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 130,373km² 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.
(Current Situation as of June 27, 2018: A fascinating and welcoming country, Nicaragua is currently experiencing a revolution. See near end of the "History" section for further detail, and check for current news and conditions before you go.)
Hot in the lowlands, cooler in highlands, with occasional rainbow features. 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 travelling 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 rise to central interior mountains. The narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes making for some majestic landscapes. Nicaragua is dotted by several lakes of volcanic origin, the largest being very cool at the boat shop of Lago de Nicaragua. Managua, the capital, sits on the shores of the polluted Lago de Managua. The highest point is Mogoton at 2,107m
Nicaragua was entered by Spanish conquistadors in the early 16th century. The pre-Colombian 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 America. During the colonial period, Nicaragua was part of the Capitania General based in Guatemala.
Nicaragua declared independence from Spain in 1821; by 1838, 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. Consequently, many people on the Caribbean coast speak English.
One of the most colourful personalities of Nicaraguan history is William Walker. Walker, a US southerner, came to Nicaragua as a filibuster, or self-employed mercenary. 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.
Being an agricultural exporter, with no internal market or internally focused production, already established US companies held great sway in Nicaragua during the early 20th century, both economically, politically, and militarily. During this period one of the heroes of the country, Augusto César Sandino, rose to lead a successful resistance movement against the US marine occupation from 1927-1932. After the US departure, Sandino signed a peace deal to work with the government in 1933. A year later Sandino was betrayed and assassinated, by the newly established National Guard leader, Anastasio Somoza García. Sandino was killed leaving a celebration at the Presidential Palace. Somoza would go on to depose President Sacasa, call for new elections, declare himself the Liberal candidate, and allegedly "win" the election by 112,812 votes to 192 votes.
The twentieth century was characterized by the rise and fall of the US-friendly Somoza dynasty. Anastasio Somoza García came to power as the head of the National Guard, during US occupation of Nicaragua in the 1930s. After being assassinated, the dictator was succeeded by his US educated and militarily trained sons, Luis and Anastasio Jr ("Tachito"). By 1978, opposition to internationally recognized governmental corruption had spread to all classes and resulted in a short-lived civil war that led to the fall of the Somoza dictatorship in July, 1979. The insurgency was led by the FSLN, also known as the Sandinistas, which was based on the ideals of slain Nicaraguan liberator, Augusto César Sandino. The United States, via orders directly from the Reagan Administration, illegally supported and funded forces (Contras) who fought a guerilla war with the Sandinistas throughout most of the 1980s. Peace was brokered in 1987 by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, but the Nicaraguan government could not recover from the economic and infrastructure damage inherited from Somoza in addition to dealing with the Contra war as well as US-backed economic sanctions. In 1990, the US supported UNO coalition candidate, Violeta Chamorro, beat out the incumbent FSLN leader Daniel Ortega, in a repudiation of the prospect of continued US sanctions, covert war, and a possible US invasion if the FSLN remained in power.
Elections in 1996, and again in 2001 saw the FSLN defeated by the Liberal party. The FSLN, led by Daniel Ortega, were returned to power in elections in 2006 and won again in 2011 after Ortega unilaterally change the Nicaraguan constitution to permit multiple presidential terms. In 2016, Daniel Ortega, running with his Vice-President and wife, Rosario Murillo, won the Presidency for a 3rd consecutive term. The modern-day FSLN, shares little of Socialist ideology with the government of the 1980's.
Until April, 2018, the country enjoyed a period of relative political calm and increases in the economy and tourism. On the 19th of April President Ortega introduced changes to social security regulations. This sparked unrest that had been brewing for years and did not end when he rescinded the changes. In 2018 protests, boycotts, roadblocks, and government retaliation resulted in over 200 deaths and reduced tourism to a great degree. Since then, most of the revolt and crackdown has been underground. Visitors are seldom targeted by either the government or the protesters. Travelers who love the country are caught in a classic dilemma of whether to travel there to help support the local populace, or avoiding travel that might be psychologically uncomfortable or even possibly dangerous. Check on the current situation as well as you can before traveling and use your best judgment. Nicaragura is otherwise a safer country to travel in than most of its neighbors.
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 hard hit by Hurricane Mitch. Nicaragua remains the second poorest country in the western hemisphere after Haiti.
There are about 5.6 million Nicaragüenses 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 flavours. The main language is Spanish, which is spoken by about 90% of the population.
Tourism in Nicaragua had been growing at 10% to 12% annually until April 2018 (See penultimate paragraph under History above). Tourists visit for the beauty and richness the country has to offer. With growing eco-tourism, world class beaches, colonial cities, nightlife and reasonable prices, Nicaragua is experiencing an increasing number of tourists from around the world. There is much to see and do in Nicaragua, and it is still a budget travel paradise. The tourist infrastructure has kept pace with this growth and visitors will find a variety of attractions, accommodations and restaurants to fit different plans and lifestyles.
