Nicaragua Road Network

By | October 31, 2022

Internal conflict has meant that a good road network has never really taken off, especially in eastern Nicaragua, along the Mosquito Coast, where there are virtually no roads. The road network is also not closed in other parts of the country, there are more than 3,000 kilometers of paved road. The main road runs from the border with Costa Rica through Managua to the border with Honduras, and is part of the Pan-American Highway. A road runs around the large Lake Nicaragua, with the route over the east bank being a secondary route from Managua to Costa Rica. There are two roads to the Caribbean coast, one to Bluefield and one to Puerto Cabezas. The distances are large and these roads are often in poor condition due to the tropical climate.

According to wholevehicles, the most modern roads are in and around the capital Managua. Unlike more northerly Central American countries like Honduras and Guatemala, the road network around the Nicaraguan capital is relatively well-developed, with 2×2 boulevards with occasional grade-separated intersections. There are no highways in Nicaragua. There is a 2×2 road from Managua to Masaya which is in good condition and sometimes considered an autopista. There are two ring roads around Managua, both of which are only semicircular because of the large lake where Managua is located. The city’s road network is largely grid-based, except in the suburbs.

Main roads in Nicaragua
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Nicaragua’s NIC roads.

In 1940, the Departamento de Carreteras del Ministerio de Obras Públicas was created to manage, maintain and expand Nicaragua’s road network. In 1940, Nicaragua had only 201 kilometers of road, of which no more than 52 kilometers were paved. In the period 1940-1950 many dirt roads were built. In 1955 Nicaragua had 280 kilometers of paved road. The road budget was increased at that time, and the length of paved roads increased to 811 kilometers in 1965. Between 1960 and 1975, the number of kilometers of paved road doubled from 700 to 1,500 kilometers.

The situation in Nicaragua deteriorated in the late 1970s, and a civil war was fought in the 1980s, which meant that the road network could hardly be improved at that time. The road network has been expanded considerably over the years, but the vast majority of the road network is unpaved. From the early 1990s, the asphalt road network started to grow again, from 1,600 kilometers in 1993 to 2,000 kilometers in 2000 and 2,500 kilometers in 2008. In 2012, Nicaragua had almost 24,000 kilometers of road, but only 3,282 kilometers of this is paved. Between 2007 and 2012, the paved road network increased by 13.7%.

Design requirements

Nicaragua has general design requirements for each road type. Asphalted roads must have a road profile of 6 to 10 meters wide, of which the actual carriageway must be 6 to 7.3 meters wide. The right-of-way should preferably be 20 to 40 meters, but is often impossible in built-up areas. The design speed should be 60 to 80 km/h. The maximum slope is preferably 3-8%.

Paved roads are made of asphalt or concrete. Some paved roads are also paved with cobblestones. Unpaved roads consist of various types. The best are gravel roads from 4 to 8 meters wide, these comprise 15% of all roads. In addition, there are all-weather roads from 3 to 4 meters wide that can also be driven during precipitation, these comprise about 41% of all roads in Nicaragua. Dirt roads are 2.5 – 3 meters wide and are often impassable for passenger cars during and after rain. These comprise 30% of all roads in the country.

Road Classification

Nicaragua’s road network is divided into national primary roads (nacionales de primera clase), which connect cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants with land borders and ports. National secondary roads (nacionales de segunda clasa) connect smaller towns with more than 25,000 inhabitants with major cities and primary roads. They also connect to important recreational and tourist areas.

Departmental primary roads (departamentales de primera clase) connect places with 5,000 to 25,000 inhabitants and departmental secondary roads (departamentales de segunda clase) connect places with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. Tertiary roads (caminos vecinales) form the remaining road network.

The roads of Nicaragua are again divided into the following road functions;

  • Troncal principal; forms part of the Central American road network, with more than 1,000 vehicles per day.
  • Troncal secundaria; connecting departments and smaller towns, with more than 500 vehicles per day.
  • Colectora principal; connects small towns with bigger roads and cities. More than 250 vehicles per day.
  • Colectora secundaria; connections between secondary roads. More than 250 vehicles per day.
  • Caminos vecinales; other road network, connecting villages, less than 50 vehicles per day.

Traffic intensities

Traffic in Nicaragua is not busy outside the Managua region. There are between 1,000 and 5,000 vehicles per day on the main highways, sometimes a bit more between nearby towns. Outside the main roads, only a limited share of motorized traffic consists of passenger cars. Many NIC roads numbered over 20 frequently handle less than 200 vehicles per day. Traffic is more intensive in Managua, and intensities between 20,000 and 75,000 vehicles per day are measured on the major approach roads. The country’s busiest interurban link is the NIC-4 from Managua to Masaya. Cross-border traffic is low, usually less than 1,000 vehicles at border crossings.


Tolls have to be paid on almost all main roads in Nicaragua. In 2012, there were no fewer than 588 possible routes where tolls had to be paid.

Border crossings

Nicaragua has three major border crossings with Honduras (NIC-1, NIC-15 & NIC-24) and one with Costa Rica (NIC-2). All border crossings are in the western half of Nicaragua.

Nicaragua Road Network