There are many interesting things to do in Amman.
The capital of Jordan is a fun place to explore. Though most people who visit only spend 48 hours in Amman, I think there are plenty of things to do in Amman to keep you entertained for longer.
This is a city packed with archeological sites, markets that are fun to explore, a thriving food scene and an even more thriving art scene – something that in fact catches many (myself included, I must admit) by surprise.
Amman has a nice, easy going atmosphere. Locals are generally friendly and very welcoming – they may stop you at the park when they realize you are a foreigner so that their children can practice English with you.
In this post, I highlight the coolest things to do in Amman and share some tips that will help you plan your trip.
In a rush? Go ahead and book one of the nicest guided tours of Amman – this is one of the top things to do in Amman to get properly acquainted with the city. Tours usually go to the archeological sites scattered across town and to the markets of downtown.
Here are the best options:
The Roman theatre of Amman is one of the unmissable places to visit in Amman
13 Cool Things To Do In Amman
Visit the Roman theater
Among the unmissable things to do in Amman there is the visiting Roman theater. Likely built in the 2nd century AD, it resembles many other Roman theater: it is cut into the side of a hill (which was once a necropolis). The theater used to have a seating capacity of 6000 people.
TIP: The best views of the Roman Theater are from the Citadel. Make sure to go at sunset for the most impressive experience.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The theater is located downtown. It’s open from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm Saturdays to Thursdays and 9:00 am to 4:00 pm on Fridays. Between April and October the site closes at 7:00 pm.
The Citadel of Amman is a must see
Go to Amman Citadel
There is no doubt that visiting the Citadel is one of the things to do in Amman. Located on the highest hill in Amman, Jebel al-Qala’a, at around 850 meters above sea level, this incredible archeological site counts many impressive buildings such as Umayyad Palace, built around AD 720 by the Umayyad Arabs and subsequently destroyed by an earthquake in AD 749.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The Citadel is open from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm Saturdays to Thursdays and from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on Fridays. Between April and October it closes at 7:00 pm (except on Fridays).
The beautiful columns of the Temple of Hercules
Take in the view of the Roman Temple of Hercules
One of the coolest things to do in Amman is visiting the Roman Temple of Hercules, which is located inside the Citadel. Yet, what I am sure you will enjoy even more is admiring if from a distance. The remaining pillars that can be seen from various places in town. Not far from the temple, there is a fantastic lookout from where you can instead get views of the modern city.
Visit King Abdullah Mosque
One of the most unique things to do in Amman is paying a visit to King Abdullah Mosque – what’s unique about it is that this is the only mosque in Amman that is open to tourists. The mosque was completed in 1989 and can house up to 10000 worshippers – 7000 inside and 3000 in the courtyard. There is a small section that can also house up to 500 women.
Women will have to cover their head before getting in – head-dress is available at the entrance of the mosque. Modest clothing is necessary – you’ll have to cover your arms, legs, chest and back. Abayas are available as well. All visitors need to remove their shoes before entering.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The mosque is open Saturdays to Thursdays from 8:00 to 11:00 am and from 12:30 to 2:00 pm.
Discovering street art is one of the coolest things to do in Amman
Enjoy Amman art scene
The Jordanian capital has a truly artsy heart and one of the coolest things to do in Amman is going to art galleries and exploring the city to appreciate the street art. Murals spread are spread around town. The best place for art, however, is Darat al-Funun, located on the hillside to the north of downtown Amman. This complex includes an art gallery with exhibits of the most prominent contemporary Jordanian artists. To top this off, the views from there are breathtaking.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Darat al-Funun is open from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm Saturdays to Thursdays. It is closed in August and during public holidays. During Ramadan it closes at 3:00 pm.
Go to Jadal for Knowledge and Culture
To fully appreciate the cool vibe, one of the things to do in Amman is going to Jadal for Knowledge and Culture. This is a great combination of a café, art gallery, and a place for education. It is located in a traditional house dating back to 1933 and renovated a few years ago, you can get there from the Kalha Stairs that connect Downtown with Jabal L’Wiebdeh.
The area is a cool one to explore, as it’s bursting with creative initiatives and start-ups.
At Jadal for Knowledge and Culture visitors can take art and language classes and foreigners can enroll to learn Arabic. The center works alongside an NGO that helps refugees integrate in Jordan.
Duke’s Diwan is one of the coolest places to visit in Amman
Discover Duke’s Diwan
Another of the things to do in Amman that you really should not miss is visiting Duke’s Diwan. This historic townhouse was built in 1924 and was used as a post office. It then became the seat of the Ministry of Finance; and finally a hotel. The house belongs to a local businessman who’s also the Duke of Mukhaybeh. He restored it to its original splendor, with period furnishing, and opened it to the public to appreciate it. It’s a lovely place, with a unique, vintage atmosphere. You may even be lucky to meet the Duke in person as I was!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Duke’s Diwan opens at 8:00 am and closes at dusk.
Stuff your face with hummus and falafel at Hashem restaurant
Amman is a great food scene. If eating hummus and falafel is one of the things to do in Amman, head straight to Hashem Restaurant, literally a local legend. This small restaurant is located in the downtown area is open 24/7. There’s no menu – a waiter will come take your order and clarify that all the food is vegan and that each item costs 1 Jordanian Dinar (JD).
It’s very convenient and incredibly tasty – you are likely to have the best falafel of your life. A meal of falafel, hummus, baba ganouj, olives and pita, a bottle of water and a mint tea will cost around 4 JD, about $ 5.6 USD and will be enough for two.
Eating hummus is one of the top things to do in Amman
Walk along Rainbow Street
One of the things to do in Amman that you really should not miss is a walk along Rainbow Street. This lovely street is lined with Ottoman architecture, and street art abounds. This is also where you should hang out for the best nightlife in town.
Al-Balad is located in the old downtown, just below the citadel, and it is a great place to explore with nice historical shops, cafés and restaurants – it’s probably the best place to look for souvenirs to take home with you.
Eat at Al Quds
Trying traditional food is one of the things to do in Amman and for that you should head straight to Al-Quds – that’s the Arabic name of Jerusalem, so ask anybody where the Jerusalem Restaurant is and you will be pointed there.
It is a very matter of fact place with waiters that may at time appear abrupt, but food is good and the atmosphere easy going and very local. There is an English version of the menu but this must have been a literal translation put together with Google translate as it hardly makes sense.
Jerash is the perfect place for a day trip from Amman
Spend a day at the Dead Sea
Depending on the exact beach you want to go to, it takes little over one hour to drive from Amman to the Dead Sea, where you can spend a day relaxing in the mud baths, baking in the sun and floating in the Dead Sea. For ease, I recommend joining a guided tour that will take you to one of the beaches where you can safely swim in trunks or bikinis. These are some good tours:
- Dead Sea and Madaba tour – a very long tour that goes to the Dead Sea but also includes a stop at Madaba, one of the oldest cities in the Middle East.
- Day tour Dead Sea from Amman – this is the longest of all tours, best if you want to spend the whole day at the Dead Sea. Keep in mind the fee does not include the admission to the beach.
- Private tour to Dead Sea and Baptism site – this tour is suitable for group of up to 3 persons and also goes to the Jordan river.
Go on a day trip to Jerash
Jerash is the perfect place for a day trip from Amman, located at about 1 hour drive north of the city. Jerash has some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the Middle East. At its peak, its population grew to more than 20000 people.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The easiest way to get from Amman to Jerash is by bus. Buses leave from the North Terminal Bus Station.
You can also go on a guided tour. These are some good options:
A lovely view of Amman from the other side of the Citadel
Practical Tips To Prepare Your Trip To Amman
Using a Jordan Pass to explore Amman and the rest of Jordan
The Jordan Pass is an excellent option if you intend to spend some time in the country. It gives you access to more than 40 attractions that include some of those mentioned in this post such as the Roman Theater, the Citadel, Jerash, Ajloun, and the most famous one in the country, Petra. The pass also acts as a visa waiver so that you don’t have to pay to get in the country.
There are three Jordan Pass packages – the most basic one costs $99 USD and gives you a one day access to Petra. You can get the pass on the official website here.
Guided tours of Jordan that also go to Amman
If you want to visit Jordan but are have limited time for your trip and even less to plan it, you may want to consider joining a guided tour of Jordan. The following are some good options.
- Active Jordan Multisport Tour – this 8 days tour goes to all the best places to visit in Jordan. You get to see Amman, Ajloun, the Dead Sea, the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Petra, and Wadi Rum. Check here for more details
- Classic Highlights of Jordan Tour – not as active as the previous one, this tour goes to Amman, Jerash, the Dead Sea, Karak, Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba. Check here for more details
- 5-Day Jordan Tour – this tour goes around Amman, Petra, Jerash, Mount Nebo, Karak Castle, Wadi Rum, the Red Sea, and & the Dead Sea. Check here for more details
- 6-Night Best of Jordan Tour from Amman – This tour includes Jerash, the Dead Sea, Petra, and Wadi Rum. Check here for more details
Where to stay in Amman
I recommend staying in the downtown area for easy access to attractions and restaurants. One thing you may want to keep in mind is that many hotels in Amman call themselves boutique though they have little of a boutique hotel. Having said so, this is a selection of good places to stay in Amman:
Check here for more hotel listings in Amman
When to visit Amman
Amman gets really cold in the winter, and hot in the summer. The best time to visit the city and the rest of the country is in the spring time, between March and May. Alternatively, you could try to visit between October and November.
How to get from the airport to Amman
Queen Alia airport is 30 km away from Amman. You have various option to get to town from the airport:
BY TAXI: The airport is well connected to the city by taxi (the ride to your hotel should cost around $30 USD).
