Central America is one of my favourite places in the world. A slip of countries bursting with so much life, their location between the Pacific and Atlantic give them such a unique diversity and infrastructure, you can spend months bouncing around just one of them and feel like you have travelled far and wide.
But what if you had just 4 days?
From the US it is just a short flight down to Nicaragua, which means that it is just close enough to visit for a long weekend. Friends in the UK heading the Mexico for their summer vacation might want to seriously consider a layover of a few days in this country too.
Beth Pittman flew from Florida to Nicaragua for just that: a long weekend with a difference, and she gave me her tips of making the very most of Nicaragua in 4 days!
Who did you fly with and what made you choose Nicaragua?
“Honestly, we picked Nicaragua because the Villas we stayed at had a good deal on theclymb.com. I have been wanting to explore Central America for a while and when a friend said she was planning on going to Nicaragua if she could find others to join I was in! We flew with American Airlines and our tickets were $400 (with travel insurance, $358 without).”
What kind of trip were you looking for?
“When we first started planning the trip we were looking to do and see as much as possible in the four days. But once we got there we decided we would do a few excursions but also just chill out and enjoy ourselves!”
Where did you stay?
“We stayed in a villa with Bahia Del Sol. It was a little pricier, but we got a deal online. It was $660 (including tax) for 4 nights, and the villas sleep 6 with a full kitchen and 2.5 bathrooms. The villa was on the outskirt of town, and we were told that we were about a 15 minute walk. (The one time we did walk to town it look us close to 45 minutes…Maybe we didn’t go the right way!)
Nicaragua is well known for its surfing so there are is a large backpacker scene. There are hostels everywhere. One night we decided to count how many hostels we passed on our short taxi ride home… I think we got up to 10, and that was just on the few roads we took, so there are a lot of budget accommodations available!”
Eating In San Juan Del Sur
“San Juan Del Sur is very Americanized, but there are a lot of great restaurants. Here are my pick of the best restaurants, what I ate, and the prices I paid…”
“This was our first stop for food. It was recommended by several locals and it was rated #4 on Trip Advisor so we checked it out. We wanted to try several things so we decided to get a couple of appetizers to share. We started with the Shrimp nachos and they were out of this world! The chips were made fresh in house and the cheese sauce was a thinner sauce and it tasted like it had sweet creole seasoning in in. Next we tried the Mackerel lumpia, I wasn’t a big fan on this dish but my friend really like it. For dessert we got the Three Milk Cake (Tres leches is very popular in Central America!) It was amazing… a piece of white cake in what I can only compare to melted ice cream.”
518 Cordoba ($18.50)
“Our First morning morning we walked into town and found a quaint little café with AC (which is a plus!!) We had a couple of smoothies and breakfast sandwiches. This was one of the pricier places we ate at, but it was right on the beach and the view was absolutely beautiful.”
1040 Cordoba ($37)
“This was one of the cheapest places we visited and it was one of our favourites. If you stop in make sure to tell Jose and Joshua, Beth and Amanda say HI! So, this is a burger joint but they have great burgers and the menu is hilarious. All the items on the menu have sexual names. Ex. Bareback, Busta’ Nut, The Morning After, and Yoga Ass for the vegetarians. We had the Bareback and a side of I-Da-Hoe Fries (regular fries with parmesan cheese on them.)”
“This is exactly what it sounds like, a Taco Stop! It was extremely cheap and good! Nothing on the menu was over 170c ($6). Their tacos ranged from 30-60c, burritos from 80-140c, and quesadillas from 80-140c. They also had bowls, nachos, and other items. The first time we went we had the chicken nachos, a carnita duro (beef taco with lettuce, cheese, sour cream, ect), and a chicken taco. I was not impressed with the chicken taco, but I think I ordered the wrong thing. The nachos were big and very good. The second time we went and both got the carnita duro. This a great place to eat if you are drinking. They are a little slower, but it is made to order and really good. Make sure to take a mirror selfie! Look UP!”
460 Cordoba ($16.42)
“This is an Asian restaurant in Nicaragua. You pick what carb you want (white rice, brown rice, or Asian noodles), you pick what meat you want, you pick 3 veggies, and you pick what type of sauce you want it cooked in. It is a very generous portion and VERY good!”
120 Cordoba ($4.28)
“One of the locals told us about this new Gelato shop in town. We stopped in one day and it was really good. They had about 20 flavours to choose from.”
120 Cordoba ($4.28)
“We were also told about this place by a local. We got 6 different donuts and they were all great – they were so soft and the icing was amazing!”
960 Cordoba ($34.28)
“The manager or the Villas we stayed in took us here for dinner one night and they have really good thin crust pizza. The pizzas were about 10’ so enough for 1 or 2 people depending on how hungry you are. We had 3 pizzas, 3 beers, and a large bottle of water. If you stop in make sure to tell Mauricio, Beth said Hi! (My Nica Boyfriend!)”
