Four Essential Nicaraguan Driving Tips

This is in response to a posting on another blog: Watching the Sun Bake

Hey Craig, sorry to hear about the “bum trip” you had. I live here in Managua off of the Carretera a Masaya and have pretty well adjusted my driving, especially to the rotunda lane changing deal.

Couple of reactions to your blog: You come across as someone who had a rough landing in Nicaragua, and that is something that can be tricky to manage your first couple of visits (and I do hope you come back!)
The typical police officers here are really not too bad, definitely not Gestapo. I am way more intimidated of PO’s in the States.

But they really got you with these fines. I follow a protocol and suggest visitors (especially first time visitors going straight to SJdS) driving in Nicaragua keep this in mind too. At least around here, if I get pulled over I try the following:

  1. BE COOL & CALM: When you get pulled over, be nice and respectful.  The old “good afternoon officer” “buenas tardes oficial” routine. Attitude: “I cannot imagine what I have done wrong and am just trying to learn the rules. Have mercy!”
    As the officer starts telling you about an infraction of some sort that you are no doubt guiltyfalsely accused of, verify that they are Agente de Transito—these guys where long sleeved shirts as opposed to regular police who have short sleeves.
    NOTE: If they are NOT Transito THEY CANNOT FINE YOU.  No matter what they say, you must understand that they cannot give you a multa but only give you a warning. They’ll try to say “I’m calling a Transito officer to come over and give you a ticket.” Unless Transito is on the scene and actually witnessed the infraction you should be off the hook.
  3. MORDIDA TIME: If the officer is Transito and begins to write out a ticket and explains how you have to go to court and that Transito in Managua will keep your driver’s license, then it is time to help them financially a bit…i.e. a MORDIDA.
    But please do not pay too much, you’ll ruin it for the rest of us! $10 maximum or 200 or less Cordobas should do the trick.
    The technique I use is to ask the officer to return your registration and insurance cards, then discreetly slip 100 cords between the two card sized documents and give it back to him. This establishes that you know the score and are efficiently giving him a small bribe.  At that point the officer will generally hand you back your documents, warn your sternly, and let you off. Usually the officers are paired up, and the deal is that the officer you are dealing with does not want his partner to see that your transaction is taking place. Whether it is because he or she does not want to share the money, or wants to appear “clean” it is best to be a bit sly.
    Then you are pretty well screwed…sorry to say. Tell the officer that you are going back to your home country in a day or two and cannot return without your license. “Is there anything we can do to get it back?
    Assuming that doesn’t work you have to do the bank and court deal which is a pain in the butt. I have had the pleasurehassle to have to go due to a driving ticket, and once you have gone to the bank to pay the fine, then go to Transito with the receipt to recover your license, you can waste a good half a day. It is no fun, especially when banks and Transito are crowded.
    Transito is located near Mercado Huembes in Managua.

Here is a blog (in Spanish) explaining the process to pay a fine (multa).

10 thoughts on “Four Essential Nicaraguan Driving Tips

  1. Well short sleeves or long….I have had them both take my documents and refuse to give them back with out a donation to the “cause”…..
    The fat short sleeve officer near Masaya…..just loves to grab documents ….mine included and be sarcastic about it….However…I did try the …”wait while I call the US embasy and they will send a man from the Embasy and a man from the policia nacional to fix this problem” ..Embasy told me to do this…gracis senor!..I will call now! and presto chango the infraction/problemo went away.
    But my Nicaraguan friend told me I was wrong as the officer only wants to make a living…feed the the rent..ect…
    But the further away one drives away from Manauagu/Masaya/Tipitopa …The officer (for the most part) are polite and civil to nonNicaraguans, in rental cars.
    For me… it is just I different from what I deal with in the States? I am at fault here…after all it is their country. To live and run it as they (Nicaraguan’s) want to.
    I was stopped in front to the Sandino Airport for doing a U turn…I told the officer that in Pennsylvania if there is no sign not to do this..then it is OK!!!
    The officer replied..” but Charlie…you are not in Pennsylvania now” end quote…He let me go on my way…with the the Spanish have a nice day sir ringing in my ears…& away I went!!

  2. ahh, great story “Charlie you’re not in Pennsylvania anymore” thanks for sharing Carlos! I think you’ve also nailed the “hotspot” that folks with rental cars need to be extra careful of when driving through. Especially the road from Tipitapa to Masaya IMHO is prime ground for an assortment of undesirable possibilities…especially for tourists trying to go directly to Granada or San Juan del Sur.

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  6. TIP: Before traveling go to your local Motor Vehicle office and get a replacement for a ¨LOST¨ license. Now that you have two you won´t have to redeem the one they took. They do not check them and the ¨TICKET¨ you receive serves serves in place of your license allowing you to drive legally

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    • Greetings Andrew: Thank you for your comment and question. Yes, it’s still $10 USD to be paid at the airport on entry. The only new thing now is that there is an ATM machine near the immigration line in case you don’t have the cash on you. Cheers, Mike @ El Porton Verde, Managua

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