Navigating smooth arrivals at the MGA Airport in Managua, Nicaragua with kids

MGA Airport Arrivals with Kids 2
Arriving by Nicaragua by air to Managua with kids is an easy, safe, transparent process that should go quite smoothly for you and your family. Read on for some tips for what to expect for your air arrival into the land of lakes and volcanoes.

When you land at Augusto C. Sandino International Airport (MGA) you will quickly surmise that Nicaragua’s main international airport is not very big at all. In fact, MGA only has 7 gates which are rarely all in use at the same time. So when you arrive to the airport know that each area you need to finish your arrival process is easily within reach.

Managua-Augusto-Cesar-Sandino-Airport 2

First stop Immigration

After disembarking your plane you will head straight to Immigration. As a rule of thumb, smile and say a friendly, Buenos días, tardes or noches, as the case may be, and the Nicaraguan Immigration official will respond in kind. Nicaraguans, no matter how tired and unapproachable they may seem at the moment, will default into pleasantry when greeted with friendliness and courtesy. Old school politeness is one of their culture’s most attractive inherent qualities.

Tourist Visa-002

You will pass the official your passports for every member of your party and the completed immigration entry form for your family that states the reasons for your journey to Nicaragua. The official may ask you directly what the reason is for your visit and you can respond that you are a tourist, or volunteering (somos turistas or estamos trabajando como voluntarios).

You should be charged $10 per visitor for a tourist visa. Most likely, everyone in your group will receive a tourist visa stamped into their passports that grants a stay of 90 days in the country. If you need more time in 90 days you can reapply for additional tourist visas in a variety of ways to get you extra days in Nicaragua.

Next stop Baggage Claim and finding a luggage porter

Now that you have your official visa, you will head to the Baggage Claim area. Keep in mind that the Baggage Claim is a secure area with cameras and no one gets their luggage out of that zone without the official luggage claim tickets that your airline gave you when you checked in your luggage at the start of your trip. This security feature can be very different for travelers that are accustomed to grabbing their luggage and heading straight to Customs without any oversight into ownership of that luggage. So have those claim tickets ready as you will need them to finish exiting the Baggage Claim area.

baggage claim ticket MGA

In Baggage Claim, you will find many porters circulating and approaching arriving passengers with identification tags on their person that show that they are officially allowed in the Baggage Claim area.  Porters work for tips and they are highly useful for getting you through the last stretch of your journey.  If one of them asks if they can help, you say yes! There is no need to negotiate any kind of payment at the moment, you will tip them when they have finished getting all your luggage inside of whatever transport that you have organized.

The porter will ask for your baggage tickets and will help you locate and load your luggage onto a complementary trolley (available to anyone).  When you have collected all your luggage, you will move over to the baggage claim exit where someone will check the claim ticket attached to each of your luggage items with the corresponding ticket that you have produced.  When all has been matched up you will be permitted to pass to the Customs area.

Final official stop, Customs.

This is your last official hurdle before leaving the restricted passenger area.  You can give the porter your filled out customs form and he will show it to a customs official.  The porter will load your all your baggage including carry on items onto the scanner belt to pass through a security x-ray.

Don’t worry if you are traveling with a mountain of luggage that might indicate that your intended stay will surpass the 90 days you have been granted.  Excess luggage is expected at MGA for a variety of reasons.  Nicaraguans that live abroad will also themselves travel with enormous quantities of gifts for everyone.  Customs officials seek sellable electronics as they scan your baggage.  However, you still can bring in electronics but just communicate that they are for personal use or a gift.

Tomorrow you might be at Las Isletas!

Leaving the restricted area.

Your porter will pick up your luggage again from the scanner belt and load it back onto a trolley (aren’t you glad that you said yes?) and now you are really free to leave the airport. Your porter will accompany you with your trolley of luggage to the main area of the airport that is unrestricted.

Here you will likely find a crowd of people that spillover out onto the sidewalk consisting of everyday folk, taxi drivers and chauffeurs who have been booked from various hotels and shuttle services to bring visitors to their next destination.

