Nicaragua is not a ready-made resort designed for your convenience. Tourism is very much in its infancy here, and some pre-planning is highly recommended to avoid any rude surprises. Often, the crumbling infrastructure doesn't match the splendid destinations. Funny money and a strange tongue are just some of the things you'll have to contend with, along with poor roads, a bewildering capital, unmetered taxis, and a chaotic bus system. On the positive side, however, some of the country's best destinations -- such as Granada and León -- are within easy reach of the airport and capital, the dollar goes far, and the country is safe and peaceful. For unbridled jungle and abundant nature, you'll have to make a special effort and get organized.
Hotels in Nicaragua are improving all the time, but you'll need to lower your expectations a bit the farther you get from the capital or tourist centers like Granada and San Juan del Sur. Even in increasingly popular destinations like the Corn Islands and Isla de Ometepe, luxury hotels are still in short supply. In general, though, the country does offer great variety in terms of accommodations, from all-inclusive resorts on the Pacific coast to authentic Spanish colonial houses in Granada. The northern highlands and the lake islands offer rustic working farms with lots of personality but little in modern amenities. Most prices for hotels in this guide are quoted in U.S. dollars only, since most don't quote their rates in córdobas.
Nicaragua isn't exactly a culinary destination, but Managua has the best restaurant choices, with Granada coming a distant second. León and San Juan del Sur are beginning to get some very good high-end eateries, as well. In general, buffet-style restaurants, called comedores, are very popular, as are street grills (fritangas) on the side of the road. Every town has a Mercado Municipal, with ultra-cheap food stalls. Corn, rice, and beans dominate most menus, but you'll also come across an incredible amount of seafood, especially lobster and shrimp.
In Nicaragua, prices on menus in most restaurants exclude a 15% tax and a 10% service charge. These are automatically added to your bill at the end.
Nicaragua is handicraft heaven. Masaya, 29km (18 miles) south of Managua, is the center of the handicraft scene in the country. Here, you'll find everything, including cotton hammocks, woodcarvings, rocking chairs, textile arts, leatherwork, and ceramics. The Monimbó neighborhood in Masaya is famous for leatherwork, woodwork, embroidery, and toys. Every town and city has a central market where you will find similar goods, as well. The Solentiname Islands are famous for primitive art, and Managua has many art galleries that display such work.