(May 2018)

When I touched down in Managua in early April 2018 to research three chapters of the new Lonely Planet Nicaragua guide, I had no idea that the small-scale political protests in the country would soon become so huge and violent. But as is often the case with guidebook writing, politics rarely has the decency to take our jobs into account. The starkest example of this was the full update of the Libya guide in 2011, which was completed just before Gaddafi’s overthrow and the almost total collapse of the country shortly afterwards; it was never published. I spent six weeks traversing the mountainous north and jungle-covered east of Nicaragua in April and May 2018, while anti-government protests grew increasingly violent as the Ortega government reacted with growing brutality to the massive wave of popular anti-Sandanista marches across the country. When the police shot an 18-year-old student peacefully protesting in the Caribbean town of Bluefields just a few days before I arrived there, it seemed like a point of no return had been reached. While in early April there had still been lots of travellers around, as May drew to a close I often felt like I was the only foreigner left in the country. Hotels and hostels were empty, hoteliers were despairing and Nicaragua’s booming tourism industry, which had taken twenty years to develop after years of violence, looked moribund. Things got so bad that after completing research as best I could, I eventually slipped out of the country overland into Costa Rica, rather than deal with the stress of passing through Managua under lockdown again. It’s a particularly frustrating feeling knowing that the guidebook you researched will almost immediately be very out-of-date, and I wonder how many of the businesses I listed have managed to stay open since I was there.