Ok, so youíve actually decided to go see the land youíve been hearing so much about, huh? Before you go, make sure that youíve done and memorized the things on this list.
Visas and Passports
You will need a passport, no matter what, and if youíre going to stay for more than 30 days a visa will be required as well and you will have to get a carnet for more than 90 day stays. You might want to take a Mastercard just in case, too. If youíre plane gets blown up on the thirtieth day in Nicaragua, donít panic. You can have your visa extended at the Managua immigration office. Oh yes, to get a visa and other information, contact:
Nicaraguan Embassy, 1627 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20009, TEL: 520-2270
After you have reached Nicaragua, you should register with the Consular section of the US Embassy and get any pertinent information you might need as well as leaving a trail to follow in the case of an emergency.
US Embassy, Kilometer 4 1/2, Carretera Sur, Managua, TEL: 505-266-6010
Letters from the US to the Embassy here should be addressed to:
American Embassy Managua, APO AA, 34201
There are two types of carnets, Permanent Resident and Temporary Resident. They can be obtained from the Dirrecion de Migracion y Extranjeria (Migration) and the requirements differ based on the reason for solicitation. You may need a birth certificate, proof of nationality, police record, health certificate, proof of residence, and an income statement in order to obtain a carnet.
You will be able to find taxis easily on major roads all over Managua, but be sure to establish the price of the fare before getting in or you could have end up paying 10 bucks for a ten block ride and it would be perfectly legal -- there are no distance meters like back in NY. The average price for a trip is four dollars.
And if youíre tempted to ride one of those public busses, even though I really donít know why anybody would, leave your rings, watch, billfold, sunglasses, and your dignity behind you. You can get anywhere in the city for less than a dollar using this form of transportation. To be honest, major crimes like robbery and murder are at much lower levels than in any other Central American nation, which is odd since Nicaragua is so poor, and there is no travel advisory out on Nicaragua.
By far the most suitable way to travel is in a four wheel drive vehicle that you have rented at the airport, motel, or from one of the lots around town. Beware, however, Boston drivers are sweet, compassionate, and patient drivers compared to your average driver here. Cars will stop in the middle of the road for no reason whatsoever, broken-down cars are never pushed onto the margin as a rule, vendors will stand in the middle of the lane at traffic lights, and taxis will never ever notice that you even exist in that lane beside them and if they decide that they don't want to wait behind that slow driver, they make jump over the meridian and drive down the opposite lane.
Go see the city busses.
Nicaraguans are known for being laid-back when it comes to time schedules. This translates into being up to an hour and a half late for any given meeting and days or weeks late on deadlines. For example, if youíre invited to a party which starts at 8:00, donít show up until 9:00 or your host will still be in the shower. Most parties for teenagers start at 9:00 and end at 2:30 when everyone is either wasted or bored. Donít be surprised if your host wants to take you to a club even though you are only 15 because no one will ever ask you for ID here.
Youíve probably heard a lot of rumors about health problems in Central America, and even though most of them are false, some of them are true and you have to be careful. Donít ever, ever, ever ask your friendly guide to take you to eat "real" Nicaraguan food. Stick to good restaurants and well-lighted areas and youíll be fine.
The tap water has this wonderful side affect called "Montezumaís Revenge" so be sure to take the readily available and inexpensive bottled water on all of your treks. And since this is the tropics, after all, take LOTS of bottle water. If youíve been looking at the temperature index and it sounds like Houston to you, think again. Managua is not only as hot as Houston, it also comes with a special bonus charm that makes things even hotter for some reason.
The mosquitoes, tend to transmit malaria an dengue fever, so begin taking anti-malarial tablets about two weeks before youíre flight and bring along lots of industrial-strength repellent or your visit could be very unpleasant. Also, contact your doctor to make sure that you are up to date on hepatitis A, tetanus, polio, and all those other wonderful vaccines. You should check out the health section for more extensive information.
Bring your prescription pills and prescriptions down and donít panic if you run out. You might be able to purchase them straight over the counter without a prescription at a pharmacy and for much less than in the US.
