Dancing is a central part of the Managua experience. The music scene ranges from popular electronic to booty-shaking reggaetón, as well as plenty of salsa, merengue, and bachata. Managua has several places to learn salsa and merengue if you are in town for a longer period of time.
If you prefer something more low-key, there are lots of bars and clubs with atmospheres that range from sultry to suspect, but they change on an annual basis, as Managuans flock inexorably to the newest scene. For party and event listings, check online at BacanalNica or Hecho Magazine.
The Galerías mall complex also houses several upmarket watering holes in its Zona Viva cluster of bars and eateries, of which The Reef bar and the extortionate, Miami-beach style Palmeras Bar are the most popular. Live music at The Reef (Wed.–Sun., cover charge from $5) often competes with the noise from next door’s busy karaoke joint.
Another zone of tightly clustered fun spots where the bars serve food and the restaurants have a good bar scene in Zona Hippos off Carretera Masaya. Piratas on the corner opposite the Hotel Seminole, is always packed on the weekends, and a good place for cheap cocktails. El Tercer Ojo just down the road caters to a cosmopolitan, creative crowd, often hosting live DJs with an electronic, ambient, and international soundtrack. A few blocks east from here, just south of the Monte Olivos landmark, Santera Bar is a central favorite for cheap, frosty beers.
Moods in the Zona Viva, Galerías Santo Domingo mall, is probably the most upscale disco in town and is consistently popular for its swanky atmosphere, pumping music, and speedy bartenders (505/2276-5276, Wed.–Sun., cover charge from $5). You’ll need to dress well to get in (no baseball caps, sneakers, or flip-flops) The city’s burgeoisie are upstairs in the VIP lounge, photographing themselves. Thursday is ladies’ night, with varying specials.
Less than five minutes south of Galerías on the Carretera Masaya you’ll find Hipa Hipa (505/2263-7712, Wed.–Sun., cover charge from $5), young Managua’s first club, which plays a mix of Latin rhythms and electronic beats, and also implements a strict dress-code.
The liveliest—and youngest—party in town is at the Chamán (no phone), a Mayan pyramid structure just south of the Laguna de Tiscapa and north of the UCA. Expect long lines, as Managua’s youth have made this the place to be, especially on Thursdays when it’s ladies’ night (Wed.–Sun., cover from $5).
Two other discos are largely spurned by the trendy crowd; that makes them unpretentious, inexpensive, and still great places to dance. El Quetzal (a block from the Rotonda Centroamerica) and El Mirador Tiscapa are vintage Managua favorites, with a somewhat older crowd. The former is air-conditioned and glassy, the latter has an icy-cold VIP room and large terrace overlooking the crater. Both are recommended and open Friday–Sunday starting around 8 p.m., no cover charge.
Managua’s Costeño crowd loves Qweenz (Rotonda Bello Horizonte, cover charge from $4), somewhat far away from the rest of town and a bit grungy, but well-loved (and packed!). Soca, reggae, and country create the mish-mash soundtrack.
Managua’s music scene, both intimate and refined, shows a lot of local talent and energy. Without a doubt, the best traditional show in town is Casa de los Mejía Godoy (in front of the Hotel Crowne Plaza, tel. 505/2270-4928 or 505/2278-4913, email@example.com). Both brothers perform here regularly, Carlos on Thursday and Saturday, with or without his band Los de Palacagüina. Luis Enrique does Latin rhythm nights on Friday, and Sunday features other Nicaraguan or international performers. The brothers are born showmen and present a theatrical mix of stories, bawdy jokes, and famous songs. The club is expensive by Nica standards, but well worth it by any measure. Buy tickets the afternoon of the performance for $8–15; shows are Wednesday-Sunday only and start at 9 p.m.
A few blocks north of here, alternative hotspot El Caramanchel is a riotous haunt playing everything from rock to reggae, and is the best place to catch local indie bands. Plan transport home ahead of time, as the bar is located in a somewhat unfavorable position opposite the Plaza Inter mall (Wed.–Sun., from $3 cover charge for live music).
The breezy, outdoor terrace of La Ruta Maya (150 meters east of the Estatua de Montoya, 505/2268-0698, open Thurs.–Sat., $4–6) is a pleasant place to appreciate a wide variety of performers from singer-songwriters to reggae, jazz, and everything in between. Local talent includes names such as Macolla, Llama Viva, Dimensión Costeña, Elsa Basil, and Clara Grun, to name but a few.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.