|Currency||gold cordoba (NIO)|
|Electricity||120V/60Hz (USA plug)|
Nicaragua is a country in Central America. It has coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea, in the east, and the North Pacific Ocean, in the west, and has Costa Rica to the southeast and Honduras to the northwest.
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America with an area of 130,373 km2 and contains the largest freshwater body in Central America, Lago de Nicaragua (Lake Nicaragua) or Cocibolca. The capital city of Nicaragua is Managua. Roughly one quarter of the nation's population lives in the Nicaraguan capital, making it the second largest city and metropolitan area in Central America.
Nicaragua's most populous region, centered on the capital, Managua
Here travel is mostly done by boat and the rich mixture of Nicaraguan, Caribbean, Miskito Indian and Garifuna cultures makes this region seem like another country.
Visit cigar factories and see how coffee is grown in a region filled with remnants of the revolution.
|Northern Pacific Coast
At the collision point between two tectonic plates, this region has some of the highest volcanic activity on Earth and is also home to two national icons : rum Flor de Caña and poet Rubén Darío.
|Rio San Juan Region
An almost forgotten part of the country with its hidden treasures like the car free Solentiname Islands or El Castillo, and gateway to the pristine rainforest of the Indio Maiz reserve.
|Southern Pacific Coast
A narrow stretch of land bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Lago Nicaragua. Surf remote spots along the coast, party in San Juan del Sur or ride a motorbike around iconic Isla de Ometepe.
- Big Corn Island
- Canyon de Somoto
- El Castillo
- Isla Ometepe
- Laguna de Apoyo
- Little Corn Island
- Pearl Lagoon
- Solentiname Islands
- Volcan Masaya
Hot in the lowlands, cooler in highlands. The weather during the dry months (November–April) can be very hot in the Pacific lowlands. Torrential downpours in the rainy season (May–October) can leave you soaked and chilly, even in the Pacific lowlands when it's cloudy, so be prepared if you're traveling during those months. Also be prepared for cooler, cloudier weather in mountainous regions. The Atlantic coast sees an occasional hurricane each season. In the past, these hurricanes have inflicted a lot of damage.
Extensive Atlantic coastal plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes making for some majestic landscapes. Nicaragua is dotted by several lakes of volcanic origin, the largest being Lago de Nicaragua. Managua, the capital, sits on the shores of the polluted Lago de Managua. The country has Natural hazards of destructive earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides. Its highest point is Mogoton (2,107 meters) close to the border with Honduras.
Although Columbus (known in Spanish as Cristobal Colón) made landfall in northeastern Nicaragua on one of his voyages, primarily western Nicaragua was entered by Spanish conquistadors in the early 16th century. The pre-Columbian Indian civilization was almost completely destroyed by population losses due to infectious diseases, enslavement and deportation. Spain made Nicaragua a colony; Granada was founded as one of the oldest colonial cities in the American continent. During the colonial period, Nicaragua was part of the Capitania General based in Guatemala.
Nicaragua declared independence from Spain in 1821 becoming part of the short-lived first Mexican empire for two years before joining the (also short-lived) United Provinces of Central America; by 1838 upon the breakdown of this attempt at Central American Unity, the country became an independent republic. Britain occupied the Caribbean Coast in the first half of the 19th century, but gradually ceded control of the region in subsequent decades.
One of the most colorful personalities of Nicaraguan history is William Walker. Walker, a US southerner, came to Nicaragua as an opportunist. Nicaragua was on the verge of a civil war; Walker sided with one of the factions and was able to gain control of the country, hoping that the US would annex Nicaragua as a southern slave state. With designs on conquering the rest of Central America, Walker and his filibustero army marched on Costa Rica before he was turned back at the battle of Santa Rosa. Eventually Walker left Nicaragua; he was executed after arriving in Honduras at a later date.
It was also roughly in this time (the 1850s) that Nicaragua became a major transit country for people wishing to get from the US East Coast to the West. The Ruta de Transito as it is known in the Nicaraguan press saw, investment by railroad and steamboat tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt as well as travelers such as Mark Twain.
The U.S. Marines invaded Nicaragua several times. One of the cities that witnessed an invasion was San Juan Del Sur. General Sandino, seeing the US as invaders, took the war to them. It lasted more than 5 years, until the Marines withdrew from the country.
The twentieth century was characterized by the rise and fall of the Somoza dynasty. Anastasio Somoza Garcia came to power as the head of the National Guard, after murdering Sandino after a peace-dinner held in his honor in 1934. Educated in the US and trained by the US Army, he was adept managing his relations with the United States. After being assassinated, he was succeeded by his sons, Luis and Anastasio Jr ("Tachito"). By 1978, opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption (the last straws might have been the blatant embezzlement of relief funds after the 1972 Managua earthquake and the murder of popular anti-Somoza journalist Pedro Joaquin Chamorro) spread to all classes and resulted in a short civil war that led to the fall of Somoza in July, 1979. The armed part of the insurgence was named the Sandinistas, after the liberal general of the 1930s and fighter against the US marines, Augusto César Sandino. Due to the nature of the Sandinista government, with their social programs designed to benefit the poor majority, their support for rebels fighting against the military government in El Salvador, and their close alliance with Cuba, the right-wing US President Ronald Reagan considered them a threat, and at his administration's insistence, guerrilla forces (Contras) were organized, trained, and armed throughout most of the 1980s. Unwise policies by the Sandinistas (e.g. the alphabetization program was to be conducted only in Spanish initially) also led to a disaffection of the indigenous groups on the Caribbean coast, but a cease-fire of sorts was reached in the early 1980s, when the Sandinistas formed the RAAN and RAAS autonomous areas. To this day many indigenous leaders are wary of the Sandinistas in general and Daniel Ortega's government in particular, although there have been tactical alliances from time to time. Peace was brokered in 1987 by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, and led to new elections in 1990. In a stunning development, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, widow of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro of the UNO (Union Nacional Opositora) coalition surprisingly beat out the incumbent leader Daniel Ortega. Contributing factors in Ortega's defeat may well have been the turning international tides, the publics weariness of military service and the bad economic situation (mostly caused by the war).
