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 Purísima y La Gritería

December is a month of great celebration across Nicaragua.  This past weekend, Justin and I traveled to León, the second largest city in Nicaragua, because of its reputation for the best fiestas.

A Giganton, measuring almost 9 feet tall, dances in the streets of León

A Giganton, measuring almost 9 feet tall, dances in the streets of León

Monday, December 8th, marked La Purísima, a celebration of the ‘purest conception of Virgin Mary.’  At 6 pm on December 7th, everyone from town gathers in the central park, on the steps of the church.  The priest or bishop of the local church signals the beginning of Purísima by asking the crowd “Quién causa tanta alegría? (Who causes so much happiness)?”  The town responds by saying “La Concepción de María’ (Mary’s Conception).”   After this, people across the town launch hundreds of fireworks and fire crackers.  Firecrackers explode again at midnight and then at 6 am and noon on the following day.  Shortly after the proclamation, La Gritería begins.

 

A selection of fireworks

A selection of fireworks

La Gritería, draws much comparison to Halloween, but with greater emphasis on religion.  Similar to trick or treating, people take to the streets, stopping at one home after another seeking candy treats and other small gifts.  People place elaborate altars in their front entryway, displaying the Virgin Mary, the Nicarguan flag, flowers, and more.  As people approach the door, they again say “Quién causa tanta alegría?” and the people in the homes respond with “La Concepción de María.”

 

A traditional altar honoring the Virgin Mary

A traditional altar honoring the Virgin Mary

León Viejo

If you’re in the touristy mood and headed to León, a quick stop in León Viejo might be worth your time. Perhaps not the most exciting tourist spot; however, this UNESCO World Heritage site does provide some interesting history of Nicaragua.  USD$2 gives you access to this site, as well as a tour from a well-versed guide.  The scenic ride alone, out to León Viejo, makes this trip well worth it.The scenic drive out to León Viejo

To access León Viejo by car, follow the Carretera Sur (the highway that runs between Managua and León) north from Nagarote towards La Paz Centro.  You will see a sign for the ruins just before entering La Paz Centro.  Take this right and follow signs to the ruins for approximately 25 minutes. 

 

 

En route to León, also consider stopping for quesillos in Nagarote.  Quesillos traditionally consist of salty cheese wrapped in a tortilla and flavored with onions, cream, and other ingredients.  You can also purchase quesillos in a small plastic bag.

 

  Quesillos - perhaps it doesn't look appetizing, but it takes incredible!


Poneloya and León

We headed north to Poneloya, with a bunch of friends, this past weekend to watch a surf competition in Las Peñitas.  Poneloya is a popular beach about a 20-minute drive from León.  We stayed in this huge house right on the beach.  Everyone brought food and we cooked up shrimp, steak, drank Nica-libres, and watched the sunset.

 

The next day, we stayed with some friends at their parents hostel in León and wandered around the city.