Like its neighbor, Costa Rica, Nicaragua is a lush and magical place. Unlike Costa Rica, though, it's not overrun with fanny-pack-toting tourists. If Nicaragua is near the bottom of your travel bucket list, don't blame yourself: Many people don't know just how much it offers. But once you're clued in, you'll definitely want to go. Here's why.

When my plane touched down on the tarmac in Managua, I had zero expectations for my upcoming trip beyond sun and sand. Over the next few days, I realized how rich and vibrant Nicaragua is, with friendly people and stunning scenery. One thing became crystal clear: Nicaragua's days of flying under the radar are numbered. 

1. Nicaragua Is a Budget-Friendly Destination  for Now

Most luxe-feeling vacations come with a price tag to match, but Nicaragua is like a breath of fresh air for your finances. It's still considered off the beaten path, so prices have remained modest. You can eat great food, pick up handmade crafts and go on memorable adventures for a fraction of the cost in other, similar destinations.


2. It's a Surfing Hotspot

With its dramatic landscapes and enviable beaches, it’s no surprise that Nicaragua is a surfer’s dream. Being an under-the-radar tourist spot, Nicaragua attracts in-the-know surfers who seek respite from the group lessons and crowded beaches of neighboring Costa Rica. Playa Maderas, for example, is a pristine stretch of beach with oceanfront restaurants and a new hotel that caters to the surfing community. Advanced surfers as well as newbies (like yours truly) are welcome.

Courtesy of Nikki Vargas  

3. You Can Ski Down Volcanoes

Nicaragua is known for having many volcanoes (more than 18 active and extinct currently listed), most of which hug its western coast. While seeing an active volcano is a surreal experience in itself, Nicaragua kicks things up a notch with volcano boarding, which is exactly what it sounds like. The most popular slope to board down is Cerro Negro near León, the country's second-largest city. There, adrenaline junkies strap on helmets and pads before hopping on a thin metal or wooden board and sliding down the volcanic ash slopes.


4. It's Overrun with Beauty, but Not Tourists

Noticing a theme here? Nicaragua just might be a better vacation spot than the much-beloved, uber-popular Costa Rica. It feels relatively unspoiled by tourism as compared to Costa Rica — local experiences have a more authentic feel, beaches are less crowded and towns seem less catered toward foreign city slickers on their 10-day vacations.

Courtesy of Nikki Vargas

5. Nicaragua Offers Something for Every Type of Traveler

Whether you're a beach bum or a thrill seeker, content with cheap eats or always in search of a gourmet experience, Nicaragua delivers. Take part in rum-fueled dancing on the beach, meet with local artisans, volunteer with children, hike, soak up lush views, stuff yourself with traditional food  it's impossible to categorize this country as one type of destination. Nicaragua has it all. So hurry, because it won’t stay secret much longer.

By Nikki Vargas

Nikki Vargas is the Founder & Editor of Pin the Map magazine and The Pin the Map Project, voted a top 100 travel blog of 2015. Her work has appeared in Vice, Food & Wine, Matador Network, BuzzFeed and more. Additionally, Nikki was a speaker at the Women's Travel Fest NYC (2016) and New York Travel Fest (2015 & 2016) and is a travel correspondent for Mode Media, reporting on destinations around the world.