Suggestions for weeklong vacation with three teenagers

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Hello! I’m exploring options for me to take my three nieces/nephew on vacation for about a week. Nicaragua is at the top of my list, having previously been to Costa Rica and Guatemala. Central America is so much fun. For the teenagers it will be their first trip out of the country (outside of the midwest USA, really). I’m looking for a fun, standard itinerary that perhaps will stoke a love of travel in them. All three kids are 14/15 years old, and I’m looking to travel in the dry season – maybe as early as this April. What are your thoughts on an itinerary? Some notes:

  • No party destinations
  • I’d like for them to see and learn about cultural differences and humanitarian issues
  • We’re from a flat area, so we definitely need to hike mountains. I’d categorize the three of them as all having a “medium” fitness level. Cerro Negro, Telica? Quetzeltrekkers?
  • Can we see lava anywhere in Nicaragua?
  • Waterfalls would be great
  • We’ll need some beach time. Preferably somewhere quiet where I’d rent a house and we can explore nearby on foot.
  • We should visit one of the colonial cities. Leon or Granada?
  • Ometepe looks really cool. The volcanoes there sound too difficult to hike for their skill level.

Thanks for your help. The Thorn Tree is a great community.

 

Response from elportonverde

mike_elportonverde ONLINE 23 days ago Greetings Doug: Yes you can see hot lava in Nicaragua at the Masaya Volcano during the night tour. What I would suggest is similar to likeeveryoneelse’s recommendations. I’d suggest the loop from Managua-Leon-Esteli (Somoto Canyon)-Matagalpa-Granada as a rough itinerary. In Leon you can get your beach day in at Las Peñitas, do the volcano boarding, see the town itself (go up to the top of the cathedral for photos), then get to Esteli (there’s a nice waterfall just before you get to the town), overnight in Esteli or Somoto, then the next morning do Somoto Canyon (your teens will love it!), there are other hikes in the area too. Next day go to Matagalpa (more nice hikes, coffee country), then get back to Granada for the last couple of days. Cheers, Mike @ El Portón Verde, Managua

Source: Suggestions for weeklong vacation with three teenagers

The Somoto Canyon in Northern Nicaragua Hobbitschuster

Arriving in Managua ~8pm-Feasibility of making a minibus from UCA at 9, or shuttle from airport to Granada available?

From http://dontstopliving.net/backpacking-in-nicaragua-how-to-get-from-leon-to-granada-for-2-80/p1010339/

From http://dontstopliving.net/backpacking-in-nicaragua-how-to-get-from-leon-to-granada-for-2-80/p1010339/

emgtravel
Hello,
I am arriving in Managua around 8pm and was wondering if I have time to get to UCA for a 9 pm shuttle to Masaya, and also if shuttle buses from the airport to Granada run that late. Any suggestions on the best way to get to UCA at that time? Would it be more advisable to stay in Managua and travel the next day?
Thank you!

Greetings emgtravel:

I’d say no chance to get to La UCA at that time and that there would be no bus leaving that late. Like others have written, it is basically either do the shuttle or private sedan, so max $40 but you can split that up to three ways with 3 pax. The other option would be to look for a nice place to stay that will come pick you up and be located near the route from UCA to Granada and then the next morning you would only pay about a buck to go to Granada instead of up to $40.

Cheers, Mike_elportonverde

via https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/permalink/post/21292255

Arriving in Managua at Night?

This question comes up fairly frequently in the travel forums about Nicaragua, as a lot if not a majority of flights come in at night, when arriving in Managua how would one get to Granada or is it better to wait until the next day?

I’ve answered this before in an original blog post: Head-to-Head Comparison: After Arriving at the Managua Airport, Going Directly to Granada vs. Staying near Carretera a Masaya

Bottom line is that, after arriving in Managua, you should be able to decide if it’s okay with you to get to Granada the next morning instead of at a late hour at night.