Elections in 1996, and again in 2001 saw the Sandinistas defeated by the Liberal party. During the 1990s the country's economic policies saw a shift in direction aiming to transform Nicaragua to a market economy. However, the Sandinistas, led as in the 1980s and 90s by Daniel Ortega, were returned to power in elections in 2006 when the liberals split the vote and Ortega won with 38% of the vote in the first round after a constitutional amendment eliminated the second round and won again in 2011 with allegations of vote fraud stemming from his party's sudden increase to 62% of the vote, a number the party hadn't even come close to in all prior peacetime elections. The main right wing newspaper La Prensa still grumbles about the constitutionality of Ortega's reelection as more than two terms and two continuous terms were originally prohibited by the constitution until a controversial supreme court decision ruled that provision of the constitution unconstitutional.
Nicaragua has suffered from natural disasters in recent decades. Managua's downtown area was vastly damaged by an earthquake in 1972, which killed more than 10,000 people, and in 1998, Nicaragua was hit hard by Hurricane Mitch. Nicaragua remains the second poorest country in the western hemisphere after Haiti, however a high growth in sectors such as tourism as well as a better crime and security situation than its northern neighbors give reason to hope for a better future.
The Nicaragua Canal
Since the Spanish were able to make out the general geography of the country, there have been ideas of building a canal to link Atlantic and Pacific. Besides several routes through Panama, Nicaragua seemed an obvious choice, as the Rio San Juan already connects lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean and the lake's western shore is only about twenty kilometers from the Pacific at the narrowest point. However, from a 21st-century standpoint, the Rio San Juan is hardly navigable (the rapids close to El Castillo cannot be passed by anything much bigger than a lancha), and the average depth of lake Nicaragua is less than 15 meters, much less than the displacement of many modern container-ships. However the dream has always remained in the national consciousness, and was somewhat of a perennial issue in national politics until a recent development when in the early 2010s President Ortega signed a contract (later approved by the Sandinista-dominated national assembly) with a Chinese company to build the canal. Construction officially began in December of 2014 (though the actual extent of the works undertaken is not entirely clear to the public) and the contract includes an airport, two deep water seaports and a major tourist facility on the Pacific side. The project is very controversial both domestically and abroad, so expect a lot of media coverage on the issue in years to come.
There are about 5.6 million Nicaragüenses (often shortened to Nicas) in Nicaragua. The majority of the population is mestizo and white. Nicaraguan culture has strong folklore, music and religious traditions, deeply influenced by European culture but enriched with Amerindian sounds and flavors. The main language is Spanish, which is spoken by about 90% of the population. The biggest minorities all live on the Caribbean side of the country and include the Miskito (indigenous, formerly an ally of the British), the Garifuna (of indigenous and African ancestry) and the Rama people. Some of them speak indigenous languages or Caribbean Creole English.
Because of economic and political reasons many Nicaraguans have left their country in the last decades - primarily to the US and Costa Rica. About 500,000 to one million Nicaraguans now live and work in Costa Rica, not all of them legally, which has caused tensions both on a personal and on a diplomatic level between the two countries.
Units of measurement
Although Nicaragua officially uses the metric system, some customary Spanish units as well as some American units are commonly used in everyday parlance and even by vendors and the like. A common unit of distance is the "vara" which is often given in approximations for distances when giving directions. Though the actual length of a vara is said to be a yard, it can in actual use range somewhere between half a meter and more than one meter. If asking for directions or distances try asking how long one would walk there unless it is a long distance as most Nicaraguans don't own cars and are thus not all that familiar with estimating large distances.
A common unit for volume is the American fluid ounce and beer is often sold in 12 oz. bottles (354millilitres, sometimes "metricized" as 355ml). If you see 12. oz and a price quote (or "doce onzas") it usually refers to the beer bottle of said quantity. Gallons are also sometimes used for large amounts of water. For more on American units see Metric and Imperial equivalents.
Weight is preferably measured in (imperial) pounds, roughly equal to 450 grams (and not metricized as 500 grams). Other units are the large quintal and arroba that are used for the price of commodities like sugar and coffee as quoted in newspapers.
Citizens of the following countries/territories can enter Nicaragua without a visa: Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Falkland Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Holy See, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macao, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Swaziland, Sweden, Slovenia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United States, Vanuatu, the Vatican City (Holy See) and Venezuela.
Other tourists can obtain a Tourist Card for US$10 valid for 1 month to 3 months (depending on citizenship - Canada and USA are allowed 90 days) upon arrival, provided with a valid passport with at least six months to run. There is also a US$32 departure tax which is included in airfares with major airlines (American, COPA and TACA definitely). The tourist card is valid in the other CA-4 countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, although it sometimes requires a discussion with immigration officials that this accord is in effect, since they are quite compelled to sell more tourist cards.
You will fly into the international airport in Managua. Flights from the U.S. arrive from Houston, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Atlanta. Managua is also serviced by American Airlines, Delta, United, Spirit, Taca, Aeromexico, and Nature Air.
In July 2010, Nicaragua changed its fee to enter the country from US$5 to US$10. Try to have exact change.
Tourist visas are not issued, instead tourist cards or provided and are valid for three months for US citizens as well as for people from the EU and Canada. There will be taxis right outside, these are relatively expensive (US$25 for the 20 km trip to Managua center), or you can walk out to the road and try to flag down a regular cab. Some taxi drivers may try to overcharge, particularly seeing a foreign face, and may start with US$20, but a price around US$5–10 or 125 - 250 Cordobas is appropriate from the airport depending on the number of people and amount of luggage. Knowledge of the Spanish language is very helpful when haggling with taxis. You can also arrange a shuttle pickup to take you to nearby cities like Granada, a popular option for tourists who do not want to spend a night in Managua. It is recommended to have your hotel or language school arrange a shuttle when possible.
Talks are underway to start international flights to the small airport on Ometepe , that opened in 2014 but as of yet (July 2014) nothing has come of it.
There are (as of 2015) no regular scheduled international flights to any other airports in the country, although some might be able to accommodate general aviation.
