Getting from the Airport to Granada, step by step, let me hold your hand.

A lot of our guests coming here for the first time have questions that we like to answer so they will be better prepared. To that end we have tried to put together some information for you but be sure to check the website often and especially before your departure as things change and we will try to keep on top of it.  I tried to take some photos of the customs and immigration so we could post them and give you an idea of what to look for but got busted.  They don’t allow photos for security reasons.

Currency

The local currency is the Cordoba.  The current rate is about 28.00 Cordobas to the U.S. dollar (April 2016) and you can exchange money on the street from any of a dozen or so money changers in Granada.   One would think the bank would be good but it is not.  You will stand in line for maybe an hour and the difference in the exchange rate will amount to less that 25 cents on $100.

Don’t do it at the airport as you won’t need any local money until you get here and the airport rates are not good either.  When we came through last a tourist was going to change money and they had a sign posed saying 27.15 Cordobas to the dollar.  They also had a 20% service fee.

You will need some cash for visa charges (about $10 per person) but the immigration will accept foreign currency.  You will also need some money for tips to the porters who haul your baggage from the carrousel to the transportation.  Bring some one dollar bills as they will not make change.  Figure a dollar a bag for a tip and I usually tip the transportation driver $5.

They are very particular about the condition of the foreign currency.  They will not accept any currency that has a tear or any writing at all on it. So if someone was totaling money at a business in the USA or Canada and wrote “300” for example, even on the edge, they won’t take it.

No tape and even the smallest tear will be accepted. You don’t need new money but if you go to the bank and inform the teller you are going to Central America for vacation and just mention you need cash without writing or tears  99% of the time they will know exactly what to give you. Large bills are OK as they can easily be changed.  The new $100 bills are accepted.  $20’s are the most popular and are very easily taken by everyone.  Sometimes they don’t have change for the larger bills but the supermarkets and the money changers on the street always do.

I had an interesting experience in Jamaica a number of years ago.  The US just issued a new bill (like our new $100’s) and I thought that in Jamaica they may not take it so I made sure I had all older money that they were familiar with.  When I tried to pass one of the bills I was told that the old bills were all counterfeit and that is why the government changed them to a new higher security note.  Fortunately the hotel would change the money for me.

Those little tiny triangle ink spots that banks sometime put on currency are not a problem.

Money is often changed on the street and their rate is only a few cents different than the bank. They make their money in the difference between the bank rate and the rate they charge you.

Bring a money belt for your cash. It should have a plastic zipper and plastic catches so it won’t trip the metal detectors and then you have to expose to everyone you are carrying a money belt. You only need to be concerned about this at your point of departure.  There is a safe in your room if you are staying at Vista Mombacho that will hold about 5 laptop computers as well as your cash, cameras and other things.  All other properties we have the smaller hotel type safes.

When you get here and settled in a bit we will will direct you to the supermarket and you can stock up and get a feel for what they have to offer. They will accept your US money and give you change in Cordobas. Which is another way to get local currency. Their rates are about the same as the street, if not better.

Do not bring travelers checks. Not all banks will take them and those that do charge a “commission” of anywhere between 6% and 10% to cash a travelers check and it can take as long as an hour. There are ATM machines here but you need to check the symbol on your card to make sure that it matches that bank.  Be sure to notify the credit card companies that you are traveling abroad and give them the dates.  If not they may decline your transaction until you can get to a phone and let them know you are abroad.  Best to do it from the phone that is registered to you back home.  We have USA phones for your use at no charge so you can call from the lobby.

We had a guest stand in line for 45 minutes only to find out that machine would not accept their card and they had to go to another bank and stand in another line.  Another thing about ATM transactions, they will only dispense $500 per day to any one card. Also call your bank and ask how much the fee if for a foreign ATM transaction and also if  there is a foreign currency transaction fee. We use Chase Bank and have a Continental card which has no foreign transaction fees.

Credit cards are accepted at most, but not all places. Discover is now accepted a some places.  Last year it was not accepted anywhere.  Best to stick with Master Card and Visa.

Immigrations

OK we are going to hold your hand from the jet bridge to the hotel.

When you get off the plane you will play follow the leader to immigration.  You will go down one flight of stairs on the escalator to immigration.  There is also an elevator.   Get in any line except diplomatic.   I like to be in the line next to diplomatic because if they don’t have many diplomats, in fact I have never seen one at all,  they will motion you to their station.  Saves a lot of time.  The diplomatic station is at the far right hand side and most people will be in line in the first three or four stations  so you get through faster.

