“The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.”
We crossed the border, from Honduras into Nicaragua, by bus, and began our two weeks in Nicaragua in the colonial town of Granada. The colourful buildings and cobblestone streets immediately reminded us of Guatemala’s colonial city of Antigua. We stayed just on the outskirts of town at a homey hostel that I booked through Airbnb, Casa Del Poeta. The rustic accommodations were as such because the house is an original 16th century ranch house, converted into a hostel. We were steps from Lago Nicaragua and therefore began our exploration of the town by sauntering down to the waterfront. Once the lunch hour was upon us we found a patio, right on the main street of Calle La Calzada, with 2 for 1 mojitos and some of the best nachos we have ever had. Our afternoon was spent shopping at the Mercado Municipal and people watching local life. That evening, in true backpacker fashion, we hit up El Tercer Ojo for 2 for 1 burgers and the cheapest bottle of wine on the menu. Following dinner we strolled along Calle La Calzada and slowly made our way back to the hostel.
The following morning we went kayaking and hired a guide to take us on a tour of the Las Isletes. Beginning the tour in the early morning meant beating the heat of the day, but not beating the heat altogether. It was nice to be on the water so as to splash ourselves for a cool down every once in a while. Las Isletes is an archipelago of over 365 islands on Lago Nicaragua. Fun fact: Lago Nicaragua is the only freshwater lake in the world with sharks, vicious bull sharks to be exact. A fact we thankfully didn’t learn until about a week after our kayaking trip. That being said, our fantastic guide taught us so very much about Nicaraguan culture and history. We spotted numerous marine birds, bats, flora and even had a visited the home of our guide, whom lives on one of the tiny islands with his wife, baby girl, mother and father. His parents had just returned from their morning fishing trip and were thrilled to show off their catch of about 30 perch. The other way of exploring Las Isletes is but motor boat, packed 6 tourists wide and 10 deep. Although renting kayaks and hiring a local guide was slightly more expensive, we felt as though it offered a much more rich and authentic learning experience.
We couldn’t help but hit up our same lunch spot as the day before, for the very same 2 for 1 mojitos and loaded nachos. Following lunch we explored more of the colonial city staring at the captivating colourful buildings and taking a break in Parque Central. We capped our day off with a visit to the beautiful Iglesia de La Merced, which offers the best panoramic views of the entire city from the bell tower. That evening we dinned in the courtyard at Pita Pita, also known as El Pizzaiole, where we indulged in their combination Israeli/Italian dishes.
Our journey to the volcanic island of Ometepe began at 10:00am and consisted of a 2hr shuttle ride to San Jorge, 1hr ferry ride to the island and a 1.5hr cab ride to our amazing hotel, La Omaja perched on the hillside, just outside the town of Merida on Volcan Maderas. By the end of the travel day we were more than happy to spend the rest of the afternoon cooling down and enjoying the views from the infinity pool at our hotel.
The easiest way to get around Ometepe is by scooter or quad, however the millions of potholes and massive rocks strewn about the road make driving a quad far easier. That being said, a scooter was less than half the price of a quad rental and we have ridden them all over the world, so that was what we did in Ometepe. Our first morning we rode to San Ramon, where we parked and hiked a mere 4.5km, up the side of Volcan Maderas. Although we have hiked 20km+ trails in many countries and through various terrain, this hike proved to be quite a challenge, as it was straight uphill in 32 degree heat , in order to reach San Ramon Waterfall. By the time we arrived we were drenched with sweat and completely parched. The falls were but a mere trickle, but just enough to make the hike worthwhile. The way down took us half the time and was a breeze compared to the hike up.
Following the hike we had a quick bite to eat and a much deserved cervesa at a local hot spot on Playa Santo Domingo. We wrapped up our day of touring the island at Ojo de Agua, a freshwater lagoon, made tourist spot, on Volcan Concepcion. That evening, back at our hotel, we enjoyed a delicious meal while conversing with new friends, both Canadian and American, also guests of La Omaja. This big beautiful world was made to feel quite small when we discovered a fellow Canuck had grown up just minutes from our home and we shared many friends in common; it was an exciting epiphany. Our busy day left us exhausted and we called it an early night, but looked forward to having a few drinks with our new friends again the next day.
