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Nicaragua travel guide - Travel S helper


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Nicaragua, formally the Republic of Nicaragua, is Central America’s biggest nation. Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, is the biggest city in the nation and the third largest in Central America. The six million-strong multiethnic population is made up of indigenous peoples, Europeans, Africans, and Asians. Spanish is the primary language. On the eastern seaboard, indigenous groups speak their own languages.

The area was captured by the Spanish Empire in the sixteenth century. In 1821, Nicaragua declared independence from Spain. Nicaragua has had periods of political instability, authoritarianism, and economic crises since independence—the most prominent of which were the reasons of the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Nicaragua is a democratic republic with a representative government.

The fusion of cultural traditions has resulted in significant variety in art and literature, the latter especially in light of Nicaraguan poets and authors like as Rubén Daro, Pablo Antonio Cuadra, and Ernesto Cardenal. Nicaragua is becoming an increasingly attractive tourist destination due to its ecological variety, tropical temperature, and active volcanoes.

Nicaraguans like to call their country “país de lagos y volcanes” (land of lakes and volcanoes), which describes the general make-up of the country, especially the western half.

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Nicaragua - Info Card




Córdoba (NIO)

Time zone



130,375 km2 (50,338 sq mi)

Calling code


Official language


Nicaragua | Introduction

Weather & Climate in Nicaragua

The temperature is mainly influenced by the altitude. On the Pacific side there is a distinct dry season (November-April, locally called “verano”) and a rainy season (locally called “invierno”), but the further east you go, the longer the rainy season and the wetter the dry season. The torrential downpours of the rainy season (May to October) can surprise and drench you within minutes, even in the Pacific lowlands, so be prepared if you travel during the rainy season. The northern highlands are dominated by cloud forests and cold, misty weather is not uncommon.

Temperatures can drop to 10 degrees Celsius in the early morning hours at high altitudes, but snow is rare. The Caribbean coast is generally much wetter and rain is frequent, even during the “dry” season. The last devastating hurricane to hit Nicaragua was Mitch in 1998 and the country is generally not in the main hurricane track, but you should still heed the warnings and definitely evacuate at least to the Pacific side if there is a chance of a hurricane hitting where you are. Hurricane Otto, which hit the country and neighbouring Costa Rica in November 2016, fortunately caused no fatalities and less destruction than feared and probably showed that Nicaragua is better prepared for natural disasters today than in the past.

The Nicaragua Canal

Since the Spaniards were able to get an idea of the general geography of the country, the idea arose to build a canal that would connect the Atlantic and the Pacific. In addition to several routes through Panama, Nicaragua offered itself, since the Rio San Juan already connects Lake Nicaragua with the Caribbean and the western shore of the lake is only about 20 kilometres from the Pacific at its narrowest point. From a 21st century perspective, however, the Rio San Juan is barely navigable (the rapids at El Castillo cannot be crossed by anything larger than a lancha), and the average depth of Lake Nicaragua is less than 15 metres, far less than the displacement of many modern container ships.

However, the dream has always remained in the national consciousness and was a recurring theme in national politics until a recent development when President Ortega signed a contract (later approved by the Sandinista-dominated National Assembly) with a Chinese company to build the canal in the early 2010s. Construction officially began in December 2014 (although the actual scope of the work carried out is not entirely clear to the public) and the contract includes an airport, two deep-water ports and a large tourist facility on the Pacific side. The project is highly controversial both domestically and internationally, so expect extensive media coverage of the issue in the coming years.

People In Nicaragua

There are about 6.1 million Nicaragüenses (often abbreviated Nicas) in Nicaragua. The majority of the population is mixed (about 70%) and white (about 17%). Nicaraguan culture is strongly influenced by European and Amerindian customs and traditions, with some African elements on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicaraguans speak monolingual Spanish and about 90% understand it, but other languages include (in descending order of speakers) Miskito, English Creole, English, Chinese and Sumo. The largest minorities all live on the Caribbean side of the country and include the Miskito (indigenous people, formerly allied with the British), the Garifuna (of indigenous and African descent) and the Rama people. Some of them speak indigenous languages or Caribbean Creole English. Conflict still occurs today as people of mixed descent settle in the east of the country and take over or forcibly displace land where Indigenous or Afro-descendants used to live.

Immigrant communities are generally small, but the German-Nicaraguan community was economically important in the coffee trade until Somoza expelled them as a “war measure” during World War II (which Nicaragua “fought” on the side of the Allies). Other immigrant communities include Chinese-Nicaraguans and Afro-Nicaraguans. More recently, large expatriate communities have emerged in cities such as Grenada, but immigration has been and still is overshadowed by emigration.

For economic and political reasons, many Nicaraguans have left their country in recent decades, mainly for the United States and Costa Rica. Between 500,000 and 1 million Nicaraguans now live and work in Costa Rica, not all of them legally, which has led to personal and diplomatic tensions between the two countries. The Nicaraguan diaspora in the United States consists of political migrants, like the Cuban population in Miami, and economic migrants. Unlike their neighbours, however, emigration to the United States is not as widespread or culturally dominant as the presence of Latinos in the United States might suggest.

Tourism In Nicaragua

By 2006, tourism had become Nicaragua’s second largest industry. In the last seven years, tourism has grown by about 70% nationwide, with rates ranging from 10% to 16% per year. Nicaragua has experienced positive growth in the tourism sector over the last decade, becoming the largest industry in 2007. The increase and growth has seen tourism revenues increase by more than 300% over a 10-year period. The growth of tourism has also had a positive impact on the agriculture, trade and finance and construction sectors.

Every year, about 60,000 US citizens visit Nicaragua, mainly business people, tourists and people visiting relatives. About 5,300 people from the United States currently live in the country. Most tourists visiting Nicaragua come from the United States, Central and South America and Europe. According to the Nicaraguan Ministry of Tourism (INTUR), the colonial cities of León and Granada are the most popular places for tourists. Likewise, the cities of Masaya and Rivas, as well as the towns of San Juan del Sur, El Ostional, El Castillo, Rio San Juan, Ometepe, the Mombacho volcano, the Corn Islands, etc. are important tourist attractions. In addition, ecotourism, sport fishing and surfing attract many tourists to Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is known as “the land of lakes and volcanoes” because of the many lagoons and lakes and the chain of volcanoes that run from north to south along the country’s Pacific coast. Today, only 7 of Nicaragua’s 50 volcanoes are considered active. Many of these volcanoes offer great opportunities for tourists with activities such as hiking, climbing, camping and swimming in the crater lakes.

The Apoyo Lagoon Nature Reserve was created by the eruption of the Apoyo volcano about 23,000 years ago, which left a huge crater 7 km wide that gradually filled with water. It is surrounded by the old crater wall. The edge of the lagoon is lined with restaurants, many of which offer kayaks. Besides exploring the surrounding forest, many water sports are practised in the lagoon, including kayaking.

According to TV Noticias, Nicaragua’s main tourist attractions are its beaches, scenic routes, the architecture of cities such as Leon and Granada and, more recently, ecotourism and agri-tourism, especially in the north of the country. As a result of the increase in tourism, foreign direct investment in Nicaragua rose by 79.1% between 2007 and 2009.

Tourism has grown strongly recently and is now the second largest industry in the country. President Daniel Ortega has declared his intention to use tourism to fight poverty throughout the country.

The growth of tourism has had a positive impact on agriculture, trade and the financial sector, as well as on the construction sector. The results for Nicaragua’s tourism economy are remarkable: in 2010, the country welcomed one million tourists per calendar year for the first time in its history.

Ecotourism aims to be ecologically and socially conscious, it focuses on local culture, wilderness and adventure. Ecotourism in Nicaragua is growing year by year. The country offers a range of ecotourism tours and places that are perfect for adventurers. Nicaragua has three ecoregions, the Pacific, the Central and the Atlantic, which contain volcanoes, rainforests and farmlands. Most ecolodges and other ecoregional destinations are located on the island of Ometepe, which lies in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, an hour’s boat ride from Grenada. While some are foreign-owned, like the permaculture tropical lodge Finca El Zopilote, others are owned by local families, like the small but highly regarded Finca Samaria.

More recently, sand skiing on the Cerro Negro volcano in León has become a popular attraction. Both active and dormant volcanoes can be climbed. The most visited volcanoes include Masaya, Momotombo, Mombacho, Cosigüina and the volcanoes Maderas and Concepción on Ometepe.

Nicaragua’s geography

The most notable features of Nicaragua’s geography are visible at first glance: Lake Nicaragua in the southwest with a mostly low-lying plain in the west that experiences dry seasons and has historically been the most densely populated and agricultural part of the country. In the north, the high mountains have given rise to coffee and tobacco cultivation. This is where the land is coldest and where most of the historical guerrillas, Sandinista or contra, found their hideouts. From northwest to southeast, a chain of mostly active volcanoes stretches across the country – including Lake Nicaragua, the Cosigüina volcano in the heart of the peninsula of the same name, which marks the northwestern end of this volcanic chain, and the Solentiname Islands, the southeasternmost feature of the country of volcanic origin.

The eastern part of the country is dominated by tropical rainforest and has historically been sparsely populated. In the south, the Rio San Juan winds through a plain with rainforest on both sides, while in the north the Bosawas rainforest begins in the foothills of the northern highlands and extends almost to the coast. The country’s highest elevations are in the north, with the highest mountain – Cerro Mogoton (2,107 m) – on the border with Honduras. The longest river in the country and in all of Central America is the Río Coco or Wanki, which forms the border between Honduras and Nicaragua for much of its length. Likewise, the Rio San Juan forms the border with Costa Rica, although the river itself belongs entirely to Nicaragua due to a treaty dating back to the 19th century. The Rio San Juan is often seen by Nicaraguans as a national symbol, much like the Germans’ fascination with the Rhine in the 19th century, but because of its historical inaccessibility (before a new road was built, it took 12 hours by bus to get there from Managua), few Nicaraguans have ever been to the river.

Demographics Of Nicaragua

According to the CIA World Factbook, the population of 5,891,199 is composed mainly of 69% mixed race (which traditionally means a mixture of European (white) and indigenous (in this case Indian) blood), 17% white, 5% indigenous, 9% black and other races. This proportion fluctuates with changes in migration patterns. The population is 58% urban (2013).

The capital Managua is the largest city with an estimated population of 2.2 million in 2010 and over 2.5 million inhabitants in the greater region. In 2005, more than 5.0 million people lived in the Pacific, Central and Northern regions and 700,000 in the Caribbean region.

There is a growing expatriate community, most of whom come from all over the world, including the United States, Canada, Taiwan and European countries, for reasons of work, investment or retirement. Most have settled in Managua, Granada and San Juan del Sur.

Many Nicaraguans live abroad, including in Costa Rica, the United States, Spain, Canada and other Central American countries.

Nicaragua has a population growth rate of 1.5% in 2013, resulting in one of the highest birth rates in the Western Hemisphere: 24.9 per 1,000 according to UN data for the period 2005-2010. The mortality rate was 4.7 per 1,000 for the same period, according to UN data.

Ethnic groups

The majority of the Nicaraguan population is mestizo (a mixture of Americans and Europeans), about 69%. 17% are of European origin, the majority are of Spanish origin, some are German, Italian, English, Turkish, Danish or French.

About 9% of Nicaragua’s population is black, living mainly on the Caribbean or Atlantic coasts of the country. The black population is mainly made up of English-speaking black Creoles, who are descendants of runaway or shipwrecked slaves; many are named after Scottish settlers who brought slaves with them, such as Campbell, Gordon, Downs and Hodgeson. Although many Creoles supported Somoza because of his close ties to the United States, they joined the Sandinista cause in July 1979, only to reject the revolution shortly afterwards as a reaction to a new phase of “westernisation” and the imposition of central rule from Managua. In the mid-1980s, Zelaya’s government divided the department – the eastern half of the country – into two autonomous regions and granted the black and indigenous populations of this region limited autonomy within the republic.

The remaining 5% of Nicaraguans are Amerindians, the descendants of the country’s indigenous population. The pre-Columbian population of Nicaragua was composed of many indigenous groups. The Nicaraguans, who gave the country its name, were present in the western region, as well as other groups related to the Maya in culture and language. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was inhabited by indigenous peoples, most of whom were related to the Chibchas, who had migrated from South America, mainly from what is now Colombia and Venezuela. These groups include the Miskitos, Ramas and Sumos. There was a significant indigenous minority until the 19th century, but this group was largely culturally assimilated into the mestizo majority.


Religion plays an important role in Nicaraguan culture and is particularly protected in the constitution. Religious freedom, guaranteed since 1939, and religious tolerance are promoted by the government and the constitution.

Nicaragua has no official religion. Catholic bishops are expected to offer their authority on the major occasions of the state, and their opinions on national issues are closely followed. In times of political crisis, they can be called upon to mediate between conflicting parties.

The largest denomination, and traditionally the religion of the majority, is Roman Catholicism. The number of practising Roman Catholics is declining, while the number of members of evangelical Protestant groups and Mormons has been rising sharply since the 1990s. There are also strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast.

Roman Catholicism came to Nicaragua in the 16th century with the Spanish conquest and remained the established faith until 1939. Protestantism and other Christian denominations came to Nicaragua in the 19th century and gained many adherents on the Caribbean coast during British influence in the 20th century.

Popular religion revolves around the saints, who are seen as intercessors (but not mediators) between the people and God. Most localities, from the capital Managua to small rural communities, honour the patron saints, chosen from the Roman Catholic calendar, with annual festivals. In many communities, a rich tradition has developed around celebrations of the patron saints, such as Managua’s Saint Dominic (Santo Domingo), who is honoured in August with two colourful, often rowdy, day-long processions through the city. For the masses, the highlight of the religious calendar in Nicaragua is not Christmas or Easter, but La Purísima, a week-long festival in early December dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, during which elaborate altars to the Virgin Mary are erected in homes and workplaces.

The country’s close political ties have fostered religious attachment. Buddhism has grown through a steady influx of immigrants.

Language In Nicaragua

Spanish is the official language in Nicaragua. Don’t expect to find much English outside the larger, more expensive hotels. Creole English (think Jamaican patois to get a feel for it) and indigenous languages are spoken along the Caribbean coast and in the interior of the remote Bosawas National Park (in the east of the country, so in the Caribbean in the Managua language). Nicaraguans tend to omit the s at the end of Spanish words, usually replacing it with an “h” sound (j in Spanish). Thus, “dále pues” (“okay, then”, a common phrase to end a conversation) becomes “dále pueh”. Vos” is generally used instead of “tú”, which is common throughout Central America. However, “tú” is understood by native Nicaraguans as it often appears in the media, songs and books. As in most Latin American countries, the plural “vosotros” is almost unknown outside the Bible. When addressing a group, the form “ustedes” is preferred.

Nicaraguans, especially the poorest people in rural areas, sometimes write words phonetically and not as they appear in the dictionary. This can be the case with the signs of small shops. Reading the sign aloud often helps to understand it.

Economy of Nicaragua

Coffee is one of Nicaragua’s most important exports. In Jinotega, Esteli, Nueva Segovia, Matagalpa and Madrize, coffee is exported all over the world, to North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Many coffee companies, such as Nestlé and Starbucks, buy Nicaraguan coffee.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Americas. Its gross domestic product (GDP) in purchasing power parity (PPP) was estimated at USD 17.37 billion in 2008. Agriculture accounts for 17% of GDP, the highest in Central America. Remittances account for more than 15% of Nicaragua’s GDP. Almost one billion dollars are sent into the country by Nicaraguans living abroad. The economy grew by about 4% in 2011.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, 48 % of Nicaragua’s population lives below the poverty line, with 79.9 % of the population living on less than 2 dollars a day. According to the UN, 80% of indigenous people (who make up 5% of the population) live on less than one dollar a day.

According to the World Bank, Nicaragua ranks 123rd among the best economies to start a business. Nicaragua’s economy is “62.7% free”, with high levels of tax, government, labour, investment, financial and trade freedom. It ranks 61st among the freest economies and 14th (out of 29) in the Americas.

In March 2007, Poland and Nicaragua signed an agreement to cancel $30.6 million borrowed by the Nicaraguan government in the 1980s. Inflation has fallen from 33,500% in 1988 to 9.45% in 2006 and foreign debt has been halved.

Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country; agriculture accounts for 60 % of total exports, which are worth about 300 million US dollars annually. Almost two thirds of the coffee harvest comes from the northern part of the central highlands, from the area north and east of the city of Estelí. Soil erosion and pollution from the intensive use of pesticides have become serious problems in the cotton district. Yields and exports have been declining since 1985. Today, most of Nicaragua’s bananas are grown in the northwest of the country, near the port of Corinto; sugar cane is also grown in the same district. Cassava, a root crop similar to the potato, is an important food in tropical regions. Cassava is also the main ingredient in tapioca pudding. Nicaragua’s agricultural sector has benefited from the country’s close relations with Venezuela. It is estimated that Venezuela imports about $200 million worth of agricultural products. In the 1990s, the government began efforts to diversify agriculture. New export-oriented crops include peanuts, sesame, melons and onions.

Fishing boats from the Caribbean coast bring shrimp and lobster to the processing plants in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields and Laguna de Perlas. Turtle fishing flourished on the Caribbean coast before it collapsed due to overfishing.

Mining is becoming an important industry in Nicaragua, contributing less than 1% to the gross domestic product (GDP). Due to growing environmental concerns about the destruction of tropical forests, restrictions on logging are being introduced. But logging continues despite these obstacles; in fact, a single deciduous tree can be worth thousands of dollars.

During the war between the US-backed Contras and the Sandinista government in the 1980s, much of the country’s infrastructure was damaged or destroyed. Transport facilities in the country are often inadequate. For example, it is not possible to travel from Managua to the Caribbean coast via the motorway. The road ends in the town of El Rama. Travellers have to go the rest of the way by boat on the Río Escondido – a five-hour trip. The Centroamérica power plant on the Tuma River in the central highlands has been expanded and other hydroelectric projects have been launched to supply electricity to the country’s new industries. Nicaragua has long been seen as a possible site for a new sea-level canal to complement the Panama Canal.

The minimum wage in Nicaragua is one of the lowest in the Americas and the world. Remittances account for about 15 % of the country’s gross domestic product. Growth in the maquila sector slowed in the first decade of the 21st century due to increasing competition from Asian markets, especially China. Land is the traditional basis of wealth in Nicaragua, with large fortunes derived from the export of commodities such as coffee, cotton, beef and sugar. Almost the entire upper class and nearly a quarter of the middle class are large landowners.

A 1985 government study classified 69.4 percent of the population as poor because they were unable to meet one or more of their basic needs for housing, sanitation (water, sewage and rubbish collection), education and employment. The definition standards for this study were very low; a dwelling was considered substandard if it was built with waste materials and dirt floors, or if it was occupied by more than four people per room.

Rural workers are dependent on agricultural wage labour, especially for coffee and cotton. Only a small number of them have permanent jobs. Most of them are migrants who follow the crops during harvest time and find other work in the off-season. The “lower” farmers are usually smallholders who do not have enough land to feed a family; they also work in the harvest. The “better” farmers have enough resources to be economically independent. They produce enough surpluses beyond their own needs to be able to participate in national and global markets.

The urban underclass is characterised by the informal sector of the economy. The informal sector consists of small businesses that use traditional technologies and operate outside of legal labour protection and taxation. Workers in the informal sector are self-employed, unpaid family workers or employees of small businesses, and they are generally poor.

Informal sector workers in Nicaragua include plumbers, seamstresses, bakers, shoemakers and carpenters, people who wash and iron laundry or prepare food for sale on the street, as well as thousands of peddlers, small business owners (who often work from home) and market stall operators. Some work alone, others work in the small talleres (workshops/factories) that are responsible for much of the country’s industrial production. Since income from the informal sector is usually very low, few families can live on a single income. Like most Latin American countries, Nicaragua is characterised by a very small upper class, about 2% of the population, which is very wealthy and holds political and economic power in the country that is not in the hands of foreign corporations and the private sector. These oligarchic families have ruled Nicaragua for generations and their wealth is politically and economically integrated horizontally and vertically.

Nicaragua is currently a member of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, also known as ALBA. ALBA has proposed the creation of a new currency, the Sucre, to be used by its members. Essentially, this means that the Nicaraguan córdoba will be replaced by the sucre. Other nations that will follow a similar model are: Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Honduras, Cuba, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda.

Nicaragua is considering building a canal connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific. President Daniel Ortega says this will bring Nicaragua “economic independence”. Construction on the project is scheduled to begin in December 2014.

Entry Requirements For Nicaragua

Visa & Passport for Nicaragua

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, 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, Macau, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Swaziland, Sweden, Slovenia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United States, Vanuatu, Vatican City (Holy See) and Venezuela.

Other tourists can get a tourist card for US$10 on arrival, valid for between 1 month and 3 months (depending on nationality – 90 days is allowed for Canada and the USA), provided they have a valid passport with at least six months left. There is also an exit tax of US$32, which is included in the fares of the major airlines (American Airlines, Copa Airlines and Avianca definitely). The tourist card is also valid in the other CA-4 countries, namely El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, although sometimes you have to argue with immigration officials to find out that this agreement is in force, as they are pretty much forced to sell more tourist cards.

How To Travel To Nicaragua

Get In - By air

You will most likely arrive at Augusto C Sandino Airport in Managua (IATA: MGA). Flights from the USA arrive from Houston, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta. Managua is served by American AirlinesUnitedAviancaDelta, SpiritAeroméxico and Nature Air (from SJO), among others. In addition to domestic flights within Nicaragua, costeña also offers routes between Tegucigalpa and Managua. Since 2014, Veca airlines also serves Managua and connects it with other Central American capitals. Although the company presents itself as “low cost”, fares are still higher than those of its European or American counterparts.

If your destination in Nicaragua is in the Rio San Juan region or southwest Nicaragua, or if you find a flight that is otherwise more convenient for you, it may make sense to fly to Liberia Airport IATA: LIR or San Jose Airport IATA: SJO (technically in Alajuela) in Costa Rica. Note that Costa Rica is not part of CA4 and you will need to clear immigration at the airport and when entering Nicaragua. As San Jose is served by more destinations outside the US, this can also be a good option if you intend to avoid going via the US. If you or a member of your group is a Nicaraguan citizen, don’t forget to get a multiple entry visa to Costa Rica.

A fee of USD 10 is charged for entry, payable in USD or NIO. Try to get the exact currency.

Tourist cards are valid for three months for US citizens and EU and Canadian citizens. There are taxis outside the airport, but they are relatively expensive ($25 for the 20 km ride to the centre of Managua). You can also walk to the street and try to hail a regular taxi. Some taxi drivers try to charge more, especially if they see a foreign face, and may start with $20 USD, but a price around $5-10 USD or 125-250 Cordobas is reasonable from the airport (depending on the number of people and the amount of luggage). Knowledge of Spanish is very useful when dealing with taxis. You can also arrange a shuttle to take you to nearby cities such as Granada, a popular option for tourists who do not want to spend a night in Managua. It is recommended that you ask your hotel or language school to arrange a shuttle if possible.

There are talks about starting international flights to the small airport of Ometepe, which was opened in 2014; however, nothing has come of it to date (July 2014).

There are, as of 2015, no scheduled international flights to other airports in the country, although some may be able to accommodate general aviation.

Get In - By car

Note that almost all car rental contracts do not allow you to bring your car across the border. If you want to bring your own car across the border, it is possible, but it requires some planning and a bit of red tape, as the government strictly controls the used car market and does not want you to sell them without paying the appropriate fees and tariffs. See Carnet de Passage to cross the border by car

There are two border crossings to Costa Rica: Peñas Blancas on the west side of Lake Nicaragua, and Los Chiles/San Carlos on the east side of the lake. While the San Carlos crossing was only accessible to boats for a long time, the bridge was finally opened in 2015 and it is now possible to cross the border on the east side of Lake Nicaragua by car. Peñas Blancas was by far the busiest crossing in the past, but the opening of the bridge and the rising tourism profile of the Rio San Juan region may change that. Remember that these two border crossings are major chokepoints for trade between Nicaragua and Costa Rica and many trucks will be waiting to cross. The sea route from San Carlos to Los Chiles remains open for now, but with more limited sailings than when this was the only possible passage.

There are three main border crossings into Honduras. Las Manos is on the shortest route to Tegucigalpa; the others are on the Panamerican Highway north of Leon.

A fee of US$12 is charged for crossing the border (usually payable in dollars, cordobas or the currency of the neighbouring country). This fee is usually charged even if you already have a CA-4 visa, although no new visa is included. The “visa rush” to get a new 90-day extension of your legal stay is therefore only possible by going to Costa Rica, and it is largely at the border officials’ discretion whether or not to grant you the twelfth consecutive 90-day visa.

Get In - By bus

International buses run between Managua and San Jose, Costa Rica (with short stops in Rivas and Granada), San Salvador, El Salvador (with short stops in Leon) and Honduras. Some buses continue to Panama City or Guatemala City. The buses are relatively modern (many have air conditioning) and stop along the way to refuel and eat. However, if you want to use this mode of transport, plan ahead: buses between major cities can be full several days before departure. Check the following companies: Transnica Tica Bus and King Quality. Another option is to be picked up in small towns along the route; ask for the local ticket office. There are also cheap (but terribly uncomfortable) “chicken buses” that run several times a week between Managua and Guatemala City ($20) and stop in larger towns like Leon.

Another way to cross the border is to take a bus to/from a bigger city that will drop you off at the border. You can then cross the border and get on another bus. This is a common strategy for travellers, especially at the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. This method takes longer, but is much cheaper and can be used at any time.

When you cross 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 across the border by bike to the bus stop on the other side. Often, when you ask for a price for the ride, they will insist that it is a “tip” or a “propina”. Only when you get to the other side will they try to pressure you into paying 20 USD or more. Negotiate with them before agreeing to a ride and if they still pressure you at the end, give them what you think is fair and leave.

This border crossing is also your last chance to exchange your lempiras for cordobas, and it is best to know the exchange rate so you can negotiate a fair rate.

All buses from the south enter Peñas Blancas in Nicaragua. There are relatively modern, air-conditioned buses from the same companies as for the connection to Honduras. You can also take a local bus to the border, walk across and take a bus or taxi from there. Remember that the border is the last point where you can get rid of your colones, as almost no one in Nicaragua itself accepts them; if they do, it is only at horrendous exchange rates.

Get In - With the boat

In addition to the cruises, there are also the following options

From Los Chiles (Costa Rica) to San Carlos, you can take a “lancha” (small boat) that will take you across the border for about US$10. The trip is very scenic as the Rio Frio flows through a pleasant rainforest. Please note that you are allowed to photograph everything except the border crossing halfway, as it is a military facility. Border formalities on both sides are similar to those at the Peñas Blancas land crossing, but in Los Chiles you will have to pay about US$1 to use the border area. There are two supermarkets in Los Chiles, but only one (with a more limited selection) in San Carlos, so if you think you need something, stock up.

It is reported that a new regular ferry now connects La Union (El Salvador) with Corinto, Nicaragua.

Get In - By train

There are no passenger rail lines between Nicaragua and its neighbouring countries. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a train in Nicaragua, as the national railway was closed in 1994 and literally sold for scrap shortly afterwards. (The situation is not much better in other parts of Central America, by the way). ) Discussions about restarting a railway – whether local or national, freight or passenger – are inconclusive and never get beyond newspaper articles or speculation by mid-level or retired politicians.

How To Travel Around Nicaragua

Get Around - By bus

The bus is undoubtedly the main way to get around Nicaragua and a great way to discover the country’s geography, its people and even some of its culture (music, food, clothing, manners). Most of the buses are old, decommissioned (but often fantastically repainted and redecorated) yellow American school buses. Expect these buses to be packed and your luggage (if large) to be stowed in the back or on the roof of the bus (along with bicycles and other large items). Better be quick or you will have to stand or sit on a beanbag for most of the journey. On most lines you can buy your ticket a day or two in advance, which guarantees you a (numbered) seat (look for the number on your ticket or above the windows). Some have not replaced the original seats designed for 7-year-olds, so you may have sore knees at the end of the journey. Often snacks and drinks are sold on the buses (or through the windows) before departure or at fast stops. A typical fare can range from US$1 or less for short journeys (~30min) to US$3-4 for longer journeys.

With the exception of Managua’s city buses, which use contactless prepaid cards to pay fares, buses in Nicaragua are usually operated by a two-person crew. In addition to the driver, each bus usually has a younger “assistant” who stands at the front door, announces stops, collects fares and helps passengers board (often with special attention to pretty women).

Most cities in Nicaragua have a main bus terminal for long-distance buses. Managua has many terminals, each serving a different part of the country, depending on its geographical location in Managua. Mercado Israel Levites, in the western part of the city, serves the cities on the Pacific coast to the north, for example Leon, Chinandega and all points in between. Mercado Mayoreo, in the eastern part of the city, serves points to the east, north and southeast, such as Matagalpa Rama or San Carlos, Rio San Juan. Mercado Huembes, in the southern part of Managua, serves points in the south, such as Rivas/San Jorge and Peñas Blancas.

Minibuses (“microbuses” as they are called) are another method of travelling around the country. These are essentially vans that can hold up to 15 people (some can be larger, the size of a shuttle bus). The minibuses run regularly between Managua and relatively nearby towns such as Granada, Leon, Masaya, Jinotepe and Chinandega. Most of them depart from and return to the small microbus terminal located in front of the Universidad Centoamericana (the buses and the terminal are therefore known as “los microbuses de la UCA”). The microbuses run all day until late afternoon or early evening, depending on the destination, with shorter times on Sundays and a certain rush hour during the week, as they serve the nearby towns from which many people commute to Managua. Microbuses cost a little more than school buses, but are faster and make fewer stops. As with school buses, you can expect them to be overcrowded, probably with even less space, as drivers often load more people than the vehicle is designed for. On the other hand, most drivers (and driver’s aides) are friendly and helpful and will help you stow your luggage. They serve the main bus terminals in Leon and Chinandega, Parque Central and Mercado de Artesanias (and then depart from another park a few blocks away) in Masaya, and a park a block from Parque Central in Granada. There is limited microbus service to other cities from the respective bus terminals in Managua.

Get Around - By air

At the international airport, to the right of the main terminal, there are two offices that house the national airlines. They are ideal if you want to get to the Atlantic coast. Prices vary, but it takes an hour and a half to get to the Corn Islands rather than a whole day by land. If you are trying to save time, this is the best way to get to the Corn Islands or anywhere on the Atlantic coast. Destinations include San Carlos, Big Corn Island, Bluefields, two of the three towns in the “mining triangle” and new connections to Ometepe and San Juan del Norte (Greytown). The planes fill up quickly and the luggage allowance is very limited. So check if the time saved is worth the cost and effort. For more information visit their website

Get Around - With the boat

It is customary for your bags to be searched before each boat trip. The rules on what can be in your luggage vary, but on the San Carlos – Ometepe – Granada boat, alcoholic drinks are often confiscated when you board and returned to you when you disembark.

The boat is the only way to get to the Solentinames and remains the most popular way to get to Isla de Ometepe. Be aware that strong winds and bad weather can cancel ferry trips. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as wind and bad weather can make the ferry ride uncomfortable for those prone to seasickness, and many of the boats used to access Ometepe are older, smaller ferries and launches. The quickest route to Ometepe is from San Jorge (10 minutes from Rivas and often connected by the same bus from Managua to Rivas) to Moyogalpa. A much longer journey can be made (with only two trips a week) from Granada to Altagracia. There is a large modern ferry from San Jorge that runs daily to the new port of San Jose del Sur, near Moyogalpa.

The boat is also a convenient way to get to Big Corn Island. Take a bus to Rama, which is the end of the road. This road is in good condition and the ride should not be too bumpy. There is a weekly bunk boat to the Corn Islands and small launches to Bluefields and El Bluff several times a day. You can also take a speedboat to Bluefields or El Bluff. From there you can take a boat to the Corn Islands or a flight from Bluefields. The first boat from Rama to Bluefields usually leaves at dawn and allows for a boat ride. Similarly, a large freighter takes two days to return to Rama from the Corn Islands, with an overnight stop at El Bluff to pick up cargo. There is now a route (but don’t expect much) from Rama to Pearl Lagoon, which can also be reached by speedboat from Bluefields.

Get Around - By taxi

You should always make a clear agreement on the fare before getting into the taxi. Most parts of the country have fixed fares within a city that double at night, but fares in Managua or outside the city limits depend mainly on your negotiating skills. In particular, you need to establish whether it is local currency or dollars and whether the price is per person or for the whole group. Once you are in the taxi, you have no bargaining power and there is no taximeter. Taxi drivers in Managua can be aggressive and there are many of them, so finding a suitable fare is easy. Taxis will accept multiple fares if they are going in roughly the same direction. In all cities, taxi drivers are generally fair and well mannered, and it is a good way to see the local scenery. In smaller towns there is a fixed price per person, so there is no need to negotiate. In Managua, the fare has to be negotiated before you get in and will increase depending on the number of passengers (in your group who are not yet in the taxi or who get in later), the time of day (it is much more expensive at night) and the location (going to or from a nice part of Managua can be a bit more expensive due to less bargaining power). The cheapest fare for a single passenger is C$30 (2013), but the same ride for two can cost C$40. A ride around Managua during the day should not cost more than C$60-70 if you are not going to or from the airport. Tipping is not expected (but is always welcome). You can also share the cost of a taxi to destinations near Managua, such as Masaya, if you prefer to travel with a minimum of comfort.

There have been increased incidents of taxi crime in Managua. The most typical scenario is that one or more additional passengers get into the taxi shortly after you have been picked up, they drive you around the city in circles with the taxi driver, taking everything you have with you and leaving you in a random place, usually far away from your destination. Make sure the taxi has the licence number painted on the side, the taxi sign is on the roof, the light inside the taxi is on and the taxi operator’s licence is clearly visible on the front seat. You can ask a friend to drive you home and take down the licence plate number. Be careful, especially at night, and it is best to ask your hotel to get you a taxi.

You can book a taxi online at TaxiManagua. Fares within Managua start at 20 USD.

Get Around - With motorbike

Some of the residents are known to ride motorbikes, in some cases with several children on one motorbike with a mother. If you see something like this on the streets, don’t be surprised.

If you plan to ride a motorbike in Nicaragua, be aware that helmets are compulsory and that night riding is very dangerous.

You can rent motorbikes from Nicaragua Motorcycles Adventures.

Get Around - By bike

Bicycles are a great way to get around Nicaragua. They are a free way to get around while allowing you to stop and see the country that would normally pass you by. In the more rural areas, Nicaraguans are very friendly and helpful, and the roads allow bicycles on the shoulder for the most part. Most drivers will know how to handle a bike, although locals prefer motorbikes if they can afford them at all. In big cities like Managua, the roads and pavements can be very dangerous for bicycles. The lanes are narrow and not designed for cyclists. Roundabouts are also very difficult to navigate. It is almost impossible to negotiate traffic and it is usually best to wait until traffic is clear. Pavements are uneven and often have posts, potholes or other obstacles that make it difficult to ride efficiently.

As of 2016, bicycles (very similar to the American multi-speed models sold in the US, such as Huffy) are widely available among urban and rural Nicaraguans; spare parts (tyres, tubes, pedals) and repair services are available in most towns, even small ones, although you may sometimes have to ask around to find them. Spare parts (tyres, tubes, pedals) and repair services are available in most towns, even small ones, although you may have to ask around to find them (e.g. the only bike repair shop in town may be working in its backyard and not have a sign on the street). Either way, it is highly recommended that you know how to fix basic defects, especially if you intend to go on overland rides. If you don’t already have a bike, you can buy cheap ones in most towns of any size, even in remote towns like San Carlos. In cities like Leon or Granada, almost all hostels (and some independent operators) offer bike rental for ten dollars a day or less.

In Managua, there is now a critical mass walk every two months (Facebook link in Spanish). Every first and third Sunday from 15:30 in Plaza Cuba in Managua. In other cities, cycling promotion is still in its infancy, but car traffic is not that heavy and you should have no major problems getting around by bike.

Get Around - Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is common in rural areas and small towns, but not recommended in Managua. Nicaraguans themselves usually only travel in the back of the truck, not in the vehicle, when travelling with a group of people (3 or more). Some drivers may charge a little money to give you a lift. Nicaraguans see this as a way to be cheap, but they usually agree to pay the small amount (US$1/person).

Get Around - By car

The roads on the Pacific coast are generally in acceptable condition, although the rains at the beginning of the rainy season can hit the paved roads in Managua particularly hard. The roads on the Atlantic coast are a different story. There are few paved roads and dirt roads can become impassable during the rainy season. Bring patience and spare tyres and plan for longer driving time than on the Pacific side. Urban driving is not a good idea in any of the cities, although in Managua you have few alternatives to a car due to car-oriented urban sprawl. If you can, hire a driver or take taxis. Buses are an option to get around Managua, but only during the day and you need a rechargeable TUC card to pay for the ride, which is only available to those with Nicaraguan ID. In cities like Granada or León, it is much easier to get around on foot and you are better off leaving the car than trying to navigate the somewhat confusing network of one-way streets.

There are no tolls in Nicaragua and, as of October 2016, diesel is in the range of 20 córdobas cents, while petrol (differentiated by octane rating into regular and premium) is in the range of 20 córdobas cents. Compared to the United States or Mexico, petrol can thus be considered expensive at around USD 4 per gallon, but is significantly cheaper than in most European countries.

The speed limit on the motorways is usually 100 km/h, but you should not exceed it, as cows and horses run across the roads as if they owned the place. Within cities, the speed limit is 45 km/h and 60 km/h on all other roads. The police are particularly adept at checking rental cars to collect “fines” from tourists, so drive defensively and within the speed limit. The normal procedure for traffic fines is for the police officer to collect your licence and issue you a ticket, which you take to a bank to pay the fine. The bank will give you a receipt that you can use later to collect your licence. However, not all police officers follow this standard procedure every time, and if you are in a hurry, they may allow you to pay on the spot. Fines are haggled over, and if your licence has been confiscated by a police officer, you can sometimes avoid paying the fine by arguing your case convincingly at the police station.

A special feature of Nicaraguan traffic law is that you are not allowed to move your car even one centimetre after an accident. If you do, you will be responsible for any damage. Wait for the police to arrive and ask permission to move your vehicle if necessary. If you are unlucky enough to have an accident that results in serious injury or death, you will be taken into custody until everything is sorted out. In most cases, the easiest way out is to accept a plea deal, but you should consult a lawyer first if this happens to you.

Nicaragua has many roundabouts (rotondas) that serve as local landmarks in Managua. Changing lanes in or just before a roundabout is illegal and punishable, especially if you are driving a rental car.

Driving licences from most countries are accepted for up to 30 days. If you intend to stay and drive longer, you will need to obtain a Nicaraguan driving licence, which is only available to citizens and legal residents.

Destinations in Nicaragua

Regions in Nicaragua

  • Capital Region
    The most populous region of Nicaragua, centred on the capital Managua and including the Pueblos Blancos.
  • Caribbean Nicaragua
    Here you travel mainly by boat and the rich mix of Nicaraguan, Caribbean, Miskito and Garifuna cultures makes this region seem like another country.
  • Northern Highlands
    Visit cigar factories, take a canyon tour or see how coffee is grown in a region full of remnants of the revolution.
  • North Pacific Coast
    Located at the collision point of two tectonic plates, this region has some of the highest volcanic activity on the planet and is home to two national icons: Flor de Caña Rum and the poet Rubén Darío.
  • Rio San Juan Region
    An almost forgotten part of the country, with hidden treasures such as the islands of Solentiname or El Castillo, accessible by car, and the gateway to the pristine rainforest of the Indio Maiz Reserve.
  • South Pacific Coast
    A narrow strip of land bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Lago Nicaragua. Surf remote spots along the coast, party in San Juan del Sur or ride a motorbike around the iconic Isla de Ometepe.

Cities in Nicaragua

  • Managua – The capital, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1972 and was notorious for its blandness, is slowly regaining its nobility.
  • Granada (Nicaragua) – colonial beauty, favourite of expatriates.
  • León (Nicaragua) – the old rival of Granada, famous for its students, its left-wing politics and its cathedral.
  • Masaya – a charming “suburb” of Managua with an artisan market and easy access to the Pueblos Blancos.
  • Bluefields – the largest city on the Caribbean coast and the main centre of travel.
  • San Carlos (Nicaragua) – Gateway to the Rio San Juan Region
  • Estelí – drink coffee where it is grown and use the town as a starting point for various excursions, including to Somoto Canyon.
  • San Juan del Sur – surfer town, party mecca and anchorage for cruises around the Pacific.
  • Jinotega – “The Capital of Coffee”, a city in the north of the country, with the Cathedral of San Juan, the Peña de la Cruz and Lago Apanás.

Other destinations in Nicaragua

  • Big Corn Island – Caribbean island with diving, relaxation and fishing.
  • Little Corn Island – Caribbean island with diving, relaxation and fishing. The more popular of the two Corn Islands.
  • Isla de Ometepe – Island in the shadow of two volcanoes
  • Somoto – home of the spectacular Somoto Canyon.
  • El Castillo – a Spanish fortress on the Rio San Juan and a good entry point into the nearby jungle.
  • Laguna de Apoyo – nature reserve with black sand beaches
  • Pearl Lagoon – Caribbean city with a relaxed atmosphere
  • Solentiname Islands – a group of islands in Lake Nicaragua, famous for their naïve paintings and balsa wood figures.
  • Masaya Volcano

Accommodation & Hotels in Nicaragua

Accommodation is generally quite cheap in Nicaragua. Options range from simple hammocks ($2-3 USD) to dormitories in hostels ($5-9 USD) to private twin rooms (“matrimonials”) ($10-35 USD, depending on whether you have a TV, air conditioning and your own shower and toilet). You will probably only find real luxury in the big cities like Managua, Leon or Granada and in a few resorts like Montelimar (Somoza’s former holiday home), and even there, prices almost never reach four figures.

The high and low seasons are not as pronounced as in Costa Rica, for example, but there is a marked increase in prices during semana santa (Easter week), the time of year when most Nicaraguans take their holidays. It is not uncommon for prices to double or triple during this period, for example in San Juan del Sur. There is another small spike around Christmas/New Year, but it is not as pronounced. During the rainy season you can sometimes negotiate better prices, but don’t count on it.

While Barrio Martha Quezada is generally a convenient destination for visitors to Managua due to the many cheap hotels, it has become increasingly dangerous, especially for tourists, as robberies occur in broad daylight. Unless you need to be in the area to catch an early morning bus from a nearby terminal, it is advisable to avoid Martha Quezada, especially as it is far from the so-called “new” centre of Managua. The area near the Tica bus station also has a reputation for being dangerous, and tourists are well advised to take a taxi directly to and from the station, even if it is only a short walk. The Backpackers Inn near MetroCentro (5 minute taxi ride from the UCA microbuses), the San Luis Hotel in Colonia Centroamerica (5 minute taxi ride from the Mercado Huembes bus station) are good budget options in safe neighbourhoods, as are many hotels of varying price ranges in the neighbourhoods around the new centre near Metrocentro and Caraterra Masaya (i.e. Altamira, Los Robles, Reparto San Juan).

Look for guesthouses, huespedes or hospedajes as these are the cheapest rooms that cost less than 5 USD. They are usually owned by families and you will mostly be staying with locals. Make sure you know when they close if you are going out at night. Hotels offer more amenities but are more expensive. There are a few backpacker hostels in Granada, San Juan del Sur, Isla Ometepe, Masaya, Managua and Leon; otherwise, guesthouses are the preferred option.

Things To See in Nicaragua

Nicaraguans like to call their country the land of lakes and volcanoes. The most notable volcanoes include:

  • Volcán Concepción and Maderas on Ometepe
  • Volcán Mombacho near Granada
  • Volcán Masaya near Masaya. If it is not considered too dangerous, you can drive up.
  • The Cosigüina volcano, which was one of the highest in the region but exploded in the 19th century, dots the Golfo de Fonseca between Nicaragua and El Salvador with numerous small islands from its debris.

Other places of interest are:

  • Wildlife on Ometepe or in the protected areas of Indio-Maiz (south-east, Rio San Juan region) and Bosawas (north-east, Caribbean Nicaragua).
  • Churches galoreespecially in León (with one of the largest churches in Central America) and in Granada.
  • Panoramas and sunsets on the shores of Lake Nicaragua (Cocibolca)
  • Museums and murals dedicated to the country’s revolutionary past and the civil war (especially in Sandinista strongholds like León or Estelí).

Fortunately, Nicaragua has much more surviving colonial architecture than its southern neighbour, and if you’re coming from the south, places like Granada or Leon can be a breath of fresh air compared to the rather bland modernist architecture you’ll find there.

Things To Do in Nicaragua

There are endless things to do in Nicaragua, but some of the most overlooked are the fiestas patronales, or festivals of the saints, which take place almost every day in some town or village in the country. Participating in the patronal festivals is a great way to experience Nicaraguan culture, and customs like the Gigantona dance and the Los Aguizotes parade are truly unforgettable. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know what is happening and when.

Food & Drinks in Nicaragua

Food in Nicaragua

Nicaraguan food is very cheap by Western standards. A plate of street food costs between 30 and 70 cordobas. A typical dinner consists of meat, rice, beans, salad (e.g. coleslaw) and some fried plantains and costs less than 3 USD. Buffet-style restaurants/eateries called “fritanga” are very common, but the quality varies greatly. Much of the food is fried in oil (vegetable or lard). It is possible to eat vegetarian food: the most common dish is gallo pinto (beans and rice), and most places serve cheese (fried or fresh), fried plantains and coleslaw. There are some vegetable dishes such as guiso de papas, pipián o ayote – a creamy, buttery stew of potatoes, courgette or squash; guacamole nica, prepared with hard-boiled eggs and breaded pipian (courgette), and various fried fritters of potatoes, cheese and other vegetables. However, the concept of vegetarianism is unknown to most Nicaraguans, especially in the countryside, and saying that you “don’t eat meat” can lead to you being offered chicken instead, which is considered something other than “meat” (pork or beef).

If you like meat, grilled chicken and beef are delicious, the beef generally being of good quality but often hard-cooked. Also try nacatamales, a traditional Sunday dish that is essentially a large tamal of pork or beef and other spices wrapped in a banana leaf and tied with banana leaf string (35-40 cordobas). The people who make them often sell them from their houses on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; look out for signs saying “Hay nacatamales” (“We have nacatamales”),

Indio Viejo is a dish based on maize flour (masa), prepared with minced chicken or beef and seasoned with mint. The typical spice is “chilero”, a mixture of onions and dried chillies, more or less spicy depending on the cook. Nicaraguan food is not known for being spicy, although chilero or hot sauce is almost always available (but be prepared for some strange looks if you use it heavily).

Although not as ubiquitous as in neighbouring Costa Rica, Lizano salsa (a type of Worcestershire sauce) is usually served with your meals and sold in most supermarkets. Soy sauce (salsa chinesa) and Worcestershire sauce (salsa inglesa) are also sold in supermarkets. If they don’t have it, just ask.

The typical Nicaraguan diet consists of rice, small red beans and fish or meat. Nicaraguans are proud of their famous gallo pinto, a balanced mixture of rice and beans that is usually served for breakfast.

Nicaraguan tortillas are made from corn flour and are thick, almost like a pita. A common dish is quesillo: a string of mozzarella-like cheese with pickled onions, watery sour cream and a little salt wrapped in a thick tortilla. You can find them on street corners or in the baskets of women running around shouting “Quesiiiiiillo”. The most famous quesillos are found on the side of the highway between Managua and Leon, in Nagarote (they also serve a local drink, tiste) and in La Paz Centro. The best selection of cheeses, from quesillos to cuajada, can be found in Chontales.

A typical dish that can be bought both on the street and in restaurants is vigoron, which consists of minced pork, yuca and coleslaw, chillies can be added according to taste.

Fritangas (medium to large food vendors and barbecues, usually with seating and found in most residential areas) typically sell grilled chicken, beef, pork and fried foods. They also sell “tacos” and “enchiladas”, which can be delicious but have little in common with their Mexican cousins. Tacos consist of chicken or beef wrapped in a tortilla and fried. This is accompanied by coleslaw, cream, sometimes ketchup or homemade tomato sauce and chilli on the side. Enchiladas” are not enchiloso (not spicy). They consist of a tortilla filled with a mixture of beef and rice, folded in half to enclose the mixture, covered with batter and then, yes, deep fried. They are served in the same way as tacos.

An alternative to the fried offerings on 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 of the typical desserts is Tres Leches, a soft, spongy cake that combines three types of milk (evaporated, condensed and fresh, hence the name) into one sweet concoction. Your dietician and dentist will hate this dessert, but since it’s usually only eaten on special occasions, you can treat yourself to it once in a while.

On the Caribbean coast, you can eat pretty much anything “de coco” (with or from coconut). Try pan de coco (coconut bread) or coconut gallo pinto. A famous speciality of the Caribbean coast is rundown (sometimes spelled and pronounced ron-don), which consists of fish and other ingredients cooked until the fish “sinks”. As it takes a long time to prepare, it should be ordered up to a day in advance and preferably for several people.


Plantains are an important part of the Nicaraguan diet. You will find them in various forms of preparation: fried (divided into maduros/sweet, tajadas/long and thin fries and tostones/thin and twice fried), baked, boiled, with cream or cheese, as chips for dipping. Green and guineo bananas are also cooked and eaten as a side dish. Ripe (yellow) plantains (platanas maduros) can also be eaten fresh, but people don’t seem to do this very often; they are less sweet and taste more “substantial” than bananas.

The passion fruit (known as maracuya in international Spanish and more commonly as calala in Nicaragua) is quite common in Nicaragua. Nicaraguans seem to prefer them in sweet drinks (refrescos), but they can also be eaten fresh. They taste especially good with ice cream or natural yoghurt.

Most oranges you see growing in Nicaraguan gardens are of the sour variety; almost as sour as a lemon, or sometimes even a little bitter, they are not eaten but squeezed into juice. You can also do it this way; squeeze the juice of one or two oranges (that’s a couple of tablespoons) into a cup, fill the rest of the cup with water and a little sugar to taste – and your cup of lemonade is ready!

Mangoes grow on huge trees and are harvested with net bags attached to long poles; sometimes people just throw a few stones into a tree to pick some fruit to eat. At certain times of the year, or in some of the less commercial towns, you may not see mangoes for sale, but you will find plenty on the ground under roadside mango trees. If you take the trouble to pick the ones least damaged by autumn and pests and wash them, you may find them tastier than those on sale!

When you go to Chinandega, ask the locals who sell “tonqua”. This is an excellent 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 fruit, because tonqua is a plant that Chinese immigrants brought to the Chinandega area.

Drinks in Nicaragua

Rum is the spirit of choice, but you will also find whiskey and vodka. The local rum brand is called Flor de Caña and is available in several varieties: Light, Extra Dry, Black Label, Gran Reserva (7 years old), Centenario (12 years old) and a new 18 year old top rum. There is also a less expensive rum called Ron Plata.

The local beers are VictoriaToñaPremium and Brahva. Victoria is the best of these beers, with a taste similar to the usual European lagers, while the others are much lighter and less flavourful, more like the usual American lagers. A new beer, “Victoria Frost”, is equally light.

In the soft drink section you will find the usual sodas like Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. Local drinks include Pinolillo and Cocoa, which are delicious drinks made from cocoa beans, corn and milk and usually Cinnamon, a thick cocoa-based drink, Milka and Rojita, a red lemonade that tastes like Inca Cola or “Red Pop” (if you are from Texas or the southern United States).

Nicaraguans drink a variety of natural fruit juices and drinks (jugos naturales, which are mostly pure juices, and (re)frescos naturales, which are fresh fruit juices mixed with water and sugar). The most popular are tamarind, cantelope, watermelon, hibiscus flower (Flor de Jamaica), lemonade, orange, grapefruit, dragon fruit, star fruit (mostly mixed with orange), mango, papaya, pineapple and countless others. Also popular are “luiquados”, fruit and milk or water shakes, with banana, mango or papaya with milk being the most common. Maize and cereal drinks, such as tiste, chicha (both maize-based), cebada (barley) and linaza (linseed), are also common and very traditional. Most cold drinks cost around 10-20 NIO. As in other parts of Central America, you should avoid juices with water unless you are used to untreated water, except in a restaurant that uses purified water (agua purificada in Spanish).

If you don’t like ice (hielo) in your drink, just say so, otherwise you’ll get huge chunks of ice that may or may not be made from purified water, which defeats the purpose of avoiding tap water when ordering Coke.

A word about the bottle deposit: While most plastic bottles and cans cannot be returned, glass bottles can. In some small pulperias (family-run mini-markets where you can find anything), you may not be allowed to take a glass bottle unless you bring them an empty bottle in exchange. So you either have to drink your Coke on the spot, or they give you a small plastic bag with a straw to take the drink (but not the bottle). Street vendors of homemade soft drinks ((re)frescos) often sell them in plastic bags; spiced vinegars are also sold in such bags in the markets.

Money & Shopping in Nicaragua


If you are entering Nicaragua by land, get rid of your Honduran lempiras and Costa Rican colones, as they are difficult to exchange far from the border.

The national currency is called córdoba oro (NIO, locally abbreviated C$), also known locally as peso, simply “cordoba” or vara(s), among other terms. Peace Corps volunteers and expatriates sometimes say “cordoba”, but Nicaraguans do not use this word.

As of September 2016, there are 28.9 córdoba oro for one US dollar. The currency loses about 5% of its value against the US dollar every year, which could be described as a sliding parity with built-in inflation. The córdoba therefore tracks and follows the movements of the US dollar in its exchange rates against other currencies.

Most places accept US dollars (although sometimes at less than face value), but you will often get change in Córdoba Oro. Córdoba oro is essential to pay for bus tickets, taxis, small meals and other everyday purchases. Try to carry about 500 córdoba oro in small denominations with you at all times. Almost all banks exchange USD for NIO, but the queues are often long and you may have to use your credit card instead of your debit card to get money. Be sure to bring your passport when you change money. All ATMs dispense local currency and most can also dispense US dollars. Make sure the ATM you use belongs to one of the networks listed on the back of your bank card. While you can find ATMs that work with the MasterCard/Cirrus system, most only use the Visa/Plus system. In many cases, an ATM is located in its own air-conditioned (read: freezing cold) mini-room with a door you can close. You should prefer these ATMs to others because the door is usually opaque and protects your data from prying eyes. It can sometimes be difficult to get change for both a 500 Cordoba note and a 20 USD note. 100 and 50 USD notes are often not accepted, except by banks. Therefore, if you are coming from the USA (or another country that uses the dollar), it is advisable to carry most of your money in 20 USD notes, as well as plenty of 5 USD and 1 USD notes (for places that quote the price in USD but claim not to have small USD notes to change).

Euros (banknotes only) are only exchanged in banks and the exchange rate is much worse than what you would get when exchanging US dollars. If you are from a European country, the easiest way is to make sure you have a bank account that allows you to withdraw money in Nicaragua at little or no cost.

If you need to exchange money when the banks are closed, or if you want to exchange money that the bank does not change, there are private money changers known as “cambistas” or “coyotes”. While most of them are honest and belong to cooperatives that keep them honest, there are dishonest money changers who try to pass off 1980 cordobas as real currency or cheat you. Pay attention to the exchange rate, do your own calculations (calculators have been known to be manipulated) to check their accuracy, and only hand over your money after you have had a good look at the change you will receive. Money changers can be found at most border crossings and also in Managua. During bank opening hours they often offer better rates and shorter waiting times, but it’s up to you whether you think it’s worth it. To minimise the risk, try to get your money in small notes, which also makes it easier to get change.

Most modern shops, including Texaco (Star Mart), Esso (On The Run), La Union (supermarket owned by Wal-Mart) accept US currency, often at a slightly better exchange rate than banks or “cambistas” on the streets (watch the cambistas’ IDs), with change in NIO. Limit the notes to 20 USD for more success. Cambistas have no problem with 50 and 100 USD notes. They do not accept Euros, Canadian money or travellers cheques. There is an exchange office at the airport, but the rates are – as usual – terrible and it is better to find an ATM in the airport (there should be several) and withdraw Cordobas there.

American and international credit cards are accepted in large retail chains (Palí, La Colonia, La Unión). Many hotels also accept credit cards, but especially in remote areas you often have to pay a surcharge of 4-6% if you pay your bills with a credit card.

Souvenir shopping

If you have to bring one thing from Nicaragua, it’s a hammock. Nicaraguan hammocks are some of the best made and most comfortable available. The best of them 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 largest selection and the best prices in Masaya. A single hammock for one person should cost less than 20 USD. Hammocks are also sold at the Huembes de Managua market, which has the only large section for local products and handicrafts in Managua.

Nicaragua also produces an excellent, award-winning rum called Flor de Caña. It is the most widely drunk liquor in Nicaragua. The 5 year old (prefer Extra Light to Extra Dry or Etiqueta Negra) and especially the 7 year old (Gran Reserva) rums are excellent value for money – around USD 4-6 per bottle. Buy from local shops, as prices are higher in airport duty-free shops. Gran Reserva is the best value for money.

A trip to the art towns of the “Pueblos Blancos” is the most rewarding way to shop for local handicrafts. The best and easiest place for tourists to buy handicrafts is the handicraft market in Masaya. There is a similar market with the same products (from the same vendors) at the Mercado Huembes in Managua, which has slightly higher prices than the market in Masaya. These towns are only 10 minutes from Masaya, 30 minutes from Granada and 40 minutes from Managua and are the centre of Nicaraguan handicrafts. Catarina is home to dozens of nurseries offering the wide variety of plants that this lush tropical land can produce, and also offers magnificent views of Laguna de Apoyo (volcanic crater lake), which you can admire from many restaurants.

San Juan del Oriente is the centre of pottery production. Here you can find dozens of studios and family-run shops where you can meet artisans and choose from a dazzling and creative range of vases, bowls and other ceramic items. Some of the best shops with more original designs are located just a few blocks from town, off the main street. Finally, Masatepe is known for its furniture, especially made of wicker and wood, and especially for its rocking chairs, the favourite chair of Nicaraguans. You may not be able to take rocking chairs or ferns on the plane, but window shopping in these quaint towns is well worth it. You can also find pottery from San Juan del Oriente, furniture from Masatepe and other handicrafts in Masaya, at the Mercado Huembes in Managua and in the streets of Granada, Leon and other places frequented by tourists. Don’t forget to haggle. Even if you are a tourist, you can haggle.

Shopping by western standards in Managua is mainly done in shopping centres, the largest and most modern being MetroCentro near the Ruben Dario Rotonda. There are smaller, less high-end shopping centres in Plaza Inter and Bello Horizonte in Plaza Las Americas. A new and large shopping centre called Plaza Santo Domingo is located on the Carretera Masaya, at about kilometre 6.

Shopping like the locals is done in the mercados, the public markets. The largest (and arguably one of the largest in the Americas) is the Mercado Oriental in Managua. This market contains everything in individual shops or stalls, from food to clothes to home electronics. The Mercado Oriental is one of the most dangerous places for tourists in the city. If you go there, take only the cash you want to spend. No purses, watches or jewellery and if you take a mobile phone, put it in your pocket out of sight of others. It is best to go with a local or even better with a group of locals.

Less scary, safer and with a similar selection is the Mercado Huembes. It is smaller and more open (it is less difficult to get caught in a dark, secluded aisle). This market offers the Masaya handicrafts already mentioned at higher prices than in Masaya. There are a few other similar markets that are smaller, further off the beaten track and not worth going to as they are not safe and offer fewer goods at higher prices.

The small balsa wood figures you can buy in many places are made in the Solentiname Islands, where you can watch them being made and where you can probably also get a custom-made one. Many of the inhabitants of the Solentiname archipelago also paint and some sell their paintings directly from their homes or in the markets of Managua, Masaya and other larger cities.

Festivals & Holidays in Nicaragua

Date English name Comments
1 January New Year’s Day Many Nicaraguans celebrate New Year’s Day by the pool.
1 February Air Force Day Held on 1 February in honour of the country’s air force.
13 April Maundy Thursday Celebrated nationwide on the first Thursday in April.
1 May Labour Day Celebrated nationwide on 1 May.
27 May Army Day Held on 27 May in honour of the Nicaraguan army.
19 July Liberation Day/FSLNR Revolution Day Celebrated nationally on 19 July. It marks the day when the National Liberation Army defeated the Somoza dictatorship in the Nicaraguan revolution.
25 July Fiesta de Santiago Celebrated on 25 July in Boaco, Somoto and Managua.
26 July Fiesta de Santa Ana Celebrated on 26 July in Nandaime, Niquinohomo, Moyogalpa and Ometepe.
1 August Fiesta de Santo Domingo Managuans celebrate Santo Domingo de Guzmán (patron saint)
23 August Crab Soup Day Maize Islanders celebrate the abolition of slavery in the Maize Islands
14 September Battle of San Jacinto Celebrated at national level. It takes place on the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto (1856).
September 15 Independence Day Bank holidays celebrated on 15 September to commemorate Central America’s declaration of independence in 1821.
12 October Aboriginal Resistance Day Early Columbus Day; highlights the struggle of indigenous peoples against European colonialism.
7/8 December The Immaculate Conception
(La Griteria Immaculata)
Celebrated nationwide on 8 December and in León on 7 December.
25 December Christmas Internationally celebrated.
31 December New Year’s Eve At midnight, Nicaraguans celebrate with fireworks (pólvoras, cohetes) and go to the beach.

Traditions & Customs in Nicaragua

  • In Nicaraguan Spanish, a distinction is made between the “formal” you and the “informal” you. The formal form (“usted” for one person, “ustedes” for several people) is used with foreigners, older people and people of high rank. The informal form (“tu” or “vos” for one person; “vosotros” for several people is almost never used outside the Bible, but always in correct (continental) Spanish, Nicaraguans would address a group as “ustedes”) is used between peers and friends and after you have been explicitly asked to address someone informally.
  • Don (for men) and Doña (for women) are common expressions to address people politely by their first name, e.g. Don Ramon or Doña Maria. It can be freely translated as Mr./Ms.
  • Nicaraguans are very concerned about their appearance and don’t understand why “rich” tourists walk around in shabby or slutty clothes. It’s true that a smile feels good, but in Nicaragua a shower with your smile feels even better.
  • While there is a sizeable irreligious minority in Nicaragua and a growing evangelical community (along American lines), most people like their (mostly Catholic) faith as it is, thank you, and do not take too kindly to being ridiculed or openly trying to convert.
  • Men in shorts are not common in Nicaragua, and given the risk of mosquitoes, you should consider wearing trousers or jeans.
  • Some Nicaraguan women swim with a T-shirt over their swimming costume. You don’t have to do that, but women walking around the beach topless is definitely not a good idea.
  • Don’t be surprised if you get nicknames from complete strangers based on your appearance. If you are visibly white, people are likely to call you “chele” (from leche=milk). (from leche=milk). Also, nicknames like “gorda” (fat, woman), “flaco” (thin, man) or “negro” (non-offensive term, simply the colour black) are never meant as insults.
  • Also, don’t be surprised if people make comments about your weight or (if they see you again after a while) about weight gain or loss. Because weight is visible, they don’t think it’s an offensive topic to talk about. In fact, it is sometimes an appropriate topic of conversation.

Culture Of Nicaragua

Nicaraguan culture has strong folkloric, musical and religious traditions that are strongly influenced by European culture, but also include indigenous sounds and flavours. Nicaraguan culture can also be defined into several distinct strands. The Pacific coast has strong folklore, music and religious traditions that were heavily influenced by Europeans. The country was colonised by Spain and its culture is similar to that of other Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America. The indigenous groups that historically inhabited the Pacific coast have been largely assimilated into the mestizo culture.

The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was once a British protectorate. English is still predominant in this region and is spoken in the country along with Spanish and indigenous languages. Its culture is similar to that of Caribbean nations that were or are British possessions, such as Jamaica, Belize, the Cayman Islands, etc. Unlike the West Coast, the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean coast have retained their own identity and some still speak their mother tongue as their first language.


The music of Nicaragua is a mixture of indigenous and Spanish influences. Musical instruments include the marimba and other instruments that are common throughout Central America. The Nicaraguan marimba is played by a seated player who holds the instrument in his lap. It is usually accompanied by a bass violin, a guitar and a guitarrilla (a small guitar similar to a mandolin). This music is played at social occasions as a kind of background music.

The marimba consists of hardwood plates mounted on bamboo or metal tubes of different lengths. It is played with two or four hammers. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is known for a lively and sensual form of dance music called Palo de Mayo, which is popular throughout the country. It is particularly loud and celebrated during the Palo de Mayo festival in May. The Garifuna (Afro-Indian) community is known for its popular music called Punta.

Nicaragua benefits from a variety of international influences in the field of music. Bachata, merengue, salsa and cumbia have gained prominence in cultural centres such as Managua, Leon and Granada. Cumbia dancing became popular on Ometepe Island and in Managua with the introduction of Nicaraguan artists, including Gustavo Leyton. Salsa became extremely popular in the nightclubs of Managua. Through various influences, the form of salsa dance varies in Nicaragua. Elements of New York style and Cuban salsa (Salsa Casino) have gained popularity in this country.


Dancing in Nicaragua varies depending on the region. In rural areas, hip movements and turns are more emphasised. In the cities, the dance style focuses on more sophisticated footwork in addition to movements and turns. Combinations of Dominican and American styles can be found throughout Nicaragua. Bachata dancing is very popular in Nicaragua. A considerable amount of bachata’s influence comes from Nicaraguans living abroad, in cities such as Miami, Los Angeles and, to a lesser extent, New York City. Recently, tango has also been appearing in cultural cities and among social dances.


Nicaraguan cuisine is a mixture of Spanish food and dishes of pre-Columbian origin. The traditional cuisine changes from the Pacific coast to the Caribbean coast. On the Pacific coast, local fruits and corn are the staple, while Caribbean coast cuisine focuses on seafood and coconut.

As in many other Latin American countries, maize is a staple food and is used in many popular dishes, such as Nacatamal and Indio Viejo. Maize is also an ingredient in drinks such as pinolillo and chicha, as well as in sweets and desserts. Besides maize, rice and beans are also eaten very frequently.

Gallo pinto, the national dish of Nicaragua, consists of white rice and red beans that are cooked separately and then fried together. There are several variations of this dish, including the addition of coconut milk and/or shredded coconut on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicaraguans start their day with gallopinto. Gallopinto is usually served with carne asada, salad, fried cheese, plantains or maduros.

Many Nicaraguan dishes contain local fruits and vegetables such as jocote, mango, papaya, tamarind, pipian, banana, avocado, yuca and herbs such as cilantro, oregano and achiote.

Nicaraguans are also known to eat guinea pigs, tapirs, iguanas, turtle eggs, armadillos and boas, but efforts are being made to curb this trend.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Nicaragua

Stay Safe in Nicaragua

Nicaragua has made considerable progress in terms of police presence and order throughout the country. Crime is relatively low. However, starting in 2008, reports of low-level gang violence began to come from Honduras and El Salvador. The Nicaraguan National Police have been successful in arresting gang members and reducing organised crime.

Do not travel alone at night. Pay for a taxi to avoid being mugged in poorly lit areas. Tourists are advised to be vigilant at all times in Managua. Although gang activity is not a major problem in Managua or Nicaragua, caution is advised. Tourists are advised to travel in groups or with a trusted person who understands Spanish. There are local organisations that offer translation or guide services. One such organisation is Viva Spanish School Managua.

Tourists are also advised not to use foreign currency for local transactions. It is better to have the local currency than to have to convert with individuals on the street or in non-touristy areas. Banks in Nicaragua require identification for all currency conversions. Use ATMs that dispense the local currency. When using ATMs, take precautions and be aware of your surroundings.

Buses can be extremely crowded and cramped. There is usually a luggage rack available for storing bags and other items. However, it is recommended that tourists always keep their bags within easy reach and sight, and perhaps put a lock on the bag. A good idea is to have a smaller bag for items you absolutely cannot afford to have stolen and never leave them out of sight.

Shared taxis are also risky because organised crime flourishes in this transport sector because of the fixed passengers. In other words, the drivers already know who they are taking and can therefore attack the one extra passenger. However, this crime is not common. Tourists are strongly advised to close the windows of their taxis, as open-window muggings occur in Managua’s (frequent) traffic jams and at red lights.

Although extensive demining operations have been carried out to clear rural areas in northern Nicaragua of landmines left over from the civil war of the 1980s, visitors venturing into these areas off the main roads are warned that landmines can still be encountered.

You will need some money to cross international borders. Nicaragua charges a border duty of US$10 to US$13 (depending on the “administrative tax”). This is in addition to a CA-4 visa that allows you to cross the borders between Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. According to the treaty that establishes this visa, border officials are not supposed to check people with such visas, but they do anyway and charge tolls, which they call visa fees for crossing the border.

Stay Healthy in Nicaragua

According to the US State Department’s consular bulletin for Nicaragua, tap water in Managua is safe to drink, but bottled water containing chlorine is always the best choice. The water in Esteli is particularly good because it comes from deep wells. Bottled water is readily available, with a gallon costing about one US dollar in a supermarket.

Due to the tropical latitude, insects fly in abundance. Be sure to use a mosquito repellent containing DEET, especially when travelling to more remote areas (Isla Ometepe, the Rio San Juan region or the Nicaraguan Caribbean).

Dengue fever occurs in some areas and is caused by a type of mosquito that flies mainly between dusk and dawn. Malaria is not a serious problem unless you travel to the Caribbean coast or along the Rio San Juan, east of San Carlos. A doctor may advise you to get vaccinated against hepatitis A and typhoid before travelling to Nicaragua.

Although there is a public health system and many public hospitals, they are not a good option for tourists except in the case of a serious emergency, and then only until a private hospital can send an ambulance. However, they can usually treat minor problems just as well as any outpatient doctor and do not charge you anything. There are several private hospitals, in order of quality, from best to worst: Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas on the Carretera Masaya Km 10, Hospital Bautista, Hospital Militar near Plaza Inter and several others.

Although they advertise medical tourism, these hospitals rarely have English-speaking staff to deal with tourists. If you insist or if someone accompanies you, you can get an English-speaking staff member. However, it is better to have some Spanish or to be with a bilingual person.

If you have a problem and they call Cruz Roja (the Nicaraguan Red Cross ambulance service) and you have money or insurance, ask them to take you to one of the private hospitals in the order listed. They will probably ask you anyway, but state the private hospital or call the hospital to get the ambulance.

Private hospitals are much cheaper than in the United States: in 2009, a private room with a private nurse at the Metropolitano cost $119 per day. A knee MRI in 2010 cost $300. Emergency surgery in 2008 at Bautista cost $1,200, including surgeon, anaesthesia, operating room, recovery room and supplies, after which a private room cost less than $100.



South America


North America

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