Have your passport out and available for the officer and all the papers you filled out on the plane. You will also need $10.00 per person entrance fee and US money if fine.  That price may change.  14 years ago it was $5.00.  They will enter the information from your passport and take your entrance fee, stamp your passport and give you a receipt for the entrance fee. They may, but not always, give you another piece of paper which you need for departure.  If they don’t you won’t need it.  Rules change. On the plane they gave you two forms, one was an immigration form and the other a customs declaration. Please complete these on the airplane. It will save you a lot of headaches later.  My last trip they also gave me a form that all the answers are NO.  It is a health information form because of the Ebola.  It is part of an international program to prevent the spread of this disease.  No cases have been reported in Nicaragua to our knowledge but they may take your temperature with an electronic thermometer from a distance of about 15 feet.

One of the questions is “what is your intended destination in Nicaragua?” You should list the address of the home in that space.

  • Casa de la Plaza; detras la lolteria, 219 Calle Canal, Granada
  • Granada Casa del Mirador; 50 VRS a norte puente PPQ, 112 la otra Banda, Granada
  • Casa Tranquilla; frente la INA 1/2 c a oste, 150 Calle Nueva, Granada
  • Vista Mombacho 2 cuardas a norte de Puente PPQ, 213 la otra banda, Granada.

They may also ask for a phone number and that number will be 8469-1389.   This is the phone at Vista Mombacho Apartments and we have a 24/7 doorman who will answer that phone.  The USA number there is 512 535 7701 which is an Austin, Texas exchange.  Feel free to give that to anyone you wish and if you are staying at the apartments we will come get you or if we know you are off property we will take a message.

Nicaraguan Customs

Now we are out of immigration.  That was easy.  Next stop is baggage claim and customs.  As you turn right leaving immigration on the right are the restrooms.  Good place to stop since it will be about 45 minutes to Granada, after you leave customs.  Also your bags are probably not off the plane yet so you have a few minutes for a break.

When you leave the restroom on the left you will see a hundred or so people on the other side of a glass waiting for their relatives.  There will be some baggage carts on the left inside the baggage claim area.  Go to the carousal and pick up your bags.  There will be lots of people there to help you so the choice is yours but you are less than fifty feet from customs and you can probably push your own cart.  You will absolutely need your claim ticket for the baggage as the inspector won’t let your baggage out or the area without it so don’t put it away.  I like to use the baggage guy because my bags are always heavy and it seems to speed up the process.  If you are carrying your own sometimes the customs inspector will send you to another station for a search.  Often times with the baggage handler they will move you right through.  Worth a dollar to get through quickly.

Past then baggage tag inspector turn right and you will see two large X-ray machines and against the far wall an area for manual inspections.  Put your bags on the conveyer belt and if you pass you can put them back on the cart.  Give the inspector your customs declaration and you are on your way.

If you fail you will be directed to secondary where they will hand search your bags.  Nothing to be alarmed about.  If he X-ray operator sees the other inspectors are looking bored or the X-ray machine picks up something unusual they will search your bags.  I recall a person who said he had nothing to declare.  The X-ray machines detected about 15 cell phones and half a dozen computers.  He went to secondary and they seized everything and he had to come back the next day with a customs broker, pay the duty and a fat fine for making a false statement.

New rule, one computer per person but it may not apply.  They did that several years ago and realized now days everyone carries multiple electronic devices from tablets to smart phones so they may let multiple computers pass.  Just make sure they are not new in a box.  Many of our guests carry multiple devices.  His computer, her computer, his tablet, her tablet, his and her phone or Kindle.   I came in November 2014 and brought two computers, no problem, so who knows what they will do tomorrow?

If they ask, and they have, I tell them I am a salesman for two different companies and neither will allow anything on their computer that is not their software.   I also like to put those peel and press stickers  the kids have everywhere on the computers so they don’t look new, even if they are.  That way I don’t have explain a new machine which they think I might be bringing to sell.  Well used laptops generally attract no attention.

Be sure to read the back of the customs declaration about what you can bring in and what you can’t.  For example I had about 30 pounds of vitamins for children.  I thought it would be a problem then on the airplane I read the back of the form and it clearly says that medicine for children is duty free.  The customs official smelled the contents and knew it was vitamins and let me pass.

