Central America, Information, Thoughts, Travel

Scams to Know: Nicaragua

Creative Commons via kiki99 on flickr

I was going to continue my attempt at doing an HDR photograph a week until we came across some disturbing news this week.

Two sets of couples we know have been robbed in and around Managua over the past 2-3 weeks. Normally I give a location the benefit of the doubt but this is just getting absurd. I want to make sure that you know what to look out for when you are traveling through Nicaragua.

Couple #1

Scams like these make travelers sad. Creative Commons via saratogajean on Flickr

The Tica bus station in Managua is in a somewhat shady part of town. Many backpackers find hostels in the area as a base camp but the streets are absolutely deserted after 7pm. This is never good.

The couple went to grab a taxi to take it to another side of town. After getting into the cab, 2 other people squeezed onto the sides of them and proceeded to take them for everything they are worth. All money, all cards, electronics… everything was taken. Tied up and held at screwdriver point, they were taken 20km outside of town and dumped there with nothing but enough money to get back into town.

Couple #2

Couple number 2 were out near Lake Apoyo outside of Managua. A couple of guys came out of the woodwork and started a polite conversation with them. After a while and getting them to trust them, they hopped into a tinted window car to continue up the road to their location. This is a travelers dilemma. Sometimes you put yourself out there to be rewarded with some of the best experiences of your travels, to trust that the world is good, and you get burned.

They were pounced upon, hands tied with cables, and took all their money, cards, electronics… everything. They were driven outside of Managua for 2 1/2 hours but were “polite” enough to leave their bags, passports, and enough money to get back into town. $16k in cash and items was taken in a matter of 3 hours.

Useful Tips

  1. Only use authorized taxis. They have a RED license plate. There are two red stripes – one on the top and one on the bottom of the plates. Check them. Review them. Love them.
  2. Write down the number of the taxi you are in.
  3. Lock your doors as soon as you are in the car.
  4. Do not get into any non-taxi car. People are nice but the scams are a problem.
  5. Do not carry your credit cards if you can avoid it.
  6. Call your bank and make sure there is a limit on daily withdraws in every country (as there are loopholes in Nicaragua, for instance).
  7. Only carry your daily budget with you (or how much money you need for activities).
  8. Only go out in Managua during the day unless your hostel calls a taxi cab for you, ensuring that your ride is safe (Shaun went out even during the day to the ATM and was intently stared at. Someone also did try to scam him.).
  9. If someone asks you for change, say you do not have any. Run!
  10. Get out of Managua ASAP.
  11. Be smart. If it feels off, it probably is.

Hopefully this plague will be bitten in the ass. I’m tired of hearing friends getting the short end of the stick.

Be safe travelers. We all just want to experience life. Do it smartly.

41 thoughts on “Scams to Know: Nicaragua”

  1. Holy shit Erica! What I want to know is: who carries that much money on them? That in itself seems kind of unsafe, but in any case, sad stories and I hope your post keeps others safe. Traveling and being robbed is horrible.

    1. @Mica: Apparently there is a loophole in Nicaragua for some banks where you can withdraw more than the daily limit. They cleared out their bank in a series of $400 withdrawals. They sat in front of the ATM and made sure the code they gave them worked before letting them go.

  2. As much as I love Nicaragua I am petrified of Managua. I did everything to avoid it (like Teg) and am glad the bus from Granada to Leon was in the same terminal only a few steps away. I’ve heard of these scams and only horror stories about this city as well. I’m SO GLAD y’all made it to Costa Rica safe.

    1. @Jaime: I’ve heard too many stories in Managua! And actually, this does happen ever now and then in Granada as well (which makes me sad). When we were at the hostel in Managua we had a guy escort us down to a restaurant 3 doors down because it was nighttime. So horrible!

  3. Wow! I can’t imagine this ever happening to me. I’m pretty sure I’d be scarred for life. Being tied up, all my stuff being taken. I just can’t even imagine. Terrifying stuff!

  4. We know of a travel savvy couple who got robbed in a similar way, but from Granada. They were on their way to the bus station in Granada to get a bus to the beach. A local woman began walking and talking with them saying that she was going to the same place. They got to the bus station and woman suggested taking a shared taxi as it would be faster. Everyone was chatting and having a good time until another passenger gets picked up on the side of the road (i.e., friend of driver/lady) – he pulls a knife out, punches out the boyfriend and demands that they empty all their stuff out. After driving around for an hour, our friends are left on the side of the road about 20 km from Managua with their passports and $20.

    We stayed in Managua for two nights to do a photography project with Kiva in Masaya – we really enjoyed that experience. But I agree that best idea is to get out of Managua as quickly as you can. Really a shame as the rest of Nicaragua is great.

