Nicaragua- Land of Lakes and Volcanoes. Nicaragua is a country known for its beautiful landscapes, stunning volcanoes and spectacular beaches with amazing surf. For the last few years the country has become a hotspot for eco-tourism and surf vacations. However, with the current political situation the number of tourists visiting Nicaragua has fallen to virtually zero. As a traveler it is difficult to wade through the mainstream media coverage, the social media posts and the hype to find out what the real situation is.
I am here to tell you as a traveler you can still enjoy all Nicaragua has to offer you. If you are a thinking about coming to Nicaragua don’t let the naysayers and fear mongers keep you away. If you were to post on a number of groups on Facebook right now and ask “Is it safe to travel in Nicaragua?” many people out there are ready to tell you all the dire consequences that will ensue if you come to Nicaragua right now. I am not exaggerating the reaction. However, they are exaggerating the danger. Yes, the political situation in Nicaragua currently is complicated. No one here is denying that. However, as a tourist your intent is not to involve yourself in protests against the government. You want to go to the beach and learn to surf, you want to climb a volcano. All of that is still possible with very little risk.
One of the number one facts that is cited for not coming to Nicaragua right now is the US State Department Travel Advisory is at a Threat Level 3. The US Government changed the threat level back in April when the government protests were at their height. Yet if you look at the other countries in Central America you will see that they also have the same threat level- Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are all listed at a Level 3 Threat Advisory by the US. While the Threat Level hasn’t decreased yet here in Nicaragua the US government has allowed the return of non-essential embassy personnel and family members. Like the US government, there was a time a few months ago I cautioned against traveling here, however I feel that time has passed. Don’t get me wrong- I am not saying everything has returned to normal politically but I do not feel that there is or has ever been any danger to tourists. Transportation in the country has returned to normal, goods and services are available and there are restaurants and hostels still open. If you avoid protests and demonstrations and use common sense, there is no reason you can’t enjoy your stay in here.
The other issue people raise is “Is it moral to travel in Nicaragua right now?” As a result of the political unrest the Nicaraguan economy is suffering. Many businesses, particularly in the tourist industry, have closed or severely cut their staff. As a tourist visiting you can have a direct positive impact helping local Nicaraguans who are struggling to support their families. It’s hard to see the the effect tourist dollars have here until they are gone. People think only the hotel owners are suffering. They don’t think of the employees of those businesses and the money they no longer have to spend. As many as 70,000 jobs are estimated to have been lost in the tourism sector alone in Nicaragua. When the employees aren’t spending then the small shop owners have less to spend. It is a trickle down effect that impacts the entire community. By visiting now, you can help a people that are struggling to feed their family.
You may be wondering who am I to tell that Nicaragua is safe right? My husband and I are Americans that run a hostel here on Isla de Ometepe. We have remained here with our three year old daughter through out the crisis. At no point have we felt unsafe, or considered returning back to the states. Having spent seven wonderful years living here, we have put down roots among the community here and call Nicaragua our home. A few months ago, when it became clear that the situation was not going to improve immediately I found work online to help us support ourselves until tourism returns. I am privileged to be able to have the opportunity to seek out other sources of income. My neighbors and friends here are not all so lucky. Over the seven years I have lived here I have watched the economy on Ometepe slowly change from the back breaking labor of subsistence level farming to a tourist economy that provides a higher standard of living standard of living to a population that has been living in poverty. Anyone who says tourism doesn’t make a difference hasn’t visited here. My goal in this is to continue to help the community that has been kind and generous enough to welcome me and my family.
So, if you are considering traveling to Nicaragua my advice is to come. Be adventurous and find out for yourself what is really going on in the country. Help support the amazing people of Nicaragua find their way to a better life, free from the oppressive shackles of extreme poverty that is threatening to return and set back the progress the country has made in the last decade of economic growth. If you feel uncomfortable simply taking a vacation keep in mind there are many volunteer programs you can participate in here as well. Whatever you decide to do while you’re here, the Nicaraguan people will welcome you with open arms and show you why those of us who have chosen to remain here are so passionate about this country.