The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is truly one-of-a-kind. Once a haven for pirates and contra rebels, it is located on the furthest edge of the country’s Autonomous Regions. There are six distinct ethnicities and five languages that make up this cultural rondon. There is a lot to explain, but we will start with the basics.
There aren’t any. Everything is landmark-based and all the locals know where everything is so even incoming mail is addressed to something like, “Marta Hodgson, pink house in front of the pharmacy in the turnaround of Santa Rosa, Bluefields, Nicaragua”.
Bluefields has two banks, both of which can change money. The BanPro ATM only accepts Visa and is located inside the bank entrance. The BanCentro ATMs accept Visa or Mastercard. One is to the left side of the bank building and the other is in a kiosk outside the Palacio Municipal in front of the park.
The more like a foreigner you appear, the more people will ask you for money. Sometimes they can be quite persistent (especially around Cima club at night). Some of them will use it to buy drugs, but many of them will buy (or prefer to receive) food. If others see you give money or food, they will surely approach you as well. Giving money can be a good way to get information (often the recipient will feel briefly indebted and will be happy to help). If not interested, consider it an opportunity to practice your creole. A finger wave, a friendly “Not tahday brahdah.” and a steady pace usually does the trick.
Some call it sexy, some call it silly, some call it dirty. From punta to wine up to bachata to the slow-dance hipwiggle, dancing on the Atlantic Coast is certainly unique. The best way to shake it like a local is to learn from a local.
If you are feeling under the weather, visit Dr. Law (pronounced Lau) in his office next to the park in Bluefields. Hours are from 2pm – 5pm during the week and a consultation costs C$200.
Home to Mestizos (Hispanics), Creoles, Miskito Indians, Rama Indians, Garifuna and Sumo (Mayagna) people, the Caribbean coast is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in Central America. All the ethnic populations have their own language, though the Rama and Garifuna languages are on the verge of extinction.
So how do you know who speaks English? Nearly all of the black people and about a quarter of the mestizos speak Creole English.
It is easy to be taken aback by the forwardness of the females. In the bar, women will not hesitate to ask (or in some cases, demand) that you buy them drinks. This attitude is expected by the local guys and should be by you too. If you are on a budget and don’t want buy a drink for her (and her cousin and her friend and her friend’s mother), just say you will do it later, politely smile and walk away. Don’t be surprised if you are catcalled by women in the street. They will often lock eyes and usually smile if you smile first.
Safety concerns seem to be validated at first glance by the roving groups of young men in the street at all hours. And yes, some visitors comment that these local guys all look like gang members. Luckily, gangs have yet to infiltrate the towns of the Atlantic Coast. And there is no barrio vs. barrio violence. But there aren’t many jobs in these small towns and with plenty of free time, a lot of socializing happens in the streets.
Women should take note that they will be catcalled by men in the street. The local women are used to it and female visitors should expect and accept it. In the bars you can also expect to be asked to dance by persistent men. You should take a few of them up on it as dancing with locals can be a highlight of the trip.
In lieu of creating a whole other site’s worth of info, below are links to better understand the area’s history.
There is an office in Bluefields that can handle 3-month visa extensions. Located in barrio Fatima, just ask a taxi driver to take you to migracion.
Unemployment hovers between 70% – 80% on the coast. The biggest sources of income are: 1. Money sent from family working abroad (usually on a cruise ship or in Miami) 2. Drug trafficking (always well hidden from public view unless there is a bust) 3. Fishing industry. An average wage is about $50/week.
You can find out more about the area and what is available below.
is uniting the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua at home and abroad.
Amigos de Nicaragua
has an interesting block of information that can be useful…if you can read the fine print!
