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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Nicaragua 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Managua. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Nicaragua. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Nicaragua-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory 

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Nicaragua at Level 3, indicating travelers should reconsider travel to the country due to crime, civil unrest, limited healthcare availability, and arbitrary enforcement of laws.  Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation 

Crime Threats 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Managua as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. There is serious risk from crime in Nicaragua in general. Reported crime rates are low, but many crimes go unreported. Anecdotal information suggests that crime is increasing, even though available statistics show a decrease. Theft from vehicles, pick-pocketing, and occasional armed robbery occurs in store parking lots, on public transportation, and in open-air markets. In Managua, street crime is more prevalent during hours of darkness, late at night or early in the morning. Street crime is also common in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, San Juan del Sur, Popoyo, El Transito, and the Corn Islands. The trend of criminals armed with weapons and using violence continues, including with knives and guns.  Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

While U.S. citizens have been victims of murder in Nicaragua, the most frequently reported crime was theft. U.S. citizens have also reported sexual assaults and other violent crimes while in Nicaragua. Several U.S. citizens have been the victims of sexual assault in beach locations and at hotels; violence against women in general continues to be a concern.   

Drug trafficking and the criminal components associated with it appeared to increase as Nicaraguan security forces seized multiple large drug and bulk cash shipments and made multiple arrests. 

According to the Government of Nicaragua’s most recent official crime statistics, the overall homicide rate was 11:100,000 inhabitants. The homicide rate in the Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region was 19 -- almost double the national average. Other areas with homicide rates significantly above the national average were the "Mining Triangle," composed of the three Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region municipalities of Siuna, Rosita, and Bonanza (15); Jinotega (16); and the Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region as a whole (13). 

The reported overall rate of robbery was 139:100,000 inhabitants, a decrease of approximately 6% from 2018. The reported overall rate of theft was 45:100,000 inhabitants, a decrease of approximately 20% from 2018. The reported overall rate of sexual assault was 25:100,000 inhabitants, a decrease of approximately 28% from 2018. 

The municipalities with the highest rates of criminal complaints were Managua, Matagalpa, Masaya, Estelí, Granada, Carazo, Granada, Rivas, Chinandega, and the Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Exercise caution in these and other municipalities with high volumes of crime, such as León, Ciudad Sandino, and Bluefields, as well as other areas based on various crime factors, such as the Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region due to its high homicide rate. 

The U.S. Embassy prohibits off-duty U.S. government personnel from entering the Oriental Market due to high levels of crime and illicit activities. The U.S. Embassy must pre-approve all travel by U.S. government personnel to the Northern and Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions due to crime, transportation safety, and Embassy response concerns. Given the geographic isolation of the Caribbean coast and autonomous regions, the Embassy’s ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens who choose to travel there is severely limited. The U.S. Embassy also strongly recommends that U.S. government personnel do not drive outside of urban areas after dark due to transportation safety concerns. 

Armed individuals in civilian clothes or “para-police” have been perpetrating violence throughout the country since April 2018. Reports suggests that “voluntary” and official police have taken part in this violence. Additional reports indicate that police have arbitrarily detained and searched people in an effort to identify and arrest those who have participated in protests or who oppose the government.  

Transportation-Safety Situation  

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Road quality in Nicaragua is better than in other Central American countries, particularly between the urban areas along the Pacific Coast. However, poor city planning has created multiple choke points and poor traffic circulation in Managua, and the high influx of vehicles over the past five years has led to an increase in vehicular fatalities. Road connectivity between the remote and underdeveloped Atlantic Coast and the western part of the country remains limited. However, this has improved with the addition of new roads in the Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region near Bluefields and Pearl Lagoon. 

The roadways of Nicaragua continue to present a threat to Nicaraguans and visitors alike. According to authorities, 726 people died in traffic accidents in Nicaragua in 2018. Official data for 2019 is not yet available, but local news media has estimated 840 traffic related deaths. There are approximately 108 accidents daily in Nicaragua.   

