Mention Nicaragua and you may conjure images of violent coups, sneering guerillas, and cold-blooded drug henchmen. But, there's actually far less violent crime here compared to neighboring countries. In fact, it's considered one of the most peaceful countries in Latin America on the latest Global Peace Index.
That being said, it has its fair share of problems, including theft, scams, kidnappings, and the occasional assault. Here's everything you need to know.
Most crime occurs in the capital Managua, and typically in certain hot-spots. Pickpocketing is common at bus stations, on crowded buses, and in the markets – especially the Oriental, Huembes, and Mayoreo Markets.
Around the vicinity of the old cathedral is a well-known crime pit, and incidents against foreigners have occurred on Avenida Bolivar between the Plaza Inter Rotunda and the Military Hospital, the TICABUS terminal in Barrio Martha Quezada, and in the Altamira neighborhood.
Gang violence, including drive-by shootings, stabbings, and armed robberies are most frequent in poor areas, such as Rene Schick and Jorge Dimitrov. In the Zona Rosa district prostitutes have been known to rob passersby – so be careful in these areas. You should never walk alone at night in any of these areas, or anywhere in Central America, really.
Although less than in the capital, street crime is also a problem in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, and the Corn Islands.
San Juan del Sur, a major tourist destination, has a perennial theft problem – but it's getting better.
In remote areas, especially the North Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACN or RACCN) and the Atlantic Coast, police presence in sparse. Criminals, especially drug traffickers, occasionally use this to their advantage.
If you are threatened by an armed thug, don't resist. Too many injuries and deaths have resulted from non-compliance.
As a last word of precaution: avoid hitch-hiking in Nicaragua, don't go home with strangers after a night at the club, and always travel in a group whenever possible.
Taxi kidnappings have occurred with worrisome frequency. These tend to be committed by gangsters who are driving stolen cars. You'll have to do some extra work to ensure your taxi is legit, but here are a few pointers to help out:
In a few cases, tourists were approached by a friendly-looking traveler who offered to share a cab. Once inside, the tourists were robbed at knifepoint, threatened, or driven around to ATMs to make cash withdrawals. If that wasn't enough, the assailants left them broke and alone in remote locations.
These awful swindles took place around the international airport and in the cities of Rivas, Granada, and Masaya. Be very careful when accepting rides to accept rides from.
Although the chances of this happening are very rare, there have been attacks on foreign nationals in their homes or hotels. If peace of mind is important to you, choose a hotel with uniformed security staff, a good fence, and a front gate.
Traveling outside the city carries a few risks. There have been armed robberies along some highways, notably the Tipitapa-Masaya and the Managua-Leon. Some cases have reported goons dressed as cops, pulling over passenger cars for inspection. What actually took place was far more sinister.
The Motombo Mirador lookout point, along the New Leon Highway, has been the scene of a few armed robberies against tourists as well.
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