Frequently Asked Questions
I want to send mail to my home stay family, or a friend in Leon. What should I do?
The best way is to send your mail is via the U.S. Postal Service to our offices in Leon. One of the staff will deliver the mail to your home stay family or friend. Here is our address:
Semáforo Unión Fenosa
75 varas arriba
León, Nicaragua C.A.
I recently went on a trip to Leon, what can I do now to stay involved?
- Tell a friend at another school about your experience, help them join a trip or set up a trip
- Give a talk at your school about your experiences
- Design a fundraising project at your school that targets a need in the community
- Share your ideas with ViviendasLeon for a new development project
- Sign up to become a school trip coordinator
What is the drug and alcohol policy for ViviendasLeon?
Many of our program participants are middle school, high school or college students who are traveling without parents. As a result, we feel we have an important responsibility to keep all participants safe. Alcohol consumption by any volunteer under the age of 21 is not allowed. Volunteers over the age of 21 are asked to be mindful of the safety of both the group and of our Nicaraguan hosts, and to be aware of cultural norms. Abuse of OTC or physician-prescribed medicines and/or use and/or possession of illegal drugs is never permitted during the program. For more details, please review our traveler commitments in the Traveler Application Packet.
Are there behavioral expectations of travelers?
We ask that all participants recognize that they are guests in another country and that part of the work of ViviendasLeon is to build rapport between the people of Nicaragua and the United States. In general, we ask anyone traveling and working with us to conduct her/himself in a manner that is open, flexible, and friendly; we also have a set of specific behavioral guidelines, which we ask students to agree to follow that are found in the Travel Application Packet.
Is travel to Nicaragua safe?
The simple answer is yes. Nicaragua is a long way from the political instability of the 1970's. It has a stable government and the active assistance of many foreign governments. The city of León has a highly skilled professional middle class and is home to the national universities of law and medicine. That said, we work closely with our student participants and our Nicaraguan volunteers and staff to ensure that safety and well-being are the first priority.
As many people know, Nicaragua experienced a civil war known as the Sandinista Revolution, that occurred during the 1970's, culminating in the defeat of the U.S. backed Somosa dictatorship in 1979. Subsequently, the U.S. declared an unofficial war on Nicaragua, causing additional suffering that only subsided at the end of the 1980's. Since that time, Nicaragua has undergone a unique evolution as a Latin American democracy. The U.S. has contributed significantly to the development of a modern police force, demilitarized the country and supported development in various economic export sectors including coffee and beef production. There is a cultural commitment to democracy in the country, which has been challenged during this period by poor leadership and a history, since independence in 1823, of an unbalanced and occasionally violent shift in political fortunes of one political party or another. One can see the revolution of 1979 as a link in the chain of many moments of civil violence in the country's history.
Today Nicaragua remains one of the 3 poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. Petty theft is a frequent occurrence, particularly in Managua, a city of 1 million inhabitants, many of whom are migrants from rural communities who have left the social structure of their homes and migrated to Managua in search of work, only to be abandoned in one of many shanty communities around the city. Leon is a different environment altogether. Families live and work in and around Leon. Rural communities in the region are historically established and even though poor and suffering from a variety of challenges, are homes to 3/5 of the region's population. Political activity can cause occasional disruptions or more rare, violent demonstrations. This almost invariably occurs in Managua, the governmental capital.
ViviendasLeon is committed to introducing students and others to Nicaragua to build trusting and respectful relationships between people. It is in our interest to operate the safest educational travel programs we can offer. Our guidelines for the safety of travelers are designed for the conditions in Nicaragua. Students travel together with our staff during each day of a trip itinerary. Students stay in pairs or groups of 3 in home stays, all in the same neighborhood in Leon. Home stays are vetted by our organization and are families we have been working with for nearly 20 years. Students are not permitted to go out at night, unless they are out with one of our staff members or their home stay family and our staff know their destination. For additional questions regarding safety, review the Traveler Information Guide.
