Duration: at least one week
Budget: $ 35 per day
Stay: Hostal Casa Porta
After admiring the stunning beauty of Granada, we decided to make our way to Masaya: Nicaragua’s cultural and folklore capital. Things we did? Well, for one, street strolling was a must! The vibrant streets of Masaya were alive with the sound of music, dance, and crafts. Everywhere we looked were colorful buildings and incredible local charm. We even joined in with some locals to try out some of their traditional dance moves – what an experience! Not only this but there’s plenty to see outside the town limits, too; witnessing the glorious red and orange lava flowing out of Volcano Masaya was breathtaking – something we would never forget. And finally, a peaceful few hours of hiking around Laguna Apoyo showed us just how rich nature is in Nicaragua – gorgeous views and crystal-clear waters all capped off perfectly by a sublime sunset.
Granada’s passionate neighbor
Masaya will surprise you with its creative diversity and authentic charm. It is unique because it manages to be relaxed and vibrant simultaneously. It’s the perfect spot to stay longer to get to know the Nicas better. For some reason, Masaya is not as popular among tourists as neighboring Granada. However, we can only urge you to spend some time in this charming town. Masaya is a creative and artistic city with a history-affine population. You’ll be greeted with open arms and hearts. So dive in and listen to the stories of Masaya’s friendly locals.
Wander from Parque Central the Malecon
As in many Central American cities, Masaya’s Parque Central forms the heart of the small town. Lined with high trees, delicious food stands, rustic outside restaurants, and market stands, the park is ideal for pausing or meeting the friendly locals. We started by walking west to the colorful Malecon. On your way there, you’ll feel the city’s energetic vibe. If you are hungry, try the Assados (barbeque) on the side of the streets. They are the “muy Rico”! On weekends the recreation area at the Malecon fills with locals. The vibe is pretty unique. Many more secluded and quiet spots offer a stunning view of the Laguna de Masaya. At the same time, many visitors come for group sports activities and spread enthusiasm.
Monimbo - Masaya's indigenous neighborhood
You’ll find this indigenous neighborhood south of Parque Central. Monimbo makes up for an excursion on your way to Laguna de Apoyo. Its ingenious tribes are alive and even noticeably in its cuisine. The food market at the beginning of the neighborhood seems to be the center of everything in Monimbo. Sitting together, people enjoy sharing their meals while exchanging stories of the day. It’s the perfect spot to indulge in the local cuisine and make new friends. Many of the colorful Hamacas you’ll find across the city are produced in Monimbo, the hammock production center. Oh, Hamacas! We love them!
Mirador de Caterina
Located close to the crater of Laguna de Apoyo, this viewpoint offers stunning views over Lage Nicaragua, Laguna de Apoyo, and distant Granada.
Wander Mercardo de Artesanias
This is the most touristy spot in Massaya, so expect prices to be a little higher. However, it’s one of the country’s most prominent artisans’ markets and is often called “Mercardo Viejo.” Amidst colorful hammocks, you’ll be able to shop for souvenirs made of wood, leather, cane, or ceramic. Many of the little stands offer the same (across all of Nicaragua), but you will be able to find something for everyone. We were more impressed with the dramatic structure surrounding the”Mercardo Viejo.” It seems like the market is located in the courtyard of an ancient fort.
Hike to Laguna de Apoyo
After discovering Masaya’s colorful city center, we decided it was time to see the first volcanic crater lake in our life. The pristine waters of the Laguna are one of our journey’s highlights. To get to Laguna de Apoyo, just take the bus (9C$) to Caterina and walk from there. We tried some traditional Quesillo ( wrapped cheese with sweet milk) before strolling around the neighborhood. Leaving the village, it’s a comfortable and relaxing walk through lush nature. If you start your hike to the Laguna in charming Caterina, you’ll end up at a secluded spot where you can enjoy the lake by yourself. On the way to the Laguna, we passed ancient petroglyphs and spotted some monkeys. Take in the view before you cool down in the carter of the extinct volcano. The natural reserve is the perfect spot to just let go. The last bus to Masaya leaves at 4, be sure to catch it! Otherwise, you’ll have to choose the much more expensive alternative by cab. (200C$)
Volcano de Masaya's glowing spectacle
Yay Nicaragua! We were able to see lava in an active volcano crater for the first time! It’s mesmerizing and a once-in-a-lifetime view! It’s an indescribable feeling to stand at the top of a blazing volcano. We feel lucky to have been able to catch a glimpse of this natural wonder. We arrived right at sunset and so were able to see the magnificent sulfur clouds as they were slowly disappearing into the dark, leaving only the bright red of the burning lava.
