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American Express -- American Express is located at the Viajes Atlántida office (1 block east of Rotonda El Güegüense, Managua; tel. 505/266-4050). It is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.

Business Hours -- Banks are generally open weekdays from 8:30am to 4pm, and some are open on Saturday mornings. Shopping hours are weekdays from 8am to noon and 2 to 5pm, and Saturday 8am to noon. Shopping centers are open daily from 10am to 8pm.

Drinking Laws -- The legal drinking age in both countries is 18, although it is often not enforced. Beer, wine, and liquor are all sold in most supermarkets and small convenience stores from Monday through Saturday. No liquor is sold on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, or election days. If you're caught possessing, using, or trafficking drugs anywhere in the region, expect severe penalties, including long jail sentences and large fines.

Electricity -- Nicaragua and El Salvador run on 110 volts, 60 Hz, the same as the United States and Canada. However, three-prong grounded outlets are not universally available. It's helpful to bring a three-to-two prong adapter. European and Asian travelers should bring adapters with any accompanying appliances. Be prepared for frequent blackouts and bring surge protectors.

Embassies -- All embassies are in Managua, as follows: United States, Carr Sur Km 4.5 (tel. 505/2266-6012, or 505/2266-6038 after hours); Canada, De los Pipitos, Calle Nogal #25, Bolonia (tel. 505/2268-0433 or 505/268-3323); and the United Kingdom, Carretera Masaya, Los Robles (tel. 505/2278-0014 or 505/2278-0887). Australia and New Zealand do not have an embassy or consulate in Nicaragua.

Emergencies -- The following emergency numbers are valid throughout Nicaragua. For an ambulance, call tel. 128; in case of fire, call tel. 115; for police assistance, call tel. 118.

Hospitals -- The best hospital in Managua is the Hospital Bautista, 1km (1/2 mile) east of the Intercontinental Hotel (tel. 505/2249-7070 or 505/2249-7277; www.hospitalbautistanicaragua.com); some staff members are English-speaking.

Internet & Wifi -- Access is generally free at most hotels, with the notable exception of larger chain hotels, which generally charge between US$3 and US$8 per day. 

Language -- Nicaragua's official language is Spanish, but a form of creole English is also frequently used along the Caribbean coast and the Corn Islands.

Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen, and file a report at the nearest police precinct. 

If you need emergency cash, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com). Their website can direct you to the closest location.

Maps -- It is difficult to produce reliable maps of towns and cities that have no street names, but Intur makes a good effort at it. Guía Mananic is one good country map that can be purchased at most bookstores in the country.

Newspapers & Magazines -- Major local papers are El Nuevo Diario (center-left) and La Prensa (conservative). La Tribuna is the country's main business paper, and El Mercurio is the most popular tabloid.

Police -- Call tel. 911 for emergencies.

Post Offices & Mail -- Post offices are generally open Monday through Friday from 8am to 6pm and Saturday from 8am to 1pm. Airmail postage for a letter weighing 198g (7 oz.) or less from Nicaragua to North America is 60¢ and $1 to Europe. Mail takes on average between 7 and 10 days to get to the U.S. and Europe.

Safety -- In the more populated southern parts and poorer areas of Managua, crime is reportedly on the increase, but it's by no means as bad as in other Central American countries. Travelers should be especially alert to pickpockets and purse snatching on the streets and on buses. Always keep your belongings in sight while dining or drinking, and expect street kids to ask for money or food. A different safety concern, but worth noting, is the strong Pacific currents and lack of lifeguards. Be aware of this while enjoying the beach.

Smoking -- There are no government smoking bans in Nicaragua at the moment. Private companies do not allow smoking in places like cinemas or long-distance buses, however. The better hotels and restaurants have nonsmoking rooms and areas, but in general, you can still puff wherever you want.

Taxes -- Nicaragua's value-added tax (IGV) is 15% and is generally added on after the bill, especially when eating in the finer restaurants. If you're ever unsure about a price, ask if the bill includes el impuesto (the tax).

Telephone & Fax -- Public phones take either phone cards (sold at kiosks on the street) or coins. Local calls cost 20 centavos to start and more the longer you talk. ENITEL is the name of the biggest phone company, though it is still often referred to as TELCOR. You will find an ENITEL office in all major cities and towns. There are telephone booths on many corners, but you may have difficulty finding one that accepts change (it's easier to find ones that work with calling cards).

Time -- Nicaragua is 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time.

Tipping -- A 10% tip is expected at cafes and restaurants. This is often added to the bill automatically, even though the waiter/waitress may never see it. If you are worried your tip is not getting into the right hands, give a little extra to the waiter directly. You are not obliged to pay the automatic tip if the service was bad.

Toilets -- These are known as sanitarios, servicios sanitarios, or baños. They are marked damas (women), and hombres or caballeros (men). Public restrooms are hard to come by in both countries. You will almost never find a public restroom in a city park or downtown area. You can take refuge in the many huge malls that are now springing up in both countries. Otherwise, one must count on the generosity of some hotel or restaurant. Same goes for most beaches. Most restaurants and, to a lesser degree, hotels will let you use their facilities, especially if you buy a soft drink or something. Bus and gas stations often have restrooms, but many of these are pretty grim. Don't flush toilet paper; put it in the trash bin.

Water -- The water in the major cities and tourist destinations is ostensibly safe to drink. However, many travelers react adversely to water in foreign countries, and it's probably best to drink bottled water and avoid ice or food washed with tap water throughout your visit to the region.

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.