the ultimate Nicaragua itinerary

Your perfect Nicaragua itinerary!

Planning a trip to Nicaragua and trying to put together your itinerary?

I´ve got you! In this blog post I am sharing an adjustable 10-21 days itinerary covering all the places you should visit on your trip to Nicaragua!

This Nicaragua itinerary covers everything this country has to offer. From picture-perfect beaches to lakes, volcanoes, dreamy islands and beautiful towns and cities!  Let´s get going!

cover Nicaragua itinerary

1. Leon, 1-3 days

Starting this itinerary in the city of Leon, as this is the northernmost place on this Nicaragua itinerary.

To be honest, I have not spent a whole lot of time in León and it´s surroundings, but I have done some additional research to be sure, I am still able to provide you with everything you need to know before visiting.

One of the most famous things to do close to Leon is the volcano boarding at Cerro Negro volcano. Boarding down an active volcano while enjoyed the incredible views? Yes, please! 

If you like volcano hikes, you can also do some trips starting from Leon, like the San Cristobal and Telica volcanoes.

But there´s also a lot to do and see in the city of Leon itself! You can join a free walking tour, visit one of the museums and churches. The cathedral of Leon is THE biggest in Central America and also one of the most beautiful ones. The architecture is very unique and the best thing is that you can actually walk on it´s roof. It makes for great pictures and an amazing view!

How to get to Leon?

You will likely arrive to Nicaragua by flying into Managua´s airport. From Managua it´s an easy bus ride to get to Leon, taking about 2 hours. In case you are crossing into Nicaragua by land, all tourist shuttle services will offer transfers to Leon, as it is one of the main tourist spots in Nicaragua.

Where to stay in Leon?

I have not personally stayed in Leon downtown overnight, but I heard very good things about the Big Foot Hostel. Great value and the best operator for the Cerro Negro volcano boarding tour. But of course there are also a lot of other options in Leon for all kinds of budgets.

What to do and see in and around Leon?

  • Cerro Negro volcano boarding
  • White Cathedral of Leon
  • Free walking tour
  • Museums (museum of contemporary art, museum of revolution)
  • Telica volcano hike
  • San Cristobal volcano hike (highest volcano in Nicaragua)
  • Central Market
volcano boarding, Cerro Negro volcano
volcano boarding, Cerro Negro volcano

2. Granada, 2-4 days

Granada is probably the most popular city in Nicaragua and well visited by tourists. You can´t miss this city on your Nicaragua itinerary!

Due to it´s beautiful colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, it´s very picturesque and pretty. Granada is home to many points of interest such as the main square and cathedral, the central market and different museums.

It´s  is located on the edge of Central America´s largest lake – Lake Nicaragua.

Being located at Lake Nicaragua, it´s a great opportunity for a boat tour on the lake and to visit one or more of the hundreds of islands closeby, known as the “isletas de Granada”. I stayed at a private island lodge called Jicaro island and had an amazing time.

You can also do a bunch of day trips from here like for example visiting Laguna Apoyo and the Masaya volcano.

How to get to Granada?

Being located quite centrally between other points of interest in Nicaragua, its easy to get here from pretty much anywhere. Chicken busses and tourist shuttles run multiple times a day.

Where to stay in Granada?

Granada itself has many different accommodation options. From budget hostels to luxury hotels. You might also consider staying one of the islands closeby, I can highly recommend Jicaro island.

Staying for a night or two at the closeby Laguna Apoyo might be a great idea as well. I highly recommend Hostel Paradiso, which is also where basically all day tours take you. They have a great area for swimming and offer kayak rentals and affordable dorms as well as private rooms.

What to do and see in and around Granada?

  • main square and cathedral
  • Granada waterfront
  • free walking tour downtown
  • Laguna Apoyo (Hostel Paradiso)
  • volcano Masaya
  • boat tour Lake Nicaragua
  • isletas de Granada
Granada main square and cathedral
Granada main square and cathedral
Masaya volcano and it´s unique lava lake
Masaya volcano and it´s unique lava lake
Hostel Paradiso, Laguna Apoyo
Hostel Paradiso, Laguna Apoyo

3. Corn Islands, 3-7 days

If you´re looking for picture-perfect beaches, an incredible underwater world and relaxed island life, you need to add the Corn Islands to your Nicaragua itinerary.