Note that almost all rental car contracts don't allow you to take your car across the border. If you want to take your own car across the border it can be done but requires planning and a bit of bureaucracy as the government tightly controls the used car market and doesn't want you to sell it without paying the proper fees and tariffs.
There are two border crossings to Costa Rica, Peñas Blancas west of Lake Nicaragua and Los Chiles/ San Carlos east of it. You have to take an US$10 boat to cross at Los Chiles. It is actually not possible to cross into Nicaragua via Los Chiles by car. Near San Carlos a new bridge has been built which is scheduled to open for transport shortly (as of late 2014). They are only waiting for the Costa Rican side to complete their border facilities. There are three major border crossings to Honduras. Las Manos is on the shortest route to Tegucigalpa, the others ones are on the Panamerican Highway north of Leon.
Foreigners have to pay US$12 to enter the border.
International buses are available between Managua and San Jose, Costa Rica (also stopping briefly in Rivas and Granada), San Salvador, El Salvador (stopping briefly in Leon) and Honduras. Some buses will continue to Panama City or Guatemala City. The buses are relatively modern with air conditioning, and make stops for fuel and food along the way. However, if you plan on taking this form of transportation, you should plan ahead. Buses between the major cities can fill up days ahead of departure dates. See following companies: Transnica, Tica Bus and King Quality. Another option is to be picked up in the smaller cities along the route, ask for the local ticket office. There are also cheap (but terribly uncomfortable) "Chicken buses" a few times a week between Managua and Guatemala City (US$20), that stop in major cities like Leon.
An alternative way to travel across the border is take a bus to/from a major city that drops you off at the border. You can then cross the border and board another bus. This is a common strategy for travelers, especially on the Costa Rican/Nicaraguan border. This method takes longer, but is much cheaper and can be done on a moment's notice.
When crossing the border from Choluteca, Honduras to Guasaule, Nicaragua don't be intimidated by the men fighting over your luggage. They will want to take you by bicycle over the border to the bus stop on the other side. Often, if you ask for a price for the ride they will insist it's for a "tip" or "propina". It's not until you reach the other side that they will try to pressure you into paying US$20 or more. Negotiate with them before you agree to a ride and if they still pressure you at the end, just give them what you think is fair and walk away.
This border crossing is also your last chance to exchange your Lempiras for Cordobas and it's best to know what the exchange rate is so that you can bargain for a fair rate.
All buses coming from the south enter Nicaragua at Peñas Blancas. There are air conditioned relatively modern buses from the same companies as for the connection to Honduras, or you could get on a local border to the border, cross it on foot and take a bus or taxi from there. Please remember that the border is the last point to get rid of your Colones as almost nobody in Nicaragua proper accepts them and if they do only with horrible exchange rates.
There are no passenger rail lines between Nicaragua and its neighbors. In fact you'd be hard pressed to find ANY train in Nicaragua (and the situation isn't much better in other parts of Central America, for that matter)
Apart from cruises there are also the following options
From Los Chiles (Costa Rica) to San Carlos you can take a "lancha" (small boat) that takes you across the border for about US$10 The trip is scenic as the Rio Frio passes through a pleasant rainforest. Please note that you are allowed to take photos of everything except the border post about halfway through the trip as it is a military installation. The border formalities on both sides are pretty much the same as at the Land Crossing at Peñas Blancas, however in Los Chiles you will have to pay about US$1 for using the border area. There are two supermarkets in Los Chiles but none in San Carlos so if you think you need anything stock up.
Reportedly a new regular passenger-ferry now connects La Union (El Salvador) with Corinto, Nicaragua.
Bus is definitely the main mode of travel in Nicaragua, and a great way to get to know the country's geography, people and even some culture (music, snack food, dress, manners). Most of the buses are old decommissioned yellow US school buses (though often fantastically repainted and redecorated). Expect these buses to be packed full, and your luggage (if large) may be stored at the back or on the top of the bus (along with bicycles and other large items). You'd better be quick or you may be standing most of the trip or sitting on a bag of beans. On most routes you can purchase your ticket a day or so in advance which will guarantee you a (numbered) seat (look for the number on your ticket and above the windows respectively). Some have not replaced the original seats meant to carry 7 year olds, so you may have sore knees by the end of the trip. People often sell snacks and drinks on the buses (or through the windows) before they depart or at quick stops. A typical fare may vary between US$1 or less for short (~30min) trips to US$3–4 for longer trips. Most cities in Nicaragua have one main bus terminal for long distance buses. Managua has numerous terminals, each serving a different region of the country depending upon its geographic placement in Managua. Mercado Israel Levites, in the western part of the city, serves cities on the Pacific Coast to the north, e.g. Leon, Chinandega and all points in between. Mercado Mayoreo on the eastern side of the city serves points east, north and southeast, like Matagalpa Rama or San Carlos, Rio San Juan. Mercado Huembes in the southern part of Managua serves points south, like Rivas/San Jorge and Peñas Blancas.
Another method of traveling cross country are minibuses ("microbuses" as they are called). These are essentially vans, holding up to 15 people (some may be larger, shuttle sized). Minibuses have regular routes between Managua and frequently travel to relatively nearby cities like Granada, Leon, Masaya, Jinotepe and Chinandega. Most of these leave from and return to the small roadside microbus terminal across the street from the Universidad Centoamericana (and thus the buses and terminal are known as "los microbuses de la UCA"). Microbuses run all day into the late afternoon/early evening depending on destination, with shorter hours on Sunday, and a definite rush hour during the week as they service nearby cities from which many people commute to Managua. The microbuses cost a little more than the school buses, but are faster, making fewer stops. As with the school buses, expect these to be packed, arguably with even less space as drivers often pack more people than the vehicle was designed to handle. On the other hand, most drivers (and driver's helpers) are friendly and helpful, and will help you store your baggage. They run to the main bus terminals in Leon and Chinandega, to the Parque Central and Mercado de Artesanias (and then leave from another park a couple blocks from there) in Masaya, and to/from a park 1 block from the Parque Central in Granada. There is more limited microbus service to other cities out of their respective bus terminals in Managua.
