Nicaragua uses the córdoba as its official currency. Each córdoba is then divided into 100 centavos, making this effectively a dollar system in all but name. The dollar symbol is even used, but usually it is preceded by the letter C to denote it as the córdoba as opposed to a dollar.
The currency is issued by the National Bank of Nicaragua. It comes in coins as 5, 10, 25 and 50 centavo pieces and C$1 and C$ 5. In notes it is issued as C$10, 20, 50, 100 and 500.
On international financial markets, the currency is denoted by the letters NIO.
History of the córdoba
The córdoba first came into being in the year 1912 and it was brought in as a replacement for the peso, which had been in use until that time. Effectively the currency was devalued, because it was brought in at a rate of 12.5 old pesos to one new córdoba. Initially, the córdoba was equal to 1 US dollar. This córdoba lasted until 1988, when the second córdoba was issued. This was equal to a whopping 1000 'old' córdoba and then in 1991, the third córdoba was issued, this time it was worth 5 million of the old 'second issue' córdobas! Hence inflation has been a serious problem in Nicaragua!
Getting Hold of Nicaraguan Córdobas
Acquiring Nicaraguan córdobas is not actually that hard. There are a number of ATM machines around the country. They are usually the easiest way of getting hold of córdobas, but you should bear in mind that it is possible to use US dollars almost anywhere in Nicaragua.
If you are travelling to the major towns and cities, then you will have no problem at all getting to an ATM, but if you go to a smaller town, then you will probably find that there is a bank with no ATM. Usually you might expect the bank to give you a cash advance on your credit card, but they usually won't do this. Also they probably won't cash traveller's cheques for you, so be mindful of this and make sure that you take out enough money to see you through if you are going to the small, non touristy areas.
Credit cards can be used really throughout the country, but if you are only paying for a small item, it is best to have at least some cash with you, in the local currency as opposed to US dollars, but US dollars are a good way of having some emergency money.
You may be approached by a 'coyote' who is actually a street money exchanger. Generally they are very honest, but nonetheless, you need to be aware of just how much you should get if you are using them to exchange money and exercise caution if you decide to use them. Always be very guarded and make it clear that you know how much money you should be getting from them. Be firm and don't be overly polite, or they may think that you are something of an easy touch.
If you are going to be changing money, then make sure that you have no very large US dollar notes, since if these are of $100 or so then you can find that the money exchangers will not take them. Even a bank may be reluctant to exchange them.
Finally, on money matters, you should be aware that there is a distinct possibility that if you leave the country with some córdobas, you probably will not be able to change them, so either change them before you leave or resolve yourself to keeping them as a souvenir!
Nicaragua is not a safe country. However, it is not that unsafe that visitors are advised to stay away, but nevertheless, it certainly doesn't rank as an area that is crime free or that enjoys a very low crime rate. Crime is serious business here, so be very careful.
The main problems with regard to crime is serious armed robberies, which take place usually in Managua which is the capital and on Corn Island. There have been incidents where travellers have been 'Express Kidnapped' which means that they are abducted and then taken to an ATM machine, to get money out, so that they will be released. Gang activity and associated crime is also a serious problem in the whole of Nicaragua and there is very much a 'gang culture' here.
Travellers are also advised that they should never travel in any taxi that is not an official taxi, since robberies are common, if you get in an unofficial taxi.
Kidnapping is a real threat in the northern region of the country, but elsewhere, apart from the 'Express Kidnapping' is not such a major issue. Basically the northern border area of the country is not very safe at all and you really shouldn't travel into this area, since it really isn't worth the risk, unless your journey is absolutely necessary. But if it is just for pleasure, then forget it!
Petty crime, in the sense of pickpocketing or stealing someone's bag and then running off is quite common, so be aware of this when you are out and about.
Travellers are also advised that they should not travel at night, since the risks of anything happen seem to be much higher at night, so if at all possible, please ensure that you only go out during the day.
But these problems are the 'worst case scenario' and you should not let the problems become too great, because if you exercise caution at all times and ensure that you don't travel at night and that you are aware of who is around you and what they are doing, then you are very likely to be safe. Some people do all this and are still unlucky enough to be robbed, but many others aren't and simply enjoy all the benefits that Nicaragua has to offer and these are quite plentiful delights!
Out and About in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is basically a huge country, enjoying its status as the biggest country in the whole of Central America. It is lucky enough to have coastlines on the North Pacific Ocean, as well as the Caribbean Sea, so there are plenty of beaches to be discovered.
It borders with Honduras (to the north) and Costa Rica to its south east. The Honduran border area is the area that travellers are advised not to venture into, but the border region with Costa Rica is still considered safe.
The cost of living in Nicaragua is quite low. Whilst this may be good news for travellers, it is not so good for the people who live there, because Nicaragua is actually the second poorest country in the Latin American region, meaning that there are quite a lot of people who live in poverty, with little hope of things changing significantly.
Managua is the capital of Nicaragua and it has a range of sights that most travellers like to see, such as the National Palace, which is a combination of a museum as well as a showcase for art work of the Nahuati people, who were indigenous to the area, before the Spanish arrived.
Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island are also very popular destinations and they have lots of water sports that you can do, which are quite well run and the prices are very good too, these are mainly focussed on Big Corn Island). But if water sports seem like too much trouble, then you can just enjoy the beautiful Caribbean beaches (after all the island is in the Caribbean Sea) and listen to the waves lap against the shore.
Surprisingly, given the beauty of these two islands and the fact that they are very much like a little bit of paradise, they are not overwhelmed with tourists, so you can almost get away from everything, when you are on the islands.
Nicaragua is absolutely teeming with lots of birds and wildlife, so if you are into either of these, you will probably really enjoy getting out and about in Nicaragua, particularly in the national parks. There are also some stunning natural sights to be seen, such as the Masaya Volcano which is an active volcano, even though there hasn't been an eruption for about 200 years. There are other volcanoes that can be seen, but this one is the most spectacular.
If you get time, try to squeeze in going to see the Lagoon de Apoya, known locally as the laguna de Apoya. This is a lagoon that is in a crater of an extinct volcano and despite the fact that it is really beautiful and very peaceful, not that many people make the effort to visit it, so sometimes you can enjoy it all to yourself. It really is well worth the effort though and offers real peace and tranquillity.
Many people predict that Nicaragua is going to become more and more popular as a holiday destination, as people become keener to explore new territories and lands that are still just that little bit different.
The only deterrent to this may be the crime levels. If the crime levels stay as they are, or better still, go down then this will become a much more popular country, but if crime levels rise, as criminals may see tourists and travellers as 'easy targets', then the beauty of the country may not be a strong enough attraction and travellers may choose to stay away.
Due to the fact that it is not yet on the 'tourist trail' Nicaragua is still a very friendly country and its people are often very curious about travellers and like spending time with them. Most people in the cities will be able to speak even a little English and often enjoy practising it, but in the less urban areas, Spanish is still very much the language spoken.
For an insider's view on Nicaragua, try checking out a native Nicaraguan's website, such as http://ni.irias.biz/ and find out what life is like from the people who live and work there? It makes extremely interesting reading and helps you to get a real 'feel' for the country.