Friday, 30 June 2017

KENYA: Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) Attracts More Guests To Mombasa Hotels

Some hotels in Mombasa are enjoying brisk business thanks to the Madaraka Express train service on the new standard gauge railway (SGR) and Idd celebrations.

PrideInn Paradise Beach Resort general manager Imtyaz Mirza, said the hotel had 82 per cent occupancy bolstered by visitors who travelled to Mombasa by rail.

Of the 82 occupancy, he added, 25 per cent were guests who travelled from Nairobi to Mombasa by Madaraka Express.

“The trains bring us a lot of guests during weekends because it is an affordable mode of transport and also take shorter time to arrive in Mombasa compared to buses,” he said.

On the other hand, Mr Mirza said the hotel had been busy due to Muslims who are celebrating Idd-ul-Fitr.

“The local Muslims have boosted business as they came to our hotel for lunch, relaxation on the beach, swimming, while children had fun at the Aqua Park,” he added.

Heritage Hotels Chief Executive Officer Mohamed Hersi said Voyager Hotel had more than 90 per cent occupancy rate due to the train service and Idd celebrations.

He noted the hotel has been getting lots of guests during weekends as a result of Madaraka Express.

Mr Hersi attributed the rise in domestic bookings to the cheaper rail transport where locals are able to save cash for accommodation.

“Locals from Nairobi nowadays travel to Mombasa to enjoy their weekends as they spend only Sh700 to come here compared to Sh20,000 they used to spend on air transport,” he said.

Mr Hersi, who is also the Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF) chairman, said he expects hotels in Mombasa to continue enjoying booming business during weekends.

Reef Hotel's general manager, Michael Kai, said the hotel was busy as Muslims had come for lunch, swimming, resting on beach and leisure walks on the beach.

“During Idd-ul-Fitr, the hotel receives lots of guests from afternoon to evening as locals come here for lunch and beach activities,” he said.

Nyali International Beach Hotel general manager Lucy Kimani said the hotel prepared Swahili dishes to give their Muslim guests an Idd-ul-Fitr treat.

“We will also treat our Muslim visitors with Taarab music for them to celebrate Idd while there are fun events for children,” she added.

Hotels are expected to receive more international guests when the high season begins in mid-July.

Tourism Observer

KENYA: Mombasa County Government Urged To Scrap Proposed Local Tourism Fund (LTF)

Tourism players have asked the Mombasa County government to scrap the proposed Local Tourism Fund (LTF) in order to spare them the headache of over-taxation.

Through the the Mombasa County Local Tourism Bill 2017, the devolved unit has proposed the establishment of LTF which will collect levies and fees from players in the industry.

The Bill proposes that revenues collected be used to develop the county's tourism sector.

However, Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) Coast branch executive officer Sam Ikwaye said the County should delete the provision creating the Local Tourism Fund from the proposed legislation.

He said Part 4 of the Bill should be be scrapped in its entirety as it clashes with the National Tourism Act of 2011, which under Section 105 established the Tourism Fund a body mandated to collect a levy meant to finance the development of tourism products and services.

Levies collected by the Tourism Fund also go towards financing marketing of the country through the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) as well as training and capacity development activities done by the Kenya Utalii College and other students of the hospitality industry.

We are against Mombasa County government’s plan to establish a Local Tourism Fund because its mandate and roles are similar to those of the Tourism Fund, Mr Ikwaye said on Tuesday in Mombasa.

The KAHC official warned that the establishment of a similar body by Mombasa County would overburden taxpayers in the sector.

Part 4 of the bill has the potential to increase the cost of doing business as the county proposes to charge levies and fees from the local tourism businesses, he said.

Kenya Tourism Federation chairman Mohamed Hersi also called on the Hassan Joho-led government to withdraw the provision creating the body, saying players in Mombasa already contribute to the Tourism Fund.

It should be noted that tourism businesses are already overburdened by taxation. Any move by the county to impose more levies through the local tourism fund will make Mombasa a hostile business environment, he warned.

Mr Hersi, who is also the Heritage Hotels chief executive officer, called on the county's bosses to seek more funds from the national government rather than introducing new levies and fees.

When reached for comment, Mombasa County Tourism executive, Binti Omar, called on tourism stakeholders to present their views at a public participation meeting to be held soon.

“The County Local Tourism Bill is still open to public participation. Therefore, I call on the private sector to present their opinions and the County will find ways of addressing the matter,” she said.

Tourism Observer

More Visitors From America Visiting Europe In 2017

According to the latest statistics total international arrivals in Europe grew by 3.5% in Q1 2017 compared to Q1 2016 thanks to the healthy North American market. The North American market increased its number of passengers by 6.7% when comparing the same period in 2016.

The statistics are from the Air Travellers' Traffic Barometer* produced by European Cities Marketing and ForwardKeys.

The US market is taking advantage of the USD vs Euro and GBP exchange rate. Asia & Oceania increased their number of passengers, pushed by Chinese, Japanese and Indian markets.

Central & South America showed a considerable improvement thanks to Brazil, Argentina and Colombia markets which represents almost 70% of the region.

Meanwhile, Intra European flows (which account for 60% of the total arrivals in Europe) remained at the same level as the previous year. But signs of a growth recovery have been observed. North America shows itself as the healthiest and steadiest market.

Africa and Asia & Oceania confirm their improvement, after the drop observed during Q4 2015 and Q1 2016 that affected all of Europe because of the fear of terrorist attacks.

The booking situation shows a significant increase in the number of arrivals in Europe for Q2 2017, most likely due to the shift in Easter holidays occurring in April in 2017 instead of March in 2016.

That event is reflected in the bigger share of North America going from 16% in the Q1 2017 to 26% in the bookings for Q2. Central & South America keep on picking up strongly.

Meanwhile Middle East went up, reaching 14.7% when compared with same period last year.

Top 10 destinations regarding bookings for Q2 2017 are increasing steadily

Every European city in the Top 10 destination for long haul travellers in volume, except Istanbul, is expected to rise with double digit growth for Q2 2017, as result of the shift in Easter holidays and the troublesome Q2 2016 where terrorism dramatically affected the most important destinations in Europe.

German destinations fell in the ranking, with Munich disappearing from the top 10 in favour of Lisbon.

Southern destinations such as Lisbon and Madrid confirm their good performances. London, besides being the preferred European destination, shows fantastic growth for Q2 2017. This is probably due to a better currency exchange ratio.

Tourism Observer

UAE: Air Arabia Adds Third New Route In 2017, Sharjah To Hargeisa Somaliland

Sharjah-headquartered Air Arabia, the largest low-cost carrier operator in the Middle East and North Africa, has added its third permanent new international route from Sharjah this year with the addition of direct flights to Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland.

The airline now operates flights to over 130 destinations across the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Asia, and Europe from its five international hubs.

Starting 4 July 2017, Hargeisa will be the tenth African destination served from its main hub at Sharjah International Airport (SHJ). The airline currently flys from Sharjah to Alexandria (HBE), Assiut (ATZ), Cairo (CAI), Sohag (HMB) and Sharm El Sheikh (SSH) in Egypt, Nairobi (NBO) in Kenya, Casablanca (CMN) and Tangier (TNG) in Morocco, and Khartoum (KRT) in Sudan.

The new flights to Hargeisa Egal International Airport (HGA), will operate on Tuesdays and Fridays, departing Sharjah International Airport at 03:45 hours, and arriving at Hargeisa at 06:15 hours local time. The return flight will depart Hargeisa at 06:55 hours, landing in Sharjah at 11:25 hours local time.

This month, Air Arabia began operating twice weekly flights from Sharjah to Batumi, the second largest city of Georgia on the Black Sea. The airline launched four weekly flights from Sharjah to the Azarbajiani capital of Baku in March 2017.

The airline also launched a number of seasonal flights this year. In March and April Air Arabia launched a seasonal route between Iran’s Kermanshah airport and Sharjah on the occasion of ‘Nowruz’, the new Iranian year. Air Arabia is also operating a summer-season non-stop service to the historic Turkish port city of Trabzon beginning this month.

Air Arabia began operations in October 2003 from its main hub at Sharjah International Airport in the UAE and now has additional international hubs at Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan, Casablanca’s Mohammed V International Airport in Morocco, Alexandria’s Borg Al Arab International Airport in Egypt and Ras Al Khaimah International Airport in the UAE.

More than 8.4 million passengers flew with Air Arabia in 2016, a 12 percent increase on the previous year, while more than 2.1 million passengers flew with the carrier between January and March 2017.

Tourism Observer

THAILAND: Elephants Gets Crazy After Barking Dog, Injure 3 Chinese Tourists And A Mahout

Two Elephants went wild over a barking dog in Phuket yesterday, injuring three Chinese tourists and a mahout (elephant tender).

Vachira Hospital received a report of the incident at about 9:30am, then asked rescue workers to send three ambulances to the elephant camp in Chalong.

A total of five people were hurt, four tourists and the mahout leading the ride. The mahout, hurled off the back of the beast he was riding, suffered a back injury and was sent to Vachira Phuket Hospital. The four tourists, two females and two males, were sent to Phuket International Hospital.

Hu Jun, 39, injured his ankle and suffered chest pain. His 13-year-old daughter, Hu Yuxin, had a minor sprain. Tang Senlie 39, required surgery for an unspecified injury, and Tang Ye, 12, was released after x-rays and other tests for injuries.

According to the mahout, who asked not to be named, Hu Jun and his family boarded two elephants, 'Giant' and 'Numchoke'. About 200 meters down the track of their ride, a neighboring dog began to bark "wildly", causing the elephants to panic and run out of control.

It was raining and the ground was muddy.

Both elephants fell, but fortunately the tourists were thrown free, the mahout added.

Officers from the Phuket tourist police went to visit the victims at the hospital.

The owner of the elephant park says he will take full responsibility for all medical expenses incurred.

Meanwhile, Four suspects have been arrested for allegedly helping foreign tourists catch rare giant freshwater stingrays in Samut Songkhram. Provincial regulations forbid catching the fish unless it is for research purposes.

The suspects were arrested on Monday after the officers from relevant agencies in Amphawa District investigated reports from local people who saw live broadcasts on Facebook.

Samut Songkhram Provincial Governor Khanchat Tansathian said he ordered the Provincial Fisheries Office to file a complaint against the four suspects at Amphawa Police Station.

He said the people at Samut Songkhram cherish and want to save the endangered giant freshwater stingray.

The four men did not have a valid boat driving licence, the boat was not registered with the Marine Department, and there was illegal fishing equipment on the boat, police said. Three of them had traces of amphetamine in their urine.

One of the suspects said that they were hired by another man called “Boy” to organise the fishing trip for foreign tourists to catch giant freshwater stingray. They claimed that they had permission to catch the stingray for research purposes.

However, officers found that the permission that the suspects claimed they had expired in November 2016.

Tourism Observer

CHINA: China’s Surpluses Could Be More Than Assumed

Tales of Chinese tourist largesse providing a big boost to destination economies are legend.

They may also be incorrect, with China’s current account surpluses understated as a result.

