Costs of Budget Travel in Nicaragua IN 2018

dining at Corn Islands

dining at Corn Islands

Costs of Budget Travel in Nicaragua In 2018

While researching for my travels through Central America, I kept hearing how cheap Nicaragua is. Rooms, food, transportation. Then as I traveled southward through the region from Mexico I kept hearing the same reports from other travelers who were heading northward, having recently come up from Nicaragua. “Cheap, cheap, cheap,” they all said.

So I was excitedly looking forward to enjoying a couple months of even less expensive living. I hoped it would offset my subsequent higher travel costs through Costa Rica, which is reportedly very expensive.

Eventually I did arrive excitedly in Nicaragua in late 2017. First stop, the charming colonial town of Leon, situated in the country’s northwest, not far from Pacific coast beaches and surrounded by a chain of inland volcanoes.

In Leon I found nice dorm beds for the whopping low price of $5 US! More accurately, they ranged in price from $5 to $10. But $5 and $6 beds could easily be had at several clean, quiet decent hostels.

And those rates included a full breakfast! I’m talking eggs, toast and coffee/tea or a huge banana pancake and hot drink.

I also found several local comedors (restaurants) in Leon with meals for 70-80 cordobas / $2.35-2.70 US, including a large glass of fresh made fruit juice. That’s certainly a lot more expensive than eating in Mexico, where I could nearly always eat for $1-2 US. However, it was about on par with meal rates in El Salvador, which averaged $2-2.50 US.

I stayed in Leon for 10 days, enjoying the gorgeous architecture, stunning churches, volcanic views and tasty meals. That first week in Nicaragua, I certainly thought Nica was, indeed, considerably less expensive than other Central American countries, primarily due to its low accommodation costs.

From Leon I headed to Granada, Nicaragua’s even more famed colonial town. There I ended up paying $8-9 US for dorm beds in nice guest houses. Although $5 beds were also available around town, the hostels and guest houses that offered them were on the shabby side. I opted for the more costly but infinitely more comfortable and stylish hostels.

Finding meals in Granada at the same low rates as Leon was much harder. In fact, the only place I could find 60-80 cordoba meals was inside the hectic public market. That was fine, aside from being limited to eating at the same place every day. Most local comedors around Granada serve meals for 90-120 cordobas / $3-4 US, considerably more costly.

However, outside of Leon and Granada, prices quickly escalated. I visited most of the well-known places around the country, including San Juan del Sur, Popoyo Beach, Ometepe Island, Masaya, Managua, Matagalpa, Esteli, Jinotega and the Corn Islands.

In most of those places, dorm beds generally cost $10 US, though it was possible to sometimes find places for $7-9 US per night. Oddly, I could also sometimes find a private room for those same prices. But I quickly had to forget the beautifully economic $5-6 US beds of Leon and Granada! In the Corn Islands, beds cost $12-17 US!

But what really made prices soar throughout Nicaragua was the cost of meals outside those two popular cities. In many places, like Popoyo beach, Ometepe Island and Corn Islands, the going rate for a cheap meal is 150 cordobas / $5 US!

Suddenly I found Nicaragua switching from a very cheap country to one of the most expensive! In all my 20 years of world travels (aside from 1st world countries like Australia, NZ, US and those in Europe) I have never had to pay anywhere near $5 US per meal. And certainly not on a regular basis. And breakfasts in Nicaragua usually cost $3-4 US.

oxen at remote Popoyo Beach

oxen at remote Popoyo Beach

In some places it was possible to find meals for 100-120 cordobas / $3.35-4 US. But forget 60-80 cordobas, aside from Leon and Granada.

I suddenly discovered that if I ate all my meals out, it would have cost me $13-15 US per day! That’s considerably MORE expensive than eating in 1st world countries for me, where I routinely eat quite heartily on $10 US per day by grocery shopping and cooking for myself.

Most expensive of all are the remote Corn Islands. There dorm beds cost $12-17 per night. Meals cannot be had for under 150 cordobas / $5 US. Most places cost considerably more. And groceries are expensive as well, costing the same or more than in the US for fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat.

