Nicaragua, set between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, is a Central American nation known for its dramatic terrain of lakes, volcanoes and beaches. Vast Lake Managua and the iconic stratovolcano Momotombo sit north of the capital Managua. To its south is Granada, noted for its Spanish colonial architecture and archipelago of islets, popular for sailing and bird-watching.
The country is not really on the tourist's most wanted list, due to the political turmoil it went through in recent times. Nicaragua has found a lot of stability now and for the traveler who is willing to go the extra mile to find the unexpected it is a great destination. It has rich green tropical mountains, fascinating volcanoes, lakes and rivers, lush rain forests and spectacular beaches. The capital city of Managua guarantees great entertainment in the Zona Rosa, an area with bars and restaurants that has sprung up in what was once a mostly residential area.
Managua Currency : Cordoba Driver's License : An international driver's license is recommended but not required. Must be at least 21 years old and a credit card. Electricity : 110V, 60Hz Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 6 months beyond intended stay, a tourist card ($10 US) and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : -6 hr. Daylight savings time is applied since 2005. Government : Democratic Republic Land size : 129,494 km2 Language : Spanish National Airlines : Nicaraguenses de Aviacion (NICA) Population : 5,891,199 approx Religion : Roman Catholic 73%, Evangelical 15%, Other 12% Required Vaccines : none Tourist Season : November through May
Food is very cheap, though a lot of the food is fried in oil. The most common dish is gallo pinto, which is red beans and rice. If you like meat try the nacatamales, a tamal made with pork. The typical dish will consist of meat, rice, beans, salad and some fried plantain. 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. You will also find the tortillas are used to make shredded beef tacos. An alternative to the fried offering in the typical menu is baho. This is a combination of beef, yucca, sweet potato, potato and other ingredients steamed in plantain leaves for several hours.
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.
One typical dessert is Tres Leches, a soft spongy cake that combines three varieties of milk (condensed, evaporated and fresh) for a sweet concoction.
Rum is the liquor of choice, the local brand of Rum is Flor de Cana and is available in several varieties. Local beers include Victoria and Tona. Unusual soft drinks include Pinolillo, a thick cacao based drink and Rojita, a red soda that tastes similar to Inca Cola.
Culture The west of the country was colonized by Spain and its people are predominantly Mestizo with a small European population. The eastern half of the country, on the other hand, was once a British protectorate and had many African workers. Another predominant ethnic group is the Miskito Indian.
The country has strong folklore, music and religious traditions, deeply influenced by Iberian Peninsula culture but enriched with Amerindian sounds and flavours. Nicaragua has historically been an important source of poetry in the Hispanic world, with internationally renowned contributors, the best known being Ruben Dario.
The Nicas are friendly and obliging people. However men tend to be overwhelmingly macho and, if you are a woman, you will most likely hear constant catcalls, the best policy is to ignore them.
Geography Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America and the largest nation in the isthmus, but also the least densely populated with a demographic similar in size to its smaller neighbours. The country is bordered on the north by Honduras and on the south by Costa Rica. Its western coastline is on the Pacific Ocean, while the east side of the country is on the Caribbean Sea. Extensive Atlantic coastal plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes.
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.
History The Pacific coast of Nicaragua was settled as a Spanish colony from Panama in the early 16th century. Granada, is one of the oldest 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.
The twentieth century was characterized by the rise and fall of the Somoza dynasty. 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. Nicaraguan aid to leftist rebels in El Salvador caused the US to sponsor anti-Sandinista contra guerrillas through much of the 1980s. Peace was brokered in 1987 by Oscar Arias, which led to elections in 1990. In a stunning development, Violeta Chammoro 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. The country has slowly rebuilt its economy during the 1990s, but was hard hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
Nature Nicaragua has three distinct geographical regions: The Pacific Lowlands, located in the west of the country, consist of a broad, hot, fertile plain, punctuated by several large volcanoes. The North-Central Mountains, a region facing away from the Pacific coast, are made up of cloud forests, abundant with oaks, pines, moss, ferns and orchids. The Atlantic Lowlands are a large rainforest region, with several large rivers running through it. Lagoons and deltas make it very irregular. It is interesting to mention that close to 20% of the country's territory is protected as national parks or biological reserves.