This crowd and the intense questioning from the taxi drivers can be slightly overwhelming especially if you are tired, with kids, and maybe this is your first time arriving to Managua.  If you have prearranged your transport which I highly recommend, you should see a representative there with a sign with your name or the name of your hotel on it.  They will direct you and your porter to the curb to where they will pull their transport around to pick you up.  Your porter will put the luggage into the vehicle and you should then tip him a minimum of $6 a trolley.  You can pay this tip equally well in dollars if there are no tears or major stains on the bills.

Thinking about the kids

Aiden in the hammock at Garden Cafe Granada

Do they need to go to the bathroom? 

There are bathrooms all over the airport right where you get off your flight, in the baggage claim area, and in the unrestricted areas in the main terminal. It is a good idea to have your kids visit the bathroom before you exit even if you are just heading into Managua, but certainly if you are going on to GranadaEither direction could be an hour plus drive depending on traffic and that can be an eternity for a child!

Car rentals and eating

If you have planned to rent a car, you can locate the rental car counters inside the airport just beyond the customs area you have just exited. If you have a porter he will show you where your specific counter is and this is probably a good time to tip him and let him go.  When you have arranged the papers to pick up your car, you can head outside straight away to the rental car pickup area or you can delay that step for a few minutes and do a quick hunger status check with the family.

Are they hungry? Can they last for another 1-2 hours without eating?

If you don’t really know your way around Managua or the route to Granada, you can eat first at the airport or take some food to go with you!  Keep in mind that even when you get to your final destination it takes some time to actually locate food and have it ready to eat in front of your family (this is true even in a hotel, and of course more so if you are now driving to a home rental). It can be a lifesaver with children to have provisions at the end of a long air journey before that turns into an additional car journey in a strange land.

Casa del Cafe can outfit you with some quick provisions before you hit the road.

If you need food to back you up for the next few hours, wheel your luggage about 50 feet past the main hall with the head busts of famous Nicaraguans, to where the Food Court is located. There are endless fast food eateries including Subway, Siembras y Cosechas (like a Java Juice) Casa del Café (like a Starbucks), Tip Top chicken, etc. Grab a couple of cappuccinos, smoothies, sandwiches or a family pack of chicken and you will feel quite civilized and ready to handle whatever comes your way.

Do we need to exchange money right away?

There are places to do currency exchange at the airport but not at a favorable rate.  If you are carrying dollars, try to plan ahead and carry bills of $1s and $5s that will help you with tipping and small purchases where credit cards are not accepted. Before leaving home make sure that your dollars are not torn or stained or no one will want them. If you have a decent supply of small bills in dollars, there is no reason to change currency at the airport.

You can withdraw currency later from an ATM in córdobas or just purchase items in dollars and receive your change in córdobas.  Even walking into a large grocery store with USD $20 to buy a soda will get you the rest of your change in Nicaraguan currency at a favorable official rate.

When in doubt in any step along the way, there are always people that you can ask.  The airport is not a dangerous place and even can be somewhat sleepy at times depending on the air schedule.  Folks at the rental car agency will also probably speak English if you have any random questions before you leave.

This digital reader life hack gets you free library books anywhere you travel.

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We bought this great book before we knew we could borrow it instead.

One of the problems that I faced in my first year of living in Nicaragua was that I acutely felt the loss of not living near a world-class library system. We had brought our own physical library of books but as you know with kids, they consume books like paper towels when they love to read and we found that ordering books from organizations like Better World Books didn’t work for Nicaragua, they were simply stolen from out of the mail.

We began to rely more heavily on our Kindle Paperwhite digital reader for purchasing new titles. Aiden was at that time just starting to read chapter books but he could get through them so quickly! Books were becoming a frequent purchase and there was always a need for more titles- not only for Aiden but for me, too.

LITERARY LIFE HACK # 1: Connect your digital reader to your local library back home.

A year into our move, I remembered a pamphlet I had picked up at the library as we were leaving Charlotte, North Carolina (USA) that mentioned connecting digital readers like Kindle to our Charlotte Public Library account.

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Thank goodness we borrowed these books because there are 11 in the series!

So I sat down and read through the directions and minutes later I was selecting books online at the Charlotte Library website and Amazon was delivering the books to my Kindle for free!  In fact, I connected each member of our household who held a library card and for each person we could check out 10 e-books or audio books. Good deal!

