Get your mind beyond the infamous Iran-Contra affair, as Nicaragua now has plenty to offer the adventurous tourist. Sporting gorgeous beaches on both its Caribbean and Pacific coasts, great nightlife and cuisine in the colonial city of Granada, and the largest freshwater lake in Central America, there are plenty of volcanoes to climbs, breaks to surf, and beaches to enjoy. Read more about border crossing, road conditions, and camping and hotels.
- Population: 5,603,000
- Capital: Managua
- Fun fact: While Nicargua is the largest country in Central America, it has the lowest population density.
Border Crossing Information
- Vehicle Title
- Vehicle Registration
- Valid Drivers License
- Several photocopies of each of these documents
- $12 entry fee per person
- $12 car insurance
- $3 fumigation
After showing your passport and paying $12 USD/person to enter Nicaragua, you will receive a small yellow tourist card -- hang on to this, as they will collect it when you leave the country. Also, hold onto any and all receipts you are given, until you clear the border area, as there may be further checks. To receive your car import permit, you will need the above documents. The permit should be free, but is only valid for 30 days maximum. You then need to purchase compulsory car insurance for $12 USD. This covers only 3rd party damage, so if you feel you need more insurance for your car in Nicaragua, see the insurance information of Your Vehicle article for more information.
- Yellow or White Nicaraguan Tourist Permit
- Vehicle Import Permit
- Obligatory Insurance
- $2 departure fee per person
- $1 municipal tax per person
Upon entering the border area with your car, you will be given a boleta de revision turismo and the officer will write your license plate on the ticket. You will need to have both a police officer and a different border official 'inspect' your car and sign this document. The 'inspection' is cursory at best, and they may not even look at your car. You will then need to present your passport with your tourist permit and pay $2 for each person leaving the country. After presenting your Nicaraguan car import permit with the signed boleta they will stamp the boleta and cancel your vehicle import permit. They will also make sure your passport matches the vehicle import permit, and stamp your passport stating that the car has left the country.
Right-Hand-Drive vehicles are NOT allowed to enter Nicaragua (Law 431, Art. 165). Just after paying a bribe to the transit police at the border the vehicle could enter.
People's experiences vary depending on crowds at the border, corrupt or honest border officials, and rules can also change. People's individual experiences are included in the Nicaragua-Additional Border Crossing Information page.
Roads and Driving
The following section details driving in Nicaragua. See Roads and Driving for more general information driving in all countries.
The quality of the roads in Nicaragua are much lower than you find in the United States or Canada. In fact, the main highway leading into the country is currently under construction. Many roads will have large potholes, washouts, or fallen debris blocking part of the road. Never assume any of these things will be blocked off or well marked. Many drivers on the road will be driving at dangerous speeds, consider driving slower than other traffic. See Roads and Driving for good general information on driving in Latin America.
If you cross into Nicaragua at Somotillo, you will find the road in very poor shape, make sure to get over the border early so you are not navigating huge potholes in the dark. Driving to San Juan del Sur will be fine, but driving to the nearby beaches may be difficult without a 4x4 or high clearance vehicle, especially in the rainy season (April to November).
If you are used to driving in places like the USA, you will be used to looking for signs that point out the highway number, but in Nicaragua the signs pointing out the highway number are often non-existent, or incorrect. You will find yourself needing to ask for directions often as you drive through Nicaragua.
There are many police checks on the roads in Nicaragua. It is unclear exactly what they are looking for or whether it is a routine inspection. You will be asked to present your license, car permit and car title. Try to use photocopies but they may demand to see originals. It is a good idea to hand over your international driver's license and hang onto to the original. As long as your documents are in order you shouldn't have any problems. If you are pulled over and you don't believe you did anything wrong, see the scams and shakedowns section for techniques to avoid paying bribes.
Donkeys, cattle, horses, dogs, pedestrians, and bicyclists will be a common site on and along the roads. Many roads lack shoulders or sidewalks, so there are few places for pedestrians to walk except on the roadbed itself. Many of the roads along the Pacific coast are dirt roads with little traffic. Be careful of robberies if you are driving in empty stretches, it has been reported that people have been robbed after stopping to clear a large branch off the road.
Gas prices are expressed in the units of the specific country.
