Information on Nicaragua Travel
This is your one-stop guide to many details of travel in Nicaragua from transportation to food and dress to documents. Also see our Ometepe Guide on a following link which gives more details specific to visiting our beautiful island and our complete history of Nicaragua on following link.
A passport with a minimum of six months remaining prior to expiration is required. Visitors who do not require visas pay a tourist card fee of US$10 direct to immigration officer upon arrival and between US$5-8 at land and river immigration checkpoints depending on local and time of crossing. Visas are required for citizens of 20 countries: Cuba, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Iran, China, Albania, Sri Lanka, North Korea, Nepal, Colombia, Jordan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Yugoslavia, Pakistan, India, Haiti, Somalia, Lebanon, Vietnam. If carrying a passport from one of the above countries one must apply for a visa in advance of visit.
REGIONS TO VISIT
Nicaragua is blessed with a rich mixture of cultural and natural sights for the visitor. For those who are looking to get away from the beaten path Nicaragua offers pristine reserves and un-commercialized culture. Travel distances are very short in the Pacific Basin with most sights less than two-hour drive from Managua. Travel to the jungle regions or the Caribbean coast is easy with domestic air travel of one hour or less.
The nation’s capital has some excellent museums and galleries and is home to many of the best restaurants, hotels and nightlife in Nicaragua. The original downtown area is worth visiting to see the Las Huellas Museum, the lakefront, National Cultural Palace, National Museum, National Theatre, new presidential office and the adjacent ruins of the old Cathedral. The newer city center at Metrocentro is next to the new Cathedral and the most modern shopping, hospital and restaurants are located in the Villa Fontana and Santo Domingo neighborhoods on the highway to Masaya
Colonial Cities and Villages
Many small villages of unique and timeless beauty surround the important and historic colonial cities of León and Granada. A visit to these cultural gems can occupy the good part of one week and visits to these charming population centers offers easy access to important ecological sites.
the colonial capital and intellectual and artistic center of Nicaragua is worth a visit, with the isthmus’ largest cathedral a UNESCO world heritage site. There are good excursions to nearby attractions like the Juan Venado Wildlife Refuge and Maribios volcanic range, Cerro Negro in particular for volcano sledding is a must.
In the hills behind the city of Masaya are the charming and hard working villages called Los Pueblos Blancos, which are famous throughout the region for their high quality, hand crafted products. The most famous San Juan de Oriente and Catarina are oft-visited, but others like Diriomo and Niquinohomo are also interesting and worthwhile.
one of the oldest European settlements in the hemisphere, has a relaxed air and timeless architecture as well as quality lodging. This is probably Nicaragua’s biggest tourist attraction and there are lots of restaurants and lodging option. Nearby Mombacho Volcano reserve is good for nature walks and zip-line and just off the coast is the precious island community of Las Isletas in Lake Nicaragua.
This tropical giant with more than 400 volcanic origin islands could easily occupy a week of the curious traveler’s visit time, but if short on time worth at least a weekend. Outside of Las Isletas most plan a visit to the Island of Ometepe, a dual volcano island that is a hiker’s paradise with two forest reserves, rustic villages and over 600 pre-Columbian sites is a must. Ometepe also combines well with a visit to the southern Nicaraguan Pacific Coast, the sparkling Bay of San Juan del Sur and the wildlife reserve of La Flor. In between Ometepe and Las Isletas is the National Park of the Zapatera Archipelago.
Rio San Juan
For enthusiasts of rain forest flora and fauna the southwestern part of Lake Nicaragua and its Caribbean drainage, the Rio San Juan are Nicaragua’s principle attraction. Travel of 4-9 days in this region will reveal the wetlands and gallery forest of the Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge and the primary rain forest of the Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve. The rural Archipelago of Solentiname in Lake Nicaragua houses a rich bird life and a unique school of rural artisans and artists. The big adventure is a journey from the fresh water sea of Lake Nicaragua all the way to the Caribbean traveling the length of the Río San Juan.
The comparatively cool highlands region of Nicaragua’s north makes for an interesting four to six-day excursion. The coffee towns of Matagalpa and Jinotega are full of political history and home to precious cloud forest reserves. Across the northern range is Estelí, the home of Nicaraguan cigars and jumping off point for visits to many quaint northern villages in the region with unique traditions and rustic country churches. The region is unusual in Nicaragua for its rugged stony mountains and pine tree forests.
