Nicaragua: the land of volcanoes, friendly people, and out of this world street food.
If you're looking for a fun, relaxing, and adventurous trip with your little one in Latin America, Nicaragua is a great destination. It boasts one of the safest countries in Central America (wow, I'm really writing like a travel blogger now), the roads are well maintained, and there is a variety of things to see and do on your trip depending on your likes.
Here's some things about what to do in Nicaragua (and what not to do).
This is often times the first dose of Nicaragua that people get, considering it's an hour from the international airport in Managua (the capital) and it's drop dead gorgeous. I would skip Managua all together and head to Granada if you're planning a trip. Airbnb hosts and hotels will be able to get you an airport transfer if your flight comes in super late or super early. Between the proximity to the airport, the bright beautiful colors, neo-colonial architecture, and endless line of restaurants makes it a place run with tourists (for better or for worse).
The cathedral in Granada is beautiful day and night, with lights illuminating it once the sun goes down.
The streets are as colorful as the people in Granada. The town is also watched over by the Mombacho volcano (hiding in the back of this picture with some cloud coverage)
Walking along the streets of Granada, people are out sitting on their front steps buying street food from vendors that walk by
In Granada, we found an Airbnb that made us feel like part of a family for our time there just outside the downtown. It's nice to stay where locals actually live and go on with their daily lives instead of being smack dab in the middle of the tourist hustle and bustle. We stayed here, at Museo de Carlos, a quaint little guesthouse with a few rooms, beautiful courtyard, talking parrot, and a delicious free breakfast every morning (not bad for $20 a night, huh?) The best part about it, though, was the family that ran it. They were welcoming, interesting, and conversation never ran dry (it was a good way to practice our Spanish, too). Traveling with a baby, we always try to find a place where there are kids Zay's age that he can play with, and homestays and family-oriented Airbnbs is the best way to do it.
If you haven't tried Airbnb yet, you should! It's our favorite way to travel. Use this link to get $40 off your first stay!
Playing soccer in the courtyard with one of the kids of the family.
It's important for me to note that just a block from our Airbnb was a street food vendor that was out of this world. Hit it up if you have an extra $0.50 lying around.
LAGUNA DE APOYO
From Granada, there are a lot of day excursions, so it's worth it to plan a few nights in the colonial town. My favorite day trip was Laguna de Apoyo. It's a beautiful crater lake with thatched-roofed bars and restaurants dotted around it. There are also places to stay for a night away (from literally everything) if you're into that, but with a kid, it might be boring. For us, a day trip was perfect. We went for a swim, ate delicious food, and chilled out with a beer in hand and admired the views (while one of us was chasing Zay around).
The view from my hammock
We were lucky that Nana joined us for this trip!
I don't know how our son got the surfer look down, but he is nailing it
There is one spot on the lake where you can have beach access for free, but that gets crowded quickly especially on hot days. We went to San Simian Eco-Lodge for the day. For $5, you can make your trip to Laguna de Apoyo a more peaceful outing and have free accesss to their kayaks and canoes. The Monkey Hut offers the same services for the same price and it's popular among the younger crowd, so you may prefer it instead. But I don't think you can go wrong at any of these places.
Me and my bugaboo
Mombacho is a volcano outside the city of Granada and another day trip you can take from the city. For me, a frugal traveler, this wasn't completely worth the cost, but ones affinity for a day trip like this varies from traveler to traveler. Unless you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, you will have to take the public transport provided by the Reserve which costs $20 per person. If you prefer, you can walk with just a $5 entrance fee, but it is quite steep and in the heat of the day it would be very difficult. It's also walking on the road where the trucks all drive. so I don't know how enjoyable it would be. Additional fees for your trip to Mombacho vary on where you want to go on the top, what you want to see, and whether you want to hire a private guide to teach you more about the reserve.
When we arrived to the top, it was quite foggy, so anything 10 feet in front of us was blocked. But as we continued, the fog cleared, showing off gorgeous views of Granada, volcanoes, and the archipelago on Lake Nicaragua created by the volcano's eruption thousands of years ago. So, to go back to my first point about Mombacho: it's not that it wasn't beautiful or fun, it's just that for me, in countries where the US Dollar goes a long way, a short hike at the top of a mountain wasn't worth what we paid.
For a list of prices, options, and shuttle times for Mombacho, you can visit this website
Zay still rocking in the Ergo while hiking around the crater.
The clouds parted at the perfect moment
This was my favorite (and coincidentally the cheapest) part of our trip. There is a clear tourist track around Nicaragua: Granada, the beach, Ometepe. We wanted to get away from that a little, which is what compelled us to go to Miraflor. This is still a place that people hit up on their trip to Nicaragua, but much less. We only saw two other travelers while there.