Premium unleaded: $5.47 per gallon
Price is in Nicaraguan Cordoba per liter
Regular (Magna): $15.90/liter
Conversion: 1L=0.26 gallons
Camping and Hotels
Hotel Posada del Sol has a pool and spacious rooms for $45 night that can sleep up to 4 people, and has cheap secure parking around the corner for about $4/24 hours. 451 8474, on Calle El Calmito east of the Parque Central (toward the lake).
Casa Capricho has nice rooms around a quirky courtyard with plenty of areas of lounge and swim in the small pool. At $50-$70/night, it's a little pricey, and check out the rooms first as they vary a lot in quality. 552.8422, 401 Calle El Arsenal, 2 blocks north of Calle La Calzada.
La Maquina (Waterfall park)
About half way between Mangua and Granada head west toward the coast. Nice campground and restraunt and a popular place for locals. Has great waterfalls and swimming areas. Bathrooms aren't great, and there's no showers. $100 cordobas a person for camping. The parks website is here. Some photos and additional information on our website's Nicaragua camping page.
Ferry notes: Ferries from San Jorge (near Rivas) cost about $25 to take your vehicle over and a few dollars per passenger. Ferry's go about every 2 hours. Show up before noon to guarantee the ferries will run. Later in the afternoon it gets windy and there is a chance they will be cancelled. It's not likely that you will need reservations. Also recommended to stock up on gas and groceries in Rivas..
Finca Magdalena: Great place to stay near Bague (North side of the island near the small Volcano.) Has big covered areas for pitching a tent, cooking, etc. Also have a restraunt and rooms. Cold showers, but clean bathrooms. Has interenet for a fee, but no wifi. Cost was $3 per car load of people. More info and photos on our Nicaragua camping page.
San Jaun del Sur
You can camp right on Playa Madera, which offers a greasy restaurant of dubious cleanliness, but friendly fellow campers. The bathrooms may or may not be locked, and if they are open you might not want to use them. $2.50/night/person. You can walk down the long, beautiful beach to a couple of more appealing restaurant options. A nice beach break if the swells are right. Many of the less expensive hotels in San Juan del Sur do not have secure parking or night watchmen; there are a couple of lots right on the main drag that runs parallel to the beach where you can park for about $3 overnight. Probably a better idea than leaving the car unwatched on the streets.
Rebecca's Inn is simple, if a little dusty, but has a shared kitchen with shared cold-water bathroom for $20/night. They have room for 1 or 2 cars in the gated area behind their house with two fierce-looking guard dogs who may or may not bark a lot at night. 880 1476, one block from the church toward the beach.
Mango Rosa on the bumpy dirt road toward Chocolate and the northern beaches outside of San Juan del Sur has 1 or 2 bedroom fully equipped condos with high-speed (for Nicaragua, at least) wireless internet, nice pool, and great if a little expensive food at their poolside restaurant. Rates depend on season, but you could probably get a 2 br condo for $100/night if you're staying for a while. We especially liked them for their environmentally sensitive design and emphasis on conservation. They have several night watchmen who will may wash your car while you're sleeping (for free, but we tipped them) if it's dirty.
Playa Majugal (north or San Juan del Sur)- Follow the signs to playa Madera, but take the turn off to the right, signed for Majugal, it's just a few more kilometers to the north. There is a hostel called Matildas, but we prefered the camping area two spots down. Has cold showers, clean bathroom, a place to grill and electricity. No official wifi, but you can pick up a rouge unsecured network from the beach. Cost was $5 USD for a campsite. The campground doesn't have a website, but there are some more photos and info our our site here.
If you travel an hour and a half north of Chinendega to Jiquilillo, Rancho Tranquilo is near the Padre Rama Estuary. Rancho Tranquilo has dorm rooms for $4/person, and great dinners and breakfasts for $3/person. Tina is the vegan hostess, and treats you well. The ranch is fenced in and guarded by 6 dogs.
Hostel Martinez has small rooms with mosquito nets for $5/night/person with a communal kitchen. It is the last place in the smal town closest to the beach break.
Club Campestre de Esteli. US$10. KM 155, about 5 km north of Texaco at north end of town, on east side of the road. Private country club with use of pool, toilets, showers. Can be busy in afternoon when local come in to use the pool, but set back from the highway and quiet overnight.
Masaya Volcano National Park (N12:00.79 W86:8.46). US$5 per person for park entry and US$2.50 per person for camping. Entrance is near Nindirí on the road between Masaya and Managua. Visitor centre where you can park is a few km up paved access road. Road continues right up to the edge of the crater, which is quite impressive to see. We only had access to toilets when visitor centre was open.