Nicaragua isn’t for everyone. In my last article, I talked about the reasons people should visit. Today, let’s examine this controversial country from the opposite end of the spectrum. So here are eight reasons you might want to think twice before visiting Nicaragua.
1. Ortega is still the dictator
Daniel Ortega has been the dictator of Nicaragua since 1979, with an intermission period from 1990 to 2007. His government has recently been in the news for some very violent crackdowns on protestors, including shooting up a church in which some had taken refuge. While tensions have eased somewhat, visiting can still seem dangerous when there are police checkpoints all over, and the government is still cracking down on anyone who speaks out against the regime. (Even while I was there, an American resident of Nicaragua was killed in prison.)
In my next piece on Nicaragua (think of this three-part series as the good, the bad, and the ugly) I will be talking more about the government and safety concerns, but I understand anyone not wanting to take the risk of traveling to such a place, either for safety reasons or simply for the appearance of normalizing the regime with a rebound in tourism.
A “spontaneous” demonstration in support of the government happened almost every day in Leon.
2. Most tourists in Nicaragua are backpackers
This was a surprise to me, though it shouldn’t have been. With the violence of 2018 only slightly in the rear view mirror, the first tourism group to return is young backpackers, mostly from Europe. This isn’t in itself a bad thing. Backpackers are people, too. But backpackers also don’t typically enjoy the sorts of cultural activities that I do as a deep-thinking traveler, and the country is more catered toward them and their interests: parties, drinking, outdoor activities. As tourism rebounds, I expect this to change, with more available for travelers like us.
3. The weather
Nicaragua, especially the coastal area that holds the most appeal for visitors, is hot. It has two seasons: wet and dry. Both are hot. If you like heat, great! If 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 90% humidity sounds way too much like summer in Houston, this might not be the place for you. Also consider that few buildings are equipped with air conditioning.
Looks beautiful along Lake Nicaragua in Granada, and it is. But it was also 102 degrees Fahrenheit and humid!
4. Bugs are everywhere
This goes hand in hand with the weather. Nicaragua is mosquito heaven, especially after it rains, which it does most days in the wet season. Ok, you think to yourself, I’ll just stay indoors. Well, few buildings are truly indoors. Nicaraguan architecture is built around open-air courtyards. In many homes, only the bedrooms have doors, with the other rooms just being under a roof off the courtyard. Restaurants, too, are almost always open to the air – and the bugs. They will get you, no matter how careful you are. (And yes, Nicaragua is a country with active Zika cases.)
This is from the Ortiz Foundation, an art museum in Leon, but illustrates the house style with open central courtyards allowing bugs in. (The Ortiz Foundation is made up of five adjoining houses.)
5. Hot water isn’t common here
Comfort plays a big role when I travel, and hot showers are where comfort begins. The only night I had in Nicaragua with hot water was at the Hilton Princess, perhaps the nicest hotel in Managua. So unless you are staying at luxury hotels, you will almost certainly take your showers cold. (This might feel good for some given the weather, but not for me.)
6. The drivers are simply terrible
Ok, this is an over-generalization, as the driver I hired for all of my intercity travel, Robert Ow, was wonderful and safe. But stepping off the curb as a pedestrian in Nicaragua is really taking a risk. Cars will not stop for you. They will honk at you and swerve around you – in theory – but pedestrian right of way is NOT a thing here. Cars will zip around corners without looking, charge through stop signs, and otherwise ignore most safety norms we take for granted in the US.
Honking is also ubiquitous here. Maybe it means good morning or something, but everyone drives honking. I did not get used to it.
It’s also worth noting that, even in Managua, cars share the road with horse drawn carts, adding to the nightmare.
Not exactly a common site in the US, these added to the road confusion in Nicaragua.
7. There are no addresses
This one just confounds me, and perhaps explains why drivers are in such lousy moods. There are no addresses here. Rather, you’ll be told to look for the red house with the cactus across from the church, or something similar. Airbnb hosts will give map coordinates and directions, but it’s a challenge to find things.
It also makes you wonder why, when entering the country, you are asked to provide an address of where you’ll be staying. For those at a hotel, the name will suffice. For those of us at an Airbnb, it involves an explanation to a customs official who barely speaks English that no, I don’t have the address, just GPS coordinates. The explanation was accepted begrudgingly.
8. There is a lack of tourism infrastructure
Tourism is relatively new here, and even before the protests and subsequent downgrading of advisory warnings against visiting Nicaragua, tourists were a new phenomenon. As a result, there isn’t the deep infrastructure that most Americans expect when we travel, things like a variety of hotels, tour operators, English explanations at sights, or marked signs on many hiking trails. Those things will likely emerge as tourism becomes a most consistent part of the society here, but they aren’t in evidence now.
Have I scared you away? I don’t mean to, but it’s important to realize that Nicaragua might not be the best destination for you if these things outweigh the positives.
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