Pura Vida Travels - A Guide To Travel In Latin America

Managua, Nicaragua Travel Tips

US Passport - If you are travelling to Nicaragua and you are a US citizen your passport must not expire for at least 60 days from the date of entry into Nicaragua. Even if you are only going to Nicaragua for a few days your passport must still be valid for 60 days. Stays of less than 60 days do not require a visa if you are a US citizen.

US State Department Travel Advisory - There are currently no travel advisories for Nicaragua.

Passport Safety - You are NOT required to carry your actual passport with you at all times while you are in Nicaragua. You MUST, however, carry some sort of identification at ALL TIMES while in Nicaragua. A copy of your passport is best but a drivers license is acceptable as well. Do NOT carry your actual passport with you. Leave it locked in the safe in your hotel room. The Nicaraguan police routinely stop vehicles (including taxis) and you do NOT want to be without an ID when they do.

Departure Tax - The departure tax ($32) was included in my ticket price on Copa, Continental, and Delta so there is no need to pay the tax before you leave if you are flying one of those 3 airlines. On entry into Nicaragua you must purchase a $5 "tourist card" and you need this card when you are leaving as well. You also must keep your copy of the immigration form that you fill out on the plane. If you don't have these 2 documents when you are leaving you are in for a major hassle. Trust me on this one...

Taxis - There are plenty of taxis in Managua and they are relatively cheap. Cabs are routinely shared in Managua so don't be surprised in your driver stops and picks up more people. It is rare that you will be the only fare in a taxi unless you specifically negotiate for it. Cabs do not use meters in Managua so you have to negotiate the fare before you go. This can be especially challenging when you're not sure where you're going. 30 to 80 Cordobas, however, will get you pretty much anywhere in Managua. ($1.50 to $4.50) I found a driver that I used to drive me around for several days. I paid him $40/day plus bought him lunch and/or dinner and he was more than pleased with that amount.

Taxis At The Airport - The taxis waiting outside the door at the airport are the biggest ripoffs in Managua. They charge $15 to $20 for a $2 cab ride. If you walk past them and go through the parking lot to the main road there are usually about 20 cabs waiting there that charge the standard rates. The downside is that none of these guys speak English and you need to be able to tell them where you want to go. Update (2/8/2008) - Unfortunately, there have been some robberies of late from the taxi guys waiting across the street so it's probably a good idea to stick with the rip-off cabs at this point.

Maps - If you find a decent map of Managua I would like to see it. There are a few tourist maps available that have the major locations on them but because most of the streets in Managua don't have names I doubt a comprehensive map of Managua exists. Update (10/24/2007) I've actaully seen a "tourist" map of Managua so I know they exist. The downside is that it was in the NicaBus terminal behind a pane of glass and no one knew where it came from. The Hertz car rental desk also has a really nice map that they'll give you as well. Update (2/8/2008) They now have Managua tourist maps at the airport in the baggage claim area that are very nice. The pocket-size foldup has maps of Managua, Granada, and San Juan Del Sur.

Water - The water in Managua is most definately NOT safe to drink. I drank several drinks with ice in them but it probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. I did not get sick but... Update (10/24/2007) I now live in Managua 10 days a month and I routinely drink the water without problems. If you are just visiting, however, it would probably be best to stick to bottled water. Update (2/8/2008) I got deathly ill my last trip and it's very possible the water was the culprit.

Hotels In Managua - Hotels in Managua arenít cheap. The hotel that I stayed at was $55/night and that is half what the ďname brandĒ hotelís cost. Itís a family run place and is nice and quiet. The El Almendro is a lot nicer than the hotels in CR in my opinion and only a little more expensive so I guess I shouldnít complain about the price. Considering how poor Nicaragua is I just expected rates more around the $30-$35/night range. The "chain" hotels ran from $89/night (Sheraton) to $200/night (Hilton). The Sheraton is in a really crappy location which explains the price. (looks nice though) I won't pay $100/night for a hotel in the US so I certainly won't do it in Nicaragua.

Hotels Outside Of Managua -Outside of Managua hotels are dirt cheap for the most part. Even 5-star resorts like the Barcelo Montelimar Beach Resort are under $100/night offseason. The best way to find a hotel outside of Managua is to just start stopping at places you see alongside the road. All of them are more than happy to give you a tour to see if the place meets your standards. Most of them don't accept reservations anyway so you just need to find them. I've stayed in places that were decent for as little as $8 a night outside of Managua. Don't expect a pool, breakfast, hot water, towels, or even toilet paper for that price but you will get a clean room.