    1. @Audrey: We were on edge in Granada as well. Sadly, it took so much of our enjoyment out because we became paranoid over anything or anyone that came remotely close to us. That is a damn shame about your friends. I hate hearing about such terrible things happening to good people.

  5. Ez guys… HOLY F*CK! type of heavy stories I hear from my frinds form Mexico. But Nicaragau… what a dam shame! Apart from the advice you guys gave, maybe there’s a “image” thing aswell. If you look like a “wealthy” backbackpacker/foreigner with your i pod on the bus, wippin out your mobile, you might have more possibilities of getting jumped. What i’m tryin to say is do the “Brazil” thing: Walk around in local “hawaianas” (flipflops), shorts, wifebeater style shirt and that ‘s it. the scanckier and pooerer you look the less chances you got of getting mugged. Maybe your ink and piercings help draw off attention from the muggers.
    Anyway hope you guys are still enjoying it!
    Anyway… i just got back from backpacking in turkey… scubadived like a bitch and got our second level diving license! GUYS GET <YOUR OPEEN WAYER DIVING CERTIFICATE NOW!!!!! YOU CAN'T GO WRONG.

    1. @MUGS: The funny thing is that we felt incredibly safe while we were in Mexico. Like, we knew what to look out for but for most part, I hadn’t heard of anything like this happening while we were traveling through. Brazil is going to kill me when I get there. I’m already concerned about my photography equipment. For a photography blog, how would I get content?!

      I’m hoping our body modifications are scaring people off. I also hope Shaun is scary looking with his mohawk even though he is the nicest guy in the world.

      I hope Turkey was AWESOME! Hoping to make it out there one day.

  6. I’m open to most travel experiences, but getting robbed isn’t one of them. For me, the stories aren’t more about the violence than about the theft. Getting tied up and threatened with a weapon is enough to scar you for life and no travel experience is worth that. Maybe it’s just best not to visit countries where the incidence of violent crime is high…

    1. @Adam: If we avoided all countries were violent crime is high, no one will go anywhere! Mexico City was a phenomenal place to visit and gets a really bad rap. The Middle East would be completely out of the question and it is part of the world that has piqued my interest like crazy.

      1. @Erica – Fair enough. I’d like to go to Afghanistan. And I will one day. Just not now. And if there are places where people are regularly getting robbed, I won’t be going there either. I guess everyone has a different tolerance for risk and mine is quite low when it comes to violent crimes. 🙂

        1. @Adam: Fair enough. I know each place is definitely not for everyone. I do have a tolerance for sure. I would love to visit family in Juarez I haven’t seen for years but can’t bring myself to put us in that much danger.

  7. I’ve never been robbed on the road, but being tied up I can’t even imagine!! Glad your friends are safe and thanks for sharing their experiences.

    1. @Heather: The second couple asked us to make sure we spread the word. They don’t want it to happen to anyone else. I just wish more people knew.

  8. SO scary! It’s good that you’ve let people know about them here – I wonder if the US (and other consulates) has a way to report them to go on the travel advisory page for the various countries on their government websites?

    1. @Andrea: I know both couples went to their consulates but one was from France and the other England. I know that Interpol puts Managua as one of the “safer” cities in Central America that I just kind of guffaw at.

  9. Scary stuff. It’s great to be open to new places, people and experiences, but sadly there are some places that are just too risky. Managua is not a place I’d like to spend much time.

    1. @Emily: I recently met a girl who was interested in going to all the capitals in all the countries that she is visiting. It is a shame that most of them are some of the most dangerous cities in the world.

  10. Climbing into a car with tinted windows = stupid. It’s really sad what happened, but as a traveler you HAVE to use some common sense as well.

    Thanks for the tips! VERY helpful! I’ve never heard much good about Managua. Seems like that’s for a reason. 🙁

    1. @Talon: I completely agree with you. I just /facepalmed when they told me that they went into the car. Regardless, I think more than anything people need to know there are some people out there trying to get you (not to be paranoid or anything).

      Unfortunate thing about Managua is that you kinda have to go through to get everywhere else.

  11. Totally agree with everything you suggest, except maybe point 10 about getting out of Managua. I know it’s no one’s favourite city, but there are great people there and I think you can’t really do justice to Nica without doing a little justice to Managua. Having said that I was happy to move on after a few days…

    This scam is nothing new; I’d say one of the best things to do prior to arriving in Managua is to contact some people from there (eg through Couchsurfing), and ask them for the latest update, and about who they would currently trust for a ride.

    It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: you’re doing a fantastic job here. Still one of the freshest travel blogs around.

    1. @Phillip: I’m sure there are great people there. When we were in Tegucigalpa for the night (where people also tend to bypass), we ran across the street from our hotel near the Tica bus station into a small bar. We were greeted with smiles and good cheer shouts. That doesn’t negate the fact that Tegus is still a dangerous city. I guess I was erring on the side of caution. I totally get what you mean though.

