Update (June 7, 2018): The situation continues to deteriorate with recent violence in Masaya and Granada, with over 120 casualties and over a thousand people wounded. Personally, I wouldn’t travel to Nicaragua at this time while the protests are ongoing.
Safety update (May 24, 2018): While protests are ongoing in Nicaragua, the situation is more peaceful than during my last update. I believe now it is safe to visit Nicaragua, but I’d avoid Managua, where most of the protests have been occurring.
A reader named Christian, a Nicaraguan living in Managua, recently commented: “I’d say to still avoid Managua, tourist places are safe especially at the south of the country (Granada, Ometepe Island, San Juan del Sur)
There are not violent protests anymore and looks like everything is coming back to normal.”
If you are a Nicaraguan or a traveler who is currently in Nicaragua, feel free to leave a comment and I will gladly update this post to reflect what the situation on the ground is like in Nicaragua now. Thank you!
Important safety update (April 25, 2018): At the moment, Nicaragua is experiencing civil unrest and violent protests. As of April 23rd, the U.S. has ordered all family members of government personnel stationed there to leave, and there is an ongoing travel advisory (see full text here).
Over 30 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and police, mainly in the capital city, Managua. I last visited Nicaragua in January/February of 2017, so my experience below reflects that time. Many governments are advising against visiting Nicaragua at this time. If you do go, avoid Managua and perhaps Léon, which has historically been one of the most politically active and revolutionary cities in Nicaragua. I’d imagine things are calmer in Granada, San Juan del Sur, and Ometepe, which host more expats and are more touristic.
Below is the text of the article as it appeared before the protests began in April, which was first published January 20th, 2018 following my visit to Nicaragua in 2017.
Safety Note: Now more than ever, I recommend ensuring you have travel insurance when visiting Nicaragua. I used the World Nomads Explorer Plan to cover me from anything from volcano boarding to scuba diving while I was in Nicaragua, at very affordable prices. Especially with the current political situation, you’ll want to be covered if you visit Nicaragua.
It’s unfortunate but true: women travelers everywhere have different safety considerations than men. And this is doubly true in Latin America, with its strong patriarchal culture. When I told people back home that I was spending 4 months traveling alone through Central America, I had many surprised and nervous reactions. But were they warranted?
Well, I learned it firsthand when I traveled alone for five weeks in Nicaragua — yup, no one but me, myself, and I. After all that time, exploring from north to south, from smaller towns like Estelí and Matagalpa to larger cities like Managua and Léon, all the way to the Corn Islands in the Caribbean — I’d say I feel vaguely qualified to answer the common question: is Nicaragua safe?
Note: Keep in mind, of course, that this is my personal experience and is thus incredibly subjective. I’ve traveled a lot — to around 50 countries, at last count — and I’ve lived in some places that are very unfriendly to women. These opinions come from an experienced solo traveler who is familiar with Latin American culture and fluent in Spanish. Your comfort level may vary based on your experiences and personality!
Here are my main takeaways about travel safety in Nicaragua.
Yes, traveling as a woman is safe — but the patriarchy is strong.
If you’ll allow me to generalize, Latin America has a very patriarchal and male-dominated culture. So is traveling there safe?
I’d say yes – with a few caveats. For one, you have to be comfortable with a certain level of stares and comments. For another, you have to trust your gut. If something tells you that a person’s intentions are not good, listen to them. Exit the situation, even if you feel like it’s rude. Your safety matters more than a stranger’s feelings. Always.
If you’re used to life in a big city and ignoring men who call out to you on the street — you’ll be just fine in Nicaragua. I found that my years of living in New York City had steeled me pretty well to Nicaraguan catcalling and I wasn’t very affected by it. That said, I did limit the amount of time I walked at night alone (keep in mind sunset is rather early in Nicaragua due to its latitude, so it’s not realistic — nor necessary — to always be home before dark).
When all else fails, remember: women are your allies. Make eye contact, smile, say hello, chat with them, and don’t be afraid to stick close to them if you feel you’re getting unwanted attention. Women look out for women, generally, and I’ve found that local women will look out for you and tell men where to go if necessary.
Catcalling is ubiquitous, but you need to use your gut to assess safety
I had heard that catcalling in Nicaragua was incredibly commonplace, and I can confirm that. Catcalling is a major part of a woman’s daily lived experience in Nicaragua.
In the cities, it’s rare to go more than a few blocks without a hissed “compliment” or suggestive comment. I found catcalling to be less common in smaller towns like Las Peñitas and in the Corn Islands, but it was still present nonetheless. Nicaragua is safe for women, but still — catcalling is a fact of life.
For me, having a plan of action was important mentally. I had two tiers of responses. I’d respond to innocent holas and buenos días with a polite but curt response as I continued walking past them, without making eye contact. If someone threw in a bella or a baby or anything beyond that — they were promptly ignored.
95% of the time, the interaction stopped there. It was rare that someone would continue to bother me or ask me why I ignored them, or took my hurried hello as an invitation for further discussion. I’m comparing this experience to my time living in New York, where ignoring men quite literally got me called a bitch or a whore multiple times a week.
