As rain plays music off the steel deck of our ship and droplets break the smooth waves all around us I lean back sipping my café negro. The tropical storm brought with it a cooling breeze. We just spent a week on Bocas del Toro in Panama where both Trin and I got our open water diving certification. Trin then came down with a high fever that kept us there for a few more days (Mom, he is all better now).
I used the time to reflect on our meanderings in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua as we now approach South America (I’ll save the CR review for later). Every culture we experience shapes us with new experience and ideas.
In Nicaragua I learned to appreciate the rules and regulations of the USA. While we sometimes go overboard with them we also have fewer people walking around with missing limbs or being electrocuted. Then again, the freedom to fix things cheaply exists in greater quantities. Who needs a showerhead when you can just have the water pipe sticking out of the wall.
International Living has rated Nicaragua as seventh in the world for the best place to retire in 2017. We found evidence of this with the low cost of living, an emerging infrastructure, and a topography that allows most to find a town with just the right climate.
What it costs
Our average daily cost of living was $22. That includes everything from accommodation and food to transportation and entertainment for both of us. The only thing it does not cover is health care. Even though health care is free in Nica we still maintain our own plan which includes medical evacuation for things that Nicaragua cannot treat. If we did encounter anything serious I would have evacuated to at least Costa Rica. Miscellaneous items include a hospital visit, replacement of worn out clothes/shoes, and gifts.
In my opinion, I would still be hesitant to retire or invest in Nicaragua for two major reasons:
First, the government is mob run and more focused on lining their pockets than its people (Daniel Ortega had a bromance going on with the late Hugo Chavez, a curiosity that I discovered only after seeing posters of Chavez in Somoto. It’s a scary thought).
Second, Nicaragua’s ecological system is in trouble and I don’t see anything being done to revitalize it. The natural environment is not in good shape. Maybe it was even worse before and is on the rise now, but I didn’t see a lot of conservation going on. The healthiest place was Ometepe. My concern is that even that this island will be destroyed IF they build the canal. Of course they have been talking about a coast to coast canal through Nicaragua before the Panama canal was ever built, but the Chinese seem to be pushing greatly for it now. A canal that they would own and control.
I reiterate that this is only my opinion based on only 80 days in Nicaragua. Other people’s experiences may and will be different.
In general the people of Nicaragua are very friendly and kind. We had a few of them look out for us and steer us from unsafe places. The men still need to learn how to respect women, the cat calls and lewd comments were tiring. However one free concert we went to was dedicated to stopping violence against women. I also saw many banners urging men to stop violence to women.
It seems that the people do want to make it a better place. It was hard to find anyone who was happy with the current government, but I also think the people are weary of war and allow this to continue rather than lose their sons to more violence. In 1978-79 there was a bloody overthrow of the Somoza government. During the next decade tens of thousands died in guerilla warfare. In 1979, approximately 600,000 Nicaraguans were homeless and 150,000 were either refugees or in exile out of a total population of just 2.8 million. It is no wonder to me why the wildlife is limited, they had to feed their families. I imagine that living in Nicaragua has been difficult over the last few decades yet through all that I found many kind and generous people.
Places to visit
Vacationing in Nicaragua is a great option. You can get a lot for a small price. The stars on the map below indicate where we went while in Nicaragua. I have numbered them based on which ones we enjoyed the most. If you have only a short time in Nicaragua start with #1.
1. Corn Islands
Absolutely beautiful beaches. Rating a beach is subject to personal preference. We like calm crystal clear water and great swimming. The Arena Beach at Big Corn is one of the best beaches we have visited in our opinion. If you have time I highly suggest the more adventurous route by boat to get to Big Corn. However if your time is limited you can fly to Big Corn from Managua. Life on Big Corn was relaxing.
Beautiful nature, we actually saw wild animals in Ometepe – the only place in Nicaragua where we saw wild monkeys. The volcanoes are stunning, covered in lush green on a few sides. Just don’t rent bikes from Charly’s while there, nor take a moped on the dirt roads around the volcanoes, you could wreck like we did. Ride a dirt bike instead.
3. Somoto Canyon area
The Somoto canyons are nothing compared to the canyons in Utah, USA but they are quite nice and makes for a wonderful day activity. We enjoyed the town of Somoto. It has cooler weather and cleaner streets.
