Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America, and one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. With images of civil war in the 90’s still prominent in many minds, it is also lightly traveled, and still very true and authentic. If you still have any, it’s time to shake off pre conceived notions, as this beautiful country has a ton to offer the budget-minded traveler.
If you’re flying in, you will likely be flying into the capital of Managua. You won’t need to spend any precious time or money here, and it’s advisable to instead hop on a bus to your first destination.
Chicken buses. You’ll need to learn to love them. In 40 degree humid heat, it can be a rough ride in an old-school-bus-turned-public-transit, but come prepared with a mini fan and a bottle of water and you can save yourself tons of money.
If you desire snapping some pictures of colonial buildings, include a visit to one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas, the colorful Granada. Buses leave from the airport every half hour, and only take about 45 minutes. Next stop, the beach.
From Granada you can hop on the bus to Rivas, and from Rivas you can take a bus, then ferry, to Ometepe. One place to spend extra córdobas will be when you arrive off the ferry onto the island in Moyogalpa. A bus that circles that island can take all day (and all your patience) so hire a taxi and watch them try to expertly dodge some of the biggest pot holes you will ever see. When you finally do arrive at your destination, it will be hard to tear yourself away from your little piece of paradise, surrounded by the bathtub warm Lake Nicaragua and two picture perfect volcanos.
Alternatively, from Rivas you can hop on a bus to San Juan Del Sur. Tourism is constantly growing in this country, and the most popular tourist spot in Nicaragua is San Juan Del Sur. Although it is crawling with gringos, it is still a relatively small town, where you can find a private room with air conditioning for about $45. And the rightful reason to head to the Pacific coast? World class surfing. Just be careful not to eat on the beach, where the food is overpriced and under stimulating. Alternatively, head slightly inland and find a convenient local spot.
Rice and beans, beans and rice. The national dish of Nicaragua is Gallo Pinto, a mix of red beans and white rice, which is actually quite delicious (and affordable) if you find it made lovingly by a local. On the water you will find delectable fresh or salt water fish and other seafood, such as the cheapest, most garlic buttery rock lobster you will ever eat at Bridgette’s in Little Corn Island.
Although taking an extra flight while in destination isn’t generally a great move for your budget, making your way to the Corn Islands while it is still relatively undiscovered will be one of your smartest decisions. After a 1.5 hour flight from Managua to Big Corn, a taxi to the dock, and a 1 hour panga ride to Little Corn. There isn’t much to do but relax, swim, dive and explore. I consider Little Corn to be one of the most affordable, idyllic, remote islands of it’s kind, and I imagine it won’t stay that way for long.
Dig out your pocket sized Spanish dictionary, and grab your swimsuit that’s been dry for too long. Nicaragua is waiting to be explored, so get there before everyone else does!