Advice on Personal Safety and Security
Just some advice on staying safe during your exotic adventure. Nicaragua is a third world country. "Having" and "not having" are very pronounced. Crime does occur, but by practicing common sense and following our advice you will be aware of some of the common risks and be better prepared to avoid them. If you have experience traveling abroad, then you should already have a good appreciation of how to ensure your personal safety.
Some people thought we were out of our minds throwing ourselves wholeheartedly at this adventure in Nicaragua with our gorgeous 2 year old baby girl. Our best friend, Alicia from Managua, convinced us to come and visit, insisting we should give her home country a chance. We did and have called it our second home ever since.
We have owned and regularly visited our Villa by Remanso Bay with all of our three kids for the last 8 years. We never found ourselves in any kind of trouble, but then again we always stay well aware of our surroundings. My three kids, the oldest being 20 at the time, would actually go to the beach early in the morning on their own. They would never have any items of value with them. Just their swimsuits, a kite, a bucket and shovel to play with in the sand, or the odd frisbee.
None of the beaches in the San Juan del Sur (SJDS) area have lifeguards and none are regularly patrolled by police. Our beach does benefit from frequent police visits thanks to the taco shack and it's "pop-and-taco-on-the-house-special" for the constables.
There have been incidents of theft at all of the beaches in and around SJDS. Surfers are the most common target. By leaving valuable belongings unattended on the beach, including cameras, wallets, passports, even fancy sandals, you may become an easy target.
Leave your valuables at home. I have lost 4 earrings and a pair of sunglasses while simply playing in the waves, the strength and frequency of which may catch you off guard. Leave your watch at home and let the sun be your guide throughout the day. Relax. At lunch time – the sun is directly above you. Sunset – a clue to head back for supper. Leave your expensive cameras at home, especially those with huge lenses proudly displayed around your neck. At the very least be discreet with your camera and download your photos regularly and have several memory cards. Your loss will be minimized in the event you loose your camera or it is stolen.
It is not safe to venture out on the rocks along the edges of our Bay or to wander off to the secluded beaches, especially if you are alone and have valuables with you. Also, while the sea may appear calm, with one rogue wave you may end up in serious trouble.
It's always safer to go to the beach with a buddy. After sunset you should not be going to the beach alone.
Photocopy all your credit cards, passports, divers licenses etc. and keep separate from your wallet. Limit the contents of your wallet to one credit card, one debit card and a few bucks. A secure electronic wall mounted safe is provided at Villa Pavela.
There is a secure ATM machine in SJDS at Hotel Casa Blanca. It's always supervised by an armed guard.
When shopping, make sure to check you are receiving accurate change and watch out for inflated "gringo" prices. Eliza could accompany you to make sure you do not get ripped off. Also, beware of the sweet little kids selling trinkets and pottery. Not all but some of them are skilled pickpockets.
You can pay in US dollars everywhere but be prepared to get change in cordobas. $50, $100 bills always raise a bit of suspicion, same as they do in North America. It's better to have $20's. We always bring a bunch of $1 and $5 bills for tips etc. Some of the grocery stores in SJDS accept credit cards. Always ask, before you shop.
There is an airport " welcome" tax, so be prepared to pay around US$7-10 per person as you pass through customs. Should your travel plans involve departure from the airport in Liberia, Costa Rica, be prepared to pay a farewell airport tax of +/- US$35 per person. You will be exempt from paying this tax if you can prove that you are in transit and that you have been in the country for less than 12 hours. The airport in Managua does not charge a departure tax.
If you need to exchange money you can stop by the BDF bank, just a little farther down the road from Hotel Casa Blanca. Personally, I would recommend to use an ATM to withdraw smaller quantities of cash in US dollars or cordobas.
Don't exchange money on the street. You will most likely get ripped off.
Security at Villa Pavela
To ensure our guests security, Villa Pavela is permanently staffed and we have a guard dog, Eliza and Levys live on the premises and take care of the property. Levys will accompany guests to to the beach the first time simply to show the way.
In the event of a blackout, which unfortunately are quite frequent in SJDS, our back-up power will switch on automatically. During such times, I would advise that you limit the use of water by not taking showers and /or flushing. Also avoid using air-conditioning and non–essential appliances and reduce lighting. These power saving strategies will allow for the fridge and ceiling fans to run smoothly for a few hours.
For your own safety, please do not attempt to operate our back–up power system nor touch any of the electrical panels located in the kitchen. Eliza knows the system inside-out and is the only one authorized to adjust it, as needed. Also, as a courtesy to other guests, and for our sanity, please do not modify any of our Internet settings.
Welcome to the tropics! Be mindful of animals and insects you may encounter. Watch where you walk and don't wander into tall grasses. We do advise that you keep the bedroom doors at Villa Pavela closed at all times.
Watch what you touch! The agave-type plants in our garden, the line tree and even the blooming bougainvillea bushes all have spines that may leave a painful reminder for days.
Safety on the road
We always rent a car and drive even at night, but that should be done only if you know the road and have prior experience with driving in Nicaragua. Bicyclists, pedestrians and animals are not uncommon on the road at any time of day and night.
If you are arriving around noon, expect daylight to last up to around 5:30 pm. If you are arriving later in the afternoon and are concerned with the drive, there is a great shuttle bus service based in SJDS, www.adelanteexpres.com or you can stay for the night at the Best Western Las Mercedes hotel just across the street from the airport in Managua and only hit the road the next morning. Try avoiding having to take taxis in Managua.
Arranging for taxi service to and from Villa Pavela can be tricky. Your cell phone may not work in this area and only some local SIM cards seem to work. Movistar pay-as-you-go seems to be the best choice. Taxis can also be very expensive, especially for foreigners - US$15 !!! one way for a 7 minute drive into SJDS. Please note, Eliza is always available to help you out by calling our trusted taxi driver. Tipping Eliza is always appreciated as she needs to top up her mobile minutes.