BY SHUTTLE: This is the most convenient way of getting to town. Shuttles are usually coordinated with flight arrivals and usually leave the airport one hour after your flight has landed – so you have enough time to go through customs and get your luggage. It costs $10 USD.
BY PRIVATE TRANSFER: If you feel you may be in a rush or tired after a long flight, a private transfer may be the most convenient way to go. It costs around $20 and can be booked online here.
AIRPORT EXPRESS BUS: Airport Express buses connect the airport with the city Tabarbour Station from 6:00 am to midnight. They run every 30 minutes during the day, and every hour after 6:00 pm. The ride lasts around 45 minutes to one hour.
BY BUS: A cheaper option are the local buses but these aren’t truly reliable.
King Abdullah Mosque in Amman
How to move around Amman
If you are staying in the downtown area the best way to move around Amman is to actually walk everywhere. Places like the citadel are a bit further to reach and you will need some form of transportation to get there.
There is no real integrated public bus system in Amman so the easiest way to reach further distances is by taxi – you can recognize them because they are yellow.
Uber works in Jordan as of April 2019.
There also are shared taxis – these are white and go on fixed routes. You pay per seat, regardless of where you get off.
Jordan Visa and other useful information
If you get to Jordan by plane can get a visa on arrival at the airport: it costs JD 40.
If you are visiting Jordan as part of a larger trip across the Middle East, you may be getting there from Israel. You can cross the border to get into Jordan and get a visa on arrival at Wadi Araba, which is the border between Eilat and Aqaba, and Sheikh Hussein, north of Amman.
The King Hussein / Allenby Bridge (which is the closest crossing between Amman and Jerusalem) requires a pre-arranged visa. Unless you have a pre-arranged visa you can only use it to exit Jordan.
You can get a visa waiver fee if you spend a minimum of 3 consecutive nights in the country. The Jordan Pass is normally considered proof of having spent at least 3 nights in Jordan. There is a JD 10 exit fee.
I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Jordan. You can find a good one here.
Safety in Amman
I found Amman to be an overall safe place. Though it is said to be a very modern city where women don’t have to go around covered, I saw very few that were not in my time there. You don’t have to cover your head to explore Amman, but by all means wear modest clothing.
Further readings about Jordan and the Middle East
If you are planning a longer trip to Jordan or the Middle East, make sure to read my other posts:
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There are so many things to do in Nicaragua, that you will never be done with it!
Talk to me for a few minutes and it won’t take you long to figure out that I am in love with Nicaragua. Known as the land of lakes and volcanoes, to many including myself this is the most interesting and beautiful country in Central America. I have been there 3 times already and crave to go again, for there still are places to discover.
With so many things to do in Nicaragua, you won’t have a hard time finding something to suit your interests: beautiful colonial cities; interesting culture and art; a complicated yet fascinating history; very friendly people; lush nature; great wildlife and volcanoes. Besides, Nicaragua beaches are gorgeous and lakes have a magnetic beauty. Corn Island Nicaragua is a slice of untouched Caribbean paradise. Finally, add to this an exchange rate that is very convenient and prices that are very cheap, and Nicaragua becomes the perfect country to visit.
Since I know the country quite well, I thought I’d put together a post to let you know about the places to visit and the things to do in Nicaragua, with tips on Nicaragua best beaches and – needless to say, some useful advice on how to prepare a trip to Nicaragua.
Things to do in Granada: go for a walk! – photo courtesy of Elaine Faith
33 Unmissable Things To Do In Nicaragua
Marvel at the colonial Granada
Granada usually is the starting point of a trip across Nicaragua. The city, located at just 1 hour drive from Managua, is one of the most famous Nicaragua tourist attractions, and for a good reason.
The weather in Granada is more pleasant than in other parts of the country because, while incredibly hot during the day, the breeze from Lake Nicaragua (known locally as Lake Cocibolca and through which the Nicaragua Canal should be built) cools it down a bit in the afternoon and evening.
You will fall in love with its architecture and splendor; with its bright colors and cobbled streets and with its slow paced life. This beautiful colonial city will make any photography lover go crazy with its elegance.
Spend a couple of days in Granada, where you should visit the Convento y Museo San Francisco. This is the oldest church in Central America: it was first built in 1585, then burnt to ground by pirates and later by William Walker, rebuilt in 1868 and finally restored in 1989. The blue facade is simply stunning.
The annexed museum, which is accessed through a small door on the right, exhibits a lot of indigenous art as well as a scale model of the city. The view of the lake and the volcanoes from the back patio is also a plus.
Another interesting place to discover is the Iglesia de la Merced, which was also destroyed by pirates and later on by Walker and eventually restored. The church is beautiful, but the best part of it is climbing the tower and enjoying the incredible 360° view of Granada, the surrounding volcanoes and the lake. The best time to access the tower is around 11 am.
The Cathedral of Granada, located in the Parque Central, is what comes to mind when thinking about Nicaragua tourist attractions – it makes for a perfect postcard picture.
On the side of the Cathedral, Calle La Calzada is the main pedestrian street in the city, packed with trendy bars, restaurants, and the best hotel in town (Hotel Darío, which takes its name from the most famous Nicaraguan poet). La calzada is very lively at night, when street artists and vendors populate it. Walking along it, you can get to the lake, about 1 km away from the centre. The view of the city on the way back from the lake is lovely, especially that of the Church of Guadalupe.
At about 9 blocks from the centre, the Old Train Station is a cool place to visit. You will find a few well preserved wagons on display. The station is right in front of Parque de los Poetas, which is dedicated to Nicaragua most important poets.
Finally, the market of Granada is a very lively place, so full of colors and interesting smells, and still very much local. Keep in mind it can get very crowded and there are pickpockets.
Where to stay in Granada
As the most touristic destination in the country, Granada caters for any budget. It is packed with upper scale hotels and good hostels. The best hotel in town is right on the Calle Calzada, and is the Darío. The position has its advantages, although the fact that it is on the busiest street in town means getting quite a bit of noise.
Hotel Colonial is very close to the main square and definitely gets less noise.
Where to eat in Granada
There are many restaurants and budget eateries in Granada. The ones on the Calzada are the most expensive ones. Tercer Ojo is in a very trendy location: it comes highly recommended on trip advisor, food is truly delicious, although it definitely isn’t local.
I also really like Café de las Sonrisas, which is run by a nonprofit organization and where all the staff is hearing impaired. There also is a lovely hammock shop right next door, where all the profits go to the organization in favor of disabled children.
Finally, Garden Café serves great salads, sandwiches and delicious smoothies are served in a beautiful patio, and there also is a book exchange which to me is always a bonus!
A boat tour of Las Isletas is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua
Take a boat trip around Las Isletas
Taking a boat trip through Las Isletas is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. These islands are really small. There are supposedly 365 islands, which were formed as a result of the eruption of volcano Mombacho, which can be seen from Lake Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua).
TOP TIP: Go on an afternoon tour leaving at around 3:45 pm.
This is the perfect time to view as many birds as possible, including the weaving bird and king fisher, as well as the 3 different kinds of monkeys that live in the area, and on the way back the sunset view of the smoke capped volcano is simply spectacular.
These are two good guided boat tours of Las Isletas:
Hike Mombacho Volcano
Nicaragua is packed with volcanoes, and one of the things to do in Nicaragua is hiking a volcano up to the crater. Volcán Mombacho, which can be seen from the lake in Granada, is a fun one to go to. Although it has not erupted recently, it is very much active. I recommend going on a guided hike, as it is easy to get lost there. You can also try zip lining – there are 17 platforms from where you can fly. This Mombacho hike and canopy tour may be a good option.
Hiking Volcano Masaya is one of the things to do in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon
See the lava at Masaya Volcano
Volcán Masaya is perhaps the most active volcano in the country, and visiting it is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. You can walk along the Santiago crater, although smoke and steam come out of it and the sulfurous gases give a funny smell. Access to some of the view points is sometimes closed as there often are rumors that people jump in the crater! There are various hiking trails and it is also possible to rent a horse to go all the way to the crater to see the lava.
The best time to do it is at night, when the sight of the lava will be even clearer. You can book a guided tour here or enquire locally – it’s probably cheaper to book locally and you should expect to pay around $20 USD.
Go on a day trip to Masaya and Coyotepe
The entire Masaya area is actually very interesting to visit but you should go on a guided tour as it makes the various connections easier in terms of transportation. Besides a good guide can explain the facts of the region.
The Fortaleza de Coyotepe was built in 1893 on the Cerro de los Coyotes and it is where political prisoners were held during the Somoza dictatorship.
The Mercado de Artesanías of Masaya is also fun to visit, and make sure to finally stop in a family run pottery farm in Santo Domingo (my favorite is that of Duilio, who shows the entire process of making pottery and has some beautiful pieces for sale).
Here it is possible to book a good guided trip to Masaya online.
Spend a day (or more) at Laguna de Apoyo
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is chilling at Laguna de Apoyo. This can be easily accessed from Granada and many will go on a day trip, but I really recommend spending a couple of days there, as it truly is idyllic.
This crater lake is 175 meters deep and since there still is a lot of volcanic activity the water is really warm, making it pleasant to swim. Add to this the fact that motor boats aren’t allowed on the lake and that the water is incredibly pristine, and you will definitely want to jump in! Another fun thing to do there is renting a kayak or a SUP to explore the lake. There are various places where you can rent one for around $10 USD.
Visiting Leon is a must-do!
Walk around León
Visiting León is one of the things to do in Nicaragua, perhaps the best. There is an all Nicaraguan debate that tourists are often asked to join, where locals may ask you to express a preference for either León or Granada. To give you an idea of my preference, just know that I was meant to spend 3 days in Leon and ended up staying there for 3 weeks.
