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Is Nicaragua Safe to Visit in 2023? | Safety Concerns

Is Nicaragua Safe to Visit in 2023? | Safety Concerns

Nicaragua is an attractive country in Central America and a hot spot for adventure seekers, history buffs, and culture lovers. It is home to vast lakes, towering volcanoes, sandy beaches, pristine rainforests, and stunning colonial architecture.

If you’re looking for a holiday destination in Central America, this country has something for everyone. However, Nicaragua’s political unrest that began in 2018 leaves many tourists wondering whether it’s a safe place to travel.

Other concerns, such as crime and natural disasters, may be on your mind before traveling.

So, is Nicaragua safe to visit? What’s the country’s crime rate? This guide will answer your questions and give you various travel tips and safety concerns to help you explore Nicaragua trouble-free.

Is Nicaragua Safe to Visit?

For a post titled Is Nicaragua Safe to Visit, a bunch of people protesting in the streets

Granada, Nicaragua – May 29, 2018: peaceful protests in Granada Nicaragua for reform of INSS, people flying the Nicaraguan flag/Riderfoot/Shutterstock

Nicaragua is a safe destination for travelers. But as you would in any other country, it’s good to use common sense. The country’s social and political upheaval is a significant concern despite attempts by the government to improve safety in tourist areas.

The United States issued a Level 3 advisory on December 5, 2022, for traveling to Nicaragua. This is mainly due to the country’s political situation and limited healthcare availability.

Other countries, such as New Zealand and Canada, have issued Level 3 and 2 advisories for traveling here. Apart from political unrest, you may become a victim of a crime or natural disaster. Cases of violent crime, such as armed robbery and sexual assault, have increased since 2018.

You’ll also want to be cautious in tourist areas such as Granada, Corn Island, San Juan del Sur, and Managua. These areas are hotspots for pickpockets and purse snatchers.

Unfortunately, the country doesn’t have a strong police force to fight crime. Whether you’re exploring rural or urban areas, you must be aware of your surroundings. Be cautious when interacting with locals, and keep your belongings close.

Climate and natural disasters may halt your travel in Nicaragua. This country experiences hurricanes, flash flooding, volcanic activities, landslides, tsunamis, and earthquakes.

The hurricane season occurs from June to November, leading to floods. Earthquakes can occur at any time, so always be alert. Active volcanoes such as San Cristobal and Santiago Volcanos can be destructive.

Other safety concerns you should be aware of before traveling to Nicaragua include the following:

  • Scams: Taxi scams and credit card frauds are common in Nicaragua.
  • Express kidnappings: Areas with violent crimes have rampant issues of express kidnappings. Abductors target tourists and ask for ransoms.
  • Highway robberies: Cases of armed robberies along highways such as the Managua-Leon and Tipita-Masaya.
  • Health concerns: Travelers should be aware of health issues such as dengue fever and malaria. Avoid mosquito bites and get a vaccine for malaria. Nicaragua’s healthcare system may not offer the best treatment for severe illnesses.
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Crime in Nicaragua

Outdoor view of Leon Nicaragua pictured on a sunny day for a piece on whether or not Nicaragua is safe to visit

Fotos593/Shutterstock

While there’s a low rate of reported crime in Nicaragua, many crimes, especially in the urban areas, go unreported. Tourist areas have high cases of pickpocketing, assault, theft, express kidnapping, carjacking, and occasional armed robbery.

According to the Department of State, crime in Nicaragua is prevalent in Managua. Poverty is one of the main reasons Nicaragua has a high level of crime. While most poverty exists in rural areas, many impoverished neighborhoods exist in Managua.

These neighborhoods are breeding grounds for pickpockets, robbers, assaulters, and gangs. When visiting Managua or any other urban area, steer clear of poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

But does that mean you’re safe if you avoid bad neighborhoods? Most criminals in Nicaragua target areas such as store parking lots, bus stations, and markets. For example, you may fall victim to pickpockets in some markets such as Mayoreo, Oriental, and Huembes.

Street crime in Managua is more prevalent at night, with some cases involving armed robbery. Sexual assault is also an issue of concern at hotels and beach locations. In most cases, solo women travelers may be subjected to sexually harassed or verbal abuse.