Road conditions vary; frequent road hazards such as pedestrians, livestock, and other drivers enhance the risk of traffic accidents. Although some of the principal highways connecting the major cities are in good condition, torrential seasonal rains take a heavy toll on all roads. Roads commonly have potholes and unpainted speed bumps, and are poorly illuminated, narrow, without shoulders, and often missing manhole covers. Speed limits vary depending on the type of road. Police enforce traffic rules inconsistently. Look out for detours and slow traffic. In general, road signs are poor or non-existent. Drivers will frequently encounter vehicles without lights, animals, bicycles, and pedestrians, all of which are difficult to see at night, even on main thoroughfares in Managua. Motorcycles dart in and out of traffic with little or no warning, taxis stop in the middle of the road to negotiate with potential passengers, and buses often travel in the oncoming lane to avoid traffic jams. Sidewalks are not common; pedestrians often walk on main roads, including on busy thoroughfares, and often do not look both ways before crossing the street. Many vehicles are in poor condition, have non-functional brake lights and turn signals, travel very slowly, and break down without warning. Be especially careful on curves and hills, as many drivers will pass on blind spots, vehicles stop without warning, and many pass in "no passing" zones. Road travel after dark and in dark areas is especially hazardous. Many drivers will run red lights, especially at night. 

Motorists should carry a cellular phone and first aid kit in case of an emergency. Nicaraguan law requires vehicles to carry a stopped/disabled vehicle indicator (a reflective triangle or cone) and a fire extinguisher.

Police will take drivers into custody for driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs. Police will also usually take into custody the driver involved in any accident resulting in serious injury/death, even if the driver has insurance and appears not to have been at fault. The minimum detention period is 48 hours. However, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision (often weeks or months) or until the injured party signs a waiver (usually the result of a cash settlement). To avoid liability, consider hiring a professional driver through a reputable hotel. 

Transit police conduct most enforcement stops on foot at static locations; these are sometimes marked by traffic cones at which officer(s) will signal to a driver to pull over. Police vehicle enforcement stops are less common. After a traffic violation, the normal process involves police confiscating the driver's license until they pay a fine. After paying the associated fee at a bank, the driver must go with proof of payment to Transit Police Headquarters (or a police station if it occurs outside of Managua) to recover the license and show proof of payment. In practice, however, foreigners are rarely able to recover their licenses, even after paying their fees, due to delays in transferring the license from the place of detention to the Transit Police office. Most foreigners leave the country before the transfer takes place. Transit police have been known to demand on-the-spot bribes in lieu of fines. If this happens, request a receipt and the officer's name and badge number. To report mistreatment by police, file a complaint with Nicaragua’s National Police and forward your complaint to the U.S. Consular Section in Managua. Also, advise your rental car agency if police say their vehicles do not meet transit regulations. The Nicaraguan National Police give information (in Spanish) about the process to pay or appeal tickets and recover confiscated licenses. 

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions 

Public transportation often lacks proper safety equipment (e.g. lights, seatbelts, seats, handholds). Avoid buses. Bus accidents on roadways in Nicaragua often result in injury and death. Criminals will steal backpacks, purses, and other personal items from overhead and below-seat storage onboard buses.

Only use licensed taxis endorsed or recommended by airport authorities, major hotels, restaurants, or other trusted sources. Before taking a taxi, make sure that it has a red stripe across the top and bottom of the license plate and that the number is legible. Choose taxis carefully and note the driver's name and license number. Check that the taxi is properly labeled with the company name and logo. Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before departing, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change. There have been reports of taxi driver complicity in the committing of robberies and assaults. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions 

Managua is in a seismically active zone, and is the location of the country’s only international airport (MGA). Two other airports located on the Caribbean coast – Bluefields (BEF) and Bilwi / Puerto Cabezas (PUZ) – are subject to demonstrations and closure during civil unrest. There are also small airports in Tola/Rivas (ECI), Big Corn Island (RNI), and Ometepe Island (OMT) that handle mostly private charter flights.  

There have been reports of pickpocketing and other simple theft while in airport waiting areas. U.S. citizens have reported several instances where thieves appear to have targeted them for robbery and theft while transiting the Managua airport. 

Airports in remote locales often have short airstrips, minimal safety equipment, and little boarding security. 

Other Travel Conditions 

Those traveling in the region by panga and other types of boat or ferry should consult with local naval or police authorities about the safety of setting out in current local weather conditions, and exercise a reasonable amount of caution in the face of possibly overloaded or otherwise unsafe vessels. 

