PSA: Get Yellow Fever Vaccine Before Visiting Nicaragua (& Some Other Central / South American Countries)

If you have any plans to visit the rainforest or any other tropical region of Central / South America, I highly recommend getting your Yellow Fever Vaccine (YFV).  The vaccine is good for your health and you can avoid the uncomfortable situation I recently had where I had to sleep in the Managua, Nicaragua (MGA) airport because I did not have a Yellow Fever Vaccine.

Let me back up a little bit…

2 weeks ago, Jim and I flew from San Salvador, El Salvador (SAL) to Managua, Nicaragua (MGA).  When we got off the plane, there were 3 doctors who were meeting with passengers and reviewing their passport and custom form.  The line was moving pretty quickly until I handed over my passport and custom form to one of the doctors.  She flipped through my passport a few times, carefully looking at passport stamps, then back to my custom form, and then back to my passport.  I had no idea what she was looking for, I assumed she was looking for my El Salvador exit stamp, but that was not the case.

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After she handed my passport and custom form to the doctor in charge, they asked me which countries I had visited in the last 10 days.  I rattled off Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.  They then asked me if I had a Yellow Fever Vaccine and I said no.  Hmm, she told me to follow her and we went down to customs.  She told me to wait here and then she took my passport to a back office.  After a few minutes, she came back and told me that since I had visited Bolivia in the last 10 days and did not have a Yellow Fever Vaccine, I was not allowed to enter Nicaragua.  Uh oh, that was not good.  She told me that I would have to stay at the airport tonight and take the first flight out in the morning back to San Salvador.  Uh oh again.  She then took my passport and told me to follow an airport employee (let’s call him my babysitter) upstairs to my departure gate.

While at the gate, I did a quick search on the Travel.State.Gov website for Nicaragua and it said the Yellow Fever Vaccine may be required for entry.

I scrolled down to the Entry, Exit and Visa Requirement section and it (again) said that the Yellow Fever Vaccine may be required, depending on which countries I visited.  You can do more research on the CDC website, but long story short, I spent the night at the Managua, Nicaragua (MGA) airport.

At this point, I had to start planning my great escape morning flight from San Salvador, El Salvador (SAL) to Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR) since I had a 2 night stay at the beautiful Andaz Papagayo Resort the next day (I have a few blog posts in the works regarding the resort).  I did some research on Google Flights and found a flight from San Salvador, El Salvador (SAL) to San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) and then onto Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR).  The last minute flight was $436.  Ouch!  I then searched for an award ticket, but I could only find award space on the SAL-SJO flight, not on the SJO-LIR flight.  The cost of the SAL-SJO flight was $341, but the award ticket cost 8,000 United Airlines miles + $128.61 in taxes and fees ($75 of that was the close-in booking fee).  Sold!

Since I couldn’t find an award ticket for the $96 SJO-LIR flight, I booked the flight using 6,400 Chase Ultimate Reward Points (getting 1.5 cents per point with my Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card).  So now that my morning flights were booked, I was able to “sleep” a little bit “better”.  I was still stuck at the airport, remember?

After turning off my laptop, it was time for “bed”.  I went over to my babysitter and motioned that I wanted to use the restroom (baño, por favor) so I could get ready for bed and brush my teeth.  He pointed across the hall to the restroom.  I went inside, got ready for bed and came out.  My next goal was to find a “nice” place to “sleep” in the airport.  Unfortunately, the airport floor was very hard and cold, the lights were very bright, and the announcements were very loud.  These are not the ideal conditions for a great night sleep.  I was also paranoid that I was going to fall asleep and then someone (maybe the babysitter?) was going to take my backpack and suitcase.  Therefore, I wrapped my backpack around the bench pole, pulled all the zippers close to the bottom, placed my backpack by my head and then had my legs “resting” on my suitcase.  I was comfortable for about 10 minutes, then I would have to find a new position.  That cycle lasted for the next several hours.  To say I had a bad night sleep would be a major understatement.