At little over one hour by bus from Managua, León is the most intensely political city of the country. It buzzes with energy, it is lively, full of young people (it is a university city and in fact Nicaragua’s first university was founded here in 1912), packed with interesting museums and murals, and gorgeous in a decadent kind of way. León served as the capital of Nicaragua during colonial times.
It also the hottest city in the country, and I don’t just mean politically. Temperatures stay well over 30° C throughout the year. No wonder the day start so early here: an air raid kind of alarm rings several times a day, the first one at 7 am, which is when the city comes to full life.
I recommend joining a walking tour of Leon to see all the city highlights before going into a more detailed visit of what the city has to offer. The best one is this Leon guided walking tour including entrance fees.
Try to also make it to Barrio Subtiava, a lovely neighborhood, around 12 blocks from the city centre, pleasant to walk around and very pretty. There is a market too, and this is where the buses to the nearest beaches leave from.
Where to stay in León
There is an entire street in town that is packed with hostels and backpackers bars – up to you if you want to hang out there or not. My go to place is Posada La Gordita, not far from the La Colonia upscale grocery store, a great place and a very good budget option. Rooms are plain and simple and the place is kept spotless and very safe.
Hotel El Convento, on the other hand, is the most expensive one in town. The spacious rooms are lined around a gorgeous garden. The hotel is actually located in what really used to be a convent, so there is much of a museum feeling to it.
Where to eat in León
My favorite place in town is Asados Pelibuey, a comedor that is a favorite of the locals. It serves Nicaraguan staples in a friendly and relaxed environment. The average price of a full meal is an unbeatable $3 USD! On the more expensive side there is Al Carbón. The house specialty is meat. The food is good, but service is not the best, especially with larger groups.
Leon cathedral is one of the places to visit in Nicaragua
Visit the largest Cathedral of Central America
The Cathedral of León is one of the places to visit in Nicaragua. This is the largest cathedral in Central America, and it is said that the church was actually meant to be built in Lima, Peru. It is a massive building, that offers repair from the heat. The tomb of poet Ruben Darío is here. A fun thing to do inside the cathedral is trying to find the hidden eyes, which are triangles (representing the holy trinity) containing an eye inside and which are well hidden with the rest of the artwork. In my many visits, I have only been able to spot 3 but there are 7, apparently.
The roof of the cathedral has been recently restored and it can be visited for a small fee. The view from up there is spectacular, but I recommend to wear socks and sunglasses: everything has been painted white and you will be asked to take your shoes off, and the white paint reflects the light in a blinding way.
GOOD TO KNOW: Another cool church in León is the Iglesia de la Recolección, which has a beautiful yellow baroque facade.
Pay respect to the revolution fighters
Right on the opposite side of the main square from the cathedral, the Museo de la Revolución is a great one, and visiting it is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. The museum is entirely run by veterans of the revolution, who will take you around the exhibit for a small fee, but keep in mind they only speak Spanish.
For each print, picture and document they have a story to tell, and they often proudly show the scars they got during battles. The building used to be the telecommunication company headquarters that the revolution forces conquered in battle. It is run down yet charming and it is possible to get to the roof for a great view of León and its surroundings.
The gorgeous patio of the museum
Marvel at art at Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Guardián
Some of the best museums in Nicaragua are in León. One you shouldn’t miss is the Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Guardián, perhaps the best museum of contemporary art in Central America. There are pieces of famous Cuban, Peruvian and other Latin American artists; there are several Picassos, Rubens, Chagalls, Boteros and Diego Riveras. The museum is located in two beautiful colonial buildings facing each other, with lovely patios and fountains. The bonus? It is open even on Sundays.
Learn about Nicaragua traditions at the Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones
Another interesting museum in León is the Museo de Leyendas y Tradiciones. It may appear tacky at first but it is very entertaining and it explains a lot about the culture of Nicaragua. It is located in what is known as La XXI (the 21st Garrison), a former prison, and along with the life size figures of people from Leónese history, there also are murals which depict the methods of torture used by the Guardia Nacional on the prisoners. To make sense of it, you really need a guide – you can get one directly at the museum for a really small fee.
Go volcano boarding on Cerro Negro
Nicaragua is the land of lakes and volcanoes, so one of the best things to do in Nicaragua is going on a volcano hike. But Volcán Cerro Negro will give you a whole different experience, because after the hike you can go volcano boarding.
The hike itself would not be hard, were it not for the incessant wind and for the fact that you have to carry the wooden sled all the way to the top. As it is a difficult place to reach, and you need boards which you aren’t likely going to carry around during your trip, this experience can really only be tried on guided tours.
These two are the best ones:
Check out my post “What To Expect When Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro, Nicaragua” for more information.
The stunning view from the top of Cerro Negro
Spend the night on an active volcano
If you aren’t tired of volcanoes yet (I assume you know I love them!), one of the coolest things to do in Nicaragua is spending the night on top of an active volcano. Telica is by far the best, as it offers the most incredible views that span all the way to the Pacific and to the nearby volcanoes. As this is an active volcano, you will be able to see smoke coming out from it all the time, but there isn’t as much lava as in Masaya.
The hike may be a bit of a technical one, and since it is easy to get lost in the area, you really should opt for a guided tour such as this Telica Volcano at twilight.
Leon Vieja is one of the places to visit in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of Diana Facile
Go to Léon Vieja
León Vieja can be visited on a day trip from León. It takes about one hour to get there on public transportation. The ruins of the old capital lie at the foot of Volcán Momotombo. The city was founded in 1524 and abandoned a century later after being destroyed by a series of earthquakes. The site isn’t certainly the most amazing one you will see, but the place is quiet and breezy, a guide is included in the entry fee making the visit more interesting and it is overall worth going.
Swim through Somoto Canyon
There is little doubt that one of the top things to do in Nicaragua is going to Somoto Canyon. This is one of the country’s best kept secrets. It’s a place where you will find a series of natural pools with clear waters, all surrounded by beautiful limestone cliffs from where you can jump.
GOOD TO KNOW: Though you can visit Somoto Canyon independently, it’s much better and easier to go there on a guided tour departing from Leon. Ask at your hostel or hotel to organize the trip for you!
Spend a day at the beach
Some of the best Nicaragua beaches are near León. At about 30 minutes by bus it is possible to reach Poneloya and Las Peñitas. One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is catching an amazing sunset on the Pacific Ocean and these beaches are just perfect for that.
While Poneloya is a local beach where you won’t find much in terms of services, Las Peñitas is a surfers’ hub so you will find more in terms of services as well as restaurants and kiosks where you can rent all sort of equipment and have a bite or a drink.
Visit Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado
The Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado is a lovely place to visit not far from León, and a paradise for bird watchers. Depending on the season, turtles lay their eggs on the beach so it may be possible to participate in a tour to observe them.
Poneloya is one of the best beaches in Nicaragua
Visit a rum factory
Not far from León ,Flor de Caña distillery is where the most well known rum in the country is made and visiting it is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. You can learn how rum is made and then try samples of various kinds offer samples! You can book a tour to Flor de Caña distillery here.
And a coffee farm
Not many know, but Nicaragua actually produces coffee and it’s actually really good. The most interesting coffee plantation tours are in Isla de Ometepe (more about it below), but the highlands of Matagalpa are also good places for that. You may want to try to go to Selva Negra, where there usually are two daily tours for around $20 USD.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: To get to Selva Negra from Matagalpa, take a chicken bus towards Jinotega and just get off at Selva Negra. It’s just 12 km but keep in mind that chicken buses are slow!
The view of the old cathedral of Managua, one of the places to visit in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon
Most people who visit Nicaragua skip the capital Managua altogether. I say that visiting Managua is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. Sure, you may not want to spend a week there, but I think that it is worth going for at least half a day, maybe making a stop when going from Granada to León.
The centre of town is lined with some huge yellow metal trees, following a project of Nicaragua first lady. There are 100 of these trees in Managua. They are an adaptation of a famous drawing of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Each tree has costed $20000 USD, certainly causing concern in a country plagued by poverty. Yet, they are interesting to see.
Plaza de la Revolución, not far from Lake Managua, is a huge square where the Sandinista commander Carlos Fonseca tomb is located. This is also where the old cathedral is – it is now close to public, as it was shattered by the 1972 earthquake that destroyed much of the city.The clock on the tower has stopped at the exact time of the earthquake.
The Palacio de la Cultura is right next to the old cathedral, and exhibits lots of artifacts from the pre-colonial times.
One of the landmarks of Managua and among the interesting places to visit in Nicaragua is the Parque Historico Nacional Loma de Tiscapa. Right on top of the hill there is a huge statue of the national hero Sandino. The view from the Loma de Tiscapa is stunning.
Huellas de Acahualinca is a small archeological site in Managua, and perhaps its most interesting attraction. So including a visit during the trip is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. These ancient footprints used to be buried under compacted volcanic material and the tracks have been discovered by some workers in 1874.
There are 10 sets of prints, all dated back to around 6000 years ago, and all pace towards the lake – showing that people were leaving the area following a volcanic eruption. It is thought there are many more prints still to be found. The site is closed on Sundays.
The Nueva Catedral is not exactly the most beautiful church you will ever see, and visiting may hardly be one of the unmissable things to do in Nicaragua, I bet you will like it. It is a very big building, colorful inside and very airy thanks to the many windows and 63 domes that supposedly provide structural support in case of earthquakes.
Things to do in Nicaragua: visit Isla de Ometepe
Hang out in Isla de Ometepe
There is no doubt that visiting Isla the Ometepe is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua.
Ometepe is an 8 shaped island which hosts two active volcanoes (Concepción and Maderas). Vegetation is lush, there are nice small beaches, a lagoon, archeological sites, and incredible wildlife. And most of all, it just is so relaxing. The two biggest settlements in the island are Altagracia and Moyogalpa, both located at the bottom of Volcán Concepción. They are more geared to tourism than the rest of the villages. However, I think the best part of the island is that around Volcán Maderas.
