11 Thing Tourists Should Never Do in Nicaragua, Ever

Sunset in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Sunset in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua | © Bruce Thomson / Flickr
Jack Guy

In every country there are customs and traditions that visitors might not be aware of, and Nicaragua is no different. Here are the 11 things you shouldn’t do in the country.

Market day in Nicaragua

Don’t rush or expect everything to be on time

Nicaraguans generally have a pretty relaxed attitude towards time. Even in formal settings it’s acceptable to be up to 30 minutes late. Unless you really need to be somewhere, try to get used to the laid back regard for timeliness.

Don’t point with your finger

In Nicaragua, pointing is done with the lips. Purse your lips together and raise your chin in the direction of whatever you are indicating.

Volcano views

Don’t be offended by finger wagging

While in many countries a finger wag is mainly used by adults to tell children off, in Nicaragua it’s used by people of all ages to say no. It seems to hold a special power when telling insistent taxi drivers or street vendors that you don’t want a ride or a snack, so use it well.

Don’t be surprised by the finger slide

Instead of writing an imaginary cheque in the air to signal for the bill in a restaurant, Nicaraguans rub one index finger down the other a few times. It looks weird the first time you see it, but it’s the best way to get the bill if you’re in a hurry.

Granada, Nicaragua

Don’t think that “adios” means “goodbye”

Even if you’ve only studied basic Spanish, you might remember that “adios” means “goodbye.” While that’s true in most Spanish-speaking countries, in Nicaragua things are slightly different. Here it can mean “hello” as well as “goodbye,” which might lead to some amusing situations.

Don’t assume you can use the informal “vos”

The use of the formal form of address varies from country to country, but in Nicaragua you should always use the formal “usted” instead of “vos” the first time you meet people. The only exception is with children and people who have already addressed you as “vos.”

Palms on caribbean beach in Nicaragua

Don’t haggle in shops

Haggling might be expected in the markets and when buying from street vendors, but it’s not done in shops. It’s also worth remembering that haggling too hard might upset people, and the amount you save is likely worth a lot more to the seller than it is to you.

Don’t be surprised if people stare

Nicaraguans are friendly and inquisitive on the whole, but you might find that people stare a bit. This is particularly true in rural areas where foreigners aren’t such a common sight, and people with fair hair and skin will probably be stared at more often.


Don’t trust the directions you’re given

If you’re asking how to find something, it’s best to ask three different people if you can. On many occasions Nicaraguans are so keen to be helpful that they’ll completely make up some directions in order to “save face.”

Colonial Calvario church in the historical city of Leon, Nicaragua

Don’t be shocked if you’re called names

In Nicaragua people are a lot more up front in describing others. Instead of skirting the issue of someone’s weight, they will call a fat person “gordo/a.” Don’t be offended if you’re called “negro/a” (black) or “chele/a” (white), it’s the local way.

Don’t refuse food or drink that you’re offered

If you’re lucky enough to be offered something to eat or drink by a Nicaraguan, it’s best to say yes. Refusing the offer is seen as bad form, so even if you’re not hungry or thirsty, try and take it.

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