However, due to the toxic fumes, you can spend only 20 minutes taking in the volcano. It’s a short moment that lasts a lifetime. An absolute must-do!
Casa de Porta - a special place in Masaya
We arrived in the afternoon and met our host, Miguel. Once again, we learned quickly that looks are mischieving. We expected Miguel to be a professor in his advanced years who rented a room in his charming house for some company. However, the opposite was the case. The music professor, who also teaches kids to swim in his backyard, welcomes friends daily. The visitors were as illustrious as the host himself. They varied from young, revolutionary musicians to elegant men with sophisticated appearances. We often joined them on the wooden rockers and appreciated the positive and authentic vibe. They weren’t just singing and playing instruments. They exchanged stories about the country, its culture and revolution, daily life, and politics. We have spent countless unforgettable moments with the unconventional group. Miguel’s aura of inner peace and contentment was so enriching for us. We will be forever thankful for sharing his home and his life with us. Hostal Casa de Porta is truly the perfect spot to immerse in Masaya’s unique vibe.
Practical travel tips for Masaya, Nicaragua
What is the best time to visit Masaya?
The best time to visit Masaya and its natural surroundings is from November to April.
Is Masaya safe for travelers?
During "normal" times, Masaya is very safe for travelers to visit and have a good time. Of course, you need to be careful after dark. In times of unrest, Masaya is often an epicenter.
How to get to the Masaya?
You can reach Hospital de Masaya by a 30-minute bus ride from Granada's bus terminal. Once you arrive at the hospital, take a taxi to the city center (40 C$).
Where to eat in Masaya?
First, try the "Pupusas Factory" at the beginning of Monimbo to get the first taste of El Salvadorian cuisine. Last, try the rather unusual-sounding "sweet tacos de Pollo" at one of the food stands surrounding the central park.
Can I drink tap water in Nicaragua?
After a personal experience with some parasites, Tap water in Nicaragua is not good to drink! Bring a self-cleaning water bottle or filter to get clean and cool drinking water.
What's the biggest challenge for the conscious traveler?
Trash: Often, you'll find food vendors selling typical Nicaraguan dishes on the go. It's not just delicious but cheap. To avoid plastic wrapping, choose to buy your food at the bus stations and have them put it in your collapsible container. Bring your water ourifier to avoid having to buy bottled water.
Sunscreen: Protect Marine life and wear reef-friendly sunscreen!
Packing List Nicaragua
Nicaragua is super diverse and offers plenty of things to do. Check out our packing list, and get ready for an incredible adventure!
Find everything from eco-friendly toiletries to the only travel shoes you’ll ever want to exciting travel gadgets!
PLACES TO VISIT IN NICARAGUA
Often overlooked, Nicaragua is home to friendly people, dramatic landscapes and rich culture!
Golfo de Fonseca, an archipelago shared by Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, a former playground for pirates, afforded us with the most stunning and relaxing border crossing experience in our backpacking history.
We traveled to Central America a couple of times and had the chance to see several Maya sites along the way. Each impressive in its own way. Contrary to other Maya ruins across Central America. You’ll often have Copan to yourself. The mysterious archaeological site boasts remarkable hieroglyphics and sculptures. On top of that, the town of Copan itself is drop-dead charming.
Our love affair with Leon started on Valentine’s day. Contrary to Granada, Nicaragua’s second largest city feels much more authentic and is not overrun by tourists. The drop-dead gorgeous city manages to maintain it’s genuine charm. Just outside of Léon, numerous volcanos wait for you to climb or surf them. And as if this wasn’t enough, some of Nicaragua’s most beautiful beach and surf spots are just around the corner.