Nicaragua Backpacking Budget

cost of travel in Nicaragua

(Map of Nicaragua from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Nicaragua on a Shoestring Budget

US$20 | 580 Nicaraguan Cordoba

Nicaragua is one of those countries where hardcore shoestring types will manage to get by on very little. Getting around the country via the regular local chicken buses as opposed to the tourist buses which have schedules but often don’t stick to them will save you a lot of cash. Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America but it’s possible to see the bulk of it for $20 or less in terms of transport costs, if you take the hop-on, hop-off chicken buses everywhere.

Eating local food in local-geared restaurants is also very cheap and usually less than half the cost of the Western alternatives such as burgers and pizza. If you do that and also stay in dorms and use drinking in the hostel as the starting point for your occasional nights out then it shouldn’t be impossible to stick to a budget of $20/day. You will still have to be a bit smart with money and speaking Spanish will be of great help but with attractions normally costing just a $1 or so, there’s not much potential for extra expenditure beyond the basic necessities.

See where Nicaragua ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

Backpacking costs in countries in Central America.


More Comfortable Nicaragua Backpacker Budget

US$30 | 880 Nicaraguan Córdoba

Some travellers do report back that sticking to $20/day in Nicaragua is very difficult. However many opt for the transport options advertised in the hostels which are geared towards tourists and are often several times more expensive. If you’re not willing to rough it out on the local chicken buses, which can be a bit uncomfortable and rarely offer the most direct route, then you might want to extend your budget slightly towards $30.

Likewise if you’re planning on spending some time surfing in the Pacific, or chilling out on the beautiful Corn Islands in the Caribbean Sea, which are more expensive than the rest of the country, then you may wish to increase your Nicaragua backpacking budget to $30/day but even that is less than our shoestring budget for Panama.


Sample Prices in Nicaragua

Chicken bus or local minibus from Leon to Granada (3 hours including change in Managua) – $3 (some overcharging of foreigners common)

0.5 Litre local beer in bar/restaurant  – $1

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – $4

Dorm bed in Leon – from $5/night

Private double or twin room in Granada – from $14/night

Visit to a typical museum – $1-2

Surfboard rental in San Juan del Sur – around $10 per day

These prices are as of December 2016.

Compare Nicaragua prices to the cost of travel in Costa Rica


Money

Currency – Nicaraguan Córdoba

£1 = 36.75 NIO

€1 = 30.98 NIO

US$1 = 29.24 NIO

(All exchange rates are correct as of December 2016)

US Dollars are widely accepted as an alternative currency.


MFT Recommends

Travel insurance is important as always. We suggest using World Nomads, who offer good cover for backpackers.


Street art in Nicaragua

street art in Leon, Nicaragua


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Nicaragua recently, help your fellow travellers out by sharing your typical daily costs in the comments section below 😉


This article was published in December 2016.


Backpacking Budget for Central America

Central America Backpacking Budget

This page suggests typical shoestring travel costs and recommends a possible backpacking budget for Central America.

backpackers map of central america

(Map of Central America from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Daily Travel Costs in Central America

$20/day : Nicaragua

$25/day : Guatemala, El Salvador

$30/day : Honduras

$35/day : Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba*, Mexico*

$45/day : Belize

*Not technically part of Central America but popular stops with travellers in the region.

This is based on travelling on the cheap by staying in hostel dorms or basic rooms where it’s cheaper to do so and by using local chicken buses which are a fun if slow way to get around the region. It allows for the odd activity each day but nothing like expensive diving courses or multi-day treks which will add to the cost of your trip. If you have travelled in the region recently and have a different idea of what typical expenses might be then please use the comments section below to let us and more importantly other travellers know. The budget allows for a bit of partying and but you will struggle to stick to this if you are looking to drink and go out every night.

Some travellers combine Central America with a few days or weeks in the United States, which is considerably more expensive. Read our USA backpacking budget for more.