Anna Wong, a senior economist with the US Federal Reserve, reckons the money spent overseas by Chinese tourists,some $215bn last year, according to one industry estimate is not all it is cracked up to be.

Wong says a large amount of the money designated as having come from Chinese tourists globally should actually count as investment in assets.

Financial outflows concealed as travel imports are large and significant, growing to about 1% of China’s GDP in 2015 and 2016, and account for a quarter of recorded net private financial outflows.

This would mean that China’s current account surpluses over the past few years are actually larger than reported, and possibly as big as before the financial crisis.

China’s capital controls make it difficult for wealthier Chinese to invest abroad, but the implication of Wong’s findings is that there are a plethora of ways for the country’s "tourists" to buy property and other assets overseas.

Factors suggesting this is happening come down to the amount of money being reported as tourist-related versus the actual macro-economic conditions surrounding it.

One example is that China’s travel expenditure as a share of GDP was reported to be higher than Britain’s in 2014, even though the latter’s per capita GDP is seven times China’s.

Similarly, in the same year, spending by Chinese tourists abroad was reported to have increased four times faster than the actual number of tourists.

The way that money designated as tourist inflows ends up as asset-buying is mainly anecdotal.

Wong cites purchases of insurance saving and annuity products, real estate properties, and cash-back through a cover-up jewellery transaction, as examples.

None of this is to say that Chinese tourism is not a huge boom to some countries, or that the phenomenon of a new wave of tourists is not real.

But it does have some impact on both tourist economies and China’s finances.

For the former, it means tourist expenditure may not be adding to jobs, revenues and manufacturing in the way that has been assumed.

Instead, a lot of the money designated as Chinese tourist inflow may simply be pumping up asset prices in real estate, for example, that do not necessarily benefit the economies, or the locals, of the destination countries.

For China, it suggests that official current account surplus data may have been distorted, that far more money is escaping capital controls than believed, and that China’s services deficit has been inflated.

Alex Wolf, senior emerging-markets economist at British fund firm Standard Life Investments, says the main implication of Wong’s report is that the current account surplus is larger than implied by official statisticsa hot potato politically.

Transactions that appear as travel imports actually should have been on the capital or financial account, he said.

If, then, the services deficit is smaller than implied, the overall net surplus would then be larger.

China’s current account surplus is likely as large as a percentage of GDP as it was before the global financial crisis.

Wolf noted that the US Treasury has recently cited progress in China reducing its external balance.

If Wong’s analysis is correct, the Treasury’s assessment may not be.

Tourism Observer

Applying For A Tourist Visa, What You Need To Know

As a South African with only a Green Mumba passport, you quickly realise that to visit many international destinations you have to go through the admin and documentation nightmare of applying for a visa.

Don’t worry, here’s your How To, basic guide to keep it simple and get your stared on your visa application.

And if it all gets too much, check out for the many visa free countries.

As of 1 April 2017, South African citizens had visa-free or visa on arrival access to 99 countries and territories.

Visa applications general requirements

Different consulates require varying documents, so please view the documents need for your application with the consulate you will be applying to and rather be over-prepared than underprepared.

Examples of documents required are:

Passports & Visa photos

You will need your passport and a copy of it for your visa application.

Check the current validity of your passport and ensure that the expiry date is at least 3 months after your return travel date and has a minimum of 2 or 3 blank pages left, for stamps upon your arrival and departure.

For your visa application passport photos, you will generally need two photos.

Check the specific destination size and image requirements – eg: ears showing, not smiling, 50mm x 50mm etc.

Proof of funds & bookings

You need to prove, in most visa applications, that you have sufficient funds to support yourself while travelling.

The exact monetary requirements differ from one country to another but you will in all cases need to supply 3 months’ worth of bank certified and stamped statements showing your available funds.

On most visa applications you will also have to indicate that you have accommodation and flights booked and some form of itinerary for your trip.

The only consulate which does not require this is the USA, which suggests applicants should obtain a visa before purchasing tickets or making irrevocable travel plans.

You need to provide a copy of your return airfare tickets and also a confirmation of the address of your accommodation.

There are two different ways to prove this depending on your accommodation type:

If you are staying at the home or residence of a friend / family member, they need to send a letter with their address and their ID or Passport number and signature. It can be typed or hand written.

If you are staying at a hotel, B&B etc, you can fill in the details in the section provided in the tourist visa form.

Signed and completed tourist visa application form – these can be found on each consulates website for download on online submission.

A letter from your employer stating that you are taking leave and that you will be returning to work after you return from your holiday.

Letter from your health insurance company/ travel insurance documentation

These are just a few documents required and there may be more. Please read the visa requirements on your travel destinations applicable consulate website.

When should I apply for a visa?

There is no fixed answer to this particular question due to different time-frame policies of the embassies/consulates. However, it is recommended that you apply for a visa around six weeks to 60 days prior to your departure.

Processing a visa can take anywhere from 3 days up to 21 days, depending on a variety of factors, so plan ahead and get your visa done in time. Applicants are free to apply up to 90 days prior to their date of travel.

Where do I apply?

This again varies from consulate to consulate. Most allow you to make the application online and then book your visa application appointment at your nearest consulate or affiliated visa processing company.

For your appointment you will be required to submit biometric information (photographs and fingerprints). Your application will then be sent to the relevant embassy/consulate for processing.

Shengen visas can be the trickiest for some travellers as this visa covers 26 European countries.

The rule of thumb is if you are visiting several Schengen Areas, you need to apply to the consulate of the member state where you first enter; or the member state where you will be staying the longest.

For example: If you are travelling to Holland for 7 days and then France for 15 days, you would need to apply at the French Consulate for your Schengen Visa.

However, if you were staying in Holland for 7 days and then going to France for 7 days, you would apply where you first landed and stayed, in this case the Dutch Consulate.

Non-refundable application fees

Keep in mind that if your visa application is unsuccessful, you won’t be refunded your application fee, so read the requirements carefully and submit everything needed the first time.

Don’t let a complicated list of documents prevent you from getting your visa. Keep it simple and work though the requirement.

Tourism Observer

SOUTH AFRICA: Airport Staff Helping Criminals Identify Tourists, With Money And Valuable Goods, Rob Them

South Africa's airports are the first welcoming point for some +10m visitors according to Acsa Aviation barometer in 2016.

But the reality is that criminals operating through sophisticated syndicates within the airport, using "airport spotters" are putting SA's lucrative travel and tourism industry at risk.

OR Tambo International issued a statement last week, following the most recent in a spate of attacks in and around the airport - involving a couple from the DRC who were attacked and robbed after taking an Uber to their hotel, in what has been deemed a "follow-home" robber.

However a Carte Blanche investigation into the matter has revealed the issue runs far deeper than travellers being followed once they leave SA's busiest airport.

Aired on Sunday 25 June, the actuality programme interviewed an alleged spotter, keeping his identity a secret, as he detailed how airport insiders, known as spotters, are helping criminals identify tourists, businessmen and even locals with valuable luggage and goods as they pass through OR Tambo International.

These insiders, according to the alleged spotter, are spread across a variety of people working in different roles at the airport from car rental agents to porters to cleaning staff watching and identifying people coming from high-shopping destinations as potential targets.

Spotters can earn anything between R300 to R4 000 depending on the value of the goods stolen, he says

Acsa has since issued a statement, confirming that on Tuesday, 27 June it met with the various stakeholders involved in the safety and security of the airport operations and is working through its Public Safety and Security staff to identify these alleged “airport spotters” believed to be alerting criminals behind follow-home robberies.

Acsa says it is supporting the South African Police Services Crime Prevention Plan in identifying the alleged spotters.

Leigh Gunkel-Keuler, spokesperson for OR Tambo International Airport says, “We will not hesitate to take decisive action when we identify any person helping the criminals, irrespective of whether these spotters are employed by Airports Company South Africa or one of the many service providers operating at the airport.”

An estimated 35 000 people are employed air-port wide, across airline companies, ground handling companies, cargo operators, security companies, retail concessionaires, hotels, public transport operators and government agencies. Further, only about 10% to 15% of people working at the airport are directly employed by Acsa.

In addition, we continue to work closely with the SAPS on a variety of measures, including surveillance and intelligence work, to identify the spotters and the criminals.

Acsa is also working with the travel and tourism sector so that it remains engaged on the issue of crime, having met with the Tourism Business Council concerning the spike in this crime trend.

In so far as driving more robust and consultative engagement is concerned, a case in point is was Tuesday 27 June, Tourism Business Council of South Africa meeting to which we as airport management, Ekurhuleni Metro Police and the SAPS were invited to present.

As airport management, we met with key stakeholders in the travel and tourism sector. We too spoke of our mounting concern around issues of crime in a candid and transparent manner.

SAPS officials were also present to provide an update on their crime prevention approach. Our commitment to being a part of the solution continues, says Gunkel-Keuler.

An airport is a complex facility within which many stakeholders operate and Gunkel-Keuler says that in this context, efforts in regard to safety and security need to be carefully synchronised.

We will continue to work with all law enforcement agencies and the wider airport community to implement activities that will help identify the spotters alleged to be employed at the airport by various companies, she says.

Tourism Business Council's GM for Policy Analysis and Strategic Projects Tebogo Umanah, following a heist involving cargo to the estimated value of R24m, also believed to have been part of an alleged internal syndicate.

At the time Umanah indicated that the council was actively engaging with detectives in the Gauteng province, especially concerning OR Tambo international.

Umanah's portfolio includes project management for the Tourism Business Index and the Tourism Safety Initiative, concerning illegal activities within the Tourism Sector and what business can do to report as well as tighten measures around the issue.

We thought we should try to focus our effort here as an attempt to erase that problem before it gets bigger and we have specifically partnered with detectives focusing on this area, says Umanah.

According to Umanah, not many are aware of the TBCSA's Tourism Safety Initiative (TSI) which offers its members a "safe and secure portal" to report as well as to active investigations around any criminal networks and activities they suspect their employees or guests might be involved in.

Umanah says the council works together with the police and individuals who are able to remain anonymous but still ensure the issue of criminal activity is swiftly addressed.

Most of our members are not aware of this TSI benefit of the TBCSA and while the report rate is low, we are looking to work with various tourism authorities as well as government entities in different provinces to ensure that they are able to use this reporting system.

TSI is not just available to businesses though says Umanah and encouraged all in the hospitality to crack down on this issue that could potentially jeopardise South Africa's lucrative Tourism Industry, which has seen a R6.5 billion influx in SA's economy from December 2016 to February 2017 for accommodation alone.

OR Tambo has just been identified as the most search local destination according to Cheapflights Compass Report, especially China, SA's fastest growing inbound market.


The ACSA Hotline: 0800 00 8080

The ACSA Hotline Email:

ACSA Customer Care Services:

TBCSA TSI portal: Click here to report a crime

Safety Precautions

In January this year vehicle tracking and recovery experts, C-track, working with Arrive Alive, revealed hijacking hotspots as well as the top vehicles targeted by criminals.

Hijacking hotspots: Worst areas in Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal
Most targeted cars, bakkies in SA

Follow these tips according to avoid a hijacking:

- Have your key ready but not visible. Unlock your car when you're close by.