What is the travel time to Nicaragua?
Travel time to Nicaragua varies depending on the airline and point of departure. From San Francisco, travel to Nicaragua can be as short as 7 hours or as long as 12 hours. Schools are responsible for arranging their flights and travel itineraries. School groups typically travel with their teacher(s). We assist with flight reservations for Family and Student summer programs, internships or Soccer camps. The three airlines serving Nicaragua most directly from the U.S. are the following:
TACA/Avianca: Departs approximately 1:00 AM, one stop in El Salvador and arrives in Managua at 9:30 AM the same calendar day.
American: Departs in the morning from SFO the day before first day of the itinerary, one stop in Miami and arrival in Managua at approximately 8:30 PM. Hotel stay in Managua required.
United: Departs in the morning from SFO the day before first day of the itinerary, one stop in Houston and arrival in Managua at approximately 8:30 PM. Hotel stay in Managua required.
Are there chaperones on the trip?
ViviendasLeon program participants are supervised by our program coordinators and our program director, Indiana Garcia. Each group routinely has a coordinator from Leon and one from the United States in addition to teachers from the students’ school who accompany the group. Participants are also supervised at home by their host families, who coordinate with our staff in Leon.
What if I get sick?
Leon is home to the national medical university, UNAN. As a result, we enjoy the best medical care available in Nicaragua. There is a teaching hospital, an emergency clinic next door and numerous private clinics with state of the art medical equipment in Leon. There are also many pharmacies in Leon that are accessible 24 hours a day. We have relationships with doctors who are very familiar with illnesses common to the region, and specialists through the hospital to deal with illnesses of more severity. Guidelines to maintain your health and steps we take when a traveler is sick while traveling in Nicaragua can be found in our Travel Information Guide.
Where do I stay?
Program participants are placed with home stay families in the Fundeci neighborhood of Leon. We have found this to be the most successful way to introduce travelers to the culture and hospitality of Nicaragua. The families we work with have been hosting visitors for at least 15 years.
Do I need a passport or visa to travel to Nicaragua?
Anyone entering Nicaragua must have a passport that is valid for more than 6 months from the date of departure. If you carry a U.S. passport, you do not need to obtain a visa in advance of travel. Upon entry to Nicaragua you purchase a visa for US $10 that allows you to stay for up to 90 days.
What shots are recommended for travel to Nicaragua?
We recommend the following vaccinations and medicines to be obtained 6 weeks before your trip.
Hepatitis A vaccine: a two-part vaccine. The second portion is given 6 months after the first.
Update Polio and Tetanus vaccines if necessary.
Cipro 500mg antibiotic: recommended for illness or diarrhea.
These are are effective at reducing risk of malaria. They are sold under a number of names including Malarone. Please check with your physician regarding any Malaria medications, their use and side effects.
All travelers should consult their physician and review the CDC website for specific travel medicine recommendations at least six weeks prior to departure.
For questions regarding health preparations and medications, please download our Traveler Information Guide.
Do I have to speak Spanish in order to participate in a program?
One of the goals of our program is to place Spanish language learners in a setting where they can practice and learn the language. Language learning takes place in the homes, in the communities and on social outings. For those who do not speak Spanish, our two program coordinators are bi-lingual and can assist in any translation that is required.
What is the food like? What if I am a vegetarian?
Traditional Nicaraguan food includes rice, beans, plantains, vegetables and meat. The food is very good, however as in most traditional cultures is not nearly as varied as we are used to in the U.S. Host families are very familiar with the dietary needs of visitors, so they are prepared to serve vegetarian meals. Restaurants that we frequent serve vegetarian food as well. If you want to eat vegetarian meals, there is a place on the application form to indicate your preference.
What is the temperature and climate like?
The average temperature in Nicaragua is 85 degrees. The weather is dry and warm from January to May, and humid and warm from June to December. Day and evening temperatures vary approximately 10 degrees.