Monthly Backpacking budget for Central America

Based on these costs, a typical total backpacking budget for a trip around Central America might be something like this:

1 month – £740, €850, $900

2 months – £1480, €1700, $1800

3 months – £2220, €2550, $2700

All figures are based on exchange rates correct as of January 2017. If you’re unsure, use dollars as a base and convert it to your currency at current exchange rates.

Touristy areas of Mexico or places such as the Bay Islands in Honduras are more expensive so avoid them if you are worried about funds running out. If you decide to visit Cuba, then the cost of getting there can also add quite a bit to your overall expenses so this budget is primarily based on travel in mainland Central America only.

Please note this does NOT include the cost of flights to/from the region, any visas/vaccinations or travel insurance. These things are impossible factor in as they are dependent on your nationality and where you are coming from but can quite easily double your total budget for the trip.

Read our Central America budget travel overview.


The Cost of Travel in Other Regions

South America | Southeast Asia | Europe


How much did travel in Central America cost you?

If you have travelled recently in the region then please use the comments section below to share with us your experiences of backpacking costs in Central America. Everyone travels differently so there will never be a definitive right budget for each country but the more people who comment, the easier it is for us to keep this page as accurate as possible for 2018 and beyond. Thanks!


 This page was last updated in January 2017.


Big Surprise on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Big Surprise on Little Corn

beach on little corn island

By Capt. Lynn Jackson

Recently I decided it was time for another “off the beaten path” trip, which I enjoy as often as my finances will allow and as an independent female traveler. A friend recommended I take a look at the country of Nicaragua. My first reaction was “yikes”! Little did I know, The Corn Islands are located about 50 miles east of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and only about 1.5 sq miles in size, but an oasis of tranquility, and a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of the U.S.

I arrived on Little Corn Island at sunset on a local Panga boat and all I could do was smile from ear to ear. This little island had more personality than anything I had come across in a long time. My captain was a local from Big Corn Island where my flight arrived late from flight delays in Miami and then in Managua and I had missed the last Panga boat departure. I had already paid for my accommodations on LC so I was interested in any way possible to make the 17k trip before dark and save the expense of a room for the night. My taxi driver hooked me up with a local friend with a tattered panga boat. Even though it took over an hour of preparation to retrieve fuel and get the poor vessel to run without sputtering and smoking we eventually headed to the island of Little Corn and arrived just before dark. He dropped me onto the sand beach and the most unique tropical island complete with local dogs running loose, the smell of lobster grilling and music coming from one of the few cafe/bars on the island. Lobster being the main export certainly was a plus right at arrival and dinnertime.

map of little corn island nicaraguaHurriedly I checked in to my simple but clean room at Los Delfines Resort where I was looking forward to a nice cool shower. To my surprise the generator, which provides power to the village, had decided to take it’s own vacation and was expected to be down for two weeks. Now, you have to remember this is down near the equator in August and I’m from Florida and used to sweltering heat in August but hot doesn’t come close to describing the temperature and the humidity. However I am used to third world travel so I took it as just a small inconvenience, luckily my hotel had a backup generator which kicked on from about 5pm until about 2am so I was good to go.

Ready for a beer or three and dinner I headed for the first watering hole I could find. Little Corn is not what you would call a touristy island although I was very surprised at the large crowd I found at Tranquilo Cafe. There are no cars on the island which means no roads which means no street lights so I was glad I had done my homework and had brought my flashlight for walking after dark down the sidewalk. I was welcomed by friendly, fast speaking locals, expats and those like myself, whom were on a new adventure in unchartered territory. What a hoot! Being a boat captain and longtime scuba diver I felt right at home on this lush, remote paradise minus the comfort of a/c.

