then and London life felt like a distant memory. Basics covered, so let’s get started.
Here’s a rundown of where we visited over our two-weeker in Nicaragua:
- San Juan del Sur: 3 nights
- Ometepe: 4 nights
- Granada: 3 nights
- Managua: 1 night
- León: 2 nights
If we’d had more time, we would have headed over to the Caribbean coast on the east of Nicaragua. We heard good things about the Corn Islands and Pearl Lagoon. Reasons to go back, eh?
What’s Included in this Post
The budget breakdown you’re about to read covers accommodation, transportation, activities, food, and miscellaneous costs.
Like I mentioned earlier, we travelled overland in Nicaragua – there was no reason not to. We used local travel agencies and our hotels to book buses and accommodation. Without fail, they offered much cheaper prices than online.
Our money went far in Nicaragua and we had some amazing experiences, from climbing the glistening white dome of León Cathedral to visiting Masaya, an active volcano.
THE COST OF ACCOMMODATION IN NICARAGUA
Accommodation in Nicaragua was great value. From colonial guest houses to forest bungalows, we enjoyed a real mixture. Some places included breakfast; others charged an extra fee of around $6 per person. In the latter cases, we opted to pick something up ourselves, instead.
So, the specific places we stayed in Nicaragua were:
San Juan del Sur: Okay, so I’m starting with a $68 a night place (and breakfast wasn’t included). But don’t worry, things did get cheaper! We treated ourselves at this eco slice of paradise because we were relaxing for a few days catching rays at the beach, so we wanted somewhere a little bit above our usual budget. Our circle bamboo structure had oodles of rustic charm and was really stylish. Surrounded by jungle, there was a pool, tiki bar, and restaurant. And we were less than a 10-minute drive (half an hour walk) to the sands of Playa Marsella. The resort provided free 4×4 transfers to the surf spots the area is famous for, and they offered lessons too. If your budget is less and you don’t mind a twin room, that will only set you back $38 a night.
Ometepe: Our advice here? Do your research to decide where you want to stay on the island. It was bigger than we thought, and not all that easy to travel around. For our four nights, we stayed in two different places to experience slightly different areas of the figure-of-eight-shaped isle. Sitting on the southwest of vast Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe was formed by a pair of volcanoes rising out of the water. Our first stop was just outside Playa Mango and Balgüe, a dinky hamlet on the northern side of Maderas volcano. We stayed at this charming eco-lodge bungalow, set among tropical gardens with views to Concepcion Volcano and the lake. The cost? We paid $55 a night, with a top breakfast included. Santa Cruz was just four kilometres away, and Balgüe two kilometres. Peaceful and comfy, there was a pool, a restaurant, and those all-important mosquito nets in the room. This was an off-grid spot using renewable energy, so keep that in mind. And listen out for the monkeys!
For our second stop, we chose Merida, on the other side of the island. Located in the foothills of Maderas Volcano, our bungalow at this peaceful hideaway had a private balcony and mosquito nets. The staff were super helpful, and at $41 a night including breakfast, it was top value.
Granada: at this central, stylish spot with modern art adorning the bedroom walls, we paid just $30 a night including a first-rate traditional breakfast – money well spent. The property was a home in years gone by, like many hotels in the city. Inside, there was an open-air courtyard and garden, plus a shared kitchen. The owner Gaby was lovely – so friendly and helpful. She happily drove us to Masaya volcano one evening, despite the traffic and queues.
Managua: Research told us Metrocentro was the best area for tourists to stay in the capital, so we booked this simple yet comfortable guest house with aircon for $47 a night, just a 10-minute drive from the lake. We only stayed in Managua for one night, so it was a brief, but enjoyable pitstop with breakfast included.
León: For just $34 a night we bagged this colourful, stylish and central guest house with a pool, bbq, garden views, and a continental breakfast. Just a 15-minute stroll west of the cathedral, we did well booking this homely spot with welcoming hosts.
OUR TOTAL COST OF ACCOMMODATION IN NICARAGUA CAME TO $601. THAT’S AN AVERAGE OF $46 PER DAY, OR $23 EACH.
THE COST OF TRANSPORTATION IN NICARAGUA
As I mentioned earlier, we travelled by chicken bus and microbus through Nicaragua. These were used by both tourists and locals. Microbuses were similar to chicken buses but with fewer stops.
If you go down the chicken bus and microbus route, keep in mind you’ll need to be flexible. Schedules seemed to change or not be entirely accurate, and they were a longer way of travelling than shuttle buses. We didn’t mind, given the distances weren’t that far and they were super cheap.
Tip: make sure you’ve got small bills and coins. That made life easier for both us and the drivers when paying.
Also, we found it best to get to the bus station early. We bought our tickets there and were one of the first to get on, ensuring we got a seat.
The buses were busy, hot, and a bit unpredictable. But they were a cost-effective way of getting around. Street food vendors popped on and off – great snacking opportunities!
Right, so here’s a breakdown of our journeys:
- Chicken bus from San Juan del Sur to Rivas: 15 NIO per person
- Taxi from Rivas to San Jorge (barter!): 105 NIO each way
- Ferry from San Jorge to Ometepe: 70 NIO per person each way
- Chicken bus from Rivas to Granada: 35 NIO per person
- Microbus from Granada to Managua: 15 NIO per person
- Microbus from Managua to León: 35 NIO per person
If chicken buses and microbuses aren’t for you, shuttle buses are an option, and still a pretty cheap way of travelling.
OUR TOTAL COST OF TRANSPORTATION IN NICARAGUA CAME TO 690 NIO or $20. THAT’S AN AVERAGE OF $1.50 PER DAY, OR $0.75 EACH.