Balgüe is perhaps the smallest village on the island, yet the most charming, no more than a few houses along the main road, no internet access, no ATM and only a few local shops. Life is slow paced, people are welcoming.
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is going on a volcano hike, and Isla de Ometepe is perfect for that! Both volcanoes can be hiked. Maderas is less challenging, but still a tough 8 hours hike due to the muddy terrain and the thick vegetation of the cloud forest. Make sure to get a guide if you intend to hike, as it’s easy to get lost! Hiking trips usually leave from Finca Magdalena, in Balgüe.
Volcán Concepción is even harder to hike (10 to 12 hours) on trails that start either in Altagracia or Moyagalpa. You can also hike to the 35 meters high waterfall of San Ramón, leaving on a bike from Balgüe.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Located in Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe can be reached by ferry from Granada, San Jorge (near Rivas) and San Carlos (on the border with Costa Rica). I don’t recommend doing so, but if you are tight on time you can go on a full day trip to Ometepe Island departing from Granada.
Where to stay and where to eat in Ometepe
On my last visit of Ometepe, I stayed in Balgüe, at Finca Magdalena. This is off the main road, at about 1.5 km which I had to hike, backpack and all, because no cars or buses get there. The Finca is a huge wooden hut with a lovely relaxed atmosphere. All around there are coffee plantations which you can visit on a guided tour. The accommodation is extremely basic, but the location makes it perfect. Meals are available too.
A better place to stay in Balgüe is Totoco Ecolodge, which has spectacular views and a fantastic swimming pool to hang out and relax.
The best restaurant in the area is Café Campestre. The English owner is a really great host, who has brought some variety in what is otherwise available on the island. I was delighted to find falafel and curry dishes there.
Unmissable: Nicaragua beaches near San Juan del Sur – photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis
Catch the waves in San Juan del Sur
As far as Nicaragua beaches, San Juan del Sur is hard to beat. What used to be a fishing village has developed into a bigger place that is well geared to tourism, with lots of accommodations and restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. San Juan del Sur is a favorite of surfers and backpackers and is also a great place to catch a wonderful Pacific sunset – definitely one of the things to do in Nicaragua.
South of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua beaches can’t really get much better than Playa El Coco, a great stretch of beautiful sand and cliffs.
GOOD TO KNOW: If admiring local wildlife is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua, make sure to go to the wildlife refuge Refugio de Vida Silvestre La Flor, which is at about 20 km south of San Juan del Sur. It’s a place where turtles lay their eggs – between 9:00 pm and 2:00 am, between July and January. It can be visited on a guided tour leaving from San Juan del Sur.
One of the best places to stay in San Juan del Sur is the Rancho Chilamate Horse Ranch. The surroundings are just amazing!
Discover Tola Beaches and Maderas Beaches
Tola beaches are among the best Nicaragua beaches, and they retain that feeling of a lost paradise.
Playa Maderas, which is North of San Juan del Sur, is one of the most stunning Nicaragua beaches. It is a lovely sandy beach perfect for sunbathing and has rocky expanses that offer great tide pooling.
Things to do in Nicaragua: visit Corn Island – photo courtesy of Brian Johnson and Dane Kantner
Relax in the Corn Islands
Caribbean paradise couldn’t get much better than this. Visiting the Corn Islands is one of the things to do in Nicaragua. These two small islands that have little bays, coves and underwater caves are located 70 km away from the east coast of Nicaragua.
Great Corn is the biggest of the two and is populated by Creoles living in colorful wooden houses. Little Corn is tiny, only 500 people live on this small island where there are no cars and which is a real jewel for diving enthusiasts.
Life is slow in the Corn Islands: these are the places to visit in Nicaragua to relax, snorkel, dive, lay at the beach, eat some amazing seafood and feel in paradise. Most people tend to opt for the quieter Little Corn but during the high season it may well be the case that there are more tourists than locals.
There are some guesthouses, hotels and bungalows on the island – my favorite is Yemaya Island Hideway & Spa – and restaurants (the most popular one is Habana Libre) offer great fresh seafood and fish as well as some of the Nicaraguan staples. Tranquilo café has great burgers!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: In order to get to Great Corn Island, catch a flight from Managua via Bluefields or a boat ride from Bluefields. Another boat (locally called panga) is then needed to get from Great Corn to Little Corn: it may get really rough on the way there, and often passengers get soaking wet so it is a good precaution to carry garbage bags to cover the luggage.
Places to visit in Nicaragua: Rio San Juan – photo courtesy of Chiara
Get lost in Río San Juan
The river that signals the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica runs for almost 200 km from Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean sea. Río San Juan has often been a cause of tension between the two countries. Visiting Río San Juan is one of the things to do in Nicaragua if you love nature, wildlife (including caymans) and bird watching.
The best starting point to visit Río San Juan is Boca de Sábalos, a town set at the confluence between Río San Juan and Río Sábalos, where there are various accommodation options. You can get there by boat from San Carlos, on Lake Nicaragua.
From Boca de Sábalos it is possible to visit the Reserva Biológica Río Indio-Maíz, one of the most impressive rainforests in Central America. The reserve is hardly penetrable until the village of San Juan del Norte, a small town that is surrounded by lagoons, dense rainforest and some great Nicaragua beaches on the Caribbean coast.
This is a great starting point to visit the indigenous communities or to explore the ruins of Greytown, a British outpost across the bay that has been abandoned and has been swallowed by the jungle. Definitely one of the places to visit in Nicaragua.
Go to El Castillo
Easily reached from Boca de Sábalos or San Carlos, and on the way to Reserva Biológica Río Indio-Maíz, El Castillo makes for a nice stop. It is a fortress built by the Spaniards in 1675 to stop the pirates going to Granada. It was sacked many times, including once by Horatio Nelson.
Discover Solentiname Archipelago
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is visiting Solentiname Archipelago. This is made of 36 small islands and located on the southern shores of Lake Nicaragua and it became famous as the place where the priest Ernesto Cardenal founded a rural community in the 1960s. It is a great place for bird-watching, hiking, and just meeting the interesting local community.
The main island is Mancarron, and there you will be able to visit Cardenal chapel, which is decorated with paintings by Roger Perez de la Rocha.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: you can get to Solentiname by boat from San Carlos.
Eating gallo pinto for breakfast is one of the things to do in Nicaragua – photo courtesy of Christel Stol
Try all the local specialties
Nicaragua produces some amazing fruit and is actually one of the biggest producers of beef in Central America: in fact beef is delicious here. It is also common to find lamb (locally called pelibuey) and lots of fresh fish and seafood along the coast.
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is having a fresh juice. Needless to say, fruit in Nicaragua is delicious, and fruit juice is always made from scratch: just lots of juice, purified water and ice, a hint of sugar and at most some yogurt.
It is very common to find fresh fruit stalls in the streets and squares: vendors peel and cut the fruit and sell it for a very cheap price. It’s a really healthy snack! Other common snacks are fried yucca and plantain.
While the local cuisine is not internationally famous, you won’t have troubles finding good eats. Gallo pinto (rice and beans) is the national staple, and chances are you’ll have it for every meal.
Other local favorites include patacones (fried plantain croquettes, which can be accompanied by queso, a mild local cheese); vigoron, a dish made of a cabbage salad, yucca and chicharrones (pork scratchings) served on a banana leaf. Quesillos are delicious, filling and a real cholesterol bomb: a freshly baked corn tortilla is filled with two thin slices of a mild cheese, similar to mozzarella, then a salad made of onions and tomatoes and seasoned with vinegar is added, everything is wrapped together, salted and a lot of cream is poured on them. They are messy to eat, and thus served on plastic wraps. Not for the health conscious!
Local alcoholic drinks include rum – the most popular and best one is Flor de Caña – and light beers such as Toña and Victoria, which can be found also in bottles of 1 liter. There even is Nicaraguan wine, but you can honestly pass on that! Coffee on the other hand is very good.
The cheapest places to eat in Nicaragua are fritangas, which are street food stalls usually serving home cooked meals such as gallo pinto and also have a barbecue where they grill meat or chicken. Market stalls are also very cheap. Comedores or cafetínes are the Nicaraguan version of budget eateries.
They pretty much serve the same food that fritangas offer, and in fact most of them used to be fritangas which then became popular and expanded their business. A meal in a comedor usually costs no more than $4 USD. There also are some lovely international and fusion restaurants in the country, especially in the most touristy destinations.
GOOD TO KNOW: Water is supposedly safe to drink in some places in Nicaragua, but it’s probably best to avoid tap water and opt for bottled one or bring a filter with you. Restaurants and bars use purified water for ice and to prepare food, so it usually is safe to eat and drink.
Go to Estelì
If you are exhausted from the heat of Nicaragua, pack your bags and head straight to Estelì for a change. I bet you will enjoy having to cover with a blanket to sleep!
To be fair, the city is nothing special. But the surroundings are packed with beautiful places and it is worth making the effort to go. The best thing to do in the area is visiting the waterfalls. The most famous one is Tisey Estanzuela, which you can reach on a cheap taxi ride.
GOOD TO KNOW: Other further away waterfalls are Colocondo and Quiabuc Las Brisas, but these require a bit more of an effort to go – and possible a guided day trip.
Visit a tobacco plantation
Chances are that if you think of tobacco and cigars, the first country that comes to your mind is Cuba. But – check this out – Nicaragua actually has its very own tobacco plantations, and the know-how to grow tobacco was actually brought to the country by Cubans who fled the revolution.
