Is there anything I should know before I arrive? I often get emails from guests asking me what they should bring, wear, and how to exchange money in Nicaragua. As the winter travel season approaches and you look for affordable and sunny destinations, keep Nicaragua in your plans. The 2018-19 season will offer some of the best rates for rentals and hotels rooms in a decade, and there is always sunshine in Nicaragua!
Here is my list of FAQs designed to save you time and money. Welcome to the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes, the most beautiful and undiscovered country in Central America. Statistically, Nicaragua still remains the safest!
Do not exchange money at the airport
The rate of exchange is abysmal. Not only that, you will spend more time than necessary waiting in the line. You can easily withdraw local currency, Nicaraguan cordobas, from an ATM machine in any city in Nicaragua (Leon, Granada, San Juan del Sur) and exchange money, with a private money changer for the best rate. If travelling immediately to Ometepe Island which is more remote, you can still withdraw money in Rivas, the town you will go through to reach the Port of San Jorge, or in Ometepe in Moyogalpa. US currency is accepted throughout the country. Most small hotels do not offer a money exchange and will point you in the direction of the local bank.
Bring Small US Dollar bills– it is easier to make small tips and pay drivers exact amounts. Drivers and tour company workers do not normally carry change. You can withdraw $20s in US Dollars from the local ATM machines but odd denominations and smaller US bills are harder to obtain. The local currency is accepted for small purchases and at some cafes and restaurants, but most hotels, tour companies and upscale restaurants price services in US Dollars.
Learn some basic Spanish
Even if you download an app or carry a dictionary our staff and cab drivers, shopkeepers and waiters will be easier to speak with, and more pleasant. Spanish is the spoken language of this country and the average Nicaraguan does not speak English. Having learnt a little Spanish will go a long way in making you stay in Nicaragua a better experience. It never hurts to learn something new!
Transport – Chicken Bus it!
Within the cities, taxis are very cheap at under $1 US dollar per person. Granada is a walkable city but if you wish a taxi to the grocery store or bank simply flag one down. They work as co-ops without meters and will take you in the direction the other passengers are going. Do not be offended if they drive away. This just means they are going in the opposite direction. For cities and towns outside Granada these are easily accessible by local buses, however, to travel comfortably on them you need to be prepared for long wait times. The chicken buses do not form an official public transport network. The driver will depart only when the bus is full so the journey is profitable. This also means he could be sitting on the highway waiting for passengers for 20 minutes. Be patient or book private transport. It’s good to budget in extra time especially if you are planning to take the ferry to Ometepe or are on a tight schedule. For transport between Granada, San Juan del Sur and Leon, local shuttle companies operate a mid-day schedule to these destinations for $15 US pp. Book 24 hours in advance.
Bring Light Clothing, a Water Bottle, Good Shoes and an Umbrella!
You don’t need much in a tropical climate – a few lightweight cotton outfits, good walking shoes especially if you plan to hike a volcano and rain gear are essential. In Granada you’ll need good walking shoes or sneakers – flip-flops are not advisable on cobblestone streets. For drinking water, at Casa Lucia, we provide filtered water in the hotel free of charge but you need to bring your own bottle to refill.
We also advise smaller suitcases or a rucksack. Travelling with a rucksack makes it easier to get around especially in rural and remote areas. If you have to walk from your hotel to the bus stop, you could end up damaging a suitcase by pulling it along a pot-holed road. Buy a seat for your bag on the bus, or if there is enough room inside the bus store it on the shelf above you.
The local health department in Granada controls mosquitos and private businesses must fumigate regularly by law. Mosquito illnesses are not unique to Nicaragua, being that they have been in the United States, India, Indonesia and South East Asia for decades and often with more negative impacts. The best thing to do is keep room doors and windows closed and to wear long pants to protect your legs in the evening. All of our hotel rooms at Casa Lucia have screens on the windows and air conditioning or ceiling fans. Spray yourself with repellent – natural or chemical – and 99% of the time, bites are just regular mosquito bites. Your chances of contracting Zika are very rare. A local remedy is to rub Vicks Vapor Rub all over your body as they reportedly hate the smell and find it harder to get their sticker in!
Nicaraguans are Generous – Be Generous Also
Nicaraguans are generous with both information about themselves and their family. They will give you a gift if you are going to stay with them. It’s nice to bring something for them also. They like to see pictures of your family and are naturally curious as they like to know about life outside Central America – international travel is too expensive for the ordinary Nicaraguan. They enjoy music, singing, dancing and poetry. Nicaraguans also take conservation, especially protection of nesting Olive Ridley turtle eggs very seriously, and you will find hatcheries like this on the Pacific Coast.
Bartering is Acceptable
You are welcome to negotiate prices at the local market. The vendors do price a little higher expecting you will bargain, but they give fair prices in general and are among the fairest market vendors we have ever seen in our travels in the region and in other areas of the world. It is considered poor form to barter for food, fruits and vegetables or other food products which are fairly priced. When the vendors have had enough they will let you know.
Take Lots of Photos and Tell Everyone about Nicaragua
We love tourists and this is a country you will remember for years afterwards. Whether it is the lady who sells you papaya every morning or the beautiful sunsets over the colonial buildings, you never forget a vacation in Nicaragua. It’s unusual, unique and naturally beautiful. Remember it does not run on North American time. If you have limited time on your trip, make plans ahead and ask your accommodation provider to connect you with reliable local tour and transport providers.