The day I fell in love with Nicaragua

I really did not have great expectations on Nicaragua. I hardly knew anybody who had been there before me, and those few persons were not particularly enthusiastic about it. For whatever reason, I had the impression it was a characterless country. I remember asking them: “Was Nicaragua cool?” And their answer was: “It is not really that great”. I certainly did not mean it to be the highlight of my backpacking trip through Central America. But it turned out to be.

The beaches near San Juan del Sur are gorgeous - photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis

The beaches near San Juan del Sur are gorgeous – photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis

Truth be told, before visiting Nicaragua I did not know much about it. My knowledge was limited to the fact that it is the second poorest country in the Americas and that it had once been under the influence of the United States, that got seriously involved with it to the point of being sued to the International Court of Justice for breaking its obligations under customary international law. Even though I used to be a human rights lawyer, I knew nothing about its current political situation and its human rights issues.

So, when I arrived in Nicaragua, I figured all there was to do there would be going to some beach, try to surf if I had the guts to do so, and just chill out till I continued on to Costa Rica. Soon enough, my plans were all cancelled and I had to reconsider all my misconceptions. I fell in love with Nicaragua on a long lasting affair that has brought me to visit it two more times after my first one, and to hope I can go again.

Isla de Ometepe, volcano Maderas

Isla de Ometepe, volcano Maderas

Yes, I had a really good time in Nicaragua. I found the country to be incredible: gorgeous beaches, beautiful colonial cities, lakes and volcanoes, diverse wildlife and all of this at unbeatable prices. I managed to do so many things in Nicaragua, that I had never done before – such as volcano boarding. But most of all, I fell in love with its history of resistance and revolution, and with its proud people, who chin up and never give up despite all the difficulties that life presents them with and always have a smile on their face. Yes: for as poor as Nicaragua is, I found its people to be happy. And that happiness was contagious. It made me reconsider many aspects of my life, and put back into the right perspective what I thought were some majour problems I was facing.

Las Isletas, Nicaragua

Life is simple and fulfilling in Nicaragua

I happened to be in Balgüe, the most rural village on Ometepe Island, on Christmas day. I had arrived there the night before, and my Christmas eve had been a very low key dinner at the hostel. I have never been a big fan of Christmas, you see. I just can’t stand all the frenzy: people going crazy with the preparations; all the traffic due to shoppers who rush out to get the ultimate useless gadget to put under the Christmas tree; and the long, unbearable meals with the family and relatives. To me, it was just such a waste of time and money.

Things to do in Nicaragua

Lovely locals in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon

Then, I just ended up spending Christmas (well, part of it) with a random family in Balgüe. I had gone out that day for a walk in the village (no more than a few houses along the main road), and got caught in a thunderstorm. It was pouring, I had no umbrella, and the hostel was a good hike away – it would take me a good 45 minutes under the incessant rain, on an uphill path in the forest to get to the secluded Finca Magdalena. As the rain was getting stronger, I started running to find some shelter. I literally walked in the first place I found – and this happened to be a private house, where people were gathered on a covered patio and played guitars and sang along to celebrate Christmas.

I enjoy perfect sunsets when I travel alone

The wild beach of Poneloya

All I did was open the gate, wave my hand and say: “Feliz Navidad!” That’s when I realised that I was standing in someone’s house. In any other place on earth, the owners would have called the police, chased me out, yelled at me. Here, they just stared blankly at me, surprised at first, then handed me a chair so I could join the celebrations. It was a modest house, really: a bare clay pavement inside and out, no more than 2 rooms; children, dogs and chickens all running about, inside and outside. I doubt they had potable water. And I am sure they did not have any fast internet connection, a flat screen tv, a luxurious shower and any of the commodities that we seem to can’t live without at home. I doubt they had had an endless meal to celebrate their Christmas. Yet, they looked happy and they surely seemed to be having a great time in their celebrations, much more than I would do at home when eating the best delicacies that one could find on the table.

