The official story is Nicaragua has made considerable strides in terms of providing police presence and order throughout the country. Crime is supposed to be relatively low, though in reality there are some very bad neighborhoods. In the north, starting in 2008, reports of low-level gang violence began coming in from Honduras and El Salvador. The National Nicaraguan Police have been successful in apprehending gang members and reducing organized crime.
Do not travel alone at night. Pay for a taxi to avoid being assaulted in dimly-lit areas. Tourists are advised to remain alert at all times in Managua. Although gang activity is not generally considered a major problem in Nicaragua, opportunistic attacks and murders do happen even in broad daylight, particularly in Rivas and Managua, caution should be exercised. Tourists are advised to travel in groups or with someone trusted who understands the local area and not just Spanish. There are local organizations that offer translator or guide services. One of them is Viva Spanish School Managua.
Sexual harassment of women typically, cat calling—of both tourists and locals—can be best described as "constant", even by Latin American standards, and it is particularly pronounced if traveling as a single woman or group of women. Men and boys of all ages will make kissing noises and whistle or shout rude sexual comments. Ignoring the comments and walking on is sufficient. In the unlikely event you are followed, go into the nearest large shop or hotel.
Travellers should be advised that there is hysteria in the country regarding child pornography, and recently there was a series of arrests and detainments of Western expats in Granada for suspected pornography, news sites claim they were framed.
It is also advised that tourists refrain from using foreign currency in local transactions. It is best to have the local currency instead of having to convert with individuals on streets or non-tourist areas. Banks in Nicaragua require identification for any currency conversion transactions. Use ATMs that dispense the local currency. When using ATMs, follow precautions and be aware of your surroundings.
Buses can be extremely crowded and tight in terms of space. An overhead rack tends to be provided for the storage of bags and other items, but tourists are recommended to keep their bags at hand, in their sight, at all times and maybe to put a lock on your bag.
Collective taxis are also risky as organized crime has flourished in this transportation sector because of fixed passengers. In other words, drivers already know who they pick up and thus can mug the one extra passenger. This crime, however, is not common. When riding taxis, tourists are strongly recommended to close their windows.
Although extensive demining 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 there is still the possibility of encountering landmines.
You will need a little bit of money to go over international borders. Nicaragua charges a border toll of USD10-13 depending on the "administrative tax". This is on top of a CA-4 visa that's good for crossing the borders between Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Under the treaty establishing that visa, the border guards are not supposed to check people with such a visa, but they do so anyhow and charge tolls, which they claim are border crossing visa fees. There are also illegitimate theft of foreigners belongings and detentions at immigration borders. They also charge a US$3 exit tax to leave the country by land borders—fortunately, not the same US$42 as in airport departures.
According to the US State Department's Consular Sheet for Nicaragua, the tap water in Managua is safe to drink, but bottled water with chlorine is always the best choice. The water in Esteli is especially good as it comes from deep wells. Bottled water is readily available, with a gallon at a supermarket around an American dollar.
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, or the Caribbean Coast.
Dengue fever is present in some areas and comes from a type of mosquito that flies mostly between dusk and dawn. Malaria is not of serious concern unless you are heading to the Caribbean coast or along the Rio San Juan. You may be advised by a doctor to get Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations before heading to Nicaragua.
Even though there is a public health system and many public hospitals, these are terrible options for tourists apart from the gravest emergency and even then only until a private hospital can send an ambulance. There are several private hospitals, in order of quality from best to worst are Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas at Carretera Masaya Km 10, Hospital Bautista, Hospital Militar near Plaza Inter and a few others.
Despite promoting medical tourism, these hospitals rarely have English speakers on staff for dealing with tourists. If you insist or someone with you does, you may get an English-speaking employee. It is still best to have some Spanish or attend with someone bilingual.
If you have a problem and Cruz Roja are called the Nicaraguan Red Cross ambulance service and you have money or insurance have them take you to one of the private hospitals in the order mentioned. They will probably ask you anyway, but specify the private hospital or call the hospital for their ambulance.
Private hospitals are much less expensive than in the United States: a private room with private nurse in 2009 at Metropolitano was USD119 per day. An MRI of the knee in 2010 was USD300. Emergency surgery in 2008 in Bautista including surgeon, anesthesia, operating and recovery rooms and supplies was USD1,200 with the private room under USD100 after that.
Spanish is Nicaragua's official language. Don't expect to find much English spoken outside of the larger and more expensive hotels. Creole, English, and indigenous languages are spoken along the Caribbean coast. Nicaraguans tend to leave out the s at the end of Spanish words, usually replacing it with an "h" sound j in Spanish. Thus "dále pues" "alright then", a common term when wrapping up a conversation becomes "dále pueh". "Vos" is typically used instead of "tú", something that is common throughout Central America. However, "tú" is hardly understood.
Nicaragua Embassy Washington DC, 1627 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009 ☎ +1 202 939-6570
Nicaragua Consulate General Los Angeles, 3550 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010 ☎ +1 213 252-1174
The full list of embassies and consulates can be found here.
The application form for a Nicaraguan Visa can be downloaded here