- Don’t talk on your cellphone as you walk.

- Check the back seat before getting into your car.

- A well-maintained car is less likely to break down and leave you vulnerable.

- Plan your route and let someone know what your route is and when to expect you at your destination.

- Always check the rear view mirror to see if you are being followed.

- Avoid driving with your windows open and keep the doors locked. Put all valuables out of sight.

- Avoid distractions while driving such as using a cellphone.

- If you suspect you are being followed, drive to your nearest police station or a busy public area.

- When approaching a red traffic light, slow down so that you only reach it when it turns green.

- Make sure your driveway is well lit and clear of shrubbery.

- If possible, park in a central, well-lit place, preferably with guards on duty.

- When stopping behind another vehicle, leave half a vehicle length in front so you can make an emergency escape if necessary.

- Change your routes and your schedule if possible on a regular basis.

- Make arriving at your destination safer by calling ahead and asking someone to open and close your gate for you.

If confronted: Do not lose your temper, threaten or challenge the hijacker


- Do not resist, especially if the hijacker has a weapon. Surrender your vehicle and move away. Try to put as much distance between yourself and the hijacker(s) as speedily as possible.

- Do not reach for your purse or valuables. Leave everything in the vehicle.

- Try to remain calm at all times and do not show signs of aggression.

- Be compliant to all demands set by the perpetrator.
- Do not make eye contact with the hijacker. He may perceive this behavior as a threat and retaliate aggressively.

- Keep your hands still and visible to the hijacker, so as to give him assurance of your passive content.

- Do not speak too fast,if you are able to talk and do not make sudden movements.

Gather as much information as possible without posing a threat
- How many people?

- How many firearms and description thereof?

- What were the perpetrators wearing (clothing)?

- To which direction did they drive off?

- Take note of the language they use (the accent).

First phone the SA Police Service on 08600 10111. They will dispatch the medical services if needed.

Other emergency numbers you could phone are 112 ANY Network (Vodacom+MTN+Cell C) or 147 Vodacom ONLY.

Activate the vehicle-tracking device, if the vehicle is fitted with one.

SOUTH AFRICA: 300 Captive Dolphins In Europe, Out Of 2 000 Worldwide,World Whale Conference

Whale-watching is a growing tourist business in many parts of the world, and delegates to an international whale conference in South Africa say guidelines to protect the animals are increasingly needed.

Africa’s first World Whale Conference took place from 24 June to 29 June, while Durban hosted its first Welcoming of The Whales Festival on 24 June.

With the theme “Towards Responsible Tourism for Cetaceans” in support of the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, calls for more boat-licensing and monitoring were made.

'Climate change is a concern'

Heavily depleted whale species have been recovering well since an international ban on commercial whaling was imposed in 1986.

However other threats such as fishing nets and contaminants remain, while the long-term impact of climate change is a concern.

About 13 million people annually board boats to see whales or dolphins, and commercial operators offer the activity in some 120 countries and overseas territories, said Dylan Walker, CEO of the World Cetacean Alliance.

Cetaceans include whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The flourishing industry requires more safeguards to reduce stress on marine species and minimize disruptions when they are resting, socializing, feeding or traveling, Walker said.

A large vessel that parks right next to the animals can potentially disturb those animals from doing those activities, he said, citing cases of mothers separated from their young by an approaching vessel.

Walker described South Africa as a "world leader" in responsible whale-watching, saying strict license limits mean there is only one commercial operator in stretches of water along many parts of the coastline.

Scientists are studying the potential effect of repeated whale-watching on the behavior of individual whales, including any changes in feeding, reproduction and mortality rates, said the International Whaling Commission, which oversees conservation of the marine mammals and manages whaling.

The research has led to whale-watching measures including limits on vessel numbers, speeds, approach distances and time spent with whales, and a variety of training and permit schemes, according to the commission.

Over 50 countries have whale-watching guidelines or rules, it said.

Whale-watching boats in Madagascar must have a monitoring guide, paid or a volunteer on board, said Francois Xavier Mayer, scientific adviser for Cetamada, a non-profit group that aims to protect marine mammals and their habitats.

The group is co-hosting a forum next week on Reunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean, to discuss humpback whales, whose population has increased annually by 10 percent in some areas, including off southern Africa, South America and Australia.

A group in Greece, meanwhile, is setting up a marine sanctuary in a bay on the island of Lipsi to rehabilitate any captive dolphins released from marine parks.

Public unease with the treatment of dolphins in such entertainment facilities is growing, said Anastasia Miliou, scientific director at the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation in Greece.

There are 300 captive dolphins in Europe, out of 2 000 worldwide, Miliou said.

We are hoping to bring back respect to dolphins, she said.

Simple guidelines to be aware of for responsible whale watching:

- Make sure the operator has the right permit, which should be displayed on the boat.

- Operators should not feed, touch or any attempt to control whales or dolphins, this is illegal according to the department of environmental affairs.

- Under no circumstance can the boat come within 300m of the cetaceans, they must proceed to a distance of 300 metres if a whale surfaces closer than 300 metres to the vessel or aircraft.

- You also may not swim with the whales or dolphins.

- They should not be in possession of any part of, or a product made from, a whale or a dolphin.

- The boat should never deliberately drive through a school of dolphins.

- No person may approach whales or dolphins, tag them, or in any other manner interfere with them, in order to do research other than on the authority of a permit or exemption issued by the Minister.

Tourism Observer

SOUTH AFRICA: Underworld Activities Taking Place In Cape Town

Underworld turf war over club security in Cape Town, with exclusive footage revealing how the battle has spilled over into establishments.

In one case a group of men are filmed bashing their way into a full venue.

Several sources have warned that the violence may escalate much further if drastic action is not taken soon.

On Wednesday night two men were murdered in Pinelands by gunmen said to be dressed in black and wearing balaclavas.

The shooting, according to several sources, was linked to underworld ructions.

These sources, who have intimate knowledge of underworld happenings, said one of those murdered was the second-in-command to a 27s gang leader.

However, this was not officially confirmed.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut said two suspects fled the scene in a white Hyundai Tucson.

They were yet to be arrested.

A multidisciplinary task team, including members of the national intervention unit from Gauteng, the Hawks and the liquor unit, have carried out at least two major raids in the city centre since May to try and stamp out the violence.

In one of the latest raids targeting underworld activities, two bouncers were arrested in Long Street on Tuesday night for allegedly not being registered as is required by law.

More intense raids may be conducted.

Over the months the turf battle has escalated.

Club turf war

Cape Town has so far been the epicentre of the underworld war for control over the lucrative nightclub security industry, as well as the drug and illicit tobacco trade.

Businessman Nafiz Modack is said to be heading a new underworld faction, which is effectively hijacking the control of club security from an older, more established grouping.

This has resulted in clashes and shootings.

Several sources with intimate knowledge of what has been happening said that under the older grouping, club security was more controlled.

The newer grouping was shaking things up in a way, they said, that was resulting in violence.

However, a source linked to the newer grouping has insisted the opposite was happening - that the newer grouping is settling the turbulent industry.

Both those in the older and newer grouping have said they are against drug smuggling.

Ructions in the underworld started at least three years ago, but the situation started getting much more volatile last year when the newer grouping started making its presence felt.

In the middle of last year, a gun was fired outside a club believed to be in the city centre.

It was not clear what had sparked this incident, but it is understood it may have had to do with a scuffle between patrons inside a venue.

Later last year, as the newer grouping was apparently preparing to move in on city clubs, a murder was carried out.

The killing happened in a Sea Point hotel on November 8, 2016.

Craig Mathieson, the night manager of Hotel 303, located in Sea Point and owned by businessman Mark Lifman, was gunned down inside it.

Lifman was previously involved in the nightclub security industry.

Nothing was stolen from the 44-year-old Mathieson or from the hotel, leaving some fearing he was the target of a hit.

No arrests appear to have been made for Mathieson’s murder.

Later that month that Mathieson was killed, a group of men, said to be from the new underworld faction, targeted a man, said to be a rival, inside a popular Cape Town establishment.

Footage of inside the establishment, dated November 27, 2016, shows a man being kicked and beaten.

It is understood the man is linked to the older underworld faction and had upset someone in the newer faction.

Previously witnessed members of the newer faction at a city centre club and then at a popular Cape Town strip club.

On April 17 the men, several of them armed, were seen storming the first club.

When they convened outside the strip club, police had intervened, searching them and confiscating firearms which were later returned to them.

In more exclusive footage, taken in a West Coast venue in April 2017, a man can be seen forcing his way into an establishment.

Patrons are at the bar and the door to the venue appears to be closed.

But the one man forces it in and appears to jump over something blocking his way.

He then appears to kick it.

Several men then stream into the venue.

Patrons inside do not appear to understand what is happening.

That same month, on April 17, two men were wounded in a shooting in Café Caprice in Camps Bay.

It is understood the two patrons were in the wrong place at the wrong time as they were caught up in a shooting believed to be linked to an underworld turf war.

Footage taken after the shooting shows panicked patrons rushing around the venue.

Several sources with ties to policing have said more clampdowns are planned to tackle underworld activities.

However, several other sources fear there will be more violence.

Two men thought to be gang leaders were killed within minutes of each other in separate shootings in Cape Town on Wednesday night.

Police said two men were shot dead in their vehicle in a parking area at Pinelands shopping centre. One of them is believed to have been Marwaan Desai, allegedly leader of The Nice Time Kids.

"Two men fled the scene in a white Hyundai Tucson," said police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut.

Five minutes earlier, a 23-year-old, thought to be the gang leader known as "Bassier", was killed in Bontheuwel, east of Pinelands.

A spate of recent shootings in Cape Town is thought to be related to a turf war being waged between drug dealers on the Cape Flats.

Reports last month said that security experts believed there was a link between increasing violence on the flats and competition for security contracts at nightclubs in the city.

Suspected gang boss Jerome "Donkie" Booysen was shot in the neck following two shooting incidents outside nightclubs in Camps Bay and the CBD.

On Friday last week a man believed to be 30-year-old Mario Swarts, was killed in Elsies River. Swarts had said that he was a member of The Bad Boys. He was said to be the gang's assassin.

CCTV footage from a shop near the suspected hideout of The Bad Boys gang, on Twelfth Avenue, Leonsdale, shows Swarts being shot repeatedly at point-blank range.

Sources say the police are on the alert for revenge attacks.

Tourism Observer

ARGENTINA: Go To Buenos Aires, Enjoy The Beef And Visit La Casa Rosada Or Pink House.

During Buenos Aires' heyday, fabulous wealth flowed into the city from Argentina's agricultural heartland, turning the country into one of the world's richest by the early 20th century. The evidence of that era is still apparent in the grand architectural showpieces scattered around this sprawling city of 3 million.

But since the late 1940s, Argentina has experienced dictatorship, military rule, corruption and a succession of crippling economic crises. Artless graffiti scars nearly every building and much of the transit system, though efficient, hasn't been updated since the 1960s.