Terrorism Threat 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed POST as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment 

The government has often expressed antagonism to U.S. interests and uses anti-U.S. rhetoric in domestic and international fora and events. This rhetoric increased after April 2018, when widespread civil unrest focused on political, economic, and social issues came to a head. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed POST as being a CRITICAL-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest 

There is serious risk from civil unrest in Managua. A large number of demonstrations involve demands for early or transparent elections, opposition to the proposed building of an inter-oceanic canal, women’s rights, and excessive force by security forces. Most demonstrations begin peacefully, but the presence of counter-demonstrators and/or riot-police can lead to an escalation in tension and violence. Typically, protests in Managua take place at major intersections, traffic circles (rotundas) and near shopping malls. Outside of the capital, they often take the form of road/highway blockages.  

Demonstrations began in April 2018 over proposed changes in the social security system regarding benefits and other requirements. Based on the Nicaraguan government’s heavy-handed response, anti-government protests grew dramatically and lasted for months. Student groups, anti-canal groups, and a large cross-section of the Nicaraguan people participated. Protests in the form of marches, demonstrations in main interactions, strikes, road barricades, looting, and social media campaigns erupted. Government-aligned para-police and pro-Ortega groups countered protests, often with violence and intimidation. Deaths directly related to the violence surrounding these protests, as well as extra-judicial deaths and disappearances, occurred. Human rights organizations put these numbers between 300-500+ persons. Between April and August 2018, there were daily to weekly static protests and marches throughout the country. Protest group sizes ranged from a handful to hundreds of thousands on the streets. Universities were frequent locations of protests due to widespread student support. The police used live ammunition against peaceful protesters and demonstrators. While there have been no large-scale street protests or demonstrations since September 2018, the government has continued to round up and arrest those who supported the earlier protests. Heavy police presence continues, especially in major traffic circles in Managua and near universities. The President of Nicaragua said in a speech that the country would deal with protestors and anti-government participants with exile, jail, or death. Open-source reporting continues to highlight the government response. 

In response to the Government of Nicaragua’s violations of human and civic rights, the U.S. Treasury Department has levied sanctions against many members of the Ortega administration and private entities that corruptly support the Ortega regime. All U.S. persons may not engage in transactions with OFAC- (Office of Foreign Assets Control) designated persons or entities, including gas stations controlled by DNP (Distribuidora Nicaraguense de Petroleo). 

Many groups continue to call for early elections and dialogue. While it appears that the government has gained the upper hand in preventing new demonstrations/protests, it is likely that unpredictable political unrest will continue through 2020.

Post-Specific Concerns 

Environmental Hazards 

Water shortages are a common occurrence during the November to April dry season, while flooding becomes problematic when heavy rains occur during the May to October wet season, partly due to poor sewage infrastructure. 

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), there were three earthquakes of 5.0-magnitude or above in 2018 in Nicaragua that resulted in minimal to no damage. In 2019, USGS data showed one earthquake above 5.0 that resulted in minimal to no damage. Shallow earthquakes with epicenters in Nicaragua that have been greater than magnitude 5.5 have caused structural damage or complete collapse to older buildings and poorly constructed homes. 

Earthquakes sometimes trigger tsunamis; authorities have the capability to issue warnings of potential threats to coastal communities. In January 2018, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck in the Caribbean Sea 202 kilometers north of Barra Patuca, Honduras, triggering a tsunami warning throughout the Caribbean, including the coast of Nicaragua. 

Nicaragua has many active and inactive volcanoes. Many are on the Pacific side of the country near Managua and other popular tourist destinations. Volcano boarding has become a popular activity, but adventure seekers should be aware that tour operators are unregulated and may not have robust emergency plans in place. The San Cristobal, Momotombo, Masaya, Telica, Cerro Negro, and Concepción volcanos are the most active in the country; authorities monitor each of them. 

There have been fatalities from scuba diving off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Diving accidents stem from a number of factors, to include diver error. Travelers looking to dive should consult with a reputable diving establishment to familiarize themselves with Nicaraguan waters. Strong Pacific currents have caused a number of drownings. Powerful waves have also caused broken bones. Stingray injuries are not uncommon. Visitors to Nicaragua’s beaches, lakes, and lagoons should exercise appropriate caution; there are no warning signs, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available. Nicaragua’s only hyperbaric chamber is in Puerto Cabezas, a five-hour speedboat ride from Corn Island. 

Other potential environmental threats include flooding, storm surge, fires, hurricanes, and landslides. 