The other Nicaragua, its Caribbean seaboard, is worth a visit of 3 to 8 days. Most visitors come to enjoy the white sand beaches and coral reefs of Corn Island. A longer visit will allow exploration of the cultural diversity of Bluefields and majestic Pearl Lagoon. More adventurous visitors might head north, deep into Miskito country, to Puerto Cabezas an interesting cultural experience and a region with unseen forests, lagoons and villages.
For the adventure traveler who wants to explore Nicaragua is a dream local. Most sporting activities are not highly developed with tourists and this allows for a more authentic experience. That said there are many local providers of zip-lines, kayaking, surfing, hiking and some diving, snorkeling and fishing.
Nicaragua’s many rivers, lakes and two seas make it a fisherman’s paradise. Deep-sea fishing can be arranged in Corinto or San Juan del Sur in the Pacific and bone fishing is possible in the Caribbean at the Corn Islands. Lake Nicaragua is great for bass and perch fishing and the Island of Zapatera and its archipelago are home to Central America’s biggest annual fresh water tournament. In Pearl Lagoon on the Caribbean side as well as on the Río San Juan tarpon and snook fishing is very good.
Corn Island is first on most snorkeler’s lists for its fabulous coral reefs. Gear can be rented and boats hired out to find your private reef. Little Corn, the smaller of the two islands has amazing reefs that are teaming with life and very accessible. Big Corn also has some good reefs for masked exploring just off the Bayside Hotel’s peer. Diving is best off the big island, where there is a good operator.
Trekking and Climbing
Nicaragua’s Pacific and northern regions are great trekking country. It is possible to trek the Maribios volcano range in northwestern Nicaragua, starting at the extinct crater lake filled Cosiguina Volcano, which is the most westerly point of Nicaragua and walk on to Momotombo passing dozens of volcanoes including five active cones. Fences in Nicaragua are for animals; not people and the walker only need be friendly and somewhat proficient in Spanish. Local guides are very important to find best route and safely hike volcanoes, these can be found in León. Climbing on the Island of Ometepe with its breathtaking beauty, friendly populace and two volcanoes is great. Climbs are non-technical, though entering into the craters will require gear. Despite the low maximum elevation of the Pacific Basin volcanoes, the climbs are not all easy. Most of the volcanoes’ bases are located just above sea level, so the ascent is more than it may seem at first. The steep grade of many of the cones, difficult footing with sharp rocks, sand and loose terrain, combined with serious heat, make some of the ascents a good physical challenge.
Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast is home to some Central America’s best tube rides and point breaks. They are no longer empty or a secret, but still better than some other countries in terms of traffic. Most surfing is along the coast of the southern department of Rivas with Tola beaches like Popoyo and San Juan del Sur’s Maderas being the most renowned for different reasons.
Nicaragua has great bird diversity. At recent count over 700 species have been classified. Nicaragua has a great diversity of ecosystems and low population density. A good example is the Río San Juan area, home to the amazing Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve, a pristine area with primary rain forest and river habitats. The Los Guatuzos Wildlife Reserve has gallery and rain forest as well as ample wetlands. In the northern mountains around Jinotega like El Jaguar, there are cloud forests that are home to many prize birding species and Laguna de Apoyo, Montibelli and Chocoyero has a nice tropical dry forest with Chocoyero housing one thousand nesting Pacific green parakeets.
Credit cards are accepted all over the country in hotels, restaurants and many shops. VISA and MasterCard are widely accepted and to a lesser extent American Express. ATM machines are in shopping malls, banks and gas station convenience stores countrywide and offer withdrawals in both US dollars and Nicaraguan Córdobas. Visitors should bring US dollars in very good condition, no tears or marks. Money can be changed at banks, hotels and also with select street changers who are legal.
