Written by Milly Whitehead on 23 / 03 / 2023
Gap Year Advice
Nicaragua has not had the huge influx of tourists yet, and remains a place of authentic charm, full of natural wonders from rainforest, mangroves, stunning surf beaches and colourful coral reefs to towering active volcanoes and crater lakes. It is amazingly un-spoilt and you will be met with friendly welcoming arms. The grand colonial cities with their atmospheric streets and plazas are stunning and have a great party vibe. It is set between tectonic plates, so has a landscape shaped by volcanic activity with smouldering peaks, spectacular deep crater lakes and lush forests which are a haven for wildlife.
It is an easy country to go backpacking in, it is cheap, safe and small. Most of the fun stuff happens in the west of the country so super easy to navigate.
A trip to Nicaragua is very easy to get to from Costa Rica via numerous daily flights or by road via the Penas Blancas border crossing which is relatively hassle-free. The best time to visit is in the dry season which runs from December to April.
This is the capital city and a great starting point for your gap year to Nicaragua. It is a city of contrasts, where you can see a horse and cart pull up alongside a lorry. Rather underwhelming but there are some fun things to do such as:
Nicaragua’s most enthralling city. It was the former capital, so is graced with its majestic colonial buildings, a cathedral, numerous churches and beautiful streets. It is the cultural and intellectual centre, hosting the National University, best art gallery and a huge student population. It is vibrant and fun with great restaurants and nightlife, live music and theatre.
The Sandinistas were a Nicaraguan revolutionary organization active in Nicaragua from the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s, many ex- Sandinista live in Leon and this is a good place to find out about the history of the Nicaraguan Revolution. Check out:
This is a dramatic landscape of dormant volcanoes, sweeping bays and golden-sand beaches backed by lush tropical forests. It is still relatively unspoilt and is a wonderful place to chill and explore:
This is one of the 78 nature reserves that are under official protection in the country. The reserve is home to a wide variety of different species including sea turtles, crocodiles and caimans.
This town is significant in the country’s history, and was used by everyone from indigenous traders to Spanish invaders and marauding pirates. The winding river is flanked by dense jungle, rolling hills and vast wetlands. The wildlife is incredible and you will spot sloths, howler monkeys, parrots and macaws as you head downstream.
Not to be missed:
Give yourself a week here. A dramatic pair of volcanic peaks rising from the lake on this gem of an island. Ometepe offers wildlife, relaxation and wonderful walking. The volcanic soil feeds rich cloud forests abundant with wildlife, monkeys, armadillo, opossum and deer.
This is a stunning picturesque city of grand colonial architecture, gilded churches and cobbled streets made for wandering. It is set between the magnificent Lake Nicaragua and towering Mombacho volcano. It is a relaxing, easy-going city buzzing with cafés and restaurants and a vibrant nightlife.
If you have time, do explore this ‘off the beaten track’ canyon, a must for any adventure-junkie. Hire a guide who will provide you with life-jackets and everything else you need to explore the canyon safely, you will spend the day floating, swimming and jumping into the river winding through the canyon.
If you love diving and snorkelling, do not miss these charmingly laid-back islands.The food here is excellent and you can relax on white-sand beaches backed by colourful wooden houses.
Little Corn Island is the clear winner for backpackers with its dreamy beaches. This is very mellow and the stunning natural beauty and the chilled-out vibe make the effort to reach the island totally worth it. There are no cars on this island so you get around on foot or bikes. You can also learn to dive there.
Independent backpacking or in need of some structure?
The above itinerary could be enough for many gap year travellers but if you would like more information about where to stay, how to get about and a few in country contacts then join LEAP VIP- a travel resource built by our gap year travellers for future gap year travellers.
on 23 / 03 / 2023