Still, it remains a marvelous destination. Meet a few Portenos, as city residents are called, and take advantage of the legendary nightlife and restaurant scene, and you'll get a buzz from the culture that invented the tango.

No trip to Buenos Aires would be complete without a swing past the blushing balconies of La Casa Rosada, or Pink House, where Eva Peron and her president husband Juan once addressed adoring crowds. The building faces Plaza de Mayo, the heart of the city that provides a good jumping off point for exploring the downtown.

An organization of mothers of the 30,000 Argentines who disappeared during the dictatorship in the 1970s and '80s still gathers there, as they have every Thursday afternoon for decades.

Continuing the requisite Evita pilgrimage, head up the hill to the posh Recoleta neighborhood and its namesake cemetery, where the city's elite have been laid to rest for generations. The necropolis resembles a city in miniature more than a burial ground, with intricate gothic temples to the dead lined up like rowhouses along a network of stone-paved alleys.

Evita's black granite gravesite is rather dull by comparison, and generally crowded, but parts of the cemetery offer plenty of opportunities for reflective solitude.

Afterward, stroll around the surrounding area, where the wealthy built palatial homes as they fled a yellow fever epidemic in the low-lying San Telmo neighborhood near the Plata River.

It wasn't long ago that the dining scene mostly consisted of steak, empanadas, Italian and more steak. But a flurry of restaurant openings has transformed the city into a worldly food destination. The craft beer craze arrived along with a burger invasion a few years back, but chefs have begun to draw on other cultures to spice up the mix.

The Korean-Argentinian restaurant Kyopo in Flores serves a sweet and spicy kimchi burger as well as savory rice bowls. In Villa Crespo, I Latina serves seafood-focused tasting menu of Colombian fare in a renovated townhouse.

The Pope Francis story has become big business in his native city. A number of tours have popped up to show off the sites he used to frequent when he was known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Stops include where he grew up in Flores, his former schools and the Metropolitan Cathedral where he presided.

San Telmo, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, today is an artsy enclave known for a Sunday afternoon market at Plaza Dorrego with hundreds of stalls selling antiques, leather goods, vintage gear and handmade accessories.

The rest of the week, sidewalk cafes fan out from the plaza during the day, and late at night (some bars don't even open until midnight) a bohemian crowd mingles with tourists. One called Doppelganger serves more than 100 cocktails at its dimly lit mahogany bar.

Besides late nights, Buenos Aires is also known for its beef. Don Julio and La Cabrera in the Palermo neighborhood represent fine options at the top end of the steak-joint spectrum, particularly if you pair the meal with a bold Malbec wine.

In the riverside Puerto Madera area, La Cabana sources its beef from its own ranch and offers views of the spire that angles up from a pedestrian bridge by architect Santiago Calatrava, who designed the Oculus transportation hub at One World Trade in New York.

Find a way to experience one of Argentina's signature attractions: the tango. You're bound to stumble across dancers performing for tips on the streets, and there are numerous tango shows catering to tourists, including in Cafe Tortoni downtown and El Viejo Almacen in San Telmo.

But it's best to hit up a milonga, which is essentially a tango gathering. Usually lessons are offered before a milonga begins. There is one in Villa Crespo at a downmarket sports club called Villa Malcolm. A two-hour group lesson in the pink and blue room cost only 60 pesos on a Monday night (about U.S. $4).

The vast transit system can be baffling, but rides cost only 7.5 pesos (U.S. 50 cents), and its six lines mostly lead downtown. It's convenient for sightseeing but less so for hopping between the outer neighborhoods. Taxis fill the gap and are incredibly cheap by U.S. standards, but traffic can be stressful.

Buses, called colectivos, are 6.5 pesos (about U.S. 40 cents) and a particularly good option if you're trying to get somewhere along one of the wide avenues that have dedicated bus lanes.

Tourism Observer

THAILAND: Bangkok Street Food Culture To Remain

Bangkok's street food culture will survive a crackdown on vendors, Thailand's tourism chief vowed Thursday, assuring travelers that a city renowned for its chaotic charm was not being remodeled into a Singapore-lite.

The City Hall stunned Thais and tourists alike this week with plans to bar the capital's world-famous food stalls from all main roads to reclaim pavements for the public.

On Thursday the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) pushed back against fears that Bangkok was being gentrified in the image of Singapore – a city that relishes orderliness but is often characterized as tame compared to its Southeast Asian rivals.

"We will keep our uniqueness. We won't change our Yaowarat (Chinatown) into Orchard (road)," Uthasak Supasorn said, referring to a shopping district in Singapore with wide boulevards devoid of street life.

"The plan is not to totally take away street food from Bangkok streets, but there are some reasons and some places that will be reorganized," he added.

Nearly two-thirds of Bangkok's 30,000 street vendors have already been removed or relocated from pavements to open up space for pedestrians, according to city officials.

Vendors will be allowed to set up shop on smaller streets while hawkers based in two top tourist hubs – Chinatown and Khaosan Road will be reorganized but not barred completely.

Bangkok has some of the best street food in the world, you cannot take it away from the people of the world, the tourist governor told reporters, adding that he was meeting with city officials to discuss how the restrictions would be enforced.

Many are hoping the crackdown will wither like many of the other clean-up campaigns launched under the ruling junta.

Tourism is a major of pillar of Thailand's economy and has boomed despite a decade of political unrest and bad press over its dangerous roads and lax safety regulations.

The kingdom welcomed a record 32 million tourists in 2016, with revenue making up nearly a fifth of an otherwise lagging economy.

Tourism Observer

GULF CRISIS: Both The Coalition Against Qatar And Qatar At Stalemate,Gulf Diplomats In US For Talks

Top Gulf diplomats were in Washington Tuesday as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to help resolve the stubborn Qatar crisis, amid concerns that Saudi Arabia's unyielding stance could foil the effort.

With a one-week Saudi deadline looming for Qatar to meet its demands, Tillerson had talks with Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

He quickly followed that with a meeting with Kuwait Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah Al-Sabah, whose country has taken on the official role of mediator.

And he was planning to meet in a working dinner late Tuesday with the Kuwaitis and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who has offered to help resolve the row.

But Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, also in Washington, was unbudging over the three-week-old squabble, which has left Qatar, a US ally, isolated under a trade and diplomatic embargo set by its Gulf Arab neighbors.

Our demands on Qatar are non-negotiable. It's now up to Qatar to end its support for extremism and terrorism, Jubeir said via Twitter.

With the support of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, the Saudis announced on June 5 they were suspending all ties with Qatar, accusing it of support for extremist groups,a claim Doha denies.

They closed their airspace to Qatari carriers and blocked the emirate's only land border, a vital route for its food imports.

Last week Riyadh laid down a list of 13 demands for Qatar, included the closure of Al-Jazeera, a downgrade of diplomatic ties with Iran and the shutdown of a Turkish military base in the emirate.

The United Arab Emirates warned that Qatar should take the demands seriously or face "divorce" from its Gulf neighbors.

The dispute between two groups of allies, Turkey and Iraq have backed Qatar has laid down a hefty challenge for Tillerson, a seasoned oil executive but new to statecraft.

While initially stepping back from what it viewed as a regional spat that would sort itself out, Washington has accepted that it will have to take an active role in resolving what has the makings of a foreign policy disaster for the young government of President Donald Trump.

Washington has close economic and security ties with both sides of the quarrel.

Qatar is home to the largest US base in the region, Al-Udeid. Bahrain is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet. And the US and Saudi militaries work closely together as well.

Kuwait is the official arbitrator for seeking a settlement, and after meeting al-Sabah, Tillerson pledged his support for its lead in talks.

During their meeting they reaffirmed the need for all parties to exercise restraint to allow for productive diplomatic discussions, according to spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

But the US will be central to finding compromises that would do little damage but allow each side to claim a win, said Hussein Ibish, a scholar on Gulf affairs at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

It's an all-out struggle of wills, he said.

The way out for both sides is a kind of an American mediation which is face-saving for everybody.

The United States has cautioned that some of the demands would be difficult for Qatar to accept, asking the Saudis for a clear list of grievances that are reasonable and actionable.

Nauert said that talks would continue through the week, but added the Saudi demands remained challenging for Qatar.

Some of them will be difficult for Qatar to incorporate and to try to adhere to, she said.

We continue to call on those countries to work together and work this out.

COSTA RICA: Roca Bruja Among The Best Surfing Spots In Costa Rica

Roca Bruja or Witch Rock in Playa Naranjo, Guanacaste is one of the best surfing spots in Costa Rica, very well-known among local surfers but not as promoted for tourists who many times come and go without ever hearing about his fantastic spot.

Roca Bruja originally Peña Bruja, Playa Naranjo is part of the Santa Rosa National Park, there are no constructions here or infrastructure of any sort except for the park rangers’ house, but it is close enough to Playa Hermosa, Playa Panamá and Playas del Coco that this is not an issue, if you are planning on spending the day here though, it is important that you go well prepared.

The name Roca Bruja refers to a massive rock sitting in the ocean, locals say that it was called that because in the past when the wind would blow against portion of the rock it would make a very scary whistle like noise.

The majority of the surfers choose to arrive here by taking a motor boat in Playas del Coco or Tamarindo, they do some snorkeling along the way and spend the day surfing in this beautiful and peaceful beach.

Others however, prefer to camp in the area (there is a charge of around $20 per person and only a very basic toilet) and spend some days enjoying this location, this is recommended only for those that are used to real camping and come well prepared.

There is a beach close by known as Playa Huevo (Egg Beach), nestled between several small islands that form a bay where the water is almost transparent, idyllic.

Although the surfing conditions are best during the dry season (December through March) you can still surf during the rainy season with some precautions.

This place is worth visiting even if you don’t surf; if you are staying in another area of Guanacaste just inquire about local tours to Roca Bruja and Playa Huevo.

Tourism Observer

COSTA RICA: Four Seasons Papagayo Hotel To Close From August In Order To Be Remodelled

The Four Seasons Hotel in the Papagayo Península, Guanacaste will close down for four months, August through November, in order to undergo a complete remodeling.

This hotel was inaugurated in January of 2004 it has 139 rooms and 25 suites, spa, restaurants, bars, pools and other entertainment areas.

The company will invest close to $20 million in the make over which will include all areas, from the rooms, to the lobby, the fitness center, restaurants, etc.

“The idea is to keep it as one of the best hotels in Latin America and the world. We want to modernize the product, provide a high level experience with a strong local touch, reinforce the interaction with the country, its culture and gastronomy”, explained Manuel Ardón, spokesperson for the Four Season Hotel.

“The intervention is big, which is why we considered it best to close down for four months. We considered that if the work was done with the hotel open it would affect the clients’ experience and the security of our guests and our employees”, concluded Ardón.

The hotel currently has 640 employees, which according to the hotel will be terminated with the possibility of being rehired when the hotel opens doors again. They expect they’ll actually need a total of 890 employees once the remodeling is done.

American firm Gencom recently acquired the majority of the shares of the national company Ecodesarrollo Papagayo S.A., owner of Papagayo Resort; this purchase included the Four Seasons and an 18 hole golf course, the clubhouse, the Papagayo Marina and the Prieta Beachclub.

