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Nicaragua: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Granada, Nicaragua |
When I told people that I was going to Nicaragua, generally their reaction was “Really? Why? Is that safe?” I was initially drawn to it because of cheap prices, relative proximity to my home in the North Atlantic (compared to Southeast Asia), and an interesting range of activities to keep me occupied. And it seemed that there was enough of an established tourist path to keep things easy.

So how did it go?

I find every trip is a collection of ups and downs. You just hope that the ups always outnumber the downs. This trip was no exception with its own collection of goods, bads, and an ugly.

The Bad

Leon, Nicaragua |

Sweating. All. The. Time. I’m Canadian, I’m not built for that kind of heat. It almost never went down below 30C (86F) with the highest high I clocked on Snapchat coming in at 40C (104F). Two weeks and I never got used to the uncontrollable sweating. Choose your clothing wisely – patterns don’t show wet spots as readily as solids. ;) Lovely, eh?

Catcalling. Yes, it happened, but not nearly as much as I expected. Maybe because I’m older than the typical backpacker? Maybe because I had my legs covered the whole time I was in Leon? Either way, even though it was something that almost made me reconsider my trip, the kissy noises and “Hola, chica baby”s that I heard were just irritating and never scary. No one followed me. No one got up in my face. I know that’s not the case for all women.

Injuries. I’m a bit clumsy and am prone to injuries doing simple things. I mean, four stitches from a stair anyone? From surfing alone I ended up with a scraped up knee, shin, and sore ribs from repeatedly pressing them into the board while doing a cobra pose style move to begin my rise. Oh, and a bruise on my buttcheek from someone’s runaway board slamming into me. At least it hit the meatiest part of me. :P From ziplining, I got a sore right forearm from braking. From horseback riding, tender sit bones. I’m a bit of a disaster.

The Ugly

Hand’s down, the only thing that pops to mind for this category is my legs for the last few days of my trip. The sunburn was real kids. One afternoon on the lake, not reapplying sunscreen, and I ended up with sore, red, dry skin, swollen calves, ankles, and feet and, days later, blisters all over the front of my shins which meant I had to wear long pants and skirts in 35C+ (95F) heat for days. Worst sunburn ever. Yes, I know sunburns are always bad. It wasn’t even that I was trying to get a little tan, I just got lulled into forgetting to reapply since I wasn’t hot and it was an overcast cloudy day. Rookie mistake with the intense Nicaraguan sun.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua |

The Good

So much good. Meeting new people, even if you only talk to them for a few minutes over hostel breakfast pancakes, is one of the best things about travel. So even though I was travelling solo, I wasn’t always alone. One thing about meeting other travellers is you always have an opening line, “So, where are you from?” which opens up to so many follow up questions that can get a conversation started. “Have you been to [insert country/town] before? Are you travelling long? What’s been your favourite thing about this town/country?” etc.

So many pretty sunsets. Whether it was Granada, San Juan del Sur, or Leon, sunset was my favourite time of day. I’m not sure if the cathedrals were purposely built facing west or not but they look so pretty during the golden hour. And you just can’t beat a sunset over the ocean. The only thing is, sunsets this close to the equator don’t last long start to finish.

All the activities! I hiked around the crater of one volcano and tobogganed down the cone of another. I attempted to surf, but mostly just fell off my board. I ziplined with confidence and rode a horse on the beach with less. I went swimming in a crater lake and had a private boat tour of the mini islands in Lake Nicaragua. I saw monkeys hanging out in trees and butterflies galore. I learned about how the revolution started and ate supper from street grills. I navigated local markets in Masaya and went clothing shopping in Leon. I survived Sunday Funday in San Juan del Sur and learned that not much tastes better in the heat than a cold Toña. I climbed to the tops of churches and watched La Gigantona dance down the streets of Granada.

I was apprehensive before this trip but I know now that I’ll be making another trip to Nicaragua.

Have you ever considered a trip to Nicaragua?


  1. Brooke of Passport Couture says:

    June 5th, 2016 at 12:13 am (#)

    Great to hear you’ll be heading back to Nicaragua. I’ve always wanted to go and people give me the same reaction about safety and reasons why I want to go. Every travel destination has its ups and downs, so I was glad you were honest about yours. I completely understand about the 2nd degree sunburn, I had the same unfortunate experience in Los Angeles a couple of years ago.

  2. Melissa Hogan says:

    July 31st, 2016 at 3:16 pm (#)

    That burn really could’ve ruined the trip for me but I’m stubborn so I took time to put my legs up each day and wore pants and maxi skirts and made the best of it. I’ll know better next time.

  3. Bill Dwyer says:

    September 11th, 2016 at 11:15 pm (#)

    Ometempe Island is a must see. An hour from Granada in Rivas, 45 minute ferry over. Beautiful, peaceful, but plenty of things to do. You can get a private Cabana at Soma for $50, or find a Eco Finca and spend around $15 or $20. It’s really getting away from it all.

  4. kim says:

    September 14th, 2017 at 12:01 am (#)

    I am trying to decide when to plan my trip to Nicaragua and would love to avoid the sunburns. Can you tell us what time of year that you were in Nicaragua?

  5. Melissa Hogan says:

    September 14th, 2017 at 8:49 am (#)

    I was there in March 2016. The sun is always pretty strong there so be sure to pack sunscreen an use it regularly.

  6. nancy hawker says:

    February 23rd, 2019 at 10:43 pm (#)

    I found Nicaragua to be a real dead zone, and sweating. all. the. time turned out to be a real downer. I just couldn’t enjoy myself what with all the high temperatures and humidity. I won’t be going back. San Juan del Sur was especially over-rated.

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