With gorgeous beaches, adventure activities, and a killer exchange rate, Nicaragua is the new Costa Rica. You won’t find five-star resorts or boutiques, but you will find $10 meals and beachfront rooms for less than $100. And if you prize getting there before the crowds while getting away from it all, you’ve arrived.
Arrive in Managua and turn around: You’ll want to catch the first tiny plane off the mainland. The Corn Islands, off the Atlantic Coast, are two of the last bits of unspoiled paradise in the Caribbean. The culture in Big Corn is more Nicaraguan local than European backpacker. Zip around in a $1 taxi to waterfront bars and homey restaurants. The islands’ most luxurious hotel (king-size beds, infinity pool) is Casa Canada. Relax with a cold Toña (the national cerveza) and a $10 lobster at Anastasia’s on the Sea, the only over-water restaurant on the islands.
La Islita Bonita
If the bustle of Big Corn is too much, take the 30-minute roller-coaster boat ride to Little Corn — and leave civilization behind. Casa Iguana is a neo-hippie resort with beachfront cabanas, board games, and hammocks galore. Kick back on the deck to watch the sunset or join a communal dinner in the no-shoes-allowed restaurant. Prefer to keep your sandals on? The veranda-fronted rooms at Hotel Los Delfines may look a little dated (dig the mirrored headboard) but they have all the creature comforts, right in the heart of downtown (such as one exists).
For an island only one mile square, Little Corn offers a surprising variety of food. Credit Euro expat hoteliers, like the Italians at bio farm Farm Peace & Love and the French and the Spanish at Ensueños. (You don’t have to stay to eat.) The best eatery, Habana Libre (+505-848-5412), serves authentic Cuban food with the fastest service in the country. Order the slow-roasted pork in advance.
Agua, Agua Everywhere (and Quite a Bit of Rum)
If you tire of the many white beaches (the best are on the north end) go underwater with a snorkeling or scuba trip. Dolphin Dive can help you explore the local reefs and spot giant turtles. Not so aquatic? Hit the dirt dance floor at the Happy Hut reggae club and try the Nicaraguan version of bottle service: Coca-Cola and a bottle of Flor de Caña rum for about $5.
A cute bikini and a good book aside, you won’t need much on the Corn Islands, but bring plenty of cash — there are no ATMs. But with prices so low, you can afford to stay an extra day or two.
Or three. Look: There’s another deserted beach waiting for you.