While it seems convenient to zip out of the airport in a rented car, the hassle of driving and the risk of making sure the car doesn’t get stolen or damaged are not to be underestimated. If you are traveling with a lot of luggage, children, or surfboards, it’s a no-brainer, but be aware that if you have just a little bit more time, you can get around extremely easily in taxis, shuttles, and public buses.
That said, all the major car rental agencies have set up shop at the Managua  airport, and you can also arrange a car through most hotels costing $50 or higher. Be sure to reserve in advance:
Several other chains are listed at www.nicaraguarentalcars.com .
In addition to the airport, Thrifty has an office at Plaza España, and National has an office adjacent to the Hotel Hilton Princess and in the Hotel Colonial Granada.
Plan on spending about $30 per day, $175 a week during the high season for the smallest four-seater “econobox,” or $75 a day, $450 a week for a pickup truck, plus insurance costs and gasoline, which is well over $4 per gallon.
The most dangerous thing you will do in Nicaragua , without a doubt, is travel on its highways. Outside the cities, roads are poorly lit, narrow, lacking shoulders, and are often full of axle-breaking potholes, unannounced speed bumps, fallen rocks, and countless other obstacles. Even in Managua, you can expect to find ox carts and abandoned vehicles in the lanes, and hungry dogs and grazing horses wandering the streets.
Because there are no shoulders for taxis to use when boarding passengers, they stop in the right lane and let traffic swerve around them. There are also macho, testosterone-crazed bus drivers trying to pass everything they can on blind, uphill curves. The fact that beer and rum are sold at most gas stations should give you an idea of how many drivers are intoxicated, especially late at night.
When possible, avoid traveling during peak rush hours in the cities, and after dark anywhere. New highway projects since 2000 have improved the roads in many parts of the country, but many drivers take advantage of the improved straightaways to speed like bats out of hell. Take time before entering a city to plan your route, as you will not have the luxury of reading the map while you navigate traffic. That goes double for Managua , where choosing the wrong lane can be disastrous!
So how’s that Spanish coming along, amigo? Nicaragua’s police force is poorly paid and not adverse to a little pocket money (if you catch our drift). Foreign drivers without diplomatic plates are frequent targets for document checks, but if you commit a mala maniobra (moving violation, literally “bad move”) in their presence, you’d better have your papers ready. (Here’s a really bad move: calling your interlocutor “compañero” is likely to double the bribe.)
Crooked cops will demand to confiscate your license and threaten to hold it hostage until you come in the following week to pay the fine—unless, of course, you’d rather take care of the issue right then, hint hint, wink wink.
If you are involved in a vehicular accident, do not move your vehicle from the scene of the crime until authorized by a police officer, even if it is blocking traffic. Lacking high-tech crime-scene equipment, Nicaraguan police will try to understand how the accident occurred based on what they see at the site. Drivers who move their vehicle at the scene of the accident (thus altering the crime scene) are legally liable for the incident.
Any driver in Nicaragua that causes injuries to another person will be taken into immediate custody, regardless of insurance and circumstances, and remain there until the courts reach a decision—sometimes weeks later—or until the injured party signs a waiver releasing the driver of liability.
To avoid a lengthy court proceeding and horrifying jail stay, it may be worth your while to plead guilty and pay a fine (which historically does not exceed $1,000, even in the case of a death). But call your embassy and get a lawyer immediately, nevertheless; this is what they do best.