If the sight of english-speaking black people in Nicaragua singing along to honky-tonk and country classics surprises you, you are in the right place! But don’t worry, there is more than Hank Williams and Patsy Cline enjoyed on the coast. You can hear Spanish romantica, Mexican ranchera, Jamaican dancehall, American 80s, reggae soul, socca, reggeaton, house, zook, punta, miskito music and even Bluefields maypole. The dvd/cd sellers on the street in downtown Bluefields can burn anything you are looking for. It is worth mentioning there is a non-profit organization called Bluefields Sound System dedicated to the recording and promotion of local musicians. Check out bluefieldsound.com
Perception of foreigners
Costenas are very friendly to foreigners. Outside of Corn Island foreigners are few and far between and are considered a novelty. Expect people to be helpful and approachable. Though keep in mind that television, movies and working on cruise ships has given people here a distorted view of foreigners. Western (white) visitors are generally assumed to have plenty of money and looking to spend/give it away. Western women are often considered promiscuous (especially blondes) and it is nearly every local guys’ dream to get one in bed. Don’t be surprised to be called “chele” (or “chela” if you are female). Chele is a backwards pronunciation of “leche”, Spanish for milk.
Though generally overblown by guidebooks, personal safety is not to be taken lightly. Like anywhere, common traveler’s sense applies: avoid walking around alone if possible, don’t wear any flashy jewelry, remember that the first person to approach you in the street usually is the one to watch out for the most and at night all risks multiply by 10x. You will most likely get bitten by mosquitoes. Malaria exists but is rare. Dengue hits a peak during the last half of the wet season (May – September) but it too is very unlikely to affect someone passing through for a few days/weeks. STDs are common so wrap it.
In Bluefields taxis cost C$12 per person (C$15-C$20 with luggage) during the day and C$15 at night. They are all lit up to look like slot machines on wheels and outnumber every other vehicle 10:1 so it won’t be a long wait. Corn Island taxis cost C$15 (day) and C$20 (night).
The coast is still very much underdeveloped, and so too are the volunteer opportunities. This, however, offers the determined good samaritan the opportunity to work with smaller organizations based locally and to get a much more hands-on experience that has a much greater impact. In alphabetical order:
blueEnergy - A small but well-organized community development NGO that specialized in renewable energy and clean water solutions for communities on the coast. With offices in San Francisco, Paris and Nicaragua, their main base of operations is Bluefields. blueEnergy accepts volunteers who would like to stay from 1 week to 1 year. It can be difficult to be accepted for longer positions, and potential volunteers must apply from their website. www.blueenergygroup.org
COPRAJ - Centro de Prevención y Rehabilitación de Adolecentes y Jovenes is a very small foundation dedicated to (as the name implies) the prevention and rehabilitation of adolescents and youth with substance abuse problems. Headed by Georgina (fluent in Spanish and French) and Randy (fluent in English and Spanish), they offer workshops in arts, music, computers and gardening their small farm coupled with group discussions and one-on-one work for the kids in need of help or are in risk of substance abuse or domestic violence. COPRAJ is very dynamic and hands-on in their approach to rehabilitation, and is the foundation most likely to take on short-notice or drop-in volunteers, especially if they can offer classes of some sort. For multi-day visits, private cabañas are available in exchange for a small donation. Check out their website (in French) at www.nicablue.org or contact Georgina directly via email: email@example.com or via cell: 8360-6323.
FUNCOS – Helps farmers plant and cultivate their crops using more sustainable methods. They have a showcase farm right outside of Bluefields where they have demonstration composting bins, composting dry toilets, organic farming methods, etc. Their office is in Bluefields in barrio Fatima. They accept volunteers through Sustainable Harvest, but might accept walk-ins as well.
Peace Corps – The world famous US governmental organization works in several sites along the coast doing agriculture education, teaching English and small business management. www.peacecorps.gov
There are two seasons: Summer and Winter. Though it may seem odd, the idea of summer and winter is not the difference between hot and cold but dry and wet. The dry Summer generally runs from September to May. Likewise, wet Winter generally runs from May to September. During the winter wet season you can expect rain about five days out of the week except during the sequia when the rain stops for about two weeks before returning in full force. The summer dry season sees windy days in the in the second quarter (Nov – Jan) with rain about every 10 – 15 days. Summer temps range from nighttime lows in the high 60s (20 Celsius) at night to the low 90s (32 Celsius) during the day. Winter temps drop down to the mid 70’s (24 Celsius) to daytime highs on the mid 90s (34 Celsius). Check out the current radar.