Nicaragua Entry / Exit Requirements
A valid U.S. passport is required to enter Nicaragua. Although there is a bilateral agreement that waives
the six-month validity passport requirement, U.S. citizens are urged to ensure that their passports are
valid for the length of their projected stay in the country before traveling. U.S. citizens must have an onward
or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay. A visa is not
required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card must be purchased for $5 upon arrival. Tourist cards are
typically issued for 30 to 90 days, but mostly for 30 days. Be sure to look at the back of the receipt given to
you when you pay your $5. It will tell you how long you are legal.
A valid entry stamp is required to exit Nicaragua. Pay attention to the authorized stay that may (it is often
left blank) be written into your entry stamp by the immigration inspector. Visitors remaining more than the
authorized time must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan Immigration. Failure to do so will prevent
departure until a fine is paid.
There is also a $32 departure tax. Most airlines include this tax in the price of your ticket so you rarely see
it. If the tax is not included in the ticket, payment can be made at the airline counter upon departure.
According to Nicaragua’s Law for Foreigners, foreigners must be in possession of a valid identity
document at all times while in Nicaragua and may be required to show it to Nicaraguan authorities upon
request. Acceptable identity documents are: (1) a permanent residency card, (2) temporary residency
card, or (3) valid passport or travel document accompanied by an entry stamp.
Coming in from Costa Rica
If you come up from Costa Rica (which has always been popular as a means of renewing 90 day visas),
you’ll have to endure an hour or so of border crossing red tape at Peñas Blancas—much more if you go
on weekends or holidays, especially Semana Santa, Easter Week. You can expedite that by hiring one of
the “coyotes” there who will speed you through for a fee, roughly $20 to $40 per person. (Try to find one
who speaks English well, iIt’s a sign of experience.) That’s for the Costa Rica side. You mayl want to hire
a Nicaraguan on the other side, too, but the price is lower, say $5. If you have a rental car know that most
rental car companies won’t allow you to take the car out of the country. You can also take a bus or taxi to
the border then catch another bus or taxi on the other side. That's what most folks do. Like everything
else, taxis are cheaper in Nicaragua. Border crossing office hours are 6:00am to 8:00pm.
A good option, but more expensive by comparison, is to fly in from Costa Rica from either San José or
Liberia. Check with Nature Air (Natureair.com). You can fly in to either Managua or Granada, then you’ll
still need to arrange transportation to the beach.
Whichever way you plan to arrive you’ll need the usual: A passport (that doesn’t expire for six months),
and cash for entry and exit fees.
Nicaragua Surf Lodging
There is little lodging to be found right on the beach. There are a few reasons. First, there is no coastal
road, so coastal development has been limited. There’s a plan, or so everyone will tell you, and there’s
supposedly funding, but no road yet. (And we like it that way.) Second, much of the coastal land has been
bought up by large developers, privatizing access. Third, well, Nicaragua is not yet that developed.
That said, there are many developments popping up offering condo and house rentals. Interestingly, they
are mostly popping up near surf breaks. So either that’s the plan, or there’s just so much surf you can’t
miss. And there are the traditional beach tourist towns mostly frequented by the Nicaraguans, like
While lodging is less expensive in Nicaragua, the hotel tax of 18% runs bill up.
Nicaragua Time Zone
Nicaragua is on the same time as U.S. Central Standard Time with daylight savings time reflecting
Mountain Standard Time (Denver).
Nicaragua Surf Reports
All the major surf report services provide regional forecasts for different parts of Central America, but they
tend to put most of their efforts into Costa Rica. The best coverage for Nicaragua comes from
MagicSeaweed.com. They cover more, including breaks like Playa Madera, Manzanillo and Pochomil.
For daily reports with photos and firsthand commentary go to NicaraguaSurfReport.com, AKA NSR. The
NSR guys report from Playa Maderas most of the time, but they're often found up the road at Colorados
and Popoyo. Lots of photos of locals and tourists alike. Head to Maderas and you're likely to find yourself
online sooner or later. Especially if you are female.
Now's the Rain in Nicaragua
The rainy and dry seasons are the same as in Costa Rica, and just like Costa Rica, some parts are
rainier than others. In order from driest to rainiest (Pacific Coast states) it goes like this: Carazo,
Managua, Leon, Rivas and Chinandega.
Packing for Nicaragua
When packing for Nicaragua there are three main things to consider. First, it’s less developed than other
destinations like Costa Rica, Panama or Mexico, so when in doubt, bring it. Second, bring a board for
bigger, juicier waves. Third, bring a short john, neoprene sleeves or some minimal wetsuit gear. The
offshores blow the warm water out to sea, chilling it up a bit. Many are surprised to hear that the water
where the offshores blow most can dip into the sixties. And the offshores blow more the further south you
go on the Pacific.
For a packing checklist covering pretty much everything you might need, and more click to the Costa Rica
"What to Pack" part of this site.
Info on airlines and board bag fees here.
International calling can be confusing what with the different prefixes, country codes, area codes and even
different codes for mobile phones. Then, just when you think you got it down, any given country can
change the whole system, like going from seven digits to eight. When in doubt about calling Nicaragua,
try checking HowToCallAbroad.com (not a broad; abroad). It is easier than consulting the phone company.
The Surfer's Guide to Nicaragua - Background
Getting to Nicaragua
These days, most surfers fly in to Managua for a Nicaragua-
only trip. It’s actually quicker to the surf from the airport than in
Costa Rica, assuming you don’t get lost, and everyone gets
lost. There aren’t many road signs, and few that help, so if a
friend volunteers to show you the way out of Managua to the
surf accept the offer. If you’re doing the surf camp thing, help
is usually part of the package, so you won’t have to worry. If
you’re going to rent a car at the airport and drive yourself don’t
try to take what looks like the shortest route, i.e., don’t try to
head west to the Panamerica Highway. Everyone will give you
the same advice: Head east toward Tipitapa, then south to
Masaya (don’t drive through Masaya, drive around it) and
work your way to Nandaime where you’ll meet up with the
Panamerica Highway. These directions assume you’re
heading to the Rivas province, which is where most surfers
head and the only part of Nicaragua this guide covers. When
you check the map these directions will seem ridiculous, but
they work, ask anyone.
©1996-2012 SurfPress Publishing. All rights reserved.
San Diego's Jeff Clark tucks into a nice Nica left.
Photo by NSR, courtesy of Jeff Clark