They will sometimes ask if you have any medicines. I always hold my chest and say “just for my heart.” That really moves things along. Here are also some things from the old law that are still on the books, just for a laugh. They don’t care anymore about these things;

no more than one musical instrument
no more than one pound of candy
no “police” whistles
only one watch

It really gets worse but don’t worry about it. When the bag comes out the other end of the X Ray machine put it on the cart immediately and head for the exit. Don’t hang around as it attracts attention and you may end up in secondary.

I did go to secondary one time. But on that day everyone was going through secondary. They must have had a tip about something. They put my bags on a belt that went through an old X-ray machine that they had in service about 20 years ago. A clerk was looking at the monitor but I could see from the reflection in her glasses the monitor was not on, probably been broken for months. She stopped the belt about half way through and backed it up and looked at me real hard and then sent it on through.

While I was putting my things back on the cart the guy behind me had the same experience. When she looked hard at him I could see a bit of panic in his face and so did she. They opened his bag and when they dumped the things out he had what looked like a dozen or so motherboards, hard drives, video cards and the like. Tough to explain that was for his personal use.

Telephones, Smart and Otherwise

Smart phones are OK if they are unlocked, then you can get a chip for them and activate them for here.  My personal recommendation is to call the carrier and discuss your travel plans.  Be sure to ask enough questions.  They love to tell you that their service will work here as they have an agreement with the local carrier.   What they may not tell you is that a call will cost about $4.00 a minute or any portion thereof.   Give our number to everyone you need to and it is a almost a free call for them.  They will be calling a Texas exchange that rings here and you can call them back for free.

While on the subject of phones we have local loaner phones for you during your stay at no charge. You do need to put some minutes on the phone but it is yours to use while you are here.  We sell minutes at the apartments.  We also have  free calls to 60 foreign countries so you will not be without communications.

I have a phone from the U.S. but I use a local phone. If you are not intending to use your own phone write down all the important numbers. I use a spreadsheet. You are thinking “I can just turn it on and get the number.” Right, you can, and your phone carrier is going to charge you about $5.00 roaming every time you do that. I learned that lesson the hard way, but call your carrier and confirm this information. My carrier is Sprint and they charged me for looking up a number on my phone because when I turned it on it went immediately to roam. I have free roaming in the US but not international so the first I knew about it was when I checked my bill on line.  They were nice enough to waive the charges and I had looked up about 20 numbers. Many of the new phones now have an airplane mode so it does not transmit, which would allow you to look up information on the your phone with it connecting to the network.

If you have a plan with your cell phone carrier call them before your departure and ask if they have a vacation plan.  Sprint does.  I call them and tell them I am going to be out of the country for 6 months and they drop my monthly bill to the minimum.  If you are only here for a short time it is probably not worth the effort.  If you are staying with us for a month or so and don’t need your phone 24/7 it might be a good idea.

Bringing in additional items is not a problem unless you try to abuse the system so don’t give it a second thought if you have a couple of cameras or a laptop. No problem. I used to bring 3 laptops at a time.  I have never had a problem.   As a test I brought a pretty old laptop that I could afford to lose on my last trip.  I put a piece of duct tape on it and wrote in Spanish and English, “defective hard drive, return to vendor.”  No problem.  A couple of other things you should bring;

Pepper spray. Put it in your checked bags or you will be in big trouble with TSA. I recommend a small canister and put it with your make up so on the X-ray it just looks like any other cosmetic, or mosquito repellent (which you might also need if they bother you). Pepper spray is legal here and is sold over the counter at various places but it is about 10 times what you would pay for it in the states and you can only get it at a gun shop in Managua or Masaya. It is best if you keep it in the original package so it does not accidental go off.

You will probably never need it but I carry it all the time at night and have needed it once in 18 years. I have used it more in the states than here. Nicaragua is has the lowest crime rate in Central America and Granada is the lowest per capita in the country but you never know when some drunk may get bold and it is better to be safe than sorry.  The last information I had from TSA was that it is now illegal to transport pepper spray, even in your checked luggage.  The worst that will happen is it will be seized so I don’t worry about it and bring two.  One for me and one for my wife.  We usually end up giving them away.  Last time I had a request for pepper spray from many people and I told them about the new rules after I bought them.  Then I packed the wrong bag and ended up with about 25 canisters when I got here and had no problems from TSA or local customs.