If you decide to go with the El Portón Verde solution, you can:

Now I’ve had expats of Granada give me a really hard time about this modest proposal I make, as if enough tourists don’t go directly to Granada as soon as they land! I don’t argue that what is right for an individual traveler is always the best thing for everybody, but I do contend that for someone who wants a softer landing to Nicaragua, have a chance to see a friendly face, be greeted by someone who speaks your language meets you at the Managua airport, gives you a nice comfortable ride and room at a farm where in the morning you’ll have an incredible view, eat a great filling breakfast, have a chance to do a quick farm tour or a dip in our swimming pool, then we get you on the bus for a short trip to Granada that only costs $1 USD, well, that is a good proposition for some people, am I right?

n

Managua – Nicaragua Forum – TripAdvisor

Re: Managua

There are several private shuttle services serving Nicaragua.

There are several private shuttle services serving Nicaragua.

elportonverde Managua, Nicaragua Level Contributor 754 posts 22 reviews 2.

Feb 08, 2016, 2:13 PM

Greetings winger88: Coming in at night there would be no public bus available. If you are up for another 2 1/2 hours in a vehicle after flying all day and are okay with arriving late at night, then you can use a private shuttle service like iSKRA Travel, NicaRoads, etc.

The last scheduled (shared) shuttle is cheaper but leaves the airport at 5:30pm so you might not be able to make it. The private shutlle is $80 for one or two passengers.

Taking the bus the next morning would be a lot cheaper if that is important to you, If you go that route, I would suggest staying at a place off of Carretera a Masaya so you could catch the bus as it heads out of town. Otherwise, go to the Mercado Huembes and get the bus to SJdS or to Rivas, then switch to a bus to SJdS from there.

Cheers, Mike @ El Portón Verde, Managua

Source: Managua – Nicaragua Forum – TripAdvisor

transportation Popoyo: Nicaragua Forum – TripAdvisor

transportation

1 post

transportation Popoyo

I land in managua at 10pm so will stay there that night, but I’m wondering what the options are for getting to popoyo? A public bus would be preferred to keep cost down if it I easy to find?
1 reply

 

Managua, Nicaragua
Level Contributor
698 posts
17 reviews
1. Re: transportation
Greetings Jessica:

Once in Managua, you’ll need to get yourself to Mercado Huembes and take a bus to Rivas. The easiest thing at that point would be to hire a taxi to Popoyo, but if you want to keep on the bus program you can go from Rivas to Las Salinas de Nagualpa, then walk or hitchhike the last couple of miles to Popoyo.

For further details take a look at:http://thebusschedule.com/EN/ni/index.php

If the schedule is accurate, you leave Huembes at 7, 9 or 10:30 am and get there by 10, 12, or 1:40 pm, respectively.

Cheers, Mike @ Farmstay El Portón Verde, Managua

Source: transportation – Popoyo Forum – TripAdvisor

A little advice for someone flying into Managua, intending to stay overnight, and then wanting to go to Popoyo, near Tola, Rivas without spending an arm and a leg.

Inexpensive transportation is readily available in Nicaragua if you’re willing to deal with some of the (minor) hassles, you’ll save lots of money!

Getting to Granada from El Porton Verde

It’s really easy to get to Granada, we’re on the way there from Managua.

Getting to Granada from Farmstay El Portón Verde is super easy! Here’s the general route. Notice it’s a straight shot on the highway leading directly from Managua to Granada, passing through the town of Masaya.

Map showing the simple route between El Portón Verde and the town of Granada

Map showing the simple route between El Portón Verde and the town of Granada

You can take a bus. The cost is less than one U.S. Dollar, They come by very frequently, I’d say every five to ten minutes. Look for the bus that says EXPRESO MANAGUA UCA GRANADA. It’s a nice mid-sized bus, definitely an upgrade over the standard “chicken bus”!

With the ride being a short 45 minutes in duration, the bus comes by the gas station at the intersection of our road with the highway to Masaya, drops you off at the Central Park or the public market. Note: You might have to walk around a bit to find your hotel if you take the bus.

If staying with us at FEPV, I can usually take you to the corner about 2 kms away (it’s the UNO gas station where you will catch your bus) or there are mototaxis, (which are like tuktuks used in Asia) that can take you to the bus stop after picking you up on the farm.

The other way would be for you to hire me or a taxi to take you to Granada. That costs around $30. With me you’d get a mini tour from me as we go through town looking for your hotel 🙂 and you’d be dropped off right there at your hotel. If you have a lot of luggage its usually easier to have me take you…

Or I could take you in our Mitsubishi truck...

Or, I could take you in our Mitsubishi truck…

In addition to just dropping you off and maybe do a quick tour of Granada, depending on my availability, we can tour something along the route. Options are:

Now, just as a reminder for folks reading this while making their plans to visit Nicaragua (especially for you first-time visitors), think about how we offer our “soft landing service” when we pick you up or drop you off at the Managua airport. Also, we help folks looking to relocate and retire to Nicaragua.

A while ago we did a head-to-head comparison of flying in late at night and heading directly to Granada vs. having us pick you up at the airport (for the famous soft landing service) and staying that first night in Granada. A big part of that exercise is that you can get to Granada for just under a buck, so you can save some money while having a very pleasant first night and morning in Nicaragua.

VACATION COST COMPARISON: HAWAII VS. NICARAGUA

This winter think Flor de Caña instead of Mai Tai’s

Go to Nicaragua instead of Hawaii this Winter

Want to save a couple of hundred dollars and have a really unique vacation? Try Nicaragua!

If you feel like a tropical getaway is needed this winter, why not consider doing something different this year? Sure Hawaii is nice. The luau is fun with the poi, roast pork and dancing girls, but seriously, don’t you want to try something a bit off the beaten path?

Let’s do a vacation cost comparison, shall we?

Flight times are roughly the same. A flight to Managua usually entails a change of planes so it ends up a half-hour to an hour more time between your destinations. Flight costs are lower to Nicaragua as you can see above.

Volcanoes are more numerous and varied

Hawaii and Nicaragua both have volcanoes

The only place you can actually surf down a volcano is in Nicaragua. Plus there’s a lot more of them to see in Nicaragua if that’s your thing…

Speaking of surfing…

Surfing is better in Nicaragua! There, I said it.

What about Overall Cost of the Vacation?

I found a website that says that the average one week vacation for two to Hawaii costs $3,760 dollars. Let’s break that down and figure out what the same thing would cost in Nicaragua, shall we?

Much less expensive to go to Nicaragua than to Hawaii

Airfare is roughly the same, even though in the example we started with it is couple of hundred dollars cheaper. This will vary depending on the time of year, etc.

Lodging is a big save. The Hawaii cost website says $175 per night and in Nicaragua you can get very nice lodgings for $75-80 per night.

Likewise, food is much less expensive in Nicaragua than in Hawaii for obvious reasons, namely we’re on the mainland, its unlikely you’ll be eating a lot of imported items, and the general cost of living is much less.

Activities was a bit tough to determine, but for example a full-day tour with El Porton Verde tours is $80, Lots of activities such as tour of Las Isletas is $40 or less. $30 for volcano boarding down Cerro Negro near Leon. You get the idea…

Transportation was a bit easier to determine. Rental cars are less expensive. Now you can get private shuttles that can be costly, but in a week you won’t take more than two long trips and they are each $100 from the Managua airport to San Juan del Sur. If you came to Nicaragua and took public buses (or even one or two buses) you would save a ton of money.

NOTE: You can easily spend much more money in Nicaragua than this example shows. For example, you can book a night or two at the five-star Mukul Resort and spend about $500 per night. Even Aqua Wellness in Playa Gigante is about $200 a night. You can also spend more on food, booze, tours, and transport than listed here. But it’s a heck of a lot easier to stay at a moderately priced place for a night or two and then splurge on the nice beachfront locations, for example. As usual, CAVEAT EMPTOR aka YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY.

This posting only talks about cost of things. We haven’t touched on the value of experiences. I wager the true value of the experiences you’ll have in Nicaragua is much more valuable than any cost considerations.

So, what will you do with the $1470 in savings? Here’s an idea, why not stay another week in Nicaragua!

Comments and questions are welcome as always!

Beat this deal: Spirit Air IAH-MGA, all-inclusive $257 per person!

Cheaper than going anywhere in the States!

Sure there's not much legroom but it's only a short flight!

Sure there’s not much legroom but it’s only a short flight!

Beat this deal: Spirit Air IAH-MGA, all-inclusive $257 per person!

We’ve had a mini-rush of visitors lately taking advantage of the new Spirit Air flight out of Houston to Managua. They are telling me that they couldn’t have done anything cheaper anywhere in the USA and in looking at the figures, I agree!