At the international airport there are two offices right to the right of the main terminal, these offices house the domestic airlines. These are great if you want to get to the Atlantic Coast. Prices change but it takes 1.5 hours to get to the Corn Islands as opposed to a full day overland. If you are trying to save time, then this is the best way to get to the Corn Islands or anywhere on the Atlantic Coast. Destinations include San Carlos, Big Corn Island, Bluefields two of the three towns in the "mining triangle" and new services to Ometepe and San Juan del Norte (Greytown). Planes book out quickly and the allowed baggage is very limited so check whether the saved time is worth the cost and the hassle. For more see their website
Boat is the only way to get to the Isla de Ometepe or to the Solentinames. Be aware that high winds and bad weather can cancel ferry trips. That might not be such a bad thing, though, since windy/bad weather can make the Ferry trip unpleasant for those prone to seasickness, and many of the boats used to access Ometepe are old, smaller ferries and launches. The fastest route to Ometepe leaves from San Jorge (10 minutes from Rivas and often connecting on the same Managua-Rivas bus) and goes to Moyogalpa. A much longer trip can be taken (and with only a couple of trips weekly) from Granada to Altagracia. There is a large modern ferry from San Jorge that makes daily trips to the new port of San Jose del Sur close to Moyogalpa.
Boat is also a cool way to get to the Corn Islands. Take a bus to Rama, which is the end of the road. This road is in a good condition and the ride shouldn't be too bumpy. There is a weekly ship with bunk beds to the Corn Islands, and small launches to Bluefields and El Bluff multiple times a day. Or you can get on a speedboat to Bluefields or El Bluff. Catch the boat to the Corn Islands from there, or take a flight out of Bluefields. Also, a large cargo boat takes two days returning from the Corn Islands to Rama with an overnight in El Bluff to take on cargo. There is now also a road from Rama to Pearl Lagoon, which can also be reached in a launch from Bluefields.
You should always clearly agree on a fare before entering the taxi. That includes establishing whether you are talking about local currency or Dollars and whether it is per person or for the whole party. Once you are in the taxi all your bargaining power is gone and there are no meters. The taxi drivers in Managua can be aggressive and there are loads so it is easy to find a fare that suits you. Taxis will take multiple fares if they are heading roughly in the same direction. Taxi drivers in all the cities are generally fair and well mannered and a nice way to see local scenery. For fares within smaller cities there is a set fare per person, so no negotiating is needed. In Managua the fare should be negotiated before getting into the taxi, and will increase depending on the number of passengers (in your party, not already in the taxi or getting in later) time of day (night is significantly more expensive) and location (going to or from a nice part of Managua may cost you a little more due to lowered bargaining power). The cheapest fare for one passenger is C$30 (2013), but the same route if you are a party of two may be C$40. A trip all the way across Managua during the day should not be more than about C$60–70 if not coming from or going to the airport. Tipping is not expected (though always welcomed).You can also split the cost of taxi to get to destinations that are close to Managua by like Masaya, if you should prefer to travel with modicum of comfort.
There have been increasing incidents of taxi crime in Managua. The most typical scenario is that an additional passenger(s) enters the cab just a short distance from your pickup, they and the taxi driver take you in circles around town, take everything on you, and leave you in a random location typically far from where you were going. Check that the taxi has the license number painted on the side, that the taxi sign is on the roof, the light is on inside the taxi, and that the taxi operator license is clearly visible in the front seat. You may want to make a scene of having a friend seeing you off and writing down the license number. Care should be taken especially at night, when it may be best to have your hotel arrange a taxi.
You can book a Taxi online through TaxiManagua. Fares within Managua start at 20 USD.
Some of the residents are known to travel on motorcycles, with multiple children with a mom on a single motorcycle in some cases. If you see such a thing on the roads, don't be surprised.
If you plan to ride a motorcycle in Nicaragua be aware that a helmet is required and driving at night is very dangerous.
You can rent motorcycles at Nicaragua Motorcycles Adventures
Bikes are a great mode of transport in Nicaragua. They provide a free means of transport while allowing you to stop and see the country that normally would be driven right by. In more rural areas, Nicaraguans are very friendly and helpful, and the roadways, for the most part, allow for bicycles in the shoulders. As riders on horses are known to use the streets, most dirvers will know how to deal with a bicycle, although the locals prefer motorcycles, if they can at all afford them. In large big cities like Managua, the streets and side walks can be very unsafe for bicycles. Lanes are narrow and not meant for bicyclists. Roundabouts are also very difficult to navigate. Negotiating with traffic is almost impossible and typically best to wait for a clearing in traffic. Sidewalks are uneven and often have poles, potholes or other obstructions for effective riding.
Hitchhiking is common in more rural areas and small towns, but not recommended in Managua. Nicaraguans themselves usually only travel in the backs of trucks, not inside of a vehicle they are traveling with a group of people (3 or more). Some drivers may ask for a little money for bringing you along - Nicaraguans see this as being cheap, but will usually pay the small amount (US$1/person).
Spanish is Nicaragua's official language. Do not expect to find much English spoken outside of the larger and more expensive hotels. Creole English, (think Jamaican patois to get a first approximation) and indigenous languages are spoken along the Caribbean coast, and in the inland of the remote Bosawas national park (in the east of the country, thus the Caribbean in Managua parlance). Nicaraguans tend to leave out the s at the end of Spanish words, usually replacing it with an "h" sound (j in Spanish). Thus "dále pues" ("alright then", a common term when wrapping up a conversation) becomes "dále pueh". "Vos" is typically used instead of "tú", something that is common throughout Central America. However, "tú" is understood by native Nicaraguans. As in most Latin American countries the plural form "vosotros" is almost unheard of outside of the Bible. When addressing a group, "ustedes" is the preferred form.
Nicaraguans like to call their country the country of lakes and volcanoes. Some of the most noteworthy volcanoes include:
- Volcán Concepción and Maderas on Ometepe
- Volcán Mombacho near Granada
- Volcán Masaya near Masaya. If it is not considered too dangerous you can drive up by car.
- Volcán Cosigüina that used to be one of the highest in the region but exploded in the 19th century, dotting the Golfo de Fonseca between Nicaragua and El Salvador with many small islets made out of its debris.
