El Salvador is where we dipped our toes into Central America. But Nicaragua is where we really dove in, traveling the country and falling in love with its scenery, its people, its culture, and the food. The initial plan was to come here for a few weeks and then head on to Costa Rica. But Nicaragua surprised us in so many delightful ways and we found ourselves extending our stays in many places, and adding a few destinations on as well. In fact, Nicaragua was such a surprise that we’ve cut out Costa Rica altogether. Nicaragua is Costa’s underappreciated sister. She has all the same things on offer: beautiful coastlines, wicked surfing, lush rainforests, active and dormant volcanoes, river rafting, amazing wildlife, and colonial cities. But she comes in at a much cheaper price point & with a much slower pace.
We kept meeting all sorts of travelers and backpackers who had come down to spend time in Costa Rica, Panama, or Guatemala, but ended up in Nicaragua instead for a myriad of reasons. It seems that this country captures just about everyone in some way.
And how can you not fall in love with a place when the people are so incredibly nice? Where else could you get lost in the middle of the jungle and, upon having a man emerge from the trees with a machete, just stop and ask him for directions? And then, after having that same guy tell you you’ve made a wrong turn and asking you to follow him to the right place, doing so without hesitation. This is what we did just 2 days ago, when we were on the wrong cow path in the middle of the jungle at least a kilometer in the wrong direction. From where he dropped us off, a grandmother (also carrying a machete) made sure we got to the right place and even called out to us as we started to go in yet another wrong direction a few minutes later, pointing us in the right direction again. That sums up the kindness of Nicaragua for us.
Here are the Top 6 Things that Surprised us about Nicaragua.
1. This is horse country. Everywhere you go there are horses. It’s a huge part of Nica culture. They are a means of transportation, for working in the fields, herding cattle, or just running errands in town. From the moment we crossed the border into this country we have seen horses everywhere. Even in the bigger cities, cars and motos share the streets with horses and carts. Caballeros (cowboys) are very popular in this country of fincas and estancias.
2. Rocking Chairs! What do Nicaragüenses do in the evenings? They sit on their porch or in their living room in rocking chairs. It is not unusual to walk past a house and see a dozen or more lined up…one for every member of the family. It’s tropical here and very warm during the day. But in the evenings things start to cool off and everyone emerges to enjoy the cool breezes and catch up with their friends and neighbors. Plus, a rocking chair also creates a slight breeze just from the rocking motion. Perfect in this humid tropical country.
3. Rum is so cheap here! Flor de Caña Rum is the local rum of Nicaragua. In the US, this is top shelf rum with a price tag to match. But here, you can buy a 375 ml bottle complete with mixers, ice, and usually a plate of nachos, for anywhere from $5-$10, depending on how aged you want it (4, 5, 7, 12, or 18 year). It’s aged in an oak barrel and is incredibly smooth. It’s so cheap here that, in most bars, a cocktail with Flor de Caña is cheaper than a bottle of water or a local beer.
4. You can do so many different outdoor activities here at such a low cost. Want Volcanoes? No problem. Rainforest excursions with plenty of unique flora and fauna? We got you covered. Kayaking on Central America’s largest lake? Sure, what time do you want to leave? Wanna learn how to surf on the same beach where all the regional and national surfing champions surf? Come on out with us! We’re happy to teach you what you need to know and hang out with you. Every day, we were able to do something completely different: volcano boarding, kayaking on the lake, hiking a volcano, spelunking in a cave with hundreds of bats swirling overhead, learning to surf, visiting incredible colonial cities and buildings, many of which are UNESCO sites. The amount of opportunities to get out and explore here is astounding, and you can do most of these activities for about $20-$30/person.
5. Nicaraguans are on time. In a region typically known for its “mañana” attitude, Nicaraguans are incredibly on time. Every excursion, every local bus or ferry that we took: they all left on time except when they left early. In more than two years of traveling, we’ve never had a tour guide or taxi driver show up early until we came to Nicaragua. I’m fairly certain they could make the Germans look tardy.
6. The version of Spanish they speak here is really interesting. It’s the Latin American equivalent of a Southern drawl. Here, they draw out the syllables and have a bit of a lisp in their pronunciation. They also really don’t pronounce the letter ‘s’ in anything. Made for a bit of a challenge when we first arrived, but we’re starting to pick it up. It’s definitely helped us polish up our Spanish a bit, as well as improve our listening skills.
Tomorrow, we head to Managua for the night, and then will catch the early bus to Honduras on Wednesday. Our time here in Nicaragua is over, at least for now.
Looking for a budget travel location with loads of options? Nicaragua might be your place. We traveled here for about $50-$75/day for the two of us, including lodging, meals, and activities. American Airlines just added even more flights to Managua, which will bring your airfare even lower. Something to think about for your next big adventure.
Tune in Wednesday for some of our favorite photos and memories from our time here in Nicaragua.