Is it Safe to Travel to Nicaragua? 6 Things to Know

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How bad is crime in Nicaragua? Our travel safety expert, Phil Sylvester, shares his tips on scams, express kidnappings and crime hot-spots to stay safe on your vacation.

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Man is riding bicycle on the street of colorful commercial houses in the historic district of Granada in Nicaragua Photo © iStock/MarcPo

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Express kidnappings are common in Latin America, and Nicaragua is no exception. But, is this a real threat to visitors? We take a look at just how safe Nicaragua is for travelers.

Before you begin planning your trip, check for the latest information from your government's travel advisory.

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. Unfortunately, Nicaragua did record the largest deterioration in peacefulness in the 2019 Global Peace Index.

But, for most travelers it's possible to stay out of harms way when you come prepared with insights on theft, scams, kidnappings, and the threat of assault. Here's everything you need to know to stay safe and out of trouble in Nicaragua.

1. Crime hot spots in Nicaragua

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. To avoid pickpockets, try to travel with minimal cash on you, and avoid taking expensive cameras out on the streets. Keep you phone hidden, and if you must use it, find somewhere quiet – this might help avoiding any unwanted attention.

In Managua, 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 avoid walking alone at night in any of these areas.

2. Street crime and theft in Nicaragua

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 criminal, don't resist – hand over what they're asking for. Too many injuries and deaths have resulted from non-compliance.

As a last word of precaution: avoid hitchhiking in Nicaragua, don't go home with strangers after a night at the club, and always travel in a group whenever possible.

3. Express kidnappings in Nicaragua

Taxi kidnappings have occurred in Nicaragua 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:

  • When possible, order a radio cab at the airport or at your hostel/hotel
  • Make sure the taxi has a red border around the licence plate, and that the number is clearly displayed
  • Note the driver's name and registration number
  • Make sure it's labeled with the company name (usually includes "Cooperativa") and a logo.

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 a driver to accept a ride from.

4. Scams in Nicaragua

If something sounds like it's too good to be true, it probably is. That's the best approach to avoiding any con artists while traveling anywhere around the world. But, there are a few scams to be on the lookout for while traveling around Nicaragua.

  • Women approaching tourists on the street asking to buy their "sick child" medicine – politely decline
  • Say no to any unsolicited requests on the street for money to help support locals in any way (such as moving back to their home town, supporting their family in need)
  • Watch out for dodgy tour operators – read reviews online to make sure the tour operator is reliable
  • Iif someone asks to see your passport or identity document, request they show their police identification before handing anything over
  • Be careful when renting ATVs or motorbikes – one traveler from TripAdvisor says to read the documentation before signing on the dotted line, and make sure you meet any requirements to avoid being ripped off or having to pay a hidden fee.

5. Tips for travelers taking a taxi

  • Tell the driver not to pick up other passengers
  • Agree on the fare before setting off
  • Carry small bills to pay – taxi drivers rarely have change
  • Keep windows and doors closed, and hide valuables to prevent snatching at stop lights. It's a rare occurrence, but it has happened.

Although the chances of a traveler being kidnapped is very rare, there have been attacks on foreign nationals in their homes or hotels. If peace of mind is important to you, choose accommodation with uniformed security staff, a good fence, and a secure front gate.

6. Highway robberies in Nicaragua

When it comes to driving around Nicaragua, 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 criminals dressed as cops, pulling over passenger cars for inspection. There are corrupt police that may solicit drivers for bribes, so do your best to assess the situation and avoid handing over bribes – which encourages future behavior.

Find out about more transport safety tips, with these tips on chicken buses, hiring drivers, and what to do if an accident occurs.

The Motombo Mirador lookout point, along the New Leon Highway, has been the scene of a few armed robberies against tourists as well.

Find out how to stay healthy and and what natural dangers to be aware of with these tips.

Have you been to Nicaragua? Tell us about your experience below!

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7 Comments

  • worriedtx said

    My daughter has been invited to travel to Nicaragua on a medical mission trip. Can you advice me on the travel safety to Jinotega? How far of a car ride from airport to destination? Thank you in advance :)

    Reply

  • Harold Romero said

    Hi there.. I been coming to this country since 2001. I come every three months and never had a problem. However it is true theres crime but mostly in managua rough areas.. You can get a taxi at the airport to jinotega for like 120 dollars. How ever if your daugther gets here before 12 she can catch the bus to matagalpa is very safe because is a trasport bus not city bus. That will cost 3 dollars plus ten dollars for taxy.. Than from Matagalpa she will catch one to jinotega which will cost 2 or three dollars tops.. From the airport it will take 3 to 4 hours to get there. But by bus it will take five. So hopefully she gets to managua in the morning than she can save some money and do some sight seeing..

    Reply

  • G Wake said

    Dec 2016. My daughter was traveling to Managua to the airport from Granada in a truck with 5 natives of Granada (3 women and 2 men). Near Managua they were approached at a stop sign by men with guns who took purses, phones, etc. This was her 6th trip, but might be the last.

    Reply

  • Mark Gall said

    Cloud Falls states above (although it is 4 years old) that you should never walk alone at night anywhere in the world without advice from locals. My wife is Thai, and we traveled for over 6 years over many areas in China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Malaysia, several islands in indonesia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. We went out at all hours nearly everywhere. Some places in India are the ONLY areas where I’d say that the above statement is correct many places. I also lived in Bangkok for another 2 years, and walked a huge amount at all hours and NEVER had a problem.
    Perhaps we are just lucky, but the only things we have had stolen was when we were not there, and they took our lunch from the front basket of a rented motorcycle in Cambodia, and another traveler stole 2 raincoats from our room in Ecuador.

    Reply

  • AMarie said

    @Mark

    Perhaps you were lucky, or perhaps you don't know what the word "alone" means. When "we went out," that isn't alone...

    And if you lived in BKK for two years, you ARE the local from which to seek advice.

    Reply

  • Rudolf Zimmerer said

    I was traveling 4 years ago through Nicaragua... It is just like South-America... I see so many stupid Tourists that are inviting crime... That is the problem... Poor people have no chances to earn enough money, and tourist exposing their values... Always cover everything including your smartphone up! When You are in the hotel hide again everything what cost money... During cleaning of your room, the room is open and everybody can easily go inside of your room and steal... My friend lives in Panama and he was chatting via Whatsapp when he was walking through Panama City ... and a guy fast stole his smartphone,... So what? I ask always can I travel to this place, is this too dangerous? My Nikon camera was never stolen ... even I made everywhere pictures... This is possible. Make the picture and directly hide before and afterwards your camera. Sure there is a risk and life is a risk!

    Reply

  • Dan Church said

    Safest transit option from Managua airport:

    Arrange with your hotel or other lodging for pickup at the airport. Tell the hotel that you expect to be greeted by name for safety. You might also ask for the driver's name. (At the airport, make the driver give his, and it will be a his, name.)

    Note that the vehicle is unlikely to be a registered taxi. Most common: Someone moonlighting from the hotel.

    Even if planning a hostel stay, why not book a hotel room for one night? As for the price? From the airport to Granada, $40-$50 with a $10 tip is about right.

    Our Granada favorite: hotel La Polvora (4.7 Google rating), less than $50 on 10/24/2020.

    Reply

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