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 and contains the largest freshwater body in Central America, Lago de Nicaragua or Cocicbolca.
There are 15 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento):
And 2 autonomous regions (regiones autonomas, singular - region autonoma):
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Ports and harbors
Tropical in lowlands, cooler in highlands. The weather during the dry months can be very hot in the Pacific lowlands. 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, Lago Nicaragua, is home to the only fresh water sharks in the world. Managua, the capital, sits on the shores of the polluted Lago Managua.
The Pacific Coast of Nicaragua was settled as a Spanish colony in the early 16th century. The oldest city, Granada, is one of the oldest cities in the American continent. During the colonial period, Nicaragua was part of the Capitania General based in Guatemala.
Independence from Spain was declared in 1821 and the country became an independent republic in 1838. 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 and was executed when he landed in Honduras at a later date.
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. Educated in the US and trained by the US Army, he was adept managing his relations with the United States. After being assasinated, he was succeeded by his sons, Luis and Anastasio Jr ("Tachito"). By 1978, opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption spread to all classes and resulted in a short-lived civil war that led to the fall of Somoza in July, 1979. The armed part of the insurgence was named the Sandinistas; though not evident at the time, the leadership of the Sandinistas had close ties to Fidel Castro in Cuba. Due to the nature of the Sandinista government, with their social programmes designed to benefit the majority, and their support for rebels fighting against the military government in El Salvador, the USA felt that they were a threat to their interests, and organised and trained terrorist forces throughout most of the 1980's. Peace was brokered in 1987 by Oscar Arias, which led to elections in 1990. In a stunning development, Violeta Chammoro of the UNO coalition surprisingly beat out the incumbent leader Daniel Ortega.
Elections in 1996, and again in 2001 saw the Sandinistas defeated by the Liberal party. The country has slowly rebuilt its economy during the 1990s, but was hard hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
You will fly into the international airport in Managua, most likely from Houston, Miami or Atlanta, if you come from the US. It costs 7 dollars to enter the country (prices change so make sure you have twenty dollars cash on hand). Tourist visas are three months for US citizens as well as for people from the EU. There will be taxis right outside, these are abnormally expensive, walk out to the road and try to flag down a regular cab. All the hostels are located in the Barrio Marta quezada. The taxi drivers try to rip you off, usually they start with 10 US dollars, but a price around 3 to 6 US/50 to 100 Cordobas is appropriate.
There are no passenger rail lines between Nicaragua and its neighbors.
There are two border crossings to Costa Rica, Penas Blancas west of Lake Nicaragua and Los Chiles east of it. You have to take an 8 USD boat to cross at Los Chiles
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.
American's have to pay $7 to enter the border.
International buses are available between Managua and San Jose, Costa Rica and San Salvador, El Salvador. Some buses will continue to Panama City or Guatamala 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. 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 (USD 20), that stop in major citys 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.
Bus is definitely the main mode of travel in Nicaragua. Most of the buses are old decomissioned yellow US school buses. Expect these buses to be packed full. You'd better be quick or you may be standing most of the trip.
Another method of traveling cross country are minibuses, though these are not always available. These are essentially small japanese minivans, some hold up to 15 people. Minibuses have regular routes between Managua and Granada, Leon and Masaya. These cost a little more than the school buses, but are much faster, making fewer stops. As with the school buses, expect these to be packed, arguably with even less space as drivers pack up to ten or twelve people in a vehicle designed to handle much fewer. On the other hand, most drivers are friendly and helpful, and will help you store your baggage.
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. I will not give prices as they change but it take 1.5 hours to get to the corn islands as opposed to 2 days by overland route. If you are trying to save time than this is the best way to get to the corn islands or anywhere on the atlantic coast.
Boat is the only way to get to the island of Isla Ometepe or to the Solentinames. Be aware that high winds or other bad weather can cancel ferry trips leaving you stranded. That might not be such a bad thing, though. Note that windy/bad weather can make the Ferry trip unpleasant for those prone to seasickness, and the boats used to access Ometepe are old and mostly open to the water.
The taxi drivers in Managua are agrresive and there are loads so it is easy to find a fare that suits you. 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. Taxi's in all the cities are generally fair and well mannered and a nice way to see local scenery. Take care in bargaining, the general fare is per person, not per taxi.
Easy and Comfortable. Just stick out your thumb and go. Nicaraguans themselves usually only travel in the backs of trucks, and not inside of a vehicle - unless they are traveling with a group of people (3 or more). Some people will ask for a little money for bringing you along - Nicaraguans see this as being cheap, but will usually pay the small amount ($1/person).
Nicaraguans tend to leave out the s at the end of words. "Vos" is often used instead of "tu", something which is common throughout Central America. However, "tu" is used occasionally and will always be understood by Nicas.
English, Spanish, creole and indigenous languages are spoken on the Atlantic coast.
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. These are family run and operated stores and have become comercialized, so hammocks can be quite expensive. I do not know what the prices are right now but it should be under $20 for a simple one person hammock. Hammocks are also sold in the Huembres market by the bus terminal in Managua.