Nicaragua has some first-class international hotel chains and many charming family owned hotels and simple, but precious lodges in prime nature spots around the country. In wilderness areas meals are often included in the price and electricity produced by a diesel generator that runs a few hours after sundown until everyone turns in. Luxurious lodging can be found in Managua, Granada, León, and along the coast
FOOD & DRINK
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Nicaragua is it food. There are many traditional plates. Nicaraguan plates are always served with fresh ingredients and normally in generous portions. Nicaraguan food is the finest in Central America and the open-minded eater will enjoy a movable feast.
The plate that keeps Nicaragua working hard is gallo pinto, a mixture of fried white rice and kidney beans which are cooked apart and stir-fried together, often with diced onions and green pepper. Fresh corn tortillas are a great way breakfast with your gallo pinto and also fresh Nicaraguan cream, cheese or cuajada (a slightly salty, traditional soft white cheese). Nicaraguan cheeses are white and vary from dry and slightly bitter to creamy and bland; they are all fresh and many are excellent fried. The nacatamal is also a key national dish, made of corn meal, pork or chicken, peppers, onions and lard and boiled in a big green banana leaf.
Lunch and Dinner are often big plates full of cabbage salad, white rice, beans, tortilla, onions, fried or boiled plantains and a meat or fish serving. Asado or a la plancha are the healthiest options. Asado is grilled meat or fish and often comes with a mild chile sauce. A la plancha is cooked on a sizzling plate or flat grill, at good restaurants this means the beef, chicken or pork comes out to the table still cooking on its hot plate. For seafood fans, fresh red or white snapper (pargo rojo or pargo blanco), a soft white meat fish, that is best fried whole with a tomato, sweet pepper and onion sauce, is divine. Sea bass (curvina) is also very good as well as lobster or shrimp grilled or sautéed in garlic butter. Lake fish varieties that include a native perch (guapote) and brim (mojarra) and introduced tilapia, as well as snook (róbalo). These are usually fried whole and served in a tomato, sweet pepper and onion sauce.
Dessert tops off the feast with tres leches, a very sweet desert made from three different kinds of milk with a little cake, while Pio V is a cake with topped with custard and a honey and rum sauce. If on the run there are cajetas, which are various kinds of cane sugar sweets or varied candied fruits.
Nicaragua’s home to numerous fresh fruits, and a fruit drink is called refresco or simply fresco, which means fruit juice, mixed with water and a bit of sugar. There is normally a long list of delicious choices; it will depend on what is in season. Pineapple, carrot, passion fruit, beet, orange, mandarin, lemonade, grenadine, tamarind, mango, star-fruit, papaya, the list is endless. Two very Nicaraguan drinks are cacao con leche and pitahaya. Cacao is the raw chocolate fruit, which is mixed with milk, ice and sugar, while the pitaya is dragon fruit blended with lime and sugar.
Beer lovers can choose amongst three national brands, all lagers, the strongest Victoria, with Toña a softer choice and Premium a clear, light beer. The most famous and popular Nicaraguan drink is rum. Flor de Caña (flower of the cane) may be the finest rum in the world; the factory is more than 100 years old and is a national institution, with seven different flavors aged from 4 to 21 years. Served up with a bucket of ice, a plate of limes and a steady flow of mixers (either Coca-Cola or soda water), this is a social drink and a Nicaraguan way to pass a night at the table. Water is purified and safe to drink in Managua, Granada and León and other major towns. Bottled water is available throughout the country and could be a simple precaution, though ice cubes and fruit drinks need not be from purified water in the cities. Coffee is good and getting better, though most of the high quality beans are roasted abroad and consumed there.
TRANSPORTATION & COMMUNICATION
Domestic airline La Costeña serves various routes from Managua daily to Bluefields, Puerto Cabezas and Corn Island. La Costeña also flies to the Río San Juan capital of San Carlos, Ometepe Island and San Juan del Norte twice a week. There are other flights to the northeastern Nicaraguan interior. Flights can be booked full and early arrival is important as no seat assignments are provided on most flights, but numbers given upon check-in to determine boarding order.
The most common form of transport in Nicaragua is bus travel. All areas of the country have bus service. The further from Managua, the less frequent the service. Most destinations have express service, which costs more and is often 30-40% quicker. Generally, buses leave every half-hour to hour for major destinations. See individual chapters for major routes.
