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Location, location, location!

Lately we’ve been receiving a lot of emails from followers with questions regarding real estate in Nicaragua. We are far from experts on this subject, but we have learned a lot in the last sixteen months that we’ve been here. 

One thing in particular we’ve learned is that locale is paramount for us being happy long term.

Prior to making the move to Nicaragua our home was in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We were a one hour drive from the beautiful snow-capped Rocky Mountains, but a ten hour drive from the ocean. 

Rocky Mountains

Canmore, Alberta, Canada

Our plan when arriving in Nicaragua was to move around a bit in the first year, so that we could get a feel for where we wanted to settle down. And that’s exactly what we did. 

Our first rental home was situated on the tranquil beach of Poneloya. Falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore was amazing. 

This way to the ocean...

– Having the sand right at our steps was even better

But unfortunately it didn’t take long to learn that life in Poneloya wasn’t for us. This lovely little beach town was too tranquil for our liking. After a couple of weeks there we were already craving more stimulation. 

We also learned that owning a beach house doesn’t come without drawbacks. Salt air does major damage to a home. It causes electronics to expire long before they should. And, unless you paint it multiple times throughout the year, metal will rust.  Wood work also needs to be stained or painted annually.

After one month in Poneloya we moved into a guest house in the bustling city of Leon. 

Dining Tables

– An affordable and comfortable housing option in Leon

Although there’s a lot to do in Leon, there aren’t many expats living there. Getting to know a few locals was great, but we soon realized we needed at least a couple of friends with similar interests, outlooks and life experiences. 

Another downfall of Leon is the unbearable heat. 

During the last month of dry season temperatures soar upwards of 40 degrees Celsius (that’s 104 Fahrenheit for y’all Americans) with nearly 100% humidity and no breeze for relief.

When there is wind, it comes from the inland volcanoes rather than the ocean. It blows across the dry, dusty fields and into the city.  There were days in Leon when we felt like we were standing in a giant hair-drying sand blaster.

Granada was the next city we called home.  It’s similar to Leon in size and pace, but offers cool lake breezes. 

Granada, Nicaragua

We loved the location of Granada. It is close to Managua, the airport, Laguna de Apoyo and the National Handicraft market in Masaya.

Granada also offers more westernized options to coincide with the plethora of expats. But unfortunately for us, our parents fit in much more naturally with the age group of most expats who are currently living there.  

Mojito Friday at Grill House

– Mojito Friday with the gang at Grill House was always a good time!

Next stop? The coastal town of San Juan del Sur.

The Bay of San Juan del Sur

The Bay of San Juan del Sur

Originally we thought San Juan del Sur would be too small a place for us to settle down in, but boy were we wrong.  Within a very short period of time the town had won us over.

Even though San Juan del Sur is touristy, there is a great mix of locals and expats in all age ranges. The expat community here is very diverse. 

Location, location, location!

– Here in San Juan del Sur we have many great friends from all over the world

The house we currently rent is located in town about three blocks from the beach. We are up on a hill so we can take advantage of the cool breezes from Lake Nicaragua. 

Sounds great?  Right? 

Well, it probably would be if dogs and roosters weren’t barking and cock-a-doodle-doing all day and night. Last week they were competing to be heard over parades, firecrackers and the techo beats of Semana Santa. It seems as though every second week there is a holiday accompanied by a celebration, that can sometimes last for days.

After sixteen months of moving around we think we finally have figured out it. 

The San Juan del Sur area is definitely where we want to settle down. We have been (and still are) passively looking for a property to call our own.

In a perfect world our ideal location would meet the following criteria:

  • Close to town
  • On a hill (so we’ll have breezes)
  • Ocean view
  • Jungle-”esque”
  • Close to a beach
  • Priced right
  • Away from dogs, roosters, parades and fireworks
  • Flexibility and options for house construction

Our list is long, but amazingly enough we think we’ve found something that gets a check in all the boxes. 

We are super excited to be meeting with a friend (and developer) later this week to learn more about his plans for his 100 acre development located just outside of town.

Celebrating St. Paddy’s Day in San Juan del Sur

This year we celebrated St. Paddy’s Day much of the same way we would have had we been in Canada.  We participated in a pub crawl.

The festivities kicked off midday from Big Wave Dave’s Bar & Restaurant.  There were a couple of things that made this particular pub crawl unique – our mode of transportation and the cost.

We paraded through the city on a horse cart, two ox carts and a jeep. The fact that drinking and riding in an ox cart through the city is completely legal made for a very interesting day. 

Locals lined the streets snapping photos of us as we paraded around town. 

St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday that Nicaraguans have heard of, but don’t celebrate. To them it’s a day in March when they get to witness Gringos getting as drunk as some Nicas do on Sundays.

