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Nicaragua 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Nicaragua; Western Hemisphere > Nicaragua > Managua

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Managua does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

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.

Please review OSAC’s Nicaragua-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

Nicaragua has low overall reported crime rates; however, U.S. citizens experience a significant number of violent and non-violent crimes. The most frequently reported crime is theft, but U.S. citizens have also reported sexual assaults and other violent incidents while in Nicaragua.

According to the government of Nicaragua’s most recent official statistics of reported crimes, the overall homicide rate was 8/100,000 inhabitants. The homicide rate in the Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region was 33/100,000 inhabitants (four times the national average). Other areas with homicide rates significantly above the national average were the "Mining Triangle," which is comprised of the three Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region municipalities of Siuna, Rosita, and Bonanza (22/100,000 inhabitants); Jinotega (13/100,000 inhabitants); the Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (20/100,000 inhabitants).

The reported overall rate of robbery was 162/100,000 inhabitants (a 16% decrease from previous statistics). In comparing the number of robberies when violence was threatened versus when violence actually occurred, the number of incidents with violence was 28%. In the event of a robbery, U.S. citizens should comply with the demands of the aggressors while attempting to observe identifying characteristics of the perpetrators. Once the suspect(s) has fled, contact the police and the U.S. Embassy. No item is worth risking serious injury or death.

The reported overall rate of theft was 69/100,000 inhabitants.

The reported overall rate of sexual assaults was 45/100,000 inhabitants.

The municipalities with the highest rates of criminal complaints per 100,000 inhabitants were Managua, Granada, Estelí and the Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region.

U.S. citizens should use caution in areas that may attract criminal activity. Avoid isolated or dark areas and travelling alone. While in public places, keep purses, bags, cameras, phones, and other valuables out of sight and within reach. Do not leave personal items unattended on beaches.

Other Areas of Concern

U.S. citizens should use caution in municipalities with high reports of crimes against U.S. citizens (Managua, Granada, Rivas, León); and municipalities with high rates of crime reports overall (Ciudad Sandino, Bluefields); and other areas based on various crime factors (the Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, which has a higher than quadruple the national average of homicides).

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 and transportation safety 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.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

The roadways present a serious threat; the number of deaths resulting from traffic accidents increased dramatically in 2016. According to the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP), 776 people died in traffic accidents in 2016. This figure represents an increase of 13% when compared to 2015. The NNP also reports there were 4,560 injured. It appears this trend is set to continue, with the Nicaraguan government reporting 10 deaths in the first 72 hours of 2017.

Road conditions vary, and the risk of traffic accidents is enhanced by frequent road hazards, pedestrians, and other drivers. Driving is on the right side of the road. Although some of the principal highways connecting the major cities are in good condition, drivers should be aware that torrential seasonal rains take a heavy toll on roads. Roads commonly have potholes and unpainted speed bumps and are poorly illuminated, narrow, without shoulders, and are often missing manhole covers. Speed limits vary depending on the type of road, and traffic rules are inconsistently enforced. Be on the lookout 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/out of traffic with little/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, so drivers must be aware that 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. Drivers should be especially careful on curves and hills, as many drivers will pass on blind spots, and vehicles stop without warning and pass in "no passing" zones. Road travel after dark and in dark areas is especially hazardous. 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. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

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

In the event of a flat tire or other issue with a disabled vehicle, keep doors/trunk locked and the windows rolled up to prevent theft of items while you are outside the vehicle.

Nicaraguan law requires drivers to be taken into custody for driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs. Police also usually take into custody the driver involved in an 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 is reached (often weeks or months) or until a waiver is signed by the injured party (usually the result of a cash settlement). To avoid liability, U.S. citizens may consider hiring a professional driver through a reputable hotel.

Transit police conduct most traffic-related enforcement stops on foot at static locations sometimes marked by traffic cones in which officer(s) will signal to a driver to pull over. Police vehicle enforcement stops are less common. After being given a traffic violation, the normal process involves police confiscating the driver's license until the fine is paid. After paying the fee at a bank, the driver must go take proof of payment to Transit Police Headquarters (or a police station if it occurs outside of Managua) to recover the license. In practice, 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. The Nicaraguan National Police contains more information (in Spanish) about the process to pay or appeal traffic infractions and recover confiscated licenses.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation often lacks proper safety equipment (lights, seatbelts, seats, handholds). Bus accidents on roadways often result in injuries and deaths. U.S. citizens should avoid buses, as criminals will often steal items from overhead and below seat storage.

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.