Not far from Estelì, you will find several cigar factories that you can visit for a few dollars. You will obviously be able to buy cigars (but keep in mind they need humidity and to be refrigerated in order to last) and you can even have a go at rolling one yourself.
Visit Reserva Natural Miraflor
Close to Estelì, this nature reserve is a paradise for bird-watching, hiking, horse riding and more waterfalls. You will be able to spot orchids, various species of birds, and even howler monkeys. As the reserve is run by the local community, you will also have the chance to experience a stay with a local family – it’s one of the best things to do in Nicaragua.
Marvel at the Cliff Carvings of El Tisey
North of Estelì you will find El Tisey, a place where Alberto Gutiérrez Jirón spent 30 years carving all sorts of figures on the side of a cliff located in his family coffee plantation. The place is overall very pleasant to visit – and the experience definitely enhanced by the presence of Alberto, who will take you around his open air gallery. You can visit on your way back from Estanzuela waterfall.
Enjoy nature at Bosawas Biosphere Reserve
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, Bosawas Biosphere Reserve is a massive rainforest home to an incredible variety of wildlife. Though spotting the jaguar is practically mission impossible, you can still admire several species of birds and monkeys.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You need a guide and a permit to visit the reserve, as it really is a remote place and easy to get lost. Expeditions need to be properly arranged as you’ll have to plan for food and drinks, and you really must go there well equipped in terms of clothing and prepared for a high level of discomfort. The reserve is at about 350 km north of Managua, and best accessed from Siuna, where you will find a Bosawas Office.
Visit Nicaragua – photo courtesy of George Kenyon
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Nicaragua
Deciding when to visit Nicaragua
The good news is that the weather in Nicaragua is always hot – at times unbearably so, actually. There are a few places to visit in Nicaragua where the temperatures are a bit milder. I bet you are thinking that you don’t mind the heat too much, but trust me: you will end up sweating so much that you won’t think about visiting Estelì and the surrounding mountains twice, just to have a break.
The best time to visit Nicaragua is during its dry season, from November to March or April: the sunny days and dry weather, however, attract more people (but Nicaragua is never too crowded).
The rainy season starts at the end of March, and this is when the country is as green as it gets. I hardly recommend going between September and November: prices may be much cheaper, but it is the tail of the hurricane season and floods and rain may really ruin the trip.
Things to do in Nicaragua: enjoy amazing sunsets
Arriving in Nicaragua
The only international airport in Nicaragua is Managua. There is a $10 USD entry fee that all visitors have to pay (it’s just $2 USD if you cross by land). Customs is really easy to clear, but some officers may ask a proof of onward travel to a different country.
Nicaragua is part of the Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement, a treaty that also includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and that allows the free movement across borders between the four countries. In practice, this means that when you are entering one of the four countries you get a 90-days visa and in order to renew that it will be necessary to travel outside of them (ie in Costa Rica, Mexico or Belize).
Crossing the border to Nicaragua
You can cross the border between Nicaragua and Honduras at Las Manos, El Espino or El Guasule. There is also a boat service crossing the Gulf of Fonseca and connecting Potosí in Nicaragua to La Union in El Salvador, where you have to pay a $2 USD exit fee.
Not many people actually use this crossing, and in fact I recommend not to as well (and that’s because I have done it myself a couple of times). The tide changes dramatically within a few hours, the waves make the crossing a difficult one, and what is often described as a leisurely trip is in fact a bumpy crossing where you may get soaking wet.
The border with Costa Rica can be crossed at Peñas Blancas or by boat via Los Chiles. Costa Rican authorities require anybody entering the country to show proof of onward travel, in the form of either a bus or a plane ticket.
Make sure to read my post “Latin America Border Crossing: What You Need To Know.”
Things to do in Nicaragua: meeting the lovely locals – photo courtesy of George Kenyon
Currency in Nicaragua
The Nicaraguan currency is the Cordoba. The exchange rate is around 35 Cordobas for one US Dollar at the moment. Dollars are widely accepted, and in any case you can exchange them at any bank.
Furthermore, money can be exchanged even in the street. At any corner in the center of cities and near a bank there are men, usually wearing a badge, who exchange money at the official rate. It is completely safe to do so – just make sure to count how much you need to change and calculate how much you should expect in return.
People sometimes ask me if it is safe to visit Nicaragua. You will probably hear stories of people being robbed, but I have always felt safe there even as a solo female traveller. In fact, I find it to be one of the safest countries in Latin America.
The safety measures you need to adopt are the usual one: keep an eye on my belongings and avoid walking alone and in the dark in areas that are not considered safe, but other than that, you shouldn’t have any problems even when taking the bus.
Make sure to get a good travel insurance before traveling. You can find a good one here. Obviously, being able to effectively communicate in Spanish helps. Only the people who work in tourism really speak English!
Moving around Nicaragua
One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is traveling by chicken bus. Chicken buses are old American school buses that have been driven all the way to Central America, their engine substituted, and they are now used for public transportation. They are very cheap, if only a bit uncomfortable: they only leave when full – and by full, I mean packed to the point you may really feel like chickens in a cage.
I still think they are fun: they are a great part of the culture of the country, locals widely use them, and you even get to see the odd chicken every now and then. And in the middle of all those people, the ticket man goes around to collect the fares, and street vendors get on board to sell whatever goods – from fruit to drinks, from pens to medicines.
Things to do in Nicaragua: ride a chicken bus – photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis
The buses follow a fixed route, but there aren’t real bus stops. So, as long as on the route, people can get on and off the bus continuously, which means that the bus stops every minute or so and that trips that would normally take 30 minutes may take even over one hour.
Stations are actually fun places to visit in Nicaragua: while the drivers wait for the buses to fill in, the ticket men go around the station calling the destination and looking for passengers. It makes the place very lively and noisy, as well as colorful. Some buses have been beautifully restored: newly painted and decorated, the ones that cover longer distances even have flat screen tv and a good sound system.
Taxis in Nicaragua are very cheap, and usually have a fixed price per area. Make sure to ask how much it will be to go to your destination before getting on board, and if you are traveling long distance barter a bit – but drivers tend to be honest. Taxis are shared, which means that even if there’s already someone on board, the taxi will stop to pick up other passengers, as long as they are going in the same direction. A good way to meet local people.
Hitching rides is common, but use your good judgement before doing so.
What to pack for a trip to Nicaragua
One of the smartest things to do in Nicaragua is traveling with a backpack rather than a suitcase. The road conditions are such that it is hard to carry around a suitcase. As for a backpack, I recommend the Osprey Ariel 65, because it fits well and carries just the right amount of stuff. Another good one is the Berghaus Wilderness 65+15, but keep in mind it is much larger.
This is what I recommend packing:
- Hiking boots – one of the most fun things to do in Nicaragua is hiking, and they will be needed.
- A pair of Havianas– perfect to go to the beach and walk around in the city.
- Walking shoes – I love Converse All Stars. Otherwise, take a pair of good sandals.
- One or two pair of shorts.
- Hiking pants, or leggings – if planning to hike.
- A pair of jeans if going to the mountains, where it is cooler.
- A sun dress and a skirt.
- A few t-shirts and tops.
- A fleece sweater – it may get chilly in the mountains in the evening. Also carry a light scarf.
- A waterproof jacket, because it may rain. I love the one by The North Face.
- A bikini, for those beach days.
- A toiletry bag with shampoo and conditioner, a soap or shower gel, toothbrush and toothpaste, a good sunblock, deodorant, and mosquito repellent.
- Pharmaceuticals – prescriptions drugs as well as off the counter paracetamol, motion sickness pills and Imodium.
- A quick dry towel – this is one of the smartest things to do in Nicaragua, as some hostels don’t provide towels.
Also bring a day pack to carry sunglasses, camera, powerbank, wallet and travel documents, and even a travel guide book (you can’t really rely on the internet).
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There actually are many cool things to do in Santiago Chile.
Though to be fair this city doesn’t have the dramatic beauty of other capitals of South America, it undoubtedly is a charming city, full of life, and if you go to Chile you definitely should not skip it.
Since it doesn’t get that many tourists, Santiago has retained its local flavor, so it is a great place to get acquainted with the Chilean way of life and culture. This is the heart of the country, the place where Chileans go to protest against the government and to get the best business opportunities.
To top this off, Santiago has a great food scene, with a bunch of excellent restaurants; and a vibrant nightlife.
In other words, it would be a pity not to go, even for just a couple of days.
In this post, I highlight the coolest things to do in Santiago and share a few tips to help you plan your trip and make the most of it.
Plaza de Armas is the heart of historic Santiago
17 Cool Things To Do In Santiago Chile
Take a walking tour
One of the coolest things to do in Santiago Chile is going on a walking tour to learn about the city’s history and culture. There are regular free walking tours departing twice a day from a meeting point right outside the Cathedral. I have taken one, and while it was ok, the group was very large which made following the guide hard at times. Besides this really isn’t a free tour as you are literally required to tip the guide a conspicuous sum at the end of the tour anyways.
The following are some better walking tour options for Santiago
Hang out in Plaza de Armas
One of the things to do in Santiago Chile that you really should not miss is hanging out in Plaza de Armas. This is the historical heart of the city. It’s a large square that was first built in 1541 for public events – and it is often still used for the main reason. At the center of the square you will find palm trees and benches, which make it perfect – especially in the summer – to sit and practice some good people’s watching.
Surrounding the square there are important landmarks such as the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Central Post Office and the Royal Court Palace.
Join a bike tour
A bike tour is among the most fun things to do in Santiago Chile to discover its most interesting sights and hidden gems. They usually take you to the nicest urban parks, stop at local landmarks and go into the coolest “barrios.” Tours normally last around 3 hours and there are various routes you can pick, depending on your tastes and interests.