Apartments - I am now on my second apartment in Managua. The first was $300/month and included all utilities plus a monthly "surcharge" for our air conditioner. The minute the owner found out I was a gringo (my Nicaraguan wife rented the apartment) the monthly surcharge started to get bigger every month. It went from $20 to $80 in the span of 3 months until I told him he could kiss my gring a** if he thought I was paying $80 when it was $20 2 months ago. My new apartment (it's a house actually) has 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and costs $200/month. We'll see how long before the gringo tax goes into effect on this one. Like everything else in Nicaragua the only way you find a good apartment is through word of mouth. The only people that look for apartments in the newspaper are gringos and they are priced accordingly. I don't know of any apartments that are available for rent on a weekly basis as there is little to no tourist activity in Managua.

Local Papers - The 3 main papers in Medellin are El Neuvo Diario , La Prensa ,and The Nica Times. All are in Spanish except the Nica Times.

Restaurants - Food is cheap in Managua. Everything I ate was excellent. That being said Managua probably isn't somewhere you're going to go for the culinary experience. From what I saw there really isn't much in the way of high-end fine-dining in Managua. I wasn't there very long though and I could be wrong. More research is required...Updated (10/24/2007) The best food in Managua is sold by the street vendors. They setup in parking lots, on their front porch, or wherever they can. Dinner of carne or pollo asada, rice and beans (gallo pinto), and fried bananas is the standard fare. The going price for dinner and a drink is usually around $2 to $3 and it's a cultural experience you will never forget.

Safety - I walked around quite a bit in Managua and only had 1 minor incident. I wasn't robbed but I had a group of very aggressive panhandlers surround me and demand money. $2 or $3 bought my way out of my jam but it was a bit scary. For the most part, during the day I felt pretty safe walking alone. There are areas, however, that no gringo should go into alone day or night such as Mercado Oriental. Nicaragua is an extremely poor country and the police offer little to no protection for gringos or Nicaraguans for that matter. Most of the police I see in Managua are busy running roadblocks where they shake people down for bribes.

This is something you won't hear often but statistically speaking Nicaragua is the safest country in Latin America. Having lived there for a few months I can say that there is relatively little violent crime in Nicaragua. The biggest thing that you have to worry about is theft. Most of the theft is petty stuff like cell phones but car theft is a major problem as well. Most people that have cars don't leave them outside at night because there is a good chance they won't be there in the morning.

Cigars - They sell fake Cuban cigars at the stores before you go through security at the airport in Managua so steer clear of them. The duty free stores inside the airport, however, have some of the best prices on cigars I have seen anywhere in the world. Real Cuban cigars were about half what they sell for elsewhere and Nicaraguan brands such as Padron were selling for $40 to $50/box. I only saw cigars at 1 place outside the airport and I didn't check their prices. I am going to try to get to a cigar factory on my next visit to see if I can get a better deal there. Updated (10/24/2007) I'm now convinced that most of the fake Cuban cigars in the world come from Nicaragua. I have yet to see a real Cuban cigar outside of the duty-free shop at the airport. I probably saw 30 booths selling cigars at mecrado Huembes, for example, and every single one of them had fake Cuban cigars.

A question that people frequently ask me is "can I tour a cigar factory in Nicaragua?" For the most part the answer is no. The reason is that the major cigar manufacturers are incorporated as "Zona Franca" which is a special provision in Nicaraguan law that gives them tax advantages but forbids them from selling anything they make in Nicaragua. Because of this and the lack of tourism in Nicaragua you're not going to find factories offering tours. This is also the reason you're not likely to find genuine Nicaraguan cigars at bargain prices in Nicaragua. For them to be sold legally in Nicaragua they have to be exported and then re-imported into the country which obviously would make them more expensive.

