If you only have 2 weeks to travel Nicaragua but want to see plenty of cities/towns, this can be your guide to getting the most out of the country without feeling overwhelmed with time! Click here for the map of our 2 weeks in Nicaragua broken down by days in each city.
Day 1-2: Managua (The Capital)
Flew in to the capital late at night and stayed at an airport hostel (we don’t recommend it so we won’t bother you with the name). Early the next morning, we hitched a ride in to the capital where we explored around the city and saw the sights. We started at the water front, Lago Xolotlan, then walked towards the city centre. After roaming the streets for a few hours, we decided to make our way to our lovely hostel Manyaku Hostel (which is not taking bookings) and hang out by the pool.
Managua does not have that much to see or do however, it is a great transportation hub. We recommend spending as little time in the capital as possible.
Day 3-4: Leon (the hottest city)
We travelled to Leon on a micro bus, which was our best option, from Managua. The bus ride was beautifully scenic but extremely hot (Thank goodness for windows….). Because we had our big packs, we went right for our hostel, Hostal El Albergue De Leon. The cost was approx $45USD for both nights in a private room. The hostel was an okay place to stay; great atmosphere with a big room for us and helpful staff, however the heat was almost unbearable with our useless ceiling fan (this is basically everywhere in Leon, unless you get a room with air conditioning).
**Typically, when visiting a new city, we take the first day or afternoon to wander and see what we like, then we plan the rest of our days accordingly!
We came across this wonderful white cathedral in the middle of Leon, Catedral de Leon, that has the most beautiful view of the city. We HIGHLY recommend taking a walk around the inside AND the outside of this beautifully made cathedral!
We made our full day in Leon a beach day! Our hostel directed us to a local bus stop to catch the chicken bus, yes you read right…. a ‘chicken bus'(the local’s mode of transportation – an old school bus that everyone piles into)headed down to the ocean, Las Peñitas. All chicken buses will either have a sign saying where they are going OR a man yelling their location (typically a man yelling). This beach town is a MUST see as it is so quaint, barely any tourists and beautiful clear water.
Day 5-6: Granada (the colourful city and our fav!!)
After waking up super sweaty, we quickly packed, made some complimentary banana pancakes, and headed to the bus station in Leon. This bus station is quite organized but don’t hesitate to ask the locals where to go (they are SUPER helpful). For some odd reason, we were gifted with a glorious air conditioned bus to Granada, for a very small price. Buses typically cost approx. $4.00, unless you book the private buses for $15-20… which is not needed!
The bus dropped us off right out front of our hostels door, Hostel Oasis Granada, and we were able to check in for our two night stay. You have to book this hostel if you go to Granada, total cost for 2 nights was $43USD! We have all positive things to say about it; there was a pool, excellent complimentary food, open space to relax on hammocks, lovely rooms, and movie nights.
In Granada, we toured the city by walking the streets until we found something we wanted explore more. The Catholic church facing the city square was one thing we had to explore more. It is known for it’s beautiful yellow and white colours on the outside and it’s stunning views from the roof (you can access the roof from the side of the cathedral for a small fee of $1USD).
Although the weather wasn’t the best in Granada on our second day, we wanted to make sure we adventured over to the Islets of Granada. We decided to kayak on our own, instead of doing a group tour, so we walked from the city centre down to the waterfront and found Inuit Kayak Rentals. They offered 2.5 hrs with two kayaks/life jackets for approx. $25USD (bargain with them!). If you’re not a strong kayaker but want to see the Islets, we would recommend taking a boat tour so you can see the different islands and monkeys (they have their own island and you HAVE to go visit them)! It is definitely a must see while in Granda.
After the kayak adventure, we decided to head back to the hostel to change and spur of the moment, hopped on a chicken bus to go to Laguna de Apoyo. Getting to the lake is a trek but it is SOO worth it! We took the chicken bus to the bus stop that was at the bottom of the lake. Then, we started walking up the road to find a taxi or other chicken bus to take us closer to a hotel. We were lucky enough to find a taxi who took us to Paradiso Hostel where we payed $7USD per person to spend time on their property to swim and relax by the beautiful lake.
** If we could change up our trip, we would have spent a night or two in Laguna de Apoyo as it is a beautiful sight and such a relaxing spot.
Day 7-8: Ometepe pt.1
Ometepe is an island made up of 2 Volcanoes; Volcán Concepción and Volcán Maderas. Concepción is the larger of the two and is an active while Maderas is dormant. Both volcanoes you can hike up, however they are very different types of hikes.
We took a chicken bus from Granada to Rivas where the ferries are that depart every 30-45 minutes depending on what type of ferry you want (car carrier, passenger carrier or both). We purchased the ferry tickets at the gate and booked an island taxi for when the ferry docked as there are not that many modes of transportation on the island. We HIGHLY recommend taking the ferry early in the morning, if you get motion sick easily (which Shelby does), as the waves make for a long 1.25 hr boat ride. As well, take the larger ferry as you won’t feel the waves as much as the smaller ferry.
