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Nicaraguan Address System


Nicaragua has a unique address system. In this system, there are no street names used! This system has caused many people to get lost and especially for people not familiar with the area it might be hard to locate a certain address. Nicaraguans, however, are in general proud on having their own system and have no problems using it.

How it works

Instead of street names or numbers Nicaraguans use reference points from where they start describing a certain address. There are many known buildings, companies, churches, or other reference points, which are used to get a general idea where something is located. The next step is to state how many blocks away the particular address lies from the reference point.

An example could be From the Calvario Church, 1 block south, half a block east

This is an example of a very simple (translated) address. The reference point in this case is the Calvario Church, a well known church in León. By simply going one block (a block is used to refer to a series of houses or lots separated from other buildings by a road) south and half a block east you will be at the desired address.

Complicating factors

This sounds kind of easy. There are some more complicating factors, though. First of all, east and west are not always used. Instead, the words arriba and abajo function as substitutes. Arriba, which means up or above signifies the direction from which the sun comes up: east. Abajo, on the contrary, means down or below and it is used instead of west. The words oriente (east) and poniente (west) are other substitutes that are sometimes used.

In addition to these words, another interesting word is used in certain places: al lago. This means to the lake, and it is used in cities like Managua and Granada which border a lake. Although it can be helpful to know that you have to go towards the lake, it can be hard to figure out in what direction the lake is situated when you are standing in an unknown street somewhere in the middle of Managua!

Another complicating factor is the fact that not all reference points are easy to find. In general Nicaraguans have no problem finding them, but for foreigners it might be another case. Churches, statues, squares, buildings, or other present points are relatively easy to find. There are instances, however, in which the reference points do not exist anymore! Before, they were well known points and were therefore used as reference points. Somewhere in the past the building or object was removed or destroyed. The addresses using this reference point now changed slightly but they kept the original object.

Let's take Lacmiel, a company that was used as a reference point in the past. An address could be:

Lacmiel, 2 cuadras arriba, 1/2 cuadra al sur (translated: from Lacmiel 2 blocks east, 1/2 block south).

Nowadays the address would be:

Donde fue Lacmiel, 2 cuadras arriba, 1/2 cuadra al sur (translated: where previously was located Lacmiel 2 blocks east, 1/2 block south).

As you can probably understand, finding out where some building was located can be tough!

Roads and neighborhoods

You might have absolutely no idea where some reference point is located. Fortunately, some other references can be used to track down an address. All of the major roads in Nicaragua have small signs that tell the distance from the start of the road. Every now and then you will see signs next to the road (in Managua they are small green signs with white letters, in other places they might look different) stating a number. Those numbers are also used in addresses. So an address could start with Carretera Masaya Km 4... which means: Kilometer 4 of the highway to Masaya...

The great thing about the kilometer references is that they are exact. Furthermore, they are easy to find as they are situated somewhere on the road. The next step is to find out how many blocks or meters you will have to go next...

Another help can be found in the neighborhoods that also function as rough references. Often this is the first element stated in an address. For instance, Bolonia is a neighborhood in Managua which will is also to be found on maps. If this is used in the address, you will right away know where (more or less) to go.

You should also be aware of the fact that gas station and traffic lights also function as reference points.

Odd measurements

Not every address is at the corner of a block. Therefore, more specific distances are used to locate an address. Instead of meters, Nicaraguans use the old Spanish unit of length, the vara, in everyday use. The length of a vara varied at various times and places, but it was officially set at around 83.59 centimeters in 1801. This is roughly 20% less than a meter, so in calculating the distance, keep this in mind.

Another special measurement used is the manzana. This word, which also means apple in Spanish, is the equivalent 10,000 square varas. This is practically equal to 70% of the surface of a hectare, and it is a measurement often used in real estate.

Deciphering Nicaraguan addresses

Many other words are used in Nicaraguan addresses, especially at the end of the address when the location has to be specified precisely. Words like next to or in front of are often used. Sporadically, buildings have a number which can also be used in the address. Below is a list of the many words used in the addresses, which can help you decipher the Nicaraguan addresses!

Word Meaning Example
cuadra block Rotonda El Güegüense, 2 cuadras arriba
vara vara (84 cm.) Clínica Santa María, 1 cuadra al Sur, 20 varas abajo
Norte north Semáforos de Enitel Villa Fontana, 30 mts al Norte
Este east De la catedral, 1 cuadra al Este, 1/2 cuadra al Sur
Sur south De la Parroquia, 3 1/2 cuadras al Sur
Oeste west Plaza Inter, 1 cuadra al Sur, 1 cuadra al Oeste
al lago toward the lake Casa de los Mejia Godoy, 1 cuadra al lago
arriba east Parque Darío, 1/2 cuadra arriba
abajo west Del Reloj, 1 cuadra abajo
esquina corner Esquina Sureste del Parque Central
carretera highway Km 19 Carretera a Ticuantepe
parque park Parque Sandino, 500 varas al Este
puente bridge Puente León 2 cuadras abajo
semáforos traffic lights Semáforos del Zumen, 50 varas al Sur
contiguo a next to Pista Juan Pablo II, contiguo a Union Fenosa
frente a in front of De la Subasta 10 vrs al lago, frente a Café Soluble
entrada entrance Entrada a reparto Cailagua, 20 varas al Sur
de donde fue... there where was... De donde fue el cine Cabrera 1 cuadra al Norte
iglesia church Frente a Iglesie Santa Ana
calle street Calle Principal de San Juan del Sur
costado side Costado oeste del parque central
barrio (often poor) district Barrio San Judas, Los Cocos, 3 cuadras arriba
escuela school Contiguo a Escuela Salvador Mendieta


Finally, there are some abbreviations that are useful to know. The following abbreviations are often used in writing:

Abbreviation Word Meaning
c cuadra block
vrs / vs varas varas (84 cm.)
N Norte north
E Este east
S Sur south
Oe Oeste west
Esq esquina corner
Igl iglesia church
Fte frente a in front of
Esc escuela school
Bo barrio (often poor) district

Do you feel comfortable already? Try translating the following:

Bo San Antonio, Igl La Batería, 1c al S 1c al Oe 30vs al S Fte Esc Castillo

If that's no problem then you're ready to hit the Nicaraguan roads!