Gay Nicaragua: enjoy the ultimate 7 days Nicaragua itinerary

Melding all the sweaty carnival vibes of Latin America with the no-fuss serenity of the Caribbean, Nicaragua is a true all-rounder, complete with mountainous jungle landscapes, liberal cities and pre-Colombian intrigue. Stay in the heart of Granada for perfectly preserved visions of colonial life, moving to the countryside to discover ancient ruins, volcanic lakes and indigenous communities living in harmony with the all-encompassing rainforest. Once lost in the wilderness, sail your way out through wetlands and rivers towards either the crashing Pacific or Caribbean Sea, swapping boat for surfboard (or snorkel) on coastal breaks in proximity to lively nightlife and undeveloped islands. See how to make the best of your vacation with our 7-day Nicaragua itinerary below.

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Cayo Crawl, Laguna de Perlas | Photo: Alexander Schimmeck

LGBT situation in Nicaragua

On paper, Nicaragua is devoutly religious, with 85% of the population identifying as Roman Catholic. However, after many years of battling with socially conservative political groups, today, LGBT rights in Nicaragua are some of the most progressive in the world, having rapidly evolved since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2008. Though you’ll likely find most locals are friendly and accepting, discretion is still advised when out in public, particularly in rural parts.

Managua as the capital of Nicaragua has held a gay pride parade since 1991 and while there are only a few exclusive gay venues here (on unnamed streets that you’ll need a helpful local to point you towards), the ones that exist are certainly worth hunting down for extravagant DJ-led dance parties. Outside of the capital in Nicaragua’s regional hubs, you’ll also find tolerant attitudes prevailing and more than a couple of gay bars and clubs semi-hidden in both Masaya and Granada.

Photo: Jason Briscoe

Photo: Nate J5U

Best time to visit Nicaragua

Always is the right time to visit Nicaragua, but it’s still best to be aware of the country’s peak seasons. Though the sun shines all year round, Nicaragua is dryer between November and April before the rainy season hits in May through to October.

If planning on travelling to Nicaragua in the rainy season, consider the Pacific region between May and August which tends to be less wet than the more tropical Caribbean region, with afternoon showers lasting just an hour or two. Unlucky visitors may experience occasional heavy rains later in September, which can make roads impassable, particularly in remote areas along the Caribbean coast.

1 week in Nicaragua

So much to do, so little time; that’s the problem with Nicaragua, though it’s not such a bad problem to have. With just one week to explore, you’re going to have to limit yourself to a few areas – we’ve chosen two cities and one island – saving the rest for next time. Those in search of a beach vacation can spend longer on the coast and among the Corn Islands, reserving some time in San Juan del Sur for surfing too. Cultural breaks meanwhile focus on the colourful attractions of Granada and León, while outdoor adventurers have a million more options; volcano sledding near León, hiking the cloud forests of Mombacho or kayaking in the Ometepe. As for us, we prefer a balance of all three, as outlined below…

Chinandega | Photo: Roberto Zuniga

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The ramshackle sister of colonial-era Granada, León is equally as worthy and twice as charming thanks to its crumbling facades and revolutionary soul

León (2 days)

On landing in Managua waste no time in travelling the 100 kilometres to León, allowing Nicaragua’s second-biggest city to make the best first impression. The ramshackle sister of colonial-era Granada, León is equally as worthy and twice as charming thanks to its crumbling facades and revolutionary soul. Though big, León has a small-town feel centred by the UNESCO-listed Basilica Catedral de la Asuncion in the city’s main plaza. Pay the cathedral’s uber-cheap entry fee ($2USD) and climb up to the domed roof for views across the city. Back down at ground level, sample plantain chips and papaya from street vendors at the Mercado Central or follow knowing local students into any of the small family-owned restaurants around town.

Once the epicentre of revolution against the long-standing Somoza dictatorship which ran from the 1940s to 1979, León’s powerful energy is hard to deny. Spend the afternoon touring street art, mural bridges and monuments dedicated to great poets and activists, getting a more formal education on how the Sandinista group overthrew Somoza in 1979 at the Museo Histórico de la Revolución. After stimulating your intellect a little, León has something for the body by way of volcano boarding down nearby Cerro Negro. Just an hour from the city centre, Cerro Negro lies dormant as a top hiking and sledding spot, perfect for a hit of adrenaline before a sweaty night of salsa dancing in the city.