Embassy Managua advises U.S. citizens traveling in the region by panga and other types of boat/ferry to consult, prior to embarking, with local naval or police authorities, when on-site about the safety of setting out in current local weather conditions, and to exercise caution in the face of possibly overloaded or otherwise unsafe vessels.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

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

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MANAGUA AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

The government has often expressed antagonism to U.S. interests and uses anti-American rhetoric in domestic and international fora and events.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MANAGUA AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Civil Unrest 

In 2016, political and social demonstrations occurred frequently. A large number of demonstrations involved demands for transparent national elections and opposition to the proposed building of an inter-oceanic canal. Violence escalated in rural communities such as Nueva Guinea in late 2016, when police stopped protestors from travelling to Managua for a planned demonstration. This erupted along main thoroughfares and locked down several areas for brief periods. The use of riot control, mortars, and rocks, as well as sheer numbers of people, led to some precarious situations. The potential for demonstrations and political rallies remains high in 2017. Most demonstrations begin peacefully, but the presence of counter-demonstrators or police can lead to an escalation in tension and violence.

Typically, protests in Managua take place at major intersections or rotundas. Outside of the capital, they often take place in the form of road/highway blockages.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

In 2016, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, there were nine 5.0+ earthquakes near/in Nicaragua. Shallow earthquakes that register greater than 5.5 with epicenters in Nicaragua have caused structural damage or complete collapse to older buildings and poorly constructed homes.

  • In 2014, a 6.2 earthquake occurred 20 miles from Managua, followed by hundreds of aftershocks. The government issued a “Red Alert” and ordered schools in the Pacific coastal region to remain closed for several weeks. The earthquake caused two deaths.

  • Earthquakes sometimes trigger tsunamis, and national authorities have the capability to issue warnings of potential threats to coastal communities.

  • On November 24, 2016, a 7.0 earthquake struck near Puerto Triunfo, El Salvador, in the Pacific Ocean, triggering a tsunami warning along the coast of Nicaragua. This occurred simultaneously as Category 2 Hurricane Otto made landfall along Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, causing damage to homes and forcing residents into shelters.

  • During the rainy season, dirt roads on the Caribbean coast can be treacherous, so ferries are the foremost mode of transportation. Emergency services are very difficult to access.

    In 2016, there were more than a dozen fatalities from scuba diving off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Diving accidents can be attributed to a number of factors, to include diver error. Travelers consult with a reputable diving establishment to familiarize themselves with Nicaraguan waters.

    Strong currents along the Pacific coast have resulted in a number of drownings. Powerful waves have also caused broken bones, and sting ray injuries are not uncommon. Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available.

    Nicaragua has many active and inactive volcanoes. The San Cristobal, Momotombo, Masaya, Telica, Cerro Negro, and Concepción volcanos are the most active in the country and are monitored by national authorities. Many are near Managua and other popular tourist destinations. Volcano boarding has become a popular activity, but tour operators are not regulated and may not have robust emergency plans.

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

    Critical Infrastructure

    In the event of a natural disaster, transportation, water, communications, and power systems may fail due to damaged infrastructure or heavy ash fall. Roads may close, and flights might be cancelled. Travelers and residents should maintain an emergency supply of food/water to last at least 72 hours and establish an emergency plan.

    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.

    Economic Concerns

    Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods. Not only are bootlegs illegal in the U.S., you may also be breaking local law. Buying pirated goods undermines legitimate businesses. Be wary when making purchases from street vendors or in markets.

    Police Response

    Police often lack sufficient resources to respond effectively to crimes in progress. Victims often need to go to a police station to file a report, as police often do not visit 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.

    If you hold passports from multiple countries, be advised that 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 they were not allowed 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 that electronic equipment has been confiscated upon entry and not returned. U.S. citizens who want to confirm whether they will be allowed to enter Nicaragua with specific items should check with their airline, the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington, D.C., or Nicaraguan Immigration authorities before traveling.

    How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

    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 s/he is required to sign. A defendant is not required to incriminate him/herself. 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). 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.

    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. Should your rights be violated by authorities, you should immediately inform the consular officer or representative, who will bring your case to the attention of the government if you so desire. Also, advise your rental car agency if police say their vehicles do not meet transit regulations.

    Crime Victim Assistance

    Police: 118 or *118 (cellular phones) or 505-2249-1925

    Tourist Emergency Hotline: 101 [only available to cell phones on the Claro system]

    Fire: 115 or *115 (cellular phones)

    Medical: 2255-6900, (ext. 85152 for emergencies) or 505-2265-2081

    For more tips, see https://ni.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/victims-of-crime/tips/.

    Police/Security Agencies

    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 created a tourism police unit that is deployed to areas frequented by tourists and maintains a 24 hour hotline for emergencies.

    Medical Emergencies

    Emergency phone numbers vary by department.

  • In Managua, dial 101 for the Emergency Line for International Tourists (English and Spanish are spoken; however, this number is only available from Claro cell phones). Dispatchers will coordinate an emergency response.
  • Dial 128 for Cruz Roja (Red Cross) ambulance service (Spanish only).
  • Dial *911 for fire department for fire or ambulance (Spanish only).


Medical care is very limited, particularly outside Managua. Basic medical services are available in Managua and many small towns/villages. However, treatment for serious medical issues is often unavailable or available only in Managua. Emergency ambulance services (which are poor and do 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 written in Spanish. Patients must have good Spanish language skills to utilize local medical resources.

Payment for medical services is typically done on a cash basis, although the few private hospitals will accept major credit cards for payment. With rare exception, U.S. health insurance plans are not accepted. Travelers should prepare to pay medical practitioners and hospitals at the time of service or even before treatment is given. In most cases, private hospitals will require full payment or a significant deposit before any treatment will be given, even in life or death cases.

Individuals are taken 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 that s/he can pay for a private hospital.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Embassy staff most often seeks emergency medical treatment at Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas in Managua (Tel: 505-2255-6900, ext. 85152 for the Emergency Room). Facilities are modern and often technologically advanced but may not meet all U.S. standards.

The other main hospitals in Managua are:

Hospital Bautista: +505-2264-9020

Hospital Militar: +505-2264-7570

Hospital Central Managua: +505-2278-1566

Hospital Salud Integral: +505-2266-1707

Available Air Ambulance Services

AeroCare

U.S.A.: (800) 823-1911

www.aerocare.com/

 

AirCare1 International

U.S.A.: (877) 760-7760

www.airambulanceone.com/

 

Global Rescue

U.S.A.: (800) 381-9754

www.globalrescue.com

 

There may be additional services that operate in Nicaragua.

Insurance Guidance

The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Effective January 27, 2017, travelers coming from countries designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as places with the potential for active transmission of yellow fever are required to present an International Certificate of Vaccination for yellow fever (yellow card) at the port of entry, showing a vaccine given at least 10 days prior. Those countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, and Africa (exceptions: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia). The new requirement does not impact travelers already in Nicaragua. Travelers with prior travel to countries with the potential for active transmission of yellow fever will not be required to show proof of a yellow fever vaccine, as long as the prior travel to the affected country occurred more than six days prior and the traveler does not show symptoms of yellow fever. Symptoms of yellow fever include sudden onset of fever, chills, severe headache, back pain, general body aches, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and weakness.

RSO advises U.S. citizens to consult with medical professionals before visiting Nicaragua. Individuals should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date. Vaccinations against hepatitis A and B, rabies, and typhoid are strongly recommended. Many vaccinations are only available in public hospitals.

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. Travelers should carry their medications in their original containers, pack them in carry-on bags, know generic or generic equivalent names in case they need to replace them, and have a prescription or letter from their physician in case they are questioned. For longer stays, your prescription should indicate specific amounts and duration of dosage. Many newer combination medications are not available in local pharmacies. There may be restrictions on bringing prescription or non-prescription medications without proper documentation. For questions about specific medications, please contact the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health's Pharmacy Department before traveling. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

Travelers to Nicaragua may be exposed to dengue fever, chikunguyna, Zika, malaria, influenza, leptospirosis, typhoid fever, and intestinal parasites (giardia, amoeba).

  • Malaria is endemic in the Caribbean coast regions and occasionally appears in Managua. Anti-malarial medication may be considered for travel to the Caribbean coast. No prophylaxis anti-malarial medication is required for Managua or the western half of the country.
  • The CDC has issued a Zika virus travel alert for women who are pregnant or women who are trying to become pregnant; please see the CDC website for the most up to date recommendations.
  • For mosquito-borne diseases, the best prevention is the use of insect repellant containing DEET, protective clothing, and bed nets to prevent mosquito bites.


Tap water is generally not considered safe; bottled water is recommended. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “
I’m Drinking What in My Water?.”

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Nicaragua.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Managua Country Council currently meets quarterly during the year and has approximately 30 members. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to join.  

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S. Embassy is located at Kilometer 5 1/2 (5.5) Carretera Sur, Managua, Nicaragua.

Normal hours of operation are 0730-1615, Mon-Fri except U.S. and Nicaraguan holidays.

Embassy Contact Numbers

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

American Citizen Services: +505-2252-7161 ACS.Managua@state.gov

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

Regional Security Office: +505-2252-7136

Embassy Duty Officer: +505-2252-7100

Website: https://ni.usembassy.gov/

Additional Resources

Nicaragua Country Information Sheet