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Nicaragua 2018 Crime & Safety Report

Western Hemisphere > Nicaragua; Western Hemisphere > Nicaragua > Managua

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Nicaragua has been assessed as Level 2: exercise increased caution.

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 American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) 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 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.

Crime Threats

Nicaragua has low overall reported crime rates; however, many crimes go unreported and anecdotal information suggests that crime is increasing. Crimes are more frequently being conducted with weapons and violence. Non-life threatening crimes, such as theft, have shifted to strong-arm robbery. Crimes, which might have been carried out with a knife, are now being committed with guns. Victims of such encounters typically survive the ordeal; however, there are more instances where the victims are being assaulted and/or shot.

In 2017, one U.S. citizen was murdered in Nicaragua. The most frequently reported crime was theft, but U.S. citizens have also reported sexual assaults and other violent crimes while in Nicaragua.

Violence against women in general continues to be a concern. According to the Gender-Based Violence Observatory, there were 51 femicides in 2017. Within 12 days of 2018, three women were killed.

Drug trafficking and the criminal components associated with it appeared to increase, as multiple large drug shipments and bulk cash shipment were seized by Nicaraguan security forces, along with multiple arrests. Open sources also reported on alleged kidnappings-for-ransom.  

According to the government of Nicaragua’s most recent official statistics of reported crimes, the overall homicide rate was 7:100,000 inhabitants, which is a slight reduction from 2016. The homicide rate in the Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region was 28:100,000 inhabitants (four times the national average). Other areas with homicide rates significantly above the national average include 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 (11:100,000 inhabitants); the Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region as a whole (20:100,000 inhabitants).

The reported overall rate of robbery was 178:100,000 inhabitants (an increase of approximately 9.87% from 2016). According to authorities, this increase continued in the last quarter of 2017. There is concern that the risk of violent crimes will increase due to the presence of drug trafficking.

The reported overall rate of theft was 63:100,000 inhabitants.

The reported overall rate of sexual assaults was 41:100,000 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. 

Other Areas of Concern

Use caution in municipalities where high volumes of crime are reported by U.S. citizens, such as Managua, Granada, Rivas, and León; where there are high rates of crime reports overall, such as Ciudad Sandino and Bluefields; and other areas based on various crime factors, such as the Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region with 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.

The U.S. Embassy also strongly advises that U.S. government personnel do not drive outside of urban areas after dark due to transportation safety concerns.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road quality in Nicaragua is generally good compared to other Central American countries, particularly between the urban concentrations throughout the Pacific Coast. However, poor city planning has created multiple choke points and poor traffic circulation in Managua, which has been exacerbated by the high influx of vehicles over the past five years and has led to increased vehicular accidents and fatalities. Road connectivity between the remote and underdeveloped Atlantic Coast with the western part of the country remains very limited. 

According to authorities, 791 people died in traffic accidents in Nicaragua in 2016 and 782 in 2017. In the first week of 2018, there were 560 accidents with 13 fatalities. The Nicaragua National Police identified roadways in the Chinandega and Rivas departments where several vehicular fatalities have taken place and placed additional transit police in these areas to help improve the conditions.

Road conditions vary, and the risk of traffic accidents is enhanced by frequent road hazards, pedestrians, livestock, 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 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, 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 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, 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. 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.

Nicaraguan law requires drivers to be taken into custody for driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs. Police will 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 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 following web page of the Nicaraguan National Police contains more information (in Spanish) about the process to pay or appeal traffic infractions and recover confiscated licenses: http://www.transitonacional.gob.ni/valor-de-multas-por-infracciones-de-transito.

Public Transportation Conditions

There are approximately 100 accidents daily in Nicaragua. Public transportation often lacks proper safety equipment (lights, seatbelts, seats, handholds). Bus accidents on roadways in Nicaragua often result in injuries and deaths. U.S. citizens should avoid buses, as criminals will also steal backpacks, purses, and other personal items from overhead and below seat storage.

There have been reports of taxi drivers being complicit in the commissioning of robberies and assaults. 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.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Managua is situated in a highly seismic environment and the location of the country’s only international airport. Two other airports located on the Caribbean coast – Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas – are often subject to demonstrations and closure during civil unrest. There are also small airports in Tola, Rivas and Ometepe Island 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 they appear to have been targeted for robbery and theft while transiting the airport in Managua to other locations.

