Imagine waking up to the sound of tropical birds carrying their songs through the luscious rainforest outside your bungalow window. Then later experiencing the dry heat emanating off of one of the country’s 19 active volcanoes as you marvel at the expanse of lakes and forests from the top of Mount Masaya.
This, is Nicaragua.
A country of diverse landscapes located in Central America, nicknamed “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes”, Nicaragua is nestled between Honduras to the northwest and Costa Rica to the south, and sidled up next to the Caribbean ocean in the east and the Pacific to the southwest. This beautiful country boasts of both glimmering beach views and awe-inspiring mountain ranges, and if you go just a short 20 km south of Managua, the capital city, you can enjoy a stunning night-tour of the volcano Masaya, Nicaragua’s largest national park.
I’ve just spent my first night in Managua which is the third largest city in Central America behind Tegucigalpa and Guatemala City. I’ve come to Nicaragua with my grad class for my first ever volunteer trip and it’s safe to say that Nicaragua stole my heart as soon as the plane landed.
Nicaraguans Are So Friendly
With a culture born of African, European, and Caribbean roots, Nicaraguan people are bright, colorful, and so much fun! One of their biggest festivals, Semana Santa, is held every year in April to celebrate Easter and they shut down everything to party for an entire week! They are also some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met while traveling.
When Visiting Nicaragua I Wish I’d Know What Not To Eat
One such friendly Nicaraguan farmer even tried to save me from a nasty run-in with a fruit I should NOT have eaten. Unfortunately, my Spanish skills were not up to par, and I totally missed the warning. Our class was visiting a local pineapple farm where I observed what I thought were mango trees spotting the fields, and the fruits looked delicious! Now, one of the first things we learned before the trip was, “DO NOT EAT OFF OF THE TREES”, but did I listen?
Instead, I learned the hard way that raw cashews are not for eating! Contained inside of a seed (the one I bit into) attached to a cashew apple (which I thought was a mango), the cashew nut is bathed in a liquid containing a strong acid in the same family as poison ivy. This liquid, called cashew oil, is there to keep animals from eating it… and apparently silly tourists too! So yeah, I essentially ate poison ivy, and had to deal with some seriously itchy facial burns for the rest of the trip to boot.
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I Wish I’d Known A Little More Spanish
After that little experience, I definitely wished I’d gone to Nicaragua with a little more Spanish under my belt.
Here are a few other things you should bring with you if you’re visiting Nicaragua:
- Liquid soap: For washing your clothes. Many Nicaraguans do laundry by hand, and so it goes you probably will too!
- Medical documents: i.e., a list of medications, immunizations, allergies, etc. in case of an emergency. It’s also good to bring a doctor’s note for any meds that aren’t as typical. For example, I brought along a document stating that the needles in my bag were for my arthritis medication, and not for any other nefarious purposes!
- A Spanish phrase book: Many Nicaraguans do speak English, but you want to be prepared and your Google-translate isn’t going to pick up on data when you’re cruising on Lake Nicaragua or hiking up Mount Masaya!
My Top 3 Nicaragua Travel Tips
- Visas: As volunteers we had to fill out a little more paperwork but, as a tourist things are pretty straight-forward. A tourist from Britain, Australia, Canada, the United States and the EU is able to stay in Nicaragua for up to 90 days without a visa, providing they pay the $10 US fee to obtain a tourist card when they arrive. If you’re traveling from a country not listed above, it’s a good idea to reach out to the embassy to see what kind of visa requirements you might need. Oh, and of course you’ll need a valid passport! Specifically, it must be valid for at least 6 months past the date of your arrival, so don’t forget to check that date! Travel Tip: Use iVisa to apply for your Nicaragua Visa online
- What To Wear: When it comes to pre-trip planning, I also wish I’d known a little more about how to dress. Compared to my Canadian peers, Nicaraguans are a bit more conservative with their clothing. Many tourists still choose to dress less conservatively, but if you want to avoid catcalls, it’s best to leave your short shorts at home. Even on a majorly hot day, Nicaragua women wear longer skirts and often button-up shirts and blouses. Anything too revealing and you might get some unwanted attention, as myself and some friends did in a local flea-market one afternoon- yikes!
- Safety: For many years, Nicaragua has been considered the safest country to travel to in Central America, and still is. But, considering the recent political unrest, it is wise to do your research on tourist safety. Other than that, your main precautions will be ignoring catcalls and keeping your valuables secure. Traveling in Nicaragua is a wonderful and safe experience, even as a solo female traveller, as long as you keep your wits about you.
With that being said, if you’re visiting Nicaragua do your research! Don’t eat random fruit off of trees unless a local shows you, and enjoy the diversity of both the land and the people of Nicaragua- The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes!
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