Sunday 30 December 2018

NICARAGUA: With Lowest Crime Rate In Latin America,Tourism Grows But Unrest Killing It

Tourism has become a source of great income for Nicaragua. Nicaragua, in particular, has struggled for years with wide-spread poverty. But recently its economy has had steady progress, thanks in part to tourism.

Nicaragua’s National Chamber of Tourism report shows that the country welcomed 1.5 million tourists last year, which generated more than 640 million US dollars, a welcome source of revenue in a country where close to a third of the population lives in poverty.

After agriculture, tourism is now Nicaragua's second pillar industry. Tourism in Nicaragua has grown considerably recently, and it is now the second largest industry in the nation. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has stated his intention to use tourism to combat poverty throughout the country.

The growth in tourism has positively affected the agricultural, commercial, and finance industries, as well as the construction industry. The results for Nicaragua's tourism-driven economy have been significant, with the nation welcoming one million tourists in a calendar year for the first time in its history in 2010.

In mid-2018, tourism in Nicaragua came to a virtual standstill due to the 2018 Nicaraguan protests.

During the Nicaraguan Revolution in the 1980s, Nicaragua was not regarded as a place to travel, which caused a decrease in tourism.

However, rapid expansion of the tourist industry over the last decade has made it the nation's second largest industry. Over the last 7 years tourism has grown about 70% nationwide with rates of 10%-16% annually.

Nicaragua is mostly famous for its landscapes, flora and fauna, wildlife, culture, beaches, lakes, and volcanoes. By 2010, the nation welcomed one million visitors—the most in its entire history for a calendar year.

Nicaragua's tourism industry in 2010 raked in approximately 360 million dollars for the nation's economy.

The country's main tourist attractions are beaches, scenic routes, the architecture of cities such as León and Granada, and most recently ecotourism and agritourism, particularly in Northern Nicaragua.

In 2013, more than 1.2 million tourists visited Nicaragua, representing an increase of nearly a third from 2009. Two-thirds of these tourists were from other Central American countries, 290,000 were from North America and 80,000 from Europe.

Of those that come for recreation, their principal activities include surfing, hiking volcanoes and getting to know the country's nature trails.

According to the Ministry of Tourism of Nicaragua (INTUR) the colonial city of Granada is the preferred spot for tourists. The city's central park, Parqué Colón, hosts many vendors of traditional foods and arts and crafts, and there are always several horse-drawn carriages ready to give thorough and affordable tours of the city.

Venturing outside of the city limits, one can explore the verdant islets of Granada by a relaxing guided boat ride or by kayak.

The islets also boast many luxurious hotels and arrangements for those that wish to take in the sunrise from the Mombacho Volcano, a common day destination for those interested in climbing into a cloud forest.

The Apoyo Lagoon is also a popular destination for those visiting Granada. Also, the cities of León, Masaya, Rivas and the likes of San Juan del Sur, San Juan River, Ometepe, Mombacho Volcano, and others are the main tourist attractions. Ecotourism and surfing also attract many tourists.

Another popular destination are the Corn Islands located about 70 km east off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua near Bluefields. They have been regarded as a tropical paradise.

Cruise ships have been docking in San Juan del Sur since January 2000 and average 50,000 tourists alone every year, some who partake in tours to nearby Lake Cocibolca and the colonial city of Granada.

Nicaragua was ranked with the lowest crime rate in Latin America by Interpol and many other sources, with only 12 crimes for every 100,000 citizens.

Nicaragua also holds the largest lake in Central America, about 700 species of birds, and unspoiled natural beauty. Despite all this, it is still the least visited country in the region. However, the lower number of tourists help Nicaragua keep low prices, and an off-the-beaten-track feel.

CECOCAFEN is an organization of coffee cooperatives in Northern Nicaragua that manage a rural and community-based tourism project, which has been developed with support from Lutheran World Relief.

Tourism allows farmers to receive new opportunities in alternative markets, harvest coffee and diversify their income. CECOCAFEN offers visitors the opportunity to visit a coffee farm, learn about coffee craftsmanship, and even to stay overnight on a coffee farm and explore with a community guide.

Eco-tourism aims to be ecologically and socially conscious; it focuses on local culture, wilderness, and adventure. Nicaragua's eco-tourism grows every year, as the country boasts a number of eco-tourist tours and perfect places for adventurers.

Nicaragua has three eco-regions, the Pacific, Central and Atlantic, which contain volcanoes, tropical rainforest and agricultural land.

Majority of ecolodges and other environmentally-focused touristic destinations are found on Ometepe Island, found in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, an hour's boat ride from Granada.

While some are foreign-owned, such as the tropical permaculture lodge at Finca El Zopilote, others are owned by local families, like the small but acclaimed Finca Samaria.

Nicaragua is home to 78 protected areas covering over 20% of its landmass, and is home to 7% of the world's biodiversity. This is more than Costa Rica, which is thought to hold more natural areas than Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is also home to Bosawas, located in Northern Nicaragua, which is the largest rainforest north of the Amazon in Brazil. It also holds the largest lake in Central America, Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua.

Lake Cocibolca attracts a fair number of tourists yearly, most of whom visit Ometepe, a large volcanic island formed by two volcanoes in the lake. Tourists may explore the flora and fauna found in the Charco Verde Nature Reserve.