Other sights include:
- Wildlife on Ometepe or in the protected areas of Indio-Maiz (southeast, Rio San Juan Region) and Bosawas (northeast, Caribbean Nicaragua)
- Churches en masse especially in León (with one of the biggest churches of central America) and Granada
- Lake-panoramas and sunsets along the shores of Lake Nicaragua (Cocibolca)
- Museums and murals dedicated to the country's revolutionary past and its civil war (especially in Sandinista-strongholds such as León or Estelí)
There is an endless selection of things to do in Nicaragua, but some of the most overlooked are the fiestas patronales or Saint Festivals that happen nearly every day in some town or village in the country. Participating in the fiestas patronales is a great way to really experience the culture of Nicaragua, and such customs such as the dance of the Gigantona and the Los Aguizotes parade are really unforgettable to see. Unfortunately it can be difficult to determine what is going on and when.
If entering the country from either Honduras or Costa Rica by land, get rid of those Honduran lempiras and Costa Rican colones as they are hard to exchange away from the border.
The national currency is called the córdoba oro (NIO, locally abbreviated as C$), known locally as peso, simply "cordoba" or vara(s), among other designations. Peace corps volunteers and expats sometimes say "cords" but Nicaraguans don't use that word.
As of September 2014, there are 25.9 córdoba oro to one US dollar. The currency loses about 5% of its value every year compared to the US dollar.
Most places accept US dollars but you will often get change in córdoba oro and businesses will give you a lower exchange rate. Make sure you have some local currency handy when using collective buses, taxis, or other small purchases. Nearly all banks exchange USD to NIO but lines are often long, and you may have to use your credit card to get money rather than your bank card. Make sure you bring your passport when exchanging money. All ATMs give out local currency and most can dispense US dollars too. Make sure that the ATM you're using is part of one of the networks listed on the back of your bank card. Though you may be able to find some ATMs that work on the MasterCard/Cirrus system, most will use only the Visa/Plus system. It can sometimes be difficult to get change for a 500 Cordoba note as well as for a USD20 note. USD100 notes are often not accepted at all except by banks.
Euros (banknotes only) are exchanged only at banks and the exchange rate is much worse than what you would get exchanging US dollars. If you come from a European country it would be easiest to make sure to have a bank account that allows to withdraw money in Nicaragua cheaply or for free.
If you need cordobas when the banks are closed or you can't use your ATM, street licensed money changers or cambistas can be found. Always count your money, though mistakes are rare if you use members of the cambista cooperative. The rate of exchange can be better or worse than at the bank. However, it is rare during normal hours (M-F 09:00-17:00 and Saturday until noon) to get a worse rate than the banks, though near the markets you might do as bad. (Latest example January 2010 - Bank pays 21.90 per USD1, cambistas offer NIO22.10) In Managua, money changers can be found near Pizza Valentis in Los Robles, beside the Dominos Pizza near the BAC Building, and in the Artesania area of Mercado Huembes among other places.
Most modern stores, especially Texaco (Star Mart), Esso (On The Run), La Union (supermarket owned by Wal-Mart) will take US currency, often at a slightly better exchange rate than banks or "cambistas" on the streets (make sure to look for cambistas' ID badges), with change in NIO. Limit the bills to USD20 for best success. Cambistas have no problem with USD50 and USD100 bills. They won't accept Euros, Canadian money, or Traveller's Cheques. To make sure you have córdoba oro for taxis and buses from Augusto Sandino Airport in Managua, you can change US currency for córdoba oro at a window right in the airport.
If you are going to take one thing home from Nicaragua it should be a hammock. Nicaraguan hammocks are among the best made and most comfortable ever. The really good ones are made in Masaya, ask a taxi to take you to the fabrica de hamacas, the mercado viejo or the mercado nuevo. You will find the most variety and best prices in Masaya. A simple one person hammock should cost under USD20. Hammocks are also sold in the Huembes market in Managua, which has the only large local goods and arts and crafts section in Managua.
Nicaragua also produces excellent, highly awarded rum called Flor de Caña. This is the most common liquor drunk in Nicaragua. Those aged 5 (go for Extra Light over Extra Dry or Etiqueta Negra) and particularly 7 years (Gran Reserva) are a great buy for the money - about USD4–6 a bottle. Buy in the local stores as the prices at the duty-free airport shops are higher. Gran Reserva is the best value based on price and quality.
A trip to the artesan towns of the "Pueblos Blancos" is the most rewarding way to shop for local arts and crafts. The best and easiest location for tourists to buy artesan items is in the craft market in Masaya. There is a similar market with the same products (from a lot of the same vendors) in Mercado Huembes in Managua with slightly higher prices than in the market in Masaya. Located just 10 minutes from Masaya, 30 minutes from Granada and 40 minutes from Managua, these towns are the arts and crafts center of Nicaragua. Catarina is home to dozens of nurseries with plants as diverse as this lush tropical country can produce, and also boasts a beautiful view over the Laguna de Apoyo (volcanic crater lake) where you can enjoy the view from numerous restaurants. San Juan del Oriente is the center of pottery production. You can find dozens of mom and pop studios and stores, meet the artisans and choose from a dazzling and creative array of vases, bowls and other ceramic items. Some of the best shops with more original designs are a few blocks into town off the main highway. Finally, Masatepe is known for its furniture—particularly wicker and wood, and with a special focus on rocking chairs, the favorite Nicaraguan chair. Although you might not be able take any rocking chairs or ferns home with you on the plane, it is definitely worth "window" shopping in these picturesque towns. You can also find San Juan del Oriente pottery, Masatepe furniture and other arts and crafts in Masaya, Mercado Huembes in Managua, and in the streets of Granada, Leon and other places visited by tourists. Remember to bargain. Although you may be a tourist, you can still bargain.
Shopping to Western standards is found mainly in Managua in shopping centers, the largest and most modern being MetroCentro near the rotonda Ruben Dario. There are smaller and inferior malls at Plaza Inter and in Bello Horizonte at Plaza Las Americas. A new and large shopping center called Plaza Santo Domingo is located at Carretera Masaya at about Kilometer 6.