When you finally make it to the parking lot of any market, airport, or large business, you will be surrounded by 7 year old beggars who will shout "Oye Chelle, dame un cordoba" over and over and over again. What they want is for you to give each and every one of them about ten cents. The perfect solution might appear to be just to take out two bucks in change and pass it around. However, these children have the remarkable ability to clone themselves at a speed approaching light, so donít. You really have only two options. First, ignore them, look straight ahead, and just look down and say "no" occasionally. Or, you can pay one kid fifty cents to keep the rest of them away from you and of course you've gotta speak Spanish pretty good for that.. Whatever you do, keep in mind that these people are the victims of a terrible economic situation and they belong to a culture which does not find their practice offensive. And just because something is different does not make it bad.
You will be able to find good quality North American goods at several regular supermarkets around Managua. The most popular is called La Colonia but La Fe also carries some of the same goods. The prices here for imported stuffs is about twice the cost in the US and some things canít be found at all. But if you canít live without peanut butter or microwave popcorn, youíre in luck.
Go see the La Colonia supermarket.
Dollars are good almost everywhere in the capital and the other major cities. And there will be plenty of guys in the markets, just waiting to rip the innocent tourists off by giving them a lousy exchange rate. So be cautious and go to any bank for all your currency needs or have someone do it for you who knows what the exchange rate should be. By the way, nix on the travelers checks. Theyíll cause you more problems than their worth. The best way to carry all of this cash is to never carry large denominations or large amounts in the same place. Spread the money all over your clothes, including in your friendly waterproof belly-bag which shouldnít be trusted with more than 20 dollars at a time. Things are very cheap in Nicaragua, by comparison. For example, a night at the best resort in Nicaragua, the three star Montelimar beach resort, only costs 60 dollars a night with meals included. Meals at restaurants are also cheap and those big pottery pieces, colorful hammocks, and original paintings are very cheap too, about 20 bucks. However, anything imported like stereos, cars, and Dockers suddenly nearly doubles in price. Don't be surprised if you see a Nike hat at the open market for 10 bucks -- it's been pirated.
Forget slashing a trail through the jungle in those cute little khaki Docker shorts that you just bought. On second thought, if you want to strike up a friendship with the neighborhood mosquito brigade, go ahead. Also, take along a thin, long sleeved shirt. The mosquitos donít patrol the whole year, however, so just see how bad it is the first night with all your gear on and then switch to the bermudas. Hats are allowed, but use lots of sunscreen just in case you forget the hat on the beach or you will end up very crispy. And please, for the sake of the rest of us international visitors who live here, don't go around in some idiotic straw hat that you think is just so cute and tropical. And donít forget that there are no such things as winter and summer here. Instead, you can enjoy the "dry" and the "wet" seasons and each begins, respectively, in December and May. Hardly anybody here wears light plastic raincoats for the very good reason that theyíre hard to find. So pick up a nice, bright red one while youíre at Wal-Mart.
Timid and weak human beings will be eaten alive by the cannibalistic merchants in all the Nicaraguan markets. The rule is: find what you want, price it, price it at two different stalls, then go back and ask for it at 20% less than his original offer. And if youíre buying more than three, you could ask for an even larger discount. One tip: when you go back there, already have your maximum price in mind with the exact amount in one pocket. Then, if they wonít come down to that price, just say tell them that youíve only got x amount and to take it or leave it. So have fun and be courteous. Remember that some people may refuse a sale or sell for lower than the cost of the item just to preserve their dignity and you probably have more money in your belly bag than they will have extra in their lifetime.
Go see the Huembes Market.
Carry copies of your passport and visa at all times, but not the original. Student IDís are helpful, also, because you can get discounts at some places. If you are in an accident or if you are given a ticket, your driverís license will be taken to the courthouse pending your appearance, so be forewarned. Although the administration has cracked down severely on bribery, many police officers still accept them in exchange for letting you keep your license. So it is up to your personal moral code to decide what to do if the officer says that he would really like some coffee money.
Speaking of Wal-Mart, it hasnít made itís way to Nicaragua yet. Neither has K-Mart, Walgreens, 7-11, or any other of those places you take for granted. Which means that if you want to buy film, video tapes, or wrapping paper, youíll have to buy it at a premium-- about three times what you would pay in the States. And getting those shots of Junior with the iguana developed could cost you 25 bucks for a 36 roll. The moral of this story is to buy and develop your memorable moments back home.
The people here are not offended when you want to take their picture, so donít be shy. However, be courteous and ask them first by either pointing to the camera and then to them and smiling sheepishly or by using that little phrase book that we hope youíre not going to buy.