The next morning I dropped by the dive shop where I met the crew and signed up for some diving, being a Dive Master and considered a professional diver I was given a really great deal on my diving and also a discount on my room which wasn’t much anyway. Afterwards I headed down into the local village, only a few minutes walk, where the learning center was and dropped off the stack of children’s books I had found at a thrift store and brought as a donation. This area where the locals lived and did business saddened me. The buildings pieced together, trash littered the sides of the concrete path which ran the length of that side of the island and the children played in filth but they seemed happy and living a simple life which I have grown to desire for quite some time. I followed the walk until it ended and headed to a secluded beach for some photos and down time.

Later that evening I had my second lobster dinner on the porch of one of the local women who dishes up one of the tastiest seafood dinners around. Miss Bridget came highly recommended but she had no outdoor lights while the generator was on the fritz. I am not sure she had any inside lights to cook by but I thoroughly enjoyed my candlelight lobster dinner for $7! Next I was heading to Tranquilo Cafe for a night out with $2 beers and some of my new friends and the many backpackers who were exploring the island too. Being a female and traveling alone I sometimes get funny looks or a shocked expressions but I love to travel alone and here on Little Corn never did I feel uncomfortable or threatened or like a fifth wheel that sometimes came with being a loner. Of course I am always aware of my surroundings and make sure I don’t find myself in a seedy area alone and always keep my belongings close.

little corn music

The Dolphin Dive Center where my dives were scheduled was busy the next morning where the manager and crew were getting our gear ready and in no time we made our way to the dive boat on the beach. Being a diver who has traveled and dived all over the Caribbean I wasn’t too impressed with the dives. It wasn’t that they were not good dives but they were very similar to a lot of the diving I had done over the years. The water was warm and clear and that was enough for me to enjoy as well as everyone else aboard. Later in the week I made one of the night dives, which was spectacular with the unusual presence of phosphorescence and can be a real thrill for those who haven’t seen it before.

The following morning a short walk through a tropical path took me past some of the local women who offered meals on their front porches and in the yards for a small price. Local labourers were busy working on repairs to several shacks/homes and acknowledged my presents with a slight nod. On the other side of the island the colorful bungalows dotted the beach surrounded by hammocks, palm trees and white sand beaches while the waves lazily washed ashore.

My days were spent diving, snorkeling, exploring the island, reading in the waterfront hammocks and watching the kids play in the water with their friends and dogs. Afternoons were spent at one of the open-air cafe’s waiting for the generators to kick on to enjoy a cool shower and a short nap before the nightlife picked up. The local fishermen could be seen every day sitting in the shade preparing bait for their lobster pots while the recently established police department’s patrol woman stopped by the establishments making small talk. The community is also blessed with many supporters whom help and educate the locals on recycling, conservation as well as volunteers from Building New Hope who were aiding the dog population with baths, flea treatments, spaying and neutering as well as other vetinary services.

This was the life on Little Corn and I hope to make it back again in the near future but I have learned a few things if I should go back…. travel extra light, bring good walking shoes because you will be walking where ever you go, don’t bring your own dive gear it’s too much of a hassle, bring the bug spray (although the bugs were not bad at all while I was there) and make sure to bring your appetite for some wonderful seafood, rice, fruit and black beans.

 

About the Writer

Lynn Jackson currently resides on the Central Coast of Florida. She has spent her entire adult life on international travels across the Caribbean, Mexico and the America’s in search of the ultimate dive destination as well as a simpler life for the near future. Lynn is also one of few women who spent several years in the search for Spanish treasure off of the Florida Coast. She holds many dive certifications including Dive Master as well as her U.S Coast Guard 100-ton Master Captain license.

 


This article was published in December 2013.


Backpacking in Leon, Nicaragua

Sandinista Fever in Leon, Nicaragua

sandinista revolution

Viva La Revolution!

revolution museum nicaraguaLeon is a rebellious city in every way. It is totally different from its conservative rival Grenada and all its picturesque churches and attractive streets. Pretty it may not be, but Leon more than makes up for that thanks to thepassion of the people and a history that includes a violent and ultimately successful struggle for freedom.