Let’s look into the dollars and cents of this deal for a short, first-time visitor to Nicaragua. Let’s assume two people, with two nights lodging and two full days of activities. (The Spirit Air flights arrive at about 1 am and depart about 2 am, so no sleep means you have all day to do stuff in Nicaragua!

It is easy enough to take local buses to get around to the hiking areas, so that helps keep your costs down. Also, eating local is cheap and tasty.

The round-trip flights run as low as $169. You can stay at the farmstay for a measly $38 per night. Breakfast included! Local buses for two days adventures, $4. Fees for national parks and reserves, $8. Local lunches and dinners $18 (for two days). Airport pickup and drop off, $40.

What would be the total per person for this extravaganza? $257 !!!! Folks, this is airfare, transportation, food, entry into national parks with active volcanoes, hiking private reserves where you see waterfalls and birds, eating local, getting to know a foreign, yet safe country, etc. Wow, how can you beat that I ask you!

Top Five Tips for Renting a Car in Nicaragua

A Google image search reveals quite a few rental car companies here in Nicaragua

A Google image search reveals quite a few rental car companies here in Nicaragua

If you’re not sure whether or not to rent a car in Nicaragua, see “What it’s like to drive in Nicaragua” first. You might find that it is better to arrange a driver with a private vehicle, take taxis, or arrange for shuttles.

As an alternative, you can always hire a taxi to take you around!

As an alternative, you can always hire a taxi to take you around!

 

Public buses are also a good alternative for some visitors to Nicaragua.

There are several private shuttle services serving Nicaragua.

There are several private shuttle services serving Nicaragua.

The public buses provide cheap transport from point A to point B

The public buses provide cheap transport from point A to point B

This post assumes that you have already decided that renting a car is the right decision for you. Even if you are set on driving yourself, please read my Four Essential Nicaraguan Driving Tips to make sure you are prepared!

One: Understand how the insurance works and what is the actual daily or weekly cost of the vehicle.

There is a mandatory collision damage / insurance that you cannot avoid, and there is “extra” insurance that may or may not be worthwhile to take. There is 100% coverage, for example. The mandatory is 80% coverage. Most of the big rental car companies also offer roadside assistance and even hospitalization insurance. The smaller companies usually offer only the full coverage.

Here’s an example of some of the acronyms that might be used in this discussion. (Thanks to centralamerica.com, all rights go to them.)

Not as simple as one might hope for...

Not as simple as one might hope for…

Renting for a week gives you a better deal than a daily rate, but don’t get fooled by looking at a website for a rental car company and thinking that it truly costs less than $20 to rent a car! The websites typically don’t show the cost of insurance online, and you will be surprised that the car now costs $40 something dollars a day. Getting the full insurance more than doubles the daily rate of the vehicle, in my experience.

Just to get a feel for the insurance and collision options, check out the Alamo Nicaragua information here: http://nicaraguaairportcarrental.com/alamo_nicaragua_nicaragua_airport_brand_info.html

Two: Make a good decision on the rental car company you choose.

There are better deals to be had by renting from one of the smaller, Nicaraguan-based companies, but they tend to not have the level of customer support available. That is something that if you need it, you really need it! For example, there is a local company that offers a nice small sedan vehicles, year 2014 model of a Nissan Tilda, for $35 including everything. A comparable vehicle offered by an international rental car company will be a bit more, about $45 dollars per day once you buy your collision and insurance.

My recommendation would be that it works out better for most visitors to select one of the international companies just in case your car breaks down somewhere you will have a better chance to get rescued. Also, with an international company they might respond a bit better to consumer complaints and such things?

With a small local company, you will be very much on your own and especially if you don’t have decent Spanish skills, a roadside breakdown could be a stressful situation. We want to avoid those, right? You’re on vacation after all!

Three: Make a good decision on the type of vehicle you will need.

Some people visiting Nicaragua who are looking to rent a car will want a four-wheel drive vehicle thinking that the roads are very bad and 4WD will be necessary. I’m here to tell you that it isn’t so! For the majority of visitors looking to rent a car, a small sedan will be perfectly fine. If you are planning on going to the major tourist attractions in Nicaragua, you will be okay with a regular 2WD vehicle.

If you are a real beach goer, and especially a surfer who is traveling to Nicaragua during the rainy season and you want to be able to check out a variety of beaches, then get a Toyota HiLux, Prado, or another 4WD vehicle.

