There are some countries you visit for the first time and think “ok, this is traveling.” You feel immersed with the people, not hidden behind some resort wall, and constantly amazed by the freshness of the food, the wildness of the land, and the smile of the people.
Nicaragua is one of those countries. It has the rainforest, surfing, coffee plantations, volcanos to climb, old Spanish colonial monasteries, and so much more I could fill a book with the activities. Here’s a video of just the first two nights of our vacation, where we stayed at a beautiful, cliffside HomeAway house.
We arrived in Managua, rented a car and headed to the costal side of Nicaragua with beach and sun on our minds and hearts. Nicaragua has quite a few coastal towns to stay in, all with a chill, beachy vibe. Most people who travel here know of Maderas Village, where all the surfers flock. Or there’s San Juan del Sur, a bit more of a small city and home of some of the best fresh caught ceviche I have has tasted. On this vacation we wanted adventure, space, and some peace and quiet so thought renting our own home versus a hotel would fit best. For the same price as a hotel ROOM, we had a cliffside HOUSE.
The home? It was insane. Waking up the first morning in your new place knowing you can continue your familiar coffee ritual just the way you like it was the best. But you also get to take it to a new level by enjoying it in a hammock looking out at the most insane view a home can have. After soaking in the view, we walked down the hill to a cafe and enjoyed beach-side pitaya bowls. Similar to acai bowls in the superfood category, but with the most vibrant pink color. Pitaya is also grown in Nicaragua so it’s not uncommon to find in your favorite beach side beverage as well… we had to try a few pitaya daquiris and mojitos while there, too.
And to top the morning off I got to practice some yoga on this beautiful deck with the most serene view. Who wouldn’t be a yogi living here?
My favorite part about staying in a home versus a hotel is that I get to have my own kitchen… So we had to put it to work! I found the best way to explore and try local dishes is to visit the local markets and find out whats fresh and popular. Playa Gigante, just 5 minutes drive from our spot, is a small fishing town with charm and sunshine. When we arrived, so did the catch of the day. The fishermen were unloading the boats and headed inside the little market to be weighed an sold. We bought 2 fresh Dorado for around 8 US dollars. I had been eyeing the massive brick grill on our back grill and figured this would be the best way to test it out.
We grabbed some fresh limón to go with the fish- not quite a lime, not quite a lemon, just: limón. Cooking at home everyone had a task. The boys fileted the fish, my mom and I made some fresh salsa and gallo pinto (rice and beans). To cook the fish whole, we did it similar to what we saw in the restaurants. After descaling it and salting it, we made angled slits on both sides of the fish, each about 1.5 inches apart, and filled the slits with limón slices, cilantro, butter, and peppers inside. We cooked it on the hot fire grill for 5-7 minutes each side and also threw on some whole peeled plantains rubbed in butter and cinnamon as a sweeter, smoky side dish. This meal was a FEAST, and we were so proud to have all made it together.
Convinced yet? We haven’t even gone to Granada- let’s just say it is a country that gets the Silja from Scratch approval. The city of Granada has been around since the 1500s, so its food is as rich with history as it is with flavor
I mean check out this beautiful market kitchen. You have no idea how long I could spend wandering the market looking at all the typical dishes being cooked. Its probably the hardest thing for me not to lift the lids and smell the deliciousness on each pot cooking on an open fire grill. After tracking down one of Nicaragua’s most complex dishes called Baho, we asked for a good spot to pick up breakfast and were lead to this gorgeous, moody meal of plantains and eggs to eat at home.
Granada is full of color. We again skipped on the hotel and went with an old Spanish colonial home, all to ourselves! It is one of my favorite cities on earth so it was super fun to try and live like a local, and walk around this city full of romance.
With the sweltering heat in the city, it was pretty perfect that our home had a cold pool smack dab in the middle.
We had a little jungle, a little colonial stone, and a little pool all in place. Just 5 minutes walk from our place is a really amazing cooking school called Tortilla Cooking School where we all took a cooking class and learned to cook 3 dishes for 30 dollars. We made Indio Viejo, a traditional Nicaraguan dish. It was similar to a chicken stew with local peppers, chicken, plantain vinegar (commonly found at the markets), and masa flour as thickener. We also learned to make fresh corn tortilla and really made a night out of the lesson with wine and a feast in the end.
While Nicaraguan food is special and so delicious, Nicaraguan ceramics is some of my favorite in the world. I love how raw the dish is and how it makes anything you put inside of it special. Just 20 minutes from the Granada is a small town called San Juan del Oriente dedicated to these ceramics. There is a street lined with little huts/houses and most have a workshop out back with a ceramic foot wheel. We have made friends with an amazing potter Moises who even let me test out the foot wheel my self. Guys it’s like taking a Soul Cycle class… I was sweating!
Nicaragua has some beautiful artisanal crafts to take home and ceramics is definitely a favorite. They also are famous for the wood work, hammocks, chairs, and beautiful woven bags so I recommend you pack lightly… you will need some space in your bag!
Also not far from Granada is the Apoyo Lagoon, a beautiful place to escape the heat of the city for the day with the whole family. It felt like summer camp while we jumped off the dock into the deep volanic lagoon.
Needless to say we had the ABSOLUTE best time.
Packing for Nicaragua tips:
-Extra space in your bag for artisanal goods
-light clothing, sun protection
-bug spray (30% DEET is enough, no need to do higher percentage)
-their plugs are compatible with US plugs
-convert your dollars to Cordobas- most places that don’t take credit card don’t take US dollars, either. However, almost every hotel and restaurant takes credit cards.
You can rent a car or get a driver- most roads are on google maps but they have no addresses, so it can be tricky to use sometimes. We have hired a driver for around 75 US dollars from the Managua airport to the coast: the company at email@example.com is so professional and highly recommended.
See you in Nica! Also, huge thanks to HomeAway for providing the accommodations during our stay in Nicaragua- I’m glad we got to experience Nicaragua in a home away from home.