What are the customs regulations in Nicaragua? No customs duties are charged on personal luggage, which includes an array of items for personal and professional use, as long as they do not appear in quantities that suggest commercial intent. Nicaragua laws require that baggage be examined and that travelers submit customs declarations listing all articles acquired abroad, whether you enter through the airport or a border.
Weather/when is the best time to travel to Central America? We have 2 “seasons”: the dry and the green season. The dry season lasts from mid-November to mid-May; no rain during this time, the most pleasant period being from December to March. April and May get a little warmer. Our countries generally get good amounts of rain at the start at the end of the rainy season, in June and October. But nothing terrible: we usually have between 0 and 2 hours a day, in the late afternoon. Landscape is more beautiful from June to January.
Specifics for each country (climate and geography):
- NICARAGUA: Nicaragua is a quite flat country and with an elevation close to sea level, apart from its volcanic chain. The only cool areas are the mountains in north (Matagalpa, Jinotega, Esteli, Ocotal area, with a maximum elevation of 2106 mts/6909 ft at Cerro Mogoton, bordering with Honduras), most other areas like Granada, Masaya, Leon, Managua, are at or close to sea level and thus hot, year round. The average, year round temperature in Nicaragua is 86° to 95° during the day time, and 77° to 84° during the evening and night in the lowlands, and 74° to 84° during the day time, and 70° to 77° during the evening and night in the Mountains. It is just a few degrees less during the “green” season (May to start of November). We receive guests year round, and the only month that may receive larger amounts of water to avoid October (can be OK or rainy according to the years). While December to February may be the best months to travel, the country is more beautiful during the green season (end of May to sometime late October – mid November).
- COSTA RICA: Due to the very different elevations that you can find in such a small country (from sea level to 3820 mts /12 530ft in Cerro Chirripo!) there is a mix of several different climates, from hot (and quite humid in some areas) in the lowlands and in the beaches (the average, year round temperature there is 86° to 95° during the day time, and 77° to 84° during the evening and night), and cooler areas like the Central Valley (Poas, la Paz, Monteverde, San Gerardo etc), Monteverde, the average, year round temperature there is 73° to 84° during the day time, and 64° to 74° during the evening and night. Arenal area is mild, with an average of 77° to 85° during the day time, and 71° to 78° during the evening and night. The best weather is generally during the dry season, from Mid-November to the end of April, although higher areas can get some water during those months. During the green season the country is lush and green and also cooler, although always pleasant. Traveling during green season (May to October) is also a bit cheaper for travelers.
- PANAMA: Like Costa Rica, Panama boasts different elevations (from Sea level to 3474 mts/11 400 ft in volcano Baru or “de Chirriqui”). Panama City and the center of Panama have low elevations (at or close to sea level), and thus hot, and also quite humid. The mountainous areas are cooler, at the north and south of the country. In general Panama is more humid than its two neighbors in the north.
How much time do I need? If you visit one country only, we recommend 8-10 days at least. We recommend at least 10-12 days if you wish to combine 2 countries, and at least 15 days to see Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
Is bus transportation available? Nicaragua has a cheap bus system. However we recommend to avoid using public transportation as you will be an easy target for pickpockets when the bus is loaded… If you want to use it to travel by bus you have to be aware that most busses aren’t in good mechanical conditions and/or don’t respect elementary safety traffic rules. Also don’t expect to get a/c in public transportation, and don’t forget the temperature will range between 85 and 94 degrees (30 to 38 Celsius) year round… So basically our recommendation is to not use public transportation.
What about taxis? Taxis abound in most cities. They are quite inexpensive, but never forget to negotiate the fare before you aboard the cab; many times the fare is per person. Also taxis are not always safe, mostly in cities. And don’t forget you are an easy target… You’d rather go for hotels taxis, more expensive but safe, to street taxis.
Which special precautions do I need to take? Please consider the following precautions during your trip, which are the same wherever you travel around the world: Do not leave your luggage unattended at the airport or with a stranger, do not carry any stranger’s luggage through customs or immigration, and always carry your money within an inside pocket or a body pouch, or money belt. Daily spending money could be carried in your bag or front pocket. Credit cards and travelers checks are good tools when you travel. Carry a separate package with the following information: a copy of the identifying pages of your passport, the number of your credit cards, traveler checks, bank accounts, airplane tickets, and emergency phone numbers. Valuable items should be left in a safe box. Avoid crowds as well as dark and lonely places, and deal with well-known tourism agencies instead of unknown persons. In other words, take the same precautions you would have when visiting any other country, but do not let that decrease your enjoyment of this experience. While traveling in international or local flights, or in our vans or in boats or horseback carriages, don’t forget to check that you haven’t forgotten any personal item such as camera etc… Even if you may be traveling in the same van the next day, it may be cleaned during the evening and we can’t respond for any forgotten item.
Health — Should I take pills against malaria/dengue fever? We have no doctors among our staff, so this is a delicate question. In 14 years no tourist at all (traveling with us) reported to have contracted Dengue/Malaria while in Nicaragua, so we know that the possibility is extremely remote. However, if we advise you to not take pills etc., and you happen to contract one of these tropical diseases, you may tell us that we gave a wrong recommendation… So our recommendation is to ask your doctor.