Female travelers should explore Nicaragua as a group or hire trustworthy tour guides. Gang violence, prostitution, and drug trafficking are common in poverty-stricken areas such as Jorge Dimitrov, Zona Rosa, and Rene Schick.

There are cases of confrontations between gangs that include stabbings, armed robberies, and drive-by shootings. Prostitutes in the Zona Rosa district are known to rob passersby, so be cautious when going there.

The most common cases of crime against tourists include petty theft and express kidnappings. So, what do these crimes entail, and how can you avoid them?

Petty Theft

Petty theft, such as purse snatching and pickpocketing, is common in tourist areas. Criminals know that tourists may have valuables and money in their bags or cars. Purse snatchers often use motorcycles to snatch bags from tourists walking on the streets.

They’ll also grab bags inside a car when your vehicle stops in traffic. On the other hand, pickpockets target tourists in markets, hotels, public transport, and beach areas.

If you’re traveling during the holiday season, remain alert because this is when pickpockets and bag snatchers are in plenty. Keep your valuables near you in areas such as the Tica Bus Station terminal, Avenida Bolivar, Altamira, and the old cathedral in the capital of Managua.

To avoid the risk of purse snatching and express kidnapping, ensure to do the following:

  • Visit tourist areas during the day
  • Avoid hitchhiking
  • Keep personal belongings secure
  • Avoid wearing jewelry when traveling to tourist areas
  • Avoid carrying large amounts of money or valuables
  • Use your ATM at banks
  • Avoid public transport
  • When driving, keep the windows up and doors locked
  • Don’t leave your valuables exposed in the car
  • Tour the country in groups
  • Avoid isolated areas

Express Kidnapping

Theft and express kidnapping go hand in hand in areas prone to violent crime. Most cases of express kidnappings happen in risky neighborhoods in Managua. While kidnapping incidents might be rare, criminals usually target tourists and ask for ransom.

More often, criminal gangs are the main perpetrators of abductions, and they may collaborate with criminal taxi drivers or tour guides. After the kidnapping, these criminals rob victims and force them to withdraw cash from ATMs or ask for ransom from family or friends to release them.

A few cases occur where a friendly-looking traveler offers to share a taxi with tourists. Once inside, the traveler robs the tourists at knifepoint. The assailant may also order the driver to drive to a remote area where other criminals are.

These incidents usually happen in international airports and cities such as Granada, Rivas, and Masaya. Due to the limited police force in Nicaragua, kidnappers may abduct tourists in public places and drive off using stolen cars.

Road-based crime may also involve kidnapping and extortion, especially on the Honduran border. If you’re in this northern border region, use highways to cross the border at Las Manos, Gaussaule, and El Espino.

There are reports of criminals attacking hotel-run buses along:

  • Tipita-Masaya highway (NIC-11A)
  • Managua-Leon highway (Route 12/CA-3)
  • Somotillo-Chinandega highway (NIC-24)

If you want to avoid being a victim of kidnappers, you’ll need to do the following:

  • Use authorized taxis. You can order a radio taxi at the airport or make arrangements with your hotel. The cab should have red plates, the driver’s photo, name, and identification number.
  • Use reputable tour operators.
  • Avoid sharing a cab with strangers.
  • Don’t accept free rides from strangers.
  • Share your travel plans with family or friends at home. If possible, communicate more often and let them know where you’re at any given time.
  • If attacked and kidnapped, don’t resist. Criminals usually carry deadly weapons, and they may turn violent.
  • Don’t walk alone on remote beaches.
  • Avoid discussing your travel plans or where you reside with strangers.

Avoiding Bad Areas

Corinto Nicaragua slums as seen from the street

Ted Pagel/Shutterstock

Before traveling to Nicaragua, it’s good to have a travel itinerary to help you know where to be each day. This will allow you to do your homework and identify safe places to explore in the country.

While political unrest, crime, and natural disasters are common in Nicaragua, you can enjoy trouble-free travel with proper planning. Look for safe hotels away from criminal hot spots. For example, you’ll find safe hotels in Leon, Granada, Playa Maderas, and San Juan del Sur.

Unlike Managua, these cities record a lower crime rate and are also safe to explore. Leon is the safest city and a good place to enjoy the beaches, nightlife, and active downtown life. Ensure to visit locations such as Poneloya and Peñitas in Leon.