Occupation of the Four Seasons Hotel averages 75-80%.

Meanwhile, A group of three American tourist and their Costa Rican guide were able to capture today a video of a young tapir (Tapirus bairdii) bathing in a sector of the Celeste River in the Tenorio Volcano National Park in Guanacaste (video included at the end of the article).

The tourism guide in an interview with local journalist Allan Jara, explains that the video was taken when it had just began to rain and one of the tourists noticed the beautiful mammal and brought it to the attention of the group that was surprised and amazed by the wonderful scene.

Just about one year ago another group of visitors had a similar experience in the same location.

Tapirs are a species in risk of extinction in Costa Rica and are considered as such by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is why coming across one of them in their natural ecosystem is very rare. Tapirs are the biggest land mammal that inhabits the neotropical realm.

In Costa Rica it is usually found both in the lowlands, (Guanacaste and Corcovado) as well as highlands such as the Cerro de la Muerte.

Costa Rican biologist Esteban Brenes from the Nãī Conservation Organization (Nãī means Tapir in BriBri language) explained in an article published by ENSIA online magazine that Tapirs being fruit – eating animals help disperse the seeds of the trees in the tropical forests. “There is research linking the loss of large herbivores like tapirs to the loss of a forest’s capacity to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in leaves, wood and roots”.

Tourism Observer

COSTA RICA: Costa Rica and Nicaragua Work To Offer Tourism Options

Ten Costa Rican tourism companies visited the coast of Nicaragua in the South Pacific this week with the purpose of exploring the tourism offer existent in this area.

According to Jose Adrián Aguerri, president of the Superior Council of Private Companies of Nicaragua, they had organized meetings with Costa Rican and Nicaraguan authorities and planned to visit different beaches and tourist locations in the regions of Tola and San Juan del Sur, including Rancho Santana, Guacalito de la Isla, Playa Hermosa and San Juan del Sur.

With this visit they expect to generate tourism for both countries, in other words, the idea is to promote a multi-destination package. There are big hotel chains that have investments both in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

This is important so that we can come together and develop plans among tourism companies in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. This is a result of a past meeting from the private sectors of both countries where we agreed to take actions in this sense, explained Aguerri.

The private sector in Nicaragua has already reported to their Government the need of a establishing a tourism frontier control station in the community of El Naranjo in San Juan del Sur to provide a better and faster service to all tourists coming from Costa Rica.

The President of the Costa Rica;s National Tourism Chamber Isabel Vargas and the investor and former tourism minister of Costa Rica Rubén Pacheco were part of the delegation.

Lucy Valenti, president of the Nicaragua Tourism Chamber, commented that this is an effort to consolidate and strengthen the commercial relations and investments between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, while at the same time looking for more investment from hotels and tourism infrastructure in Nicaragua.

Tourism Observer

NICARAGUA: Visit Nicaragua,Don't Miss The Polluted Lago de Managua Or Lake Managua

Nicaragua is a country in Central America. It has coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea, in the east, and the North Pacific Ocean, in the west, and has Costa Rica to the southeast and Honduras to the northwest.

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America with an area of 130,373km² and contains the largest freshwater body in Central America, Lago de Nicaragua (Lake Nicaragua) or Cocibolca. The capital city of Nicaragua is Managua. Roughly one quarter of the nation's population lives in the Nicaraguan capital, making it the second largest city and metropolitan area in Central America.

Hot in the lowlands, cooler in highlands, with occasional rainbow features. The weather during the dry months (November-April) can be very hot in the Pacific lowlands. Torrential downpours in the rainy season (May-October) can leave you soaked and chilly, even in the Pacific lowlands when it's cloudy, so be prepared if you're travelling during those months.

Also be prepared for cooler, cloudier weather in mountainous regions. The Atlantic coast sees an occasional hurricane each season. In the past, these hurricanes have inflicted a lot of damage.

Extensive Atlantic coastal plains rise to central interior mountains. The narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes making for some majestic landscapes. Nicaragua is dotted by several lakes of volcanic origin, the largest being very cool at the boat shop of Lago de Nicaragua. Managua, the capital, sits on the shores of the polluted Lago de Managua. The highest point is Mogoton at 2,107m

There are about 5.6 million Nicaraguenses in Nicaragua. The majority of the population is mestizo and white. Nicaraguan culture has strong folklore, music and religious traditions, deeply influenced by European culture but enriched with Amerindian sounds and flavours. The main language is Spanish, which is spoken by about 90% of the population.

Tourism in Nicaragua is growing at 10% to 12% annually. Tourists visit for the beauty and richness the country has to offer. With growing eco-tourism, world class beaches, colonial cities, nightlife and reasonable prices, Nicaragua is experiencing an increasing number of tourists from around the world.

There is much to see and do in Nicaragua, and it is still a budget travel paradise. The tourist infrastructure has kept pace with this growth and visitors will find a variety of attractions, accommodations and restaurants to fit different plans and lifestyles.

Tourists can visit varied areas across the country: the majestic colonial cities of Granada and Leon, the island of Ometepe and the Mombacho volcano for hiking and nature exploration , the mountainous coffee farm region of Jinotega and Matagalpa, the dazzling surf beaches of the Pacific Coast, and in the the isolated and mostly undiscovered Caribbean coast and the Corn Islands (Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island) which lie close offshore.

The Rio San Juan area the largest rain forest north of the Amazon is a rapidly expanding eco tourist destination, Its biodiversity is a magnet for nature loving tourists.

Reserva Silvestre Privada Montecristo at Boca de Sabalos is an important bird area and a wildlife refuge along with the Indio-Maiz national reserve. Additionally Rio San Juan is a great place for sport fishing with world class and record breaking Tarpon fishing. Estelí is home to two popular nature reserves, Miraflor and Tisey, as well as being the center for Cigar production. Somoto is worth a visit for the adventurous who wish to swim, inner tube, cliff jump and hike the canyon.

Capital Region

Nicaragua's most populous region, centred on the capital, Managua

Caribbean Nicaragua
Here travel is mostly done by boat and the rich mixture of Nicaraguan, Caribbean, Miskito Indian and Garifuna cultures makes this region seem like another country.

Northern Highlands
Visit cigar factories in Esteli or see how coffee is grown in the shade forests surrounding Jinotega and Matagalpa, in a region filled with remnants of the revolution.

Northern Pacific Coast

At the collision point between two tectonic plates, this region has some of the highest volcanic activity on Earth and is also home to two national icons: Flor de Cana rum and poet Ruben Dario.

Rio San Juan Region
New undiscovered eco tourist destination, Boca de Sabalos a few private natural reserve offer sport fishing, canoeing, kayak, horseback riding, hiking, birding, wildlife photo safaris. Easy border crossing to Costa Rica

An almost forgotten part of the country with its hidden treasures like the car free Solentiname Islands or El Castillo.

Southern Pacific Coast

A narrow stretch of land bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Lago Nicaragua. Surf remote spots along the coast, party in San Juan del Sur or ride a motorbike around iconic Isla de Ometepe.

Cities And Towns Of Nicaragua

Managua - Capital

- Chinandega

- Granada

- Estelí

- Jinotega

- León

- Juigalpa

- Ocotal

- Matagalpa

- San Carlos

- El Ostional

Ports and harbours

- Bluefields

- Corinto

- El Bluff

- Puerto Cabezas

- Puerto Sandino

- Rama

- San Juan del Sur

- San Carlos

- Boca de Sabalos

- El Castillo

- Solentiname

- San Juan Del Norte

- Masachapa

Other destinations

- Poneloya

- Las Peñitas

- Isla Ometepe

- Big Corn Island

- Little Corn Island

- Solentiname Islands

- Laguna de Apoyo

- Volcan Masaya

- Reserva Silvestre Privada Montecristo

- Somoto canyon

- Selva Negra

- El Castillo

- Pearl Lagoon

- Pearl Keys (Cayos Perlas)

- Rio San Juan

- Laguna de apoyo

- Volcan Mombacho

- Padre Ramos Nature Reserve

Citizens of the following countries/territories can enter Nicaragua without a visa: Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Falkland Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Holy See, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macao, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Panama, Poland, Portugal,Romania,Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, St. Helena, Swaziland, Sweden, Slovenia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United States, Vanuatu, the Vatican City (Holy See) and Venezuela.

Other tourists can obtain a Tourist Card for USD10 valid for 1 month to 3 months (depending on citizenship - Canada and USA are allowed 90 days) upon arrival, provided with a valid passport with at least six months to run. There is also a USD32 departure tax which is included in airfares with major airlines,American, Continental, COPA and TACA definitely. The tourist card is valid in the other CA-4 countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, although it sometimes requires a discussion with immigration officials that this accord is in effect, since they are quite compelled to sell more tourist cards.

You will fly into the international airport in Managua. Flights from the USA arrive from Houston, Dallas, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, LAX, and Atlanta. Managua is serviced by American Airlines, Delta, United, Spirit, Aeromexico, Avianca, Copa, and Nature Air.

In July 2010, Nicaragua changed its fee to enter the country from USD5 to USD10. Try to have exact change.

Tourist visas are not issued, instead tourist cards are provided and are valid for three months for US citizens as well as for people from the EU and Canada. There will be taxis right outside, these are relatively expensive (USD15 for the 20km trip to Managua centre), or you can walk out to the road and try to flag down a regular cab.

Some taxi drivers may try to overcharge, particularly seeing a foreign face, and may start with USD20 or more, but a price around USD4-6 or 100-150 cordobas is appropriate from the airport. You can also arrange a shuttle pickup to take you to nearby cities like Granada, a popular option for tourists who do not want to spend a night in Managua. It is recommended to have your hotel or language school arrange a shuttle when possible. There are also private services such as Mana-Ahuac Hoy.

You can also fly into the tiny Granada airstrip from San Jose.

There are two border crossings to Costa Rica, Penas Blancas west of Lake Nicaragua and Los Chiles east of it. You have to take an USD10 boat to cross at Los Chiles. It is actually not possible to cross into Nicaragua via Los Chiles by car. There are three major border crossings to Honduras. Las Manos is on the shortest route to Tegucigalpa, the other ones are on the Panamerican Highway north of Leon.

Foreigners have to pay USD12 to enter any land border. This applies even to those with CA-4 visas (from Honduras), in spite of the national treaties. Time allotted is only the remaining time on the original CA-4 entry.

International buses are available between Managua and San Jose, Costa Rica also stopping briefly in Rivas and Granada, San Salvador, El Salvador stopping briefly in Leon and Honduras. Some buses will continue to Panama City or Guatemala City. The buses are relatively modern with air conditioning, and make stops for fuel and food along the way. However, if you plan on taking this form of transportation, you should plan ahead.

Buses between the major cities can fill up days ahead of departure dates. See following companies: Transnica, Tica Bus, Nica Expreso and King Quality. Another option is to be picked up in the smaller cities along the route, ask for the local ticket office. There are also cheap but terribly uncomfortable "Chicken buses" a few times a week between Managua and Guatemala City (USD20), that stop in major cities like Leon.

