5 Things you should know before visiting Nicaragua
Planning a visit to Nicaragua? Or are you in the Foreign Service and planning to bid on Nicaragua? Here’s what you should know. First I’ll start with five things for the short-term visitor.
- Know basic Spanish – While some Nicaraguans who work in the tourist industry do speak English (and other languages), your average Nicaraguan, including cab drivers, shopkeepers, restaurant workers, and the random people you will stop to ask directions will probably only speak Spanish. Know basic phrases or and get familiar with a good phrase book. Even better – learn Spanish. That said, people are quite friendly and are willing to try to understand your exaggerated hand motions.
- Know your History – History and politics seem to always be at the surface in Nicaragua. It couldn’t hurt to educate yourself on the highlights (and lowlights) of the past few decades. Also, a look into some current events could help too. For example, even though some are saying that Nicaragua is “the next Costa Rica,” you might not want to say that out loud. Things are a bit tense with Nicaragua’s southern neighbor at the moment. Also, a major Presidential and Congressional election is coming up November 6, 2011.
- Plan your Transportation – I know many people thrive on going to a new country and “winging it” or renting a car to get to know the landscape better. I would recommend that you do some research into how to get to and from each point on your trip. While the roads in Nicaragua are pretty good, the public transportation system is not for the feint of heart. I visited Guatemala 8 years ago, and Nicaragua isn’t anywhere near offering the quality of busses and cabs that Guatemala had back in 2002. And driving can be tricky too – Nicaragua uses a system of landmarks instead of street names, which makes reading a map without landmarks very difficult. A typical address would be: From where the Leon Theater is, one block to the lake, one block down (meaning west or where the sun goes down). If you know where the Leon Theater is, you’re golden. If not, be prepared to ask around. Also, there is little signage, and drivers involved in an accident with injured parties are guilty until proven innocent. If you live here, it’s worth learning to drive. But if you’re here for a short time, don’t bother.
- Come Bearing Gifts – Many people come to Nicaragua to volunteer or learn English. If you’re planning a home stay, or if you have a local sponsoring organization, it’s always a good idea to bring a small gift and photos. Your Nicaraguan hosts will probably expect something (just as they would bring something if they were to stay in your house) so you should be prepared. Something from your state or hometown is a nice idea. Also, Nicaraguans love to see photos of your family. So bring along a copy of your wedding photo or a picture of your mom and dad with the family pet and you will make a fast friend.
- Meet the “vos” conjugation – Maybe this is getting down into the weeds too much, but for those of you who already speak Spanish, be prepared for a new twist. Nicaraguans use the “vos” tense in Spanish, which is different from that fancy vosotros thing used in Spain. The “vos” tense replaces “tu” and is even more informal. Ex: “Como estas?” “Bien, y vos?” Many Nicaraguans say it so fast, change the v to a b, and drop the “s” so it sounds more like “Bien, y bo?” It takes a bit of getting used to, but with a little practice you’ll be speaking like a Nica. Although It’s still a good idea to use the more formal “usted” tense for people you don’t know.
In the next post: 5 things you should know before moving here.