Nicaragua's rich biodiversity also attracts many tourists to protected areas such as the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, which holds a higher number in species of trees, birds, and insects than all of Europe.

Nicaragua only has one international airport, the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport, located in Managua. A large expansion and renovation programme was undertaken between 2003-2006 to modernise the facilities.

Tourists from Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Ghana, Haiti, India, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, the Palestinian National Authority, Romania, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam and Yemen require a visa to enter Nicaragua.

Other tourists can obtain a Tourist Card for US$10 valid for 1 month upon arrival, provided with a valid passport with at least six months to run. There is also a US$32 departure tax, the tax is usually already included in a round-trip ticket.

Nicaragua is referred to as - the land of lakes and volcanoes - due to the number of its lagoons and lakes, and the chain of volcanoes that runs from the north to the south along the country's Pacific side.

Today, only 7 of the 50 volcanoes in Nicaragua are considered active. Many of these volcanoes offer some great possibilities for tourists with activities such as hiking, climbing, camping, and swimming in crater lakes.

Sand skiing has become a popular attraction at the Cerro Negro volcano in León. Both dormant and active volcanoes can be climbed. Some of the most visited volcanoes include the Masaya Volcano, Momotombo, Mombacho, Cosigüina and Ometepe's Maderas and Concepción.

The Masaya Volcano is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Nicaragua. It is one of 18 distinct volcanic centres that make up the Nicaraguan portion of the Central American Volcanic Belt (CAVF).

The Apoyo Lagoon was created by the eruption of the Apoyo Volcano about 23,000 years ago, which left a huge 7 km-wide crater that gradually filled with water.

It is surrounded by the old crater wall. The rim of the lagoon is lined with restaurants, many of which have kayaks available. Besides exploring the forest around it, many water sports are practiced in the lagoon, most notably kayaking.

Another popular attraction is the archipelago of 365 islands known as the Islets of Granada or Isletas de Granada. The islets were formed when the Mombacho volcano blew most of its cone into the lake, thereby creating the archipelago. The islets are popular with both locals and tourists.

The islets differ in size and have a community of about 1200 people, most of whom make their living as fishermen. Many visitors take boat rides along the islets, which are abundant with many different species of birds and fish.

Hundreds have been killed and thousands injured since a popular uprising against Nicaragua’s president began in April. Governments from Mexico City to Madrid have warned their citizens to steer clear.

But Nicaraguan authorities are now seeking to draw a line under the far-from-resolved crisis, urging tourists to pay their always beautiful nation a visit despite the ongoing bloodshed and repression.

The Nicaragua Siempre Linda or As beautiful as ever! PR campaign does not mention the turmoil that has been rocking Central American’s largest nation since the start of protests against Daniel Ortega nearly four months ago.

Instead, a 38-second commercial suggests holidaymakers – who have been steering clear of the country since the turmoil began – return to what are now almost entirely deserted tourist hot-spots.

Recommended destinations include the colonial town of Granada, which has been badly hit by the violence, and San Juan del Sur, a Pacific beach-town along Nicaragua’s stunning western coast.

Popular destinations you ought to visit

Department of Chinandega

Chinandega, Rum flor de Caña tour, Marina puesta del sol yacht club

Department of Estelí

Estelí, Mira Flor Nature Reserve

Department of Granada

Granada, Parque central, Islets of Granada

Department of Jinotega

Jinotega, El Jaguar Cloud Forest Reserve, Lake apanas, Reserve Naturals, Peña of Cross, Bosawás Biosphere Reserve.

Department of León

León, Ruins of León, El Fortin, Cerro Negro, Telica

Department of Managua

Managua, Montelimar Beach, Mercado Roberto Huembes, Metrocentro, Pharaoh's Casino, Galerias Santo Domingo Chocoyero-El Brujo Natural Reserve
Department of Masaya:

Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve, Masaya

Department of Matagalpa

Selva Negra Mountain Resort, Selva Negra Cloud Forest Reserve

North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region

Puerto Cabezas, Bosawás Biosphere Reserve

Department of Río San Juan

Solentiname Islands, El Castillo, San Carlos, Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge

Department of Rivas

San Juan del Sur, Iguana beach, Guacalito de la isla, Esmerald coast, Ometepe, Zapatera Island

South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region

Corn Islands, Bluefields, Laguna de Perlas, Indio Maíz Biological Reserve

Nicaragua’s political crisis has ravaged what had been a blossoming tourist industry, leaving an estimated 70,000 people unemployed and forcing 80% of small hotels and some of the country’s chicest resorts to close. Total losses so far are estimated at $230m.

Even so, Lucy Valenti, the head of Nicaragua’s chamber of tourism, said her members believed the PR blitz was a mistake.

We all believe Nicaragua is a beautiful country and has everything to offer as a tourism destination. But unfortunately this crisis has come and things have changed for us as an industry.

Valenti said she believed the government was trying to rescue a lucrative industry shattered by the unrest. But it was inappropriate and dishonest to claim tourists could safely return to Nicaragua while heavily-armed pro-Ortega militias remained on the streets and it was unsafe to move from town to town.

While authorities are urging tourists to return to the country, thousands of Nicaraguans are heading in the other direction, fleeing to countries including Costa Rica and the United States in an attempt to outrun the violence or arrest.

Tourism Observer

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