The Do’s and Don’ts of Nicaragua
When I went to Nicaragua back in 2017, I had a very narrow image of the country prior
to visiting. It’s poor, hot, and there are lots of bugs. At least, that’s what my grandmother told
me. “Why do you want to go there? Go to Costa Rica instead!” she’d say. I never understood
her resentment towards her home country.
One day my sister and I decided to look at plane tickets to Nicaragua. We knew that we
needed to take this trip for ourselves. It was more than just a vacation, it was the trip of a
lifetime. So we told our grandma “Lita, we’re going to Nicaragua.” To our surprise, she was
elated. She started making calls to her sisters and cousins, asking for any suggestions on
places we can go to, people we can visit, etc. We packed our backpacks, hopped on a plane,
and headed straight to our beautiful Nicaragua.
Instead of writing a long blog about our trip and what we did, I wanted to be a little
creative and write a Do’s and Don’ts blog in my perspective as someone who is second
generation Nicaraguan-American. I hope you enjoy it!
1. Don’t Pack A Lot
There is no need to bring your cutest heels or your finest jewelry. Most people who visit
Nicaragua are backpackers, so the less you bring, the better. And if you’re not a backpacker, it’s
still a good idea to not overpack because it’s hot. You’re going to want to wear some sandals,
shorts, and t-shirts. Things that are light and airy because the humidity out there can be bad.
Aside from the heat, it’s best to pack less because it makes it easier to get around the country,
and you’ll have room in your luggage for souvenirs! All those bottles of Flor de Caña you’re
going to bring back are gonna need some space!
2. Don’t Forget Cash
If you stay in Managua, you’ll be able to use your card in most stores. But once you leave
Managua and venture into other cities, you’ll want to carry some cash or córdoba. Many towns
rely heavily on physical money.
3. Do Speak Spanish
Nicaragua is a resilient country; a very independent country that hasn’t allowed external
powers to heavily influence them. With that being said, many people don’t speak English.
Although it's not impossible to find someone who speaks English, it would be helpful ahead of
time to learn a few phrases or download an app that’ll help you navigate the country. People are
more than willing to help you, but will find it flattering if you try to speak Spanish.
4. Don’t Drink the Tap Water
For the week and a half I was out there, I had to buy a bottle of water everyday in order to brush
my teeth. I didn’t want to risk getting sick so I took extra precautions! When you go to a
restaurant, it’s best to ask for no ice and only get bottled water. Thankfully I never got sick.
5. Don’t Flush Your Toilet Paper
Yes, you read that right. The plumbing can’t handle too much, so it’s not uncommon to find a
small trash can in the bathroom to throw your toilet paper into. I have to admit, this was probably
the biggest culture shock for me!
6. Don’t Be Surprised by the Catcalling
I grew up in the heart of San Francisco. Catcalling isn’t completely uncommon. At this point in
my life, I’ve grown to ignore it. But catcalling in Nicaragua is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
When we were walking around San Juan del Sur one day, it was particularly bad. You just have
to ignore it. Act like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going. This shouldn’t deter
you from visiting Nicaragua, but it’s something to be aware of.
7. Do Try Staying in a Hostel
When we first told our friends and family that we planned on staying in hostels on our trip, they
all thought we were crazy! “Why would you stay in a hostel?” “You know that’s where people get
kidnapped!” Thanks Liam Neeson for scaring our family from staying in hostels, let alone
traveling solo. We thought it would be fun to meet other travelers while saving some money. It
was honestly one of the best decisions that we made. Hostels in the states have a horrible
reputation. They’re dirty, you sleep with strangers, and you will get killed LOL. Although I’m sure
that may be true, it’s not entirely true in Central America. You can pay extra to have your own
room, most of the guests are also backpackers/travelers, and in most hostels, you get a free
breakfast! I had a great experience hosteling in both Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and would
actually encourage you to check them out! Step outside your comfort zone and maybe sleep in
a treehouse like we did.
8. Don’t Compare it to Costa Rica
Oh man, this is a hot topic. Something that I saw a lot of when doing research on where to
go/stay in Nicaragua, a lot of people would make comparisons to Costa Rica. I love Costa Rica,
don’t get me wrong, but it’s not Nicaragua. Unlike Costa Rica, Nicaragua has resisted American
influence. You will not find a Chili’s or a Walmart in Nicaragua (but you can in Costa Rica!). It’s
going to be a lot cheaper than Costa Rica. The people are a bit more cold. You’re going to be
interacting with people who have experienced war and uncertainty. Nicaragua has been through
years of political turmoil. It may come across as rude initially, but if you give someone a chance,
they’ll open up. It’s a cultural thing that I grew up with, so I knew what to expect. I hope that if
you decide to visit Nicaragua, you take it at face value. It has a lot of heart.
9. Do Take Your Time
Nicaragua is stunning. It’s beautiful. I spent 9 days in Nicaragua and it wasn’t enough. The 3 major cities I visited were Granada, San Juan del Sur, and the island of Ometepe. The next time
I go, I'd love to visit León, Masaya (where my grandma was raised), the Corn Islands, etc.
Nicaragua just has so much to offer! I encourage you to enjoy your mornings in the jungles and your evenings drinking a Toña beer on the beach.
I’m hoping to go back to Nicaragua hopefully in 2023, but this time with my whole family.
My mother has never seen her mother’s country, my cousins have never been, my aunts and
uncles have never been, yet it’s a huge part of our identity. It can be very difficult for Nicaraguan
refugees to want to go back and visit their country, but as children and grandchildren, we want
to know where we come from. I am so grateful for all of the love I experienced on my trip. My
heart would melt when people would ask why we were visiting. I got to say “My grandma is from
here and we wanted to visit.” Multiple people’s demeanor would change and say “OH you’re
Nicaraguan! Welcome!” Nicaragua is so special. It’s unlike any country I’ve ever visited.
Hay Nicaragua, Nicaragüita, La flor más linda de mi querer
I would love to thank Amelia for giving me the space to speak about my beloved Nicaragua. I
was elated when she reached out to me to write about my trip. I hope to continue collaborating
with her in the future with more opportunities to travel!
I'd like to say a huge thank you to Gabriela for such a beautifully written post and for sharing some of her love for Nicaragua with us - what an amazing post to have as The Classicist with an Atlas' first ever guest writer contribution! If you'd like to read more of her content then you can go to her blog, Beige Tides or follow her on Instagram @beige_tides, and I look forward to collaborating with her again soon.
If you're interested in writing a guest contribution for The Classicist with an Atlas then I'd love to hear from you - please use the form on the Contact page to get in touch, or message me on Instagram @theclassicistwithanatlas.