The following is a selection of the best bike tours to discover Santiago:
There is a lot of street art in Santiago
Enjoy street art
Street art is quite a big thing in Chile. Valparaiso is generally thought to be the best place to visit for street art, but Santiago has some cool murals and one of the nicest things to do in Santiago Chile is looking around for street art.
Learn about the stray dogs
Stray dogs are unfortunately a common sight in Central and South America. In most countries, they are not really taken care of and end up being a safety concern as they often go around in packs in search of food or shelter, and can attack others.
In Santiago, stray dogs are considered to be very much part of the local community. Known as quiltro, they are taken care of by local organizations and private individuals. One of the nicest things to do in Santiago Chile is to look for organizations that take care of strays, offering help – usually money goes a long way as it helps finance sterilizations.
Visiting the Human Rights Museum is one of the things to do in Chile – photo courtesy of throgers (flickr)
Visit Santiago Human Rights Museum
I appreciate not all of you are human rights lawyers like I am, but I strongly recommend visiting Santiago Human Rights Museum as one of the unmissable things to do in Santiago Chile. Locally known as Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, this is where you should go to learn about the most recent history of the country and its difficult past.
The museum is quite big, with an excellent exhibit where you can swiftly walk around. It’s so good that you can spend hours wandering around without realizing.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. It is closed on 1 January, 1 May, 18 and 19 September and 25 December. There is no admission fee. You can get an audio-guide for around $2.50 USD.
Go to the Central Market
Trying local food is one of the nicest things to do in Santiago Chile, and the Mercado Central is the place you must visit to get a good idea of local flavors and to have a delicious lunch. You will find a very good selection of seafood. You can even go on a market food tour.
These are some very good market tours you can join:
Walk up Santa Lucia Hill
Among the things to do in Santiago Chile is walking up Cerro Santa Lucia. This is a park located in the center of Santiago, that can be easily reached from Plaza de Armas. It is rumored that this is the exact location where the city was founded, in 1541 by Pedro de Valdivia.
Inside the park you will find a castle that was built in the early 19th century as a protection to the city. Yet the best thing about it is the viewpoint from where you can get impressive views of Santiago.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The park is open every day from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm. There is no admission fee.
The views from San Cristobal Hill
Hang out on San Cristobal Hill
For more views of the city, one of the best things to do in Santiago Chile is riding the cable car to Cerro San Cristobal, part of the Metropolitan Park. Inside, you will find a sanctuary to the Immaculate Conception and outside a Virgin Mary statue that stands 22 meters tall.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The cable car is open on Mondays from 1:30 to 5:30 pm and Tuesdays to Sundays 11:30 am to 5:30 pm. The ride costs $5 USD.
This nighttime tour of Santiago goes all the way to San Cristobal Hill. It’s expensive but it also includes dinner and a hotel pick up.
Visit the Museo de Arte Precolombino
One of the things to do in Santiago Chile is visiting the Museo de Arte Precolombino. It’s a good place to learn more about the history of the country from ancient times and has an excellent exhibit of sculptures, jewelry and textiles.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission fee is $10 USD.
Admire the views from Costanera Center
For more impressive views of the city and its surroundings, one of the things to do in Santiago is going to the top of Costanera Center. With its 304 meters this is the tallest building in the country and offers 360 degrees views.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The skyscraper is open from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm every day. The last elevator ride goes up at 9:00 pm. The ticket costs $20 USD and you can get it here.
Sunset over Santiago
Go to La Moneda Palace
Palacio La Moneda is the seat of the President of Chile. The building, which dates back to 1805, was designed by Joaquin Toesca, whose actual name was Gioacchino Toesca e Ricci (he was Italian). It was badly damaged during the military coup of 1973, when it was bombed by the army so that President Allende would give up his seat.
You can walk around the park that surrounds the palace or take a free guided tour, but you have to book it in advance. The best way to do so is to ask your hotel.
I am sure you all know that Chile is one of the biggest wine producers in the world. It goes without saying that among the things to do in Santiago there’s going on a wine tasting tour like this one this one.
But there is more. Chile is also home to Pisco, a drink made of fermented grape juice that can be found here and in Peru – there even is a heated debate over who invented it, and who makes the best. If you want to have a say, the only way to do so is to try Pisco yourself. It’s served pretty much anywhere in town. You can try it plain or, if you are feeling fancy, have a Pisco Sour cocktail.
Spend a day at Cajon del Maipo
One of the things to do in Santiago Chile is to actually get out of town. Fortunately, there is no shortage of incredible places to visit that are within easy reach. Among the recommended ones there is Cajon del Maipo, a gorgeous mountain area where you can go hiking, rafting and more. There even are some beautiful hot springs.
For guided tours of Canyon del Maipo, you may want to check these:
Valparaiso is a perfect place for day trips from Santiago
Take a day trip to Valparaiso
Valparaiso is a popular destination for day trips from Santiago, and it is easy to see why. This city, located at little over one hour drive from the capital, is incredibly scenic and artsy, very colorful and used to be the home of poet Pablo Neruda. You can get there independently or, for easy, on a guided tour. Most tours also go to the nearby Vina del Mar, another lovely sight.
These are the best day trip options:
Visit a winery
As I have said before, Chile is one of the biggest wine producers in the world so it goes without saying that one of the things to do in Santiago Chile is visiting one of the nearby wineries. For this one, I actually recommend a guided tour – you may be drinking lots of wine and you certainly don’t want to drive or worry about public transportation after that!
The following are some excellent guided tours to local vineyards that can be booked online:
Go to Valle Nevado for the day
If you happen to visit Santiago in the winter, you can easily reach a ski resort for a day on the slopes. Valle Nevado is at around one and a half hour drive. This is in fact a lovely place to visit, regardless of the season. You can even book a guided tour like this one to go there.
Cajon del Maipo is perfect for a day hike
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Santiago Chile
When to visit Santiago
The best time to visit Santiago is between October and March or April, ie between late spring and fall in the Southern Hemisphere. Keep in mind it may get very hot – but the weather is generally quite dry so it should not affect you too much. If you are keen on skiing, you may want to go in July or August, when it is winter and you can reach the nearby slopes.
Where to stay and eat in Santiago Chile
There are some good places to stay in Santiago but you need to pick the location carefully for ease of access to the best attractions. The following are a few places you may want to consider:
How to get from the airport to Santiago city center
Santiago International Airport is well connected to the city via either taxi or bus. The price of a taxi ride usually depends on traffic. The bus ride costs around $3 USD. Buses run every 10 minutes from the airport, from 6:00 am to 11:30 pm.
How to move around Santiago
Other than walking, the best way to move around Santiago is by metro. There are seven lines connecting the various parts of the city. You can also count on a very good bus system and on shared bikes, making use of the many bike lanes.
Santiago is a fairly safe city, where violent crimes are rare. You mainly have to watch out for things such as pickpocketing and bag snatching. Tourists are often the target of petty crime so do your best to disguise yourself and keep a low profile.
Other useful information
Make sure to get a good travel insurance for your trip to Chile. Get yours here.
Check out my post “Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”
Further readings about Chile and Argentina
Traveling to Chile and Argentina? Make sure to read these other posts:
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What are the most common Paris scams?
I like to think I am too seasoned a traveler to fall for scams but, with hindsight, it was not too long ago that I fell for one of the most classic scams in Bangkok for which I ended up paying an extortionate price for a boat ride to see the floating market.
The thing is, some scams are easy to spot and oh so obvious that unless you are completely naive or in good faith you will manage to stay away from them. Others inevitably attract your attention – those are the trickiest ones, the ones you may fall for.
Paris scams are no different. Some are blatant and in your face. Others are not so easy to identify and before you know it you have already fallen for them. None of them generally results in a big loss of money. Yet if you fall for a scam you may end up feeling bad, angry with yourself, and it will likely ruin your vacation. We don’t want this to happen.
Paris is just too beautiful and I want to make sure you enjoy it as much as I do. Since I have seen many Paris scams happen in front of my eyes (and have experienced a couple of attempts), in various locations around town, I thought to put together this post to raise your guard against the most common scams in Paris.
GOOD TO KNOW: Though scams happen throughout the tourist spots around town, most Paris scams can be seen and experienced in the area of the Eiffel Tower, Pont Alexandre and the banks of the Seine River, and around Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre.
Bridges are a favorite place for scams in Paris
11 Paris Scams You Must Avoid
The 3 cups game
The 3 cups game is one of the most common Paris scams. I have seen it in various places around town, but one of the main hotspots for it is the area around the Eiffel Tower and Champ de Mars, as well as Pont Alexandre. It’s obviously a scam, yet so many people fall for it still – I think many do because they want to unlock the mechanism and unmask the scammers.
Here is how it works.
A man pulls a small rug on the floor. He places 3 metal cups which are turned upside down and a ball placed under one of them. He challenges passersby to bet that they can discover under which cup the ball is after mixing the cups around. It’s not a free bet – you have to put money on it. Chances are there is already some money on the floor – that’s been placed from one of the accomplices who is pretending to play the game. In fact, most of the small crowd you see around him is made up of accomplices. It can be a group of 5, even 6 people.
There usually is a couple of other accomplices further down the road, waiting around and sending warning messages in case the police comes by – I once sat not far from such a scene along the banks of the Thames River in London, called the police to see what would happen and man, let me tell you: they flew fast!
Anyways – the whole point is that this game is fun to watch, for some reason. You will see that the guys playing (again, let me say they are accomplices) never seem to get where the ball is. But you are pretty certain you can. And that’s where the trick is: you are so sure you can win that you bet some money, and the man mixes the cups. Only this time he mixes them about 10 times as fast as he did before. And you can’t follow the ball. In no time, your money is lost.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: The best way to avoid this scam is simply not to play. In fact, don’t even stop to watch as chances are that another accomplice (team work!) may pick pocket you while you are distracted.
