Returning to Nicaragua

by Brenna Holeman



I first went to Nicaragua in 2012, as part of my backpacking adventure through Central America. Through Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, Nicaragua ended up being my favourite country in that part of the world. It’s hard sometimes to describe exactly what it was about the country that I loved so much; if I say that it was the colonial architecture, the stunning landscapes, the friendly people, or the fun parties, I could be describing any of the other countries, too. Much like finding a soulmate, we often can’t explain what it is that causes us to fall in love. It’s that magic spark.


When I first visited Nicaragua, I started in León. That city charmed me with its colourful buildings and beautiful cathedrals; volcano boarding was also a highlight. I moved on to Granada and explored the nearby beaches of Las Peñitas, and then was joined by Kerri. Together we journeyed to Little Corn, an island in the Caribbean, where it rained and rained and we had a great time anyway. We then spent a while in San Juan del Sur, found on the west coast, before heading into Costa Rica. In total I spent just under a month in the country, and my memories of that trip are ones of laughter and discovery.


When my mum surprised me with a Christmas trip to Nicaragua a few months ago, I was overjoyed. Not only would it mean spending the holidays with my family, a rare treat, I also got to revisit one of my favourite countries. We ended up meeting in Miami and then flying to Managua together; I remembered its airport well, remembered the little craft shops and the tiny section where Kerri and I had waited for our flight to Little Corn.

We took a van through the countryside to take us to our final destination: Rancho Santana. It is a private resort, and we rented our own house and our own car. Simply put, it was stunning, but vastly different from the experience I had had my first time. Those weeks in 2012 were spent in sweaty hostels and cabanas on the beach with leaky rooftops. Our house in Rancho Santana overlooked the Pacific Ocean. Every night we’d stand together with a cold beer and watch the sky turn pink, so happy to be together in this beautiful part of the world.


We drove to Granada on our third day in the country. On the way in to Rancho Santana, the winding back roads seemed easily identifiable; without the help of our guide, however, we soon got lost in a maze of dust and farmland, pigs and cows regularly halting our journey. When we finally arrived in the city we were hot and tired. I tried to find the café I had loved so much my first time there, but it either moved or my memory failed me, and we settled for a place just off of the main square. After iced coffees, we walked through Granada’s wide streets, its low buildings painted orange and blue and green and pink. It felt much hotter than the last time, the air dryer. We were approached multiple times by touts, men, women, and children selling gum and pottery and tissues. And then, while we were standing taking photos, a man on a bicycle rode by and stole the hat off of my brother’s head. Our visit wasn’t going very well.


It was a strange feeling to be back in Granada. I had loved it so much that first time, had even extended my time there by a few days. This time the city seemed to have lost its charm. Only a couple of hours after we’d arrived, after a lunch of ceviche and quesadillas, we were ready to leave.

I don’t think it’s fair to say that I don’t like Granada now. If I want to, I can conjure either image of the city. I obviously prefer to remember the time in 2012, but I understand that places change, people change, perceptions change. There are destinations I haven’t loved in my travels – Singapore and Cairo come to mind. Sometimes these perceptions change for the better, though. I’m reminded of Vienna; the first time there, it left something to be desired, but I absolutely loved my second visit a couple of years ago. Similarly, I didn’t love San Juan del Sur the first time I visited, but with my family, visiting for the second time, I was completely won over. Overall I still count Nicaragua as one of my favourite countries in the world, and a place I would recommend wholeheartedly.




Despite not loving a place – whether it’s the first, second, or tenth visit – I would never say that I’d never go back somewhere. Loving a city can depend on so many things: the weather, the tourist season, the attractions, the people you’re with. I would never write off a place entirely just because I had one not-so-great experience there. Granada is a city I’d love to visit again – I hope that I could find some of that spark again. I’d at least want to try to look for it.


All photos taken in Granada in 2012

Have you ever returned to a place only to find that you don’t love it as much? Or, have you ever found the opposite?

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Paige April 7, 2015 - 9:29 pm

I feel this way about the city of Philadelphia! Growing up, I had an aunt who lived in the suburbs, and whenever we’d visit her, we’d take day trips into the city and march our way through the historic sites while she complained about traffic, crime, etc. I had an opportunity to go back a couple of years ago in undergrad for a conference, and my experience could not have been more different! I explored the city on my own with friends, went to art exhibits and quirky museums off the beaten path…had an amazing time! I couldn’t even believe I was in the same city. That experience really taught me the value of giving places a second chance, of taking time to slow down between seeing the “major sites,” and how a trip experience can really come down to the little things! Lovely post!

Brenna Holeman April 8, 2015 - 4:37 pm

That’s so awesome. I would love to go back to Philadelphia! And you’re right, it’s all about slowing down and taking time to enjoy a place… it can so often come down to those little things and little moments. Thanks for your comment, Paige!

Ashley April 7, 2015 - 11:53 pm

One of the only places I’ve revisited is Melbourne- and both visits were within a two month timespan- but I loved the city even more the second time. It’s so interesting how a countless number of factors can influence your perception of a place, and I often wonder whether I would still love certain destinations if I were to revisit now!

Brenna Holeman April 8, 2015 - 4:38 pm

I often do love a city better on its second viewing… I can imagine I’d LOVE Melbourne as I had such a great time there the first time around!

Beatrice April 8, 2015 - 2:54 am

I loved Granada! I am currently traveling in Nicaragua a decision partly influenced by your blog posts and Adventurous Kate. I agree that your experience in a place depends on so many factors including the people you meet. I appreciate your forever positive open minded outlook and honesty. Beautiful pictures.

