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Introduction to Nicaragua

Nicaragua is best known not for its stunning landscapes or vast cultural treasures, but for a war in which a popular uprising was suppressed by a US-backed government. The after-effects of these and other setbacks have left the country in a state of shock from which it is gradually emerging.

The good news is that throughout this period human rights have largely been respected and the country's battles are now confined to the political arena. Nicaragua is a fascinating destination for those travellers who have an awareness of history and enjoy getting to know the grass roots.


Since the end of the civil war, armed criminal groups have operated out of the remote sectors of the northern and central regions including the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), particularly Bonanza and Siuna and especially along the Honduran border. Travellers should avoid all but essential travel and, while there, exercise caution, taking care to travel on major highways during daylight hours only.

Travel to the Corn Islands is not recommended as violent, armed robbery is becoming increasingly commonplace. If staying on Big Corn Island ensure that your accommodation is secure. Be aware that there are no police on Little Corn and any incidents will need to be reported on Big Corn Island.

Full country name: Republic of Nicaragua

Area: 129,494 sq km

Population: 5.2 million

Capital City: Managua

People: 69% mestizo, 17% European descent, 9% African descent, 5% indigenous peoples

Language: English, Spanish

Religion: Roman Catholic (85%), Protestant (16%)

Government: republic

GDP: US$1.11 billion

GDP per capita: US$2,200

Inflation: 3.7%

Major Industries: Coffee, seafood, sugar, meat, bananas, food processing, chemicals, metal products, textiles, clothing, petroleum refining and distribution, beverages, footwear

Major Trading Partners: Canada, Japan, Germany, Venezuela, USA, the rest of Central America

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Citizens of the UK, USA, the Scandinavian countries, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and European Union countries do not need visas and are issued a tourist card (5.00) valid for 90 days on arrival. Citizens of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and European countries that do not have reciprocal agreements with Nicaragua will require either a visa or a tourist card allowing a 30-day stay.

Health risks: cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, rabies, typhoid

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -6

Dialling Code: 505

Electricity: 120V ,60Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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Each town and city in Nicaragua has annual celebrations for its patron saint. These celebrations (fiestas patronales) include distinctive masked processions and mock battles involving folkloric figures satirizing the Spanish conquistadors. The most famous of these saints' days are held in honor of San Sebastian (20 January) and Santiago (25 July). Managua's main patronal fete is known as Toro Guaco.

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Best time to Visit

Nicaragua has two distinct seasons, the timing of which varies from coast to coast. The most pleasant time to visit the Pacific or central regions is early in the dry season (December and January), when temperatures are cooler and the foliage is still lush. With the possible exception of the last month of the dry season (usually mid-April to mid-May) when the land is parched and the air full of dust, there really is no bad time to visit.

Nicaraguans spend Semana Santa (Holy Week) at the beach; all available rooms will be sold out weeks or even months in advance.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Córdoba


Budget: US$1.50-4

Mid-range: US$4-8

High: US$8-12

Deluxe: US$12+


Budget: US$3-10

Mid-range: US$10-15

High: US$15-25

Deluxe: US$25+

Comfortable travel in Nicaragua costs in the range of US$30 to US$50 a day. A moderate budget will fall in the US$20 to US$30 a day range if you hire a car occasionally. Budget travelers can get by on between US$15 and US$25 a day if they confine themselves to public transport. The Caribbean Coast is a bit more expensive than elsewhere in the country.

With the rapid expansion of the banking system, traveler's checks have become easier to cash, but outside the capital only a handful of banks provide this service. Casas de cambio (currency exchange offices) such as Pinolero and Multicambios provide the service, but it's not easy to find a bank that will do so. All over Nicaragua, many moderately priced hotels and restaurants accept credit cards, and in some parts of the country, even most of the cheapest places accept them. Note that Nicaraguan córdobas cannot readily be changed in any other country.

Most Nicaraguans do not leave tips in inexpensive restaurants. In good restaurants you could leave up to 10% of the bill. Some restaurants include a service charge with the bill, and this is usually clearly shown. Don't confuse a tip with the nationwide 15% value added tax that is shown on each bill. Be certain to bargain in large outdoor markets.

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The capital of Nicaragua is spread across the southern shore of Lago de Managua and is crowded with more than a quarter of Nicaragua's population. It's been racked by natural disasters, including two earthquakes this century, and since the 1972 earthquake the city has had no centre.

Several of Managua's attractions stand around the Plaza de la República, including the lakeside municipal cathedral. Near the cathedral is the impressively restored Palacio Nacional, which has two giant paintings of Augusto Sandino and Carlos Fonseca at the entrance.

Around Managua

The large volcano at the centre of Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya, which still steams and belches, is surrounded by smaller volcanoes and thermal springs. Legends say that the pre-Hispanic inhabitants of the area threw young women into the boiling lava to appease Chaciutique, the goddess of fire.

While the Spanish believed it was the entrance to hell, there are some heavenly bodies of water. Laguna de Xiloá, a stunning crater lake northwest of the city is a favorite swimming spot. El Trapiche, to the southeast, has spring water channeled into large outdoor pools surrounded by lush gardens.


Granada, nicknamed 'La Gran Sultana'(The Great Sultan) in reference to its Moorish namesake in Spain, is Nicaragua's oldest Spanish city. Founded in 1524 by conquistadors, it rumps up against the imposing Volcán Mombacho on the the northwest shore of Lake Nicaragua.

With its access to the Caribbean Sea via the lake and the Río San Juan, Granada has always been a main trade centre. Today the town is relatively quiet and a major literary centre, and retains its colonial character. It's a wonderful walking city, with the cathedral and Parque Colón near the plaza.


León is traditionally the most liberal of Nicaragua's cities and remains the radical and intellectual centre of the country. Monuments to the revolution, including bold Sandinista murals, are dotted all over town, and many buildings are riddled with bullet holes.

Though scarred by earthquakes and war, the city is resplendent with many fine colonial churches and official buildings. Its streets are lined with old Spanish-style houses that have white adobe walls, red-tiled roofs, thick wooden doors and cool garden patios.

The Caribbean Coast (Nicaragua)

Unlike the rest of Nicaragua, the Caribbean coast was never colonised: it remained a British protectorate until the late 1800s. The only part of the rainforest-covered coast usually visited by travellers is Bluefields, but some visitors also head out to the Corn Islands (Islas del Maíz).

The journey from Managua to Bluefields involves a five-hour boat trip down the Río Escondido. Bluefields' mix of ethnic groups makes it an interesting place, and the people here definitely like to have a good time; there are several reggae clubs and plenty of dancing on the weekends.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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