How to Avoid Common Scams & Crime in Nicaragua

Express kidnappings tend to happen in many Latin American countries, Nicaragua is no exception.

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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.

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.

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.

Street Crime and Theft

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.

Express Kidnappings in Nicaragua

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:

  • 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 rides to accept rides from.

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 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.

Highway Robberies in 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 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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5 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 :)

  • 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..

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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