We awoke the following morning ready to start another day of exploring the astounding island of Ometepe. We began by venturing to Santa Cruz, on the opposite side of Volcan Maderas, to hike up a peak to a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the lake. The site is also home to just a few of the 1,700 ancient petroglyphs found on the island. It took some time, but we were eventually able to spot the signs and symbols that had been carved into the rocks so many years ago. We then made our way to Playa Santo Domingo and spent a couple hours swimming, sunning and watching vultures eat fish carcasses that had been washed ashore. This long stretch of sand has the most breathtaking view of Volcano Maderas to the south, and Volcano Concepcion to the north. Just before hopping back on the scooter to continue exploring we spotted a bunch of monkeys eating berries from the trees along the side of the road. They were a shy bunch, so we only hung around for a few photos before we continued on to find another swim spot. We drove to Charco Verde on Volcan Concepcion, which was not much of a beach at all, and continued down the coast without much luck. It was at that point when we decided Playa Santo Domingo was likely the best beach on the island, and we headed back to La Omaja to have a dip in the infinity pool. That evening, our last in Isla de Ometepe, we picked up from where we had left off with our friends we had met the night before. Poolside drinks turned into dinner, which turned into more drinks, swapping stories, laughter and a hilarious game of Taboo to end the night off just right. It was a memorable travel night, to say the least!
Our next Nicaraguan stop was Big Corn Island, 70km off the mainland, in middle the Caribbean Sea. Upon checking into our quaint cabana at Paraiso Beach Hotel we ventured to Corn Island Dive Centre‘s shop to chat with them and ask some questions. It didn’t take much convincing to get us in the water and diving that afternoon. We went to The Virgin dive site, where an 8ft statue of the Virgin Mary had been sunk many years ago. We saw some new and exciting things, the best of which may have been a 4ft grouper. However we soon came to realize that we were spoiled divers, having learned to dive in Belize and Roatan, home to some of the best scuba in the world. The rest of our days on Big Corn were far too windy to dive, which may have been for the best as we were more than satisfied with our dive memories from past Central American countries.
The following day we walked to Picnic Beach at Southwest Bay to lounge on the golden sands and watch the fishing boats go in and out of the docks. The water, on this side of the island, was perfectly calm and we relished it by floating in its waters for hours. In our continued search for the best beach on island we grabbed a cab (taxi rides cost $1/pp for anywhere on island) to Long Bay, the longest stretch of sand on Big Corn. Before hitting the beach we went to Spekito Place, which quickly turned into our favourite spot on island. A very local establishment, serving $1 Cuba Libras and $1 tacos on a deck built over the ocean. What more could a traveller on a budget ask for? A few Cuba Libres lead us to the water where we jumped and dove in the waves until we wore ourselves out. That evening we went to Arenas Beach Hotel for dinner where we enjoyed a meal at one of the more upscale restaurants on island.
Our last day on Big Corn, and our last day in Nicaragua, began with a hike around the entire northeast coast of the island. We grabbed a cab to Sally Peaches where we then walked around Rocky Point, along Driftwood Beach, down the South End, finally landing at Spekitos again for lunch; this time we shared pollo fritos (fried chicken) with fresh plantain chips and, of course, a few Cuba Libres. We spent that afternoon at Typical Taste, on Long Bay, hanging out and jumping in the massive waves. That last night we ate at our hotel and enjoyed the impeccable service and delicious food of Paraiso Beach.
We have such fond memories of itty-bitty Big Corn Island and its true Caribbean charm. With no resorts, and so few fancy restaurants on island, it remains quite untouched and is truly a gem in the Caribbean Sea. It won’t be long before it’s overrun with tour companies and high rise hotels, so now is the time to visit this paradise, while it is still in its prime.
It is no wonder why Nicaragua is an up-and-coming Central American hot spot. We could not have asked for more in our two weeks spent there, just more time. We were awestruck by so many natural sights, invigorated with adventure and lounged on some stunning beaches, both fresh and saltwater. Of all the counties we’ve travelled to, Nicaragua stands out as one of the most exciting and one we would both highly recommend to any traveller.