A Prado is a nice luxury vehicle

A Prado is a nice luxury vehicle

As far as the exact type of vehicle, you will have to do some research for yourself on what is available and what works best for you. On the extremes for example, there is a small car called the Suzuki Alto, which to me is a “clown car” as it is so tiny with miniscule sized tires that it might not be too comfortable for more than two people, especially if you have a few suitcases. A large vehicle here would be a mini-van for a small group or a Toyota Prado, which is a luxury SUV (think Lexus) that will have a very smooth ride and you will feel great cruising around in that.

Clown car?

Clown car?

But, of course you pay for the privilege of having the luxury vehicle.

Four: Document the condition of the vehicle as it is received.

This is something different from how one would rent a vehicle in North America, for example. When you get your car, a guy with a clipboard holding a line drawing of a vehicle will appear. He will want to show you all of the little scratches on the vehicle. Every small dent, every abrasion, every little ding should be marked down on his little piece of paper.2000px-Clipboard_01.svg

What I recommend is that you use your smart phone or camera to take photos of every little thing the rental car employee will show you, including the little piece of paper at the end! Also, make sure he checks the underbody of the vehicle, as sometimes they will not note that someone tried to jack up the vehicle in an incorrect spot without the proper support, causing a buckle or indent.

The whole point of this exercise is that you and the car company have documented the current state of the vehicle. If you bring it back and they discover an extra dent or scratch, they will attempt to charge you for a “repair” that may or not actually be fixed. It appears to me that this can easily be a scam sort of setup, so renter beware. I do believe that if you appear to be paying attention to all of this process that the rental car company will be less likely to attempt any funny business, but of course your mileage may vary!

Five: Bring or rent some navigation and communication technologies to make your trip more relaxing.

This tip is about having a local phone and/or SIM card/chip in a phone you brought from home. It is also about whether or not paying extra for a GPS system is worthwhile.

Best is to bring an old phone with you from back home, and buy a chip from either Claro or Movistar (the two phone companies) so you can be in communication. Likewise, if you have a GPS device or your smartphone has that feature, it doesn’t hurt to have that along with you too.gps

The rental car companies do offer both phones and GPS, and they almost always will charge you for the rental of the GPS and some charge for the phone too. Either way, its best to bring your own device, or if you will be here for a couple of weeks or more, it might be worthwhile to buy a cheap cell phone, which should set you back no more than $30, as, for example, Alamo charges $3 per day to rent a phone.

Special Bonus Tips:

  1. You might go to all the trouble to decide, yes, I’ll go ahead and rent a car, and then you get to the rental car counter and they don’t have any vehicles for you! This just recently happened to Farmstay visitors.
  2. Don’t be thrown off when you sign the rental contract that they run your credit card right then and there, and ask you to sign a blank credit card receipt! The point of this is to put a hold on your card at an amount somewhat in excess of the expected charges for the rental. This is a normal way of doing business here and they will just tear it up when you return the vehicle and pay the total amount at the end of your rental period.
  3. If you are going to be visiting the Farmstay and arriving at nighttime, let me pick you up, then the next morning you can pick up your car at a location not far from the Farmstay. If staying with us on your first and last nights in Nicaragua, you can turn in the vehicle the day before, saving you one full day of rental car costs!

Okay, I hope this helps. As always, we encourage your comments and corrections. If you have a good story about your rental car experience in Nicaragua, let us know that too!

Managua Airport Tips: What to expect when arriving at MGA Augusto Sandino International Airport

MGA-Sandino-International-Airport-Managua

Exterior of the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua, Nicaragua (MGA)

Managua-Augusto-Cesar-Sandino-Airport

The main lobby of the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua, Nicaragua (MGA)

Will you be arriving at MGA, the Managua International Airport soon?

