During spring break, I had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua for a week! This gave me useful firsthand experience with traveling to a Latin American country, since two of our adoption programs work in Mexico and Nicaragua. Because I am a planner and stress about packing, I read blogs, travel guides and talked to other people who have been to Nicaragua. I always worry that I won’t have what I need when I need it. I worry that I won’t like the food, so I usually pack enough snacks to feed a small army. Below, I am sharing a few notes from my trip to help you prepare prior to departure, in hopes this will help a fellow traveler with their packing and planning, and make your trip more enjoyable.
Communication: (so important to be able to communicate with the locals!) We were lucky to have two people in our group who spoke Spanish, which was helpful for our time in Nicaragua. If you do not speak Spanish I suggest purchasing a English-Spanish dictionary and/or downloading Google Translate on your phone. There may be other translation apps as well.
Climate: Nicaragua has a tropical climate, with a dry season and the rainy season. There is virtually no rain during the dry season, which typically runs from January through June. The rest of the year is considered the rainy season; however, it typically rains only once a day for a short period. Average high temperatures in the capital city of Managua range from 85-90° F; in Granada, it is a bit cooler with high temperatures averaging 78-79° F. Our visit was during the first week of April and it was hot! Every day it was in the 90’s. The mornings and evenings were most enjoyable, as opposed to the intense heat of the afternoon. We stayed near the beach, which offered a nice breeze.
Things to pack: Casual dress is acceptable at the hotel, beach or pool. Most days we wore shorts, tank tops or short sleeved shirts. If we were going to the beach or pool, we wore swim suits and a cover-up. You should pack a couple of business attire outfits (dresses or nice pants and tops for women, and slacks and nice shirts for men) for any meetings at the Embassy or court appointments. Flip-flops or sandals are good for most days, but you should also pack tennis shoes for any hikes or long walks. We rode horses on the beach and were glad that we packed tennis shoes.
Be sure to pack lots of sunscreen and bug spray. The sun is intense, and although we sought out the shade when possible, we also used lots of SPF 50 sunscreen. You can purchase sunscreen and bug spray in Nicaragua, but I found it was more expensive than the U.S. and the quality of SPF may be questionable. I also suggest packing a hat or two and sunglasses. Remember to pack appropriately for the climate and stay out of the sun during the hottest times of the day!
Required Travel Documents:
- Visas are not required for U.S. citizens travelling to Nicaragua. However, a tourist card must be purchased upon entering Nicaragua when you arrive at the airport (at passport control) for $10 USD per person. It is helpful to have a $10 bill ready with your passport (or a $20 bill if you are traveling with another person). The tourist stamp is valid for the first 90 days in-country. If your stay will last beyond 90 days, you must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan Immigration before the 90-day period ends. MLJ’s in-country staff can assist you with obtaining the extension visa. Your stay can be extended for three months at a cost of approximately $25 per month. It is helpful to put a reminder on your calendar to notify you when your 90-day visa is about to expire.
- It is recommended that you leave photocopies of your passports at home with someone you can contact, and have an extra copy with you in your carry-on bag just as a precaution.
- Be sure to keep the luggage receipt the airline gives you when you check in at the airport in the U.S. There will be people checking this at the airport in Nicaragua when you pick up your luggage and will verify you have the receipt for your bags before you can leave the airport.
Cell Phones, Credit Cards & Currency: If you would like to use your cell phone while traveling, you will want to contact your cell phone company prior to departure to advise them of the dates that you will be in Nicaragua. For this trip, I did not add an international plan to my cell phone because I knew there would be reliable Wi-fi where we were staying. I used Viber to text, call and send photos to family and friends in the U.S. Viber is a free instant messaging and voice over IP app that is used worldwide. WhatsApp is another free app that is commonly used to text and talk for free when traveling internationally. The person you are calling or texting in the U.S. will also need to download Viber or WhatsApp in order for it to work properly.
Credit cards: You will also want to call your credit card company to let them know you will be traveling out of the country. If you do not call your credit card company and try to use your credit card while in route or in Nicaragua, your account will likely be locked due to suspicious fraudulent activity.
Currency: Nicaragua has its own currency, the Cordoba. However, the U.S. Dollar is widely accepted. Often, prices are based on dollars but quoted in Cordoba. If you pay in dollars you may receive your change in Cordoba. Prices in Cordoba are given using the letter C and a dollar sign, for example, C$100. The abbreviation for Cordoba is NIO. Credit cards are accepted in most stores, hotels, and restaurants but not in small towns and off-road destinations. You can get cash from ATMs located in banks and gas stations. Some options are:
- Bring U.S. Dollars and exchange for Cordoba. Be careful where you do this, as some currency exchange bureaus charge a very high fee.
- Use an ATM machine/debit card. This option has the lowest fees, and you will get the current exchange rate less the transaction fee (please note that there is typically a limit on the amount of cash that can be withdrawn daily).
Preparing to travel internationally can ensure a safe and enjoyable trip! By taking a few pre-travel steps, you can have a more enjoyable, safe and carefree stay while in Nicaragua!