Other Travel Conditions

The U.S. Embassy in Managua advises U.S. citizens traveling in the region by panga and other types of boat or ferry to consult, prior to embarking, with local naval or police authorities, when present on-site, about the safety of setting out in current local weather conditions, and to 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 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 2017, political and social demonstrations were common. A large number of demonstrations involved demands for transparent elections, opposition to the proposed building of an inter-oceanic canal, women’s rights, and security forces excessive force.

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 or rotundas. Outside of the capital, they often take place in the form of road/highway blockages.

The results of the 2017 mayoral and municipal elections culminated in civil unrest throughout the country, with significant damage in the Northern Caribbean region. The elections, opposition to the inter-oceanic canal project, and violence against women led to demonstrations and political rallies in Managua and elsewhere in the country. In late 2017, tensions escalated in several communities following the killing of a known opposition figure and his companions, including two minors by the Nicaraguan Army. The situation remains tense in the midst of unanswered questions and lack of transparency. The potential for demonstrations and political rallies remains high in 2018. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

In 2016, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, there were nine 5.0+ earthquakes near/in Nicaragua at depths from 7-196 kilometer. In 2017, according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), there were three 5.0+ earthquakes that resulted in minimal to no damage. Shallow earthquakes with epicenters in Nicaragua that have been greater than 5.5 on the Richter scale have caused structural damage or complete collapse to older buildings and poorly constructed homes.

Earthquakes sometimes trigger tsunamis, and national authorities have the capability to issue warnings of potential threats to coastal communities. On January 10, 2018, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck in the Caribbean Ocean at 202 kilometers north of Barra Patuca, Honduras, triggering a tsunami warning throughout the Caribbean and the coast of Nicaragua.

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 looking to dive should 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. U.S. citizens visiting Nicaragua’s beaches, lakes, and lagunas should exercise appropriate caution. 

Nicaragua has many active and inactive volcanoes. Many are situated 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 not regulated 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 and are monitored by national authorities.

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 and water to last at least 72 hours and establish an emergency plan.

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 92 out of 137 countries in terms of infrastructure in the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report (2017-2018), scoring poorly in port and airport infrastructure, moderately in electricity supply, and above average in road quality and mobile telecommunications.

Over the past decade, the Nicaraguan government has made significant progress in the energy sector: increasing electricity coverage from 54% to 94%, increasing power generation from renewable technologies from 25% to 54%, and doubling investment in power transmission. Despite these gains, however, electricity prices are comparatively high in Central America, and the country experiences approximately 20% in power distribution loss. Crippling weaknesses in the electrical grid remain, as evidenced by nationwide power outages in January 2017, due to limitations in Nicaragua’s transmission capacity, which 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 in Nicaraguan municipalities due to the $1.5 billion of foreign direct investment injected into the telecommunications sector over the past 12 years, fueling the expansion of 3G mobile coverage and broadband networks. Subscriptions costs are relatively high compared to other Central American countries, limiting internet penetration to roughly 20% of the population. Telecommunication providers have very limited back-up power capacity. Signal transmission is limited in many areas due to the country’s topography, particularly rural areas and the Caribbean Coast. Satellite phones are illegal and can 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.

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.

Economic Concerns

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

Police Response

Police often lack resources to respond effectively to crimes in progress. Victims often need to 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.

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). 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 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.

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

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 *115/118 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.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

For Air Ambulances, please refer to the Embassy’s Insurance Providers page.

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

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.

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 exceptions, 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.

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, showing a vaccine given at least 10 days prior to entry into the affected country, at the Nicaraguan port of entry. Table 3-22 on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) page shows the current list of countries. Symptoms of yellow fever include sudden onset of fever, chills, severe headache, back pain, general body aches, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. For more information, visit the Embassy’s Yellow Fever page.

The CDC recommends, to visit your doctor (ideally, 4-6 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. 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 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. The CDC has issued a Zika virus travel alert for women who are pregnant or couples who are trying to become pregnant; please see the CDC website for the most up to date recommendations. 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. For mosquito-borne diseases, the best prevention is the use of insect repellant containing DEET, protective clothing, and bed nets to prevent mosquito bites. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report, “What’s Bugging Your Staff: Mosquito-borne Diseases - Mitigation Tactics”.

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?.”

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

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 Western Hemisphere Team with any questions.

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 0715 – 1630, Mon-Thurs, and 0715 – 1400 Fri, except U.S. and Nicaraguan holidays.

Embassy Contact Numbers 

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

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

Website: https://ni.usembassy.gov

Embassy/Consulate Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Nicaragua should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

If you hold passports from two or more 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 never 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. 

Additional Resources

Nicaragua Country Information Sheet