A year later, when our Charlotte library cards expired, I called a Charlotte library branch from Nicaragua to get the memberships extended. The library requested when I called that we come into one of the branches in person, but they were able to handle the extension over the phone when I explained that we weren’t able to come in (by the way, this is another reason why I love having a Magicjack Go device that gives me a USA phone number just for these kind of calls that do come up when you live abroad).

So know before you go, if you have not joined your local library yet, please do it before you start your world travels!  But if you didn’t, there is still hope…


Continue reading “This digital reader life hack gets you free library books anywhere you travel.”

Mom, here is what you need to pack for your new life in Granada, Nicaragua.

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As moms, we prioritize securing all the important articles to pack for the kids to make sure they have everything they need away from home and sometimes we can leave our own necessities to the last minute.

However, because of the limited shopping here in Nicaragua, I encourage you to plan ahead and bring what you will need from home, so that you are also at your best in your new life here in Granada.  It is worth it to pay $25-40 for an extra piece of luggage on your flight over to shop for what you need in your own country at leisure, with a greater variety of choices at more competitive prices.

What to bring in your suitcase

Continue reading “Mom, here is what you need to pack for your new life in Granada, Nicaragua.”

Disconnecting from busy life in Granada and reconnecting with Aiden at Selva Negra in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

Granada, Selva Negra, travel, things to do, kids, hiking, forest, recreation, trails, familyHave you ever had that feeling like you are missing your child even though they are right there under the same roof?  That time was slipping through your fingers and with it a thousand chances to reconnect with your family? Sometimes we can bridge the divide in a moment, a shared joke, game or activity and sometimes you want to do something drastic and just grab a chance to get away from it all.

Even here in Nicaragua where life moves more slowly for many and there should be more time to spend with our kids, it’s easy to slip into old distances. Projects, work, school, social networks; you can fill up a schedule anywhere if you are inclined to doing it.  And let’s face it, I know that for us, we’re kind of trained to design our lives that way.

Even here in Granada, you might sense after awhile the busyness creeping back into your lifestyle, that habit of pushing out to the edges of your daily itinerary. The rush and the stress that you wanted to leave behind can get recreated in the land of lakes and volcanoes, too.  

Continue reading “Disconnecting from busy life in Granada and reconnecting with Aiden at Selva Negra in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.”

Aiden digs the boy’s boot camp basketball training in Granada, Nicaragua

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Friendship. Health. Immersion.

Sports programs in Granada, Nicaragua are a great way for young newcomers to meet other kids and have a Spanish language immersion experience.  The experience of playing sports is somewhat universal, but it’s also bound to be different based on geography, culture and economics.  Granada supports mostly youth soccer and baseball teams, but there is a growing interest in organizing a basketball league for tween boys, as well.

Aiden has started to train with a small but dedicated group of boys ages 10-12 who are interested in an intensive workout experience under the guidance of Michael Campbell, an excellent coach and a former professional basketball player for the Masaya selection here in Nicaragua.  The boys are very friendly and supportive and about half are bilingual and from other countries.  It’s an awesomely diverse group where everyone fits in if they want to play ball.

Timing is everything with kids.

One year ago, Aiden was not interest in the team when I asked him if he wanted to play and I know that then he wouldn’t have taken to the boot camp style drills that Coach Micheal runs for the whole training session three times a week.  But now Aiden is very interested in exercise and strength training, loves the hardcore workout, and even comes home and does more.

Continue reading “Aiden digs the boy’s boot camp basketball training in Granada, Nicaragua”

Touring Las Isletas de Granada with kids.

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Touring the islands of Granada, Nicaragua is a fun adventure that is easy and inexpensive to do on any given day. Enjoy the fresh breezes that blow over Lake Cocibolca as you remember how awesome it is to live in the land of lakes and volcanoes.

Put your feet up while you motor through the 365 tropical islands (one for each day of the year they quip) that were born thousands of years ago out of the last eruption from the ever vigilant Mombacho Volcano that gives grandeur to Granada’s skyline.

Check out a quick video to see what it is like to tour the islands!