Once we docked, we were greeted with a taxi/bus driver with our names and we were off with a few other travellers. Most taxi’s or buses will drop you off at your place of stay, unless it’s the island chicken bus. Casi Papaki was where we stayed and it was the loveliest Airbnb owned by Daniel and his family. On the property are papayas, bananas, chickens, puppies, dogs, and all types of other fun things! The total cost for the 2 nights was $80USD and worth every penny (they also offer meals at additional cheap costs).
While at this Airbnb, we rented bikes from our hosts, biked to the entrance for the Waterfall of San Ramon and hiked up to the waterfall. Because we were passed the rainy season, the waterfall was not the most exciting but it might be worth it for you!
Day 9-10: Ometepe pt. 2
We decided to not stay in the same spot for all 4 nights while on the island so we decided to find another Airbnb on the opposite side of Maderas Volcano. Once we got settled, we wandered up the road to find a place to swim and eat. We came across El Pital Chocolate Paradise where we decided to go swimming and relax for a bit (for free). We decided to eat elsewhere and found the BEST restaurant on the island: Cafe Campestre. If you go to Ometepe, you HAVE to eat here and buy their coffee beans!!! Needless to say, we ate here quite a few times!
Because we had one more full day on the island, Brian decided to hike up Maderas and I decided to go horseback riding all over the middle of the island. Brian did his research and decided to go on the hike by himself with a daypack, water and snacks. If you want to hike up one of the volcanoes but are not an experienced hiker, you can find guides that will take you for a fee and even group hikes. You also don’t have to hike the entire thing, you can hike to view points along the way and turn back when you want.
Since the ferry ride was not the best on the way to the island, we decided to get up super early and take the first ferry back to the mainland so we could avoid the crowds and waves. Once we got to the ferry, we found another couple who was going to San Juan Del Sur and we booked a cab with them. The cab met us on the main land and took us straight to SJDS. If you can, share a taxi or take a bus but the shared taxi was the cheaper/faster option for us!
Day 11-13: San Juan Del Sur (A MUST)
What a dreamy beach/surfer town! We loved our stay in SJDS. The city is great, the people are wonderful and the ocean is just amazing! We stayed at a great hostel called Lorena Surf Hostel which was in a nice quiet area of town and the staff was very helpful. We enjoyed our stay here and it was only $85USD for 3 nights.
While in SJDS, we made sure to take time and relax. Once we got settled in our room, we went straight for the ocean and went swimming. This was a much needed swim as we had just come from temperature that was 10 degrees colder and we had not seen the sun in a few days! After we went swimming we made sure to go check out the shops around the beach and wander the streets. While you visit SJDS, make sure to try out the restaurants and bars further away from the beach as the cost goes down significantly. However, make sure to grab a drink and sit on the beach for sunset one night. It is SOO worth it!
Since we gave ourselves 2 full days in San Juan del Sur, we decided to explore the town and relax the first day, then on the second day go to a different beach and come back and hike up to Cristo de la Misericordia. While in SJDS, you have to make sure to go walking/exploring along the coral when the tide is low as you will come across some pretty neat things; locals fishing, kids playing in the pools of water, ladders that go up to private communities, shells of all types, private beaches, etc. There is no one specific restaurant we would recommend as there are so many amazing choices in SJDS but we will recommend the Brewery called San Juan del Sur Cerveceria. If you are big craft beer guys, like us, we suggest checking them out as they always seem to have something new and exciting out!
The next day we decided to take a shuttle with Casa Oro Eco Hostel to Maderas Beach for a little day adventure (the hostel had 4 other beach options, we decided on Maderas because of the departure times). They had daily shuttles that leave every 2 ish hours and return back to SJDS as well, the price was only $5USD per person. Keep in mind, all surfing takes place at the beaches surrounding SJDS, not at San Juan del Sur’s beach so if you want to go surfing you will have to go to a different beach!
When we came back from hanging out at the beach, we decided to do a hike to Cristo de la Misericordia, where you get the most beautiful view of SJDS. The trek is short but steep and has a small fee to enter the park ($1USD). It was definitely worth the hike but we had to take a few breaks along the way!
Day 14: Managua – The end!
After San Juan del Sur, we actually headed to Costa Rica but if your trip has come to an end, now is a great time to head back in to the capital where you can grab your flight home. From SJDS, we recommend taking either a chicken bus to Managua or booking a shuttle through your hostel/hotel to go back to the capital. If you want to break up your day, we would recommend staying a night in Managua, close to the airport, so you aren’t rushing to get from SJDS to the airport (as it might take a bit of time depending on the time of day).
Overall, Nicaragua can be a fabulous and cheap travel destination for you! We spent a bit more because we were on our honeymoon and wanted to enjoy a few more luxuries like private sleep.
We hope you enjoyed reading this and enjoy your own trip to Nicaragua! All links are not sponsors of the blog, just tags of places we think you might like!