Before we decided to visit Nicaragua, it wasn't a country that was on my list - I'll admit it, but boy I was wrong to keep it off. We visited Nicaragua for two weeks as part of our journey through Central America. Nicaragua is a beautiful place that was sadly going through many hardships. A beautiful country that was very safe for us when we visited, but we found that it was also very quiet and lacked a lot of tourists which was understandable.
Before the trip we decided to travel by land as much as possible so we took a shuttle up from Costa Rica to travel the border and we found it to be quite helpful, we waited a while to cross the boarder, paid the correct boarder fees ($13) and then headed up to San Juan Del Sur. We met a lot of people along the way who had all paid different border fees ($13- $20) but this was something that happened quite a lot at the Nicaraguan border.
San Juan Del Sur
San Juan Del Sur is a small surf town in the south of Nicaragua, a colourful town with enough restaurants and things to do that you could easily stay a week. There are beaches dotted all around San Juan, but we focused most of our attention on the main beach of San Juan.
We stayed for six days and spilt our time between the town and a place further up in the jungle. The first place we stayed at was Barrio Cafe and Hotel, and it was perfect. I unfortunately endured my first lot of food poisoning coming from Costa Rica and Barrio was the perfect place to recover. It had two queen beds, cable TV and air con (which was great because San Juan Del Sur was HOT). The second place we stayed was Eden on the Chocolata, and it was stunning. A five minute drive away from the town but about a 35 minute walk which was hard to do in the heat, they were closer to two smaller beaches which were a little difficult to get to. Breakfast was the best we've had and the views from the breakfast area were next level.
We found that there were a few places to eat town, the restaurants on the beach were most expensive, but many were offering deals. A few streets back the prices dropped quite a lot, which helps when you are looking to save a little. We tried the following places:
King Curry: King Curry is a small curry house that only opens at night. It serves a variety of Indian and Thai style curries at a reasonable price.
The Falafel join: Of course, anywhere there is falafel...I AM THERE. We liked the falafel place but I found the falafel to be a little too oily for my not so recovered belly (you know how that goes), so I would recommend going for the hummus and pita.
Our second stop in Nicaragua was Ometepe. Ometepe is an island in Lake Nicaragua with two connecting volcanoes, in order to get there we took the ferry over from San George and got dropped in the main dock in Moyogalpa.
We spent 4 nights on Ometepe - our first night in Moyogalpa and three nights in Balgue. Unfortunately, our accommodation in Moyogalpa wasn't great, but it was only one night so we made do. It was a Sunday when we arrived so almost all the restaurants were closed (you will get used to this in CA), but we were lucky enough to find a pizza place that was open. We picked up some things at the super market and headed to Balgue. (I really love supermarkets).
We chose Balgue because we had heard that it was easier to do activities but Balgue was a very small town, with no supermarket and about four places to eat, three of which were closed. The accommodation we stayed at was on a farm next to Balgue, it was lovely but when we arrived to my shock and horror we found out that the toilet was a compost toilet (I was very glad I had recovered from my stomach issues by this stage), it was meant to be emptied every day, but we did have to do it ourselves, which is why I can't recommend it. (Tom did gag a few times but I was surprisingly very brave)
We decided it would be a good idea to take bikes out in Balgue to find a supermarket (I know I said there was none but I was being optimistic), it was very hot and I was hungry which also meant I was hangry, as our supermarket quest came to an end we spotted a truck stopped along the road selling fruit and veg - we picked up a few bits including plantains. Why do plantains always taste like rubber when I make them but amazing when everyone else does?
The truck supermarket had to be a highlight of Ometepe for me...we also saw petroglyphs and that's one for the highlght bucket as well. But you know a truck supermarket - that's a once in a lifetime for me!!
Ometepe was suuuupper rural and a little too rural for us - but hey everything once right?
Going to the cittttayyyy or town. Granada is a beautiful, colourful colonial town, and oh boy it was stunning. The colours of Granada are stunning and, it was a little busier than the rest of Nicaragua.
We stayed in the centre of Granada, which gave us amazing access to the town. Our hostel was called Boca en Boca, and we opted for a private room with a private bathroom.
As most of the resturants in Ometepe were closed we were really excited to eat out in Granada. We researched a lot before we arrived in Granada and ate at the following places:
The Garden Cafe: The Garden Cafe is really sweet little place with a lot of veggie options. I opted for the Thai curry and it was really lovely. The Garden Cafe also has a shop attached which sells a lot of beautiful local and handmade items. It employs mostly local Nicaraguan people and all the things that they sell in their cafe are made by Nicaraguans this gifts them a chance to share their art and support their families.
Pita Pita: Pita Pita was right across the road from The Garden Cafe, we liked Pita Pita but we found that it was very expensive for the portion sizes ( I love big portions- can't help it)!
The Italian Bakery: This has to be hands down our favourite place that we ate in Granada. The portions! The pizzas! The Mariana sauce! It's an amazing bakery and fantastic value whether you're on a budget or not! I'm taking a massive calzone and Mariana sauce (rivals those in Italy) for $6. No complaints here.
Most of our time in Granada was spent wondering the streets, but we did make it out to Masaya market and volcano and both were amazing experiences. Getting to Masaya market meant taking a chicken bus from Granada for about a $1 each, the chicken bus was a whole different experience and I bet you've never heard a man singing 'MASAYA, MASAYA' out of his bus to get people on. Or maybe you have.
A lot of the arts and crafts vendors were closed when we were there but it was the chicken bus experience which made the market amazing. The bus sits for a while at the market before leaving and a lot of vendors head onto the bus selling their goods. I have honestly never seen anything like it. I can't even explain it because you just need to see it yourself.
The Masaya volcano was also an amazing experience. We booked this through our hostel for $20 USD each and you basically get in a car and drive up to the volcano after dark (seedy I know). You then arrive at an open volcano and watch the lava moving around. Crazy! You can only stay up there for about 20 minutes as the sulfur levels aren't very good for you. But, it didn't have that usual rotten egg smell of sulfur which was pleasantly surprising.
Our last stop on our journey through Nicaragua. Leon wasn't my favourite place but it made my heart happy. Nicaraguans were out in force, doing what they always do - surviving, bustling and making the most of life. There was no fear in Leon just a readiness to get things moving again.
We decided to be real cheap in Leon and also a bit cheeky. When we spotted the gold arches we decided to treat our selves (not once but twice), the rest of the time we ate street food, corn with lemon pepper, rice and beans - the usual but delicious Central American Fair.
I'd recommend visiting the cathedral, it is so beautiful and it's worth visiting just to find out it's story...plus if that's not enough you can play on it's rooftop.