The Sandinista revolution that took place in 1979 was largely inspired by events in the city which has always been traditionally left leaning ever since Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821. Daniel Ortega, the driving force behind the revolution is the current president and remains extremely popular in this city. Visit the Revolution Museum (above) in the main square for a passionate if rather one-sided tour of the small museum (in Spanish) which houses many photos and artefacts charting the rebel uprising.

It’s all in the Walls…

steet art in leon, nicaraguaOne of the many fascinating things about visiting Leon is keeping an eye out for the street art and politically motivated graffiti on the walls around town. Some of the murals are strikingly artistic and tell the tale of the revolution perhaps better than any museum could. The graffiti is of the pro-Ortega, anti-US variety and while in other parts of the country you feel it could be part of some sort of government agenda, here you sense that it truly reflects the views of Leon’s loyally pro-Sandinista residents.

There are also still probably thousands of bullet holes that scar the cities walls following the fierce fighting that took place here in the build-up to and during the revolution. These are particularly noticeable around the main square.

Backpacking in Leon = Mojito Time!!

There are some cool bars in Leon and you’ll meet some colourful characters as you make your way around them. Leon is popular with travellers so there is a healthy international presence in some of them but those with a more local feel are well worth checking out. The city also attracts all sorts of liberal minded people from across Central America and the Caribbean with a healthy Cuban presence notable. It’s the sort of place you can go for a wander and it won’t be long before you discover a cool spot for a cheap evening cocktail. Mojitos are the drink of choice and you’ll find special deals on them in various bars and hostels around town. There is a real party vibe in some of the hostels, with Big Foot Hostel leading the way with parties and random drinking games. Free mojitos all night for the winner!

Out of Town

There’s plenty to see and do outside of town. Hop on a bus and you’ll be into beautiful Nicaraguan countryside in no time at all, and the pace of life takes a sudden drop from the hustle and bustle of central Leon’s markets. The Pacific Ocean is only 20-30 minutes away on the bus where you will find almost deserted long beaches. It can be fairly chilly thanks to the high winds that make for some huge waves and great surfing but often somewhat dangerous swimming conditions.

Some of the hostels also organise trekking trips to the nearby volcanoes, where you can even try your hand at volcano-boarding! You can also volunteer for several months as a hiking guide for an organisation which raises money for local street kids.

 


This article was published in December 2011.


Popular Backpacking Route in Central America

latin america routes

south america | brazil | patagonia | central america | mexico


Backpacking Route in Central America

Mexico aside, the countries in this part of the world are really small but there’s loads to see and do. Backpacking around Central America on this route will see you pack in 6 countries, Mayan ruins, fiery active volcanoes, stunning lakes, colonial-era towns and chilled out Caribbean beaches while trying to avoid the generally unpleasant capital cities in the region (Panama City is the exception). You may well need to change buses in Managua or Tegioculpa for example but even if you’re a city lover, you seriously won’t want to hang around long. As well as plenty to see, it’s a cheap region to learn Spanish, which is handy especially if you are heading onto South America.

It’s not just Spanish lessons that come cheap though as Central America is widely regarded as one of the most budget friendly regions in the whole world. If you are willing to travel like a local, you can get by on seriously little. For some great tips on how to travel on as little as $10/day and plenty more, get Will Hatton’s backpacker bible.


TIME NEEDED – 2 MONTHS

On average we’d suggest spending about 10 days in each country although you could squeeze it all into 6 weeks at a push. With lots of volunteering and learning opportunities you could easily stick around for longer.


POSSIBLE BUDGET – £1350 €1500 $1800

This is purely for your travel expenses in the region itself and is based on travelling on a shoestring budget using local transport and hostels and being quite disciplined in terms of your general expenditure. It doesn’t include flights in/out of the region or other pre-trip expenses. It is based on prices and exchange rates as of January 2018.

See our Central America backpacking costs for more.


VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR CENTRAL AMERICA

Mostly not required for stays of up to 90 days. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua have a mutual agreement in place enabling you to travel freely around the 4 countries for 90 days without passport checks.

