It never made sense to me, why some people feared where I traveled. Or is it that they worry about me because I often travel alone? Whatever the case the oft repeated, “I’m excited for you, but is it safe?” has become a tuning fork. If I hear it, it means I’m probably on the right track. When I travel, I like to tap that sense of crossing into the unknown, of pushing my own boundaries, and leaning into the uncomfortable. That’s where things get interesting, and when travel becomes exploration.
Nicaragua is one of those places. But while Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, it also has one of the lowest crime rates in Latin America. Danger is relative. Here’s the thing, I’ve found that no matter where I go people are generally kind, helpful and more curious than threatening. The truth is, you never know where you’re going to find trouble.
I’d encourage anyone to travel to Nicaragua. It’s a magical place. The landscape is dotted with a chain of volcanoes and hillsides. The surf is unbeatable and the water warm. The people are some of the kindest, most gentle and hospitable I’ve encountered. The food is good and the beer is cheap. Do you need anything more?
That said, there are things to keep in mind. Here are a few tips to take with you to Nicaragua:
- The three most powerful tools you can carry with you are your attitude, your gut, and the local language.
- Your attitude: Be aware of your appearance and how people perceive you – you don’t want to invite unwanted attention. If you have blond hair, expect extra attention. Machismo is still vibrantly alive in Nicaragua. Cat calls and overly friendly men are not uncommon and it will take extra grit to get what you want. And while Nicaraguans are accustomed to seeing travelers, be mindful of your appearance and pack wisely. Shorts, t-shirts, tank tops are acceptable just about anywhere, but covered shoulders and crop pants are a more common modest option. Also, don’t forget to pack something a bit more formal for dinners in Managua or Granada!
- Your gut: listen to your instincts, if it tells you something isn’t right, believe it.
- The language: outside of Managua, San Juan del Sur and Granada, you won’t find English
spoken. Learn some Spanish.
- If you want to get to know the community while you’re in Nicaragua, consider volunteering for a day or two. Check out Fabretto Foundation, Comunidad Connect, or Al Campo International. They welcome volunteers and have locations throughout the country.
- Carry a global or unlocked phone with you. When you arrive, change to a local SIM card and minutes for your phone. It costs less than $10 – so why not?
- A nondescript bag that zips closed or even stashes underneath your clothing is invaluable. I know – it may not seem fashionable but if you’re wallet or passport is stolen who’s worrying about being fashionable?
- If your hotel offers airport pickup service, take it. It’s worth it. Then find out from the hotel or fellow travelers which ones are safe and which ones aren’t. Don’t forget to haggle on the rate – it’s expected.
- If you’re taking a chicken bus, ask at least 3 different people for the express bus. Don’t get too frustrated if you still end up on the slow bus – it happens. It happened to me.
- You may not find common hygiene products in the local stores. Either pack them, or seek out Pali in San Juan del Sur or La Colonia in Managua.
- Eat mangoes. Try the local beer and Flor de Caña. And if you’re on the coast, eat fish.
Heather Rees works with Roadmonkey, which is an adventure travel philanthropy organization. For more than a decade, Heather created and ran programs that improved communities in New York City, Guatemala, Afghanistan and Rwanda.