“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
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
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.
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.
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!!
According 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!