Shopping like the locals takes place at the mercados, or public markets. The largest (and must be one of the largest in the Americas) is Mercado Oriental. This market contains everything in individual stores or stalls from food to clothes to home electronics. Mercado Oriental is one of the most dangerous locations for tourists in the city. If you go, take only the cash you want to spend. No wallets, watches or jewelry and if you take a cell phone, take it in your pocket not visible to others. It is best to go with a local or better yet a group of locals.
Less frightening, safer and with a similar selection is Mercado Huembes. It is smaller and more open (less difficult to get trapped in a dark isolated passage). This market has the aforementioned Masaya artisan crafts at higher than Masaya prices. There are a few other markets similar in nature, smaller in size, farther away from the beaten track and not worth looking for due to lack of safety and less goods at higher prices.
The small balsa-wooden figurines that you can buy at many places are produced on the Solentiname islands where you can watch as they are made and can probably arrange to have one custom made for you. A lot of the people on the Solentiname archipelago also paint and some sell their paintings directly out of their homes or at the markets of Managua, Masaya and other big cities.
Nicaraguan food is very cheap for Western standards. A plate of food from the street will cost 20-50 cordobas. A typical dinner will consist of meat, rice, beans, salad (i.e. coleslaw) and some fried plantains, costing under US$3. Buffet-style restaurants/stalls called "fritanga" are very common, quality varies quite a bit. A lot of the food is fried in oil (vegetable or lard). It is possible to eat vegetarian: the most common dish is gallo pinto (beans and rice), and most places serve cheese (fried or fresh), fried plantains and cabbage salad. There are a 'few' vegetable dishes such as guiso de papas, pipián o ayote—a buttery creamy stew of potato, zucchini or squash; guacamole nica made with hard-boiled eggs, breaded pipian (zucchini), and various fried fritters of potatoes, cheese and other vegetables. However, the very concept of vegetarianism is unknown to the majority of Nicaraguans, especially in the countryside, and saying you "don't eat meat" may get people to offer you chicken instead, which is considered distinct from "meat" (pork or beef). If you like meat, grilled chicken and beef is delicious, the beef is usually good quality but often cooked tough; also try the nacatamales, a traditional Sunday food, that is essentially a large tamal made with pork or beef and other seasonings (~15 cordobas). Indio Viejo is a corn meal (masa) based dished made with either shredded chicken or beef and flavored with mint. The typical condiment is "chilero" a cured onion and chile mixture of varying spiciness depending on the cook. Nicaraguan food is not known for being spicy, though either chilero or hot sauce is almost always available (but be prepared for strange looks if you use them extensively). While nowhere near as omnipresent as in neighboring Costa Rica, salsa Lizano (a kind of Worcestershiresauce like sauce) can usually be had with your meal and is sold in most supermarkets. If they don't have it, just ask.
The typical Nicaraguan diet includes rice, small red beans, and either fish or meat. Nicaraguans pride themselves for their famous gallo pinto that is a well-balanced mix of rice and beans and is usually served during breakfast.
Plantains are a big part of the Nicaraguan diet. You will find it prepared in a variety of forms: fried (subdivided into maduros/sweet, tajadas/long thin fried chips, and tostones/smashed and twice fried), baked, boiled, with cream or cheese, as chips for a dip. Green bananas and guineo bananas are also boiled and eaten as side dishes.
Nicaraguan tortillas are made from corn flour and are thick, almost resembling a pita. One common dish is quesillo: a string of mozzarella-type cheese with pickled onion, a watery sour cream, and a little salt all wrapped in a thick tortilla. It can be found on street corners or in the baskets of women who walk around shouting "Quesiiiiiillo". The most famous quesillos come from the side of the highway between Managua and Leon in Nagarote (they also serve a local drink, tiste) and La Paz Centro. The best selection of cheeses, from quesillo to cuajada, is in Chontales.
A typical dish found for sale in the street as well as in restaurants is Vigoron, consisting of pork grind, yuca and cabbage salad, chilis can be added to taste.
Fritangas (mid to large street side food vendors and grills that usually have seats and are found in most residential neighborhoods) typically sell grilled chicken, beef and pork and fried foods. They also commonly sell "tacos" and "enchiladas" that can be delicious but have very little in common with their 2nd cousins-once-removed in Mexico. Tacos are made with either chicken or beef rolled up in a tortilla and deep fried, served with cabbage salad, cream, sometimes ketchup or a homemade tomato sauce, and chile on the side. "Enchiladas" don't have anything enchiloso about them (not spicy). They are a tortilla filled with a beef and rice mixture, folded in half to enclose the mixture, covered in deep fry batter and then yes, deep fried. They are served similarly to tacos.
One alternative to the fried offering in the typical menu is carne en baho. This is a combination of beef, yucca, sweet potato, potato and other ingredients steamed in plantain leaves for several hours.
One typical dessert is Tres Leches which is a soft spongy cake that combines three varieties of milk (condensed, evaporated and fresh, hence the name) for a sweet concoction. Your diet expert and your dentist will hate it, but as it is typically only eaten at special occasions, it is okay to indulge once in a while.
If you travel to Chinandega, ask the locals who sells "Tonqua" It is a great fruit that is candied in sugar and is ONLY available in Chinandega. Most Nicaraguans outside of Chinandega do not know what Tonqua is. Tonqua is a Chinese word for a fruit, because tonqua is a plant that Chinese immigrants introduced to the Chinandega area.
On the Caribbean coast you can have pretty much anything "de coco" (with or made out of coconut) try pan de coco (coconut bread)or gallo pinto with coconut. A famous delicacy of the Caribbean coast is rundown (sometimes spelled and pronounced ron-don) which consists of fish and some other ingredients cooked until the fish "runs down" as it takes a lot of time to prepare it should be ordered up to a day in advance and preferably for more than one person.
Rum is the liquor of choice, though you will find some whiskey and vodka as well. The local brand of Rum is Flor de Caña and is available in several varieties: Light, Extra Dry, Black Label, Gran Reserva (aged 7 years), Centenario (aged 12 years) and a new top-of-the line 18 year old aged rum. There is also a cheaper rum called Ron Plata.
