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Country Guides for Central America


Nicaragua The Pacific Coast of Nicaragua was settled as a Spanish colony from Panama in the early 16th century. Independence from Spain was declared in 1821 and the country became an independent republic in 1838. Britain occupied the Caribbean Coast in the first half of the 19th century, but gradually ceded control of the region in subsequent decades. Violent opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption spread to all classes by 1978 and resulted in a short-lived civil war that brought the Marxist Sandinista guerrillas to power in 1979. Nicaraguan aid to leftist rebels in El Salvador caused the US to sponsor anti-Sandinista contra guerrillas through much of the 1980s. Free elections in 1990, 1996, and again in 2001 saw the Sandinistas defeated. The country has slowly rebuilt its economy during the 1990s, but was hard hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Source: CIA World Factbook

The preventive measures you need to take while traveling to Mexico and Central America depend on the areas you visit and the length of time you stay. You should observe the precautions listed in this document in most areas of this region.

Food and Waterborne Diseases

Make sure your food and drinking water are safe. Food and waterborne diseases are the primary cause of illness in travelers. Travelers' diarrhea can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, which are found throughout this region and can contaminate food or water. Infections may cause diarrhea and vomiting (E. coli, Salmonella, cholera, and parasites), fever (typhoid fever and toxoplasmosis), or liver damage ( hepatitis). Gnathostomiasis (roundworms) has increased in Mexico, with many cases being reported from the Acapulco area, infection has been reported in travelers. Humans become infected by eating undercooked fish or poultry, or reportedly by drinking contaminated water.

Diseases found in Mexico and Central America (risk can vary by country and region within a country; quality of in-country surveillance also varies)

Malaria is always a serious disease and may be a deadly illness.

Humans get malaria from the bite of a mosquito infected with the parasite. Prevent this serious disease by seeing your health care provider for a prescription antimalarial drug and by protecting yourself against mosquito bites (see below). Your risk of malaria may be high in these countries, including some cities. Travelers to malaria-risk areas, including infants, children, and former residents of Mexico and Central America, should take an antimalarial drug.

Chloroquine is the recommended drug for Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Bocas Del Toro Province of Panama. Travelers to Darién Province and San Blas Province in Panama (including the San Blas Islands) should take one of the following antimalarial drugs: (listed alphabetically): atovaquone/proguanil, doxycycline, mefloquine, or primaquine (in special circumstances).

Yellow Fever
Yellow fever is present only in Panama in this region. A certificate of yellow fever vaccination may be required for entry into certain countries in the region if you have visited Panama, Trinidad & Tobago, or an endemic area in South America or sub-Saharan Africa. For detailed information, see Comprehensive Yellow Fever Vaccination Requirements. Also, find the nearest authorized U.S. yellow fever vaccine center.

Other Disease Risks
Dengue, filariasis, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis, and American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) are diseases carried by insects that also occur in this region. Myiasis (botfly) is endemic in Central America. Protecting yourself against insect bites will help to prevent these diseases.

Other Health Risks

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury among travelers. Protect yourself from motor vehicle injuries: avoid drinking and driving; wear your safety belt and place children in age-appropriate restraints in the back seat; follow the local customs and laws regarding pedestrian safety and vehicle speed; obey the rules of the road; and use helmets on bikes, motorcycles, and motor bikes. Avoid boarding an overloaded bus or mini-bus. Where possible, hire a local driver.

Routine Vaccinations

Check with your healthcare provider: you and your family may need routine as well as recommended vaccinations.

Before travel, be sure you and your children are up to date on all routine immunizations according to schedules approved by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP). See the schedule for adults and the schedule for infants and children. Some schedules can be accelerated for travel.

See your doctor at least 4-6 weeks before your trip to allow time for shots to take effect. If it is less than 4 weeks before you leave, you should still see your doctor. It might not be too late to get your shots or medications as well as other information about how to protect yourself from illness and injury while traveling.

Recommended Vaccinations

The following vaccines may be recommended for your travel to The Mexico and Central America. Discuss your travel plans and personal health with a health-care provider to determine which vaccines you will need.

  • hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG).Transmission of hepatitis A virus can occur through direct person-to-person contact; through exposure to contaminated water, ice, or shellfish harvested in contaminated water; or from fruits, vegetables, or other foods that are eaten uncooked and that were contaminated during harvesting or subsequent handling.
  • hepatitis B, especially if you might be exposed to blood or body fluids (for example, health-care workers), have sexual contact with the local population, or be exposed through medical treatment. hepatitis B vaccine is now recommended for all infants and for children ages 11-12 years who did not receive the series as infants.
  • rabies, if you might have extensive unprotected outdoor exposure in rural areas, such as might occur during camping, hiking, or bicycling, or engaging in certain occupational activities.
  • typhoid, particularly if you are visiting developing countries in this region. typhoid fever can be contracted through contaminated drinking water or food, or by eating food or drinking beverages that have been handled by a person who is infected. Large outbreaks are most often related to fecal contamination of water supplies or foods sold by street vendors
  • Yellow Fever, for travelers to endemic areas in Panama
  • As needed, booster doses for tetanus-diphtheria and measles.

Required Vaccinations

  • None.
  • All travelers should take the following precautions, no matter the destination:

    • When using repellent on a child, apply it to your own hands and then rub them on your child. Avoid children's eyes and mouth and use it sparingly around their ears.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water or, if hands are not visibly soiled, use a waterless, alcohol-based hand rub to remove potentially infectious materials from your skin and help prevent disease transmission.
    • In developing countries, drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes. If this is not possible, learn how to make water safer to drink.
    • Take your malaria prevention medication before, during, and after travel, as directed. (See your health care provider for a prescription.)
    • To prevent fungal and parasitic infections, keep feet clean and dry, and do not go barefoot, even on beaches.
    • Always use latex condoms to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
    • Protect yourself from mosquito and insect bites.
    • Do not eat food purchased from street vendors or food that is not well cooked to reduce risk of infection (i.e., hepatitis A and typhoid fever).
    • Do not drink beverages with ice.
    • Avoid dairy products, unless you know they have been pasteurized.
    • Do not swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to certain water-borne diseases such as schistosomiasis.
    • Do not handle animals, especially monkeys, dogs, and cats, to avoid bites and serious diseases (including rabies and plague). Consider pre-exposure rabies vaccination if you might have extensive unprotected outdoor exposure in rural areas.
    • Do not share needles for tattoos, body piercing or injections to prevent infections such as HIV and hepatitis B.

    After You Return Home

    If you have visited a malaria-risk area in Haiti or the Dominican Republic, continue taking your chloroquine for 4 weeks after leaving the risk area.

    Malaria is always a serious disease and may be a deadly illness. If you become ill with a fever or flu-like illness either while traveling in a malaria-risk area or after you return home (for up to1 year), you should seek immediate medical attention and should tell the physician your travel history.

    Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    Download Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by CountryDownload Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by Country

    SAFETY AND SECURITY: Police coverage is extremely sparse outside of major urban areas. Sporadic incidents of highway banditry are reported in remote rural areas of north and northwest Nicaragua. If you do decide to travel to these areas, travel only on major highways during daylight hours. Though less frequent than in past years, political demonstrations and strikes occur sporadically in urban areas. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid crowds and blockades during such occurrences.

    Nicaragua's Atlantic coast contains vast stretches of territory with little or no law enforcement outside the major towns. Nautical travelers should be aware that there are boundary disputes involving the governments of Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica in the Caribbean coastal waters adjoining these countries, the Gulf of Fonseca, and on the San Juan River along the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border. Passengers and crews of foreign fishing boats have been detained and/or fined and vessels impounded. There also is a long-term boundary dispute with Colombia over San Andres Island and surrounding waters. Additionally, narcotics traffickers often use the Caribbean coastal waters.

    U.S. citizens are cautioned that strong currents and undertows off sections of Nicaragua's Pacific coast have resulted in a number of drownings. Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available in Nicaragua. U.S. citizens contemplating beach activities in Nicaragua's Pacific waters are urged to exercise extreme caution.

    Although hundreds of passengers travel daily on domestic flights within Nicaragua without incident, these flights use small, uncontrolled airstrips outside of Managua, with minimal safety equipment and little boarding security. Significant safety and security improvements have, however, been made at the Bluefields, Puerto Cabezas and Corn Island airports, all of which are located on Nicaragua's Atlantic coast.

    Although extensive demining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the war, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that the possibility of encountering landmines still exists.