Critical Infrastructure  

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, yet remains one of the least developed. Infrastructure has strengthened in recent years, but weaknesses persist. Nicaragua ranked 109th out of 141 countries in terms of infrastructure in the 2019 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, scoring poorly in port and airport infrastructure, moderately in electricity supply, and above average in road quality and mobile telecommunications.  

In the event of a natural disaster, transportation, water, communications, and power systems may fail due to damaged infrastructure or heavy ash fall. Road closures and flight cancellations may occur. Maintain an emergency supply of food and water to last at least 72 hours, and establish an emergency plan. 

Over the past decade, the Nicaraguan government has made significant progress in the energy sector, increasing electricity coverage from 54% to 94% of the country, increasing power generation from renewable technologies from 25% to 54%, and doubling investment in power transmission. Despite these gains, electricity prices are comparatively high for Central America, and the country experiences approximately 20% power distribution loss. Crippling weaknesses in the electrical grid remain, as evidenced by nationwide power outages in 2017, when limitations in Nicaragua’s transmission capacity revealed the lack of redundancy or back-up power for key infrastructure such as traffic lighting and public utilities. Power outages are a common occurrence and often take longer to resolve in rural parts of the country.   

Internet access is widely available, due to the $1.5 billion of foreign direct investment injected into the telecommunications sector over the past 12 years, fueling the expansion of 4G mobile coverage and broadband networks. Subscription costs are relatively high when compared to other Central American countries, limiting internet penetration to roughly 20% of the population. Telecommunication providers have very limited back-up power capacity. The country’s topography limits signal transmission, particularly in rural areas and the Caribbean Coast. Satellite phones are illegal and may be confiscated. In order to ensure reliability of cellular communications on the Caribbean coast, it may be necessary to have telephones or SIM cards for multiple cellular carriers. 

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud, Taking Credit Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Personal Identity Concerns 

According to Nicaragua’s penal code, discrimination based on sexual orientation is a crime. This is reinforced in the Nicaraguan labor laws but there is anecdotal evidence to show that these laws are not often enforced. Nicaragua does not have any laws recognizing same sex marriages. While violence against LGBTI+ travelers is not common, widespread societal discrimination exists. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

There is limited or no accessibility assistance for public transportation, and there are few sidewalks and pedestrian road crossings. Nicaraguan law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, but in practice, such discrimination is widespread in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of state services. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Economic Concerns 

Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are bootlegs potentially dangerous and illegal in the United States, you may also be breaking local law. Be wary when making purchases from street vendors or in markets.  

Other Concerns

The Government of Nicaragua has denied entry to travelers who use a passport of a different nationality than they did on prior trips to Nicaragua.  

Several U.S. citizens have reported that authorities did not allow them to enter Nicaragua with camera drones and other electronic equipment, and/or that the equipment was subject to inspection and held until the citizen departed the country. Several U.S. citizens have reported electronic equipment confiscated upon entry and never returned. To confirm whether you may enter Nicaragua with specific items, check with the airline, the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington, D.C., or Nicaraguan Immigration authorities before travel.   Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response 

The police emergency line in Nicaragua is 118, *118 from cellular phones, or 505-2249-1925; the Tourist Emergency Hotline, available only to cell phones on the Claro system, is 101. The Nicaraguan National Police (NNP) is the sole law enforcement agency and is responsible for public safety and security, all types of criminal investigations, and traffic control. The NNP tourism police unit deploys to tourist areas and maintains the 24-hour hotline for emergencies.  

Police often lack resources to respond effectively to crimes in progress. Victims often must go to a police station to file a report, as police will often not come to the scene of a crime. The Embassy has received reports of police refusing to file reports. Copies of receipts or other proof or ownership of high-value items often assist in completion of police reports.  

Police coverage is extremely sparse outside major urban areas, particularly in the Caribbean coast and autonomous regions. 

During periods of political unrest, police forces focus attention on protests and demonstrations. Response actions to counter street crime can suffer.   

During questioning by the authorities, a defendant who does not understand Spanish is entitled to assistance from an official government interpreter. The defendant is entitled to an oral translation of any statement they are required to sign. Defendants are not required to incriminate themselves. A defendant should answer questions pertaining to identity, age, address, occupation, citizenship, and other non-incriminating personal data. The Constitution does not condone physical violence against prisoners (except in cases of self-defense). Despite the rights granted under the law, in practice, the legal, judicial, immigration, and penal systems often operate in an arbitrary manner, subject to corruption and political influence. It is difficult to predict how the local legal system will work in any particular case, which can result in prolonged detentions without charges or due process. 