Wildlife includes the puma, deer, monkey, armadillo, alligator, parrot, macaw, peccary, and several species of snakes. Lake Nicaragua contains the only freshwater sharks in the world.
Sports Swimming and water sports are great activities to practice along the beaches of the Pacific coast or the Caribbean. Some volcanic crater lagoons are safe for swimming, such as the Laguna de Tiscapa. Surfers should visit the El Velero beach where surfing is excellent. Boating and fishing excursions can also be booked.
The Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve offers wonderful hiking and nature trails, or perhaps a more vigorous volcano climb would be more tempting?
Nicaraguans are passionate about baseball. Most communities have a baseball field. Soccer, basketball, volleyball and boxing are also very much present.
Banks & Money
In Nicaragua, the legal tender is the Cordoba. Foreign currencies and travellers cheques can be exchanged at the airport, at banks and at exchange bureaus. Credit cards are not going to be accepted in many places. Always carry local cash on you.
Climate 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. The dry season is from December to May, and the rainy season is from June to November. In the lowlands (Pacific and Atlantic coast) average annual temperatures vary roughly between 30° C during the day and 22° C at night.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication The International Dialling Code for Nicaragua is 505. Calls may be made via the international operator or through direct dialing. There are a few mobile phone international providers. Internet access is more and more common, particularly in cyber cafés and hotels.
There are several daily Spanish newspapers available, such as La Prensa, Confidencial and Nuevo Diario. There are plenty of local television and radio stations. Cable TV is available and carries international channels.
Health Avoid drinking tap water, bottled water is always the best choice and is readily available. Gastro-intestinal complaints, known as the turista, are the most common health issue and usually occur in the first few days. Given its tropical latitude, there are plenty of bugs flying about, so be sure to wear bug repellent.
There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever affected destination. The following vaccines though are highly recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever. Less frequented areas of Nicaragua may also be prone to Cholera, Dengue fever, Diphtheria and Malaria. If you plan an adventure trip, it may be a good idea to get inoculated.
Official Holidays January 01 - New Year's Day March/April - Good Friday, Easter May 01 - Labour Day July 19 - Liberation Day September 14 - Battle of San Jacinto September 15 - Independence Day November 02 - All Souls' Day December 08 - Immaculate Conception December 25 -Christmas Day
Safety It is recommended to avoid side streets outside of downtown and take care if walking at night in Nicaraguan cities, especially in Managua, it is better to stay in groups or take taxis from one destination to another. There is an increasing amount of gang violence filtering into Nicaragua from Honduras. It is dangerous in Granada by the water front at night so be careful at the bars. Managua always has an element of danger so be really careful walking around. Avoid unpaved streets as these are typically poor neighborhoods with higher crime. Homosexuality is illegal and is punished by up to three years in jail.
Use good judgement, keep money and travel documents well hidden in a money belt and take advantage of the safety deposit boxes provided by the hotels. Always lock your hotel door or your rented car. Never leave any luggage unattended and be inconspicuous with jewellery, cameras, or anything of value. Walking at night is not advised.
Shopping Nicaragua is not famous for its handicrafts like Guatemala. But, if you are going to take one thing home 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. Nicaragua can also produces really good and cheap rum. Those aged more than 20 years are a great buy for the money.
Taxes & Tips The departure tax of around US $35, per person, is included in the ticket.
A government sales tax of 15% is added on most goods and services. Usually hotels and restaurants add a 10% service fee. If it has not been added, a 10% tip is recommended. Taxi drivers do not expect tips, but offering a 5% if they provide additional services, advice or planning is welcomed.
Transportation You will fly into the international airport in Managua. There will be taxis right outside, these are abnormally expensive, walk out to the road and try to flag down a regular cab. Take care in bargaining, the general fare is per person, not per taxi. Taxi's in all the cities are generally fair and well mannered.
By car, there are two border crossings to Costa Rica, and three major border crossings to Honduras. Car rental is available in Managua or at the airport.
International buses are available between Managua and San Jose, Costa Rica and San Salvador, El Salvador. The buses are relatively modern with air conditioning, and make stops for fuel and food along the way.