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Nicaragua is the largest country in [[Central America]] with an area of 130,373 km<sup>2</sup> 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]].
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.
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.
Tourism in [[Nicaragua]] is growing at 15% to 20% annually. Tourists are coming for the beauty and richness this country has to offer. From eco-tourism, adventure, beach, colonial cities, nightlife,
There is much to see and do in Nicaragua, and it is a budget paradise due to the fact that everything in Nicaragua is cheap. Tourism has grown over 300% in seven years, with tourists arriving from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. Bars, discotheques, restaurants, and hotels are opening at a rapid rate in the cities of [[Granada (Nicaragua)|Granada]], and [[Leon (Nicaragua)|Leon]]. [[San Juan
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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]],[[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]], [[St. 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 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, 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.
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
You can also fly into the tiny [[Granada (Nicaragua)|Granada]] airstrip from [[San Jose (Costa Rica)|San Jose]].
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).
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 accross 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
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$
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.
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. As of
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 9-5 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 21.90 per US$1, cambistas offer C$22.10) 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.
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 US$4-6/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
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.
Food is very cheap. A plate of food from the street will cost 20-50 cordobas. A typical dinner will consist of meat, rice, beans, salad 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
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.
Accommodations can generally be had quite cheaply throughout Nicaragua. Options range from simple hammocks ($2-$3), to dorm rooms in hostels ($5-9), to private double-bed ("matrimonial") rooms ($10-35, depending on presence of TV, A/C, and private bathroom). You will find more expensive hotel accommodations 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" 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 US$5. 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.
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
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.
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 a 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.