Local beers include Victoria, Toña, Premium, and Brahva. Victoria is the best quality of these, similar in flavor to mainstream European lagers, while the others have much lighter bodies with substantially less flavour, and are more like the palid mainstream US lagers. A new beer is "Victoria Frost" which is similarly light.
In the non-alcoholic arena you will find the usual soft drinks such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. Local drinks include pinolillo and cacao,which are delicious drinks from cocoa beans, corn and milk and usually some cinnamon, a thick cacao based drink; Milka; and Rojita, a red soda that tastes similar to Inca Cola or "Red Pop" (if you're from Texas or the southern United States).
Nicaraguans drink a huge variety of natural fruit juices and beverages (jugos naturales which are usually pure juices, and refrescos naturales which are fresh fruit juices mixed with water and sugar). Popular are tamarind, cantelope, watermelon, hibiscus flower (flor de Jamaica), limeade, orange, grapefruit, dragon fruit, star fruit (usually mixed with orange), mango, papaya, pineapple, and countless others. "Luiquados" or shakes of fruit and milk or water are also popular, most common are banana, mango or papaya with milk. Also common and very traditional are corn and grain based drinks like tiste, chicha (both corn), cebada (barley) and linaza (flaxseed). Most fresh drinks are around NIO10–20. As in other parts of Central America, avoid juices made with water if you are not conditioned to untreated water, unless at a restaurant that uses purified water (in Spanish: agua purificada).
If you don't like ice (hielo) in your drink just say so otherwise you will be getting huge chunks of ice that may or may not be made from purified water and thus defeat the purpose of avoiding tap water by ordering coke.
A word on bottle deposits: while almost all plastic bottles and cans don't have a deposit, glass bottles do. In some small pulperias (family-owned mini-stores for everything) you may not be allowed to take a glass bottle with you unless you bring them an empty bottle in exchange. So either you will have to drink your coke there or they give you a small plastic bag with a straw to take the drink (but not the bottle) with you
Accommodation can generally be had quite cheaply throughout Nicaragua. Options range from simple hammocks (USD2–3), to dorm rooms in hostels (USD5–9), to private double-bed ("matrimonial") rooms (USD10–35, depending on presence of TV, air-con and private shower room & WC). You will find more expensive hotel accommodation in some cities as well.
While Barrio Martha Quezada has typically been a budget destination for visitors to Managua due to its many inexpensive hotel options, it has become increasingly dangerous, especially for tourists, with robberies occurring in broad daylight. Unless you need to be in this area to catch an early morning bus from a nearby terminal, it is advisable to avoid Martha Quezada, particularly since it is far from what is termed the "new" centre of Managua. The area near the Tica Bus station has a reputation for being dangerous as well, and tourists may be well advised to take a cab directly to and from the station, even if the walk is short. Backpackers Inn near MetroCentro (5min by taxi from the UCA microbuses), Hotel San Luis in Colonia Centroamerica (5 min by taxi from Mercado Huembes bus terminal) are good budget options in safe neighbourhoods, as are numerous hotels of various prices in neighbourhoods around the new centre near Metrocentro and Caraterra Masaya (i.e. Altamira, Los Robles, Reparto San Juan).
Look for pensiones or huespedes or hospedajes as these are the cheapest sleeps costing under USD5. They are usually family owned and you'll be hanging out with mostly locals. Make sure you know when they lock their doors if you are going out at night. Hotels have more amenities but are more expensive. There are some backpacker hostels in Granada, San Juan del Sur, Isla Ometepe, Masaya, Managua, and Leon; otherwise, it's pensiones all the way.
Spanish schools and courses are available in most cities, especially Granada. Look for specific listings in local guides, or just inquire when you're there.
Schools offer homestay as an option. Living with a Spanish family helps to use your Spanish and you learn the culture as a bonus. The courses are usually 20 hours per week.
Employment opportunities for foreigners are limited. Since the country has a strongly agricultural and touristic economy, it can be difficult finding employment prospects.
One job of particular interest to foreigners is teaching. If you are a native English speaker and have a bachelor's degree, you can teach at any major Nicaraguan university. The same also applies for other fields. Be aware, however, that courses and majors at Nicaraguan colleges and universities are limited. However, a degree can help you secure a good job and enough spending money during your stay. Instructors earn about US$500 a month and have plenty of free time to roam around. Opportunities have also become available for other languages, particularly romance languages. However, if you desire to teach a course other than English, it is best to consult with the university of your choice and see if they are willing and able to have you teach your course. If this is something you wish to do, you are advised to create a syllabus in advance. It can help you, the applicant, obtain the position faster and easier compared to not having any material at hand available.
Foreigners also enjoy volunteering. In Nicaragua, there are various opportunities for community service. Most of the organizations in Nicaragua can be used in obtaining community service hours for any organization or any college/university requirement. Look into organizations like the Fabretto Foundation . Abundance Farm , a small family-run farm in Carazo, accepts volunteers but screens them through email prior to arrival. It is a taste of the real Nicaragua and not for the faint at heart.
- Nicaraguan Spanish has a distinction between "formal" and "informal" you. The formal form ("usted" for one person, "ustedes" for several people) is used with strangers, older people and higher-ranking people. The informal form ("tu" or "vos" with one person; "vosotros" for several people is hardly ever used outside of the bible, but still correct (mainland) Spanish, Nicaraguans would talk to a group using "ustedes") is used among peers and friends and after you have been explicitly offered to address someone informally.
- Don (for men) and Doña (for women) are a common term to politely address people with their given name. e.g. Don Ramon or Doña Maria. It can be loosely translated as Mr./Mrs.
- Nicaraguans are very conscious about their appearance and don't understand why "rich" tourists would go around in shabby clothes or unkempt. It's true a smile goes a long way, but in Nicaragua a shower with your smile goes an even longer way.
- While Nicaragua has a sizable irreligious minority and a growing (US-style) evangelical community, most people like their faith (usually catholic) the way it is, thank you, and don't take too well to it being ridiculed or overt attempts at proselytizing.
