Nicaragua is a country in Central America. It has coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea, in the east, and the North Pacific Ocean, in the west, and has Costa Rica to the southeast and Honduras to the northwest.
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America and contains the largest freshwater body in Central America, Lago de Nicaragua or Cocibolca.
There are 15 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento):
- Nueva Segovia
- Rio San Juan
And 2 autonomous regions (regiones autonomas, singular - region autonoma):
- Atlantico Norte
- Atlantico Sur
Ports and harbors
- Isla Ometepe
- Big Corn Island
- Little Corn Island
- Solentiname Islands
- Laguna de Apoyo
- Volcan Masaya
- Canyon de Somoto
- Selva Negra
- El Castillo
- Pearl Lagoon
- Pearl Keys (Caryos Perlas)
Tropical in lowlands, cooler in highlands. The weather during the dry months can be very hot in the Pacific lowlands. The Atlantic coast sees an occasional hurricane each season. In the past, these hurricanes have inflicted a lot of damage
Extensive Atlantic coastal plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes making for some majestic landscapes. Nicaragua is dotted by several lakes of volcanic origin. The largest, Lago Nicaragua, is home to the only fresh water sharks in the world. Managua, the capital, sits on the shores of the polluted Lago Managua.
Natural hazards : destructive earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides.
- Highest point
- Mogoton 2,438 m
Nicaragua was entered by spanish conquistadores in the early 16th century. The pre-columbian indian civilization was almost completely wiped out by diseases or by enslavement and deportation. Nicaragua then became a Spanish colony; Granada is one of the oldest colonial cities in the American continent. During the colonial period, Nicaragua was part of the Capitania General based in Guatemala.
Independence from Spain was declared in 1821 and the country became an independent republic in 1838. Britain occupied the Caribbean Coast in the first half of the 19th century, but gradually ceded control of the region in subsequent decades.
One of the most colorful personalities of Nicaraguan history is William Walker. Walker, a US southerner, came to Nicaragua as an opportunist. Nicaragua was on the verge of a civil war; Walker sided with one of the factions and was able to gain control of the country, hoping that the US would annex Nicaragua as a southern slave state. With designs on conquering the rest of Central America, Walker and his filibustero army marched on Costa Rica before he was turned back at the battle of Santa Rosa. Eventually Walker left Nicaragua and was executed when he landed in Honduras at a later date.
The twentieth century was characterized by the rise and fall of the Somoza dynasty. Anastasio Somoza Garcia came to power as the head of the National Guard. Educated in the US and trained by the US Army, he was adept managing his relations with the United States. After being assasinated, he was succeeded by his sons, Luis and Anastasio Jr ("Tachito"). By 1978, opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption spread to all classes and resulted in a short-lived civil war that led to the fall of Somoza in July, 1979. The armed part of the insurgence was named the Sandinistas; though not evident at the time, the leadership of the Sandinistas had close ties to Fidel Castro in Cuba. Due to the nature of the Sandinista government, with their social programmes designed to benefit the majority, and their support for rebels fighting against the military government in El Salvador, the USA felt that they were a threat to their interests, and organised and trained terrorist forces throughout most of the 1980's. Peace was brokered in 1987 by Oscar Arias, which led to elections in 1990. In a stunning development, Violeta Chamorro of the UNO coalition surprisingly beat out the incumbent leader Daniel Ortega.
Elections in 1996, and again in 2001 saw the Sandinistas defeated by the Liberal party. During the 1990s the country's economic policies saw a shift in direction aiming to transform Nicaragua to a market economy. Nicaragua was hard hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and as of 2007 remains the second poorest country in Latin America.
There are no passenger rail lines between Nicaragua and its neighbors.
You will fly into the international airport in Managua, most likely from Houston, Miami or Atlanta, if you come from the US. Spirit Airlines opened in August 2007, bringing more affordable air travel to Managua; they regularly offer RT tickets for around US$300. Managua is also serviced by American Airlines and Delta.
