Is Nicaragua Safe For Backpackers?

This is a question I asked myself many times before heading over to Nicaragua. I kept hearing contradicting information between the internet, news, and random backpackers. I was vaguely aware of a civil war that had come and gone, then Covid came and made the economy even worse as they were trying to make a comeback. So, after giving up on trusting anyone but myself (isn’t that a great way to segue into me suggesting you trust me with the following information?) I decided just to go check it out for myself.

Quick side note, check out our Nicaragua country page for everything you need to know about the country!

After spending around a month and seeing all that there was to see (skip Managua!) I’m here to report that I felt completely safe. I mean, there are the usual things to expect in Central America with pickpockets and people trying to scam you, but that’s everywhere. It should be known that I’m a guy, so obviously (and unfortunately) you girls out there will most likely have a different experience. But even with the solo females I spoke to they felt safe for the most part.

Anyways, let’s do a deep dive, shall we? 

Quick Disclaimer:

For those of you who are wondering what the case is with bringing kids, we focus on partying backpackers so this might not be the right article for you. Unless you want to show your kids how to live a fun and awesome life. Up to you.

See how dangerous this place is? They have fire people in the streets!

How Safe Is Nicaragua For Backpackers

Overall, like I just said, the country is quite safe for backpackers. There has been some recent countrywide political outrage in 2018 which has mostly died down for now (bad news is the President(?) is still in office) and it’s by no means a rich country but as of early 2022, as I write this, the country has plenty of backpackers and full hostels throughout the popular cities. In fact, it is one of the favourite Central American countries among those I’ve asked. Which could have just been some kind of drunk fever dream I had but I’m like 68% sure I asked a bunch of backpackers.

Pre civil war, Nicaragua was actually set to surpass Costa Rica in backpackers per year. Tourism was booming and there’s great reason for it. But with the civil war and the lack of travel due to the pandemic, it forced plenty of hostels and businesses to shut down due to lack of tourism. Pretty hard to stay open when no one is visiting for practically 4 entire years.

There’s always going to be a pickpocket waiting for their next unexpecting victim in any country you visit. The good thing is that most violent crimes aren’t directed toward tourists. Tourists bring money into the country so we’re generally appreciated. Maybe just don’t get yourself involved in politics or join any protests. Instead, get yourself involved in shredding some waves or join Sunday Funday!

Honestly, it’s tough to go anywhere in Central America and not be around any crime anywhere. Just make sure that you’re not going to sketchy areas, travel in groups at night, be polite and deny beggars, don’t go try and score some drugs in a dark alley that would scare Batman, and you should be safe enough. Trust me, I know it can be difficult to keep your wits about you when you’re a bottle of Flor de Caña deep but try your best! I doubt we can give you some god-tier information that you’ve never heard before. Just be smart and cautious and you’ll have a great time in Nicaragua because it really is a great place.

Again, I’m a young drunk idiot dude that thinks he’s invincible so I may not be phased by certain situations like other people. This is my perspective, that’s all I can share.  Plus, the situation in Nicaragua can potentially turn on a dime. I implore you to do more research and get multiple opinions on the matter. We do try to keep up to date, but if we screwed that up, let us know!

One thing I would like to note is that you should avoid Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. Unfortunately, if you’re flying directly to Nicaragua this is most likely the city you’ll be flying to. I suggest getting out of there as quickly as possible. It has nothing to offer and it is the heart of most crime in the country.

The Safest Places in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is a big country, and not every city is as safe as the others. I’m looking at you Managua! So here are our top safest places to check out in Nicaragua. They also just so happen to be the most popular and tourist-filled places. Who woulda thought.

San Juan del Sur

San Juan is a great little surf town filled to the brim with Canadians. It also has the legendary party pool crawl Sunday Funday and the best surfing in all of Nicaragua. 

It’s basically one main strip of a town. It’s great. If you want to party, surf, chill, and be safe San Juan is a great destination for you.

It’s basically the first popular city you hit coming from Costa Rica.


The colonial city of Granada is around 2 hours north of San Juan, and also has a lot of partying! In case you never heard, Granada is home to The Treehouse Jungle Rave and a fantastic Booze Cruise.

There’s also plenty of culture to delve into, cigars to smoke, and lava to see.


Oh hey, another colonial city! This one has a bit less partying than the other two, but where it lacks in booze it makes up for in adventure. Leon is the home of Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua. One of only two places you can do it in the Western Hemisphere.

Not into boarding down a volcano for some absurd reason? Well, there are plenty of other volcano-centric adventures to be had.

Leon is farther north by about 3 hours.

Colonial buildings as far as the eye can see

The Most Dangerous Place in Nicaragua

Unsurprisingly enough, I’ve never actually been to these cities because I was told they were dangerous and I didn’t want to ruin my trip. Crazy hey? So now I’m telling you so you can make the same non-mistake that I did.


I’ve already mentioned this, but avoid Managua as much as you can. This is a crime hotspot and it doesn’t even have much to offer in terms of tourism. There’s really no reason to be here other than the airport. This city is active with gangs.

Honourable Mentions

  • Corn Islands
  • Bluefields
  • Puerto Cabezas
  • Rivas

These cities just have a higher crime rate than most others so it’s best to avoid them. This can range from theft to prostitution. If you do decide to head there be sure to practice diligence and perhaps a little Kung Fu. Well, Drunk Fu is probably more apt. 

Is It Safe to Travel Solo?

Even though some of the things I’ve said throughout this article may have scared you, Nicaragua is still a generally safe place to travel as a solo backpacker. Especially if you already have some experience. It’s one of the safer countries to visit in Central America, even if you’re by your lonesome.

Plus, at the time of writing this, it’s only getting safer. Hopefully all of the hardships and unrest is behind them and they can continue to build towards getting better.

