Nicaragua travel guide
Fabled land of lakes and volcanoes, Nicaragua also lays claim to vibrant colonial cities, deserted beaches and wildlife-rich rainforests. Its vibrancy is all-encompassing, and the hospitality of its people is renowned throughout the Americas. The largest country in Central America, Nicaragua is also one of the safest and cheapest countries that constitute the ‘gringo trail'. That visitor numbers to this sun-drenched sanctuary are only 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 swimming in the country’s iconic crater lakes. Whether you want to ride some of the world’s best waves, speed along zip-lines above the jungle or scuba dive along shelves of iridescent coral, Nicaragua has it all. Sound 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 prettiest colonial cities. Both are hubs for travellers and represent gateways to nearby attractions. From León, you can climb the Maribios volcanic chain, go ‘volcano-boarding’ down the slopes of the 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, in particular, Volcano Acatenango, or zip-line over Mombacho’s cloud forest and take a cooling swim in Laguna de Apoyo.
For surfers, head to San Juan del Sur in search of the perfect wave, then spend your evenings dancing the night away in the city - made famous for its nightlife and the renowned ‘Sunday Funday’ festival. Others can abscond to the Corn Islands, an archipelago that offers 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.
130,373 sq km (50,337 sq miles).
6,285,000 (UN estimate 2018).
52.2 per sq km. (UN estimate 2018)
President Daniel Ortega since 2007.
President Daniel Ortega since 2007.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.
UK government support
There is no resident British diplomatic mission in Nicaragua, and FCDO cannot give in-person consular assistance. If you need emergency consular assistance or have passport-related issues, contact the British Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica, on +506-2258-2025. Replacement travel documents may take up to 4 weeks longer than normal to reach you.
Before you travel
No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and see support for British nationals abroad for information about specific travel topics.
If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.
This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in Nicaragua set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Nicaraguan Embassy in the UK.
There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Nicaragua.
Passport validity requirements
To enter Nicaragua, your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the date you arrive.
Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.
You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.
British nationals can visit Nicaragua for up to 90 days without a visa. You may be refused entry if you do not have an onward ticket.
Check with your travel company or nearest Nicaraguan embassy what the policy is for entry at the Nicaraguan border.
Travelling to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras
Under the Central America Border Control Agreement (also known as CA-4), you can travel between Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for up to 90 days without a visa.
The 90-day period starts when you enter any of these countries and does not restart when you cross borders. You’ll have to go through immigration checks at borders. If you’re expelled from one of these countries, you’re also excluded from the other 3.
In Nicaragua, you can extend your stay by up to 30 days by paying a fee before the 90 days expires. If you overstay, you may get a fine.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Nicaragua guide.
Depending on your circumstances, these may include a yellow fever certificate.
Travelling with children with Nicaraguan nationality
Children with single or dual Nicaraguan nationality may need certain documents to leave Nicaragua with one parent or a third party. Check with the Nicaraguan migration authorities (in Spanish).
There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Nicaragua. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty. Contact the Nicaraguan Embassy in the UK for more information.
There is a ban on electronic smoking devices such as e-cigarettes in Nicaragua. You cannot import, export, sell, store or use these devices, with or without nicotine. Customs officials can confiscate these products at the border.
Taking money into Nicaragua
The US dollar, either in cash or travellers cheques, is the only foreign currency freely exchangeable in Nicaragua. Banks do not exchange British pounds.
Arrival and departure tax
You must pay an arrival tax of 10 US dollars in cash. There is also a departure tax of 35 US dollars, which is normally included in the price of your air ticket.
There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.
UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.
Terrorism in Nicaragua
Although there is no recent history of terrorism in Nicaragua, attacks cannot be ruled out.
Demonstrations and gatherings can turn violent. It is illegal for foreigners to take part in any sort of political activity in Nicaragua. You can be arrested and detained or deported for:
- taking part in a protest
- breach of the peace
- any activity seen as acting against the government, including political meetings and campaigns
- using Nicaragua’s national flag or colours (blue and white) for campaigning or protesting
Demonstrations can also lead to travel disruption. Check local information before travelling.
Foreigners have been affected by violent crime in Nicaragua. Criminals often carry out attacks on people in vehicles. To reduce the risk to yourself and your belongings:
- keep the windows of your car closed and the doors locked
- avoid public transport after dark
Take care when walking around markets, bus stations, around the old cathedral in Managua and in the poorer areas of towns. Do not visit these areas after dark on foot.
If you are robbed, do not resist, as many criminals carry weapons. If you report the incident to the police, get a signed and stamped copy of the police report.
Taxi safety and ‘express kidnapping’
There is a risk of ‘express kidnapping’ if you use an unauthorised taxi. You could be taken hostage and forced to pay cash for your release.