Photo: MHA

Leon | Photo: Uday Misra

Ometepe Island (2 days)

Easily spotted on the ferry ride across Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe Island rises from the water to form two towering volcanic peaks, prized since the Aztecs. Mark Twain was also a fan of Ometepe, writing of the amazing landscapes found here in Travels with Mr Brown, and no wonder really. Relatively hard to reach (with a 5-hour drive from León plus ferry from Rivas port), Ometepe Island benefits from fewer visitors and pristine natural beauty best discovered on its broad beaches and rural farms. In amongst all of this glorious nature, Ometepe also boasts various archaeological attractions with as many as 1,700 petroglyphs said to have been carved thousands of years ago.

On arrival in Moyogalpa village, you’ll be welcomed by tuk-tuk and taxi drivers keen to take you where you need to go. After settling in at your lodge, consider renting a motorbike or scooter to get around, easily navigating the one road right around the entire island. Though you’ll need a whole day and an early wake-up call, hiking the Concepcion peak is a popular choice of day trip, with lazier travellers opting for the freshwater springs of Ojo de Agua, a site offering a series of pools as well as a cocktail bar and restaurant laid into a jungle setting. Other watery attractions in Ometepe set for day two include kayaking off the coast and sunbathing in view of the ever-present peaks.

Photo: Fabian Wiktor

Photo: Julyo Saenz

Granada (2 days)

The oldest of all Nicaragua’s cities, gay Granada is an old world beau with a photogenic mix of colonial-era churches and mountainside coffee plantations connected by cobblestone streets and winding highways both. Based between Ometepe and Managua, Granada is a real no-brainer for the final few days of your trip, allowing for affordable luxury in the city centre’s best guesthouses (go for one with a pool!) or even a lodge retreat on the edge of Laguna de Apoya, near the cultural village of Nicaragua Libre, a popular spot for community tourism.

As well as touring regional coffee farms, Granada’s geological wonders are also worth a gander. Try Mombacho Volcano for daytime trekking and hot spring retreats, while by night, Masaya Volcano is the one to see. Book a tour easily through your guesthouse, arriving after dark to view Masaya’s glowing lava-filled crater. Another top attraction for trekkers based in Grenada is Parque Nacional Archipiélago Zapatera, renowned for its ancient petroglyphs and carved statues. Otherwise, consider one more island break to the archipelago of Las Isletas or stick to the beaches and bays of Peninsula de Asese, accessible by bike from Granada. See our full Granada travel guide for more insights into Granada Nicaragua nightlife and lodgings.

Granada | Photo: Clive Kim

Granada | Photo: Tyler Donaghy

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Aside from counting revolutionary monuments and street art murals in double figures, a day in Managua is not complete without losing yourself among its market crowds

Managua (last day)

With so many things to do in Nicaragua and so little time to do it, Managua is pushed down our list of priorities despite having a number of hidden treasures. Sprawling and unsignposted, Managua isn’t the easiest of cities to get around but try hard enough and you’ll eventually make contact with a vibrant city of commerce and down-to-earth cuisine, as well as rich culture that comes alive at night. Aside from counting revolutionary monuments and street art murals in double figures, a day in Managua is not complete without losing yourself among its market crowds. Escaping the bustle is just as easy, however, thanks to the city’s proximity to the Chocoyero-El Brujo Natural Reserve, myriad lagoons and the fun-loving Pochomil beach.

Managua | Photo: Roberto Zuniga

More time in Nicaragua?

We can’t force you to leave after just one week, in fact, we might even push you to stay. The longer you stay, the better your choice of Nicaragua places to visit. Beach bums can retreat to the Caribbean coast for a taste of Creole culture on the Corn Islands; ferrying between the backpacker-oriented Little Corn and the resort-focused Big Corn, both offering their fair share of scuba diving, snorkelling and fishing excursions off their paradisiacal coastline.

Alternatively, those travellers big on trekking can take on the jungle terrain of Miraflores Natural Reserve, integrating in the local community on a homestay before discovering the cloud forests, waterfalls and farms just half an hour from the small northern city of Estelí. León should also get another mention as a dream hiking base, thanks to its closeness to various hiking spots, including the aforementioned Cerro Negro, in addition to the sunset spot of Telica, the difficult Momotombo and the even more strenuous San Cristóbal.

San Juan del Sur | Photo: Darren Lawrence

Little Corn Island | Photo: Fabian Wiktor

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