Nicaragua - photo courtesy of George Kenyon

Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon

How could these people be so happy, even though they were so poor? I finally understood: they had each other; they could count on one another. And more than anything else, they did not fall into the materialism trap: they did not have an insatiable desire to own things, thinking that they would finally feel happy once they managed to get their hands on the latest gadget – be it a smart phone, a new pair of shoes, or a flat screen tv. And since they were not materialistic, they did not turn into selfish and excessively competitive human beings who felt envy for anybody who owned more than they did, including the stranger who had just walked through their gate; they had not lost faith in the human race, thinking that they could not trust anybody.

I am sure that they faced difficult times – times in which they wished for an easier life, for more comforts and simply a bit more money. But this did not turn them into cynical, sour and cunning people who would try to take advantage of others to make whatever little extra that may make their lives a bit easier. It was quite the opposite: they embraced life, and whatever it brought them, in a hopeful way and with a smile on their face. That very smile that had disappeared from mine, because regardless of how lucky I may be, I felt overwhelmed to make money and buy things so to prove others and – most of all – myself that I was really accomplished.

These people helped me put my life back into perspective. They helped me understand what really counts for me. Sure, there have been many times in which I wished I had more money to buy things that I feel I need in order to have a better life: a new laptop that performs better; a smartphone that doesn’t freeze any time someone calls me; a pretty dress to wear at a party. But owning things will never make me feel accomplished, because things perish, they get old, they become useless. What I am truly happy for is that I have a mother that still comes with me when I have a doctor’s appointment and I am terrified of what may happen to me; a father that thinks I am a hero because I can swim really well; and a sister that values spending time with me and is the best friend I could hope for. And I have a few, close friends that support me, whatever crazy thing I do – including jumping off a 12 meter cliff.

I am quite sure that lovely family in Nicaragua forgot about me. I don’t mind. I never even asked for their names, but I will never forget their smiles, their singing, and I will never stop thanking them for teaching me what really matters in life.

Today, when people ask me if Nicaragua is a good place to visit, I say it is – the most underrated country in Central America is gorgeous and its people are truly amazing.

Have you been to Nicaragua? Do you love it as much as I do?


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  • Paula McInerney
    29 August 2015 at 6:33

    It is amazing when you least expect to like and in your case love a place, that it makes it that much more special. I think your point on materialism is really interesting. I remember returning from Samoa and feeling so guilt about all of the possessions that I had and I didn’t need. Happiness is not possessions as you found out in Nicaragua.

    • Claudia Tavani
      30 August 2015 at 19:47

      Yes. It really changed my life 🙂

  • Robyn
    29 August 2015 at 10:52

    I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about Nicaragua, but this definitely confirms that it’s a place I’d love to visit! It sounds like you not only fell in love with the stunning views and wicked activities (volcano boarding?! Yes please!), but these gorgeous people too! When I visited Indonesia, I found a similar sense of freedom, that happiness was found outside the material sphere, and that the best things in life, truly are free! Great post!

    • Claudia Tavani
      30 August 2015 at 19:48

      Thank you Robyn. Yes, Nicaragua should be on your list!

  • Mar
    29 August 2015 at 11:15

    It is so true that often times, the least you have, the least you miss. Traveling to poorer countries always reminds me of how little we actually need to be happy and how important relationships are instead.

  • Danka
    29 August 2015 at 15:22

    Very interesting article, Claudia. I do not know much about Nicaragua and I think my image of this country is very similar to yours when you went there. I have always dreamed about Costa Rica but from your post it looks very similar and like you said – even cheaper.
    The Christmas thing is very interesting though. I have never enjoyed it really, but I guess it was because personal issues in my family. The moment I moved out and left to China I have really enjoyed all the preparations. Not really the craziness in the malls, but more so watching Christmas movies and fairy tales (on a small TV) and eating my favorite food that reminds me of my mum. But I guess, like you said – after we leave our home and experience different kinds of things, we start to appreciate what really matters TO US. Because everyone is different.
    Good luck on your travels and keep up the great posts.

    • Claudia Tavani
      30 August 2015 at 19:49

      Thank you Danka! I think I may soon be ready for another Christmas at home 🙂

  • Lesley
    30 August 2015 at 3:12

    I’ve only been to Nicaragua once but I do love it. Your interaction with locals is beautiful. I can see why it has your heart.