4. Northern Highlands
Esteli, Jinotega, Matagalpa area. There is a great hike out to see the rock man near Esteli. Both Jinotega and Matagalpa have a cross high up on the mountain overlooking the city that you can hike to. It is free in Jinotega and costs $1 each in Matagalpa. Both have a great view at the top. The Matagalpa hike was very pretty and worth the entrance fee. This area is highly recommended for its mountains and nice clean towns (clean for Nicaragua).
Seeing the eastern side of Nicaragua and the steep dramatic mountains will give great variety to your trip. The week we spent in Waslala was one of my favorite weeks in Nicaragua as we had the opportunity to turn Homes of Plastic into metal homes. However I only put it as number five because the group we were with that made it such an awesome week is no longer there, they have gone back to the states.
The only reason we rate Granada above Leon is that we fell in love with Laguna de Apoyo. Downtown Granada and its colonial buildings were also beautiful. While in Granada take a day tour on Lake Nicaragua to see the islands and swim in the warm water near the hot spring.
We spent a month in Leon and felt at home with our hosts Manuel and Romy. They are a lovely quiet couple who looked out for all their guests and enjoy getting to know them. We shared a few meals with them and felt right at home. When one of the guests was mugged, they did everything they could to help him and dealt with the police with and for him.
We were there for the month of December. It is a great time to visit Leon as there are so many celebrations. We participated in the La Griteria celebration and were able to bring in the new year with a bang. There are also great attractions in the area such as volcano boarding on Cerro Negro and hiking Telica Volcano, you can do it without a guide.
8. San Juan del Sur
If you surf and party this might be the top pick for you. Since we do neither we were unimpressed with the gray water from town dumping into the bay. We did not even swim, the water was just not inviting. You might also run into the world’s worst pickpocket.
For transportation we primarily used the Chicken bus. Watch your stuff, don’t let it out of sight and be willing to get off the bus and grab the next one if you need to. We found it a fun way to travel and a great cultural experience. Also very, very cheap. Hitchhiking is also good in Nica. Flag down a truck headed the right direction and hop in the back. Tap the side when you want to get out.
There are many taxis available though we never use them, and the taxi drivers take every opportunity to catch your attention by honking at you even if you made absolutely no indication of needing a ride.
For lodging the best way to find a great deal is to not book ahead. When you arrive in a new town walk around a bit and ask for prices. Many places are not really online yet and we never had trouble finding availability. Negotiate on the price specially if you’re staying multiple nights. Doing this helped us average only $9 a night while in Nicaragua. If you need luxuries you will need to spend a bit more.
Other Ways To Save Money
We were able to save by cooking our own food and handwashing our own clothes. Our life was slower and more simple in Nicaragua. It was relaxing to do just one thing at a time.
We don’t have the expense of a monthly phone bill. We bought a Claro SIM card for a few occasional times when we needed to call someone or use Whatsapp without wifi, but we could have gotten by without doing so. With all the options available on WiFi having a phone service is not really necessary. My friends can call me over WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger (both free over wifi). Gmail calling is a great way for me to make outgoing calls for business.
When traveling long term to countries such as Nicaragua it is helpful and a money saver to have your own water filter. We purchased a Sawyer mini water filter. It was less than $20, much less than what you would spend on bottled water for a few months. In countries such as this it is possible for even the bottled water to be contaminated. With a water filter you can essentially drink any water safely.
Recently (five months into our travel) I acquired a new phone number that is attached to my gmail account. I now have a phone number again – free with no monthly fees! I may not ever activate cellular minutes again . .maybe 🙂 I wish I knew before we left the States and disconnected our phones that I could have ported my old cell number to my gmail! Don’t make the same mistake as I did. Once it is disconnected it is too late.
I have fond memories of Nicaragua and our Nicaraguan friends like Tania, Joseph (while not from Nica, he and is family live there now), Manuel and Romy and more who make the place special to us.
Banner Photo: Sunset on Volcan Telica
Uppsala Conflict Data Program Conflict Encyclopedia, Nicaragua, State-based conflict, In depth, Nicaragua under Sandinista rule, http://www.ucdp.uu.se/gpdatabase/gpcountry.php?id=117®ionSelect=4-Central_Americas#
evolution of demography in Nicaragua (1961-2003), Data FAOSTAT, http://faostat.fao.org/faostat/help-copyright/copyright-e.htm (last updated 11 February 2005)