Would you like some Managua airport tips and a step-by-step look at what to expect? Here you go, enjoy!
The drill will be:
  1. Get off the plane, follow the people and signs down hallway and then down the escalator to Immigration.
    (Note: If you use the VIP service, you will stay on the same level and someone from the service will have a placard with your name on it!)
  2. Get in one of the lines (the ones on the right side of the room seem to be shorter generally speaking, but YMMV).
  3. Have your forms, passports, and $10 USD in cash ready. The immigration officer will normally just swipe your passport, stamp it, then take the money from you and give you a receipt.
    Note: Speaking of forms, if you are coming to stay at the Farmstay, write down “km. 10 1/2 Carretera a Masaya, Managua” in the space on the form titled “Direccion Prevista”
    Note: Keep the little piece of paper they give you, this is your visa and should be kept with your passport. It is automatically given for a 90 day period and can be renewed one time.
  4. Follow the other people towards the baggage claim area…there is a tourist information desk on your left if you want to grab some brochures and you can stop and use the bathroom on the right if necessary (optional 🙂 )
    Note: There is a money exchange there too, but I do not recommend exchanging money at the airport. They give you a really lousy exchange rate, about a fifth less then what you can get from a bank or a street exchange.
  5. Get a free baggage cart or two if needed (they are on the left side of the baggage claim area, near the windows where you will see lots of people waiting for the new arrivals)
    Note: There will be airport workers there to help you if you want it, they will just want a tip of a dollar or so…could be well worth it if you have multiple pieces of luggage.
  6. Get your bags off of one of the two carousels.
  7. Get in the line for the bags to be checked and give that person your remaining customs form. (Also, have your baggage claim tickets ready, they check to make sure you are taking the correct bags.)
  8. After that you move towards your final check, where you will put your bags on a conveyor belt. It will go through an x-ray machine (half the time no one is even looking at the screen). There are a lot more customs officials and stations here now, so this part can go very quickly.
  9. Put your bags back on the cart and turn left.
  10. After retrieving your bags, head towards the exits. There are three sliding glass doors, two on your right which takes you curbside, and the other by going forward, staying in the terminal building, heading towards the Rental Car desks.
  11. If you have arranged transport for your first night’s lodging already, look for them but don’t panic if you don’t see your pickup person immediately. They’ll find you!
    Note: If you are staying at the Farmstay, do not go out to the curb, after turning left, go straight through the automatic glass doors into the terminal. I usually stand away from the waiting people that tend to crowd the area just on the other side of the sliding glass doors. Just keep your head high and with complete confidence, keep walking past all of them, ignoring their offers for taxis and transport, and look for me in front of a little coffee bar on the right with my sign saying “FARMSTAY”.
    Note: If you have a scheduled pickup with another lodging option, look for their sign. If you are looking to rent a car, keep going forward and you will see the sign pointing to the rental cars. If you need a taxi, look for the men in the yellow or blue shirts, they are the official airport taxis. Actually, they’ll find you!
  12. If you are staying with us, look for me holding the sign “FARMSTAY
    Note: If you have nothing previously arranged, you have some decisions to make. You can stay across the highway at the Best Western, which, while rather expensive, has an undeniably handy location, or any number of other hotels. See my guide to your lodging options: Where should I stay on my first night (or last night) in Nicaragua?
    There are now two tourism-services kiosks on your left as you enter the main terminal. They will have their representatives at the sliding glass doors. They can help you in case you come in to Managua without any sort of plan whatsoever and you want them to set you up with transport and lodging for the night. 
    Note: You can also set you up for transport to Granada, which many people do. It will cost you about $40. But before you decide on that, there’s a case to be made for staying that first night in Managua because you can catch the public bus to Granada the next day and save money. Plus there are several other reasons, especially to stay at FEPV.

    1044303_10151721685172429_403430706_n

    Your host Mike will be waiting for you at the airport with his FARMSTAY sign.

streetchildNote: Once you are in the terminal or outside on the sidewalk (or even inside the terminal), there may be street urchins looking to give you a sort of origami flower made from straw, help you with your bags, or just asking for “dame un dollar” (give me a dollar) usually followed by “chele” (roughly translated as “whitey”). Lately, the authorities have done a better job keeping them off the airport grounds but they still are around at times.
Welcome to Nicaragua!  If you are going to Granada and to a lesser extent Leon and San Juan del Sur, expect to see lots more of these children. The best way to deal with them in my experience is to give them a firm “No gracias” followed by a stern (louder) “No!” and keep an eye on your things, do not maintain eye contact. If you do want to give them money, best you give them a Nicaraguan coin, no more than five cordobas.  But just understand, you do not have enough coins/money on you to give money to everyone who asks! There are several orphanages, street children’s help centers, and other worthy charities in the major cities where you can help these young people at risk.