What You Must Know Before You Travel To Nicaragua

Are you planning to travel to Nicaragua? I am glad you are!

Lesser visited compared to other countries in Central America, Nicaragua actually has a lot to offer. The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes – that’s how it is known, since there are 19 active volcanoes and many lakes – is a fabulous adventure destinations, packed with lovely colonial cities, volcanoes calling to be hiked, incredible wildlife, lots of gorgeous beaches (and waves that are perfect for surfing) and more.

If you don’t know where to start to plan your trip to Nicaragua, you have landed in the right place. I have been to Nicaragua three times (yes, I love it there!) and in this post I will share everything you need to know before visiting Nicaragua.

things to do in Nicaragua

What You Must Know Before You Travel To Nicaragua

Best time to visit Nicaragua

The best time to visit Nicaragua is during its dry season, from November to March or April. That’s when the chances of rain are minimal, and the days sunny and dry. However, that will also be peak season – though you should not worry as Nicaragua is never too crowded.

The weather in Nicaragua is pretty much always hot – at times unbearably so, actually. There are a few places in the country where the temperatures are a bit milder. If you are thinking it can’t be that bad, think again: it’s exhausting. A place to escape it is Estelì and the surrounding mountains twice.

The rainy season starts at the end of March, and this is when the country is as green as it gets. I don’t recommend visiting Nicaragua 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 your trip, making it hard to move around the country and difficult to explore.


How to travel to Nicaragua

If Nicaragua is your first stop during a Central America trip, or the only country you are visiting, you’ll have to fly there. The only international airport in Nicaragua is Managua. There is a $12 USD entry fee that all visitors have to pay. Customs is really easy to clear, but some officers may ask you for 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 you will have to travel outside of them (ie to Costa Rica, Mexico or Belize).

If on the other hand you plan to travel to Nicaragua as part of a longer trip across Central America, you’ll have to cross a land border .

Matagalpa Nicaragua

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.

To enter Nicaragua by land, you’ll have to pay a $13 USD fee, which includes a $10 USD fee for the tourist card (tarjeta de turismo) and a $3 USD fee for the Immigration Office. This fee is mandatory and much be paid in cash – US dollars and Nicaraguan Córdoba are both accepted but you will only receive chance in Córdoba.

I strongly recommend having the exact change too, because officers at the border may decide they don’t have change that day. You should also beware of anybody hanging around the border demanding to be paid $1 USD (in whichever currency) for the “municipal entry fee” as there is no such thing. If you are asked, just say you will pay it at the official desk.

Nicaragua exit fee is $3 USD also payable in Cordobas – you must pay $2 USD at one window, and then $1 at another one.

Make sure to read my post Latin America Border Crossing: What You Need To Know.

chicken buses

How to move around Nicaragua

The most common way to move around Nicaragua is the chicken bus.

Wandering what that is? Chicken buses are old American school buses that have been driven all the way to Central America. They get fixed – their engine is changed, and they get a full makeover.

Then they start a new life and are used as public transportation. They are very cheap, if only a bit uncomfortable. Chicken buses only leave when full – and by full, I mean packed to the point you may really feel like chickens in a cage.

Locals move around by chicken bus carrying their groceries on board (and that sometimes includes live chicken). In many cases this is actually the only means of transportation.

Laguna de Apoyo Nicaragua

Using them is very easy. Get on the route the bus follows as that is fixed. You will hear the bus coming before you see it – they honk loudly, and there may be someone screaming the final destination hanging from the open door. Get on as soon as the bus stops and find a spot to sit if you can. Someone will come collect the fare (they always have change).

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 over one hour.

Make sure to check out my post Everything You Must Know About Chicken Buses.


Another way to move around is by expreso bus – this is a shuttle bus or minivan that doesn’t make intermediate stops but goes straight to its final destination. Like chicken buses, expresos only leave when full – that’s when all seats have been sold. The ride is just as uncomfortable, to be honest, as there usually is no leg room at all. But at least it’s a bit quicker.

Bus stations in Nicaragua are never too far from the city center. They burst with life: while the drivers wait for the buses to fill in (as I have said, they only leave when full), the ticket men go around the station calling the destination and looking for passengers.

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 try to negotiate 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.

Hitching rides is common, but use your good judgement before doing so.

Somoto Canyon Nicaragua

Currency in Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan currency is the Cordoba. The exchange rate is around 36 Cordobas for one US Dollar at the moment. Dollars are widely accepted, and in any case you can exchange them at any bank.

Money can be exchanged even in the street. At any corner in the center of cities and near a bank you will find 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.

Cost of travel in Nicaragua

A trip to Nicaragua won’t break your bank. On average, you should expect to spend around $45 – $50 USD per day if you opt to stay in private rooms, eat at local places and move around by public transport, and opt for the occasional guided tour or activity.

The price of activities vary depending on what you do – one of the most expensive experiences is volcano boarding on Cerro Negro. Buying tours locally is usually more convenient than getting them online, where however you can read reviews from other travelers.

You can definitely rough it up and spend as little as $20 – $25 USD per day if stick to chicken buses when moving from one place to the other, stay at a basic hostel in a shared dorm, eat mostly street food or at local places, and don’t join guided tours (though these are required for some activities such as volcano boarding).

You can also easily spend way more than that if you stay at boutique or luxury hotels (there are a few lovely ones in Leon and Granada), eat at fancier restaurants (even there, you won’t pay more than $30 USD a head), and join lots of tours.

You can find a more detailed guide on the cost of travel in Nicaragua here.

Corn Island Nicaragua

Is Nicaragua safe?

One of the most common questions people ask me when they know I am a regular is “Is Nicaragua safe?” You may hear stories of people being robbed, of scams, etc, but I have always felt safe in Nicaragua 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:

  • Don’t flash your belongings – things like expensive jewelry, cameras, etc.
  • Keep an eye on your bag and wear it across your shoulder.
  • Avoid walking alone and in the dark. Listen to locals advice: if they suggest an area is not safe to visit, you are probably better off not going.
  • Mind scams – the more crowded with tourists an area is, the more common scams are.
  • Always negotiate the price of a taxi before getting on board.

Obviously, being able to effectively communicate in Spanish helps. Only the people who work in tourism speak good English!

Make sure to get a good travel insurance before you travel to Nicaragua. You can find a good one here.

Cerro Negro Nicaragua

What to pack when you travel to Nicaragua

When visiting Nicaragua, you are actually better off using 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 for your trip to Nicaragua:

  • Hiking boots – you will need them to climb Cerro Negro and other volcanoes.
  • 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 pantsicon, or leggings – if planning to hike.
  • A pair of jeans if going to the mountains, where it is a bit cooler.
  • A sun dress and a skirt to wear during the day, as you are exploring.
  • A few t-shirts and tops.
  • A fleece sweatericon – it may get chilly in the mountains in the evening. Also carry a light scarf if you know you will go to the mountains.
  • 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, 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 – you can use it when you go to the beach. You may need it if you are backpacking too, as some hostels don’t provide towels.

Also bring a day pack to carry your daily gear such as sunglasses, camera, powerbank, wallet and travel documents, and even a travel guide book (you can’t really rely on the internet in many areas).

Further Readings

Are you planning on visiting Nicaragua? Make sure to read the following posts:

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Read everything you need to know before you travel to Nicaragua - via @clautavani

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