Phone Service - You can buy a prepaid cell phone in Managua for as little as $20 for a Nokia phone. All cell service is pay as you go so when your time runs out you can just buy a phone card or buy more time at the convenience store. I used Movistar and it worked very well. Having a phone in Managua is a must since nothing has an address. I would give my phone to the cab drivers and have them call where I wanted to go to get directions. It worked great and made life a lot simpler. My Cingular/AT & T phone also worked fine in Managua as well but it's a whole lot cheaper just to buy a phone there. Updated (2/8/2008) Having been calling Nicaragua every day for over a year now I feel I must add that the phone service in Nicaragua generally sucks. About 50% of calls get disconnected at some point and international service sometimes isn't available for days at a time.

Internet Access - In Managua my internet service costs $50/month but it includes our cable TV as well. Download speeds are ok but upload speeds are awful. We also seem to lose our connection at least once a day for anywhere from 5 minutes to several hours. Overall, it isn't the greatest but at least it's available which can't be said for much of Nicaragua.

Dress Code - No one, and I mean no one, wears shorts in Managua. Even though the temperature is 90+ degrees every day I don't think I saw one person wearing shorts the entire time I was there. Jeans and T-shirts or polo shirts are pretty much the standard attire. Overdress here and you become a target.

Shoes - This may seem like a silly travel tip but I always wear shoes without laces when I fly. The reason being when you go through security at the airport they make you take your shoes off. Slip them off, put them through the x-ray machine, and slip them back on on the other side. No muss, no fuss, and it saves time at the airport.

Driving - Driving in Managua is for the truly insane. Streets are not marked because you can't mark something without a name. The roads are poor and there are many, many hazards such as missing manhole covers, horse drawn carts in the road, etc. A gringo behind the wheel is also an automatic target for police looking to supplement their meager income. To top it all off if you are in an accident and there are injuries you are going to jail. (even if you're hurt) Considering all of that it's best to leave the driving to the locals.Updated (10/24/2007) Having now driven in Managua more times than I care to remember I can confirm my previous statement that driving in Nicaragua is for the truly insane. The roads are bad in Managua and they are horrible outside of Managua. There are rules for driving that are baffling such as you have to stop at yield signs and you don't have to stop at red lights after 10 PM. There are rules for driving around rotundas that I can't even begin to explain but there are cops at the rotundas that will be glad to explain them to you (for a small fee) when you don't do it correctly. Since Managua has rolling blackouts every day traffic turns into a free-for-all when the power is out. The bottom line is that you should avoid driving here at all costs if you can. If you have to rent a car make sure you read your rental agreement carefully. First off, your car insurance probably doesn't cover you in Nicaragua. Second, even if you buy the ridiculously overpriced insurance from the rental company it doesn't cover theft. Third, the insurance doesn't cover windshields or tires either. I have resorted to buying a supplemental policy from a company called Access America for around $9/day. According to their website they cover cars in Nicaragua and insure against theft so the $9/day it costs is worth it to me for piece of mind. Updated (2/8/2008) The rolling blackouts have ended for the time being so at least you don't have to worry about that anymore...

Busses - I didn't even think about riding a bus in Managua. The public busses are old US school busses. God only knows how you know what bus goes where as most aren't marked. NicaBus and TicaBus, however, are very nice and offer modern busses for long distance travel. Just be aware that bus travel in Central America takes FOREVER because the roads are horrible. My wife's mother took the TicaBus from Costa Rica to Nicaragua for our wedding and it took 18 hours because of bad weather, bad roads, and delays at the border. When you consider that it's a 45 minute flight from CR to Nica do you really want to spend a day on a cramped bus?

Metro - Managua has no metro system.

Hiring A Driver - I would definately recommend hiring a driver if you can find one. Once I found a taxi driver that I liked I used him exclusively for the rest of my trip. Paying $40/day was well worth it to have a driver available to take me wherever I wanted to go whenever I wanted to go there. I have no better method to offer for finding a driver other than the trial and error method I used.

Beggars - Surprisingly, I didn't see a lot of beggars in Managua in the traditional sense of people just standing around with their hand out. I saw thousands of street vendors, however, peddling everything you could think of in the streets of Managua. There are some squigee guys as well. The people at the intersections can get quite aggressive at times but if you roll up your window and lock your door they move on to the next vehicle. Turning your windshield wipers on at intersections is the "sign" to the squigee guys to move to the next car. The saddest thing in Managua is the number of children you see pandhandling at intersections at night. 6 or 7 year old kids wandering around alone at 11 PM is a heartbreaking sight.


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