San Juan del Sur Cervecería (local brewery)
“This place is a good but more expensive than the other places we visited, but it is very backpacker oriented so I believe the prices are inflated because it is more of a touristy business than a local business. They had amazing mac and cheese! It was a 4 cheese sauce and you could pick what went into it. The first time was had it we got lobster and bacon. It was Heaven! The second time we just got chicken. Both times were excellent.”
400 Cordoba ($14.28)
“The woman who ran the villas we stayed in had friends that owned the restaurant and told us to check it out for breakfast. So on our last full day in town we had breakfast here. We both had a bacon, egg, cheese, and avocado sandwich. It came on a croissant and they pressed it like a panini. We also both had the juice of the day which was a passionfruit/orange. It was delicious!”
Drinking and Nightlife
The Best Beer…
“The national beers are Tona, Victoria, and Victoria Frost… We really liked the Tona, it was very light and smooth!
Most places the national beers were around $1-$2.5. Aside from San Juan del Sur Cervecería I didn’t see anyone drinking any other types of beer.”
The Best Happy Hour In Town…
“Our favourite happy hour was at the Iguana Bar. It was on Playa Marsella and the beers were $1! They also have an upstairs bar that has a great view for sunset.”
The Best Cocktail In Town…
“The best mojito in town was at Nacho Libre, and the prices are awesome. We paid $37 for 2 burgers, a large side of fries (burgers come with fries, didn’t need to order more), 2 tonas, and 4 cocktails!”
The Best Smoothie…
“Simon Says is a smoothie shop in town and it is quite interesting… you order in one room and then go down a hallways that opens up into a patio and garden area. The smoothies were $2.50. They were large and made from real fruit. NOTE: Make sure to bring bug spray, we were attacked!”
The Best Cup Of Coffee…
“El Gato Negro is a coffee shop in town. We originally went because we read on another blog that they had red velvet cupcakes and we couldn’t pass that up! They didn’t have them, but they did have iced vanilla and almond lattes! It is very relaxing – with couches, pillows and a garden.”
“The beach that San Juan Del Sur was built on and around was Playa Marsella (on a map it is called Playa San Juan Del Sur, but locals called it Marsella). This was one of 3 beaches we visited while there. Marsella is the most visited, as it is in town and it is the backyard to most of the restaurants in town. The other two were Playa Maderas and another section (not connected) of Playa Marsella. Playa Maderas is a beach that many surfers visit and there is a surf camp on the road leading up to the beach.”
Adventure and activities
“I really recommend doing the ATV quad tour through Beach Fun Rentals. It is reasonably priced and very interesting. We saw parts of Nicaragua we wouldn’t have been able to see if we hadn’t taken the tour.
Zip Lining was amazing and a must-do. The views were breath taking!
One thing we really wanted to do but did have time to was Volcano surfing in Leon. Leon is a beautiful city about 4 hours from San Juan.”
“We met a woman and her husband (originally from the US) at breakfast who owns a local clothing store, Moietii. She designs everything herself and travels to Managua (2.5 hours away) to get the designs printed. She has bathing suits, shirts, dresses, shorts, and men’s clothing.
Another shop we stopped at was San Juan Surf. It is a chain but they had a lot of cool items.
There was also a little store on a side street with lots of trinkets, paintings, purses, and souvenirs. I brought home a lovely blanket and a painting made by a local woman.”
Hints and Tips
- “As far as safety goes, just be aware of your surroundings and heed the warnings given by the locals.
- Don’t use large bills when paying ($20’s are the highest we used in public).
- At night, walking in town is ok as long as you stay in the central part of town (where all the shops, restaurants, and bars are located). If you are staying in a place that is not in town find a taxi (they are everywhere). The prices for day and night ride do change but neither is that expensive. We walked into town 1 day from our Villa but it was very hot/humid so for the rest of the time with used the taxis to get to town.
- Most all of people we met spoke English enough to communicate. But, it does help to know some basic Spanish because our words don’t always translate. I have a very poor Spanish vocabulary, but I was still able to communicate.
- Most places were ate, drank and shopped at accepted US currency as well as Cordoba. If you paid with USD most of the time your change was given back to you in Cordoba. Know the exchange rate so you can calculate what your change is should be.
- When eating out, the service staff make a monthly salary (around $250, which is not much when you factor their cost of living) and tips are factored into the bill (about 10%). But, we still tipped like were in America (20-25%.)”
And Lastly, Describe Nicaragua in one paragraph!
“Before going to Nicaragua I didn’t know what to expect. I had only travelled the US and Europe, so parts of this trip were a shock to me. It feel like I walked away from this trip with a more positive outlook on life. The conditions weren’t the worst, but they definitely weren’t the best either. I saw a way of life that many people in the US never do and it opened my eyes. The scenery was absolutely beautiful and the people were awesome. The town of San Juan is very small, and by the 3 day we were being recognized by other tourists around town. We also spend time with several of the locals who we now keep in contact with on Facebook and Instagram.
My best tip I can give you is go with an open mind and a willingness to explore and step out of your comfort zone. I wasn’t ready to leave on the 5th day and I pray that I am able to go back!”
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