    CRIME: Violent crime in Managua and other cities is increasing, and street crimes are common. Pick pocketing and occasional armed robberies occur on crowded buses, at bus stops and in open markets, particularly the large Mercado Oriental. Gang activity is rising in Managua, though not at levels found in neighboring Central American countries. Gang violence, including robberies, assaults and stabbings, is most frequently encountered in poorer neighborhoods, but has occurred in the neighborhoods surrounding major hotels and open-air markets.

    Visitors may want to avoid walking and instead use officially registered taxicabs. You should avoid taking taxis after dark, if possible. Taxi drivers and passengers have been victims of robbery, assault, sexual assault, and even murder. 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 you depart, 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. Radio-dispatched taxis are recommended and can be found at the International airport and at the larger hotels. Purse and jewelry snatchings from motorists sometimes occur at stoplights. While riding in a vehicle, windows should be closed, car doors locked and valuables placed out of sight.

    Street crime and petty theft are a common problem in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields and the Corn Islands along the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast. Lack of adequate police coverage has resulted in these areas being used by drug traffickers and other criminal elements.

    Tourists, in particular, should not hike alone in backcountry areas, nor walk alone on beaches, historic ruins or trails. All bus travel should be during daylight hours and on first-class conveyances, not on economy buses.

    Do not resist a robbery attempt. Many criminals have weapons, and most injuries and deaths have resulted when victims have resisted. Do not hitchhike or go home with strangers, particularly from nightspots. 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 major U.S. city. Do not wear excessive jewelry in downtown or rural areas. Do not carry large sums of money, ATM or credit cards you do not need, or other valuables.

    If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

    The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Anyone obtaining a new or replacement passport in Nicaragua must go to the main Immigration Office to obtain an entry stamp in their new passport; anyone failing to do so will not be permitted by Nicaraguan authorities to leave the country. Citizens applying for replacement passports at the U.S. Embassy will be asked to present proof of citizenship, an identity and to pay a fee. Photographic proof of identity is especially important for young children because of the high incidence of fraud involving passport applications for children. Passport replacement can be facilitated if the traveler has a photocopy of the passport's data page.

    American citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. This publication and others are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; via the Internet at or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at

    Source: U.S. Department of State

    tropical in lowlands, cooler in highlands

    Source: CIA World Factbook

    Nicaragua's electrical current is 120/60 (volts/hz) and uses the plug adaptors listed to the right under Related Items.

    To determine which plug adaptors you'll need and if you'll require a transformer or converter, use our Electrical Connection Wizard.

    For a detailed discussion of international electrical standards, see our related article on Electrical and Phone Adaptation.

    Download Magellan's Guide to World Electrical ConnectionsDownload Magellan's Guide to World Electrical Connections

    ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A valid U.S. passport is required to enter Nicaragua. U.S. citizens must have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay. Tourist card fees and airport departure taxes must be paid in U.S. dollars. A visa is not required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card must be purchased ($5.00) upon arrival. Tourist cards are typically issued for 30 to 90 days. Pay attention to the authorized stay that will be written into your entry stamp by the immigration inspector. Visitors remaining more than the authorized time must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan Immigration. Failure to do so prevents departure until a fine is paid.

    A valid entry stamp is required to exit Nicaragua. The departure tax is currently $32. For further information regarding entry, departure, and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Nicaragua at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington D.C. 20009; telephone (202) 939-6570 or (202) 939-6531; or a Nicaraguan consulate in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, or San Juan, Puerto Rico. A useful website for finding information on the Nicaraguan Embassy and Consulates is

    Source: U.S. Department of State

    The time zone for Nicaragua is -6 hours offset from GMT, which means that if it is 12:00 noon in New York, the time in Nicaragua would be 11:00 am

    The unit of currency in Nicaragua is the gold cordoba (NIO).

    Look up the current exchange rate using's Universal Currency Converter

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    Other Travelers' Experiences in Nicaragua

    "Visited Jan. 2006 & 2007 on medical missions to Pacific Northwest area, Chinendega & Aposentillo. Beautiful country. Lots of poverty. A friend of mine started her own clinic there, plan to visit annually to help her. Watch the undertow Pacific Coast! Visit Puesta del Sol! The people are warm & friendly, the children beautiful & polite."