“Get Out There” is a column for itchy footed humans written by Paste contributor Blake Snow. Although different now, travel is still worthwhile—especially to these open borders.
Sometimes a country is more defined by what it doesn’t have than what it does. Nicaragua is one of those countries.
While it doesn’t have the shiny amenities, rave reputation, and tourism machine needed to attract a high volume of visitors, Nicaragua also doesn’t have the crowds, beaten paths, and routine experiences you’ll increasingly find elsewhere. Instead, it is refreshingly undeveloped. Because of this, Nicaragua is notably more affordable when compared to other Central American hot spots (including neighboring Costa Rica, which it definitely resembles).
And yet, Nicaragua has many things that visitors want. Empty beaches. Lush jungles. Beachfront resorts and golf courses. Pipeline surfing. Classic architecture. Memorable meals. True seclusion. Low cost. It also boasts active volcanoes that are surprisingly accessible and a rugged, simple vibe that can appeal to all but the most sophisticated traveler.
When it comes to tourism, Nicaragua is different (in a good way)
I knew I was landing somewhere special after seeing a freakin’ volcano from the plane while descending into Managua, the understated capital. When compared to trendier destinations, it was surreal to see huge beaches with rows of surf-able breaks and only one or two surfers in the water and a couple of beachgoers.
After a 40 minute drive from the airport, I saw and heard Masaya Volcano’s bubbling magma in the cauldron below—right from the parking lot! While driving another hour and a half west to my resort, I was struck by just how undeveloped this country actually is. Mostly jungle. Few buildings. And the ones you do see are noticeably humble by Western standards. It’s not surprising its tourism industry isn’t as built up as other countries, though, given the decades of revolution and civil war over the second half of the 20th century, and the massive earthquake that destroyed most of Managua in 1972.
After reaching the Pacific coast, I witnessed massive sunsets that I haven’t seen since Africa. I surfed Asuchillo Beach basically by myself. I enjoyed golf by the ocean and wondered what it would be like to vacation (if not live) here for an extended period.
Many people do. And I found a community of them keeping this overlooked country mostly to themselves.
My own private enclave
With so little development, there’s not a lot of overnight variety in Nicaragua beyond a scattering of bed and breakfasts. One accommodation stands out,though: the massive Gran Pacifica, which is the closest beach resort to the capital. With 3.5 miles of private beach, two terrific surf spots (for experts and beginners alike), two pools, and one 9-hole golf course, there’s a lot to like about the resort, which is arguably more of a community than a transient vacation spot.
While the majority of guests are expat home owners chasing a fancier lifestyle for a fraction of the cost, hotel rooms at the new short-term property start at $130 per night with spacious balconies overlooking the Pacific, pools, and well kept gardens. There’s also an on-site bar and restaurant that double as the nightly gathering place for the entire enclave.
Owned and operated by Nicaraguans, the restaurant serves Latin American fare with local favorites, including carne asada smothered in a coconut, onion, and jalapeño sauce, gallo pinto (beans and rice), and tostones (amazing fried cheese). About the only worthwhile dish they don’t serve is the roadside “pollo asado” (grilled chicken) which you should not miss while driving to or from the resort.
Like greater Nicaragua, however, Gran Pacifica is a work in progress. While the hotel grounds, existing homes, beach, and golf course are all beautiful, there are lots of unfinished homes, streets, and a few eye sores that haven’t realized their potential. But as one reviewer wrote of the highly rated resort, “After they are done with future expansions, this will definitely be Nicaragua’s premier resort.”
Yeah, but is Nicaragua safe?
Let’s cut to the chase. For today’s travelers and 97% of locals, the answer is yes. For pro-democratic protesters and political opponents of the presiding dictator, no.
As Lonely Planet rightfully reports, “Ongoing political unrest does not pose a direct threat to visitors, who are unlikely to be exposed to violence.” In fact, the government has recently improved safety and security measures to bolster tourism, its second biggest industry. This makes Nicaragua a generally a safe place for travelers, despite the political bloodshed. Of course it’s understandable if you don’t want to spend your tourism dollars in a country ruled by an anti-democratic tyrant who violently cracks down on protestors, arrests political opponents, shuts down newspapers and NGOs, and who has been barred from entering America by President Biden.
In my experience, I felt completely at ease in Nicaragua, as did every other visitor I spoke to. Consequently, I don’t believe the country deserves a travel advisory that’s any worse than Mexico, Brazil, and the many other “exercise caution” counties most of you are comfortable visiting. The vast majority of Nicaraguans (and the expats they attract) are genuinely kind, friendly, and helpful people.
NOTE: No visa is required for most visitors, including Americans, but you do have to pay a $10 cash entrance fee upon arrival at the airport.
Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a bodacious writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his adolescent family and two dogs.