In a country with two oceans, two massive lakes, numerous lagoons, estuaries and rivers, boat travel is heavily used. There is regular travel between the two Corn Islands in the Caribbean and many boats running the Rio San Juan and Rio Escondido. Pearl Lagoon and Bluefields Bay also have boat service. In Lake Nicaragua there are many options from big ferries to old wooden models. It is also possible to hire private motor boats, which not only are quicker, but much better for nature and culture touring, though not recommend for open lake travel if windy.
The main roads in the western part of Nicaragua can be accessed by normal economy cars. Four-wheel drive is not necessary, but it will allow access to small villages, volcanoes and nature spots with unpaved roads. A range of rental cars and 4x4’s are available from numerous agencies in Managua and select cities in the interior.
There are two cell phone providers CLARO and MOVISTAR, coverage is pretty good along major highways, spotty in the countryside interior. It is easy to prepay local phones and if in-country with no roaming you could buy a local phone or SIM card which are inexpensive. When dialing a Nicaragua number inside Nicaragua just dial the 8-digit number. For calls outside of Nicaragua dial 00 and then the country code. Nicaragua’s country code is 505.
CUSTOMS & ETIQUETTE
Nicaraguans are renowned for their friendliness and they are very informal people, but visitors should learn some basic greetings, dress in a manner that shows respect to your host and pay attention to local customs. The traditional greeting for complete strangers is mucho gusto (a pleasure) which will be followed by a handshake or a nod and a smile. If someone is making an introduction this might also include a single kiss to the right cheek. The visitor should follow the lead of the person he or she is being introduced to. If they lean forward for a kiss return it, if not shake hands. If entering a shop or place where you know no one, the time of day greeting (Buenos Días, Buenas Tardes or Buenas Noches) is polite. If you are in a shop or corner store and there appears to be no one around to help, just call out ¡Buenas! to receive service. On business call try not to get down to business right away. Talk a bit and see how his or her day is going first. Timeliness is not as critical in Nicaragua as it is in many countries of the world. The visitor should be on time, but also patient, and expect meetings to start late and often run overtime. Slow down, a conversation could be more valuable than starting or finishing on time and for many Nicaraguans the human touch is more important.
Nicaraguans generally dress as well as they can for all occasions. For the woman traveler, a simple, cool dress may be worn in many situations and some well ventilated, but stylish sandals are versatile. For men jeans are fine with some decent shoes and a short sleeve shirt. Once in the countryside hiking, or at the beach, shorts are fine. Nicaraguan businessmen often do not wear suits, but rather some nice slacks and a well pressed button-down shirt.
Tips are figured into the bill on restaurant tabs at 10%. At the airport or hotel, a US$0.50 per bag tip is normal. Taxi drivers do not receive tips unless hired out on an hourly or daily basis.
All the Nicaragua newspapers are in Spanish, but a little knowledge of the language will help to understand current issues in the country and search for upcoming cultural events. All dailies and weeklies originate in Managua, with the two major daily papers La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario being available in most big cities.
With the importance of music, FM radio is a big part of Nicaraguan life. Most stations are very eclectic in their programming. For news there are two principal stations that are on the AM dial – 540 and 600 frequency with opposing views from right and left respectively.
Outside of the telenovela (dramatic mini-series), news is the most important element of television in Nicaragua. Principal channels are 2,4, 6, 8, 10, 11 and 12. Newscasts are at 6 p.m. on most channels.
Every city in Nicaragua has a central market. Fruits, vegetables and meats can normally be found inside the market building with any non-perishable items being sold around the market structure. Some markets have handmade crafts or products of local workmanship, though at times these are not easily located. To shop for Nicaragua made goods, the artisan’s market in Masaya and Managua’s central market, Roberto Huembes are two very good options. The Masaya artisan’s market is dedicated solely to the talents of the local and national craftsmen. The central market in Managua has a big section dedicated to crafts from all over the country.
Whenever is a public holiday all banks, many stores and markets will close and bus trips can be difficult to get
January 1 New Year’s
Holy Week, the Entire week leading up to Easter Sunday, especially Thu-Fri
May 1 Labor Day
May 30 Mother's Day
July 19 Sandinista Revolution Day
September 14 San Jacinto's Battle
September 15 Independence Day
December 7 Virgin Mary Purisima
December 24-25 Christmas