- Men in shorts are not a common sight among Nicaraguans, and considering mosquito-risk, you should consider wearing pants or jeans
- Some Nicaraguan women bath with a t-shirt on top of their bathing-suit. While you don't have to do that, females going topless at the beach is certainly a no-no.
- Don't be surprised to be given nicknames based on your appearance by total strangers. If you are visibly white people will probably call you "chele" (from leche=milk). Even nicknames such as "gorda" (fat one, female) "flaco" (skinny one, male) or "negro" (not an offensive term, simply the color black) are never meant to offend.
- In a similar vein as the above, don't be surprised if people comment on your weight or (if they see you again after some time) on gains or losses in it. As weight is plain to see, they don't consider it an offensive topic to talk about. In fact it is sometimes even treated as a topic fit for small-talk
Nicaragua has made considerable strides in terms of providing police presence and order throughout the country. Crime is relatively low. However, starting in 2008, reports of low-level gang violence began coming in from Honduras and El Salvador. The National Nicaraguan Police have been successful in apprehending gang members and reducing organized crime.
Do not travel alone at night. Pay for a taxi to avoid being assaulted in dimly-lit areas. Tourists are advised to remain alert at all times in Managua. Although gang activity is not a major problem in Managua nor Nicaragua, caution should be exercised. Tourists are advised to travel in groups or with someone trusted who understands Spanish. There are local organizations that offer translator or guide services. One of them is Viva Spanish School Managua.
It is also advised that tourists refrain from using foreign currency in local transactions. It is best to have the local currency instead of having to convert with individuals on streets or non-tourist areas. Banks in Nicaragua require identification for any currency conversion transactions. Use ATM machines that dispense the local currency. When using ATM machines, follow precautions and be aware of your surroundings.
Buses can be extremely crowded and tight in terms of space. An overhead rack tends to be provided for the storage of bags and other items, but tourists are recommended to keep their bags at hand, in their sight, at all times and maybe to put a lock on your bag. A good idea is having a smaller bag for items you positively cannot afford to have stolen and never leave it out of sight.
Collective taxis are also risky as organized crime has flourished in this transportation sector because of fixed passengers. In other words, drivers already know who they pick up and thus can mug the one extra passenger. This crime, however, is not common. When riding taxis, tourists are strongly recommended to close their windows, as theft through an open window does occur in (frequent) Managua traffic jams and at red lights.
Although extensive demining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the civil war in the 1980s, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that there is still the possibility of encountering landmines.
You will need a little bit of money to go over international borders. Nicaragua charges a border toll of US $10 to $13 (depending on the "administrative tax"). This is on top of a CA-4 visa that's good for crossing the borders between Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Under the treaty establishing that visa, the border guards are not supposed to check people with such a visa, but they do so anyhow and charge tolls, which they claim are border crossing visa fees.
According to the U.S. State Department's Consular Sheet for Nicaragua, the tap water in Managua is safe to drink, but bottled water with chlorine is always the best choice. The water in Esteli is especially good as it comes from deep wells. Bottled water is readily available, with a gallon at a supermarket around an American dollar.
Given its tropical latitude, there are plenty of bugs flying about. Be sure to wear bug repellent containing DEET particularly if you head to more remote areas (Isla Ometepe, the Rio San Juan Region, or Caribbean Nicaragua).
Dengue fever is present in some areas and comes from a type of mosquito that flies mostly between dusk and dawn. Malaria is not of serious concern unless you are heading to the Caribbean coast or along the Rio San Juan east of San Carlos. You may be advised by a doctor to get Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations before heading to Nicaragua.
Even though there is a public health system and many public hospitals, these are terrible options for tourists apart from the gravest emergency and even then only until a private hospital can send an ambulance. However they can usually deal with minor problems just as well as any non-hospital doctor could and charge you nothing. There are several private hospitals, in order of quality from best to worst are Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas at Carretera Masaya Km 10, Hospital Bautista, Hospital Militar near Plaza Inter and a few others.
Despite promoting medical tourism, these hospitals rarely have English speakers on staff for dealing with tourists. If you insist or someone with you does, you may get an English-speaking employee. It is still best to have some Spanish or attend with someone bilingual.
If you have a problem and Cruz Roja are called (the Nicaraguan Red Cross ambulance service) and you have money or insurance have them take you to one of the private hospitals in the order mentioned. They will probably ask you anyway, but specify the private hospital or call the hospital for their ambulance.
Private hospitals are much less expensive than in the United States: a private room with private nurse in 2009 at Metropolitano was US$119 per day. An MRI of the knee in 2010 was $300. Emergency surgery in 2008 in Bautista including surgeon, anesthesia, operating and recovery rooms and supplies was US$1,200 with the private room under US$100 after that.
Nicaragua Embassy Washington DC 1627 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009 (202) 939-6570
Nicaragua Consulate General Los Angeles 3550 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90010. (213) 252-1174
The full list of embassies and consulates can be found here: .
The application form for a Nicaraguan Visa can be downloaded here: .
There are a variety of Nicaraguan newspapers (online and off) to keep you up to date with what's going on in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America. While both La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario are focused on Managua to a ridiculous degree, they have semi-regular "tourism" sections that are well worth a read if you speak Spanish and they are rather cheap at C$7 a pop (C$10 in more remote areas like the Caribbean Coast or the Rio San Juan Region).
- La Prensa(in Spanish). Founded in 1926, La Prensa generally supports free market, neo-liberal economics and is largely pro-US. It is conservative on social issues. They loathe Ortega and everything he stands for and take (almost) any opportunity to say so.
- El Nuevo Diario(In Spanish). Its offices are in Managua. El Nuevo Diario was founded in 1980 by a breakaway group of employees of La Prensa. Its politics are to the left of La Prensa
- Hoy is a Managua based Spanish language tabloid style newspaper with less tradition than the two mentioned above and even more of a focus on traffic accidents, crime and the price of tomatoes at various markets in Managua. However given their target demographic, it might be easier to read if you aren't that sure of your Spanish
- The Right Side Guide (In English). Everything you need to know about traveling and living on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast.
- The Nicaraguan Bugle (In English). Office based in Granada. News on events, unusual travel, business, sports, real estate, and investing.