Reduce the risk by:
- using a radio-dispatched taxi or an authorised taxi with red plates
- making sure the driver’s ID number, name and photograph are clearly visible on the dashboard
- making a note of the colour and number of the vehicle before you get in
It is a common local practice to share taxis with strangers, but tourists have been robbed when taking taxis called by strangers. Do not take a taxi if it has been called for you by someone you do not know well. You should also avoid using ‘colectivos’ (minibuses).
If you’re a woman, use hotels that have staff at the front desk 24 hours a day and have adequate security measures. Read the advice for women travelling abroad.
Risks when exchanging money
There is a risk when exchanging money on the street that you could be assaulted or targeted by muggers. There are often money changers with official identification at the front of banks, where there is likely to be better security. You can also withdraw cash in US dollars or Nicaraguan cordobas from ATMs.
Laws and cultural differences
Illegal drugs and prison sentences
Do not become involved with drugs of any kind. Possession of even small quantities can lead to imprisonment.
There are strict restrictions on the use of drones. Do not use drones for photography or any other reason, unless you have written permission from the Nicaraguan authorities.
Outdoor activities and adventure tourism
There are strong currents off sections of Nicaragua’s Pacific coast and people have drowned. There are no warning signs or lifeguards, and rescue equipment is not readily available.
There have been fatalities from scuba diving off Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. If you want to dive, contact a reputable diving company to find out about Nicaraguan waters. Nicaragua’s only hyperbaric chamber is in Puerto Cabezas, a 5-hour speedboat ride from Corn Island.
If you’re planning to drive a car, see information on driving abroad. You cannot drive or import right-hand-drive vehicles into Nicaragua.
You can use a UK photocard driving licence to drive in Nicaragua. If you still have a paper driving licence, you may need to update it to a photocard licence.
Driving standards and road conditions
The standard of driving is low and the condition of vehicles, particularly taxis and buses, is poor. There’s a risk of drivers failing to give way and driving dangerously, including under the influence of alcohol.
Road conditions are generally poor. There is no street lighting on the main highways between major cities and only minimal street lighting in towns. Avoid driving at night.
If you’re involved in a serious or fatal road traffic accident, you’re likely to be detained while it is investigated.
Boat and ferry travel
Although local law requires operators of water transport to have insurance, some still do not carry recognised insurance. Check the operator’s insurance cover before beginning your journey.
Extreme weather and natural disasters
See extreme weather and natural hazards for information about how to prepare, and how to react if there is a warning.
The hurricane season normally runs from June to November. Monitor the National Hurricane Center forecasts and the World Meteorological Organization warnings. Follow the advice of local authorities and obey evacuation orders.
A group of volcanoes, several of which are active, stretches the length of the country, in particular San Cristóbal, Masaya, Cerro Negro, and Telica and Concepción on Ometepe Island. Follow media reports and listen to local authorities if you intend to visit the area.
Do not hike on volcanoes without an experienced guide.
Before you travel check that:
- your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
- you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation
This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.
Emergency medical number
Call 911 and ask for an ambulance.
Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Vaccinations and health risks
At least 8 weeks before your trip check:
- the latest information on recommended vaccinations and health risks in TravelHealthPro’s Nicaragua guide
- where to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on the NHS travel vaccinations page
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.
The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.
You cannot use British-issued prescriptions locally. To find a pharmacy (‘farmacia’), search online for the nearest big national chain, such as FarmaValue, Farmacia MEDCO, Farmacia Saba, Farmacia Kielsa, or Farmacia El Ahorro.
Healthcare facilities in Nicaragua
Public hospitals in Nicaragua are not well equipped, except for some hospitals in Managua. Emergency medical treatment is normally free in a public hospital but you will be charged for private health care. You may have difficulties without a good understanding of Spanish.
Private hospitals usually take payment for healthcare up front and in cash. A few private hospitals will accept major credit cards. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment and repatriation.
FCDO has a list of medical providers in Nicaragua where some staff speak English.
There is also guidance on healthcare if you’re living in Nicaragua.
COVID-19 healthcare in Nicaragua
For information, see the Nicaraguan health authority website.
Travel and mental health
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.
Emergency services in Nicaragua
Telephone: 911 (ambulance, fire, police)
Contact your travel provider and insurer
Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.
Refunds and changes to travel
For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.
Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:
- where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
- how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim
Support from FCDO
FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:
- finding English-speaking lawyers, funeral directors and translators and interpreters in Nicaragua
- dealing with a death in Nicaragua
- being arrested or imprisoned in Nicaragua
- getting help if you’re a victim of crime
- what to do if you’re in hospital
- if you’re affected by a crisis, such as a terrorist attack
You can also contact FCDO online.
Help abroad in an emergency
There is no British Embassy or Consulate in Nicaragua so we cannot give in-person consular assistance. If you need emergency consular assistance or have passport-related issues, you should contact the British Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica, at +506-2258-2025.
FCDO in London
You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.
Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)