Transportation and Directions

Here is a map that might help. It shows the directions to the apartments as well as the houses.  All  are easy to find but if you have a driver from Managua don’t panic if he needs to ask directions from one or more locals. It is very embarrassing not to know directions in your own town so sometimes people just make up directions that may not be even close to accurate.

They don’t want to lose face or for you to think they are stupid. If I ask directions I always ask two people if they agree I am good to go and if not I find a third and hope it matches one of the others.  Don’t want to hassle with an unknown taxi?  Let us know and we will give you current information on transportation.  The company we currently recommend has new vehicles, knows Granada, speaks English, has a USA phone and E-mail.  She is very quick to respond.  All charge about $40 from the airport.

Notice how everything is given a direction from a landmark. People don’t much use street addresses here. First we don’t have many street signs.  If there is any indication of a street it is painted on someone’s house.  Directions are from a well know landmark. Everyone knows where the lottery is and the description, for example to Casa de la Plaza, is behind the lottery. Puente PPQ is a bridge, commonly called PPQ (papa Q) and everyone knows where that bridge is located even though they painted it last year and covered up the name.

For example, if you are staying at Casa del Mirador the directions are 50 vrs a norte de Puente PPQ.  VRS is an obsolete unit of measurement equal to about 32.91″. This has been obsolete for many years mostly because no one could agree on what it actually represented. In Mexico a vara is completely different and also in Guatemala, but everyone still uses it when referring to distance from a landmark. Think about a stride being about a vara.

By the way the landmark may not be there either. Have you ever had someone tell you to go three blocks from the old Texaco station? The old Texaco station has been a used car lot for the last 20 years but in a small town they still reference it as the old Texaco station. Same here. Just go with the flow and write it down in your journal so you can tell everyone when you get home.

For example to get to Casa Tranquilla you go west from INA about a half block. Now understand INA was a grain processing plant that made feed for cattle but has been closed for at least 25 years. The buildings are still there but that is about it. A word of caution. Giving the cab driver the address on a piece of paper doesn’t always work. Sometimes they can’t read. Better you read it to them or show them the map your printed. Practice several times and you can get the hang of it. Getting here is half the fun.

If you want you can also take a taxi from any of the drivers from the airport.  They will drive down the road a bit and pull over. Don’t worry; you are not being left on the side of the road or being robbed. They can’t operate except in the city for which they have a license so they have to take the taxi light off the top when they leave Managua. It is really best to have us send you the information on the transportation company we recommend.  Just communicate with them directly.

If you decide to use your own transportation or taxi be very sure you have an agreement on the price.  One of our guests took a taxi who told they it would be $35, which was $5 less than the others.  What he missed is that the driver charged $35 per person and the other drivers were $40 for the entire group.  What a terrible way to start a vacation.

The airport taxi drivers will charge you however much they think they can get away with and they always start at about $50- $60 and then go down to maybe $40. This is a taxi with seating at best for 4 customers.  These are usually combact cars.   Your entire luggage may not fit in the trunk so they will tie it down.

Also if you use an airport taxi look at the gas gauge. I have heard of people being stranded on the side of the road because the driver did not have enough gas and had to go get some. That is not a good feeling to be stuck on the highway at night.  If it looks like he is about out of fuel point to the gas gauge and give him some money.  Be sure to deduct it when you get here.  $10 will usually get you anywhere.

 Copies of Your Passports

Make two copies of all the passports and keep them with your carry on bag just in case something happens to your original it is easier to get a replacement if you have a copy for the embassy. It is also required by law that I have a copy of the first page of your passport as this is required of all the guests. They go into a folder that is locked up and I have to maintain the records for five years.

Photographs of Your Baggage

Photograph and print the photos of your bags just in case they get lost along the way you can produce a photograph of exactly what it looks like. I have had that happen only once in 18 years and I got it the next day and everything was still there.  They even had it in an air conditioned area, which was good as it had about 5 pounds of cheese in it. I put a big “X’ with duct tape on all my bags so I can find them easier. I also make a copy of my schedule and include where you are staying and the phone number in case you bag does go missing in transit or ends up somewhere else, like Granada, Spain. I put this in a plastic baggie and write on the outside “contact information.” And also “información de contacto”

Mailing Tubes

These you can get at any office supply store and get the longest one you can find that will fit in your bag. This is in case you decide to either take some art classes, which I’ll tell you about later or wish to buy some local paintings which are very inexpensive. You will be able to roll them up and put them in the tube for the return so they don’t get damaged. You can also stuff the tubes with clothes or socks or whatever so you don’t waste space coming down.

