Itinerary for a 10-day trip to Nicaragua: Lake/Beach/Volcano Style

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, PoneloyaGranada, Granada IsletasOmetepeCorn IslandsEsteli, Condega, Miraflor, and TiseyJinotegaLaguna de ApoyoMasayaTolaMontelimar

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:
Iskra Travel
Adelante Express
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 SpaPosada AzulVillas 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!

La Costanera

Slow but steady progress is being made on Nicaragua’s Coastal Highway Project making the border with Costa Rica all the more accessible.  “La Costanera” will eventually be a paved road stretching from Montelimar in the north to the Costa Rican border to the south, a total of approximately 131.5 kilometers running close to the coast line, following most of the existing dirt road.

Photos (taken June 26, 2011) below show a 4 km stretch of road, paved with “Somoza Stones” (named for the former dictator who owned all the concrete factories) between San Juan del Sur and Playa Coco, to the south.

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USNS Comfort

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kim Williams/RELEASED.) Destroyer Squadron 40

The hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived in the Port of San Juan del Sur yesterday, June 17th. USNS Comfort left the United States in early April of this year on a humanitarian mission bringing medical relief to the Caribbean, Central and South America. The five-month deployment is called ‘Continuing Promise 2011′ and will include Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Peru.  For more info on the mission, visit Del Sur News Online.

Comida Tipica

Typical Nacatamal

Despite its tasty Gallo Pinto and Nacatamales, Nicaragua is not often recognized as a culinary capital of the world, but here are two links that have found the hidden gems of Nicaraguan cuisine – and some of the pitfalls of its politics.

Goodwin: Discover the culinary delights & flavors of Nicaragua

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

Black Tie Optional

When friends and family come to visit, they often ask what to pack and how formal the dress code is here.

Here are my everyday shoes:

And here are my dress shoes:

Any questions?

P.S. if you  are coming between May 15 and November 15, bring a raincoat.

The World’s Top Retirement Havens For 2011

Nicaragua leads off the list of the world’s top retirement havens for 2011 in Kathleen Peddicord’s recent US News and World Report article:

“As we move toward the start of the new year, it’s time to take a look at the world map to identify the world’s top retirement havens for 2011. Depending on the size of your retirement budget, here’s where you should be looking to realize the adventure-filled retirement of your dreams.

Super Affordable

1. Nicaragua—specifically Leon, Granada, and San Juan del Sur. Nicaragua is more attractive than ever for one important reason: It’s a super cheap place to live. I’ve been a fan of this misunderstood country since my first visit nearly 20 years ago. Property values, especially for beachfront property along the Pacific, reached bubble status last decade. Today prices are more realistic and more negotiable. In the meantime, the cost-of-living has remained seriously low. And last year Nicaragua inaugurated a new and improved foreign retiree residency program. For all these reasons, 2011 is the time to put this country at the top of your super-cheap overseas retirement list.”

See the full article at:  http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/On-Retirement/2010/11/15/the-worlds-top-retirement-havens-for-2011.html