Nicaragua can also produces really good rum called Flor de Cana. Those aged more than 20 years are a great buy for the money - about $9/bottle.
The pottery made in Masaya is also good. Look for this pottery in Masaya, and also in the streets of Granada and Leon. Remember to bargain. Although you may be a tourist, you can still get at least $5 cheaper.
Food is very cheap. A plate of food from the street will cost 20-50 cordobas. A typical dinner will consist of a meat, rice, beans, salad and some fried plantains, costing under 3 dollars US. A lot of the food is fried in oil (vegetable or lard). It is very easy to be vegetarian as the most common dish is gallo pinto, which is red beans and rice. If you like meat try the nacatamales, a tamal made with pork, for 15 cordobas.
Plantains are a big part of the Nicaraguan diet. You will find it prepared in a variety of forms: fried, baked, boiled, with cream or cheese, as chips for a dip, smashed into a "toston".
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. These cost $6 and are found on street corners. The most famous quesillos come from the side of the highway between Managua and Leon.Nagarote, a town on the way to Leon from Managua, is famous for the quesillos (sort of a cheese/onion soft taco???) and tiste drink they sell there. The absolute best cheeses from quesillo to quajada is in Chontales.
You will also find the tortillas are used to make shredded beef 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) for a sweet concoction.
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.
Rum is the liquor of choice, though you will find some whisky and vodka as well. The local brand of Rum is Flor de Caña and is available in several varieties: Light, Extra Dry, Black Label (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 and Toña.
In the non-alcoholic arena you will find the usual soft drinks (Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola). Some local drinks include pinolillo' and cacao which are made from cocoa beans and corn, a thick cacao based drink, Milka', and Rojita, a red soda that tastes similar to Inca Cola. Chicha is a drink made from the corn.
Several street vendors also sell plastic baggies filled with a variety of fruit juices. Avoid these if you are not conditioned to untreated water.
Look for pensiones or huespedes or hospedajes as these are the cheapest sleeps costing under 5 dollars US. 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 to party. Hotels have more amenities but are more expensive. There are some backpacker hostels in Granada, San Jaun del Sur, Isla Ometepe, Masaya, Managua, and in Leon otherwise it's pensiones all the way.
Location: Esso Rubenia 2 cuadras al norte. City: Managua Phone: (505) 289-7010 Fax: (505) 289-7104 E-mail: email@example.com
If you want a beautiful get away for $55/night, stay at my favorite hotel:
Montelimar Beach Resort Great all inclusive beach resort at around US$100-150 a night. Great bargain for what your get. Hotel has many large pools including one that is considered to be one of the biggest in South America, many free dining options, free domestic beer and liqour in addition to your choice of either a regular hotel room in their 8 story building or a private cabana if available. The cabanas tend to fill up quickly but there is no extra cost make sure to request your cabana as far ahead as possible. The location of the beach itself is wonderful, only about 40 minutes from Managua, Montelimar beach is located in the middle of a tropical forest and was once the private beach of the Somoza family. The former Somoza house, located high atop a a cliff, has since then been converted to a fully funtional casino for hotel guests.
Nicaragua doesn't have as many language schools as can be found in Guatemala or Costa Rica, but a few have sprouted up in the last few years, particularly in colonial Granada and Esteli in the north.
A job that you can always do is Teach English. If you speak English and have a bachelor's degree, you can teach at any major university in Nicaragua. You will earn about $500/month, but you will also have a lot of free time.
Volunteering is always an option. If you want to teach English, or are a medical-type person, a great organization to team up with is Fabretto Foundation. Check their website: www.fabretto.org
It is recommended to take care if walking at night in Nicaraguan cities, especially in Managua, it is better to stay in groups or take taxis from one destination to another. There is an increasing amount of gang violence filtering into Nicaragua from Honduras. It is dangerous in Granada by the water front at night so be careful at the bars. Managua always has an element of danger so be really careful walking around.
Go accompanied or avoid the Mercado Oriental. In Managua, avoid side streets outside of downtown (area between Metrocentro and around the BAC building.)
Avoid unpaved streets as these are typically poor neighborhoods with higher crime.
Avoid drinking tap water. According to the U.S. State Department's Consular Sheet for Nicaragua, the tap water in Managua is safe to drink, but bottled water is always the best choice. The water in both Esteli is eseically good as it comes from deep wells. Bottled water is readily available, 7 to 10 cordobas a litre.
Given its tropical latitude, there are plenty of bugs flying about. Be sure to wear bug repellent, particularly if you head to more remote areas (Isla Ometepe, San Juan river region).
Dengue Fever is still quite common, during my stay in Leon (6 month) 3 of the 7 people in my house (including me) caught it.
Nicaraguans are unfortunately overwhelmingly macho and, if you are a woman, you will most likely hear constant catcalls, the best policy is to ignore them.
In many cities in Nicaragua you will find large groups of street kids. There are many great organizations operating in these areas. If you are interested in helping ask at your hostel or hotel about donating or volunteering with a local organization.