There are plenty of great reviewed hostels in the main tourist towns that will make you feel safe. The staff know all the tricks in the book that potential scammers or thieves will use to get you, and will warn you beforehand. Plus, you can go through these hostels to get hooked up with legitimate tour companies or travel between cities.

Learning some Spanish will definitely benefit you in your travels across the country. I found that most people can speak English to some degree, but knowing Spanish will open a whole new world and will make your trip that much easier and enjoyable. It’s a great language to know too, considering 20 countries have it as their official language plus 4 others have it unofficially. You’ll get a lot of mileage out of it, more so than you would learning a monocentric language such as Thai or Japanese. Sorry for using a big word there.

Worse comes to worst you could always book a full guided tour of the country and not worry about a thing, but that kind of goes against our manifesto. Though, I guess it’s better than not going at all?

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...As A Female?

So again, I’m not female so I can only say this from my perspective, but this is what I’ve been told or have read. This information comes from solo female backpackers I spoke to as well as some research on the internet. I’ll do my best! However, if my best isn’t good enough for you maybe this article will help you out more than I ever could.

This country and its culture are very male-dominated. So, unfortunately, there have been instances of sexual assault toward tourists. No one that I spoke to personally had this happen to them, so that’s somewhat of a good sign I suppose. Hopefully, this is something that will get lesser as time goes on and the country as a whole gets back on track. But until then, keep your wits about you.

Expect to get cat-called by locals as you walk down the street, it is fairly common in this society. It’s usually best just to keep walking and ignore them, most people won’t go past that. Try to buddy up and explore the town with a group and never wander around at night by yourself. This goes for all cities, even the safest ones we mentioned above. I mean, you’re trying to make new friends anyway so this isn’t the worst thing!

Don’t give personal information out to strangers and when you’re having a night out, keep a close eye on your drink. We’re all about getting drunk here on National Litographic but keep your wits about you the best you can. The buddy system is key! Two hammered minds make one normal mind, right?

Feminine hygiene products may not be abundant throughout Nicaragua, so try to have a stockpile with you. No idea what this means so I hope you do.

Is The Transportation Safe In Nicaragua?

Unfortunately, transportation isn’t 100% safe here. This might actually be the most dangerous aspect of Nicaragua. I decided to take private shuttles between cities because I heard that transportation wasn’t very ideal. It wasn’t too pricey either.

And since I know you’re going to ask, no, there isn’t Uber there.

Taxis can be very sketchy and express kidnaps aren’t unheard of. People will often pose as a taxi so they can get unsuspecting tourists. If you do have to take a taxi, try to get one through your hostel. It’s common practice for taxis to be share taxis, so if you’re not a fan of that like most people, make sure you state that beforehand.

Always have small bills with you since your taxi driver will conveniently not have the right change on them, lock your doors, and keep an eye on your luggage.

Express Kidnapping is when you get taken to an ATM and forced to take out the max amount of money that you’re able to. This happened to a buddy of mine in Mexico once, and the kidnappers actually dropped him off at his destination after robbing him, that was sort of nice of them I guess?

The most affordable mode of transportation in Nicaragua is a Chicken Bus. These buses are extremely cheap and extremely packed. They pick you up wherever on the line they’re on, toss your luggage on the roof and strap it down. There’s no booking tickets beforehand or waiting at a bus terminal, you just have to flag them down and give them some cash. Be wary of pickpockets on these buses and bring some water with you. Being jammed in an AC-free, packed bus isn’t ideal. This is the most popular form of transportation for backpackers, and honestly, is part of the Nicaraguan experience.

That being said, I never had to experience this either this is all second-hand information.

If you see this barrelling towards you, you've come to the right place.

More In Nicaragua

Travel Insurance

It’s time for a plug! Just kidding, we don’t have any sponsors or affiliates. But when we do it’ll go here…

I’m sure you know who we’d be pumping anyways.

We joke but travel insurance is super important and I highly recommend you get some. Especially if you’re a drunk partier like us, trust me…

Nicaragua Safety In Review & Tips

Boy howdy, that was a beast of an article, and I bet you didn’t read it all! Don’t worry I didn’t either. So I’m going to help us both out and breakdown everything we’ve learned here so we can get back to pre-drinking on the bus heading to the Costa Rican/Nicaraguan border (honestly you’ll want to be drunk for this border, it took me 3 hours to cross when I did it. It’s notoriously bad.)

  • Nicaragua is quite safe to party travel
  • Be wary of pickpockets and dark alleys
  • Don’t run for President(?) or join protests
  • Do party and surf
  •  Keep a close eye on your belonging in crowded places such as buses and markets
  • Stay at hostels with good reviews and lockers
  •  Don’t look like a millionaire with your fancy camera and flashy watch
  • Try not to step on a landmine
  • Be careful where you exchange money
  • Don’t try to fend off a mugger/thief
  • Get a SIM card!
  • Limit being outside at night by yourself
  • Be wary of scams
  • Use reputable tour companies
  • Solo female? You should just read the whole section for that
  • Be drunk for the border crossing. Just kidding, probably not a good idea?
In the end, it'll all be worth the risk.

Hope You Didn't Get Stabbed!

I’d honestly feel pretty bad if I told you guys that it was safe and then you ended up getting hurt by someone or mugged. But I mean, I can’t be right 100% of the time, can I? All this information comes from my experiences in the country and other backpackers I spoke to along the way. So stay safe out there! 

I feel like I’m supposed to end this with some kind of joke or something, but I got nothing left for today. So I’ll just say these immortalized words:

Party On, Wayne!

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Troy Woodbeck

Troy Woodbeck is the Founder of National Litographic. He thought the world needed to learn how to party travel and decided to do something about it. He's also a drunk idiot, so who cares what he thinks.

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