  • Veronika Tomanova
    30 August 2015 at 15:56

    Hi! so far I have’t been to Latin America. I see that even you didn’t know much before leaving, you had good time. I think spending Christmas out of home can he hard or at least it was for me, because Christmas means time with parents and rest of the family. I was out two times and it was sad. Although Christmas somewhere cool on the beach, that sounds like cool:)

    • Claudia Tavani
      30 August 2015 at 19:50

      I was not even at a beach. Just at a random place. And it was not just fun. It was “different” – and amazing 🙂

  • Cailin
    30 August 2015 at 18:21

    That sounds like such a wonderful experience! I am glad that you got to visit and make your own opinions for yourself and not just listen to what others said. You might not of ever met that family otherwise!

  • Karilyn
    30 August 2015 at 19:30

    The last time I was in Central America (2002) I had planned to go to Nicaragua but got stuck in Guatemala! I’ve heard nothing but tales of beauty and love for the country since. I really need to get there. Beautiful photos! Loved the bird on the lady’s shoulder!!

    • Claudia Tavani
      30 August 2015 at 19:51

      She was standing there, at the main square in Leon, and did not mind that we took a picture 🙂

  • Stacey Valle
    31 August 2015 at 9:10

    This is a beautiful post. I rarely ever read anybody else’s blogs about Nicaragua and I agree that it is underrated. After reading this post, I will definitely consider my travel there. I think it’s amazing how you wound up in a family’s home and gain a whole new perspective. We do not often always appreciate what we have until we open our eyes to other people’s lives.

  • Lindsay Nieminen
    31 August 2015 at 17:35

    Such an inspiring article Claudia! I Have never been to Nicaragua but would love to travel with my family through South America. I Had a similar experience in the Cook Islands. I will never forget it!

  • Jakob Gibbons
    31 August 2015 at 17:54

    Hmm, I haven’t had the same experience re: what people say about Nicaragua — in fact, I’ve almost always been told that it’s a must-visit highlight of the whole region, and indeed that the people are some of the friendliest in the world. Glad to read that you had such a lovely experience!

    What locations did you visit? Do you have any thoughts on what it would be like to live there as someone who works remotely? I know internet connection speeds aren’t very high, but the cost of living is abysmal and it’s clearly a beautiful country with fantastic people. Any input?

    Good luck with the rest of your CA trip and safe travels!

    • Claudia Tavani
      1 September 2015 at 1:29

      I travelled all over – been there 3 times already 🙂 I haven’t considered moving there. But that is just because I have never thought I could work remotely. Now I can… and I may!

  • Rae
    1 September 2015 at 12:42

    This was such a fabulous post and highlights just way traveling is so amazing. It allows you to see things through different people’s eyes and then actually adjust your own perspective in the process. Nicaragua sounds like an incredible land if you story about Christmas is any indication. Would love to manage to travel to Nicaragua one day as well after reading your experience of being there.


    • Claudia Tavani
      2 September 2015 at 19:34

      And when you do, you will have some more of my posts to help you plan your trip 🙂

  • Ryan Biddulph
    1 September 2015 at 18:00

    Hi Claudia,

    Alright! Woohoo! Loved your review because we found out yesterday that we’re house sitting in Grenada starting October 1st. Just booked the tix. We are excited, because we see links between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and LOVED CR.

    Thanks for the fab review!


    • Claudia Tavani
      2 September 2015 at 19:35

      Granada is such a lovely place. You are getting there when it still is rainy season but as of the end of November expect sun AND heat!

  • karla
    2 September 2015 at 17:08

    Sometimes, I feel like those with nothing or those who live a simple life exudes happiness more than those who were blessed with more capacity. I enjoy going to places no one knows and living there, getting to know the locals and everything about the place, more than the top tourist attractions. I like the way Nicaragua is making you ponder and reflect about life. Happy Travels Claudia! 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      2 September 2015 at 19:36

      Thank you Karla. I must say, I meet lovely people all the time in my travels. I guess it is because I am actually open to meet them 🙂

  • Lieurene Tran
    3 September 2015 at 0:04

    Haha I can find my travel buddy’s comment on here but I still wanted to go ahead and make my own comment. Before reading this post, I was just researching on where to go backpacking in Central America and I was actually looking into Nicaragua since I know it is underrated and considered “dangerous”. It’s great reading this post and knowing that someone did fell in love with it. I just might buy my plane ticket soon 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      3 September 2015 at 21:42

      Dangerous and Nicaragua do not go in the same sentence. LOL. And if you need tips for itineraries and places to visit, I have a destination guide 🙂

  • Conor
    3 September 2015 at 12:21

    Great post! I met a good friend from Nicaragua in Canada four years ago. A really good man and I promised him I would visit his homeland some day in the future. It looks magnificent and I hope I’ll get go in the next couple of years!

  • Agness
    3 September 2015 at 13:55

    I’m not surprised you fell in love with this place. Just look at these pictures!! Man, wish I was there. The beach is where I should be right now. Heading to Dubai next week followed by a backpacking trip to Japan, can’t wait!!

    • Claudia Tavani
      3 September 2015 at 21:43

      Shsh you, do not complain! Some of us are working 😉

  • Mary
    3 September 2015 at 23:49

    Nicaragua is always been my dream destination! I feel so envy right now! 🙁 Hahaha!

  • Rochelle
    4 September 2015 at 9:03

    Love your post! You are totally right, there are so many things in this world that can make us happy, we just fail to see it. Material things can only give us temporary happiness and we’ll end up wanting more. Every time I feel unsatisfied with my life or whenever I’m carrying I big problem, I just think about those people that doesn’t have a home, those in the 3rd world countries that doesn’t have food to eat, and those that are in worst situations than I am. Thinking of these things makes me appreciate life and helps me understand that I am truly blessed. 🙂
    Good vibes Fox

    • Claudia Tavani
      4 September 2015 at 16:56

      And that perhaps we should also do our share to help the world 🙂

  • Erica
    4 September 2015 at 9:34

    Hi Claudia, I love that photo of the local lady with the bird. It’s filled with such rawness I can’t quite describe. South and Central america was originally next in my backpacking list, preferably next year. I know for sure not to miss Nicaragua!

    • Claudia Tavani
      4 September 2015 at 16:55

      I would make it a priority! I am a big fan of Latin America, in case you haven’t noticed hehe

  • Ynah ca
    4 September 2015 at 19:41

    Such an incredible experince. I love interacting with local people. Each have their own story to tell and listening to them makes me appreciate life even more.

    • Claudia Tavani
      5 September 2015 at 11:20

      And sometimes it is not even that – just a kind word, some help they give… a smile 🙂

  • Vicki Mattingly
    5 September 2015 at 0:58

    I’d like to go back to Nicaragua and see what it’s like now. I was there briefly 20 years ago and it didn’t leave that much of an impression on me. But, I’m sure it has changed a lot. And, I’m curious about volcano boarding.

    • Claudia Tavani
      5 September 2015 at 11:20

      Oh noooo! It really is a great place. Perhaps, if you are keen on visiting again you can read my guide for inspiration!

  • Kristi Trimmer
    5 September 2015 at 4:23

    What a beautiful country and those beaches! I could see myself relaxing there with a book in one hand and a frothy beverage in the other. Thank you for showing us Nicaragua!

  • Nic from Roaming Renegades
    5 September 2015 at 16:55

    Never really knew much above Nicaragua but you have sold us on it here. Think it is somewhere we should really pay more attention too!

    • Claudia Tavani
      7 September 2015 at 13:04

      Please do guys! If you need info, browse through my blog for more 🙂

  • Lucy
    5 September 2015 at 23:42

    Nice…and what on earth is volcano boarding?… i have never heard of it…
    and it’s true..happiness doesn’t come from material things…nothing compares to your family and friends that care about you and wishes you well…

    • Claudia Tavani
      7 September 2015 at 13:06

      Hahahahaha. Well, you pretty much sit on a board and slide down the side of the volcano. Much like a sledge but on a volcano.