Scams often happen near tourist attractions
The friendship bracelet
This is one of the trickiest Paris scams, though I shall point out that I have seen it in other big tourist cities such as Rome too.
The area where I have seen it happen the most is the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre. Among the myriad of vendors selling cheap souvenirs placed on blankets they can quickly lift to flee if the police shows up, there are others – men and women – who instead don’t appear like they are selling anything.
These people are just standing around, smiling. They see you from a distance, walk towards you with their hand out, ready to give you a handshake (whatever for?). Now, if you are a little bit like me you will never fall for this – I am not one to shake hands of random people in the street. But others may be a bit less vigilant and fall for it.
What happens then, when you shake hands?
This man or woman quickly ties a few strings around your wrist, or finger, and starts braiding what he calls a friendship bracelet. He keeps smiling, chatting, and hinting more or less openly at a small compensation for his efforts. And if you try to walk away there and then, he will start nudging you compulsively until you give him some money.
This is honestly one of the most annoying Paris scams. It doesn’t even cost much money, but first of all you should never have to pay for something that you have never even asked, and secondly, you just lose trust and that hurts just as much.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Unless you are like me (ie, never shaking hands of strangers in the streets), one way to avoid this scam is to walk with your hands in your pockets whenever you see these kind of people approaching. If you forget to do so, a polite but firm no and a threat to call the police work wonders.
The golden ring
This is one of the most annoying scams in Paris and it targets tourists in such an obvious way that it sickens me. It happens in the streets, but I have especially seen it along the banks of the Seine where tourists love to go for a walk.
Here is how it works.
As you walk around – taking photos, reading your guidebook or map, or whatever else – someone not far from you bends down and (seemingly) picks up something off the floor. He or she then approaches you to ask if you have lots that golden ring. Chances are you will say no, it is not yours. Then he will observe it closely, say it looks like good quality, suggest he can’t keep it but why don’t you take it?
The minute you take the ring, they will ask for money. Of course the ring is not valuable.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: The best way to get out of this scam is to say a firm no. Once again, a no works wonders!
The kind stranger at metro or train station
I haven’t personally seen this scam in Paris, but it happened to my friends when they visited and it also happens all over the world. So it’s better you get prepared for it and once you know how it works, you can also react.
This scam obviously targets tourists that seem a bit lost. You may be at a vending machine trying to get your train or metro ticket, fiddling with change, your suitcase near you making you an obvious target. That’s when a kind stranger approaches you offering his help to purchase the ticket for you. Seems innocent enough, right?
Chances are the person who is so kind to help you is going to purchase a child fare for you (it certainly doesn’t help if you can’t speak or read French to see what he’s doing) and then pocket the change. Or he may even demand for a tip for having helped you.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: The best way to avoid this scam is to refuse any offer of help. Again, that firm no will be very helpful. Alternatively, instead of buying tickets from the vending machine, head straight to the ticket counter.
GOOD TO KNOW: There is a twist to this scam that doesn’t necessarily involve tickets. The most common targets are women, best if traveling alone, or elderly.
The taxi scam
Taxi scams are common all over the world. Thankfully there aren’t many unofficial taxis in Paris and the most common places to see these Paris scams are train or bus stations and airports.
The things that should raise your attention that the taxi may be a scam are:
- The driver approaching you, offering you a ride – official taxis can be found at the taxi bay, whether at the airport or at the station.
- The car not having a taxi meter or any other taxi sign.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: The best way to avoid taxi scams is to only opt for official taxis or to use Uber or other taxi apps (I am a fan of Gett and Cabify). I honestly also think that using a taxi as a way of transportation in Paris is completely unnecessary, as the metro system works really well; it is much faster and way cheaper.
It’s also worth noting that the official taxi rate from Charles the Gaulle airport to Paris is €50 if you go to the right bank, and €55 for the west bank. It’s a flat rate, so you should refuse to pay anything more than that.
The area under the Eiffel Tower is where you will see lots of Paris scams
The charity or petition scam
This is one of the Paris scams I may have fallen for, because I have a soft spot for causes, charities, petitions. But somehow something told me that a real charity wouldn’t go about petitioning to tourists.
This scam can be seen around major tourist hotspots – I have seen it around the Eiffel Tower, but it’s also a thing near Notre-Dame.
Here is how it works.
As you walk around minding your own business, someone will approach you with a sheet of paper that looks like a petition. The sheet will say that they are raising funds for a cause (the one I was stopped for was deaf people, and the girl who stopped me made a show of using gestures and not ever saying a word). The names and signatures on the sheet will make it appear genuine. You will be invited to sign and to make a donation.
Needless to say, not even a cent goes to the cause.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: The best way to avoid this scam is – once again – to say a polite but firm no and then walk away. If you really want to donate to a charity, there are tons reputable ones that you can look for online. I support the work of Emergency. They do amazing things.
The rose scam
This is one of the Paris scams that annoys me the most. To be fair, I see it happen everywhere – it’s a common scam in Italy, and I have even seen it in Tel Aviv in January. It usually happens in restaurants, inside or – even better – outside. It preferably targets solo female travelers or couples (I was having a drink with a friend when it happened to us, but worry not: we didn’t fall for it).
Anyways – this is how it works.
You are sitting at a restaurant waiting for your meal or eating, and suddenly someone shows up and offers you a rose. Rest assured that the minute you accept what you think is just a gift, you will be asked for money.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: You guessed it! Just say no.
The salesman scam
This is one of the weirdest Paris scams you may hear of. It catches you by surprise and it starts so innocently that is easy to fall for it.
Basically a polite and stylish looking man driving in his car may stop you to ask for directions to a specific place, claiming his phone is dead. Now – if you don’t know your way around, it’s easy not to fall for this. But some of us are always eager to help others in need. So what happens? You pull out your phone, look for directions and be as helpful as you can. It should end there and then, with this man driving away after having thanked you.
But instead, he offers you a small compensation for your efforts. It can be anything really – usually it is designer clothing he’s on the way to delivering (and which you can bet are counterfeit). Do. Not. Take. It. Really. Because that will trigger more questions to you, and climax to the demand of some small cash for expenses such as gas. And if you do give that cash, he will magically speed away.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Do not give cash to improvised salesman that stop you on the street. Ever.
Scams are common in Montmartre too
The police scam
We are generally raised to think we can trust the police. But one of the worst Paris scams is perpetrated by men and women, who pretend to be police officers undercover. They stop you and ask for your documents and demand to check your wallet for counterfeit bills.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Never take your passport out in public, and never hand it to anybody. Ask for official identification and if in doubt, ask to be taken to the nearest police station.
The ATM scam
One of the nastiest Paris scams I have seen is the ATM scam. While you stop to get cash from an ATM in any street, someone may place a cardboard piece over the screen and try to intimidate you until you give them cash, while an accomplish clicks on the buttons and steals your cash.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: This is trickier than most as it catches you by surprise. The best way to avoid getting yourself in such a situation is to get cash in residential areas, or in those ATM that have doors. Always make sure nobody is near you when you are using an ATM.
Even in Les Marais you may be a victim of scams
Pickpockets aren’t scams proper, but I thought I’d include them in this post as they cause pretty much the same anger and frustration that scams do.
Pickpockets usually operate in crowded places, such as metro stations and even on the metro. And they usually work in a team of minimum two, where one distracts you while the other one strips you of your valuables.
My tip for avoiding pickpockets – anywhere in the world – is always the same. Avoid flashing any valuables that will make you an easy target. Make sure to wear a bag that you can wear cross-body like this one and always zip it close. You could also get an anti-theft backpack like this one.
Don’t open your bag in crowded places – make sure to always carry some small change for things such as metro tickets in your pockets. Don’t carry too much cash with you, and keep various bits of cash in different places anyways. Avoid taking out your phone in public – pickpockets around the world will take their chances and try to steal it from your hands.
By all means, beware of people stopping or blocking your path, and even more of those you accidentally bump into – the bump is a distraction technique!
If you are a victim of pickpockets, go to the police to file a report and immediately cancel all your cards. It may be worth checking the trash cans in the area where you have been pickpocketed to see if your cards and passport are there – pickpockets are after cash and not after anything that can be traced.
Further readings about Paris
If you are traveling to Paris, you should definitely read these other posts:
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Scams in Cuba are common, annoying and pretty much inevitable.
You see, people in Cuba have had to smarten up. When they get an average salary of around $30, no matter their studies and titles and no matter how hard they work, some of them have found ingenious ways to make ends meet, and more often than not these are at the expenses of unaware tourists that have decided to visit their beautiful country.
One thing you need to know is that Cubans work in team. You may not notice it, but that is a fact. Whatever service you may need, if the person you are talking to doesn’t offer the service him/herself, he or she know someone who does and they will take you to him or her, so that they can get their commission. This is actually ok, and not a scam – it’s just how things work and it helps them make a few extra bucks.
Scams in Cuba are actually more elaborate and they are not like tourist scams in other countries (for scams in Europe, you may want to read this post). That’s why I thought I’d prepare you and inform you on all the ones you can expect when traveling around this otherwise fantastic country. Some of these scams happened to me, and I managed to avoid them. Others to travelers I have met.
13 Scams In Cuba And How To Avoid Them
This is one of the most common scams in Cuba, if not the main one actually.
Walk around any city in the country, and someone will be calling you, apparently to chat. The first question you will be asked is whether it is your first time in the country and if you have just arrived. Say yes, and a world of scams will open its doors for you.
Chances are you will be told it is the national day of “you name it” – most likely whatever item that person is selling – and soon enough you will be asked to buy something which is of no use to you.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Study an answer of sort to show that no, it is not your first time in Cuba – and that will cut the conversation short. Of course you need to prove a little bit of knowledge so give an accurate though short description of a place you have supposedly visited (and when). Feel free to browse around this site for inspiration!