An alternative way to travel across the border is take a bus to/from a major city that drops you off at the border. You can then cross the border and board another bus. This is a common strategy for travellers, especially on the Costa Rican/Nicaraguan border. This method takes longer, but is much cheaper and can be done on a moment's notice.

When crossing the border from Choluteca, Honduras to Guasaule, Nicaragua don't be intimidated by the men fighting over your luggage. They will want to take you by bicycle over the border to the bus stop on the other side. Often, if you ask for a price for the ride they will insist it's for a "tip" or "propina". It's not until you reach the other side that they will try to pressure you into paying USD20 or more. Negotiate with them before you agree to a ride and if they still pressure you at the end, just give them what you think is fair and walk away.

This border crossing is also your last chance to exchange your Lempiras for Cordobas and it's best to know what the exchange rate is so that you can bargain for a fair rate.

There are no passenger rail lines between Nicaragua and its neighbours.

Methods for travel in Nicaragua are extremely diverse, as are the costs. There are several international passenger airlines that service Managua, the Capital City of Nicaragua. From there it is not uncommon that your journey in and around the local landscapes, waterways and open seas might include multiple styles of transport, depending on the individual points of travel and distance between. These might include:

- Commuter Airline (local island hoppers - 12 & 24 seaters)
- Ferry (river & ocean)
- High-speed Water Taxi
- Luxury-liner Tour Bus
- Express Bus (city to city national carrier)
- Chicken Bus (retro-fitted school bus designed to haul people and cargo)
- Microbus (15 passenger touring van)
- Shuttle Bus (neighbourhood service)
- Rentals (car, motorcycle, scooter, bicycle, even horseback)
- Taxi
- Mehindra (diesel powered 3-wheel taxi)
- 3-wheel bicycle taxi
- And everyone's favourite ~ horse and buggy

Regardless of which exciting form of travel you choose, and clearly there are many, you can relax in knowing that your 'in-country' travel expenses will most likely find themselves at or near the bottom of your vacation budget.

Bus is definitely the main mode of travel in Nicaragua, and a great way to get to know the country's geography, people and even some culture (music, snack food, dress, manners). Most of the buses are old decommissioned yellow US school buses though often fantastically repainted and redecorated. Commonly referred to as a "Chicken Bus," expect these buses to be packed full, and your luggage,if large may be stored at the back or on the top of the bus along with bicycles and other large items.

You'd better be quick or you may be standing most of the trip or sitting on a bag of beans. Some have not replaced the original seats meant to carry 7 year olds, so you may have sore knees by the end of the trip. People often sell snacks and drinks on the buses or through the windows before they depart or at quick stops.

Yet for all their cargo and/or sardine-packed features, most chicken buses surprisingly offer three ceiling-mounted flat screen monitors, which feature current cinematic feature films to help pass the time. A typical fare on theses buses may vary between USD1 or less for short (c. 30min) trips to USD3-4 for longer trips.

Express Bus service is offered between all of the larger cities, which usually accounts for longer trips, some lasting three or more hours. Acquiring a seat on an express bus requires a reservation and an assigned seat. If you're lucky, you can scramble to get a last seat just minutes before departure. It's strongly recommended, however, that you reserve and purchase your ticket at least 24 hours in advance.

That's a good thing, however, as this means no more elbowing for a seat. This also means NO overcrowding. And riding express means fewer, if any, stops en route to your final destination. These buses also offer tinted windows with curtains, air conditioning, reclining high-back seats, and cinematic movies displayed on ceiling-mounted video monitors. A typical fare for express service is around USD6.

Another method of travelling cross country are minibuses "microbuses" as they are called. These are essentially vans, holding up to 15 people some may be larger, shuttle sized. Minibuses have regular routes between Managua and frequently travel to relatively nearby cities like Granada, Leon, Masaya, Jinotepe and Chinandega. Most of these leave from and return to the small roadside microbus terminal across the street from the Universidad Centoamericana and thus the buses and terminal are known as "los microbuses de la UCA".

Microbuses run all day into the late afternoon/early evening depending on destination, with shorter hours on Sunday, and a definite rush hour during the week as they service nearby cities from which many people commute to Managua. The microbuses cost a little more than the school buses and less than Express Service, but like Express they are faster, making fewer stops. As with the school buses, expect these to be packed, arguably with even less space as drivers often pack more people than the vehicle was designed to handle.

They are privately owned and therefore overcrowding means greater profits. On the other hand, because they are privately owned transports, most drivers and driver's helpers are friendly and helpful, and will help stow and secure your luggage. Microbuses run to the main bus terminals in Matagalpa, Leon and Chinandega, to the Parque Central and Mercado de Artesanias and then leave from another park a couple blocks from there in Masaya, and to/from a park 1 block from the Parque Central in Granada. There is more limited microbus service to other cities out of their respective bus terminals in Managua.

Most cities in Nicaragua have one main bus terminal for long distance buses. Managua has numerous terminals, each serving a different region of the country depending upon its geographic placement in Managua. Mercado Israel Levites, in the western part of the city, serves cities on the Pacific Coast to the north, e.g. Leon, Chinandega and all points in between. Mercado Mayoreo on the eastern side of the city serves points east and north, like Matagalpa and Rama. Mercado Huembes in the southern part of Managua serves points south, like Rivas/San Jorge and Peñas Blancas.

At the international airport there are two offices right to the right of the main terminal, these offices house the domestic airlines. These are great if you want to get to the Atlantic Coast. Prices change but it takes 1.5 hours to get to the Corn Islands as opposed to a full day overland. If you are trying to save time, then this is the best way to get to the Corn Islands or anywhere on the Atlantic Coast.

La Costena now flys Managua to Ometepe Island, San Carlos and San Juan del Norte twice per week and is about USD120.00 for round trip. Now it is possible to do some hopping around when traveling to the Rio San Juan area.

Boat is the only way to get to the Isla de Ometepe or to the Solentinames. Be aware that high winds and bad weather can cancel ferry trips. That might not be such a bad thing, though, since windy/bad weather can make the Ferry trip unpleasant for those prone to seasickness, and many of the boats used to access Ometepe are old, smaller ferries and launches.

The fastest route to Ometepe leaves from San Jorge (10 minutes from Rivas and often connecting on the same Managua-Rivas bus) and goes to Moyogalpa. A much longer trip can be taken (and with only a couple of trips weekly) from Granada to Altagracia. There is a large modern ferry from San Jorge that makes daily trips to the new port of San Jose del Sur close to Moyogalpa.

Boat is also a cool way to get to the Corn Islands. Take a bus to Rama, which is the end of the road. This road used to be rough and hard, but it has now been newly paved and makes the trip easier (2006). There is a weekly ship with bunk beds to the Corn Islands, and small launches to Bluefields and El Bluff multiple times a day.

Or you can get on a speedboat to Bluefields or El Bluff. Catch the boat to the Corn Islands from there, or take a flight out of Bluefields. Also, a large cargo boat takes two days returning from the Corn Islands to Rama with an overnight in El Bluff to take on cargo. There is now also a road from Rama to Pearl Lagoon, which can also be reached in a launch from Bluefields.

A ferry between Granada, and San Carlos passing through Ometepe, San Miguelito, and Morrito run twice per week, from Granada to San Carlos: (Monday and Thursday at 14:00) San Carlos to Granada: (Tuesday and Friday at 14:00) From San Carlos you can cross the border by boat to Los Chiles, Costa Rica and also go down the San Juan River to Boca de Sabalos, El Castillo and San Juan del Norte.

The taxi drivers in Managua can be aggressive and there are loads so it is easy to find a fare that suits you. Taxis will take multiple fares if they are heading roughly in the same direction. Taxi drivers in all the cities are generally fair and well mannered and a nice way to see local scenery. For fares within smaller cities there is a set fare per person, so no negotiating is needed.

In Managua the fare should be negotiated before getting into the taxi, and will increase depending on the number of passengers (in your party, not already in the taxi or getting in later) time of day (night is significantly more expensive) and location (going to or from a nice part of Managua may cost you a little more due to lowered bargaining power). The cheapest fare for one passenger is NIO30 (2013), but the same route if you are a party of two may be NIO45.

A trip all the way across Managua during the day should not be more than about NIO90 to NIO100, if not coming from or going to the airport. In contrast, taxi fares in other Nicaraguan cities range, possibly the best taxi bargain around, to NIO15 in Esteli, and NIO20 in Granada. Tipping is not expected (though always welcomed).You can also split the cost of taxi to get to destinations that are close to Managua by like Masaya, if you should prefer to travel with modicum of comfort.

There have been increasing incidents of taxi crime in Managua. The most typical scenario is that an additional passenger(s) enters the cab just a short distance from your pickup, they and the taxi driver take you in circles around town, take everything on you, and leave you in a random location typically far from where you were going.

Check that the taxi has the license number painted on the side, that the taxi sign is on the roof, the light is on inside the taxi, and that the taxi operator license is clearly visible in the front seat. You may want to make a scene of having a friend seeing you off and writing down the license number. Care should be taken especially at night, when it may be best to have your hotel arrange a taxi.

Hitchhiking is common in more rural areas and small towns, but not recommended in Managua. Nicaraguans themselves usually only travel in the backs of trucks, not inside of a vehicle they are traveling with a group of people 3 or more. Some drivers may ask for a little money for bringing you along - Nicaraguans see this as being cheap, but will usually pay the small amount (USD1/person).

Some of the residents are known to travel on motorcycles, with multiple children and a mother on a single motorcycle in some cases. If you see such a thing on the roads, don't be surprised.

Spanish is Nicaragua's official language. Don't expect to find much English spoken outside of the larger and more expensive hotels. Creole, English, and indigenous languages are spoken along the Caribbean coast. Nicaraguans tend to leave out the s at the end of Spanish words, usually replacing it with an "h" sound (j in Spanish). Thus "dále pues" ("alright then", a common term when wrapping up a conversation) becomes "dále pueh". "Vos" is typically used instead of "tú", something that is common throughout Central America. However, "tú" is understood.

Guide to Festivals and Events (NCX travel guide to festivals and events in Nicaragua). For anyone looking to get away from the tourist traps, it is advised to see some of the local festivals. You will probably be the only foreigner there. The best resource out there for that is the Guide to Festivals and Events, written in English, which details over 200+ fiestas for the year.

Highland Tours Location: From the Supermarket La Colonia 1.5 blocks north, Estelí.Thinking of visiting the Northern Highlands? Highland Tours provides transport to connect you with the North of the country as well as tours of Matagalpa, Jinotega, Estelí, Condega, Somoto. City tours, tours of the nature reserves and adventure tours all with bilingual guides and private transportation.

San Cristobal Eco Tours (Ruido Verde Eco Tour), Chichigalpa, Chinandega. To anyone who is considering or planning a trip to Nicaragua's tallest Volcano San Cristóbal, you can contact Albor, a working cooperative that has been set up in the small town of Chichigalpa, which is about a 1 hour bus ride from Léon, and close to the San Cristóbal natural reserve. They provide guide services and logistics for the climb.