Little Corn Island

Little Corn Island

In addition to the daily island costs, there’s the cost of getting to/from the islands. Unless you’re a masochist or have the sea stomach of a very hearty sailor, you’d better fly there and back from Managua. That’s $166-190 US RTN, plus miscellaneous costs – taxis to/from the airports, departure taxes, additional luggage fees if you’re not careful with your bag weight.

In the end, all told, I found Nicaragua to be more expensive than neighboring countries, not less expensive!

I’m not sure when exactly Nicaragua changed from being a very cheap traveler’s destination to one of the more expensive in Central America. But it has definitely already switched from a cheap ‘up and coming travel destination’ to a standard rate.

In addition, what once were inexpensive adventure tours around the country have now become standard to expensive tours. Just about any tour or adventure you do in Nicaragua now will cost a minimum of $20 US, but probably $25-30 US or more.

This includes Volcano Boarding from Leon, climbing volcanoes on Ometepe Island, snorkeling trips at Corn Islands, taking a horse-drawn carriage ride in Granada, witnessing live lava at Masaya Volcano.

And national parks, nature reserves, even some museums have high entry fees as well.

battered & fried plantains on left

battered & fried plantains on left

In total, I spend 3 ½ months in Nicaragua, from early October, 2017 to late January, 2018. My monthly budgets are below.

Each month’s total costs were quite different, depending on where I was staying in Nicaragua during that month. Note the considerably lower costs in October when I stayed exclusively in Leon and Granada. The daily average costs were much lower than in other parts of Nicaragua.

Over the entire 3 ½ months, from early October to late January, my daily average cost was $19.90 US (essentially $20 US or $600 per month). That’s on par with or slightly above my average monthly costs for the other countries in Central America (except Belize), including Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, as well as Mexico.

I have yet to explore Costa Rica or Panama, both of which I hear are more expensive. However, according to my recent online research, it looks like I can find places to stay in both countries for about the same as other countries here. In any event, I’m about to find out!

 visiting Flor de Cana Rum factory - Nicaragua

visiting Flor de Cana Rum factory – Nicaragua

October (Oct. 5-31 = 27 days) (Leon and Granada)

Total Monthly Costs: $434 / $455

Daily average: $16 / $16.85

Daily food average: $5 

Daily room/bed average: $8 

Price range of bed/room: $5-$14

Usual meal cost: $2-4 


November (various locations)

Total Monthly Costs: $597

Daily average: $19.90

Daily food average: $7

Daily room/bed average: $8.35

Usual cost of bed/room: $7-10 US

Usual meal cost: 100-150 cordobas / $3.35-5 US


December (Corn Islands)

Total Monthly Costs: $635 / $815 (with cost of flight & connected costs)

Daily average: $20.48 / $26.30 (with cost of flight & connected costs)

Daily food average: $5.21 US

Daily room/bed average: $10

Price range of bed/room: $5-12

Usual meal cost at Corn Islands: 150 cordobas / $5


January (Jan. 1 – 21) (Corn Islands and Granada)

Total Monthly Costs – for 3 weeks: $460

Daily average: $22

Daily food average: $6.77

Daily room/bed average: $11.35 – almost every night cost $12, with a few cheaper

Price range of bed/room: $8-12

Usual meal cost: 150 cordobas / $5


boat ticket between Corn Islands

boat ticket between Corn Islands


As you can see, Nicaragua is no longer the super cheapie destination of Central America. Costs for budget travel there are basically the same as in all the other countries of the region.

In Leon and Granada travelers can keep their costs considerably lower. But everywhere else in Nicaragua, costs are much higher, particularly for food, accommodation. In addition, costs of tours and activities around the country are fairly expensive now.

In any event, Nicaragua is a great country to visit with a huge diversity of destinations and activities. It’s still well within the price range of budget travelers. Just don’t expect any ultra-low costs.

I certainly enjoyed my travels and adventures around Nicaragua. In fact, thus far, it’s my second favorite country in the region after fabulous Mexico.

Happy travels!



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