Throughout our travels in Nicaragua, and from our friends back home, we are asked a great deal of questions. Here are some of the highlights:
Is Nicaragua Safe? Nicaragua is by far the safest country in Central America. It is safer than Costa Rica, Panamá, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. This may come as a bit of a shock to most people, but the experts agree. (Lonely Planet, International Living Magazine, Nicaragua Dispatch.)
Is the Government/Economy Stable? Nicaragua has a Democratically Elected President, a Unicameral National Assembly, and Five Political Parties. They have a Free Market Economy whose growth rate was 4.7% in 2013 and their largest trade partner is the US. An interesting fact is that in 1990, Nicaragua elected Violeta Chamorro, the first female president in the America’s.
Are there a lot of Tourists? Nicaragua is truly a Budget Paradise, especially when compared to Costa Rica and Panama. Since 2000, tourism has grown by 394% or 15-20% annually. It is often referred to as “The Next Costa Rica” by people travelling throughout the region. A joint project with the Nicaraguan Government and the IMF has been started to attract foreign investment within the country,and stimulate the tourism industry.
Is the Food and Water Safe? One of the best parts of Nicaragua is the year round availability of amazing fresh fruits and vegetables. Every town has one, or several, open air markets where you can purchase in season produce at an affordable price. One thing they don’t have in these markets is refrigeration, so this needs to be taken into account before you go shopping. Some of the best food we have eaten has come from street vendors, and the same, in regards to refrigeration, needs to be considered with them as well. We drink the tap water here with no problems, however purified water is really cheap and available almost everywhere. Coffee! This country has the ability of growing some amazing coffee as well, with $2.78 Billion Dollars in exportation sales in 2012!
What is Health Care like there? We recommend travel insurance in the rare case of an emergency. In Nicaragua, there are pharmacies in every town, sometimes on every corner. My wife gets her asthma medicine without a prescription here and it is a cheaper than in the US. You can also get antibiotics without a Doctor’s visit. Sometimes tourists just tell the Pharmacist what their symptoms are and the Pharmacist sells them exactly what they need.
What is the Climate like? Nicaragua is within the tropics, has three geographical regions, and a wet and a dry season. Generally speaking, dry season is December to April and the wet season is May to October/November. The three geographic regions are the Pacific Lowlands, Central Highlands, and the Caribbean Lowlands. The Central Highlands can be considerably cooler depending on elevation, and get less rain, especially on the western portion. The Caribbean Lowlands get the most rainfall, followed by the Pacific Lowlands, and share warm temperatures year round. I really like the rainy season here in Leon. It reminds me of Northern California in August, because it usually only rains in the late afternoon, and then cools considerably afterward.
What is the Culture like? While some figures say that only 5% of the country’s population is indigenous, Nicaragua has really found a nice way to blend pre-Colombian folklore with modern day culture. This is most obvious with the religious traditions and festivals that are ever present in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is also steeped in Literary History. Nicaragua’s most famous Poet, Ruben Dario, is thought of as being the founder of “Modernismo.” Poetry is a large part of Nicaraguan Culture, and every year in February, people celebrate this at the International Poetry Festival in Granada. Nicaragua also has two UNESCO world heritage sites (both in Leon) a UNESCO cultural heritage play The Gueguense, and numerous pre-Columbian archaeological sites with petroglyphs, sometimes greatly concentrated, within the country.
Do I need to worry about Disease? My wife and I went to the travel clinic before we came here, and got vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B and Typhoid Fever. Malaria really isn’t that much of a concern anymore, especially in cities. The vaccines were really expensive and our health insurance did not cover them at that time. It is something to consider, as most of Central America is developing. Our baby was less than two at that time and was covered by his baby vaccines. The travel clinic did not recommend the Typhoid Vaccine for a child his age. If you are coming from the US like we did, you do not need a yellow fever vaccine.
What is the Transportation like? Nicaragua is nice in that it is relatively small (about the size of Alabama) and you can get almost anywhere by bus in one day. It is also very inexpensive to travel by bus. We travelled most of the country by bus November 2012-March of 2013 and bus service is very reliable. All of the roads were in surprisingly good condition too. I tried to rent a car a few times, but every time I tried to reserve one, when I went to pick it up, there was always a problem. People do rent cars, and the folks I spoke to rented them in Managua. To rent a four door Toyota Truck, it is around $100/day. There is only one international airport, and it is in the capital, Managua. There is a small local airline that services popular parts of the country as well. There are also ferries, and small pangas or lanchas that service the various islands and waterways.
What about the Volcanoes? Nicaragua has some serious volcanic activity going on! It has five active volcanoes; some of the highest volcanic activity on earth. You can literally take tours of volcanoes that are active, like Volcan Masaya, and get an unrestricted view of them after you hike to the top. Apoyo Lagoon is a volcanic crater lake that has some of the purest fresh water to swim in. One of the most popular tours in Nicaragua involves volcano boarding down Cerro Negro. Number 2 out of 50 on “CNN’s thrill seekers bucket list.” Silhouettes of volcanoes decorate the countryside throughout the western edge of the country.