I found that men in Nicaragua were quick to assert their dominance with some catcalling, but often left it at that. While not necessarily pleasant, I didn’t find that it made me feel unsafe. Trust your gut and know the difference between an uncomfortable but isolated sexualized comment and an actual threat.
Taxis are insanely cheap and worth every cordoba
I’ve never traveled anywhere where taxis are as cheap as Nicaragua, and I used them liberally during my five weeks in the country.
The reason why they’re so cheap is that they all work essentially as colectivos – aka, collective taxis. So don’t be surprised if you flag a taxi, only to have them stop for other travelers. This is how it’s supposed to go. That’s why they’re so cheap!
On average, I paid 10 to 30 cordobas (the equivalent of 30 cents to $1 USD) to travel from point A to point B within a city. Taxis don’t have standard rates — much less meters, for that matter. Always agree upon the fare before entering the taxi. A simple Cuanto cuesta ir a ___? will show that you understand how the taxis work in Nicaragua and that you aren’t likely to be tricked (just make sure you have enough Spanish to understand their response!). I’m not sure how it would go if you spoke English to the taxi driver. I never tried, seeing that I’m comfortable speaking in Spanish.
Let me just say: I think it’s a bit gauche for foreigners to argue over every last nickel and dime, especially when we enjoy relative wealth compared to Nicaraguans. By all means, don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of to a ridiculous level. However, do keep in mind that you’re often arguing over the equivalent of a few dimes. If a taxi driver truly is overcharging you and you’re not comfortable with it, simply decline politely and wave down another.
Be prepared to be assertive on chicken buses
I don’t want to gloss over my five weeks in Nicaragua without mentioning one very uncomfortable experience I had. This literally happened on my way to the border with Costa Rica departing Nicaragua. I was especially frustrated because up until the final day of my travels in Nicaragua, I had felt pretty safe in Nicaragua as a woman. But this was different.
On the chicken bus from San Juan del Sur to Rivas, where I was going to transfer to the border bus, a man decided to take advantage of the fact that we were on a crowded bus. I was packed three to a seat with two other female travelers, sitting on the outside seat. It was a very packed bus, I’ll grant. But there was nothing natural about the way this man was standing with his dick thrust proudly in my face — basically straddling me — with a sick grin on his face.
I know that crowded forms of transit are a thing. I lived in New York City for nine years, for Christ’s sake. I get it. But something just felt off. I was half worried that I was being oversensitive, but I also felt frozen. The girls next to me sensed my discomfort with the situation and asked if I wanted any help with telling off this man — but I just felt so oddly frozen, so afraid to escalate the situation, so I told them I was fine. Of course, I wasn’t, but I didn’t know the proper course of action, so I sat through it. I wish I could say that I raised my voice and got loud and told this guy where to go in some particular colorful Spanish, but I didn’t.
The thing about sexual harassment is that you never know how you’re going to respond to it until you’re in the situation, and once you’re in the thick of it, the situation is often fraught with variables. I didn’t want to seem like an insane gringa shouting out a local guy over nothing. I didn’t want to seem oversensitive, or rude, or racist. So I sat.
What can you learn from this? If you speak Spanish, practice a forceful but polite way to express discomfort. A simple “Puedes moverte por favor?” is good to have in your back pocket. If that’s too much, shifting your body with an icy “pardon” (bonus points for a well-placed glare) should work too. Or simply get up and move if you are uncomfortable. I was tired from five straight weeks of traveling Nicaragua and navigating the constant question between deciding if comments were harmless or if they had bad intent. Upon leaving the country, I think I let my guard down a bit and wasn’t expecting this. I didn’t respond with as much strength as I wish I had.
I want to share my experience with you so that you can be prepared. But the last thing I want to do is have my one bad experience to dissuade you from visiting Nicaragua. This is nothing that wouldn’t happen to women elsewhere in the world, sadly. I spent 5 weeks visiting over 10 different cities in the country and this was the only experience that left me unsettled. So please go to Nicaragua — but just have a snappy fuck-off response in your back pocket, and be ready to use it.
Give trust freely, but cautiously
Like I said above, I don’t want one bad experience to sour you on Nicaragua or Nicaraguans. Nicas are extremely kind and helpful people, quick to assist, give direction, and support you in times of need. There’s no reason to distrust locals. Generally, if you are traveling as a solo woman, people want to point you in the right direction and ensure you have a positive experience in their country. I was always helped to the correct bus, never overcharged on public transportation, given the right change, etc. during my travels.
In my opinion, the risk of scams in Nicaragua is smaller than in Belize and Guatemala, and the people of Nicaragua are generally very honest and kind. But keep in mind this one rule of thumb: if you get a bad feeling from someone — it’s probably for a reason. Walk away. Ask around and get another opinion. Ignore. Being safe is always — always — more important than being polite.
Again: Be sure you use travel insurance when in Nicaragua. I used the World Nomads Explorer Plan to cover me during my time in Nicaragua, at affordable prices.
So, is Nicaragua safe? I’d say yes, definitely, but never ignore that voice in your head. It’s often right.