  • antonette - we12travel
    6 September 2015 at 11:13

    A friend of mine lived in Nicaragua for a couple of years and after hearing all of her stories, she really made me want to go. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to travel there yet (as to other countries in central America) but I definitely want to check it out one day …

    • Claudia Tavani
      7 September 2015 at 13:09

      The day you decide to go, come back to this site for a guide on Nicaragua 🙂 lots of info there!

  • Michael Huxley
    6 September 2015 at 14:01

    I totally know what you mean, it is only when we visit places like this that we see how easy it is to fall into the trap of materialism and how many of us have done so at some point. Great post.

  • Anne | Girl Chasing Sunshine
    6 September 2015 at 14:11

    What I love about underrated places is that you go there expecting nothing and then boom! You get some of the most wonderful memories you’ll ever have in your lifetime. Do you plan on coming back to Nicaragua soon? 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      7 September 2015 at 13:10

      It is always on my mind. Not a day goes by without thinking about it!

  • Melody Pittman
    7 September 2015 at 15:57

    Great post. Being a part time expat in Panama, we have many friends who venture over to Nicaragua so it is slowly creeping up on my radar. Lovely pictures and good advice. 😉

    • Claudia Tavani
      7 September 2015 at 17:21

      There’s more stuff on Nicaragua on my blog, if you ever plan to visit!

  • Revati
    8 September 2015 at 18:26

    Sigh. I can see why. Nicaragua sounds like just the place that would steal my heart! Thanks for sharing!

    • Claudia Tavani
      9 September 2015 at 21:02

      If you ever plan to go, let me know and I can share lots of tips

  • christine
    8 September 2015 at 18:31

    I wanted to go when I was visiting Costa Rica.. looks like I missed out!!

  • Robb Saunders
    10 September 2015 at 5:24

    They have such a great perspective on life. If only the rest of world could take on that strong sense of community. There wouldn’t be a refugee crisis that’s for sure.
    Great post.
    Keep up the great work.
    Ps: volcano Boarding sounds awesome!

    • Claudia Tavani
      10 September 2015 at 9:44

      Thank you so much for encouraging me Robb 🙂

  • gaurachand
    11 September 2015 at 9:46

    Nicaragua seems to be beautiful place and untapped place, like to visit this place in future.

    • Claudia Tavani
      11 September 2015 at 13:52

      If you ever decide to do so, come back here for more info 🙂

  • Diana
    11 September 2015 at 19:08

    Left last month after spending a year in Nicaragua as we thought it might be our early retirement home..then got itchy feet to travel but we will be back. Granada, Laguna de Apoyo, Ometepe, San Juan del Sur and the northern areas around Matagalpa….all special and unique but the real magic of Nicaragua is the people and their ability to be so warm, welcoming and happy in what so many of us born in first world nations would consider to be abhorrent conditions. We left feeling that there were so many lessons to be learned by so many of us!

    • Claudia Tavani
      11 September 2015 at 19:44

      🙂 I am glad to read this comment Diana. Yes. The people there are incredible, given the living conditions. Only today I was asked, once again, what my favourite country in Central America is. I had no hesitation. Nicaragua. I will never tire of it!

  • Katie Featherstone
    14 January 2016 at 16:41

    Places that surprise me are always my favorites too. I think there’s nothing better than going without any expectations and finding something amazing!

  • Frank
    11 May 2017 at 23:44

    Hi Claudia, I just wanted to thank you for writing such a great article about my home. I’m glad that you enjoyed it and that it had such a profound influence on you. If you need anything next time you come please don’t hesitate to ask, cheers!

    • Claudia Tavani
      12 May 2017 at 9:12

      I would love to go back – I just want to breathe in the chilled atmosphere of Nicaragua!


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Who is Claudia?

Hello, nice to meet you!

Hello, nice to meet you!

Hi, my name is Claudia. One day I packed my life and started traveling... except I packed too much. Follow me as I fill my life with dreams, drop the weight and inspire you to live your dreams. View and download my media kit here (updated June 2018). Learn more about me here...


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