There is almost no crime in Nicaragua against Americans, Canadians and other expats or foreigners. Nicaragua is the safest country in all of Central America.
You would think that Nicaragua is communist, which would be a little scary, but it’s not. It is really safe. We don’t have gang members like in El Salvador or Honduras. The most that you would worry about here in Nicaragua is the most insignificant crime, which is petty theft, such as if you were walking and all of a sudden somebody just grabs your bag.
You have to have common sense. When you’re walking around, you’re not going to be flashing your phone everywhere because then you would be sending the wrong signals to people who are looking for an opportunity to rob somebody. There are certain times of the year that get a little crazy in terms of theft – it’s Christmas time, right before Christmas time, and right before Holy Week. The thieves are sort of on vacation as well!
The houses in Nicaragua have burglar bars, not because there are lots of thieves here but rather it’s the style here. I guess it had to do with the olden days when a lot of the city of Managua was still underdeveloped so there were lots of fields and open forests. Nicaragua is a mixture of forest and jungle and there were animals so people would put fences around their houses so that wild animals wouldn’t come into their property and eat their chickens or make it to their house. It is something that just became a part of their architectural landscape.
All the houses here in Nicaragua are walled because you don’t want people to see what you have in the house. It also depends on the neighborhood where you are going to live. If you are going to live in a very poor, dangerous neighborhood, like a favela (in Brazil), then yes, you would have fences and you would worry about people breaking into your house. But most of the time, if you’re not gringo-looking, if you’re a little bit tan, or if you look like you’re from here, then most of the time, if you move into one of those poor neighborhoods, people actually become really good friends with you. They give you a heads up. They would tell you if someone was trying to break into your house so you could keep an eye out for that.
I have patients who actually work in the public market. They sell produce, etc. There were times when I would take out my phone there and take a phone call and sometimes the ladies there would tell me, “Hey, you know, that guy over there is a thief. Be really careful. Put your stuff away. Put your keys in your front pocket, and just walk out really normal. Try not to go around where he is.” Sometimes I’ve had it happen where they turned around openly and told the thief, “Back off my customer!” Point blank! They said, “Get out of here. You know who I’m talking to!” And then the guy just got up, walked out, and went. These things happen in the public markets but it also depends on what market you go to. There is a market where nothing will happen to you and there is a market that is really dangerous.
You have to be savvy of where you are going just like you would anywhere; even if you were in the States. Just like in the States, you’re not going to walk into a ghetto and expect that nothing is going to happen to you. You have to be vigilant. If you are walking to the mall or to a restaurant or just a public eatery out on the street, you just have to be conscious during the summer, which is Holy Week and during Christmas; you have to be a little bit more vigilant.
My typical day in Managua compared to my typical day in South Pasadena, California, where I’m from, would be exactly the same. I wouldn’t experience any crime at all. It’s so safe here. I sleep with my windows open. You can walk on the streets here, go jogging, run with your iPod or iPhone on and you’re fine. I never had any problem being out with my kids or being by myself. I am the one who goes to the markets. If you go to the Huembes Market, which is one of the central markets in Managua, you will find that it’s very safe in there. You will see tourists walking in, there are natives, etc. You can buy your fruits and everything related to your home or whatever you need in there. It is “super super duper” safe and you don’t have to worry about anything.
(Clams for sale at the Oriental Market, Managua, Nicaragua, pictured.)