Our trip to Nicaragua started off on a rough note. Due to poor coordination between two buses, we found ourselves forced to sleep on the roadside. With no hotels nearby, sandwiched between two villages and not a restaurant in sight, we had to make do.
We unfolded our large poncho to create a makeshift mattress.
As night fell, the wildlife started to stir. Bats, cockroaches, skunks, spiders, mosquitoes... they all passed by our feet, making our sleep more restless than anticipated.
We waited until 4 a.m., the time the first bus heading to Leon would pass.
After a two-hour journey, we finally arrived at the entrance of the city.
Leon: our epic starting point
Leon is a lively city, known for its cobbled streets and laid-back atmosphere. Every morning, you can visit the market located in the northern part of the city.
There, you'll find everything you need, from textiles, fruits, vegetables to fish.
We stayed at the Hellenika Hotel, where we met Mika, the manager who was ready to answer all our questions.
After a delicious breakfast, we headed to Volcano Day, the only certified agency to take you on volcano explorations.
Be careful, as you might be tempted to follow strangers on the street for tours. Do not trust them.
Their program is comprehensive, offering over 20 possible excursions, most of them customizable. You can choose to hike, drive, stay overnight at the summit, or not – the possibilities are endless.
One of the first must-do activities was climbing the Cerro Negro volcano, just 45 minutes drive from the city. An exhilarating hike through volcanic ash.
At the top, 720 meters above sea level, you'll have half an hour to walk around and take photos of the youngest volcano in Central America.
For the descent, the solution is simple... and quick. You can choose to go down on a sandboard, sliding at full speed down the black slopes of the volcano. It's breathtaking; in just 15 seconds, you're at the bottom.
Fun fact: this is where a Frenchman set the world speed record on a bike, reaching 156 km/h!
In the evening, you can stroll through the bustling streets of Leon. Many terraces offer tapas with a beer for a few euros. We headed to a rooftop bar called "El Mirador" to have a beer and spend the evening.
The next day, we visited the Leon Cathedral.
The Leon Cathedral is an architectural marvel, blending baroque and neoclassical styles. Its construction took nearly 90 years, resulting in a facade adorned with sculptures and artistic details. The interior is equally impressive, with high vaulted ceilings, beautiful religious artworks, and a spiritual atmosphere. The cathedral also houses a cloister turned into a museum of religious art, and its tower offers a panoramic view of the city. It's a cultural treasure that embodies Nicaragua's history and faith, attracting visitors worldwide for its architecture and spiritual aura.
The cathedral's characteristic white paint can sometimes be dazzling when the sun's rays reflect off the square!
With such beautiful weather, we decided to take a car trip to the Telica volcano for the sunset!
Managua: vibrant capital
Our journey then took us to Managua, the capital. We explored the National Museum, recounting Nicaragua's fascinating history, then ventured into the lively Zona Rosa district to sample delicious local cuisine.
Our visit to Managua was cut short due to riots related to a political regime change in Nicaragua...
Granada: the heart of nicaragua
We then headed to Granada. There, we discovered the colorful artisan market, where talented craftsmen sold unique souvenirs.
In the evening, we met a German couple who suggested visiting the Masaya volcano, located 30 minutes drive from the city.
We jumped at the opportunity and headed there in the early evening to watch the boiling lava of the crater at nightfall.
The Masaya volcano is a spectacular natural site. Its crater houses a continually boiling lava lake, creating a mystical scene. Visitors can observe this unique volcanic activity from safe viewpoints, offering an unforgettable experience of nature's power.
Beware, drones are strictly prohibited!
Our next stop was Ometepe Island. We initially planned to take a boat from the port of Granada, but at the ticket counter, we were informed that the crossing would take more than 9 hours.
The alternative was to take a bus down to Rivas and then a 2-hour ferry to the island.
So, we headed to Rivas on a "Chicken Bus," a bus with little comfort, similar to American school buses. At the Rivas port, ferries departed every 3 hours. So, we waited in a fast-food restaurant for the ferry to arrive.
Ometepe Island: a natural paradise
Ometepe Island was a true oasis of nature. We rented scooters to explore this island formed by two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas.
We decided to indulge ourselves! We stayed at the La Omaja Hotel, a haven of tranquility nestled in the heart of nature. Surrounded by lush gardens and offering panoramic views of Concepcion volcano, this establishment is a peaceful retreat for travelers.
The comfortable rooms and exquisite local cuisine made this hotel an ideal place to relax while exploring the charms of Ometepe Island. With its friendly atmosphere, welcoming staff, and infinity pool, Hotel La Omaja provided a memorable experience for those seeking serenity and adventure in this quiet corner of Nicaragua.
We came to the island for one reason: the ascent of Concepcion volcano, rising over 1700 meters.
After booking the climb with a guide, he met us the next morning at 6 a.m. at the foot of the volcano.
We woke up at 4 a.m., and by 4:30 a.m., we were off on scooters. One downside of the hotel was its location at the other end of the island.
At 6 a.m., we started our hike through the lush jungle. The guide led the way, clearing the path with a machete. We discovered lush vegetation and wildlife we never could have imagined. Multicolored spiders and the songs of unknown birds.
A notable feature of this jungle was its 100% humidity. Within the first few minutes, we were sweating profusely, and our clothes became soaked.
After more than 2 hours of walking, we emerged from the jungle onto a plateau covered with volcanic rocks and moss. We were exhausted but realized we had only covered a third of the way...
After a breakfast break of rice and red beans, we continued our trek.
The path became more and more winding, and the unpredictable weather made the ascent even more challenging. We found ourselves in the clouds, under rain and wind.
Finally, after 5 and a half hours of walking, we reached the summit in freezing cold and fog that prevented us from admiring the view of the island. It's safe to say there wasn't much comfort after so much effort...
The descent was just as difficult due to the slippery moss covering the upper part of the volcano.
We definitely deserved some rest! In the afternoon, we decided to enjoy the waters of Ojo de Agua, natural springs gushing from the earth.
The atmosphere was very pleasant, and you could eat at the onsite restaurant.
After a good night's sleep, we took the boat to the south of the country and its surf spot, San Juan del Sur!
San Juan del Sur: beaches and relaxed atmosphere
Our journey concluded in San Juan del Sur, a small coastal town known for its beautiful beaches and relaxed atmosphere.
We started with a day of relaxation on the famous beach of San Juan del Sur, with its golden sand and perfect waves for surfing. Small restaurants line the beach, allowing you to eat right on the loungers!
We spent the day there.
In the evening, we booked a surf lesson for the next day. The town is known for its excellent surfing conditions, so we rented boards and took lessons to make the most of the Pacific Ocean.
The water was warm, and the waves were impressive, even for beginners. We didn't even manage to stand up on the boards. Some say it takes several weeks to master these waves!
Another possible activity here is scuba diving.
We explored the incredible underwater world through scuba diving. The waters of San Juan del Sur are teeming with marine life, including turtles and tropical fish. Some divers will even pick you up directly from your hotel, which makes things much easier!
We were very satisfied with our trip and pleasantly surprised by the locals who are very welcoming. They will not hesitate to help you if you ask them questions, so don't hesitate.
If you love hiking and stunning landscapes, Nicaragua is the place for you!