Nicaragua. The Hype Is Real
Although it still feels less discovered than many countries in Central America, its world class surf breaks and raw undeveloped coastline are starting to gain popularity...and fast. It's a little more rough around the edges than its "Americanized" neighbour Costa Rica, but thats exactly what has been adding to its charm and appeal for budget travellers. It's this rustic edge that means its a great budget destination where you can stretch your dollar further then almost any other surf destination in Central America.
There are countless things to explore in Nicaragua. There are great unspoiled beaches with amazing surf breaks, beautiful historic cities like Granada, and endless outdoor adventures on the island of Ometepe and in the Northern reaches of the country. If you're interested in hiking you will find no shortage of options. If you're a history buff, the area is rich with colonial architecture and history. If you're a beach goer looking to catch some rays and waves, you'll find some isolated picture perfect beaches that are well worth the adventure getting to them.
Nicaragua is a great travel destination for any aspiring traveler on a budget. Despite its low costs, there are still some tricks to get the best bang for your buck.
1. Rent a Villa with Friends
Always wanted to rent a villa but thought it was out of your price range? Think again. AirBNB has an array of villas, beach houses and beach front apartments up for grabs all at affordable rates. We got this place with a private pool and this amazing view over playa Maderas (one of Nica's best surf breaks) for $180.00/night! Divide that between 4-6 people and you're laughing.
2. Rent some scooters or dirt bikes
If you want to visit some remote beaches, renting scooters or dirt bikes is the best way to do it. You can double up on them and split the costs. Scooters are available in San Juan del Sur for $20.00/day, and 200cc dirt bikes are $40.00/day. All you need is your passport and some cash. ***Do not rent either of these unless you have valid travel insurance, don't be an idiot...and always wear your helmet as much as it messes with your hair***
3. Rent a surf board for a week
If you know your going to be posting up in one of the many surf destinations up and down the Pacific coast, consider renting a board for the whole time your there. Not only will it force you to go surfing everyday, it will save you some dinero (cash). A daily board rental can be $10.00-15.00, where as a weekly rental can be negotiated for $30.00-40.00.
Many people choose to visit Nicaragua through a volunteer program. There are many different organizations that run programs within the country and, like anything else, some are better than others. Do your research! Most will require you to a pay a fee for the opportunity to participate. Make sure you understand exactly where your money ends up, and make sure you're completely knowledgeable of what type of programs you'll be working with and participating in. There are some shady "Profitable, Not for profits" lol.
Ways of the land
The Chicken bus
Nica is famed for its "Chicken Buses." These intercity buses travel throughout the country and service as the main mode of public transportation for residents and tourists alike. The best part is they are most often refurbished Manhattan school buses that have been repainted to have a little more Latin swagger. More often than not there will be some form of blarring Latin music playing out of a speaker bigger then you've ever seen and you'll find yourself sitting next to some form of livestock. It's a great experience and a perfect opportunity to get a selfie with a chicken...and maybe a guy with no teeth holding a chicken. Either way, its the only way to get around so you will find out for yourself.
Be prepared to negotiate hard for your taxi price, particularly in the city of Managua (which is where you will fly into). There is no shortage of taxis so don't be afraid to let one go on by until you find one that offers you the rate you want to pay. Also make sure the rate has been firmly set before you get in the car and don't be surprised if the driver picks up other passengers along the way. This is standard practice if there are others who are headed in roughly the same direction.
It's important that you carry small bills with you while you're traveling throughout the country. Most people don't have change for larger bills and it can be very frustrating to try and pay for something when nobody can make change. If you're crossing the border from a neighboring country head to the bank before you leave and ask them to give you very small Nicaraguan bills. This will help you out tremendously.
Nicaragua must see destinations
Ometepe and lake Nicaragua
Ometepe is large and dramatic island in Lake Nicaragua made up of two beautifully
distinctly different volcanoes. A visit to the island is a must for any visit to Nica. Whether it be hiking, mountain climbing, or exploring waterfalls and coffee plantations, Ometepe is by far one of Nicaragua's best travel destinations. Also make sure to take a dip in lake Nicaragua (the largest lake in Central America)...just watch out for the elusive freshwater sharks that were once fished by the thousand to sustain the Asia shark fin soup demand.
Granada is a popular tourist destination and beautiful colonial city with impressive homes and churches. It is a great place to relax, wander around and eat some great food. Make sure to take a trip to Laguna Apoyo, a volcanic crater lake hidden a few kilometers north of Granada. Its a great day trip, and you can post up at one of the many beach club style resorts located as you arrive at the base of the crater by car. Just take a taxi from Granada and organize a pickup with your driver at a specific return time.
Like elsewhere in Central America, Nicaraguan food is based on rice and beans. Most dishes have a meat component and fried plantains to accompany it. The meals are usually filling and cheap. Street food is generally a good option if you are looking for cheap snacks. There are also many buffet style restaurants, referred to as fritanga, that offer good lunch and dinner options. The cheapest eat though ($1.00-2.00) is usually Gallo Pinto. A heaping plate of rice and beans, with a side of Feta like cheese to add to the feast (make sure to load on the hot sauce).
Some classic Nica dishes to try
Pipian o ayote: This is a creamy potato stew that is one of the few vegetarian options in Nicaragua. It can be filling and hearty and is available in many restaurants.
Nacatamales: This large tamale dish is made with pork or beef and other seasonings. Making it can be a production so it is typically served on Sundays as part of a large meal or during celebratory meals. It is usually accompanied by bread and Nicaraguan coffee.
Indio Viejo: This meal is made with cornmeal and either beef or shredded chicken and flavored with mint. It is often served with chilero, which is a cured onion and chile mixture.
As its popularity continues to grow, you can only expect the costs to keep going up. So yes, the hype is real. The time to visit Nica is now!
Photos and post by Jesse Delgrosse