Nicaragua travel guide
Fabled land of lakes and volcanoes, Nicaragua also lays claim to vibrant colonial cities, deserted beaches and wildlife-rich rainforests. It’s Costa Rica, without the crowds – for now, at least. The largest country in Central America, Nicaragua is also the safest and one of the cheapest. That visitor numbers are increasing should come as no surprise.
What Nicaragua lacks in standout cultural attractions it compensates for with natural beauty. Its reefs and rainforests are hotbeds of biodiversity and teem with jaguars, monkeys and myriad bird species (though how this idyll will look after the Nicaragua Grand Canal has been built remains to be seen).
The country’s wild landscapes are fertile ground for thrill-seekers. Visitors can go hiking, biking, kayaking and wild swimming in the country’s iconic crater lakes. They can ride some of the world’s biggest waves, speed along zip-lines above the jungle or scuba dive along shelves of iridescent coral. Too much like hard work? Then kick back on the twin peaks of Ometepe Island, overlooking the shimmering Lake Nicaragua, or catch a boat into the Indío Maiz Biological Reserve, the largest area of virgin rainforest north of the Amazon.
Those hankering for the city life should head to León or Granada, two of Central America’s pretties colonial cities. They’re hubs for travellers and gateways to nearby attractions. From León you can climb the Maribios volcanic chain, snowboard down the slopes of still-rumbling Cerro Negro or pick coffee beans in the temperate northern highlands. Granada, meanwhile, is the ideal base to explore Masaya’s volcanic park, zip-line over Mombacho’s cloud forest and take a cooling swim in Laguna de Apoyo.
Surfers head for San Juan del Sur in search of the perfect wave – they often find it – and to imbibe its buzzing party scene. Others abscond to the Corn Islands, an archipelago that has everything you’d expect from the Caribbean, minus the sky-high prices. So grab a beer and join the party – it’s only just begun.
130,370 sq km (50,336 sq miles).
6,150,035 (UN estimate 2016).
45.3 per sq km.
President Daniel Ortega since 2007.
President Daniel Ortega since 2007.
120 volts AC, 60Hz. North American-style plugs with two flat pins are used; not all sockets have space for a grounding pin however.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
In recent years there has been a significant rise in thefts, break-ins and muggings. Street crime is common in Managua but also occurs in other large towns. Pickpockets and thieves operate on public transport and around bus terminals. Many criminals have weapons, and most injuries and deaths have resulted when victims have resisted. If you are robbed, inform the police and get a signed and sealed copy of their report.
Express kidnappings have occurred involving passengers using unauthorised taxis, where cash is demanded for release a short while later.
If possible use radio-dispatched taxis. If you get a taxi on the street, use an authorised taxi, which has red plates, and the driver’s identification number, name and photograph clearly visible on the dashboard. Take note of the colour and number of the vehicle before you get in.
It’s a common local practice to share taxis with strangers. If you prefer to avoid this, agree a fare with the driver for a solo journey. Always agree the fare before you set off. Many assaults and robberies have occurred when using unlicensed taxis and when a stranger offers to call a taxi for you. Don’t take a taxi if it’s been called for you by someone you do not know well.
There have been reports of cars being stopped and passengers assaulted at traffic lights in Managua. Keep the windows of your car closed and the doors locked.
Don’t travel on buses after dark.
Take care when walking around, particularly in markets, bus stations, the area around the old cathedral in Managua and poorer areas of towns. Don’t walk alone after dark.
There have been violent attacks against foreigners in hotels and houses. Use hotels that are staffed at the front desk 24 hours a day and have adequate security measures.
Avoid wearing jewellery. Don’t carry large amounts of cash, credit cards or other valuables.
The North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) is very remote. You should plan any travel to this area carefully.
Don’t hike on volcanoes or in other remote areas without an experienced guide.
Although extensive de-mining operations have been carried out in rural areas of northern Nicaragua, some landmines may remain. Take care if you venture off the main roads.
There have been occasional incidents of violent crime in Bonanza, La Rosita, Siuna and Little Corn Island.
Avoid road travel after dark due to the presence of armed bandits.
Road conditions are generally poor and large potholes can appear overnight. There’s no street lighting on the main highways between major cities and only minimal street lighting in towns. Driving standards are low and the condition of vehicles, particularly taxis and buses is poor. Ignoring traffic lights is common practice. Drink driving is a severe problem.
Drivers of vehicles involved in serious injury or fatal road traffic accidents are often arrested and detained.
During the wet season (April to October), it is usually better to fly to and from the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua on early morning flights because of the risk of severe storms later in the day.
Safety regulations and standards vary greatly. Although local law requires operators of public water-transport to have insurance, some operators still don’t carry recognised insurance. You should check the operator’s insurance cover before beginning your journey. In January 2016, a passenger boat travelling between islands off the Atlantic coast sank with the loss of 13 lives.
Swimming and water sports
Take care if you are swimming or taking part in water activities. Strong currents off sections of Nicaragua’s Pacific coast have resulted in drownings. Warning signs are not posted and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available.
Political demonstrations can happen at any time and at short notice. You should avoid all large public gatherings and monitor local media reports. Previous demonstrations have been violent and affected access to and from the airport.