Top events in Nicaragua

March
01

The Nicaragua International Jazz Festival has been running since 2008. This non-profit event is designed to bring jazz to the widest possible...

April
14

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a bigger event than Christmas. Most Nicas take the week as holiday and head for the beach. Scenes from the Bible...

April
17

People come from all the over the country for this celebration of all things equine. Horse culture was brought to Nicaragua by the Spanish and is...

Lake Nicaragua
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Lake Nicaragua

© www.123rf.com / Michael Zysman

Nicaragua Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

130,370 sq km (50,336 sq miles).

Population

5.8 million (2013).

Population density

44.4 per sq km.

Capital

Managua.

Government

Republic. Gained independence from Spain in 1821.

Head of state

President Daniel Ortega since 2007.

Head of government

President Daniel Ortega since 2007.

Electricity

120 volts AC, 60Hz. American-style flat two-pin plugs are used; not all sockets have space for a grounding pin however.

Nicaragua, the land of lakes and volcanoes, is also the land of lush forests, deserted beaches and vibrant colonial cities. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, Costa Rica without the crowds – for now.

The largest country in Central America is still one of its least visited. Peaceful for over 25 years, it’s still waging a battle against a lingering negative image of a war-torn country. Ironically, it’s officially the safest country in Central America. It’s also its poorest – only Haiti is worse off in the Western Hemisphere.

During the 1980s, Nicaragua attracted an army of sympathetic internacionalistas who volunteered to work in the fields as an act of solidarity with the revolutionary government. Now an increasing number of visitors are attracted by the country’s natural beauty.

Go hiking and biking, kayak along jungle rivers and swim in crater lakes. Explore steamy rainforests and mist-wreathed cloud forest. A wildlife wonderland, it’s home to howler, white-faced capuchin and spider monkeys, jaguars and crocodiles, as well as a multitude of birds and butterflies. And there’s plenty to satisfy the most exacting adrenaline junkie: speed along zip lines, surf the Pacific breakers, even surf down active volcanoes.

Kick back on twin-coned Ometepe Island, rising out of the silver flat surface of Lake Nicaragua. Or catch an open-sided boat along the San Juan River into the heart of the Indío Maiz Biological Reserve, the largest area of virgin rainforest north of the Amazon.

Colonial León, the cultural capital, is a hotbed of revolution and poetry, and the starting point for climbing the Maribios volcanic chain, where you can snowboard down the black ash slopes of still-rumbling Cerro Negro. Or pick your own coffee in the temperate northern highlands around Matagalpa and Jinotega.

San Juan del Sur has long been a haunt of surfers in search of the perfect wave, a place to chill by day and party after dark. Further afield, the Corn Islands tick all the Caribbean boxes without the price tag. Explore the reefs, dine on lobster, then flop into a hammock with only the rustle of palm fronds to disturb you.

Picture-perfect Granada is a colonial gem and one of the oldest cities in the Americas. It’s the ideal base to explore Masaya’s volcanic park and barter at its colourful handicraft market, witness centuries-old fiestas, zip-line over Mombacho’s cloud forest and cool off with a swim in the crystalline crater lake of Laguna de Apoyo.

For all its beauty, the welcoming Nicas are the country’s finest asset. Revolution, civil war and natural disasters may have taken their toll on the country’s infrastructure, but its resilient people remain warm and welcoming, and intensely proud of their culture and traditions.

Those with more time can learn Spanish at a not-for-profit school or volunteer with a local charity. Then grab some rum and dance the warm tropical night away to the sultry rhythms of salsa.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 25 February 2015

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.


Crime

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.

Local travel

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 travel

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.

Air travel

There is a US$10 arrival tax, which should be paid in cash. There is also aUS$35 departure tax, which is normally included in the price of your air ticket.

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.

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 situation

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.

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