Nicaragua is a gem of a Central American country that, thanks to cheap prices, flexible visa structures, and a few key write ups in Vogue and The New York Times, has exploded onto the international traveler scene. Many people are taking off for this Pacific and Caribbean-lined country for the very first time. While part of the fun of travel is figuring it out as you go, here are a few tips and tricks that will hopefully make your early days in Nicaragua as smooth as possible.
One of my least favorite experiences here was getting in a cab with my pup after agreeing on a price with the driver, only to arrive at our destination and have him keep an extra 300 cordobas (about $10 USD) “porque el perro” — because of the dog. Every traveler I know here has a theory about why this is — but the unfortunate fact is that people will try to rip you off. To combat that, do your best to know the prices, whether it’s the cost of an avocado or a bus ticket, and have correct change, which usually means lots of small bills.
Every time I take a chicken bus (the local transportation between cities), immediately after boarding I ask a local what the cost is to get where I’m going. Then I get out correct change, put it in my pocket, and hand exactly that to the fare collector when he comes by. I keep my headphones in and barely look at him, thereby avoiding any opportunity for him to tell me that I need to pay extra. This kind of behavior felt so strange to me in the beginning, but that’s just how you’ve gotta roll here — own what you’re doing or at least know enough to act like you do.
You’ll hear it everywhere — “He’s on Nica time,” or “Yep, the bus is an hour late. Oh, Nica time.” Things run on their own time schedule here and the sooner you can acclimate to that and let it relax you instead of stress you out, the happier you’ll be. Sure, it still grates on me every now and then, but when I’m in the vicinity of another tourist losing their marbles about something happening five minutes later than scheduled, I’m instantly grateful that this country has taught me a little something about what matters (and about picking your battles too).
If you’ve dealt with the hassle of visas for longer trips abroad before, you will be surprised at how easy it is to buy yourself more time in Nicaragua. Once you get here, any local will chat you up about how it’s done and supply you with endless tips, tricks, and anecdotes about what to expect. Basically, all you’ve gotta do to for more visa time is cross the Costa Rican border (Belize will do too, but it’s significantly farther away) and trot right back — viola, another 90 days in paradise. Visas don’t usually work like this, but that’s the beauty of Nicaragua — it operates in its own special, sometimes illogical, often infuriating, but always interesting mode of existence.
Despite the rumors floating around the US and other places that Nicaragua is still a wildly dangerous place to be, my experience has (knock on wood) been entirely the opposite. Yep, it’s a machismo country and friends have definitely had their things stolen, but the beauty of this place certainly outweighs the bad — from snorkeling around the Corn Islands on the Caribbean side to roaming through coffee farms in the north and catching more than a few waves along the Pacific coast, Nicaragua truly is a special place that will certainly be dear to my heart for the rest of eternity.