      Thanks for your kind words! *blush* It makes me feel like a million bucks after how much blood, sweat, and tears we put into the blog.

  12. Yeah sorry I should have been a little clearer. Good people doesn’t negate the danger. I just don’t like seeing advice to ‘skip’ any place. Managua really is spectacularly hot, dirty and ugly, and it can be pretty dangerous, but I still can’t bring myself to tell people to avoid it. Too much has happened there. Despite all those bad adjectives, it’s still really interesting.

  13. How absolutely terrifying. I would lose my shit if I found myself in that kind of situation! My mind would immediate go to the worst-case scenario and presume they were driving us to a remote place to “do away” with our bodies.

  14. What a disgrace. I really can’t stand how people steal. The people who steal probably see it as fair, considering that the people traveling are so “rich” and can afford to be ripped off from time to time. That sucks.

  15. This is one thing I fear about traveling, I’ve been robbed it happens but the tying up aspect. Especially now that I will be traveling with my wife. All you can do is be smart and cautious especially when traveling through risky areas. I agree with the streets clearing out warning, that is always a bad sign.

    1. @Cornelius Aesop: Shaun gets really protective traveling around with me and goes into super alpha male mode when it comes to any possibility of getting scammed or robbed. I’m totally grateful for it but it does stress him out.

  16. Hhahaaa, glad to read this AFTER I bought my ticket. Otherwise I might’ve changed my mind. I’ll be going sola this time so I’m a little nervous admittedly.

  17. I came across this website and felt the need to pitch in my 2 cents. I been traveling to nicaragua for the past 10 years and I was born in Nicaragua and moved to the states when I was 12. This type of scams have been around and I have heard of them since I was a kid. unlike the obvious mugging and robberies, many times they talk to you, get to know you, familiarize themselves with you, and make you feel comfortable and then their true intentions come out. if you are visiting Managua travel during the day and stay away from public transportation and do yourself a favor and pay for taxis that are clearly marked by the red license plate and take a note of their license plate. While is a good idea to keep an eye out for sketchy situations don’t look nervous or paranoid because the thiefs will think that you really have something to hide and they will try to rob you in plain sight. Don’t walk around town or anywhere with accessories such as watches, chains, glasses, cameras or anything expensive. Choose your tourist location and take your cameras there. For example if you are visiting The cathedrals in Leon everyone will have their camera out, but be careful of the little kids as they have the speed to grab and run. I agree with some of the comments above about leaving managua as soon as you get there especially if its your first time in the country because the beauty of nicaragua is mostly out of managua, but if you must don’t go around Managua clueless exploring around. Choose a destination and stay there or find someone to show you around such as people in hotels or hostels. Managua nowadays has a great night life where locals and foreigners gather around, but dont go bar hopping around.Don’t trust anyone who ask you too many questions about where you are staying and personal questions and absolutely never go anywhere with anyone as
    friendly as they look and sound and don’t share cabs with strangers. Cabs will try to do this to maximize their profit, but let them know you don’t desire that at all from the beginning and perhaps they might adjust your fair. Never walk around with all your cash, carry what you need and hide the rest in your room or safe. Also exchange your money real quick as you call yourself attention when taking out foreign money. For the most part use common sense and don’t let your self bet carried away as it can be easy in some situation. For example I was driving down the road and almost picked a pregnant women, but my cousins told me that there was a scam going on with pregnant ladie acting as if they needed help and just took you somewhere they had friends waiting for you. I almost got robbed at a gas station walking back to the car beause I had watch in my hand and some guy was walking right behind me until my cousins yelled at me to run.

  18. This type of situation is unfortunate and it does put a stain on Nicaragua’s otherwise very safe record when it comes to crimes, it is after all considered one of the safest countries in Latin America, I have been all over the world and there are just some common sense rules that apply in any city no matter how rich or poor that country is, don’t carry large amounts of cash, don’t trust anyone, be aware of your surroundings at all times, don’t carry tons of jewels and expensive watches, know where you are and always avoid areas that are not tourist locations, this applies to Paris, Sao Paolo, Berlin , Moscow , Miami, LA, Any any major metropolitan city in the world, much less the capital of a third world country. Now one thing is interesting on all this horror stories, in every case the victims were left intact (Alive) and even left with some money to return to their hotels, their luggage and passports were not taken, now try this in Mexico City or Sao Paulo or Tegucigalpa and it will be a much different story.

    So enjoy the Country and its natural wonders and one of the many great people that make it the safe country that it is and watch your self as you would any where else including the city you came from, check your crime statistics and compare to those in Managua, you will be surprised with the comparison. Just as a reality check, there were 12 million thefts at ATM machines in the USA in 2013….

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