Tourism in Nicaragua has grown to become the country’s second largest industry. Tourism is expected to continue its almost 10% annual growth as well, because President Daniel Ortega has stated his intention is to use tourism to help alleviate the nation’s poverty. To this end, Law 360 was decreed. The law offers foreign investors in tourism the best investment incentives in all of the Americas.
Adding to its popularity as a vacation destination, Nicaragua has the lowest crime rate in Latin America according to Interpol, with only 12 crimes for every 100,000 citizens.
Nicaragua only has one international airport, Managua’s Augusto C. Sandino International Airport, which efficiently welcomes more than 1.3 million tourists annually (2016). Two-thirds of these tourists were from other Central American countries, 290,000+ were from North America and 80,000+ from Europe. Of those that come for recreation, their principal activities include surfing, hiking volcanoes and enjoying the country’s unique, natural beauty.
According to the INTUR, the Ministry of Tourism of Nicaragua, the colonial city of Granada is the preferred destination for tourists. The city’s central park hosts many vendors of traditional foods, as well as arts and crafts. Line up along the west side of the part are horse drawn carriages for visitors to take an affordable tour of the city. If your understanding of Spanish is limited, be sure to select a carriage driven by a guide who speaks your language because their knowledge of the city and its historical sites is both interesting and informative.
Just outside the Granada city limits visitors are able to take boat tours of the Granada Islets, or visit Mombacho Volcano, a popular day trip for anyone interesting in doing a little hiking up into a cloud forest. Laguna de Apoyo is another popular destination for tourists visiting Granada.
The cities of León, Masaya, Rivas, and San Juan del Sur are also popular tourist destinations. Cruise ships have been docking in San Juan del Sur since January 2000, bringing with them an average of 50,000 tourists annually.
The Corn Islands, located about 70 km east off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, near Bluefields, is another popular tourist destination.
Rural and community based tourism
CECOCAFEN is an organization of coffee cooperatives in Northern Nicaragua that manage a rural and community based tourism project. The project was developed with support from Lutheran World Relief. Tourism provides farmers with new opportunities in alternative markets and diversify their income. CECOCAFEN offers visitors the opportunity to visit a coffee farm, learn about coffee craftsmanship, stay overnight on a coffee farm and explore the area with a community guide.
Home to 78 protected areas covering over 20% of its landmass, Nicaragua is home to 7% of the world’s biodiversity. This is more than Costa Rica. With so much biodiversity, the country’s tourism industry has develop a popular eco-tourism sub sector.
Ecological tourism aims to be ecologically and socially conscious. It focuses on local culture, wilderness, and adventure. Nicaragua’s eco-tourism grows every year, with three principle eco-regions, Pacific, Central and Atlantic, which contain volcanoes, tropical rain forests and agricultural land.
Nicaragua is home to the largest lake in Central America, about 700 species of birds, and an abundance of unspoiled natural beauty. Despite all this, it is still the least visited country in the region. However, the lower number of tourists keep prices low and add an “off-the-beaten-track” appeal to the country.
Nicaragua is also home to Bosawas, located in Northern Nicaragua, which is the largest rainforest north of the Amazon in Brazil. It also holds the largest lake in Central America, Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua. Lake Cocibolca attracts a great many tourists annually, most of whom visit Ometepe, a large volcanic island formed by two volcanoes, where they explore the flora and fauna found in the Charco Verde Nature Reserve.
Nicaragua’s rich biodiversity also attracts many tourists to protected areas such as the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, which holds a higher number in species of trees, birds, and insects than all of Europe combined.
Visa regulations (2016)
Tourists from Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Ghana, Haiti, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, the Palestinian National Authority, Romania, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam and Yemen require a visa to enter Nicaragua.
Other tourists can obtain a Tourist Card for US$10 valid for up to 90 days upon arrival, provided the visitor is in possession of a valid passport with at least six months left before expiry. There is also a US$32 departure tax that is usually included in a round-trip airline or cruise ship ticket. However the departure tax is not usually included in the price of a bus ticket, and of course must be paid by visitors who arrived by car or private boat.