Nicaragua //

Travel essentials

Costs

Daily budget Basic US$20/occasional treat US$50 Drink Beer US$1, coffee US$0.50 Food Comida corriente US$3 Hostel/budget hotel US$7/US$16 Travel Managua–Chinandega by bus (130km): 2hr, US$3

Crime and personal safety

Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Americas, and unemployment is rife. You’ll almost certainly encounter street kids, but you’re far more likely to be greeted with courtesy than aggression, and Nicaragua remains safer than many of its neighbours. You should take care in Managua, however (see Safety in Managua).

Petty theft can be a problem – keep an eye on your bags and pockets, especially on buses. Muggings have occurred in tourist stretches like the beaches of San Juan del Sur and at day-trip destinations around Granada – your accommodation should be able to advise you, and cabs are plentiful. Larger hotels will have safes where you can leave valuables. Wherever you are, women should be wary of going out alone at night, though the chief threat is being harassed by groups of drunken men.

The police in Nicaragua are generally reliable, but watch out for the traffic police (policia de tránsito), who are infamous for targeting foreigners and who will take any chance to threaten you with a fine (multa) in the hope that you’ll pay them off. Often even ordinary police officers will try stopping you, but if they are not traffic police, they can’t fine you, so stand your ground. To report a crime you must go to the nearest police station. If you need a police report for an insurance claim, the police will ask you to fill out a denuncia – a full report of the incident. If the police station does not have the denuncia forms, ask for a constancia, a simpler form, signed and stamped by the police. This should be sufficient for an insurance claim.

Visitors to Nicaragua should in theory carry their passports on them at all times, though checks are rare and a photocopy is usually acceptable.

Emergencies

Fire 115 (or 911 from mobile phones); Police 118; Red Cross 128; Traffic police 119

Health

Serious medical situations should be attended to at a hospital – most towns and cities have one. In an emergency, if possible, head to Managua. Failing this, find a Red Cross (Cruz Roja) post, health centre (centro de salud) or pharmacy (farmacia) for advice. Pharmacies are generally open daily between 8am and 5pm, and in each town they take turns to stay open all night; in an emergency out of hours ask which pharmacy esta de turno (is on duty).

Information

The national tourist board, INTUR (intur.gob.ni), has information offices throughout the country, with the largest in Managua. Although staff are usually friendly, they generally only speak Spanish and can’t offer much besides colourful leaflets. They may stock Anda Ya!, a free quarterly booklet that’s packed with advertorial, but also has some useful maps and details of travel frequencies. Tourist information centres and most hotels have free maps which come with lots of advertisements but are generally accurate.

hechomagazine.com Snazzy site that’s useful for news on nightlife and culture, with a Managua focus.
nicaliving.com Expat forum with some useful travel tips and news.
nicaraguadispatch.com Respected English-language journalism and editorial on all things Nica.
rightsideguide.com Good for information on the Caribbean coast.
vianica.com General information on sights and travel.
visit-nicaragua.com INTUR’s tourism promotions site, with general information on tourist attractions, cultural activities and amenities.

Internet

You’ll find internet cafés in even the smallest towns. Rates – generally C$10–15/hr – often rise in smaller or more remote towns, where connections can also be painfully slow. Wi-fi is increasingly common, even in cheaper accommodation, and is usually free for customers. If you bring a laptop, you might want to buy surge protector, as power surges can happen. As a precaution, unplug anything electrical if the electricity goes off; most surges happen when it comes back on.

Mail

Most towns have post offices (generally Mon–Fri 8am–1pm), although there are few on the Atlantic coast. A postcard to the US is C$15, C$20 to Europe.

Money and banks

Nicaragua’s currency is the córdoba (C$), which is divided into 100 centavos; at the time of writing, the exchange rate was C$24 to US$1, but it devaluates at a set rate each day, so check the current rate at bcn.gob.ni. Notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 córdobas; coins come in denominations of 1, 5 and 10 córdobas, and 25 and 50 centavos. Get rid of C$500 notes when you can, as they can be difficult to change. Small US dollar bills are accepted for most transactions, as long as they are not marked or torn, and accommodation and tour prices are usually quoted in dollars – although US$100 bills can usually only be changed at a bank.

Banks are usually open Monday to Friday from 8am to 4pm; many are also open on Saturday mornings until noon. Most will change US dollars, and some change euros, and colones (from Costa Rica) but no other currency. Moneychangers (coyotes) operate in the street, usually at the town market, and are generally reliable – though it helps to have an idea of what you expect to get back before approaching them.

Travellers’ cheques are only changed by the Banco de América Central (BAC) – even here you’ll struggle with anything but US-dollar cheques – and they’re probably not worth bothering with. Credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard and Amex are generally accepted in more expensive hotels and restaurants and can also be used to pay for car rental, flights and tours. BAC, Bancentro, Banco ProCredit and Banpro’s ATMs all accept foreign-issue cards, and in most reasonable-sized towns you will find at least one of these, distributing cash in dollars or córdobas. That said, you can’t rely on ATMs alone and, especially out of the major centres, you’ll have little alternative but to carry a decent amount of cash. There are currently no ATMs on Little Corn Island or Solentiname, or in Pearl Lagoon or San Juan de Nicaragua.

Opening hours and holidays

Shops and services in Nicaragua observe Sunday closing: on other days you’ll find most places open from 8am to 4pm, though many government-run services, such as tourist information, post offices and immigration, are open from 8am to 1pm. Businessesmuseums and sites close for lunch, normally between noon and 2pm, before reopening again until 4 or 5pm. Supermarkets, smaller grocery shops and the small neighbourhood shops called pulperías or ventas generally stay open until 8pm. Bars and restaurants tend to close around 11pm or midnight, except for nightclubs – most of which are in Managua – which stay open until 2am or later. Public holidays see almost everything shut down, so don’t plan on visiting tourist attractions over those dates.

Jan 1 New Year’s Day
Easter week Semana Santa
May 1 Labour Day
May 30 Mother’s Day
July 19 Anniversary of the Revolution
Sept 14 Battle of San Jacinto
Sept 15 Independence Day
Nov 2 All Souls’ Day (Día de los Muertos)
Dec 7 & 8 Inmaculada Concepción
Dec 25 Christmas

Phones

There are virtually no coin-operated phones in Nicaragua, and you’re best off using phones in internet cafés or pulperías (small neighbourhood shops), where the shop owner will “hire” you use of his phone. Phone numbers within Nicaragua changed from seven to eight digits a few years back, but you’ll still see some in the old format – just add a “2” (landline) or “8” (mobile) to the number. Calling Nicaragua from abroad, the country code is 505.

If you decide not to bring your own phone, you could buy a mobile phone for as little as US$15; Movistar (movistar.com) and Claro (claro.com.ni) have pay-as-you-go packages. Both have an outlet in the airport.

Visas

As part of the CA-4 agreement, visitors are granted ninety days of travel within Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Australian, British, Canadian, US and most EU nationals do not currently require visas to visit Nicaragua. You do, however, need a tourist card, which allows for stays of thirty to ninety days depending on your nationality and costs US$10 (payable upon arrival). The permitted length of your visit will be hand-written on the entry stamp in your passport; while all tourist cards allow for thirty days’ entry, it is only this hand-written number that counts.