Planning Your Time
- Where to Go
- The Best of Nicaragua
- Nicaragua’s Best Surfing
- Hiking Nicaragua’s Ring of Fire
- Nicaraguan Arts & Crafts
- Nicaragua’s Great Green North
- Sportfishing in Nicaragua
- Down the Río San Juan
- Nicaragua’s Celebrations & Fiestas
- Volunteering in Nicaragua
- Diving & Snorkeling in Nicaragua
- Managua’s Revolutionary Driving Tour
Managua’s main historical attractions are clustered in a four-block-square area along the lakeshore, and you can easily visit all Managua’s historical sights in about an hour by taxi, or reserve another two hours if you’d like to take one of the lake cruises. It pays however to stick around for an evening, as Managua’s biggest attraction is its nightlife, and its beauty is enhanced by dim (or absent) urban lighting.
Just outside the city you’ll find a few excellent, usually overlooked, outdoor activities. You can also visit the Pacific beaches and the Chocoyero–El Brujo Nature Reserve without entering the chaos of the capital. If you’re just passing through, consider a stop at the Tiscapa crater for an amazing view that reveals just how many trees there are in the city.
Managua city has no obvious city center and its unnamed streets do not follow a grid pattern, so staying oriented is a challenge. Focus on the following specific zones of interest and avoid the rest: From Plaza de la Revolución and the Malecón (waterfront) south to the Laguna de Tiscapa you’ll find the city’s historical attractions, but little to eat or drink and no lodging.
The various neighborhoods that flank Carretera Masaya south of the Plaza Metrocentro are where you’ll find the bars, clubs, and restaurants that make Managua fun, and an increasing number of charming guesthouses.
Lastly, Barrio Martha Quezada has historically been a backpacker and budget traveler center, and still houses most international bus companies for those making overland connections.
Locating addresses in Managua is unlike any system you’ve ever seen, but with a few tips and some basic vocabulary, you’ll master Managua in no time. Street names and house numbers are few and far between, and where they do exist, they are universally ignored. Addresses in Managua begin with a landmark (either existing or historical), which is followed by the number of cuadras (blocks) and a direction.
Remember this: North is al lago (toward the lake); east is arriba (up, referring to the sunrise); south is al sur (to the south); and west is abajo (down, where the sun sets).
Some other key phrases to know are contiguo a (next door to), frente a (across from), casa esquinera (corner house), and a mano derecha/izquierda (on the right-/left-hand side). Also note that varas are often used to measure distances of less than one block; this is an old colonial measurement just shy of a meter.
Directions in this travel guide are given in English for consistency’s sake, but always beginning with the landmark exactly as it is referred to in Spanish.
Getting Around Managua
Managua was not made for walking. Organize your day into trips to different regions of interest, and resign yourself to getting around by taxi, as the buses are slow and rather dangerous, and walkers are at risk not only to petty crime but general harrassment (not to mention heat stroke).
Negotiate a rate with a taxi driver to take you around the sights (one hour is enough and should cost you about $10). Finish the driving tour at the Malecón, where you can enjoy a boat trip on Lake Xolotlán (Tuesday–Sunday), then move on. Any middle or upper range hotel can organize a guide and/or taxi to help you tour Managua. A taxi will cost around $20 per half day and a guide a similar amount.
But you don’ have to rely on a hotel to arrange for a taxi, if you even approach the edge of the street, Managua’s 14,000 taxis will circle you like vultures, beeping for your attention. Taxis will take you most places for $1–7, though the ride to and from the airport might cost you as much as $15 if you don’t bargain well (see the Money section of this travel guide for bargaining tips and techniques).
Managua taxis have no meters, so settle on a price before getting in the vehicle! Hotel and guesthouse owners can usually arrange a reliable taxi driver if you feel insecure about taking a cab on the street.
Managua is still statistically less dangerous than other Central American capitals, but you should keep your wits about you, as minor crimes from pickpocketing and purse snatching to carjacking seem to be on the rise. The best way to stay out of trouble is to avoid areas where you’ll find it. The safest and cleanest neighborhoods are Los Robles, Altamira along Carretera Masaya, plus Reparto San Juan (near the University of Central America), and Bolonia (south of Plaza España), all of which offer more upscale accommodation and bed-and-breakfasts.
Dangerous neighborhoods include Renée Schick, Jorgé Dimitrov, La Fuente, San Judas, Villa Venezuela, Batahola, Las Americas, Bello Amanecer, Vida Nueva, Los Pescadores, Domitila Lugo, Santana, and Hialeah.
You should be safe enough in and around the major shopping centers and the restaurants and clubs along Carretera Masaya, but in general you’re better off staying in groups when possible—especially when traveling by taxi. And pay close attention to your surroundings. Don’t get into taxis where the driver is keeping his face obscured by a baseball cap or where the driver is traveling with a “friend” in the passenger seat.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition