Crime in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is considered one of the safer countries in Central America. Tourism-related crime like petty theft and scam artists (and the occasional robbery and assault) sometimes occur, usually at night and involving alcohol. There have also been some problems with carjacking by criminals posing as police. For the moment, Nicaragua has mostly escaped the gang violence that has plagued the cities of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

A red door in a pale green wall surrounded by graffitied names.

Red Door in Granada, Nicaragua by Angie Harms licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

No one should take a cab when the driver has a friend riding up front—complain loudly if he tries.Smugglers, mafiosos, dealers, and crackheads are found along the Atlantic coast, where drug-related crimes threaten local communities, although to a lesser extent in recent years. The Corn Islands have experienced several rapes, and San Juan del Sur experienced an extreme wave of violence in 2008 that included a kidnapping. In 2015, a woman was accosted while walking on an isolated road outside of town. In 2014 a tourist was raped and killed after walking some distance along the beach from the Montelimar resort. The Tipitapa-Masaya highway, formerly a convenient shortcut for going from the airport to Granada while avoiding Managua, is increasingly dangerous at night as it is the scene of fake “police inspections” that end up with foreign tourists being forced to go from ATM to ATM, withdrawing cash.

Before traveling, check official reports, including the U.S. State Department’s warnings and the travel forums at Managua is the city with the most crime. Big cities, like Estelí and Chinandega, have neighborhoods you should skip as well (ask at your hotel to get the most updated local info). Avoid traveling alone, especially in remote areas including beaches, at night or while intoxicated, and pay the extra dollar or two for a cab. No one should take a cab when the driver has a friend riding up front—complain loudly if he tries—and pay attention to your surroundings and where you are going.

You are most at risk of pickpocketing (or hat/watch/bag snatching) in crowds and on public transport. Keep a low profile and leave flashy jewelry, watches, and expensive sunglasses at home. Keep your cash divided up and hidden in a money belt, sock, or your undergarments (take a cue from the many Nica women pulling córdoba bills out of their cleavage).

Immediately report crimes to the local police department (dial 118), at a minimum because your insurance company back home will require an official police report before reimbursing you. Nicaraguan police have good intentions but few resources. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to help fill up a vehicle with gas. This is annoying but not uncommon, and chipping in for $20 of gas will help get the job done. While police corruption does exist (Nicaraguan police earn very little), the Nicaraguan police force is notably more honest and helpful than in some Central American nations, and has gotten more professional during the Ortega administration.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Nicaragua.

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  1. Robert Bates says:

    Traveled through San Juan del Norte, El Castillo, San Carlos and Managua last year. Never had any issues but would advise sticking with Taxis at night. I paid in cordobas and knew the exchange rates and basic taxi fares to price things in advance. I also just took basic precautions – avoid dangerous looking places, don’t keep your money in an easily reachable place by a pickpocket in a large crowd (most of my travel was up the relatively underpopulated Rio San Juan where I never felt at risk at all). Just use commonsense as well. I will be going back this year first to the Corn Islands and then on to Leon. I don’t expect problems, but agree with the comments if you’re a victim of a theft it is highly unlikely involving the police, just as it is in the US, will get you anything more than a report for your insurance company.

  2. D. says:

    Thanks for the helpful info. Can you (or anyone here) recommend a good Spanish language school in Granada, specifically for an 11-year-old with limited Spanish experience? We’re considering a visit in 2017.

  3. anna says:

    Can you explain more about how the rates in nicaragua have gone up in this years or if they lowered? I would like to see the comparison & more of how it has affected its community. But overall it has sounded really good and educated.

  4. Liam Bradey says:

    If anyone is reading these comments and it’s making you think otherwise about going to Nicaragua then you’re mistaken. We spent two months travelling around all the different parts of the west coast (from jiquillio to san juan del sur) without any problems whatsoever we were stayin in cheap hostels or ranches and using public transport to get around, most of the time being the only gringos on the bus. We were often by ourselves with only locals around and had many positive experiences with everyone, one of the locals even told my girlfriend to hide her money in her pocket more or she might get it pickpocketed. The only negative thing that happened was one police officer tried to get a bribe from us when we were in a friend’s car that we met down there which we avoided by asking to go to his office and speak to his boss and just outright refusing to pay.

    Don’t listen to people telling you not to go there saying its not safe it’s dangerous blah blah blah yes you might get your things stolen if they are left unattended because the Nicaraguans are very, very poor something you will understand when you get there but that also happens anywhere in the world. Use common sense as you would at home and you will travel without problems i’m sure, if you’re looking for the more resort type crap maybe pay more and go to Costa Rica but if you’re looking for a great adventure a little rough around the edges but in a good way then Nicaragua is for you, i would go there back anytime! Oh and learn some spanish before you go it would be my number one tip, it will really help you get to where you need to or avoid getting ripped off as the Nicaraguans for the most part don’t speak a word of English!

    Bon Voyage

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Liam,

      Thanks for the on-the-ground perspective! It’s so easy to fear traveling abroad, particularly in less touristed regions. Knowing the risks is essential to travel safety, but so is balancing that with common sense and learning to be aware of your surroundings. We appreciate you sharing your view with other readers.

  5. Interesting article. You are a bit off though. Yes, violent crime is very rare in Nicaragua, petty crime is through the roof, especially stuff like purse snatchings and armed robbery (knives usually).. I´ve lived here a few years, and literally every woman I know has had her purse or cell phone snatched, and a few just robbed outright with knives and a couple with guns. The thing is, these crimes are NEVER reported because the police will make you pay gas to get to where the crime was, and unless you can name the thief, they won´t even bother asking witnesses. It is almost like Nicaragua is cheating the crime stats by putting so little effort into investigating crimes. People look at you strange if you ask if they reported the crime. The police are a deterent if they are in view, but unless you know or can catch the thief yourself, there is no reason to even call them.. they will just ask you for gas money and then leave after a few minutes. The national police have also become much more politicized the last couple years as upper management have been replaced by political allies.

    • Paul G says:

      Peter Sedesse: It’s rare to find an honest post about Nicaragua as most doing the reporting are invested in some way with tourism and/or have only been tourists who cling to the well worn tourist paths. I spent 6 months in Granada and was involved in 2 armed robberies, one with a knife to my throat and the other with a pistol and machete (3 teenagers on the way down from Mombacho). Apart from that my apartment was constantly under threat from the local kids climbing up and trying every which way to get in, I had to shoo them away constantly (a favorite of theirs was to climb on the roof and try to lift the galvanized iron roof slats). I for one am sick of hearing about how safe Nicaragua is, from my perspective it is definitely the most dangerous (petty crime) country I’ve traveled. The above comments re reporting to Police is spot on, even if you did report the crime to Police they have no real way of collating national crime statistics anyway, so the ‘safe’ tag is utter rubbish.

  6. keiko says:

    Thank you for sharing.

  7. jens bjerre says:

    After this: You better stay home.

  8. Patrick says:

    Hi, great article thanks! I’m strongly considering Leon for 3 months or more and so am boning up on all the latest travel challenges. Thanks for the tips.

  9. John Shepard says:

    Nicaragua is NOT safe. Crimes are simply not reported so while the numbers seem small, they are not accurate. This is what makes Nicaragua the “safest country in CA”.

    South beaches are particularly dangerous, with numerous robberies and some serious assaults, including rapes. Police take a “blame the victim” attitude, and in some instances the police are suspected of participating in the crimes.

    Nicaragua is an interesting country, but be careful!