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7 Ways to Have An Epic Family Vacation In Nicaragua

Updated: Nov 2, 2019

Discover tips + tricks for filling your Nicaragua adventure with simplicity, creativity and endless enjoyment.

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Nicaragua is one of those under-the-radar travel destinations people often put off in favor of Costa Rica… until they finally pull themselves to Nicaragua’s near-empty, pristine shores and realize they’ve totally scored.

We've heard many people say they hesitate to spread the word about this underrated location because they don’t want it to get overrun by tourists. But we don’t mind spreading the word, as we’ve found Nicaragua to be the type of place that primarily attracts eco-conscious travelers who enjoy stellar waves, shockingly affordable rates, the allure of unfettered Mother Nature, and never-ending chill vibes. Essentially, good people.

We love Nicaragua so much we were engaged and married there, and purchased an acre in Rancho Santana as a wedding gift to ourselves. We’re currently plumping up our piggy bank so we can one day build a home there. So yup, our hearts were stolen by Nica.

While it’s hard to go wrong in Nicaragua, there are ways to ensure your vacation to this cool kid of Central America is infused with ease, minimal costs, adventure and chances for lots of those coveted ah-ha moments.

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1. Employ a chef

Table of vegetables and other ingredients being prepared for a meal in Nicaragua.

Not having to cook or clean seriously elevates a vacation. However, booking accommodations with a kitchen and making your own food can equal major savings. So what are us cash-strapped, don't-want-to-be-a-short-order-cook-on-vacation travelers to do? Hire a chef!

And yes, we know you might have rolled your eyes right there, and we get it - hiring a chef sounds like a mega-bouji luxury. But in Nicaragua, chef services are affordable, and support the economy.

The chef we use in Nicaragua completes the shopping before we arrive, makes us breakfast and lunch, accommodates dietary preferences, and does all the clean-up. For these services she charges $4-$7 per person, per meal, not including the cost of food. On our last trip, this averaged out to about $150 per person for ten days – a cost that would be near impossible to beat if you were eating out every meal.

So if you’ll be staying in a vacation home, ask the owner to connect you with a reliable and quality chef. An added perk of this service is that you’ll get the chance to know a local, who will probably feel like family by the end of the trip. And be sure to ask them for insider travel tips, as they’ll likely know the best beaches, shops and other attractions that aren’t overrun with tourists.

Note: If you’ll be staying in a remote area, know that you’ll likely have to provide accommodations for the chef. Many homes come with a special room for this purpose.

2. Hire a driver

White Jeep in Central America by a foggy lake surrounded by lush vegetation.

Nicaraguan roads are not well marked. It's easy to take a wrong turn. In addition, many of the best beaches (especially if you’re surf-searching) are at the end of obscure dirt roads. Do yourself a favor and hire a driver. Much like the chef services, this convenience is much more affordable than it would be pretty much anywhere else, and gives you the opportunity to discover off-the-beaten-path geographical gems you likely wouldn’t have found on your own.

And you (like we used to) might be thinking, “but I’ll have GPS, so I won’t need a driver.” Even if you purchase an international phone plan, service in Nicaragua is super spotty, and GPS directions are not nearly as clear or reliable as they are in many other countries. On one trip, we almost missed our flight because we were relying on GPS. We ended up paying a stranger to drive to the airport so we could follow him.

Find a reliable driver by asking the contact at your accommodations for recommendations at least a month before you arrive. Be sure to tell them how many people will be in your group so they procure a large enough vehicle, and get a firm quote for the cost, making sure your group brings enough cash for payment, as it’s unlikely they’ll be able to accept credit cards.

3. Settle in an area that suits your family’s interests

Surfer with a surfboard walking through the water on a beach in Nicaragua during a yellow and orange sunset

Tranquil bays, beaches with pumping surf, jungle escapes, lake houses with volcano views, artsy towns, and more are available in this dynamic country. Get a general consensus from your travel group of the types of environments and activities they’re interested in, then focus your accommodations search in the areas that best meet those preferences.

Here’s a mini-guide to get your started:

- Have an avid scuba and snorkeling group? Head to Nicaragua’s East coast, specifically Little Corn Island.

- Looking for surf? Stay on the Western coast, especially the southern communities of Hacienda Iguana or Rancho Santana.

- Yearning for lake and volcano views? Post up on Lake Nicaragua.

- Hoping to commune with tropical flora and fauna? Book a spot near Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge, Montibelli Wildlife Reserve, or El Chocoyero Reserve.

4. Explore outside your community

Colorful street and chapel in a town in Nicaragua