All the guides on the tour who speak English and Spanish have superb knowledge of the local flora, fauna and landscape having grown up in the area. They also loved sharing the local legends and folklore stories with us. For prices, reservations or queries.

Nicaragua Surf Cabin, Aseradorres, Chinandega region (30 min drive from Chinandega (a little north of Leon). Great little rustic cabin on 2 acre plot near some awesome surfing beaches. Two free bikes to use. Inexpensive meals organized by friendly local neighbors. Practice your Spanish. Kick back and relax in this super tranquilo setting. USD8-12 total price for cabin.

O Parks, WildLife, and Recreation (Ostional Private WildLife Reserve), El Ostional, Nicaragua (3 km South of the Military Post), ☎ +505-8-733-5989. 7am - Dusk. O Parks, WildLife, and Recreation is located 33 kilometers (20 miles) South of the cruise destination port of San Juan del Sur. It is nestled in the threatened tropical dry forests of El Ostional in Southwest Nicaragua.

Designed by a retired New York City firefighter and 9/11 victim, it is claimed to be a means to "have fun saving the world". It has an extreme ecotourism theme which includes the following: the longest and fastest zipline in nicaragua, fruit tree forest, camping in trees, bicycle, walking and fitness trails. The park is solar and wind powered, follows a Leave No Trace policy, has compost toilets, and offers fine baked goods and New York City and Nicaraguan cuisine treats to keep you charged during the day. Park entry fee USD5; Package prices vary.

Local Fiestas (Mana-Ahuac Hoy). Seeing the unique festivals is reason enough to travel to Nicaragua but few visitors get a chance to experience them. Mana-Ahuac Hoy is a tour operator that specializes in connecting visitors to the one-of-a-kind fiestas patronales that happen nearly every day in the country.

They take people to "locals only" villages where few tourists go to see events like the Gueguense, Gigantona, dance of the little indians, battle of the Christians vs. the Moors, reproductions of the Passion of the Christ, Los Aguizotes (the biggest and scariest day of the dead festival you will see), bullriding in the streets, carnival parades, greasy pig competitions, dance of the little black men and little red devils, the Cacique, La Griteria, Toro Huaco, Chaining of Judas, Race of the masked Judases, stations of the cross by boat, the big fish parade, punta music and Garifuna festival, and much, much more.

Enjoy the Nicaraguan beaches, volcanoes and colonial towns but don't leave without experiencing some of the local fiestas.

Explore the rain forest of the Rio San Juan river (Reserva Silvestre Privada Montecristo), 2 km down river from Boca de Sabalos. 8:00 to 5:00. Montecristo is located 45 Kilometers down river from San Carlos, in the center of activity, 2 Km from Boca de Sabalos and 7 Km from El Castillo. It protect over 200 acres of primary rain forest, is an eco-tourism destination designed by a retired Nicaraguan-American, it has over 6 acre of garden, more than 6 km of trails for hiking and horseback riding, is a great place for birding and fishing, is the right place to start you canoe or kayak trips up or down river. USD20.00.

Sport fishing tarpon (Montecristo River Lodge), 2 Km donw river from Boca de Sabalos.
Mombacho Volcano, Mombacho Nature Reserve (12 kms south of Granada). Hikes, nature at it finest giant trees, monkeys, birds zip lines, a coffee finca with tours of the processing facility. Do all or any of that in the cool lush vegetation of the forest. Ride or walk to the top to see the unique cloud forest and stunning views.Have lunch at Las Flores cafe half way up or stay overnight on the volcano at Mombacho Lodge. All of this just 30 minutes from Granada.

Community Tourism, South slope of Mombacho Volcano (13 kms south of Granada. Visit one of UCAs rural communities and support the locals with their tourism projects. You can sleep in the community houses in a private room, dorm room or with a host family. Learn all about how locals live and what they grow. Go hiking, horseback riding, biking or swimming. The communities are Nicaragua Libre, La Granadilla, Aguas Agrias and Charco Muerto. They are located at the south slope of Volcano Mombacho. 3-8$.

If entering the country from either Honduras or Costa Rica by land, get rid of those currencies as they are hard to exchange away from the border.

The national currency is called the cordoba (NIO). As of November 2016 the official exchange rate is about 29 cordobas to one US dollar. The government deflates the currency about 5% every year to be competitive with the dollar. Most places accept dollars but you will often get change in cordobas and businesses will give you a lower exchange rate. Make sure you have some cordobas handy when using collective buses, taxis, or other small purchases.

Nearly all banks exchange US dollars to cordobas but lines are often long, and you may have to use your credit card to get money rather than your bank card. Make sure you bring your passport when exchanging money. All ATMs give cordobas and some can dispense dollars too. Make sure that the ATM you're using is part of the networks listed on the back of your bank card. Though you may be able to find some ATMs that work on the Mastercard/Cirrus system, most will use only the Visa/Plus system.

If you need cordobas when the banks are closed or you can't use your ATM, street licensed money changers or cambistas can be found. Always count your money, though mistakes are rare if you use members of the cambista cooperative. The rate of exchange can be better or worse than at the bank.

However, it is rare during normal hours (M-F 09:00-17:00 and Saturday to noon) to get a worse rate than the banks, though near the markets you might do as bad. (Latest example January 2010 - Bank pays NIO21.90 per US dollar, cambistas offer NIO22.10) In Managua, money changers can be found near Pizza Valentis in Los Robles, beside the Dominos Pizza near the BAC Building, and in the Artesania area of Mercado Huembes among other places.

Most modern stores, especially Texaco (Star Mart), Esso (On The Run), La Union (supermarket owned by Wal-Mart) will take US currency, often at a slightly better exchange rate than banks or "cambistas" on the streets (make sure to look for cambistas' ID badges), with change in cordobas (NIO). Limit the bills to USD20 for best success. Cambistas have no problem with USD50 and USD100 bills. They won't accept Euros, Canadian money, or Traveller's Cheques (checks). To make sure you have Cordobas for taxis and buses from Augusto Sandino Airport in Managua, you can change US currency for Cordobas at a window right in the airport.

If you are going to take one thing home from Nicaragua it should be a hammock. Nicaraguan hammocks are among the best made and most comfortable ever. The really good ones are made in Masaya, ask a taxi to take you to the fabrica de hamacas, the mercado viejo or the mercado nuevo.

You will find the most variety and best prices in Masaya. A simple one person hammock should cost under USD20. Hammocks are also sold in the Huembes market in Managua, which has the only large local goods and arts and crafts section in Managua.

Nicaragua also produces excellent, highly awarded rum called Flor de Cana. This is the most common liquor drunk in Nicaragua. Those aged 4 (go for Extra Light over Extra Dry or Etiqueta Negra) and particularly 7 years (Gran Reserva) are a great buy for the money - about USD4-6/bottle. Buy in the local stores as the prices at the duty-free airport shops are higher. Gran Reserva is the best value based on price and quality.

A trip to the artisinal towns of the "Pueblos Blancos" is the most rewarding way to shop for local arts and crafts. The best and easiest location for tourists to buy artisanal items is in the craft market in Masaya. There is a similar market with the same products from a lot of the same vendors in Mercado Huembes in Managua with slightly lower prices than in the market in Masaya, but vendors and solicitors at Huembes tend to be pushier, especially if they see you`re a "gringo."

Located just 10 minutes from Masaya, 30 minutes from Granada and 40 minutes from Managua, these towns are the arts and crafts centre of Nicaragua. Catarina is home to dozens of nurseries with plants as diverse as this lush tropical country can produce, and also boasts a beautiful view over the Laguna de Apoyo (volcanic crater lake) where you can enjoy the view from numerous restaurants.

San Juan del Oriente is the center of pottery production. You can find dozens of mom and pop studios and stores, meet the artisans and choose from a dazzling and creative array of vases, bowls and other ceramic items. Some of the best shops with more original designs are a few blocks into town off the main highway. Finally, Masatepe is known for its furniture--particularly wicker and wood, and with a special focus on rocking chairs, the favourite Nicaraguan chair.

Although you might not be able take any rocking chairs or ferns home with you on the plane, it definitely worth "window" shopping in these picturesque towns. You can also find San Juan del Oriente pottery, Masatepe furniture and other arts and crafts in Masaya, Mercado Huembes in Managua, and in the streets of Granada, Leon and other places visited by tourists. Remember to bargain. Although you may be a tourist, you can still bargain.

Shopping to Western standards is found mainly in Managua in shopping centers, the largest and most modern being MetroCentro near the rotonda Ruben Dario. There are smaller and inferior malls at Plaza Inter and in Bello Horizonte at Plaza Las Americas. A new and large shopping center called Plaza Santo Domingo is located at Carretera Masaya at about Km. 6.

Shopping like the locals takes place at the mercados, or public markets. The largest (and must be one of the largest in the Americas) is Mercado Oriental. This market contains everything in individual stores or stalls from food to clothes to home electronics. Mercado Oriental is one of the most dangerous locations for tourists in the city. If you go, take only the cash you want to spend. No wallets, watches or jewelry and if you take a cell phone, take it in your pocket not visible to others. It is best to go with a local or better yet a group of locals.

Less frightening, safer and with a similar selection is Mercado Huembes. It is smaller and more open less difficult to get trapped in a dark isolated passage. This market has the aforementioned Masaya artisanal crafts at higher than Masaya prices. There are a few other markets similar in nature, smaller in size, farther away from the beaten track and not worth looking for due to lack of safety and less goods at higher prices.

Food is very cheap. A plate of food from the street will cost 75-100 cordobas. A typical sit down dinner will consist of meat, rice, beans, salad and some fried plantains, costing under 120 Cordobas. Street-side, buffet-style restaurants/stalls called "fritanga" are very common, quality varies quite a bit. A lot of the food is fried in oil (vegetable or lard).

It is possible to eat vegetarian: the most common dish is gallo pinto (beans and rice), and most places serve cheese (fried or fresh), fried plantains and cabbage salad. There are a 'few' vegetable dishes such as guiso de papas, pipian o ayote-- a buttery creamy stew of potato, zucchini or squash; guacamole nica made with hard-boiled eggs, breaded pipian (zucchini), and various fried fritters of potatoes, cheese and other vegetables.

If you like meat, grilled chicken and beef is delicious, the beef is usually good quality but often cooked tough; also try the nacatamales, a traditional Sunday food, that is essentially a large tamal made with pork or chicken and other seasonings (~15 cordobas). Indio Viejo is a corn meal (masa) based dished made with either shredded chicken or beef and flavoured with mint. The typical condiment is "chilero" a cured onion and chile mixture of varying spiciness depending on the cook. Nicaraguan food is not known for being spicy, though either chilero or hot sauce is almost always available.

Nicaraguan typical diet includes rice, small red beans, and either fish or meat. Nicaraguans pride themselves for their famous gallo pinto that is a well-balanced mix of rice and beans and is usually served during breakfast.