Personally, I like to have my own vehicle for safety and convenience. In an emergency, it's right there.
You do have to be very careful when driving. Always buckle up. It's mandatory. Change lanes using caution and signaling and never change lanes while on a turnaround and when lines are continuous. Just go with the flow. Respect the speed limit religiously. Sometimes all it takes is a small traffic accident and everyone may end up at the police station. There used to be many check-points with cops stopping select cars, especially rentals and requesting vehicle registration papers, passport or cash claiming you committed a traffic violation. Nowadays this still happens but lately we found that not as frequently. It depends on your luck and also on your driving habits. Locals get away with the worst infractions. different story for tourists in rentals. Driving remains at your own risk. I am just offering some advice and sharing lessons learned.
Always make sure you and your passengers are wearing seat belts which is mandatory and simply common sense, lock all car doors first making sure the car keys are not left inside and never, ever leave any belongings out in plain sight. We learned the hard way. Keep everything in the trunk. Never offer rides to hitch hikers.
Nicaragua is a third world country. Very basic emergency services, such as a small hospital and ambulances are located in Rivas, a 40 minute drive. No guarantee however, on how long it could take for an ambulance to arrive. There is a very basic clinic and several pharmacies in SJDS. It is wise to travel with your own little first aid kit. Managua has a full blown hospital.
The most comfortable weather is at the end of November and in December. Cooler nights, perfect for sleeping. In January the trade winds pick up and continue until February or March. It's hot and dry, especially closer towards March. March, April and May are less windy, very hot and very dry.
June and July are hot, humid with some rain, things are green again. There is typically a mini-dry season mid-July to mid-August that is also nice. September is normally very wet and great for surfing. The vegetation is lush. Temperatures vary from low 80's F (26 C) to mid 90's F (34 C) throughout the year. Best fishing (deep sea) is during the rainy season (June-November) as is the best surfing.
Fresh water fishing (lake Nicaragua, Apanas) is best in February through March. October is traditionally the wettest of the rainy season. It is hot, humid with lush vegetation....simply breathtaking.
In November, you can expect some rain and humidity.
The advice above is all common sense. We used the same precautions on our recent trip to Italy and managed to stay out of trouble with great success, and there were a few close calls.
Now that you have been advised, here are some really interesting and cool things you may want to consider doing once hanging out in the hammock and doing absolutely nothing, finally gets a bit old.
You could slice open a fresh10 lbs papaya and sinfully eat it all up, knowing that at home you would pay a small fortune for one.
You could visit Playa El Coco and Playa La Flor or take a day trip on a boat and visit all of the local beaches. There are many tour operators in SJDS who offer this kind of entertainment. Just make sure they are licensed and have proper life safety equipment for all passengers. The Flying Frog zip lines are fantastic, if you're into that kind of thing. Very affordable and spectacular during the green season.
Granada is worth visiting if you're into local architecture and heat. It's a 1.5 hour drive. Taking a horse-drawn carriage and getting a full tour of this historic city for approximately $20 is worth every penny. But you'll be longing for the beach in no time. The El Zaguan steak house behind the cathedral in Grenada serves the best steak we've ever had in our lives. They also have a good wine list. We go there whenever we are in the neighbourhood.
Ometepe Island is a two day event. Among other things you can hike up the volcano with a guide. The hike is a full day event and a bit strenuous but an experience of a lifetime. This does require some planning and reservations.
Getting to Villa Pavela:
Augusto C. Sandino Airport – Managua, Nicaragua
This is the main international airport of Nicaragua. There are several international lines with direct connections here. Once in Managua you can either rent a car (recommended), get a taxi or hop on a local bus. This last option is for experienced tourists only. The trip from Managua to Villa Pavela takes about 2 hours. From the airport you will have to go west towards Carratera Sur. This route follows the Pan-American highway and goes through El Crucero, Diriamba, Jinotepe, Nandaime and Rivas. About 20 km past Rivas, at the white obelisk there is a right turn to San Juan del Sur. From this point on there are signs to Playa Remanso, so you should be able to find it easily.
Liberia Airport – Liberia, Costa Rica
Located in neighbouring Costa Rica this airport is very close to San Juan del Sur. There are buses between Liberia and the border crossing at Peñas Blancas (approx. US$ 3). You may also consider taking a taxi directly from the airport to the border (US$ 60 to 80) and the trip takes about 1–1.5 hour. Be prepared to haggle though to get a decent price. The cost of taking a taxi from the airport to the bus terminal in Liberia is roughly US$ 8 and the trip takes about 15 minutes. There is no bus service between the airport and the city.
Crossing from Costa Rica to Nicaragua at Peñas Blancas
At the border crossing stay clear of all “facilitators” who claim that you need them to get your papers processed. Go straight to the main building and find the Entradas (Entries) wicket. Ask the immigration officer for una forma (an immigration form) and fill it out. There is no charge for leaving Costa Rica this way (on foot). You will have to walk over 1/2 mile (approx. 700 metres) to get into Nicaragua. You may have to show your passport and a copy of the form you just filled out 2 or 3 times. Once you cross into Nicaragua you have to head for the immigration counter which is located at a long dock across from a duty-free shop. Remember to turn right when you pass a little park on the right. When entering Nicaragua you will have to present your passport, the form you filled out before at the Costa Rican border and a payment of US$ 7. Politely refuse help from “facilitators” there.
ALAMO car rental is located on the Nicaraguan side. You may also get a local taxi to take you to Villa Pavela. The cost will be US$ 25-30 and it takes about 30-40 minutes to get there.