Is Nicaragua safe? - Media vs reality
The most dangerous part of Nicaragua for our trip, was boarding down a Volcano with the possibility of going 90 miles per hour, thankfully I fell off so my max speed didn't exceed 54 miles per hour!
When myself and my fiancee Eddie originally researched our trip through north, central and south America, we only wanted to skip places that we thought may be dangerous. We knew of the troubles in Venezuela (albeit did not know why) but we weren't really sure where else was a no go, we knew Columbia had seen troubles in the past but it was up and coming and welcoming tourists.
When researching we decided to start with the most common searches 'most dangerous country in Latin America' 'highest crime/murder rates central and South America', 'most dangerous cities/countries in the world'.
As you know, things can escalate on the internet, like when you are ill and you research your symptoms and it comes up that you could have a terminal illness. This is the same concept when researching different places in the world, you fixate on media coverage, statistics and negatives that actually have no resources, are out of context and could be completely irrelevant to your potential trip. THIS is exactly what happened to us and our soon ended research of Nicaragua, El Salvador & Honduras
As soon as we saw murder statistics around Nicaragua & El Salvador we decided to skip it, and with only a small amount of information on Honduras we decided to keep it off the list but consider on the way for diving perhaps.
Turns out once we started are travels, we had it all back to front. Honduras was dealing with political unrest which didn't always directly affect tourists, although we heard some horror stories, we actually had many friends visit and love Utila on the coast.
El Salvador we had decided to add to our list, as we got closer we heard more about the 'Banderas' and after much deliberation we decided to avoid going inland, as most places we mainly needing to go through San Salvador which is their main city and can be quite dangerous. Instead we took a route along the coast line and stopped off in a place called El Tunco. Now we've left I feel we didn't do the country any justice and should have travelled more places, so we will be back.
Nicaragua, now I am not sure what I expected, I felt a feeling of unease as we arrived, in my mind I had given Nicaragua the narrative I'd read online and the first night I felt myself constantly checking my surroundings.
We arrived in Leon, a cute little down and mainly known for its Volcano boarding, however we managed to do a Fort Sunrise tour which showed you all the volcano layouts around the city and we learnt about how Leon actually moved location due to is dangerous close proximity next to an active Volcano. Due to bad timing we missed a tour with our hostel, where they plant trees in the local schools to provide shelter from the sun and access to fruit. This is a great example of responsible travel, enjoying your time at Big Foot Hostel, whilst being given the chance to support the community. Whilst the politcal turmoil was going on, Bigfoot hostel had a social responsibility project called Fighting poverty with education, on step at a time. Make sure if you are in Nicaragua you go with Big Foot the rooms were clean and so spacious (advise to go with air-con room) and they have some amazing trips.
After Leon, we decided to head to the colonial city of Granada, and met a lovely local on the way who explained our desired journey of stopping off in Granada on the way to San Juan del Sur, wasn't going to work due to timing and we should go straight to Managua and change for the beach town, if we did not have time to stay the night in Granada.
ALARM BELLS- Managua, the city centre, researched as the highest murder rate, we thought ... disaster! The one place we wanted to avoid and now we had no choice but to go there.
Our feelings of worry must have shown on our faces and this is the moment we learnt the real history of Nicaragua and a beautiful story or love, devotion & human rights.
He told us about the political unrest that happened the year before, hence the high negative statistics online and in the media. Rather than our assuming of it just being a dangerous country with dangerous people, instead it was a beautiful story of the people of Nicaragua coming together to fight for their country. He told us of the corrupt government (a common narrative in too many countries around the world) and the frustration built up with the people of Nicaragua.
We learnt about the government's goal in making a highway between Nicaragua and Costa Rica and the need to destroy the natural reserves in the country to do so. Land owners fighting and loosing their land and their lives to save the environment of the country and the deliberate burning of the rainforest. Fires raged some of the most important protected tropical forest for 9 days, and help was rejected from neighbouring countries (literally firefighters were turned away at the borders).
It was this reaction from the government that in fact was the flame that ignited protests. Due to the outrage in response, students took the streets and within days thousands of protesters were peacefully protesting for their country, peoples rights and democracy.
Instead the government repressed the people of Nicaragua by becoming violent, punishing protesters, and to gain back respect, initiating fatal violence. We heard of the government arming gangs, allowing them to create fear, whilst shutting off any media not only to the world but to neighbouring towns and cities in the country. Managua was having a secret civil war and if it wasn't for facebook and the governments lack of control over the social media site, the neighbouring towns and cities wouldn't even know what was happening to their own friends and families. Our new friend told of how he had a curfew, stuck in his house, and managed to escape the city to the beach towns to wait off the danger that had overwhelmed his town, and he made us understand the care and love for their country and environment. All these troubles were a thing of the past but were what tainted the country and still affecting its tourism today.
We arrived in Managua, just like any other city in the world, busy and buzzing with people, our new friend kindly took us to the bus stop we needed, joined us for the journey and even paid our bus fare!
We felt so happy we had learnt about the troubles from the people of Nicaragua, and the pure passion when he talked about Indio Maiz Biological reserve and it's beautiful nature, the peaceful lake town of Ometepe, the $6 dollar lobsters on the white sand beaches of Corn island, and the sunsets in San Juan del Sur.
We spent our days enjoying good food, surfing and loving every part of Nicaragua. We felt blessed to be there when tourism was at it's low, so that not only could we contribute, but we could spread the word about how safe we felt in Nicaragua, how beautiful these places we were recommended and the ones we had the chance to visit, and how Nicaragua is a country we will come back to for a holiday with our friends so we can explore it all.
Nicaragua is now on our list to explore the entire country, we even debated going back after Costa Rica!
Leia's Life lessons
- Don't judge a book by it's cover, is the correct description of misinterpreting the media's portrayal of a country. Always look at where those statistics come from and what they are based on. Most of central America's negative statistics are not based on or affecting tourists neither are they a general representation of a countries history.