Tourism booming in Nicaragua
News from Nicaragua | Friday, 12 January 2018 |
Travel writer Russell Maddicks explains the dramatic growth in tourism and how to ensure it benefits local people.
It was only a matter of time before the millions of tourists who visit Latin America annually, woke up to the wonders of Nicaragua. For years prized as Central America’s “best kept secret”, the country first came to the world’s attention in the 1980s - courtesy of Ronald Reagan – when tens of thousands of brigadistas and other solidarity activists visited Nicaragua to support the Sandinista Revolution in the face of attempts by the US to destroy it.
After returning home, having taken part in literacy campaigns, environmental projects, and coffee picking, they formed part of an international solidarity movement against the brutal US war on Nicaragua. During the period the Central American nation was regarded as a war zone where few tourists would venture.
In the 1990s surfers begun favouring Nicaragua for its Pacific breaks, year-round surf and beaches. Subsequently it was the backpackers who got the word out that here was a country with all the attractions  of neighbouring Costa Rica at a fraction of the cost. It also helps Nicaragua being consistently rated one of the safest countries in Latin America.
Nicaragua is gaining momentum as the ‘next big thing’ in travel, with tourism being the fastest growing sector of the national economy. 2016 saw 1.5m visitors, which generated US$720 million and created 100,000 jobs.
In addition to all that Nicaragua has to offer, the rapid growth is due to its reputation as a safe, secure country coupled with the government’s investment in infrastructure improvements over the past decade. All over the country rutted dirt tracks that were once washed out by rainy-season downpours are being replaced with smooth roads. This makes it faster to travel around the tourist circuit of Granada, León and San Juan del Sur, but also to get off the beaten track by visiting national parks, rural villages and co-operatives that run eco-tourism initiatives.
Nicaragua’s National Tourist Institute (INTUR) wants to ensure that the benefits of this tourist boom reach ordinary Nicaraguans by promoting folk fiestas, food fairs, local crafts, and co-operatives. INTUR helps local initiatives by equipping small start-ups and training local guides. Tourism, when properly managed, has the potential to bring great benefits to some of the least developed areas of the country. The country has been recognised by UNESCO for its emphasis on cultural tourism.
Opportunities abound for travellers committed to protecting the environment, respecting local people and ensuring the money they spend benefits local communities: homestays in national parks like Miraflor above Estelí, visits to coffee co-operatives in Matagalpa and Jinotega, volunteering opportunities, and visits to towns and communities with twinning links in the UK.
If you want to support Nicaragua, visit it: get involved, meet the people, learn the language, soak up the history, enjoy the delicious food, joyous music, vibrant culture, and find out why Nicaragua is the safest country in the region with a growing economy. Discover Nicaragua for yourself and get involved with the work of NSC, or your nearest twin town when you return!
Further information: www.nicaraguasc.org.uk/solidarity/volunteering/