Along with Ometepe island, this is my favorite place in Nicaragua!

While there is not a whole lot to do on such small islands, it´s the perfect time to slow down a bit from traveling and just enjoy the beaches, crystal clear water and impressive underwater world.

The reefs here are, compared to many other places I´ve been in Central America, in such great shape and you actually get to see a lot of wildlife.

The Corn islands consist of two islands, the more popular Little Corn island and Corn island, often referred to as “Big Corn Island”.

Once you step foot on the islands, you get a completely different vibe than in other parts of Nicaragua. Most people here are of color and speak English as their first language. Also the food is partly different to the mainland. A very authentic Caribbean experience!

How to get to the Corn Islands?

To get to this Caribbean paradise, you either need to take a long and quite exhausting trip by bus, ferry and boat or book a domestic flight.

Even though the bus, ferry & boat combination is quite a bit cheaper (about 30 USD in total), it´s so much longer and more exhausting that if I would do this trip again, I would definitely fly.

A one-way flight from Managua is about 100 USD and the only operating airline in La Costena airline. You are best off to give them a call and reserve by phone, it´s cheaper than booking online.

Where to stay on the Corn islands?

There are a few options on both islands, let´s start with the more touristy Little Corn Island:

I have stayed at the Three Brothers Hostel, which is centrally located and only a few minutes walk from the pier and most bars & restaurants. Dorms start as low as 7 USD here, I had a private room for 15 USD per night.

There is one luxury option, located in the North of the island, called Yemaya Reefs. Apart from that there are a few mid-range options around the island.

On Big Corn island I stayed at The Wave hostel and paid 9 USD for a night in a dorm that I had to myself. Located in walking distance from the pier, which was good but not in the best location when it comes to beaches. There are quite a few options around the island, also some more luxury ones.

What to do and see on the Corn Islands?

  • Otto beach, Little Corn Island
  • happy hours Tranquilo Bar, Little Corn Island
  • meals at El Bosque restaurant, Little Corn island
  • hike around Little Corn island
  • snorkling & scuba diving
  • Bit Coin island floating bar,  “Big Corn Island”
  • Arenas Beach, “Big Corn island”
If you are planning to visit the Corn Islands or specifically Little Corn island, make sure to check out THIS complete guide to Little Corn Island. 
one of the many different palm tree swings at Otto beach, Little Corn Island
one of the many different palm tree swings at Otto beach, Little Corn Island
floating in the crystal clear water of the Caribbean Sea off Little Corn Island
floating in the crystal clear water of the Caribbean Sea off Little Corn Island

4. Popoyo, 1-3 days

Popoyo should not be missing from any surf & beach lovers´Nicaragua itinarery! It´s known for one of the best surfing in all of Central America. There´s many different breaks, for beginners all the way up to professionals.

There´s many surf schools and surf hostels spread out to the different areas of Popoyo. You can take surf lessons here quite cheaply or just rent a board starting from 10 USD per day. 

Even if you are not into surfing, you can have a great time in Popoyo, enjoying the typical surf vibe and great beaches.

The beaches here are very clean and beautiful but with hardly any shade during the day. Also most beaches are not ideal for swimming due to the high waves and strong currents. However for sunbathing and a quick dip every now and then, they´re perfect.

Popoyo is a fast developing area in Nicaragua and many hotels and restaurants are being added lately. So far, it´s not as well developed as I would have thought. All roads in the area are dirt roads and there aren´t a whole lot of hotels, restaurants and shops (yet).

How to get to Popoyo?

Getting here is a bit more tricky. You will first need to take a bus to Rivas and then the bus to Popoyo. The Popoyo area is quite large and accommodations spread out along the coast. The bus driver will drop you somewhere at the main road and from there you either walk (I saw many people walking around here) or hope to find a taxi. There might be organized tourist shuttles dropping you directly at your accommodation, but those would definitely be much more expensive than the bus.

Where to stay in Popoyo?

If you are coming to Popoyo to learn surfing, stay at one of the surf hostels and get a package including surf classes. There are quite a few options. If you are not into surfing, you will probably still stay at one of the many surf hostels & hotels, as most other tourists.

I stayed at an incredible hotel called Rancho Santana as part of a collaboration, which is definitely more on the luxury side. The Ranch is HUGE and has 5 beaches, 3 pools and many different accommodation options. If you are not on a tight budget and want to experience some luxury paired with adventure, this is a great place to stay!

