We flew into Managua yesterday through Miami on an American Airlines flight on a 737 plane. The flight was half full, a fact which makes flying in economy class very comfortable. We’ve got three seats to ourselves, and the three seats across the aisle are empty. The flight is about two and a half hours long. We fly over what I think is Cuba and see turquoise blue waters, white sandy beaches, lagoons, maybe coral reefs and then for what seems like ages, nothing but the dark blue-greens of the Caribbean Sea. I am impatient to arrive in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua is the land of water. The most characteristic thing about this country is its geography; it is blessed with a coast on each side; it has plenty of lakes and volcanoes that make the landscapes unique.
This is one of the less-visited Latin American countries. The infrastructure for tourism is not as developed as in other neighbouring countries. We think that is a plus because it keeps the authenticity untouched. It inevitably gets lost with the arrival of massive tourism. People in Nicaragua are quiet, warm and pleasant. It’s been a traditional country for backpacking; it’s cheap and adventurous. However, Nicaragua is making efforts to attract tourism and comfort, and ecotourism is improving.
The plane has descended from 37,000 feet, and when I know we are over Nicaragua, we see the jagged wild landscape that is this land of poetry, fire and the revolutionary spirit. The mountains, the volcanoes, the waters of her lakes. How beautiful! Someone calls out, “there is Isla Ometepe!” and we all look to see the Island of Ometepe, formed from two volcanoes, one sleeping for a thousand years and the other volcano still alive.
Suddenly, the plane makes a steep curve to the left, and the half-empty plane of people gasp in fear, and we see before our eyes the magnificent landscape. It is stunning. As we disembark the plane in Managua, I joke with the captain of this 737 jet plane, “nice curve to the left, stunning views!” and he laughs at my comment. Though he scared the hell out of us, I know he did this little aeroplane trick on purpose.
We go through customs and pay for our tourist card. The cost of the tourist card to Nicaragua is now $10 U.S. INTUR; Nicaragua’s tourism agency has a desk at the airport with a friendly young woman who answers our questions and gives us some maps and hotel information.
Managua’s International airport
The temperature is 34 degrees, so lovely for those who love the heat of summer. We don’t take a taxi at the airport but across the street and find another official taxi just outside the Best Western Hotel. One can’t help but notice that the traffic is pretty chaotic, and crossing the road is somewhat dangerous, especially when we don’t know the rules. So we make sure to get an official taxi – the ones with red stripes painted on the back with red bars across the top and bottom of the license plates. For those seeking an airport hotel in Managua, the Best Western hotel is literally right across the street from the airport. Our taxi driver is an older man, his skin worn and burned by the sun and the harshness of his life. The taxi is old, dirty and not air-conditioned. Still, you’ve come to this country called Nicaragua, and you must accept its realities. I’m not complaining, don’t get me wrong. For me, this is an adventure, and I want to immerse myself in this country to know it.
We don’t speak Spanish, our driver doesn’t speak English. Still, I know just enough words to arrange a price and communicate our destination. He can find our hotel when we show him the address in my little guidebook. My only worry right now is caused by the warnings on the Canadian and U.S. Government travel sites about the dangers of travelling in Nicaragua. Those sites speak about taxi kidnappings, and I don’t know how to tell the driver not to pick up anyone. He does stop when two women hail him down from the side of the road, but they can’t agree on a price, and he drives on. Taxi sharing, we’ve learned, is common in Managua.
The traffic in Managua is crazy, fast and confusing. Cars, motorbikes and scooters fill the roads. I am glad that I have chosen not to rent a car in Managua. We could have rented a car and hired a driver from the car rental agency, a driver who would know the streets of Managua, but we choose not to. Buses are cheap, and taxis are everywhere. I’ve driven in many international cities all over the world. Still, I do not know Managua, and the traffic is too mad for my liking.
Additionally, one cannot see any street names, so it would be a complex city to navigate, especially since this is all new. So how do people find their way around this city? One navigates by landmarks that are here and landmarks that used to be.
Driving through Managua
It’s a long way to our hotel. Managua is huge and sprawling, and densely populated. There’s a lot of poverty here, poverty, I am sure, that derives from natural and man-made disasters. It is early afternoon, the people of the city are busy with their daily work, going about their business. Poverty in Nicaragua comes from earthquakes in 1931 and in 1972, severe enough to flatten the city. A fire raged through the city in 1936. Man-made disasters come from the politics of Nicaragua, a history of struggle, oppression and invasion. Driving through Managua, one can see the scars of these troubles. I’m wishing for peace and prosperity for the people of Nicaragua. Perhaps, as tourism grows, this will change because it is predicted that Nicaragua’s economy will show the most growth out of all the nations in Central America over the next few years.
Nicaragua has much to offer the world. A little fine-tuning of its tourism industry will become a stiff competition among nations offering the proverbial winter escape for people longing to escape the brutal winters of the North.