In early April of 2019 I spent a week in Nicaragua scoping out local conditions since the civil unrest a year before. Using Jicaro Island Lodge as our base, we planned day trips around Granada, Mombacho and Masaya. Our travels overlapped almost a year to the day in 2018 when political demonstrations broke out across the country due to social security reforms (which were quickly rescinded), only to be violently put down by the Ortega government. Travel warnings against Nicaragua ensued and within a few weeks tourist arrivals diminished and then stopped completely, erasing most of the jobs within the tourism industry (which in 2015, accounted for 5% of the country's GDP.)
What does Nicaragua feel like to a visitor now? Is it safe? Should one travel there? Some form of these questions arrive in my inbox several times each week and the most informed way for me to answer was to revisit myself. The following are answers to some of the most frequent queries that I receive about Nicaragua and Jicaro Island.
Is Nicaragua Safe for Travel?
Without hesitation, yes, you can safely travel throughout the country and visitors have been returning for some time since Canada, the UK and most EU member nations removed or reduced their travel warnings. In fact, Jicaro Island Lodge was mostly full during our stay; we shared the island with couples from Costa Rica, the UK, Toronto, New York and a family with teenagers from Kentucky.
In Granada, lingering hints of events in 2018 faintly exist in the form of a quieter town and "cerrado" signs hanging on some of the bars and stores that catered exclusively to travelers. But the local market and main square were bustling and vendors were eager to banter, to show off their carving skills or have you sample their special version of Vigorón.
Who Should Go to Nicaragua?
Nicaragua remains a delightfully "un-sanitized" travel experience, especially when compared to Costa Rica's well-developed tourist region of Guanacaste just across the border. Sharing the road with the wildly painted chicken buses following their own rules of the road, to the frequently seen vaqueros herding livestock down dirt paths and across fields, traveling through Nicaragua is a fun adventure far from home. There aren't too many other places in the world where one can drive nearly to the edge of an active volcano and gaze down into a boiling lava lake, sandboard down the side of a volcano, join an entire town in passionately cheering on the local baseball team, and play in the surf without battling crowds of other tourists, all in a long weekend .
And you don't need to be a thrill-seeker to appreciate Nicaragua. Jicaro Island on Lake Nicaragua is a wonderful place to disconnect and recharge; from quiet mornings with coffee and birdsong, to yoga classes and paddleboarding, and Spanish practice with Jicaro's encouraging staff, there are many ways to slow down, engage with locals and soak in the tropical destination. And of course there is an economic incentive; Nicaragua is very affordable, even in high season.
The Moral Question: Does Travel to Nicaragua Equate Support for the Ortega Government?
This is a complex issue. The situation in Nicaragua today may be compared to that in Myanmar in the past and even again today – should one travel to or vacation in a country with a strongarm government that suppresses and imprisons its own citizens?
We find that forging connections with people in local communities of other countries is important and transformative. Gaining different perspectives and sharing experiences is one of the most powerful educational opportunities in the world. And responsible travel supports local people, offers a sounding board for their stories and provides important economic opportunities that extend far beyond a simple transaction.
Jicaro was also forced to close for a few months during the 2018 protests, but owner Karen Emmanuel maintained a core team of nearly half of Jicaro's staff on payroll for some time. She self-funded the operation and continues to is fully committed to the local community and the many people who have come to depend on Jicaro Island for employment. Howard Coulson, General Manager of Jicaro Island had this to share:
"When we officially reopened in November 2018, employee after employee returned, hugging Karen and crying – "Thank you for opening, I can feed my family again." Karen understands that people are a businesses' most important asset. Without great people, we are nothing. I will never take another job – I will work with her and with Jicaro until I retire."
Our last travelers to Nicaragua had a wonderful trip (read a review of their trip). To learn more about trips to Nicaragua give me a call at 800-345-4453 or send me an email - and ask me about exclusive deals at Jicaro Island.