Managua and around

Managua, the nation's capital and commercial centre since 1852, was destroyed by an earthquake in March 1931 and then partially razed by fire five years later. Rebuilt as a modern, commercial city, the centre was again decimated by an earthquake in December 1972 when just a few modern buildings were left standing. Severe damage from the Revolution of 1978-1979 and flooding of the lakeside areas as a result of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 added to the problems. It's a tribute to the city's resilience that it still has the energy to carry on.

Getting there

The airport is 12 km east of the city, near the lake. Buses and taxis run from the airport to the city. International bus services arrive at several terminals throughout the city.
Ticabus
and
King Quality
are in Barrio Martha Quezada, close to most of the cheap hotels.
Transnica
is in Metrocentro. Provincial bus services have three main arrival/departure points. City buses
and taxis serve the provincial terminals.

Getting around

Managua is on the southern shores of Lake Managua, 60 km from the Pacific. Instead of cardinal points, the following are used: al lago (north), arriba (east), al sur (south), abajo (west). The old centre is a garden monument consisting of open spaces, ageing buildings, lakeside restaurants. Despite lying over 14 seismic faults and the warnings of seismologists, important new buildings have been built here including a presidential palace between the ruins of the cathedral and the lakefront, the epicentre of the 1972 earthquake.

Two areas now lay claim to being the heart of Managua. The older of the two is based around the
Hotel Crown Plaza
(formerly the Hotel Intercontinental and still referred to as the '
viejo Intercontinental
'), with a shopping and cinema complex, complete with US-style 'food court' and, to the west,
Barrio Martha Quezada
with many mid-range and budget hotels, and international bus services. Nearby, to the south,
Plaza España
has the country's best supermarket and numerous shops, banks, travel agents, tour companies and nearly every airline office in the country. The other heart of the city is based on the
Carretera a Masaya
, running from the new cathedral to Camino de Oriente. This stretch of four-lane highway includes the
Rotonda Rubén Darío
, the
Metrocentro
shopping complex, numerous restaurants, the Pellas family business centre with the
BAC
and
Credomatic
headquarters, and the cinema, disco and offices of
Camino de Oriente
. You'll need to take a bus or taxi to get there or to the provincial bus terminals.

Buses
are cheap, crowded and infamous for pickpockets. Their routes can be hard to fathom.
Taxis
must have red number plates. Taxi-sharing in Managua is standard for non-radio taxis, so don't be surprised if the driver stops to pick someone up on roughly the same route.

Tourist information

Instituto Nicaragüense de Turismo
(
INTUR
)
www.visitanicaragua.com, provides limited information about Managua and other parts of the country.

Information on national parks and conservation should be obtained from
Sistema Nacional de Areas Protegidas
(
Sinap
).

Safety

Nicaraguans are incredibly friendly and Managua is one of the safest cities in Latin America, but you should still take sensible precautions. Never walk at night unless you are in a good area or shopping centre zone. Arriving in Managua after dark is not a problem, but it's best to book your hotel in advance and take a taxi. Long-distance buses are fine, but be careful in the market when you arrive to take the bus. If you prefer to avoid the bus terminals all together, get off the bus before you reach the market. When you arrive at the Ticabus
station, make sure you know where you want to go before setting out. The
Mercado Oriental
(not to be confused with the Camino de Oriente which is safe and fun), said to be the largest informal market in Latin America, and its barrio, Ciudad Jardín, should be avoided at all costs.

Sights

In the old centre of Managua near the lake shore, the attractive neoclassical
Palacio Nacional de la Cultura
, previously the Palacio de los Héroes de la Revolución, has been beautifully restored and houses the
Museo Nacional de Nicaragua
 as well as the Archivo Nacional and the Biblioteca Nacional.

Damaged by earthquake, the Catedral Vieja (old cathedral) now has a roof of narrow steel girders and side-window support bars to keep it standing, the atmosphere is of a sad, old building past its prime, left in ruins, but still worth a look. The
Centro Cultural Managua
, next to the Palacio Nacional de Cultura, has a good selection of before and after photos of quake-struck Managua in 1972. The centre is also home to the national art school and the national music school. There are some art exhibits in galleries downstairs.

The garishly painted
Palacio Presidencial
is in front of the Palacio de la Cultura on the opposite corner to the old cathedral. These buildings are situated on the
Parque Central
and provide a striking contrast with the modern
Teatro Rubén Darío,
 www.tnrubendario.gob.ni, depending on show
, which hosts good plays, folkloric dances and musical events. There are usually temporary exhibitions in the theatre so, during the day, ask at the window to view the exhibit and you can probably look at the auditorium as well. The
Parque de la Paz
, just southeast of the Parque Central, is part of the rebuilding programme for the old centre. The park is a graveyard for weapons and a few dozen truckloads of AK-47s are buried there, some seen sticking out of the cement; take care here, the neighbourhood on the other side is of bad repute. Three blocks south of the Parque Central are the offices of the Asamblea Nacional
(Nicaraguan parliament), which include the city's only high-rise building, once the Bank of America, now the offices of the
diputados
(parliamentary members).

A significant landmark is the
Hotel Crown Plaza
, which has a distinctive design similar to a Maya pyramid. Just in front is the Plaza Inter shopping centre with cinemas, restaurants and shops. The Bolívar-Buitrago junction, at the northwest corner of Plaza Inter, is on a number of important bus routes.

From the hilltop behind the Hotel Crown Plaza the
Parque Nacional de la Loma de Tiscapa
provides the best views of the capital and of the
Laguna de Tiscapa
on the south side of the hill. From the top, a giant black silhouette of
Sandino
stands looking out over the city. The spot has historical significance as it is the site of the former presidential palace; it was here that Sandino signed a peace treaty with Somoza and was abducted (and later killed) at the entrance to the access road. Underneath the park facing the
laguna
(now blocked by a fence) are the former
prison cells of the Somoza regime
, where inmates were said to have been tortured before being tossed into the lake. To get there, take the road behind the Crown Plaza to the top of the hill using an access road for the Nicaraguan military headquarters. Guards at the park are nervous about photography; ask permission and photograph only downtown and towards the stadium - do not take photos on the access road up to the park.

From Tiscapa hill, the
Catedral Nueva
(new cathedral), inaugurated in 1993, can be seen 500 m to the south of the lake. Designed by the Mexican architect Ricardo Legoreto, comments on the exterior range from 'strikingly beautiful' to 'sacreligious'. The interior, which is mostly unadorned concrete, has been described as 'post-nuclear, with an altar resembling a futuristic UN Security Council meeting room'. Many visitors are fascinated by the Sangre de Cristo room, where a life-size bleeding Christ is encased in a glass and steel dome, illuminated by a domed roof with hundreds of holes for the sun to filter through. At night, the dome sparkles with the glow of lightbulbs in the holes. Pedestrian access is possible from the Metrocentro junction; vehicles need to approach from the east.

Barrio Martha Quezada
, a mixture of well-to-do housing alongside poorer dwellings, is to the west of the Crown Plaza. South again, through the Bolonia district, is
Plaza España
by the Rotondo El Güengüense roundabout. Plaza España is reached either by continuing over the hill behind the Crown Plaza and branching right at the major junction, or by going south
on Williams Romero, the avenue at the western edge of Barrio Martha Quezada.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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