What we need for your ground transportation, very important!

So this is as easy as possible, when the airline sends you the confirmation forward it to glennkoons@earthlink.net.    If you forget, we need airline, flight number, DATE, and estimated time of arrival.  With the actual airline reservation it is easier as we track your flight and if there are mechanical or weather delays we can adjust accordingly.  If you use other transportation send it anyway so we know when to expect you arrival.  The current transportation company we recommend will also track your flight and won’t head for the airport until she sees you have departed and are on the last leg to Managua. Airport code, MGA.

Let’s Go To The Shuttle

Once your bags come off the X-Ray line you will exit to the left. Depending of the transportation,  the driver will be waiting outside.  He will have a sign with your name on it.  The price depends on the price of fuel but for about the last six months it has been $40.00 per car load, not per person, for a sedan.  If you have a lot of luggage you may need a minivan which is $20 more or $60.00.   The prices change depending on the price of fuel but that should be pretty close.

Once you have the driver’s attention they will go get the car and come around as they can’t park in front anymore. Sometime they have the car right there if they are picking up other people. There will be about half a dozen guys who will try to grab your luggage. They are not stealing it they just want a tip to carry it to the van about 10′ away. They know you just got off the plane, have no local money and expect about a dollar a bag.  I always tell them “no” as the transportation company will load everything for you.  Our doorman will unload and take your bags to your room is you are staying at Vista Mombacho Apartments.  Watch to make sure nothing gets left behind.

Petty theft if the biggest crime here and it is because people are not watchful. Someone coming up and cutting open your backpack or a fanny pack just does not happen here like it does in Costa Rica but you can’t set your camera on a table in an open air café and not keep an not keep eye on it. I can give you more security tips when you get there but the reason for bringing it up now is because in order to make a police report of say a stolen camera they require that you prove you had it to start with.

Yeah, it sounds dumb but it is their country and they get to make the rules. That being said record the make, model and serial number of any electronics you have and keep it in a safe place. Anything with a serial number and if possible a photograph of it. Do I have the original sales receipt for my camera? Of course not, but I do have the information on the camera in my computer and a spreadsheet print out. If for example your camera is stolen and you have the vital information I have been known to make a receipt in quickbooks with the information, print it, age it and you can take that to the police station.

A friend years ago lost their camera. Not a real expensive camera but the only one they had. He was sitting at a café and the camera was on the table instead of around his neck and a kid on a bike came by and grabbed it and took off. Two police officers saw the whole thing and gave chase as did several tourists. They caught him but because he didn’t have the receipt for the camera it ended up in the evidence room, despite the police seeing the whole thing. It was months after the trial that they finally released it to me as we had my lawyer draw up a document to allow the release to me and I sent it back with someone going back to the states.

Open an account with snapfish or dropbox. Both are free and you can upload your photos to cyberspace from any Internet café, or our apartments or you can use any computer to do it so you won’t need to worry about overloading your memory chip and your vacation memories will be safe.

When you arrive in Granada someone will greet you at the door, take care of your baggage and show you around. If you arrive during normal hours I like to greet my guest personally but if I can’t all our properties have security guards who will help you. If you are staying at Vista Mombacho apartments Brenda is our administrator and Katherine is the assistant they will show you your room and where everything is located. I live about a block away and can be there in about two minutes.  They work M – F, 7 AM – 4 PM and Saturday 7 AM – 11 AM.

Once you are settled we will direct you to the supermarket if it is during normal hours and you can stock up. You will probably be tired from your trip so we will probably do the orientation the following day. What I try to do is give you a little information about Granada and answer any questions you may have about our community.  We will also set up your laptop for the wireless Internet but Brenda or Katherine can do that.  They will also give you a loaner phone and sell you some minutes so you can share your number with others.  You will be meeting a lot new friends and we have had several that have kept in touch from time to time and scheduled their vacations at the same time here.

If you have any questions just contact us and we will do our best to make your trip as smooth as possible.