Morning finally rolled around and my babysitter was still on his phone (like all babysitters, I presume).  I went over and asked to go to the restroom again.  He pointed to the restroom and I walked over.  I brushed my teeth and put my contacts back in.  When I looked in the mirror, I looked like a wreck.  I then went back to my “airport bedroom”.  A few minutes later, another airline employee came by with my passport and boarding pass.  He told me to get on this flight back to San Salvador, El Salvador (SAL) and that boarding would begin soon.  I boarded the flight and was glad to finally take off from Managua, Nicaragua (MGA).  After a short flight back to San Salvador (SAL), I made a beeline to the airline lounge at SAL (thank you Priority Pass!) and took a much needed shower.  I then headed to my gate and enjoyed the short flight to San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO).  That was the end of my epic adventure in Managua. I am happy to share that I had a much better time in Costa Rica.

If you have any questions about being stranded in an airport because you do not have a Yellow Fever Vaccine, please leave a comment below. Have a great day everyone!

P.S. My next post will be about my awesome flight from San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) to Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR) on a 14 seater Cessna plane.  Stay tuned!

Here are all parts of my Central / South America trip:

22 thoughts on “PSA: Get Yellow Fever Vaccine Before Visiting Nicaragua (& Some Other Central / South American Countries)

  1. Marty

    Wow! Glad you made it out ok! Do you have to have proof, like a doctors note or would a simple “yes” been sufficient?

      1. bluecat

        This is not accurate, IME. I was checking into my flight in Lima, from Peru to Costa Rica , and was asked to show my proof of YF vacination. I had the shot the year before (for a safari in Africa) and I told them I had it, but they wanted proof.

        I was escorted to the airport’s onsite medic office, and made phone calls back phone to try to get a friend to go to our house and fax us the proof of vaccination but then I remembered that some HMOs put this online. I have Kaiser and then actually had it online!

        That was good enough for the Lima officials and they let me continue my journey.

        (It was a good thing I checked in early, BTW, as this entire detour ate up all the time before my flight was to leave.)

        We now travel with our yellow cards!

  2. MIchael

    Timely topic. Note that there is a global shortage of the vaccine, so it can be somewhat difficult to find, is not inexpensive and is not covered by insurance. I got it in NJ last year and the patient before me drove from Virginia specifically to obtain it. My friend in São Paulo and her 10 mo old baby had to wait in line for 8 hours in the hot sun to get it a few weeks ago, though theirs was free. I think the CDC recently changed the recommendation to once per lifetime now.

    1. Grant Post author

      Thank you for the info. Once per life sounds good to me, I hate getting shots (but I will make sure to get this one when I can).

        1. Grant Post author

          Good thinking Katrina. I visited Guayaquil and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, but I didn’t have a yellow fever vaccine. I hope you had a great trip!

  3. Levy Flight

    If traveling to tropics then should just get yellow fever vac along with others that you’ll need. It lasts for 10years or so, if I recall. Get the card and carry it. You might also run into trouble in places you don’t expect, such as a transit airport like JNB who could stop you right there of coming out of a yellow fever country. Though I carry the card I hav never had to show it, it ain’t have been asked if vacinated.

  4. SgFm

    I just got the vaccine today. It is good for your lifetime. After you get the vaccine, the WHO yellow booklet that is pictured above must be shown when you are at customs and border patrol, in a country where it is required. In the US the CDC has approved use of an alternative vaccine to the vaccine that is currently unavailable, They have a link on their website that will take you to a page that shows the location of the currently available vaccine.

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  6. Nick @ Personal Finance Digest

    That’s interesting… we just got back from Nicaragua a few days ago and yellow fever never came up (none of us are vaccinated, but it’s the dry season and we stayed in the city the whole trip). I wonder if it’s because you traveled in other tropical countries before Nicaragua?

  7. Nick @ Personal Finance Digest

    Yep, here it is. From the State dept website:

    Who Must Comply with the Vaccination Requirement: Nicaragua requires at all ports of entry International Certificates of Vaccination for yellow fever from travelers who, less than 11 days prior to their planned entry into Nicaragua, have visited countries designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as places with the potential for active transmission of yellow fever (WHO-designated countries).

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