The real beauty of visiting Miraflor is that you stay in a homestay while there. My favorite part of traveling is learning a new culture, and on short trips like this, it's very difficult to do. But to get the most bang fr your buck and learn understand a place better, homestays are the best way to do that. We went through Treehuggers and they were fantastic. For $22 a day, we had a beautiful place to stay and delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner (also the best meals we had in Nicaragua). The woman who organized our (very last-minute) trip from spoke perfect English, was professional, and so helpful.
There are 3 different zones in Miraflor: high, intermediate, and low. We went to the low zone because Zay had a high fever and we needed to be in a place where we could leave in the middle of the night if need be, and the low zone is the only place where that was possible. But, never fear. It was absolutely gorgeous. The weather is different in each zone, with the high zone being rainy and low zone being more dry, which makes for different ways of life, agricultural practices, and views. If you have time, I recommend traveling through all 3 zones.
Treehuggers website to see the different activities you can do, from farming to horseback rides. We hired a guide ($12 for a half day) to bring us through farms to waterfalls and swimming holes, It is truly beautiful there, and the guide gave us so much information about the area. I assume that none of the guides speak English, so the more Spanish you speak, the more information you'll be able to gather. Luckily, my travel companion (Jamie, not Zay) can learn a language in a few days and was my translator when I didn't understand s*** (70% of the time).
6am Hop on Pop sesh could have been in way worse places.
The accommodation is bare bones, but the place was spotless and Jamie and I actually had the best sleep we've had in months on that bed.
Our lunch prepared by our host mother. It was perfection after a sweaty hike.
I found the beach to be an interesting place in Nicaragua. There are a lot of spots to go that have beautiful stretches of beaches with killer sunsets. THE spot where many tourists go is San Juan del Sur (SJDS), but we decided to skip it. I have a friend that lived in Nicaragua for 2 years, and she described SJDS as a place where "a million Australian dudes are trying to hook up with a million Swedish girls". So we hit Popoyo instead, a surf town about an hour and a half drive north from SJDS.
Let me start out by saying, the beach was gorgeous with possibly the best sunsets we've seen. Driving through the town as we arrived, I was so psyched. It was quaint, with one little dirt road going through Popoyo with bars, restaurants, hostels and guesthouses all along the beach.
But once we settled, I realized that it was.... just bars, restaurants, hostels and guesthouses. Where do the local people live? We went to a place for dinner down the street that was $2 for a huge piece of grilled chicken, rice and beans, and plantains (score). The tables were filled with about 30 Australian surfer dudes that were trying to hook up with 30 Swedish surfer chicks. So my conclusion is that Popoyo is SJDS light, but with some pretty crazy surfing.
The waves in Popoyo are a surfers dream. You will see much of this if you go there.
The beach seemed to go on forever. A great place for a toddler with a stick.
The road through Popoyo and a crying baby in a diaper.
I'm not saying I didn't enjoy Popoyo. It's hard not to enjoy a beautiful place with cheap delicious food with your family. I loved our experience there and I'm glad we went. But if you're looking for a beach town with more local vibes, I think Jiquillillo is your place. The beach isn't as picturesque, but it will satisfy your craving for friendly locals in a beach setting. We actually didn't go because by the time we found out about this place from a young French couple that had been traveling in Nicaragua for 2 months, it was too late. But, I have done some research and I think that it would be a spot to check out for sure on your travels in Nicaragua.
But if you do go to Popoyo, I would suggest staying at La Vaca Loca if you have a baby that doesn't crawl or walk yet, have older children, or if you're single. This is the cutest place with the nicest couple running it, but the room is on a balcony with no rail. The couple who owns it just had a baby and they live at the guesthouse, so by the time their kid crawls (end of 2018) I bet this place will be fully childproofed. If you don't get a spot there, we stayed at The Red Pepper and it treated us well.
You can book these places through Airbnb. If you haven't tried Airbnb yet, use this link to get $40 off your first stay!
Oh León. I so wish we had more time here. It was a last minute decision to go at the end of our trip, so we only had a day there. But a day was enough to leave me wanting much more. There was a grittiness to León. You could see the history, from the weathered buildings that were once brightly painted to small reminders of the war that carried on here for years. The street food was to die for and the love that people had for their town was visible. It was the first place I saw in Nicaragua where the locals and the tourists mixed in perfect harmony. My suggestions on what to do in León are limited considering we only had the time to walk the torn-up cobblestone streets and eat our weight in street food, so my only suggestion is to go and explore for yourself.
León wins for best street food. This was on the corner next to the Cathedral and a definite spot to hit.
A mother and daughter bought popcorn to feed the pigeons, They saw that Zay was interested and wanted to feed the pigeons too. So they gave him the popcorn, but Zay ended up downing the entire bag himself. Boy after my own heart. ❤️
The cathedral at sunset was a lively place to be, with vendors, live music, street performers, and just good ol' hustle and bustle
Have you been to Nicaragua? What was your favorite part?