What to do and see in Popoyo?

Not much to do here apart from surfing and beach hopping.

One option are the hot springs close by, called Aguas termales de Nahaulapa. When I visited, it was too hot to soak in hot springs though.

When I stayed at Rancho Santana, I took a tour with them to Mt. Mohosa, which is the highest peak in the area and a great place to see wildlife.

ready for my 2nd ever surf lesson in Popoyo
ready for my 2nd ever surf lesson in Popoyo
sunsets in Popoyo hit different
sunsets in Popoyo hit different

5. Ometepe island, 2-4 days

One of my favorite places in Nicaragua and even one of my favorites in all of Central America. Make sure to add this island to your Nicaragua itinerary!

Ometepe island is located in Central America´s largest lake – Lake Nicaragua.

The view of volcan Concepcion, located on the island, is one of the most iconic views in the country.

The island is quite large and many people hire scooters to get around. I brought my car on the ferry, so did not have to rent one, but I definitely would have, if I came without.

Before visiting Ometepe, I had a feeling that I would not like it, as it would be too touristy. But man, was I wrong!

There definitely are some busy and touristy spots on the island, but it´s also possible to find some less visited areas and hidden gems. I even enjoyed the touristy places like Ojo de Agua and San Ramon waterfall a lot and they were not too busy, as I visited in the morning.

How to get to Ometepe island?

In order to get to the island, you need to hop on a ferry from San Jorge, near Rivas. They run multiple times a day in both directions.

To get to San Jorge, you first take the bus to Rivas and then either a tuktuk or taxi to San Jorge.

Where to stay on Ometepe island?

I personally camped while on Ometepe, with some of the favorite camp spots of my entire trip!

But I also researched hotel options and there are many for a relatively small island. You can easily get a room for 10-20 dollars per night. El Pital is a popular option with beautiful design and kind of a hippie vibe.

What to do and see on Ometepe island?

  • Ojo de Agua
  • San Ramon waterfall
  • Playa Peru (hidden gem)
  • volcan Concepcion hike
  • Playa Mango
  • Punta Jesus Maria
  • El Pital chocolate paradise

For a complete Ometepe island guide including how to get there, where to stay, what to do and where to eat, click HERE.

one of the best views of volcan Concepcion at Playa Peru
one of the best views of volcan Concepcion at Playa Peru
Ojo de Agua, Ometepe island
Ojo de Agua, Ometepe island
San Ramon waterfall, Ometepe island
San Ramon waterfall, Ometepe island

6. San Juan del Sur, 1-3 days

San Juan del Sur is, in my opinion, a bit overrated and I did not really get the hype.

I mean the surfing at the surrounding beaches seems to be great and there´s a lot of accommodation options, restaurants and bar in San Juan del Sur itself. But compared to other parts of Nicaragua, I felt that everything here was quite expensive and not as authentic.

If you want to go surfing or relax at the beautiful beaches in the area, I still recommend visiting.

San Juan del Sur itself is a quite bustling town with many shops, restaurants and bars. The beach in town is not suitable for surfing, but most beaches nearby are.

Many tourists come to San Juan to take surf lessons, they are quite affordable here. If I had to choose between San Juan del Sur and Popoyo for surf lessons, I would personally go for Popoyo though.

How to get to San Juan del Sur?

Due to it´s popularity, it´s easy to get here by tourist shuttles from pretty much wherever you are in Nicaragua.

You can also take the bus to Rivas first and then continue on the bus to San Juan del Sur.

Where to stay in San Juan del Sur?

You can definitely stay on a budget in San Juan del Sur, for example at the SPACE hostel, which is a popular and affordable option. There are also quite a few upscale accommodation options here such as the TreeCasa Resort.

What to do and see in San Juan del Sur?

  • go surfing
  • check out the beaches in the area
  • stroll along the Malecon (waterfront) 
  • viewpoint Cristo de La Misericordia
  • take an ATV tour
  • join a yoga class
  • party at sunday funday
San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur
natural tidal pool between Playa Maderas and Playa San Lorenzo
natural tidal pool between Playa Maderas and Playa San Lorenzo

I hope this blog post with the perfect Nicaragua itinerary was helpful.

Check out more Nicaragua blog posts below to help you plan your trip: