All-out haggling is not really part of Nicaraguan culture. However, a bit of bargaining over a hotel room is considered acceptable, and negotiating the price in markets or with roadside vendors is the norm.
Dangers & Annoyances
Despite the fact that Nicaragua has one of the lowest crime rates in Central America, as a ‘wealthy’ foreigner you will at least be considered a potential target by scam artists and thieves.
- Pay extra attention to personal safety in Managua, the Caribbean region, around remote southern beaches and in undeveloped nature reserves.
- In larger cities, ask your hotel to call a trusted taxi.
- Backcountry hikers should note there may be unexploded ordnance in very remote areas, especially around the Honduran border. If in doubt, take a local guide.
At the time of writing, the situation on the ground in Nicaragua remains volatile. The use of deadly force by riot police and government-funded Sandinista mobs against largely unarmed protesters led to locals barricading themselves in their neighborhoods and erecting roadblocks. There has been looting of small businesses and the torching of some government buildings. The fighting has been fiercest at night and concentrated in the areas of Masaya and the capital city of Managua. Granada and León have also been impacted. Many locals are under a self-imposed curfew. The violence has seemingly subsided from the summer of 2018 during which, at last count, 300 people were killed – mostly unarmed protesters by the police and government-funded supporters. Members of the clergy have also been targets of violence. President Daniel Ortega steadfastly refuses to call new elections before 2021, in spite of calls to do so by a large proportion of the population.
Foreigners are not deliberately targeted by the violence, but if you're unlucky, you can get caught up in it, so make sure you get the latest information before traveling to or around Nicaragua.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Nicaragua country code||505|
|International access code||00|
|Fire||115, from cell phones 911|
Entry & Exit Formalities
All visitors entering Nicaragua are required to purchase a Tourist Card for US$10.
Those entering by land also pay a US$2 migration processing fee. Upon departure by land or boat there is another US$2 migration fee, while a small municipal charge – usually around US$1 – may also be levied by the local government depending on the border crossing.
When you leave Nicaragua, among the regular list of things that shouldn’t be in your backpack are pre-Columbian or early colonial artifacts – you could end up in prison for trying to take these out of the country. On arrival, you can bring pretty much anything legal as long as it’s obviously for personal use and not for resale within the country.
Generally not required for stays up to three months.
Visitors from most countries can stay in Nicaragua for up to 90 days without a visa, as long as they have a passport valid for six months, proof of sufficient funds (US$200 cash or a credit card) and an onward ticket (rarely checked).
Citizens of some parts of Eastern Europe and Latin America, and many African and Asian nations, need visas to enter Nicaragua, while others can apply for a visa on arrival. Check the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry website (www.migob.gob.ni) for the full lists.
Nicaragua is part of the CA-4, a regional agreement covering Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Officially, you can only stay for 90 days maximum in the entire CA-4, at which point you can get one extension of 90 days from the Migración (Immigration) office in Managua for around US$10 per month. After those 90 days, you must leave the region (this means going to Costa Rica, basically) for 72 hours, which automatically renews your visa.
Don’t bet on it, but flying between CA-4 countries may get you another 90 days on landing, especially if you transit a nation outside the agreement. Land border officials are stricter in adhering to the regulations.
- Greetings A firm handshake for men and a peck on the cheek for women.
- Titles When addressing Nicaraguans add don (for men) or doña (for women) before their given name.
- Drinking If you are sharing a bottle of rum, use the supplied shot glass to measure your drink; don't pour freely from the bottle.
While consensual gay sex was decriminalized in Nicaragua in 2008, attitudes have taken a bit longer to change. As in most of Latin America, gay and lesbian travelers will run into fewer problems if they avoid public displays of affection, and ask for twin beds. That said, lots of Nicaraguan gays and lesbians flaunt their sexuality, so you probably won’t have much difficulty figuring out the scene.
There is a small selection of gay and lesbian bars and clubs in Managua, an underground gay scene in Masaya and a vaguely tolerant scene in Granada, but apart from that, it’s a pretty straight (acting) country.
Nicaragua is an unpredictable kind of place and infrastructure is poor, so travel insurance is always a good idea. Health care is generally cheap but in many places well below acceptable standards. Insurance is essential in the case of a big emergency, so that you can get transport to and treatment at the best private hospitals in Managua.
Make sure your policy covers emergency helicopter evacuation, full coverage for lost luggage and, if you're into it, extreme sports.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online any time, even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Internet cafes have pretty much disappeared with the proliferation of free wi-fi in most accommodations and a growing number of restaurants, bars and cafes. Some hostels have free computers for guest use. Top-end hotels mostly have ‘business centers’ and often connections for laptops and wi-fi in rooms. The internet icon used in our hotel listings signifies that the hotel has a computer with internet access available to guests free of charge.
Public wi-fi is still rare outside big cities and tourist hot spots. If you're staying for a while, consider purchasing a USB modem, which works well in larger cities but is often very slow in rural areas.
Nicaragua's mobile data network is continually improving and works well in big cities but can be painfully slow in rural towns where everyone is trying to get online through one tower. SIM cards are cheap, and prepaid internet plans are also very affordable.
Nicaragua’s police force is notoriously corrupt and underpaid, and renowned for stopping foreign motorists, in particular, on minor or made-up charges.
For minor traffic violations or made-up offences your driver's license will normally be confiscated and you will need to go to the bank to pay your fine and then to the nearest police station to retrieve your document. This can be a pain if you are only driving through. Trying to bribe a traffic cop is a really bad idea and they're unlikely to let you off with just a warning. However, sometimes they'll 'do you a favor': instead of an official fine of US$100, they may refrain from holding onto your license if you pay them US$50. Another alternative for foreign visitors is this: if you are certain that it's a shakedown (and it will be quite obvious if it is), you have the option of surrendering your license, not paying the fine, and simply replacing your license when you get home.
If you get caught with drugs or committing a more serious crime, it won’t be that easy to get away from the law.
At the time of writing, the police were involved in a violent crackdown on Nicaragua's unarmed student protestors, using live bullets and a disproportionate amount of force.
Detailed maps are hard to find inside Nicaragua, so consider purchasing one before you arrive if you plan to get off the beaten track.
Intur (www.intur.gob.ni) Offices have a tourist-oriented regional and city map.
Ineter Has the best selection of detailed maps in the country. Many are out of print, but bring a flash drive and they’ll upload the files.
International Travel Maps & Books (www.itmb.ca) Publishes a detailed road map (US$12.95), but don’t trust it completely for secondary roads.
Reise Maps (www.reise-know-how.de) Has a detailed road map (US$12) that's waterproof and tear-proof and reasonably accurate when it comes to rural roads.
Maps.me Extremely useful app for smartphones, with super-detailed GPS maps of the whole country. Reasonably accurate mapping of minor rural roads and hiking trails.
- DVDs DVDs on sale use the NTSC image-registration system.
- Newspapers La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario are Nicaragua’s most widely available daily newspapers; the former is the most respected.
- Magazines For English-language news and analysis, look out for Envio magazine.
- Television Channels 10, 12 and 63 are Nicaragua's independent television networks, while channels 2, 4, 8 and 13 fly the government flag.
ATMs are widespread in most midsize towns. Credit cards are widely accepted in larger towns. US dollars are widely accepted; keep córdobas for small purchases.
ATMs & Banks
Cajeros automatícos (ATMs) are the easiest way to access cash in Nicaragua. They are available in most major towns and tourist regions.
Visa is the most widely accepted card followed by MasterCard. Amex is not generally accepted. Most Nicaraguan ATMs charge a fee (around US$3) on top of what your bank charges.
It's possible to organize a cash advance over the counter in many banks.
Branches of the following banks have reliable ATMs:
BAC Visa/Plus and MasterCard/Cirrus
Bancentro/La Fise Visa/Plus and MasterCard/Cirrus
BanPro Visa/Plus and MasterCard/Cirrus
Banco ProCredit Visa/Plus
Coyotes (moneychangers) are regularly used by locals to change córdobas for US dollars at about the same rates as the banks. Coyotes in cities and towns are generally honest, but you should know the exchange rate and how much to expect in the exchange. Coyotes may also exchange other currencies, including euros, UK pounds, Canadian dollars, Honduran lempira and Costa Rican colones, for a much larger fee.
Coyotes at border crossings are much less reputable. Stay on your toes and avoid changing large amounts.
Nicaragua’s currency is the córdoba (C$), sometimes called a ‘peso’ or ‘real’ by locals. Córdobas come in coins of C$0.50, C$1 and C$5, and plastic bills of C$10, C$20, C$50, C$100, C$200 and C$500. Older plastic bills are flimsy and tear easily and some paper bills remain in circulation. Bills of C$200 and larger can be difficult to change; try the gas station.
US dollars are accepted almost everywhere, but they will be rejected if they are even slightly marked, ripped or damaged. Córdobas are usually easier to use, particularly at smaller businesses and anywhere off the beaten track – always keep at least 200 córdobas on you, preferably in smaller bills.
The córdoba is valued according to a fixed plan against the US dollar. Our listings give prices in US dollars (US$), as the costs in córdoba are more likely to fluctuate with the exchange rate.
Visa and MasterCard are accepted throughout Nicaragua, and you can almost always count on midrange hotels and restaurants to accept them. In places where electricity is unreliable – for instance, most of the Caribbean coast – credit cards may not be widely accepted, so be prepared.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Tipping is not widespread in Nicaragua except with guides and at restaurants.
- Guides Tipping guides is recommended as this often makes up the lion's share of their salary.
- Restaurants A tip of around 10% is expected for table service. Some high-end restaurants automatically add this to the bill. Small and/or rural eateries may not include the tip, so leave behind a few coins.
Opening hours vary wildly in Nicaragua as there are many informal and family-run establishments. General office hours are from 9am to 5pm.
Comedores (cheap eateries) usually open for breakfast and lunch while more formal restaurants serve lunch and dinner.
Banks 8:30am–4:30pm Monday to Friday, to noon Saturday
Government Offices 8am–noon and 1–4pm Monday to Friday, 8am to noon Saturday
Museums 9am–noon and 2–5pm
Shops 9am–6pm Monday to Saturday
Drones are banned in Nicaragua. Should you try to bring one in, if you're lucky, the border guards will confiscate it and let you collect it upon leaving the country (you'll have to pay an export fee). If you're unlucky, they'll just confiscate it. It is possible to obtain permission to bring a drone into the country for professional purposes, but it's a difficult and costly process.
Nicaragua's postal service is slow, but reasonably reliable. It costs about US$0.80 to send a standard letter or postcard to the US, about US$1 to Europe. If you send a package home via the postal service, it'll take four to eight weeks to reach its destination. For posting anything really valuable, consider using FedEx or similar.
New Year’s Day (January 1) Shops and offices start closing at noon on December 31.
Semana Santa (Holy Week; Thursday, Friday and Saturday before Easter Sunday) Beaches are packed, hotel rates skyrocket and everything is closed – make sure you have a place to be.
Labor Day (May 1)
Mother’s Day (May 30) No one gets away with just a card – more places close than at Christmas.
Anniversary of the Revolution (July 19) No longer an official holiday, but many shops and government offices close anyway.
Battle of San Jacinto (September 14)
Independence Day (September 15)
Indigenous Resistance Day (October 12)
Día de los Difuntos (November 2) All Souls’ Day.
La Purísima (December 8) Immaculate Conception.
Navidad (December 25) Christmas.
Smoking is still widely permitted in almost all bars, clubs and restaurants although Nicaraguans are not heavy smokers.
Taxes & Refunds
Taxes are generally already included in all prices in Nicaragua with the exception of hotel rooms. Hotels sometimes quote pre-tax prices to which it's necessary to add 15% VAT and 2% tourism tax.
- Nicaragua’s calling code is 505.
- There are no area codes within Nicaragua.
- All numbers are made up of eight digits; fixed line numbers begin with 2, while cell phone numbers begin with 8, 7 or 5.
- To call abroad from Nicaragua, dial 00 + country code + area code + phone number.
Local phone costs start at around US$15. You can also buy a SIM card (around US$3.50) for any unlocked GSM phone. Numerous cell-phone networks offer free roaming in Nicaragua. The two phone companies are Claro and Movistar.
Local Time in Nicaragua is GMT-6, equivalent to CST in the US.
- In cities and towns, toilets are your regular sit-down flush variety.
- Public toilets are not common but most businesses will let you use their facilities.
- As you venture into rural areas you will come across dry latrines, which are little more than a hole in the ground covered by a wooden box.