Granada has lower rates of crime, such as armed robbery and assault. However, areas such as Central Park, Old Railway Station, La Herradura, Salobreña, and Almuñécar are safe for exploring and relaxing.

You can also visit other areas, such as Matagalpa, Las Penitas, Popoyo Beach, El Transito, and Ometepe Island. Unfortunately, the capital of Managua is the most crime-ridden area in Nicaragua. There’s nothing much for tourists in Managua, so avoiding the city should not feel like a loss.

However, if you want to visit this city, avoid or be cautious in the easternmost area outside Managua. Neighborhoods such as La Modelo, Reparto Schick, El Chureca, San Judas, and Barrio 18 have a lot of crime and gang activities.

If you want to stay in Managua:

  • Find a safe villa or condominium in Las Colinas and Santo Domingo neighborhoods.
  • Remember, you’ll always want to be aware of your surroundings when exploring the city.
  • When traveling to the city, hire a car or taxi, but ensure to go during the day.

Whether at night or in daylight, avoid walking along unfamiliar residential paths. Criminals in the above bad neighborhoods may attack you, alone or in a group. However, it’s best to walk as a group around Managua but avoid the risky areas.

When riding cabs, keep the windows up to avoid robbers, beggars, and service givers. You’ll also want to keep your valuables in your bag and ensure it’s in a safe place. Leave your valuables, such as necklaces and chains, in your hotel before heading to the city. Pickpockets are rampant and may spot and target them.

Areas such as MetroCentro, Bluefields, Rivas, Corn Islands, and Puerto Cabezas have a higher crime rate. The most common crime here includes theft, assaults, and prostitution. Avoid them or practice diligence if you decide to head there.

Things to Consider

Here are more travel tips to consider when traveling to Nicaragua:

  • Avoid areas where there are demonstrations and large political gatherings
  • Follow the local media to learn about ongoing demonstrations
  • Don’t hail taxis on the streets
  • Purchase travel insurance before heading to Nicaragua
  • As a solo female traveler, avoid drinking too much
  • Choose reputable hotels with 24-hour security
  • When traveling during hurricane season, know if your hotel or cruise ship has an evacuation plan
  • Don’t hike near active volcanoes
  • Visit remote areas with a reputable and experienced guide
  • Drink bottled or boiled water
  • Use mosquito repellant
  • Don’t take photos of official buildings
  • Keep your travel documents safe
  • Don’t eat undercooked or raw food

Frequently Asked Questions

Old Cathedral of Managua pictured on a sunny day for a piece titled Is Nicaragua Safe to Visit

Henryk Sadura/Shutterstock

Do you still have questions about Nicaragua? Find some common questions below:

Do they speak English in Nicaragua?

Spanish is Nicaragua’s official language. However, locals on the Caribbean coast use their indigenous languages and English.

Is Nicaragua cheap?

Nicaragua is a cheap destination for travelers who are low on budget. It’s one of Central America’s most affordable travel destinations, with plenty to explore. However, avoid peak seasons because prices tend to skyrocket.

Is the US dollar accepted in Nicaragua?

The US dollar is the only foreign currency accepted in Nicaragua. You can use cash or a traveler’s check to pay for services or buy goods.

Is Costa Rica or Nicaragua safer?

Costa Rica is safer than Nicaragua, thanks to the country’s stable political system and higher standards of living. Unlike Nicaragua, Costa Rica’s crime rate is low, and there are plenty of areas to explore trouble-free.

Is Nicaragua rich or poor?

Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in Central America, just after Haiti. It’s also the least developed country with widespread poverty and unemployment.

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We may earn a commission when you click this link, at no extra cost to you.

So, Is Nicaragua Safe to Visit?

Yes, but keep a few things in mind. The country’s political unrest, natural disasters, and crime, such as pickpocketing, armed robbery, assaults, and express kidnapping, are the primary safety concerns.

You can avoid becoming a victim by avoiding risky areas and ensuring you’re aware of your surroundings.

But with so many other gorgeous destinations with less crime and political upheaval, there’s no need to risk becoming a statistic. Happy travels (wherever you decide to go)!