You are in charge of your tour…

Continue reading “Touring Las Isletas de Granada with kids.”

Kids love an air-conditioned crafts spree at Gonper in tropical Granada

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Activities for rain or too much shine…

I write about weather a lot, but when you live in Granada weather is something that you will notice and you will have to form your strategies of how to keep your family comfortable and entertained despite extreme heat or a rainy day.

Many homes in Granada do not have air conditioning or residents are hesitant to use air conditioners because of exorbitant electricity costs in Nicaragua.  There are also very few businesses in Granada that use air conditioning for the same reason.

So trust me, we know each business that does keep the air flowing and on a sweltering day, I can make up a good excuse to head to one of them.

A great air-conditioned destination for kids in Granada is our local crafts and school supplies store called Gonper.  It’s not a huge store but it does have a lot for kids to check out.   Continue reading “Kids love an air-conditioned crafts spree at Gonper in tropical Granada”

Hiking Mombacho Volcano with kids in Nicaragua

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Staying cool in the hottest months

When Semana Santa (otherwise known as Spring Break) hit Granada, Nicaragua this year, I decided we needed a plan to give ourselves a rest from the constant heat. Ironically, this led us to visit a volcano.  Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve was a great solution for getting outside and recreating in nature without feeling the burn.

When you arrive to the top of Mombacho Volcano which has several craters you will appreciate that you are now in a cool, breezy, cloud forest full of tropical canopy and exotic critters. It’s like someone has suddenly turned on the air conditioning. This leads to a boost of physical productivity! Watch your kids take off down the trail….

Check out more fun on the Mombacho trail in this quick video.  We did this trek with Martha and Sam of Nicaragua Immersion Tours and the boys did great hiking together the whole 1 1/2 hours around one of the craters.

Definitely bring lots of water and a lunch.  There are benches along the way where you can stage a picnic on your journey. Continue reading “Hiking Mombacho Volcano with kids in Nicaragua”

The Cocibolca Jockey Club: the best green space in town for kids.

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Visiting families that reside inside the city of Granada often seek a recreational green space similar to something on offer at a public park back home. Publicly in Granada, the Cocibolca lakefront area called the Malecón is the most similar to that sort of recreational environment, although it really is only a strip of land that follows the lake with no wide open lawn area.  The Malecón includes playground equipment, restaurants and some basketball courts.  It is safe to use during the day and the city is doing a lot to make it a more attractive, maintained destination.  On Sundays, it is a very popular hangout for Nicaraguan families.

Personally, we venture down to the Malecón maybe once a month to catch a fresh breeze and see the lake.  For recreating, we much prefer the Cocibolca Jockey Club located at the rotunda at the entrance of the city proper.  The CJC is where we go to when we need a break from the intensity of the city and especially the heat. Continue reading “The Cocibolca Jockey Club: the best green space in town for kids.”

How to protect kids and family living with mosquitoes in the tropics

Mosquito Insecticide Spray Granada Nicaragua

In every season, dry or rainy, Nicaragua faces a plague of mosquitoes that is either merely a nuisance or downright dangerous depending on the mosquito. Most mosquitoes that enter our home might pester us at night or have us searching for the ultimate remedy to relieve the itchiness but these mosquitoes are nothing worse than what we might encounter in Charlotte, North Carolina on a summer night or during a camping expedition.

However in Nicaragua, there are other varieties of mosquitoes that are carriers of serious viruses that can make you very sick.  Having had dengue fever twice, I can tell you that it is no war story from your travels with which you will regale your friends lightheartedly.  The same could be said of malaria or the Chikungunya virus.  On the other hand, both Aiden and I had the Zika virus like most everyone else last year and it was not too terrible: I dread much more having the common flu.

Thankfully, the city of Granada and the Ministry of Health (MINSA) do actively campaign against mosquitoes.  Health workers will regularly pass by your house to do an inspection of your yard (you must let them in but you can demand to see identification).  They will advise you of areas that may shelter mosquito larva due to standing water and will place sandwich bags of insecticide (these look like small baggies of sand and are called abate) inside those areas in question. Continue reading “How to protect kids and family living with mosquitoes in the tropics”