Brenna Holeman April 8, 2015 - 4:39 pm

Aw, that’s amazing! Kate is writing some really great stuff about Nicaragua at the moment, I hope that more people will consider Central America as an option. Thanks for your comment, Beatrice!

Camille April 8, 2015 - 3:59 am

The first time I went to Washington DC I didn’t love it, but each time I’ve been back in the area it has grown on me more and more. It just shows you how much perceptions can change based on things out of your control, and no matter how much you want to love it.

Brenna Holeman April 8, 2015 - 4:40 pm

Totally! Well said, Camille.

Katie April 8, 2015 - 4:16 am

When I first visited Nice I wasn’t overly impressed but I was only there for a day. I hgave it another chance a couple of years later, staying for 4 days in the Old Town, and completely fell in love with it. I enjoyed but didn’t love Berlin and New York but I have a feeling that when I return, there is a good chance I will love them as I originally visited Berlin back in 2007 and it sounds like it has changed a lot since then and I want to explore the boroughs in more detail in New York which we didn’t have enough time to do during the 6 nights of our first visit. I agree that I wouldn’t say I would never go back somewhere although there are some places that I am more excited about returning to than others

Brenna Holeman April 8, 2015 - 4:41 pm

Oh for sure, there are some placed I’m more excited about returning to! I personally love Berlin, but I’ve also been there four times… which goes to show that sometimes you do grow to love a place even more on each visit. I can’t say that I loved London when I first visited, but now it’s my favourite city in the world.

Ella April 8, 2015 - 2:54 pm

I find it so interesting that we can leave a place that we’ve already visited before, and have a completely different experience and leave with a different perception. It makes sense though. Even if absolutely every aspect of the trip was the same (people you’re with, season etc.), it’s likely that it would still be different because you probably would have changed in that time.
I also can’t help but relate to this sentence, “Much like finding a soulmate, we often can’t explain what it is that causes us to fall in love.” I’ve never been to Nicaragua (yet!) but I’ve been in love with it from a far for 6 years now and I can never explain to people why I love it haha. I just do and I’m looking forward to the day that I spend some time there 🙂

Brenna Holeman April 8, 2015 - 4:41 pm

Thank you so much, Ella! I’m sure that you’d love Nicaragua, I still do… very much. I hope that you get there soon!

Polly April 8, 2015 - 5:58 pm

Oh dear, this scares me! When we were backpacking through Nicaragua, we ended up staying in Granada for a whole month we liked it so much. I hope to go back – I do hope I’ll enjoy it the same way!

Brenna Holeman April 8, 2015 - 7:12 pm

I didn’t mean to scare you… as I said, you never know why or how things will change! I believe I could go back to Granada tomorrow and love it all over again.

Jo April 10, 2015 - 1:58 am

I definitely think it’s hard to go back to a place you loved. I spent my gap year in Bordeaux, and had the best time of my life. If you’d asked me then, it was one of the best cities in the world. I had to leave before I wanted to and I was still in love with the place, so I romanticised it in my head. I did the same with the boy I left there. And when I crossed paths with both the boy and Bordeaux again, in both cases it was clear that we’d changed and weren’t so compatible any more.

I still really like Bordeaux, but it definitely took the rose-tinted glasses off and made me realise that my memories are as much of that specific time than of the place itself. If that second visit had been my only, I don’t think it would even register as anything other than a fairly nice city.

Jo April 10, 2015 - 2:01 am

And just to add- we visited Central America in 2014, and basically used your blog as a guidebook because it was one of the few sources on Latin America that wasn’t all Top 10 Must See lists. Granada was one of the only places you’d loved that we didn’t like, so it’s interesting to see how your experiences were different this time around.

Brenna Holeman April 26, 2015 - 3:54 pm

Aw, thank you so much for saying that Jo, that really means a lot! I still have so much to write about Central America, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the service…

Thanks so much for your comments!

Hannah @Getting Stamped April 10, 2015 - 9:31 am

Love Granada, we visited Nicaragua the summer of 2013 and hope to get back soon.

Brenna Holeman April 26, 2015 - 3:51 pm

I’d like to go back again and see what I think of it on my third visit!

Scarlett April 13, 2015 - 11:19 am

Great article (and great photos! All your South America photos have the best colours!), I totally get it about visiting somewhere a second time and being disappointed! In 2008 I visited Rome and absolutely fell in love, but as I visited it in February there were barely any tourists (understandable, as it was freezing!). When I returned in 2011 it was totally different to me – it was almost unbearably hot and just so horribly busy I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much. But I put that down to just one bad experience and too many tourists – I would never not recommend it to anyone or even not consider going back there myself!

Also why steal a hat?? what an odd thing to steal!

Brenna Holeman April 26, 2015 - 3:52 pm

Thanks for your comment, Scarlett! I totally agree with you.

My brother’s hat was a really nice hat, to be fair… it was a baseball hat with a brand’s logo on it that he paid quite a bit for in Vancouver. I doubt the thief knew that, though!

Stephanie April 15, 2015 - 4:19 pm

“places change, people change, perceptions change” 🙂 loved it..
Would be great to just pack a bag and leave.. fall in love with a place I’ve never been. Maybe I’ll manage somehow to convince my fiance for a honywmoon in Central America – cross fingers

Brenna Holeman April 26, 2015 - 3:52 pm

That’s the dream, isn’t it?? Good luck!

Zalie April 21, 2015 - 3:12 am

I have never really had the experience to go back to a place that I travelled to in the past, but I am always curious to see how I would feel at a different time in my life and with different people.

Brenna Holeman April 26, 2015 - 3:53 pm

I’d definitely like to go back to a lot of the places I’ve been to and see how they – or how I – have changed!


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