Nicaragua – Country guide
Language: Spanish (official), English and indigenous languages throughout the Caribean Coast.
Voltage: 110 volts, standard American plugs are used.
Monkey Point, south of Bluefields, has evidence of one of the earliest human encampments in the Americas, perhaps 8000 years old, marked by clam shells. More impressive, however, is a site in Managua, where a family left their footprints in the volcanic mud about 6000 years ago. By 1500 BC, Nicaragua was broadly settled, and though much of this history has been lost, at least one ancient treaty between the Nicarao capital of Jinotepe and its rival Chorotegan neighbor, Diriamba, is still celebrated as the Toro Guaco.
The agricultural revolution arrived around 450 BC, when domesticated corn, yucca, beans and other crops were introduced. By AD 300, trading partners as far away as modern-day Colombia and the United States were providing new technology likematates (corn-grinding stones) and tough obsidian tools capable of carving soft volcanic basalt. By AD 800, petroglyph and statue fever was sweeping across Nicaragua, and many designs, including an Aztec calendar and representations of the deity QuetzalcÓatl, heralded the arrival of one of Nicaragua’s most important migrations.
With the collapse of the Aztec empire, a tribe of Náhuatl-speaking refugees seeking a prophesied lake island settled Isla de Ometepe in the early 1000s, although some archaeologists question this official story. Colonies of possible Maya origin had already settled the central highlands of Matagalpa, Chontales and Juigalpa, while the Atlantic Coast was home to a number of groups with rather mysterious origins, including the Mayangna and Miskito peoples, the last of whom came across the most curious thing in 1502.
At the mouth of the Río Coco, a storm-whipped fleet of ramshackle Spanish galleons were being led by an aging Christopher Columbus, his crew on the verge of mutiny. The Miskitos led the explorer to safety, and the Americas’ fate was sealed.
GETTING TO NICARAGUA
Augusto C Sandino International Airport (MGA) (Managua) is 12km (7 miles) north of the city (journey time – 15 minutes). To/from the airport: Bus and taxi services run to the city. Facilities: Banks, ATM, café, post office, souvenir shops, duty-free shops and car hire.
Visas are not required for visitors from most countries. Instead, tourist cards must be purchased for US$ 5.00 at the airport upon entry into Nicaragua.Passport valid for at least six months from the date of arrival required by all nationals referred to in the chart above except:
Nicaraguan Gold CÓrdoba (NIO; symbol C$) = 100 centavos. Notes are in denominations of C$500, 100, 50, 20 and 10. Coins are in denominations of C$5 and 1, and 50, 25, 10 and 5 centavos. Major credit cards are widely accepted. There are ATMs in most tourist areas.
Currency exchange: Foreign currencies can be exchanged at the airport, at banks and at official bureaux de change in major cities. US Dollars are the most easily exchanged currency and are also accepted as payment throughout the country. Traveller’s Checks can only be changed in some banks.
Included in the air fare. Transit passengers and children under two years of age are exempt. The only tax paid by tourists in Nicaragua is the 15% added value tax (IVA). Tips vary from 10% to 15%. In hotels and airports, US$ 0.50 per suitcase is a reasonable gratuity.
HEALTH & VACCINATIONS
According to the U.S. State Department’s Consular Sheet for Nicaragua, the tap water in Managua is safe to drink- but chlorine is added- bottled water is always the best choice. The water in Esteli is especially good as it comes from deep wells. Bottled water is readily available, 8 to 15 cordobas a litre.
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 and 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 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 Vaccine recommendations: Recommended vaccinations for Nicaragua travel are typical for all Central America: hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and standard booster shots. Preventative malaria pills with chloroquine are suggested for travel in all rural areas.
Nicaragua’s local bus services are regular and very frequent. But the buses tend to be crowded, slow, and in poor condition. A deluxe bus service is also available from San Jose, Costa Rica and other Central American capitals. These tend to be faster, more comfortable and less crowded as a seat booking is required.
Traveling by boat is the only way to get to some places in Nicaragua – particularly on the Caribbean Coast and in Lago de Nicaragua. Boat trips from Rio San Juan to El Castillo and San Juan del Norte are usually very expensive, but fishing and cargo boats are always coming and going from Bluefields, Puerto Cabezas and the Caribbean coast and you might be able to catch a ride with one of them. Note that there is a river border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica at Los Chiles that is reachable by boat from San Carlos.
Taxis: Radio-dispatched taxis can be found at the Sandino International Airport and at most larger hotels. Before taking a taxi, make sure that it has a red license plate and that the number is clear. Pick taxis carefully and note the driver’s name and license number. Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before you take off and have small bills available for payment. Also, check that the taxi is properly labeled with the cooperative (company) name and logo. There have been a few incidents in the past where taxi drivers and their passengers have been the victims of crime and assaults.It is not necessary to tip taxi drivers.
CLOTHES YOU SHOULD BRING
Lightweight cottons and linens are required throughout the year. Waterproofs are advisable during the rainy season. Warmer clothes are advised for the northern mountains. SAFETY Nicaragua is cited as being rated the safest country in Central America; however, minor gang violence has been filtering into Nicaragua from Honduras and El Salvador.
The capital, Managua, has the largest number of inhabitants. Granada, the second largest city, is generally safe but using common sense and always walking with someone else at night (preferably take a known taxi if possible). Go accompanied or avoid the Mercado Oriental.
In Managua, avoid side streets outside of downtown (area between Metrocentro and around the BAC building.) Taxis are recommended in Managua as armed robbery is on the rise. Although extensive de-mining 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 the possibility of encountering landmines still exists.
The climate in Nicaragua differs according to region, so the best time to go varies. The climate is tropical for most of the country. The dry season is from December to May, and the rainy season is from June to November. On the Pacific side the rainy season runs from May to November. Summer and the dry season, is November to April, with the busiest time being from December to March. The climate on the Atlantic side can be very temperamental and can often be rainy.