It costs US$5 to enter the country (prices have not changed in 3 years but try to have exact change).
Tourist visas not issued, instead tourist cards or provided and are valid for three months for US citizens as well as for people from the EU and Canada. There will be taxis right outside, these are relatively expensive (US$15 for the 20 Km trip to Managua centre) , walk out to the road and try to flag down a regular cab. All the hostels are located in the Barrio Martha Quezada. The taxi drivers try to rip you off, usually they start with US$10, but a price around US$3-6 or 50-100 Cordobas is appropriate.
There are two border crossings to Costa Rica, Penas Blancas west of Lake Nicaragua and Los Chiles east of it. You have to take an US$10 boat to cross at Los Chiles. It s actually not possible to cross into Nicaragua via Los Chiles by car.
There are three major border crossings to Honduras. Las Manos is on the shortest route to Tegucigalpa, the others ones are on the Panamerican Highway north of Leon.
Foreigners have to pay US$7 to enter the border.
International buses are available between Managua and San Jose, Costa Rica and San Salvador, El Salvador. Some buses will continue to Panama City or Guatemala City. The buses are relatively modern with air conditioning, and make stops for fuel and food along the way. However, if you plan on taking this form of transportation, you should plan ahead. Buses between the major cities can fill up days ahead of departure dates. Another option is to be picked up in the smaller cities along the route, ask for the local ticket office. There are also cheap (but terribly uncomfortable) "Chicken buses" a few times a week between managua and guatemala city (US$20), that stop in major cities like Leon.
An alternative way to travel across the border is take a bus to/from a major city that drops you off at the border. You can then cross the border and board another bus. This is a common strategy for travelers, especially on the Costa Rican/Nicaraguan border. This method takes longer, but is much cheaper and can be done on a moment's notice.
Bus is definitely the main mode of travel in Nicaragua. Most of the buses are old decommissioned yellow US school buses. Expect these buses to be packed full. You'd better be quick or you may be standing most of the trip.
Another method of traveling cross country are minibuses, though these are not always available. These are essentially small Japanese minivans, some hold up to 15 people. Minibuses have regular routes between Managua and Granada, Leon and Masaya. These cost a little more than the school buses, but are much faster, making fewer stops. As with the school buses, expect these to be packed, arguably with even less space as drivers pack up to ten or twelve people in a vehicle designed to handle much fewer. On the other hand, most drivers are friendly and helpful, and will help you store your baggage.
At the international airport there are two offices right to the right of the main terminal, these offices house the domestic airlines. These are great if you want to get to the atlantic coast. I will not give prices as they change but it take 1.5 hours to get to the corn islands as opposed to 2 days by overland route. If you are trying to save time, then this is the best way to get to the corn islands or anywhere on the atlantic coast.
Boat is the only way to get to the island of Isla Ometepe or to the Solentinames. Be aware that high winds and bad weather can cancel ferry trips leaving you stranded. That might not be such a bad thing, though, since windy/bad weather can make the Ferry trip unpleasant for those prone to seasickness, and the boats used to access Ometepe are old and mostly open to the water.
Boat is also a cool way to get to the Corn Islands. Take a bus to Rama at the end of the road. This road used to be rough and hard, but it has now been newly paved and makes the trip easier(2006). Then ask around and see if you can get onto the weekly ship to the corn islands, there are bunk beds on the ship. Or you can get on a speedboat to Bluefields or El Bluff and catch the boat from there, or take a flight out of Bluefields. They are much faster and more expensive methods: large cargo boat takes two days from the islands to Rama with an overnight in El Bluff to take on cargo.
The taxi drivers in Managua are agrresive and there are loads so it is easy to find a fare that suits you. You can also split the cost of taxi to get to destinations that are close to Managua by like Masaya, if you should prefer to travel with modicum of comfort. Taxi's in all the cities are generally fair and well mannered and a nice way to see local scenery. Take care in bargaining, the general fare is per person, not per taxi.