If for whatever reason you forget to do that, just walk away after the usual niceties.
Cubans are supposed to be world famous for being very friendly and hospitable. In fact, I have met several people who have been invited over for a meal, coffee or what not by a Cuban family. Strangely, usually men, some of them hardly able to communicate in Spanish, but who somehow managed to become friends with the locals and were asked to stay for lunch.
The same never happened to me. I traveled to Cuba with my sister, and sure enough nobody offered us anything, and any time the world “invitation” was used, it was pretty obvious that the invitation implied some sort of payment.
This is how the scam works:
Say you end up at someone’s place during a day – for example for a salsa lesson. Soon enough a neighbor will show up asking if you’d like to stay for dinner. Why, yes! You say. Having a home-cooked meal with a local family, what a nice idea.
If you are lucky, you then get the next question – which will be a cue that you are about to fall for a typical Cuban scam. You will be asked what you’d like to eat. That’s kind of weird. I mean, I never ask my friends what they are planning to serve when they invite me for dinner. It’s not like I am going to a restaurant, right?
Yeah I know what you are thinking: that is not an actual invitation. And you have no idea how many people fall for it and end up having to pay extortionate prices for a meal, just so that they are able to leave and forget about it.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Just refuse the invitation, saying you have other commitments. Always. Even if you think it may be genuine, refuse. Just in case. Or else, be ready to be forced to pay.
The birthday girl / boy
Would you care to share it is your birthday to someone you have just randomly met? Well, personally I wouldn’t.
But many people in Cuba don’t mind doing that, apparently. Except this is one of the most common scams in Cuba.
You may be busy minding your business, sightseeing or whatever, and a local approaches you with a random excuse, starts a conversation and then casually drops the news that it is his or her birthday.
You will automatically feel compelled to give him your best wishes and think that will be it. But the conversation may continue and the whole point is to make you feel pity, to the point that in order to cheer this person up you will invite him to a bar, a restaurant or whatever – and obviously of his choice – to celebrate.
Now, I don’t know what the customs are in your country but in Italy when we celebrate our birthdays we are meant to pay our meal / drink and that of whoever we invite. Not the other way around. And something tells me this is the case in most of the world.
So I assume you got it.
Chances are the person talking to you isn’t actually celebrating his birthday, and use this just as an excuse to take you to his friends’s bar or restaurant where you will pay for his meal, most likely more than what it’d cost otherwise, so that his friend his making money, he is having a good meal, and he is getting a commission on top of it.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Say happy birthday, and walk away. Don’t be afraid to be rude.
My dad / husband / brother just died
This scam is very similar to the one I have just described above. Someone will approach you and, sad looking, will give you the news that a member of his family has passed away.
But isn’t it kind of weird that when someone close dies these persons are wandering out and about instead of being with their family, and try to talk to strangers?
The whole point is to may you feel pity to the point that you end up paying, by inviting them for a drink or a meal.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Give your condolences, and walk away.
The milk scam
This is one of the most popular scams in Cuba and I swear most people who travel there end up falling for it somehow. I haven’t, luckily!
Here’s how it works:
A jinetero (hustler) will approach you to start a conversation. Soon enough, he’ll tell you that his baby needs milk. I mean – a baby! You don’t want a baby to starve, right?! You will end up offering help, and soon enough you will be taken to the nearest shop where – what are the odds! – a bag full of cans of powdered milk is waiting to be collected. And you obviously have to pay for that – $20, and even $30 USD.
Well you can rest assured that the minute you part ways, that jinetero is walking back to the shop and he’s splitting the cash with the owner.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Just don’t feel pity! Say you are sorry, and walk away.
I am out of change
Of all the scams in Cuba, this is the one Italians may be likely to fall for. Shop owners here in Italy always seem to be short on change, to the point that they often have to leave the shop in search of smaller notes to be able to give you back what they owe you.
Now, the same happens in Cuba. Like. ALL. THE. TIME.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Tell the owner you are going somewhere else to get change and you can rest assured change will magically appear soon after.
I am not like other Cubans
If someone tells you those words, it’s a cue for you to run. This is one of the worst scams in Cuba. I mean, this is not a scam per se, but it inevitably leads to one. In fact, if someone tells you he is not like all other Cubans (meaning he is not trying to scam you), you should just assume he is worse!
It all starts with a nice conversation. Most likely this person has seen you looking at a map, perhaps a bit lost, and he comes to your help, with good information that you find useful and with clear answers to exactly what you are asking.
But. Yes – there is a but indeed!
Soon enough, he will offer a very good alternative to what you are looking for. Say you want to go to a restaurant that’s recommended on your guidebook? He can surely take you to one that is much better, where locals go (except you walk in and nobody is a local, because locals can’t afford to pay $30 for a meal). Is is a casa particular you are looking for? His friend has one just around the corner.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Refuse the offer to be walked to whatever place this person is offering to take you to. Chances are he will get angry and even bully you a bit, but just move on and if anything threaten to call the police.
That business has closed
Ah, I have yet to meet a person who didn’t hear these words when traveling around Cuba.
“Està cerrado” – closed or out of business.
These words are used in reference to a restaurant, but more often to a casa particular. It’s one of the most annoying scams in Cuba that is run by jineteros to grab some business and commissions. They will literally stand at the street corner close to the place you are looking for, and warn you that the owner has died a few days before, or use whatever other excuse so that you go to a place of their choosing.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: First of all, if you are planning to stay at a casa particular, call them before arriving – a day before or even on the same day. This way you will know whether they are open or not. Then, whether it is a restaurant or a casa particular you are looking for, simply don’t listen to what the jineteros are telling you and go check for yourself. Chances are that the business will be very much open.
The museum is closed today
Another one of the scams in Cuba that occurs to literally all tourists. Sure enough they tried it on me! It works much like the closed business one: you are looking for an attraction, and just as you are about to get there someone will warn you that it is closed and suggest you go to a nearby bar instead.
I guess you got it by now: the minute you walk inside that bar, they will make a commission.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Just ignore the warnings and go check for yourself. You will see that the museum is very much open!
The bus is full / not leaving today
Much like in the rest of the world, bus stations are the worst places for scams in Cuba. The most typical thing you will hear is that the bus is full or not leaving on that day, and of course there will be plenty of taxi drivers ready to take you to your chosen destination for about 10 times the price of a bus ride.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: First of all, always book buses in advance in Cuba. As you won’t really be able to do that online (and surely not once you are in Cuba), my recommendation is to go to the bus station a day or two before you want to leave and make a reservation. Also take a screenshot or notes of the bus departure times. Finally, once you are at the station just walk past the wall of taxi drivers inside the bus station to verify whether what they are saying is true. Chances are it isn’t!
The overpriced coffee
Of all the scams in Cuba, this is one you may find hard to recognize.
Say you walk into a bar or coffee shop. You order a coffee and they try to charge you an extortionate price for it. Outrageous! But then, a local comes in your help and offers you to pay the coffee for you, at a local price. He just wants a dollar in exchange. Oh well, that’s ok right?
Well chances are one thing will lead to the other and you may find yourself having company for your wanderings about town. Except at the end of it, you will be required to pay for services you never asked for to begin with.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Part ways as soon as possible. And if you fall for it, just refuse to pay.
The cigar scam
Cigars are among the best presents you can bring back from Cuba, and literally everyone sells them in the street. But more often than not, the ones you get off street vendors are not only bad quality, but they may also be a scam – where you open up the box of cigars you have just paid for and realize it’s just a bunch of leaves!
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: Don’t buy cigars in the streets – fake cigars for which no duty has been paid will be confiscated at customs anyways. Only buy cigars directly in shops or at cigar plantations.
The taxi scam
The taxi scam in Cuba is a bit more elaborate than the classic (raising the prices, taking a longer route if running on a meter and the like).
In short, this is how it goes.
You book a taxi to take you around for a day or so, asking the driver to take you to a certain number of places. He picks you up in the morning, and off you go for your day out. Of course you don’t know the way to the destination, so you are completely unaware that a scam is unfolding. Soon enough, you will find that the driver has taken you to a place where you had not requested to go – and he’ll insist that the place you wanted to visit is closed for the day, or that the road is blocked etc. Of course, he completely omitted to warn you when he picked you up!
Falling for this scam is inevitable, it’s happened to a bunch of people I know and the experience turned sour. If it happens to you, be ready for a good argument.
HOW TO AVOID THIS SCAM: You can’t, really. And if and when it happens, you should refuse to pay the amount you are requested. Just give a fee you think is fair, especially considering you were not taken to the places you had requested.
Further Considerations And Tips To Avoid Scams In Cuba
Of course, knowing what to expect makes everything easier and will give you the possibility to react in a prompt manner. But if you ask me, speaking the language is definitely one of the best ways to keep scams in Cuba at bay.
I have a dedicated post on tips on how to learn a language (you can read it here). But I also recommend taking a phrase book with you, or a pocket dictionary. Remember that internet in Cuba isn’t a thing really, so you may need a good old paper version.
Here are a few grammar books and phrase books that may help:
One thing that I’d like to make clear is that – despite the scams, which by the way can happen anywhere, Cuba is a great country and along with the people who will try to exploit the situation, you will meet others that will be nothing but nice – like the guy who carried my suitcase along the streets of Baracoa; or the owner of the casa particular where I stayed in Vinales, who stood by me when I argued with the taxi driver to protect me.
What’s important in order to avoid scams in Cuba to know what to expect, so that you know to react. And I hope this post helps you with that!
Further readings about Cuba
For more information about Cuba, make sure to read my posts:
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