- There is often no toilet paper in public bathrooms. Always carry a spare roll. And when you've finished, throw it in the trash basket, don't flush it – the pipes get blocked easily.
Intur, the government tourism office has branches in most major cities. It can always recommend hotels and activities (but not make reservations) and point you toward guides, though branches of Intur are usually sparsely stocked and their staff are not hugely knowledgeable.
In destinations popular with travelers, hostels are a good source of local info, as well as traveler message boards.
The alcaldía (mayor's office) is your best bet in small towns without a real tourist office. Although tourism is not the mayor’s primary function, most will help you find food, lodging, guides and whatever else you might need. In indigenous communities, there may not be a mayor, as many still have councils of elders. Instead, ask for the president (or wihta in Miskito communities), who probably speaks Spanish and can help you out.
Travel with Children
Nicaragua, like all Latin American countries, is relatively easy to travel around with children, despite the lack of infrastructure. Parents rarely pay extra for hotels, transportation or other services for youngsters small enough to fit comfortably on your lap, and even complete strangers will make an effort to entertain children.
- Some top-end (and very few midrange) hotels will be able to arrange a cot if you ask ahead. Otherwise the assumption is that the child will share your bed or use a single.
- Major car-rental companies can organize car seats if given enough notice, but don’t count on it or expect one at the last minute. Car seats for Nicaraguan toddlers tend to be mom’s lap.
- Breastfeeding in public is very common and should only really be avoided in places of worship.
- Baby formula is widely available, while disposable diapers are available in every pulpería (corner store) around the country.
- Baby changing tables are almost nonexistent.
While Nicaraguans are generally accommodating toward people with mobility issues, and will gladly give you a hand getting around, the combination of cobbled streets, cracked sidewalks and stairs in pretty much every building can make life tough.
There are few regular services for disabled travelers and because of difficulties in finding suitable transport, it’s easiest to go through a tour company. Vapues Tours (www.vapues.com) is an experienced local operator, specializing in accessible travel.
There are very few wheelchair-accessible toilets and bathrooms in Nicaragua, so bringing toilet-seat extensions, and wall-mountable mobility aids are highly recommended.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Nicaragua has a very developed volunteer culture, traceable to the influx of 'Sandalistas' (young foreign volunteers) during the revolution. Many hostels and Spanish schools maintain lists of organizations. Also check out Volunteer South America (www.volunteersouthamerica.net) and Go Abroad (www.goabroad.com).
Fundacion del Río (www.fundaciondelrio.org) Runs environmental and social projects in the Río San Juan.
UCA San Ramon (www.ucasanramon.com) Works with rural coffee-growing communities near Matagalpa.
Luna International Hostel, Estelí (https://cafeluzyluna.org/volunteer) Welcomes volunteers who can promote local development projects.
Colibri Spanish School, Matagalpa (http://colibrispanishschool.com/en/volunteer-work) Works with children and in the area of agro-ecological farming techniques.
Neblina del Bosque, Area Protegida Miraflor Free board and lodging to guests who volunteer to teach English at the local school.
Habitat for Humanity (www.habitatnicaragua.org) Construction brigades work on new housing in impoverished communities.
Seeds of Learning (www.seedsoflearning.org) Sends work brigades with an educational focus to Nicaragua.
Techo (www.techo.org) Operates poverty-reduction projects in impoverished urban areas.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Nicaragua officially uses the metric system, but libras (pounds) may still be used in markets. The archaic Spanish measurement of varas (0.70m or 33in) is often used in directions.
The biggest problems that many solo female travelers encounter in Nicaragua are the pirópos (catcalls) and general unwanted attention. Nicaragua is not particularly dangerous for women, but, like always, stay alert. Dress conservatively when not on beaches (knees should be covered, though shoulders are OK), especially when in transit; avoid drinking alone at night; and – this is the hard one – reconsider telling off the catcalling guy so the situation does not escalate. Sigh.
Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, with almost 50% of its adults unemployed or underemployed. Thus, finding a job in Nicaragua is difficult and taking one that a Nicaraguan could be doing is probably just plain wrong. Backpacker-oriented businesses may offer you under-the-table employment, usually in exchange for room and board, but this is mostly about extending your vacation. If you’re a serious, qualified English teacher, you may be able to find a job in an international school or private-language center.
To legally work in Nicaragua you are required to apply for a work permit through the immigration office.