Tourists can visit varied areas across the country: the majestic colonial cities of Granada and Leon, the island of Ometepe and the Mombacho volcano for hiking and nature exploration , the mountainous coffee farm region of Jinotega and Matagalpa, the dazzling surf beaches of the Pacific Coast, and in the the isolated and mostly undiscovered Caribbean coast and the Corn Islands (Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island) which lie close offshore. The Rio San Juan area...the largest rain forest north of the Amazon...... is a rapidly expanding eco tourist destination, Its biodiversity is a magnet for nature loving tourists. Reserva Silvestre Privada Montecristo at Boca de Sábalos is an important bird area and a wildlife refuge along with the Indio-Maiz national reserve. Additionally Rio San Juan is a great place for sport fishing with world class and record breaking Tarpon fishing. Estelí is home to two popular nature reserves, Miraflor and Tisey, as well as being the center for Cigar production. Somoto is worth a visit for the adventurous who wish to swim, inner tube, cliff jump and hike the canyon.
Ports and harbours
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, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, 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,Romania,Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Saint Helena, 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 USD10 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 USD32 departure tax which is included in airfares with major airlines (American, Continental, 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 USA arrive from Houston, Dallas, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, LAX, and Atlanta. Managua is serviced by American Airlines, Delta, United, Spirit, Aeromexico, Avianca, Copa, and Nature Air.
In July 2010, Nicaragua changed its fee to enter the country from USD5 to USD10. Try to have exact change.
Tourist visas are not issued, instead tourist cards are 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 (USD15 for the 20km trip to Managua centre), 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 USD20 or more, but a price around USD4-6 or 100-150 cordobas is appropriate from the airport. 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. There are also private services such as Mana-Ahuac Hoy.
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 USD10 boat to cross at Los Chiles. It is actually not possible to cross into Nicaragua via Los Chiles by car. There are three major border crossings to Honduras. Las Manos is on the shortest route to Tegucigalpa, the other ones are on the Panamerican Highway north of Leon.
Foreigners have to pay USD12 to enter any land border. This applies even to those with CA-4 visas (from Honduras), in spite of the national treaties. Time allotted is only the remaining time on the original CA-4 entry.
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 , Nica Expreso  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 (USD20), 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 travellers, 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 USD20 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.
There are no passenger rail lines between Nicaragua and its neighbours.
Methods for travel in Nicaragua are extremely diverse, as are the costs. There are several international passenger airlines that service Managua, the Capital City of Nicaragua. From there it is not uncommon that your journey in and around the local landscapes, waterways and open seas might include multiple styles of transport, depending on the individual points of travel and distance between. These might include:
Regardless of which exciting form of travel you choose, and clearly there are many, you can relax in knowing that your 'in-country' travel expenses will most likely find themselves at or near the bottom of your vacation budget.
NFA Nicaragua Flight Adventures runs private planes and helicopters from and for every corner of the country, for significantly higher prices than commercial airlines with significantly more reliability and access. Aerial Tours can also be arranged as well as filming and surveying and remote island and jungle access.
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). Commonly referred to as a "Chicken Bus," 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. 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. Yet for all their cargo and/or sardine-packed features, most chicken buses surprisingly offer three ceiling-mounted flat screen monitors, which feature current cinematic feature films to help pass the time. A typical fare on theses buses may vary between USD1 or less for short (c. 30min) trips to USD3-4 for longer trips.
Express Bus service is offered between all of the larger cities, which usually accounts for longer trips, some lasting three or more hours. Acquiring a seat on an express bus requires a reservation and an assigned seat. If you're lucky, you can scramble to get a last seat just minutes before departure. It's strongly recommended, however, that you reserve and purchase your ticket at least 24 hours in advance. That's a good thing, however, as this means no more elbowing for a seat. This also means NO overcrowding. And riding express means fewer, if any, stops en route to your final destination. These buses also offer tinted windows with curtains, air conditioning, reclining high-back seats, and cinematic movies displayed on ceiling-mounted video monitors. A typical fare for express service is around USD6.
Another method of travelling 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 and less than Express Service, but like Express they 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. They are privately owned and therefore overcrowding means greater profits. On the other hand, because they are privately owned transports, most drivers (and driver's helpers) are friendly and helpful, and will help stow and secure your luggage. Microbuses run to the main bus terminals in Matagalpa, 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.
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 and north, like Matagalpa and Rama. Mercado Huembes in the southern part of Managua serves points south, like Rivas/San Jorge and Peñas Blancas.
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.
La Costeña now flies Managua to Ometepe Island, San Carlos and San Juan del Norte twice per week and is about USD120.00 for round trip. Now it is possible to do some hopping around when traveling to the Rio San Juan area.
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 used to be rough and hard, but it has now been newly paved and makes the trip easier (2006). 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.
A ferry between Granada, and San Carlos passing through Ometepe, San Miguelito, and Morrito run twice per week, from Granada to San Carlos: (Monday and Thursday at 14:00) San Carlos to Granada: (Tuesday and Friday at 14:00) From San Carlos you can cross the border by boat to Los Chiles, Costa Rica and also go down the San Juan River to Boca de Sabalos, El Castillo and San Juan del Norte.
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 NIO30 (2013), but the same route if you are a party of two may be NIO45. A trip all the way across Managua during the day should not be more than about NIO90 to NIO100, if not coming from or going to the airport. In contrast, taxi fares in other Nicaraguan cities range, possibly the best taxi bargain around, to NIO15 in Esteli, and NIO20 in Granada. 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.
