Is Nicaragua a safe place to visit?
While less than in neighboring countries, violent crime in Managua exists, and petty street crimes are common. Gang activity exists, but also remains less prevalent than in neighboring Central American countries. Pick-pocketing and occasional armed robberies occur on crowded buses, at bus stops, in taxis, and in open markets like the Oriental and Huembes Markets. Violence, robbery, assault, and stabbings are mostly confined to poorer neighborhoods, including the area around the Ticabus terminal, a major arrival and departure point for tourist buses. However, over the past year, acts of petty crime have taken place in more upscale neighborhoods and near major hotels, including in the Zona Hippos, Galerias Mall, Santo Domingo, Las Colinas, and South Highway neighborhoods. We also advise U.S. citizens not to leave any valuables or passports in a car, especially while shopping at gas station convenience stores, as there have been a large number of reports by U.S. citizens of cars being burglarized in these locations.
In the past, some U.S. citizens were targeted shortly after arriving in the country by criminals posing as Nicaraguan police officers who pull over their vehicles – including those operated by reputable hotels – for inspection. In each case, the incidents happened after dark and involved gun-wielding assailants who robbed passengers of all valuables and abandoned them in remote locations. Some assailants employed threats of physical violence. While the traditional scene of these attacks has been the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway, also known as Carretera Norte, this activity has also spread to the Managua-Leon Highway. There has also been an increase in armed robbery attempts by masked individuals along roadsides leading to popular tourist destinations. Assailants will step out of roadside vegetation with weapons in an attempt to stop the vehicle and rob passengers. Another criminal strategy is to set up make-shift blockades of tree branches and rocks to force travelers to stop. Once vehicle occupants exit their vehicles to move the items, they are typically robbed at gun or knife point.
U.S. citizens should exercise particular caution when approached by strangers offering assistance with finding a taxi cab. Dozens of U.S. citizens have reported being victimized by fellow travelers who offered to assist them in locating and/or sharing a taxi in and around San Juan del Sur, San Jorge, Granada, Managua, Masaya, and other popular tourist destinations. Upon entering the taxi, the U.S. citizens were held at knife- or gunpoint, threatened with bodily injury and/or rape, robbed of their valuables, and driven around to ATMs to withdraw funds from their accounts. Taxi drivers have also picked up additional passengers along the route who then threaten and rob the U.S. citizen, generally in conjunction with the taxi driver. After the assault, the U.S. citizen victims were left abandoned and destitute in remote areas. In 2011, two U.S. citizen victims were beaten and raped after providing incorrect bank card PIN numbers to assailants.
Before taking a taxi, make sure that it has a red license plate and that the number is legible. Pick taxis carefully and note the driver's name and license number. Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before entering the taxi, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change. Also, check that the taxi is properly labeled with the cooperativa (company) name and logo. Purse and jewelry snatchings sometimes occur at stoplights. While riding in a vehicle, windows should be closed, car doors locked and valuables placed out of sight. Radio dispatched cabs are recommended and can be summoned at Managua’s international airport and to most major hotels and restaurants.
Many consider the police presence in the tourist destination of San Juan del Sur to be inadequate. There have been incidents of sexual assaults of foreign tourists on beaches in Nicaragua. U.S. citizens were the victims of such assaults in 2011 at a popular beach hotel in San Juan del Sur and in 2013 at a beach hostel at Playa Majagualnot far from San Juan del Sur. The Embassy recommends travelling in groups when going to the beach or to isolated areas. Single travelers should exercise special caution while traveling to beach areas, to the Atlantic Coast, and in other remote areas of the country.
Police coverage is extremely sparse outside of major urban areas, including in the remote beach communities on the Pacific Coast and Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast autonomous regions. Lack of adequate police coverage has resulted in these areas being used by drug traffickers and other criminal elements. Street crime and petty theft are common problems in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, and other urban areas along the Atlantic coast. Given the area’s geographical isolation, the Embassy’s ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens who choose to travel in the Atlantic coastal area is limited. Police presence is minimal on the Corn Islands as well.
Throughout Nicaragua, U.S. citizens should utilize hotels and guest houses which have security measures in place, including but not limited to rooms equipped with safes for securing valuables and travel documents and adequate access control precautions. U.S. citizens report that even in hotels with safes, items have gone missing.
Do not resist a robbery attempt. Many criminals have weapons, and most injuries and deaths have resulted when victims resisted. Do not hitchhike or go home with strangers, particularly from nightclubs. Do not accept rides from strangers at major bus terminals or border crossings. Travel in groups of two or more persons whenever possible. Use the same common sense while traveling in Nicaragua that you would in any high-crime area of a large U.S. city. Do not wear excessive jewelry or utilize your smart/cell phone in a fashion that attracts attention to its inherent value. Do not carry large sums of money, other valuables, or ATM or credit cards that are not needed.
Do not leave valuables inside parked vehicles. U.S. citizens residing in Nicaragua are urged to review residential security procedures, including with their domestic employees, and strengthen security measures to help safeguard their houses.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law. Be wary when making purchases from street vendors or in markets. Buying pirated goods undermines legitimate businesses.