Use our visa check tool to see which countries you will need a visa for.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

We recommend World Nomads who provide excellent cover for backpackers.


Central America Backpacking Route



Mexico

budget travel in Mexico

Cancun  – Consider flying into Cancun, the 2nd busiest airport in Mexico with good links to Europe and North America.  However you might not want to hang around long. The beach is okay but it’s fairly seedy, expensive and doesn’t really cater for backpackers or people travelling on a tight budget. 

Playa del Carmen – Only an hour South of Cancun, it’s also a resort town but it has plenty of hostels and budget options. With nice beaches and vibrant nightlife, it’s a fun start to your trip and you can party till dawn in one of the many bars and clubs (girls drink free on some nights).

Tulum – There’s a great beach in Tulum with beautifully clear blue waters. There a few small Mayan ruins, which is a taster of things to come as you progress further on this Central America backpacking route.

(Night bus to Palenque)

Palenque – It’s a long trip to Palenque (pictured above) but worth it once you start to discover the ancient ruins in the dense jungle nearby an unremarkable town of the same name. There is a sense that your adventure has truly begun when you hit Palenque though. It’s also popular with some travellers for easily available magic mushrooms.

San Cristobal – Colonial town at altitude and a pleasant break from the heat.  It’s a popular hangout for hippy and bohemian types.

Check out our extended backpacking route for Mexico, if you fancy more time in the country.


Guatemala

Backpacking Routes

Quetzaltenango AKA Xela – Loads of volunteering options here, which makes it a popular stop for longer stays. You should immediately notice that your money goes further in Guatemala. Xela is also a good place for salsa classes and clubs, while the local markets in surrounding villages are worth a visit.

You may be able to find free volunteering projects one you arrive in Guatemala. Many come with a cost although you should at least get your accommodation and perhaps food paid for. Here are 11 volunteering options in Guatemala.

Lake Atitlan – Stunning scenery here with a huge lake surrounded by volcanoes and dirt cheap backpacker towns. You could probably spend a week just visiting the different lakeside villages which all have a slightly different vibe or just relaxing and taking in the beauty of the place. Most visitors only stay for a few days though. See Destination: Lake Atitlan for more.

Antigua – Colonial town surrounded by volcanoes that can be explored on foot (one of our top 10 latin america experiences). It is also a hugely popular and cheap place to take some Spanish lessons which will certainly be handy as you progress further along this backpacking route for Central America.


Honduras

Honduras backpacking route

Bay Islands snorkelling, CC BY 2.0

Copan – More ancient ruins. Copan was a major centre for the Mayans over a 1000 years ago and is home to some of the finest pre-Columbian art around.

San Pedro Sula – City with decent nightlife but a bit dangerous! San Pedro Sula has been described as the most violent city in the world so it’s probably not advisable to hang around long but you may need to pass through it anyway to reach the next two coastal destinations.

La Ceiba – Reasonably sized city with some nice beaches and the best place to catch the ferry to Utila. If you visit in May, be sure to check out La Ceiba Carnival, the largest festival of its kind in Central America.

Utila (Bay Islands) – Scuba diving hot-spot and one of the real highlights of the region. The Bay Islands are perhaps the closest thing you can find to a Caribbean beach paradise on a budget! They also feature in our article on 5 budget-friendly Caribbean destinations.

(Long day of travelling between Utila and Leon)


Nicaragua

Street art in Nicaragua

Leon – Birthplace of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and still a staunchly pro-revolution town. It’s home to some cool street art (above) which helps tell its story and is one of the few genuinely interesting urban destinations on this route. Read more about funky Leon!

Granada – A colonial-era town and perhaps the most beautiful and best preserved in the region. It’s a real contrast to its traditional rival Leon with lots of churches and relics to an altogether different, distant past. It’s also nicely located on the banks of Lake Cocibolca, the largest lake in Central America.

Isla de Ometepe – Island in middle of the giant lake with two volcanoes. It’s an excellent location for mountain biking or hiking. Here are six things to do on Ometepe.