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 (USD1/person).
Some of the residents are known to travel on motorcycles, with multiple children and a mother on a single motorcycle in some cases. If you see such a thing on the roads, don't be surprised.
Spanish is Nicaragua's official language. Don't expect to find much English spoken outside of the larger and more expensive hotels. Creole, English, and indigenous languages are spoken along the Caribbean coast. 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.
If entering the country from either Honduras or Costa Rica by land, get rid of those currencies as they are hard to exchange away from the border.
The national currency is called the cordoba (NIO). As of November 2016 the official exchange rate is about 29 cordobas to one US dollar. The government deflates the currency about 5% every year to be competitive with the dollar. Most places accept dollars but you will often get change in cordobas and businesses will give you a lower exchange rate. Make sure you have some cordobas handy when using collective buses, taxis, or other small purchases. Nearly all banks exchange US dollars to cordobas 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 cordobas and some can dispense dollars too. Make sure that the ATM you're using is part 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.
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 to noon) to get a worse rate than the banks, though near the markets you might do as bad. (Latest example January 2010 - Bank pays NIO21.90 per US dollar, 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 cordobas (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 (checks). To make sure you have Cordobas for taxis and buses from Augusto Sandino Airport in Managua, you can change US currency for Cordobas 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 4 (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/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 artisinal 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 artisanal 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 lower prices than in the market in Masaya, but vendors and solicitors at Huembes tend to be pushier, especially if they see you`re a "gringo.") Located just 10 minutes from Masaya, 30 minutes from Granada and 40 minutes from Managua, these towns are the arts and crafts centre 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 favourite Nicaraguan chair. Although you might not be able take any rocking chairs or ferns home with you on the plane, it 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 Km. 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 artisanal 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.
Food is very cheap. A plate of food from the street will cost 75-100 cordobas. A typical sit down dinner will consist of meat, rice, beans, salad and some fried plantains, costing under 120 Cordobas. Street-side, 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.
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 chicken and other seasonings (~15 cordobas). Indio Viejo is a corn meal (masa) based dished made with either shredded chicken or beef and flavoured 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.
Nicaraguan typical 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, smashed into a "toston". 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 residental 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. They are a little like a Mexican taquito/taco dorado. "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) 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, 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 flavour to mainstream European lagers, while the others have much lighter bodies with substantially less flavour, and are more like 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 (Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola). Some local drinks include pinolillo' and cacao are delicious drinks from cocoa beans, corn and milk and usually some cinnamon, a thick cacao based drink, Milca', 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, watermellon, 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.
Accommodations 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, A/C, and private bathroom). You will find more expensive hotel accommodations in some cities, as well as more intimate and exclusive B&B's where advance screening/reservation, payment and/or deposit may be required.
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" center 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 neighborhoods, as are numerous hotels of various prices in neighborhoods around the new center 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 is limited. You are not permitted to work with a simple tourist visa.
One job of particular interest to foreigners is teaching. If you are a native English speaker and speak Spanish as well and have a bachelor's degree, you may be able to teach at a Nicaraguan university. Again, you will need to arrange for the proper work permits. Instructors earn about USD500 a month.
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. To get an even greater overview of the opportunities available in Nicaragua you can also have a look at an online comparison platform for volunteering such as Volunteer World .
The official story is Nicaragua has made considerable strides in terms of providing police presence and order throughout the country. Crime is supposed to be relatively low, though in reality there are some very bad neighborhoods. In the north, 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 generally considered a major problem in Nicaragua, opportunistic attacks and murders do happen even in broad daylight, particularly in Rivas and Managua, caution should be exercised. Tourists are advised to travel in groups or with someone trusted who understands the local area (and not just Spanish). There are local organizations that offer translator or guide services. One of them is Viva Spanish School Managua.
Sexual harassment of women (typically, cat calling)—of both tourists and locals—can be best described as "constant", even by Latin American standards, and it is particularly pronounced if traveling as a single woman or group of women. Men and boys of all ages will make kissing noises and whistle or shout rude sexual comments. Ignoring the comments and walking on is sufficient. In the unlikely event you are followed, go into the nearest large shop or hotel.
Travellers should be advised that there is hysteria in the country regarding child pornography, and recently there was a series of arrests and detainments of Western expats in Granada for suspected pornography, news sites claim they were framed.
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 ATMs that dispense the local currency. When using ATMs, 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.
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.
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 USD10-13 (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. There are also illegitimate thefts of foreigners' belongings and detentions at immigration borders. They also charge a US$3 exit tax to leave the country by land borders—fortunately, not the same US$42 as in airport departures.
According to the US 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, San Juan river region, or the Caribbean Coast.
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. 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. 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 USD119 per day. An MRI of the knee in 2010 was USD300. Emergency surgery in 2008 in Bautista including surgeon, anesthesia, operating and recovery rooms and supplies was USD1,200 with the private room under USD100 after that.
The full list of embassies and consulates can be found here.
The application form for a Nicaraguan Visa can be downloaded here