Justin and I have been fortunate to travel a decent amount of Nicaragua while living here. Every trip we take, I deign to say it was my favorite, until the next one comes along. I have documented various sojourns throughout the country in previous posts:
Purisima in Leon, Leon Viejo, Volcano Boarding, Poneloya, Granada, Granada Isletas, Ometepe, Corn Islands, Esteli, Condega, Miraflor, and Tisey, Jinotega, Laguna de Apoyo, Masaya, Tola, Montelimar
But I am often asked for ideas for a solid 7-10 day vacation for first-time visitors to Nicaragua. Though this particular itinerary may not reflect all of my favorite locations, it is a good first primer on the country. Check back later for further itinerary ideas.
Airlines flying to Nicaragua:
American Airlines, via Miami
Continental Airlines, via Houston
Delta Airlines, via Atlanta
Spirit Airlines, via Ft. Lauderdale
Taca Airlines, via San Salvador
Copa Airlines, via Panama City
Upon arriving in Managua, you will want to have a shuttle or a car rental available.
Shuttle Companies Servicing San Juan del Sur Area:
Pelican Eyes Resort
Rental Car Companies
At the Managua Airport
In San Juan: Dollar, Alamo, Classic Cruisers
Should you arrive in Managua late at night, I highly recommend spending the night in a hotel. If you want to stay near the airport, try:
Hotel Camino Real
Unless you have a lot of shopping needs (i.e., you’ve bought a home here and need to furnish it, buy sheets and towels, etc), I recommend skipping Managua altogether. It is rather chaotic and not very tourist-friendly. Upon departing Managua, your vacation truly begins!
For an itinerary, you might consider the following:
Day 1: Arrive in Managua early afternoon, 45-minute transfer to Granada. Granada is a beautiful little city and always a favorite of first time visitors. It has the brightly painted buildings, the horse-drawn carriages, etc. Relax at hotel pool, wander city in the evening. Stay at Hotel Plaza Colon or Hotel Dario
Day 2: Take Panga Tour of Isletas on the Lake Nicaragua in morning, relax in afternoon. Good chance of seeing Howler Monkeys here.
Day 3: Transport to San Juan del Sur in the morning – possibly stopping at Mombacho Volcano for a hike before heading to San Juan. You will need a solid half day for this excursion.
Days 4-7: Stay in San Juan del Sur. Click here for further ideas on activities in San Juan. Stay at Pelican Eyes Resort and Spa, Posada Azul, Villas de Palermo or rent a house from Vacation Rentals Nicaragua.
Days 8-9: Visit Isla de Ometepe, on Lake Nicaragua, home to Volcan Concepcion and Maderas. You can access Ometepe via a ferry from San Jorge, a town located just outside of Rivas and appx. 30 minutes from San Juan del Sur. The ferry takes about 1 hour to get to the port at Moyogalpa. Taxis and buses are available at the port or you can arrange for a private transfer ahead of time. Once there, hike the San Ramon waterfall, ride horseback to the Ojo de Agua (a natural swimming pool), kayak on the istian river, and rent bicycles to explore the island and visit the museum in Altagracia, home to view pre-Columbian Nahuatl Indians petroglyhps. Stay at Hotel Villa Paraiso or Totoco Eco Lodge
Day 10: Depending on what time and date you plan to depart, you could stop in Masaya on your way out of town. There is an artisan market there and/or you could drive up to Masaya Volcano. There is no hiking involved with this volcano.
The itinerary allows for flexibility. Some prefer to skip Ometepe altogether or visit the island before relaxing at the end of your trip in San Juan. For people with more time, I would also recommend a visit to the colonial city of Leon, located approximately 3.5 hours north of San Juan. For extended vacations, consider going further north to Esteli, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Somoto. Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen, bug spray, camera, and bathing suit and have a great time!