Let’s Get Real About Safety in Nicaragua

“I finally figured out that not every crisis can be managed. As much as we want to keep ourselves safe, we can’t protect ourselves from everything. If we want to embrace life, we also have to embrace chaos.”
― Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Our house is surrounded by ornamental iron keeping us safe from unwanted intruders.

Our house is surrounded by ornamental iron keeping us safe from unwanted intruders.

September 2018 Update and December 2019 update: Things are still bad in Nicaragua.

Unfortunately, this post is old. Nicaragua is not safe to visit at the present time. The Ortega regime continues to repress freedom of speech, thousands have left the country, more than 400 people have been murdered, thousands injured, hundreds arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. We left Nicaragua mid July and have no plans to return anytime soon. 😢😢😢

Now, that’s the truth! No matter where we live in this mad, mad world we can’t protect ourselves from everything. Like most expats, I grew up in one country and moved to another country. My idea of safety abroad revolved around; Don’t drink the water. Always shake out your shoes for scorpions. Don’t wear a lot of bling bling in big cities. My learning curve was steep for keeping myself safe the first couple of years living in Nicaragua.

I’ve categorized four main safety concerns in Nicaragua. Unless you are Bubble Boy, you will probably deal with one of these safety issues at one time or another in Nicaragua. We have dealt with safety hazards from all four categories, but we have never considered any of these safety issues life-threatening.

When moving to a new country there can be a host of hidden hazards that aren’t covered in the tourism brochures. Although no one wants to be ruled by fear, it is better to be aware of what’s out there from disease to crime. So…

  Let’s Get Real About Safety in Nicaragua

I.   Disease

The news about the Zika virus now threatening Central and South America, has made expats all the more aware of the dangers that lurk. Diseases are often the first thing future expats consider. Although the Zika virus is like Chikungunya light, there are reasons to worry if you are pregnant or thinking of having children when moving to Nicaragua. This is the most recent link to pregnancy and the Zika virus. MIT Technology Review

As well as diseases carried by mosquitoes, such as Chikungunya, Dengue, Malaria, and Zika, there are other tropical diseases caused by parasites, bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
The Center for Disease Control Global Health has a list of infectious diseases in Nicaragua.

I had no idea I was severely allergic to ant bites until I moved to Nicaragua. My foot swelled up to the size of a gigantic papaya and I couldn’t walk for a week. We have had Chikungunya and Dengue and still suffer from the effects of Chikungunya…six months later. You Know You Have Chikungunya When...

My advice is to come to Nicaragua with the required vaccinations you may need and always be vigilant.

II.  Weather

We moved to a tropical Island where I never really thought too much about the weather. But in six years time, we built a house in a record-breaking flood, assisted our friends when their village was destroyed by a landslide after 15 inches of rain fell in one night, experienced severe droughts, and have nursed bad sunburns.

The heat of March and April is unbearable and the lightning storms in the rainy season frighten me. In the windy season I have to wear protective glasses, and sometimes I resort to wearing a bandana across my mouth and nose from the dust that causes respiratory problems. Six months without rain is a long time.

When you move to Nicaragua, familiarize yourself with the weather patterns (although recently they have been unpredictable) and talk to the local farmers. They have an uncanny way of predicting the weather. I listen to them.

III. Geographical Hazards

Geographical hazards come in all forms and they depend on your location. If you live along the coast, familiarize yourself with rip-tides and currents, which can turn a pleasant day at the beach into a nightmare.

Know what to do in an earthquake. Have a plan of escape for an active volcano. Our active volcano, Concepcion, in our backyard acts up often. The last major eruption was in 2010, a month before we moved to Ometepe Island.

Get a guide-book for the local flora in Nicaragua. We have a Costa Rica guide-book for flora because our area is very similar. For example, eating a mango can cause an allergic reaction if you are allergic to poison ivy. Mango skin, bark and leaves contain the same toxic substance, urushiol, as in poison ivy. Similarly, the castor oil plant, which is now grown all over the tropical world, has seeds containing ricin that can kill humans if ingested, inhaled or injected.

Dangerous fauna come in all sizes and shapes. Most of us know not to get too close to bears, alligators, and lions, but what about the spiders, scorpions, and cane toads in Nicaragua? Research the species of animals, insects, and reptiles in Nicaragua.

IV. Crime, Driving, and Homicides

The thought of living in Nicaragua can be alluring because of fabulous beaches, low-cost of living, colonial cities, and inexpensive health care. But, some people still think that there is a war in Nicaragua, so they are frightened when their loved ones move here.

It is true, according to the articles that tout Nicaragua as a growing retirement spot for foreigners, that Nicaragua is one of the safest countries in Central America. However, according to the Nicaragua 2015 Crime and Safety Report, the crime rating is critical because of the increase in thefts and non-violent crimes. The article below is very informative and reports all the safety issues with statistics that I have listed here. If you are planning on moving to Nicaragua, this is a MUST READ.

Nicaragua 2015 Crime and Safety Report

Almost every expat I know on Ometepe Island has been a victim of theft…including us. Ometepe is a little different from the rest of Nicaragua because we can usually get our stolen items returned, either by the perpetrator when we advertise a reward, or by a vigilant neighbor who knows everyone in the local community. You see, the thieves have to get the items off the island to sell, so by the time they get on the ferry the police are waiting for them. It is a small island and everyone knows everything.

Ometepe Island crime is mainly a crime of opportunity. We leave nothing outside and keep our houses locked at night or when we are not inside. We’ve had hammocks, a fish trap, a long water hose, shoes, a stock of bananas, and an iPhone stolen only because we were negligent and left these items sitting outside when we weren’t watching. We don’t even leave our laundry hang out to dry if we leave. We’ve learned the hard way, and now nothing is left outside unless we are working in the yard and watching everyone who passes by our house.

Below are some examples of non-violent crimes in Nicaragua. I love the first one!!

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 1.10.41 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-26 at 1.11.30 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-26 at 1.11.44 PMAccording to the Crime Report, reports from robberies increased 65% from 2013 to 2014. Actually, this doesn’t surprise me because poverty creates desperation and desperation creates crimes of opportunities, especially in the large tourist areas like Granada and San Juan del Sur. My advice is not to live in fear, but be vigilant and know the crime rate in the area in which you live. Don’t provide an opportunity for crime. Keep the bling bling to a minimum.

I won’t go into the driving and homicide rates in Nicaragua because the article covers those areas specifically and well.

While there is no need to panic at the thought of moving to Nicaragua, a little research can keep you safer. If we embrace living abroad, we also embrace chaos. The long-time expats will tell you it depends on how you feel. If you feel safe living in Nicaragua, then you will be safe because you take the normal precautions to feel comfortable and safe.

This article may reassure you: For Expats Living in Mexico and Central America, Safety is Not a Big Concern
Don’t let my post scare you. If you live fearfully, you will not be happy in Nicaragua or anyplace in the world. Embrace the chaos along with safety research and you will love it here. We do!

13 thoughts on “Let’s Get Real About Safety in Nicaragua

  1. thank you for saying good thinks of my country i worked as a translator in san juan del sur for about 2 years and what i would always say is not to trust to people that offer free lift since all they want to is to gain the foreigners trust to steal their belongings and to tell you the truth i like the fact that you are saying the naked reality

  2. You are so awesome to take the time to share your experience and lessons learned. You are a gift to everyone considering moving to Nicaragua!!!

    • Thanks Cynthia. I love researching and writing, especially when it involves focusing on the human and real aspects of Nicaragua. I promise that I will never sugar-coat the realities of living in Nicaragua. Glad you enjoyed my article and thanks for leaving a comment.

  3. Thank you for your good sense recommendations on safety. We have similar concerns here in Ecuador, but we are fortunate to live in a “small town” atmosphere where many do not lock doors, etc. We have been lucky, but are trying to be more vigilant. Thanks again for the good advice.

    • I have to admit that Ometepe Island is different than the rest of Nicaragua, especially in the area of crime. Simply because it is an agricultural area. It is country living at its finest. I love visiting the cities, but, like you, we prefer living in a rural area.

  4. I love your “Let’s get real…” series about Nicaragua because it takes the rose-colored glasses off those readers who only see articles that advertise the beautiful beaches and living (for lots) less. However, during all of our travel on buses through Mexico, Central and South America we only had one instance where we were the victims of crime (in Ecuador we had a camera and computer stolen from a backpack) and the theft was a result of our complacency. And here’s an eye opener: the 2015 Global Peace Index ranks Nicaragua at 74 far behind Canada in 7th place but way ahead of the US trailing even farther at 94. There are some thorns in paradise but with some caution and awareness of your surroundings life can be pretty damn good! 🙂 Anita

    • Thanks, Anita. When discussing safety issues in Nicaragua, many expats say, I feel safer here than in the States. I think it depends on where you live. We never locked our door in the states and never had to worry about home invasions or robberies. We lived outside of a small town, in the country.
      Some people may disagree with my Let’s Get Real series, but I believe it is important to tell the naked truth about moving abroad. We just watched “Mosquito Coast”. One of the best things about that movie was the depiction of the local people. Most Nicaraguans are kind and friendly. That is the main reason we moved here…the people. Yet, no matter where we live in the world, we ARE going to encounter a variety of safety issues. Why wouldn’t anyone want to know what to expect?

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