Should authorities violate your rights, immediately inform the consular officer or representative, who will bring your case to the attention of the government if you so desire.  Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

The fire emergency line in Nicaragua is 115, or *115 from cellular phones,

Medical Emergencies 

Emergency phone numbers vary by department. Dispatchers will coordinate an emergency response. Dial 128 for Cruz Roja (Red Cross) ambulance service (Spanish only).  Ambulances take individuals to the nearest hospital that will accept a patient. This is usually a public hospital unless the patient or someone acting on his/her behalf indicates they can pay for a private hospital.  

Medical care is very limited outside Managua. Basic medical services are available in many small towns/villages. However, treatment for serious medical issues is often unavailable or available only in Managua. Emergency ambulance services (which may not meet U.S. standards) and certain types of medical equipment, medications, and treatments are not widely available. Physicians and hospital personnel frequently do not speak English, and medical reports are in Spanish. Patients must have good Spanish language skills to navigate local medical resources comfortably.  For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.  For Air Ambulances, refer to the Embassy’s Insurance Providers page.  

Nicaragua is home to many venomous snakes. Anti-venom is available only at the Ministry of Health. Snakebite victims should remain calm, immobilize the bitten area and go to the nearest hospital and have them request the Anti-venom immediately. Black and Brown widow spiders, tarantulas, and scorpions are commonly seen. Bites from these can cause pain and illness, but are rarely fatal.  

Consult with your medical insurance company prior to travel to confirm the policy applies overseas. Consider the purchase of separate insurance for medical evacuation (medevac).  The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

 Payment for medical services is done on a cash basis, although some private hospitals will accept major credit cards. Travelers should prepare to pay at the time of service or before admission. Private hospitals may require full payment or a significant deposit before giving any treatment, even in life or death cases. 

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance  

Travelers coming from countries designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as places with the potential for active transmission of yellow fever must present an International Certificate of Vaccination for yellow fever, showing a vaccine given at least 10 days prior to entry into the affected country, at the Nicaraguan port of entry. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows the current list of countries.  

The CDC recommends visiting your doctor, ideally four to six weeks before your trip, to get vaccines or medicines you may need. Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply to cover the duration of their trip. The amount of medication should not exceed what would reasonably be considered for personal consumption. Carry medications in their original containers, pack them in carry-on bags, know generic or generic equivalent names in case they need replacement, and have a prescription on hand. Many newer combination medications may not be available in local pharmacies. There may be restrictions on bringing into Nicaragua prescription or non-prescription medications without proper documentation. For questions about specific medications, contact the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health's Pharmacy Department before travel.  Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

Mosquitoes in Nicaragua may transmit Dengue fever, Chikunguyna, and malaria. Other tropical diseases such as Leptospirosis, Leishmaniasis, typhoid fever, Chagas disease, Tuberculosis, and intestinal parasites (e.g. giardia, amoeba) are also present. Malaria is present in large portions of the country; travelers to those areas should use prophylaxis. https://www.iamat.org/country/nicaragua/risk/malaria  here has not been a circulating case of Zika for several years, the CDC has the most up-to-date recommendations. For mosquito-borne diseases, the best prevention is insect repellant containing DEET, protective clothing, and bed nets to prevent mosquito bites.  

Tap water is generally not safe to drink; use bottled water. Review OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?

Ensure all routine vaccinations are up to date. Vaccinations against hepatitis A and B and typhoid are strongly recommended. Many vaccinations are only available in public hospitals. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Nicaragua Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad

OSAC Country Council Information 

The Country Council in Managua is active, meeting on a bi-annual basis. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Latin America Team with any questions. 

U.S. Embassy Contact Information  

The U.S. Embassy is located at Kilometer 5 1/2 (5.5) Carretera Sur, Frente al Parque Las Piedrecitas, Managua.  

Hours: 0715–1630 Monday through Thursday; 0715–1400 Friday, except U.S. and Nicaraguan holidays 

Main Switchboard: +505-2252-7100 or 8768-7100 

Marine Security Guard Post One: +505-2252-7171 

Website: https://ni.usembassy.gov/ 

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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