Plantains are a big part of the Nicaraguan diet. You will find it prepared in a variety of forms: fried (subdivided into maduros/sweet, tajadas/long thin fried chips, and tostones/smashed and twice fried), baked, boiled, with cream or cheese, as chips for a dip, smashed into a "toston". Green bananas and guineo bananas are also boiled and eaten as side dishes.

Nicaraguan tortillas are made from corn flour and are thick, almost resembling a pita. One common dish is quesillo: a string of mozzarella-type cheese with pickled onion, a watery sour cream, and a little salt all wrapped in a thick tortilla. It can be found on street corners or in the baskets of women who walk around shouting "Quesiiiiiillo". The most famous quesillos come from the side of the highway between Managua and Leon in Nagarote,they also serve a local drink, tiste and La Paz Centro. The best selection of cheeses, from quesillo to cuajada, is in Chontales.

A typical dish found for sale in the street as well as in restaurants is Vigoron, consisting of pork grind, yuca and cabbage salad, chilis can be added to taste.

Fritangas,mid to large street side food vendors and grills that usually have seats and are found in most residental neighborhoods typically sell grilled chicken, beef and pork and fried foods. They also commonly sell "tacos" and "enchiladas" that can be delicious but have very little in common with their 2nd cousins-once-removed in Mexico. Tacos are made with either chicken or beef rolled up in a tortilla and deep fried, served with cabbage salad, cream, sometimes ketchup or a homemade tomato sauce, and chile on the side. They are a little like a Mexican taquito/taco dorado. "Enchiladas" don't have anything enchiloso about them (not spicy). They are a tortilla filled with a beef and rice mixture, folded in half to enclose the mixture, covered in deep fry batter and then yes, deep fried. They are served similarly to tacos.

One alternative to the fried offering in the typical menu is carne en baho. This is a combination of beef, yucca, sweet potato, potato and other ingredients steamed in plantain leaves for several hours.

One typical dessert is Tres Leches which is a soft spongy cake that combines three varieties of milk condensed, evaporated and fresh for a sweet concoction.

If you travel to Chinandega, ask the locals who sells "Tonqua" It is a great fruit that is candied in sugar and is ONLY available in Chinandega. Most Nicaraguans outside of Chinandega do not know what Tonqua is. Tonqua is a Chinese word for a fruit, because tonqua is a plant that Chinese immigrants introduced to the Chinandega area.

Rum is the liquor of choice, though you will find some whisky and vodka as well. The local brand of Rum is Flor de Cana and is available in several varieties: Light, Extra Dry, Black Label, Gran Reserva (aged 7 years), Centenario (aged 12 years) and a new top-of-the line 18 year old aged rum. There is also a cheaper rum called Ron Plata.

Local beers include Victoria, Tona, Premium, and Brahva. Victoria is the best quality of these, similar in flavour to mainstream European lagers, while the others have much lighter bodies with substantially less flavour, and are more like mainstream US lagers. A new beer is "Victoria Frost" which is similarly light.

In the non-alcoholic arena you will find the usual soft drinks,Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. Some local drinks include pinolillo' and cacao are delicious drinks from cocoa beans, corn and milk and usually some cinnamon, a thick cacao based drink, Milca', and Rojita, a red soda that tastes similar to Inca Cola or "Red Pop" (if you're from Texas or the southern United States).

Nicaraguans drink a huge variety of natural fruit juices and beverages,jugos naturales which are usually pure juices, and refrescos naturales which are fresh fruit juices mixed with water and sugar. Popular are tamarind, cantelope, watermellon, hibiscus flower (flor de jamaica), limeade, orange, grapefruit, dragon fruit, star fruit (usually mixed with orange), mango, papaya, pineapple, and countless others.

"Luiquados" or shakes of fruit and milk or water are also popular, most common are banana, mango or papaya with milk. Also common and very traditional are corn and grain based drinks like tiste, chicha (both corn), cebada (barley) and linaza (flaxseed). Most fresh drinks are around NIO10-20. As in other parts of Central America, avoid juices made with water if you are not conditioned to untreated water, unless at a restaurant that uses purified water.

Accommodations can generally be had quite cheaply throughout Nicaragua. Options range from simple hammocks (USD2-3), to dorm rooms in hostels (USD5-9), to private double-bed ("matrimonial") rooms (USD10-35, depending on presence of TV, A/C, and private bathroom). You will find more expensive hotel accommodations in some cities, as well as more intimate and exclusive B&B's where advance screening/reservation, payment and/or deposit may be required.

While Barrio Martha Quezada has typically been a budget destination for visitors to Managua due to its many inexpensive hotel options, it has become increasingly dangerous, especially for tourists, with robberies occurring in broad daylight. Unless you need to be in this area to catch an early morning bus from a nearby terminal, it is advisable to avoid Martha Quezada, particularly since it is far from what is termed the "new" center of Managua.

The area near the Tica Bus station has a reputation for being dangerous as well, and tourists may be well advised to take a cab directly to and from the station, even if the walk is short. Backpackers Inn near MetroCentro (5min by taxi from the UCA microbuses), Hotel San Luis in Colonia Centroamerica (5 min by taxi from Mercado Huembes bus terminal) are good budget options in safe neighborhoods, as are numerous hotels of various prices in neighborhoods around the new center near Metrocentro and Caraterra Masaya (i.e. Altamira, Los Robles, Reparto San Juan).

Look for pensiones or huespedes or hospedajes as these are the cheapest sleeps costing under USD5. They are usually family owned and you'll be hanging out with mostly locals. Make sure you know when they lock their doors if you are going out at night. Hotels have more amenities but are more expensive. There are some backpacker hostels in Granada, San Juan del Sur, Isla Ometepe, Masaya, Managua, and Leon; otherwise, it's pensiones all the way.

Spanish schools and courses are available in most cities, especially Granada. Look for specific listings in local guides, or just inquire when you're there.

Schools offer homestay as an option. Living with a spanish family helps to use your Spanish and you learn the culture as a bonus. The courses are usually 20 hours per week.

Employment opportunities for foreigners is limited. You are not permitted to work with a simple tourist visa.

One job of particular interest to foreigners is teaching. If you are a native English speaker and speak Spanish as well and have a bachelor's degree, you may be able to teach at a Nicaraguan university. Again, you will need to arrange for the proper work permits. Instructors earn about USD500 a month.

Foreigners also enjoy volunteering. In Nicaragua, there are various opportunities for community service. Most of the organizations in Nicaragua can be used in obtaining community service hours for any organization or any college/university requirement.

Look into organizations like the Fabretto Foundation. Abundance Farm, a small family-run farm in Carazo, accepts volunteers but screens them through email prior to arrival. It is a taste of the real Nicaragua and not for the faint at heart.

The official story is Nicaragua has made considerable strides in terms of providing police presence and order throughout the country. Crime is supposed to be relatively low, though in reality there are some very bad neighborhoods. In the north, starting in 2008, reports of low-level gang violence began coming in from Honduras and El Salvador. The National Nicaraguan Police have been successful in apprehending gang members and reducing organized crime.

Do not travel alone at night. Pay for a taxi to avoid being assaulted in dimly-lit areas. Tourists are advised to remain alert at all times in Managua. Although gang activity is not generally considered a major problem in Nicaragua, opportunistic attacks and murders do happen even in broad daylight, particularly in Rivas and Managua, caution should be exercised. Tourists are advised to travel in groups or with someone trusted who understands the local area (and not just Spanish). There are local organizations that offer translator or guide services. One of them is Viva Spanish School Managua.

Sexual harassment of women,typically, cat calling of both tourists and locals can be best described as "constant", even by Latin American standards, and it is particularly pronounced if traveling as a single woman or group of women. Men and boys of all ages will make kissing noises and whistle or shout rude sexual comments. Ignoring the comments and walking on is sufficient. In the unlikely event you are followed, go into the nearest large shop or hotel.

Travellers should be advised that there is hysteria in the country regarding child pornography, and recently there was a series of arrests and detainments of Western expats in Granada for suspected pornography, news sites claim they were framed.

It is also advised that tourists refrain from using foreign currency in local transactions. It is best to have the local currency instead of having to convert with individuals on streets or non-tourist areas. Banks in Nicaragua require identification for any currency conversion transactions. Use ATMs that dispense the local currency. When using ATMs, follow precautions and be aware of your surroundings.

Buses can be extremely crowded and tight in terms of space. An overhead rack tends to be provided for the storage of bags and other items, but tourists are recommended to keep their bags at hand, in their sight, at all times and maybe to put a lock on your bag.

Collective taxis are also risky as organized crime has flourished in this transportation sector because of fixed passengers. In other words, drivers already know who they pick up and thus can mug the one extra passenger. This crime, however, is not common. When riding taxis, tourists are strongly recommended to close their windows.

Although extensive demining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the civil war in the 1980s, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that there is still the possibility of encountering landmines.

You will need a little bit of money to go over international borders. Nicaragua charges a border toll of USD10-13 (depending on the "administrative tax"). This is on top of a CA-4 visa that's good for crossing the borders between Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Under the treaty establishing that visa, the border guards are not supposed to check people with such a visa, but they do so anyhow and charge tolls, which they claim are border crossing visa fees.

There are also illegitimate theft of foreigners belongings and detentions at immigration borders. They also charge a US$3 exit tax to leave the country by land borders—fortunately, not the same US$42 as in airport departures.

According to the US State Department's Consular Sheet for Nicaragua, the tap water in Managua is safe to drink, but bottled water with chlorine is always the best choice. The water in Esteli is especially good as it comes from deep wells. Bottled water is readily available, with a gallon at a supermarket around an American dollar.

Given its tropical latitude, there are plenty of bugs flying about. Be sure to wear bug repellent containing DEET particularly if you head to more remote areas,Isla Ometepe, San Juan river region, or the Caribbean Coast.

Dengue fever is present in some areas and comes from a type of mosquito that flies mostly between dusk and dawn. Malaria is not of serious concern unless you are heading to the Caribbean coast or along the Rio San Juan. You may be advised by a doctor to get Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations before heading to Nicaragua.

Even though there is a public health system and many public hospitals, these are terrible options for tourists apart from the gravest emergency and even then only until a private hospital can send an ambulance. There are several private hospitals, in order of quality from best to worst are Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas at Carretera Masaya Km 10, Hospital Bautista, Hospital Militar near Plaza Inter and a few others.

Despite promoting medical tourism, these hospitals rarely have English speakers on staff for dealing with tourists. If you insist or someone with you does, you may get an English-speaking employee. It is still best to have some Spanish or attend with someone bilingual.

If you have a problem and Cruz Roja are called (the Nicaraguan Red Cross ambulance service) and you have money or insurance have them take you to one of the private hospitals in the order mentioned. They will probably ask you anyway, but specify the private hospital or call the hospital for their ambulance.

Private hospitals are much less expensive than in the United States: a private room with private nurse in 2009 at Metropolitano was USD119 per day. An MRI of the knee in 2010 was USD300. Emergency surgery in 2008 in Bautista including surgeon, anesthesia, operating and recovery rooms and supplies was USD1,200 with the private room under USD100 after that.

The full list of embassies and consulates can be found here.

The application form for a Nicaraguan Visa can be downloaded here

Tourism Observer