Should I drink the tab water? If the water is safe to drink in all areas of the country, it still will be different from the one you are used to drink. So we strongly suggest you to buy bottled water for drinking. If you purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, carefully wash them with water before eating.
Telephone, fax, internet: Internet cafes are available in most towns and hotels Internet cafes are available in most towns and hotels Direct-dial telephone service, facsimile, telex, radio and cable television are all available. We recommend buying a SIM card upon arrival, so that you can use your cellphone for internet connection and calls.
Will my smartphone work in Nicaragua? We understand most people will bring their mobile device as they need to stay connected while in vacation. Sometimes your phone will work, sometimes not; in that case you may buy a SIM card upon arrival, which will provide both phone calls and Internet.
What are the entry and exit taxes? Most of citizens don’t need a visa to visit Central America (please check if you are not from North America, Australia or New Zealand or a developed European country); you just need a passport with at least 6 more months of validity at traveling time, and to pay entry taxes – Nicaragua: U$ 10 to U$ 14 according to the entry point; exit taxes are between U$ 4 (borders) and U$42 (Int’l airport, subject to changes) to be paid cash when not included in airfare, in U$ upon departure. Travelers must be at the airport two hours before departure. Costa Rica: U$ 10 average according to the entry point; exit taxes are between U$ 7 (borders) and U$28 (Int’l airport, subject to changes) to be paid cash when not included in airfare, in U$ upon departure. Travelers must be at the airport two hours before departure.
What are the local taxes? Nicaragua: There is a 17% sales tax at hotels, and a 15 % in most other services such as restaurants, rental cars and other services, industries, and an additional 10 % for service will generally be added at your restaurant and bar tab. Costa Rica: There is a 13% sales tax at hotels, and a 15 % in most other services such as restaurants, rental cars and other services, industries, and an additional 10 % for service will generally be added at your restaurant and bar tab.
How should I plan a perfect trip to Nicaragua, Costa Rica or Panama? Find an advisor that knows the country. Many tourists are looking for the best deal which many times do not match with quality. Nicaragua is a new country regarding tourism, so the infrastructure is still quite challenging. There is more development in Costa Rica and Panama, however the typical, average service you get in these countries is not the one you would expect in more developed countries. Don’t hesitate to ask for references when you are dealing with a travel agent or hotels. Pulhpul Tours is a full service tour operator and ground transportation company with 15 years’ experience in designing and operating trips to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and now Panama, and our offices are located in the historical quarter of Granada, Nicaragua’s most touristy city. Our owners and managers are European and moved to Central America in 1996 (We know our English can’t be perfect and deeply apologize for that!). We are now long time established in Nicaragua and you can ask for references by the Ministry of Tourism (INTUR).
Packing list: what should I bring? We provide all our clients with a general packing list and a day by day suggested packing list for Nicaragua, as soon as you have booked your trip!
What is the time zone in Nicaragua? Nicaragua is the same as U.S. Central Standard Time (US Winter) and MST (US Summer). Sun rise is around 5.30am, sundown about 5.45 to 6.15pm all year long.
Electricity: Electricity in Central America is the same as in the USA (120 Volt/ 60 Hertz). If you come from Europe and other countries you will most likely need an adaptor. Laptops will most likely work, although you need a special plug. You may buy these devices in your country. Please note that blackouts happen in any part of Nicaragua sometimes.
About money and banks: There are banks and ATM’s in all major cities, and ATM’s. You can normally get either local currency (Cordobas in Nicaragua, Colones in Costa Rica) or U$. You may also exchange U$ into local currency inside the bank, NEVER in the street (except if you are with one of our tour guides). Also don’t bring Traveler’s Checks, almost no business will take them; bring cash (only bills in excellent shape, $ 1 to $ 50 for most expenses). Major credit cards are accepted in many businesses but make sure you got some cash for small expenses (U$ and/or Cordobas).
What are the business hours? Most banks are open from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30p.m in Nicaragua and Panama, and 5-6pm in Costa Rica and from 8:30am to 12pm on Saturdays, and do not close for lunch. Governments offices are generally open from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Stores and other businesses in shopping centers and malls are open from 10:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Most restaurants open from 11:00 am to 11:00 pm. Most commercial business open from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Most hotels are open 24 hours.
Tips about driving! To rent a car you must be at least 21 years old, have a valid driver’s license and a credit card (Visa, Amex or MasterCard). Gasoline is available at stations throughout the country, most are open 24 hours. You need good car insurance, which is included in your contract with the car rental. If you are involved in a traffic accident: Do not lose your temper, do not leave the place of the accident, do not move the car, cooperate with the legal authorities, do not sign any agreements nor accept any liability, and contact your rental car company immediately. For more information, please look at our section: car/van rental.
How much should I tip? Most bars and restaurants will add a 10 % tip to your bill so read your bill before paying a tip. However you are free to tip the waiter if you are happy with the service you have been given! Concerning your tour guide and driver, the average we have noted for a driver is U$ 5-15 per day, and the average for a guide is U$ 10-30 per day. Again this is at your discretion (not an obligation).
Making a Reservation: Reservations can be made through one of the following methods.
- By e-mail, the best way: send a mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- You will receive a confirmation of your request within 24 business hours.
- By phone calling our office in Nicaragua, during business hours (Monday to Saturday 8am to 5pm CST (Winter) or MST (Summer) and Sunday from 8am to 12pm: +(505) 2552-8461.