Easy and Comfortable. Just stick out your thumb and go. Nicaraguans themselves usually only travel in the backs of trucks, and not inside of a vehicle - unless they are traveling with a group of people (3 or more). Some people will ask for a little money for bringing you along - Nicaraguans see this as being cheap, but will usually pay the small amount (US$1/person).
Spanish is the official language, though you'll find English speakers in larger cities and creole and indigenous languages along the Atlantic coast. Nicaraguans tend to leave out the s at the end of Spanish words. "Vos" is often used instead of "tu", something which is common throughout Central America, though "tu" is used occasionally and will always be understood by Nicas.
If entering the country from either Honduras or Costa Rica by land, get rid of those currencies as they are hard to exchange away from the border.
The national currency is called the Cordoba. As on January 2008, there are 20 Cordobas to one US Dollar. The government deflates the currency about 5% every year to be competitive with the dollar. Most places accept dollars but you will often get change in cordobas. Make sure you have some cordobas handy when using collective buses or buses. Nearly all banks exchange Dollars to Cordobas but lines are often long. Make sure you bring your passport when exchanging money. All ATM's give Cordobas and some can dispense dollars too. Make sure that the ATM you're using is part of the networks listed on the back of your bank card.
If you need cordobas when the banks are closed or you can't use your ATM, street money changer or coyotes can be found. Always count your money. The rate of exchange can be better or worse than at the bank.
If you are going to take one thing home from Nicaragua it should be a hammock. Nicaraguan hammocks are among the best made and most comfortable ever. The really good ones are made in Masaya, ask a taxi to take you to the fabrica de hamacas. These are family run and operated stores and have become commercialized, so hammocks can be quite expensive. It should be under US$20 for a simple one person hammock. Hammocks are also sold in the Huembes market by the bus terminal in Managua.
Nicaragua can also produces really good rum called Flor de Cana. Those aged 4-7 years are a great buy for the money - about US$4-6/bottle. Buy in the local stores as the prices at the duty-free airport shops can be double for the same rum. Gran Reserva is the best value based on price and quality.
The pottery made in Masaya is also good. Look for this pottery in Masaya, and also in the streets of Granada and Leon. Remember to bargain. Although you may be a tourist, you can still bargain.
Food is very cheap. A plate of food from the street will cost 20-50 cordobas. A typical dinner will consist of a meat, rice, beans, salad and some fried plantains, costing under US$3. Buffet-style restaurants/stalls are very common, quality varies quite a bit. A lot of the food is fried in oil (vegetable or lard). It is possible to be vegetarian as the most common dish is gallo pinto, which is beans and rice and there are a 'few' vegetable dishes such as guiso (de papas, pipián o ayote) which would be a potato, zucchini or squash buttery creamy stew. If you like meat try the nacatamales, a tamal made with pork, for 15 cordobas.
Plantains are a big part of the Nicaraguan diet. You will find it prepared in a variety of forms: fried, baked, boiled, with cream or cheese, as chips for a dip, smashed into a "toston".
Nicaraguan tortillas are made from corn flour and are thick, almost resembling a pita. One common dish is quesillo: a string of mozzarella-type cheese with pickled onion, a watery sour cream, and a little salt all wrapped in a thick tortilla. It can be found on street corners or in the baskets of women who walk around shouting "Quesiiiiiillo". The most famous quesillos come from the side of the highway between Managua and Leon in Nagarote (they also serve a local drink, tiste). The best selection of cheeses, from quesillo to cuajada, is in Chontales.
A dish found at stalls all over Granada is Vigaron, consisting of pork rind, yuca and salad, chilis can be added to taste.
You will also find the tortillas are used to make shredded beef tacos.
One alternative to the fried offering in 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 typical dessert is Tres Leches which is a soft spongy cake that combines three varieties of milk (condensed, evaporated and fresh) for a sweet concoction.
