By: Marie Groover
While Nicaragua never officially closed their borders to other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials sure aren’t making it easy to get in. Between entry restrictions and flight cancellations, most foreign surfers are already crossing Nicaragua off their list of 2021 surf trips. And yet, people are still traveling to and from the country on a daily basis.
A couple weeks ago, I became one of those people, booking a one-week surf trip to Veracruz as a sort of experiment. And while this is in no way an advocation for travel during a global pandemic, I felt obligated to share this how-to guide based on my experience.
Step 1: Start with the traveling requirements for Nicaragua, available specifically on Avianca’s website. The reality is that there’s a 36-hour window to complete the required RT-PCR test and present the results via email. This was the most challenging part of my journey by far. The majority of testing centers will return results within three to five days, so finding a same-day testing center is key.
Step 2: Once you’re sure you can meet the requirements, book your flight. Wanting to limit the number of flights and contact points for contracting COVID-19, I booked a direct flight from Miami to Managua. This also bought me more time for my RT-PCR test, which must be conducted within 72 hours of arrival into Nicaragua.
Step 3: Get tested exactly two days before your arrival into Nicaragua. I scheduled mine at American Scientific Labs in West Palm Beach, FL, which can guarantee same-day results and are a short drive from the Miami International Airport. Get your results electronically in PDF form, as well as an original hard copy. Email them to your airline no less than 36 hours before your flight time. If you’re traveling with multiple people, the person who booked the flights should be the one who emails the results. Then quarantine yourself until you head to the airport. You will be checked for symptoms prior to boarding.
Step 4: Arrive at the airport early, and don’t forget the original copy of your negative RT-PCR test. I arrived at the airport four hours before my flight and still joined a long line of travelers that’d already formed. Once you receive your boarding pass, relax. You’re going to make it. Immediately upon landing in Nicaragua, I had to present my negative RT-PCR results, as well as provide the phone number to where I was staying (something that wasn’t previously required). I was asked for all of this before joining the line for immigration, so be prepared with all the information in hand to save time.
Step 5: When departing from Nicaragua, it is required to test negative for COVID-19 within three calendar days of boarding an aircraft. Outside of that, it’s not federally mandated for a United States citizen to test negative to re-enter the country; in fact, each state dictates the legal requirements for re-entry. However, the airlines themselves are responsible for collecting negative results from any type of testing: RT-PCR, rapid tests, blood tests, etc. One caveat, though: Nicaragua has only one location for COVID-19 testing, the Ministry of Health in Managua, where testing costs $150 and can be wired or paid on-site with cash — better to pay in cash. I learned this the hard way. For more details on hours for testing and results pick-up, visit the U.S. Embassy’s website. I didn’t want to lose a full day of surf, so I went to Managua two days before my departure, tested in the morning, and arranged for my results to be picked up on my behalf in the afternoon. Now that I know how it all works, I’d probably book an extra day to spend in Managua for testing and results pick-up, and then fly home the next day.
Epilogue: Getting home was a breeze. The protocol was to wait outside until I was called to join the socially distanced line, then present my paperwork — only once — and I was set to fly. Upon entering the USA, my results were null. I didn’t even have to present them to immigration. Nonetheless, if you do decide to follow suit, be vigilant in your travels. Mask up, sanitize frequently, and keep distance between yourself and others. Remember to quarantine before and after.
And most importantly, enjoy yourself.
Images from Miramar SurfCamp