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I drove in Nicaragua and lived to tell about it, without even a police shakedown story. Actually, it wasn’t nearly like the horror stories found online. The big issue is the paucity of road signs, especially in the tangled web of roundabouts in Managua.
After about 30 minutes and halfway through Managua, I did encounter a road sign.
Rural tourist site have signage along major roads, navigating into cities is the most tricky, like finding the market in Masaya.
I am stubborn in relying on maps and signs when I drive, I have never used a GPS, though in the US use Google Maps on my phone. Overseas there is no way I am paying for roaming, and using a GPS would eliminate the feeling of adventure for me. Plus the rental car charges for GPS are high, as is buying a dedicated GPS and region maps if not going to use it much.
Only so much exasperation I can take, though, so after the first day, the solution I hit upon was hiring my volcano boarding guide, Oscar, to be my navigator for a day. He is a university student and freelance guide in León, excellent English proficiency, with the added bonus of having spent much of his childhood in Granada. The part I needed him most was for getting through Managua on the way to León, and he turned out to be invaluable in Granada and Masaya as well. We cut a deal for his fee for the day, with and a promise to get him on the last bus back to León as I headed to the airport.
The next morning he boarded my tiny rental, I handed him a stack of maps, and we were off.
What I value most is flexibility, which is why I so often eschew guides even when I would benefit. Upfront I covered all costs, I was the driver so no need to stop for driver smoke breaks, and Oscar knew exactly the fee he would take home without needing to try to shave costs or steer me to places with kickbacks, so common with tour guides.
We had a great time, so I am happy to recommend Oscar for tours of the León area, as well as road navigator, he can be reached at: villapunk18 -at- hotmail.com.