If you travel to Chinandega, ask the locals who sells "TONQUA" It is a great 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 a fruit, because tonqua is a plant that Chinese immigrants introduced to the Chinandega area.
Rum is the liquor of choice, though you will find some whisky and vodka as well. The local brand of Rum is Flor de Caña and is available in several varieties: Light, Extra Dry, Black Label (aged 7 years), Centenario (aged 12 years) and a new top-of-the line 18 year old aged rum. There is also a cheaper rum called Ron Plata.
Local beers include Victoria, Toña, Premium, and Brahva. Victoria is the best quality of these, similar in flavor to mainstream European lagers, while the others have much lighter bodies with substantially less flavor, and are more like mainstream U.S. lagers.
In the non-alcoholic arena you will find the usual soft drinks (Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola). Some local drinks include pinolillo' and cacao which are made from cocoa beans and corn, a thick cacao based drink, Milka', and Rojita, a red soda that tastes similar to Inca Cola. Chicha is a drink made from the corn.
Several street vendors also sell plastic baggies filled with a variety of fruit juices. Avoid these if you are not conditioned to untreated water.
The Managua Backpackers inn is a great place to stay while in Managua. It is very clean and it is in a quiet neighborhood. The owners are amazing and if your lucky, you might have a beer with one of them at night. There is a pool and free internet access and wi-fi on location. A kitchen is also available for use.
Look for pensiones or huespedes or hospedajes as these are the cheapest sleeps costing under US$5. They are usually family owned and you'll be hanging out with mostly locals. Make sure you know when they lock their doors if you are going to party. Hotels have more amenities but are more expensive. There are some backpacker hostels in Granada, San Jaun del Sur, Isla Ometepe, Masaya, Managua, and in Leon otherwise it's pensiones all the way.
In Granada you can find:
- Granada Spanish Lingua .
A job that you can always do is Teach English. If you speak English and have a bachelor's degree, you can teach at any major university in Nicaragua. You will earn about US$500/month, but you will also have a lot of free time.
Volunteering is always an option. If you want to teach English, or are a medical-type person, a great organization to team up with is Fabretto Foundation. Check their website: www.fabretto.org. Abundance Farm, a small family-run farm in Carazo, accepts volunteers but screens them through email prior to arrival. It is a taste of the real Nicaragua and not for the faint at heart. 
Nicaragua is cited as being rated the safest country in Central America; however, this is an urban myth, as Costa Rica's actual homicide rate is lower.  Minor gang violence has been filtering into Nicaragua from Honduras and El Salvador. The capital, Managua, has the largest number of inhabitants. Granada, the second largest city, is generally safe but using common sense and always walking with someone else at night (preferably take a known taxi if possible).
Go accompanied or avoid the Mercado Oriental. In Managua, avoid side streets outside of downtown (area between Metrocentro and around the BAC building.) Taxis are recommended in Managua as armed robbery is on the rise.
Although extensive de-mining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the civil war in the 1980s, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that the possibility of encountering landmines still exists
According to the U.S. State Department's Consular Sheet for Nicaragua, the tap water in Managua is safe to drink- but chlorine is added- bottled water is always the best choice. The water in Esteli is especially good as it comes from deep wells. Bottled water is readily available, 8 to 15 cordobas a litre.
Given its tropical latitude, there are plenty of bugs flying about. Be sure to wear bug repellent containing deet particularly if you head to more remote areas (Isla Ometepe, San Juan river region and the Atlantic Coast..
Dengue Fever is present in some areas and comes from a type of mosquito that flies mostly between dusk and dawn.
Nicaragua Embassy Washington DC 1627 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009 (202) 939-6570
Nicaragua Consulate General Los Angeles 3550 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90010. (213) 252-1174
The application form for a Nicaraguan Visa can be downloaded here: .
This page was last edited at 19:30, on 27 March 2009 by Peter Fitzgerald. Based on work by Luke Rodgers, Wikitravel user(s) Ypsilon and Huttite, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.