THE COST OF ACTIVITIES AND ENTRANCE FEES IN NICARAGUA
How does peering into an active volcano and boarding down another one sound? They’re two of the amazing things you can, and should, do in Nicaragua.
Hike Maderas Volcano, Ometepe: 1050 NIO total. Not for the fainthearted, this lush cloud forest walk in the crater of dormant Maderas took us about 9 hours return. Take food, plenty of water, and swimming gear if you want a dip in the lagoon. You have to go with an experienced guide, which is what the cost covered. This is one for nature lovers.
Nighttime visit to Masaya Volcano, Granada: 350 NIO per person. One word: wow. What a fab evening. Our lovely host Gaby drove us here – big thanks. We queued for quite a while, but it was totally worth it to see molten lava coursing through the crater.
Lake Nicaragua boat ride, Granada: 875 NIO total. We bartered with a local fisherman who took us out for a couple of hours. At first glance the lake looked more like an ocean – we couldn’t see the other side. Once we were out on the water, we got a different impression. There were hundreds of islets (365 apparently), many with large houses on them. Some were uninhabited by humans, but did have monkeys roaming about. Monkey Island is home to five primates – one called Lucy who joined us on the boat for a swing. We stopped at Rock Island for a beer and a dip in the pool.
Iglesia La Merced viewpoint: 35 NIO per person. Close to Parque Central and viewed as one of the most beautiful churches in Granada, we paid $1 each to go up to the viewpoint for amazing city vistas.
Cerro Negro volcano boarding, León: 1050 NIO per person. A must! We absolutely loved this day out. Yes, it was quite tough (and hot) carrying quite a large wooden board up a volcano wearing a boiler suit, but so worth it. The views at the top and then the actual boarding… I did wonder what on earth I was doing as I prepared myself to slide down the black volcanic dust, but those thoughts soon disappeared. We enjoyed it that much, we climbed up for a second run. A tasty, generous lunch was included, too.
Climbed Cathedral dome, León: 105 NIO per person. The largest church in Central America and UNESCO-designated as well, we walked across the amazingly bright white-domed roof. For that small fee, we got to see wonderful views of the city… and volcanoes in the distance!
OUR TOTAL COST OF ACTIVITIES IN NICARAGUA CAME TO 5005 NIO or $143. THAT’S AN AVERAGE OF $11 PER DAY, OR $5.50 EACH.
THE COST OF FOOD NICARAGUA
As always, food was a big thing for us as we travelled through Nicaragua. We ate a mixture of street food and cheap, local dishes in inexpensive restaurants.
Great breakfasts were included in quite a lot of the places we stayed, and they set us up for the day. These usually consisted of fruit and the traditional Nicaraguan brekkie of eggs, rice and beans, cheese, plantain, and tortilla. Tasty and filling! Sometimes, we didn’t even need lunch.
When we did eat breakfast out, we’d usually opt for something similar, and that would set us back around 70 NIO each.
Nacatamal: Similar to tamales, these were made from maize dough filled with pork, potato and spices, boiled in a plantain leaf. The cost? Around 88 NIO per nacatamal. Again, super filling!
Vigarón: Not for the veges out there, these consisted of boiled yucca (potato-like), chicharrón (fried pork skin), and cabbage slaw. A yummy on-the-go snack. Price-wise, they were around 70 NIO a portion.
Grilled meats: A staple in Nicaragua, we enjoyed this for dinner many a night. Think thin slices of beef, chicken or pork with rice and beans (gallo pinto) and tortillas. A generous plate set us back between 70-105 NIO from a street food BBQ or a local eatery.
Ugly fish (Guapote): Okay, so the name isn’t appealing, but the taste was amazing – like snapper. Our top recommendation? Las Colinas in Granada, a short cab ride out of the centre. Served with fries, rice, salad, and a sweet and sour and style vegetable topping, we loved this dish. We chose our fish size, too. On average, we paid 245 NIO per person to eat guapote at a local restaurant.
Average daily food cost: $10.80 per day, or $5.40 each
As always, bottled water was the main thing we drank, plus local beers and dark rum. Flor de Caña is made in Nicaragua, so we indulged in a few! We tended to buy a bottle from the supermarket (about 210 NIO).
A large water cost us about 35 NIO. Victoria Clásica and Toña local beer came in at about 50 NIO for a regular size bottle.
Average daily drink cost: $8.60 per day, or $4.30 each
Reasonably priced, tasty, and filling – what more do you need?!
OUR TOTAL COST OF FOOD AND DRINK IN NICARAGUA CAME TO $253. THAT’S AN AVERAGE OF $19.50 PER DAY, OR $9.70 EACH.
MISCELLANEOUS EXPENSES IN NICARAGUA
As we all know, travel insurance is invaluable – I recommend World Nomads. And as with any quote, it depends on the details you enter (excess, length of stay, age, value of luggage…)
For us? The cost of insurance for two weeks in Nicaragua was $7 a day travelling as a couple – $3.50 each.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO TRAVEL IN NICARAGUA?
So, I’ve done the calculations, and here are the costings per person:
- Accommodation: $23 per day
- Transport: $0.75 per day
- Activities: $5.50 per day
- Food and drink: $9.70 per day
- Miscellaneous: $3.50 per day
- Grand total spent in Nicaragua: $42.45 per person per day.
Nicaragua, we loved you! Seeing an active volcano and boarding down one (twice) were unforgettable experiences. We would definitely travel to Nicaragua again to visit the places we missed…
HOW MUCH DID YOU THINK IT WOULD COST TO TRAVEL AROUND NICARAGUA?
[Photo of the volcano via: Roberto Destarac Photo/Shutterstock]