San Juan del Sur – This is the first stop on the route on the Pacific Coast and that means two things. Giant waves and lots of surfers! If surfing is not your thing, then it’s not an amazing place to visit with a fairly average beach and a few cheap, decent bars but nothing remarkable.

Check out the cost of travel in Nicaragua.


Costa Rica

Backpacking Route in Central America

Volcan Arenal, CC BY-SA 2.0

Monteverde – Nearby Volcan Arenal is the third most active volcano in the world and there are also some awesome cloud forests nearby, one of the many natural wonders in Costa Rica.

Montezuma – Another great destination for nature lovers. Get lost in a world of waterfalls, nature reserves and nude beaches!

San Jose – The capital city of Costa Rica is a bit rough but better than the big cities further north. It could be easily skipped but it might be worth hanging around for a day or two with some interesting museums while there are also a few options for day-trips and tours in the surrounding countryside.

Puerto Viejo – Surfing, beaches, marijuana. Those are probably the three main draws in Puerto Viejo, a chilled out Caribbean town popular with surfers and backpackers. With the number of foreigners so high, there are certainly more authentic Central American experiences to be had but it’s a nice place with Cahuita and Manzanillo National Parks also nearby making for excellent day-trips.

It is worth noting that the cost of travel in Costa Rica, is slightly higher than average for the region and things are noticeably a bit more pricey than in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.


Panama

Panama backpacking route

Beach in Panama, CC BY 2.0

Bocas del Toro – These are more chilled Caribbean islands covered in thick jungle. With largely calm conditions, it’s a great spot for some skuba-diving with affordable prices.

David – Pleasant town on Pan-American Highway with good hostels. There are plenty of things to do with lots of options for adventure sports while a trip out to the Los Pozos de Caldera hot springs is also popular with travellers.

Panama City – A good place to finish your travels in Central America or potentially move onto another region. Unlike most of the other destinations on this Central America itinerary, the capital of Panama is a vibrant modern city. Check out the famous Panama Canal and hit the shops if you’ve still got money left to spend.

Read more on the cost of travel in Panama.


(Fly home, or see more of Latin America by crossing the Darien Gap)


More on Budget Travel in Central America & Introducing the Chicken Bus!

Our Central America backpacking itinerary aims to give you an idea of popular travel spots but if the hostel scene is getting a bit repetitive then it’s well worth heading off to some of the less touristy parts (although mainstream tourism only really exists in small parts of Mexico and Costa Rica).

Outside the capitals, the people are generally very friendly and it’s really not that dangerous. While you could do this route in 2 months there are many places that you will find hard to leave and adding a few other destinations you could do as much as 6 months in Central America, particularly if you get involved with some volunteering projects or study Spanish.

Border crossings are relatively pain free. You can normally do direct buses between destinations in different countries but it is much cheaper and more of an adventure to get a local bus (known as a chicken bus and found across the region) to the border and cross on foot. There will always be buses to the nearest town at border posts and the budgets at the top are based on using local transport which is very cheap rather than tourist options. There is some good info on travelling across Central America on chicken buses here.

This route can also easily be combined with our Backpacking Route for South America.


 Budget Accommodation in Central America

Central America is one of the most enjoyable regions to travel in and it has a really good hostel scene. Typically each of the destinations on our Central America backpacking route will have a few hostels (in the European sense of the word), one of which might be generally considered the main party hostel. A bit of research online or just from talking to other travellers and it should be quite easy to work out which one it is.

In addition to the hostels, there are lots more very small budget hotels or ‘hostals’ which are little more than homes converted so some rooms are available for daily rent. They may be better value if you are travelling as a couple or with friends but single travellers may prefer to opt for a dorm in one of the bigger hostels. Expect to be paying anything from $3-10/night for budget accommodation in these parts and perhaps slightly more for better places in the more touristy parts of Mexico and Costa Rica.


 This page was last updated in January 2018.