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Intur has its main city office 1 block south and 1 block west of the Crowne Plaza Hotel (tel. 505/2222-6610; www.visit-nicaragua.com). It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. There's also an office at the airport (tel. 505/2263-3176), which is open Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Orientation

Managua is less a city and more a collection of bland neighborhoods bundled together, separated occasionally by strips of marsh and wasteland. Be prepared to get lost and confused. No matter where you choose to stay in Managua, you will have to jump in a taxi to properly see the highlights as it is so spread out.

The former downtown area hugs the southern shore of Lago Xolotlán and is now known as the Zona Monumental. It sits beside the lakefront in the northwest quadrant of the city. Directly south is the city's hilltop Laguna Tiscapa, and between it and the Zona Monumental is the area with the famous pyramid-shaped Crowne Plaza hotel and the Plaza Shopping Mall. To the east is the budget hotel neighborhood known as Barrio Martha Quezada. South of Laguna Tiscapa, the area becomes more upscale and modern. Here begins the Microcentro, with its five-star hotels and nightlife district -- known as the Zona Rosa. Managua's best and safest market, Mercado Roberto Huembes, lies 2km (1 1/4 miles) east of the Microcentro. The city's more upscale neighborhoods are known as Los Robles, Altamira, Bolonia, and San Juan. Farther south, you'll find the upscale mall Galerías Santo Domingo and the restaurant zone known as Zona Viva.

Carretera Panamericana (the Pan-American Highway) crosses Managua in a horseshoe shape and is known as Carretera Masaya on its southeast approach and Carretera Norte in the northeast. The cloud-billowing Masaya volcano appears on the right as you drive south out of the city.

Street Maps -- If you plan on hanging around Managua, you're going to need a good map. The government organization INETER (tel. 505/2249-2746; www.ineter.gob.ni) produces the best street map of Managua (it's the best city map of any for Nicaragua, for that matter). Maps can be purchased at their main office opposite the Hospital Metrópoli Xolotlán and cost C80. The tourism board Intur (tel. 505/2222-6610; www.visit-nicaragua.com) also provides free maps, but these seem to feature only the establishments that are advertised. The main office is located 1 block south and 1 block west of the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Where the Streets Have No Name: Getting Around in Managua

Managua is a city that has no street names or numbers, that uses as reference points landmarks that don't exist anymore, and that insists on using a unit of measurement (the vara) not recognized anywhere else. The city also doesn't use the fundamental cardinal points north, east, or west (south is okay, though). To make it worse, some places have two names. It is a wonder people get anywhere!

And yet somehow, they do. Once you master the old indigenous-colonial positioning system, you can appreciate its convoluted logic. Here are some tips on how to "address" the problem.

Landmarks are all-important, whether one exists or not. Most addresses start with a well-known building, roundabout, or monument, followed by how many blocks or varas in whatever direction. (A vara is an old Spanish unit of measurement that equals .8m/2 1/2 ft.)

North is al lago (toward the lake). East is arriba (referring to the rising sun). West is abajo (referring to the setting sun). And the South is al sur. A typical example of an address using these terms looks like this: Donde fue la Vicky, 4 cuadras al lago, 30 vrs arriba. This translates as "from where Vicky was, 4 blocks north and 20 varas east." (Incidentally, Vicky used to be a bar now long closed.)

Other important words to remember are cuadra (block), al frente (in front of), and contiguo a (beside). Casa esquinera means the corner house.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.