And at $20 USD for transportation, rum and beer on the cart, as well as drinks at each of the 4 establishments we stopped at the price was hard to beat.

Huge thanks to John Crilly of Classic Cruisers for organizing the event.  Special thanks also to Dan & Cesar for allowing me to combine some of their photos with mine to create the large gallery of images shown below.

“Reinvented” at 37 and Loving Life in Nicaragua

Gord and I are pleased to share with you our very first publication titled ““Reinvented” at 37 and Loving Life in Nicaragua”.  It’s a two page spread in the Lifestyle section of the January 2013 issue of International Living Magazine.  

To read our article click on the image below.

Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 6.38.37 PM

We look forward to continuing to work with International Living in 2013 and hope to have more articles to share with you real soon!

To learn more about International Living click here.

Photo Journalism Friday: A Political Parade

Photo Journalism Friday

It’s 4 pm on October 31st in San Juan del Sur. Yes, that’s right – it’s Halloween.

Local and expat children walk door-to-door to designated businesses collecting candy. Meanwhile truckloads, busloads and carloads of Sandinistas proudly wave their red and black flags in support of Daniel Ortega.

The music is loud.  The energy is high.

FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) theme songs, that oddly enough, have been remade to the rhythm of popular American classics blast from huge speakers. It’s an all out party for these members of the FSLN as they prepare for the upcoming municipal election.

Along the malecon tents and stacks of Tona (local beer) are setup around a giant stage. All of this in support of (and paid for) by the FSLN.

I kind of feel like I’m at an NFL Tailgate Party, except for one glaring difference.  At this event there is only one team. 

Another Rental Home: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

On October 4th we moved into our sixth rental since arriving in Nicaragua ten and a half months ago. It is a fully furnished two bedroom, one bath home in the barrio of Frente Sur.  The monthly rent is $300 USD. Water and cable TV are included, but we are responsible to cover the extra cost of electricity and internet.

Another Rental Home:  San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

– Bienvenidos Al Barrio Frente Sur

When Gord and I were planning our move to Nicaragua we discussed living in a Nica neighborhood, rather than a gated community and this is just one of the things we love our new place – it’s location. 

Another Rental Home:  San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

– Home Sweet Home

Another Rental Home - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

– Our Street

The front porch is our favorite part of the house. It’s a great place to sit and enjoy a cold Tona (local beer) while watching real Nica life happen around us. 

Rental Home - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Rental House - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

– At times it’s difficult to get Gord out of his hammock chair

As with most Nicaraguan neighborhoods there are a few roosters and some noisy dogs around. There are also lots of kids playing in the street, some of which happen to be very entertaining. 

We have traveling sales people come through selling everything you can imagine – and maybe even some things you can’t. The lady who came by the other day carrying an armload of bras and a suitcase full of boxers made us chuckle. Door to door underwear sales?  Really?

Al Barrio Frente Sur - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Through the front door you enter the living room which comfortably seats four.

Rental Home - San Juan del Sur

Rental Home - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

To the right of the living room is the master bedroom. It’s just big enough for a queen bed and wardrobe for our clothes. We may not have a lot of space, but we do have a comfy mattress and that makes me very happy.

Rental Home - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Our second favourite feature in the house is the shower. It’s double wide and has loads of water flow and pressure. Of all the places we’ve rented in Nicaragua to date, this shower gets our vote as the best!

Rental Home - San Juan del Sur

Rental Home - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

– In full Nica fashion we have a teal toilet and beige sink

Compared to our last place the kitchen in our new house is a dream. We are excited to have counter space for food prep which means we can get back to eating more meals at home again.  

Rental Home - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Rental Home - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

– Can we offer you a drink?

Rental Home - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragau

– As you can see we are without cupboard or cabinet space, but boxes and baskets work just as well

Rental Home - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

– Beautiful tropical flowers grow just outside our kitchen window

Our guest bedroom is just off the kitchen. It too, is very basic with a queen bed and small wardrobe for clothes. I find it a bit odd that there is no window in the room, but apparently this is quite common here in Nica.

Rental Home - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Rental Home - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

We are really enjoying everything our new little house has to offer.  In fact it’s the first place we rented that feels like a home. But – we’re only here temporarily.

Next month we’re moving on to bigger and better things. We were able to secure a three bedroom, two bathroom, air conditioned house here in town.  It’s up on the hill overlooking San Juan and has huge windows on three sides that will allow the nearly constant off-shore winds to blow through. We have committed to 6 months in this house, but realistically we can’t see moving…unless…we decide to build a home of our own.

We can’t wait to move in to the new place and are super pumped that friends and family will now have a comfortable place to stay in beautiful San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.

Soooooooo….who wants to come for a visit???

Culture Shock in Canada

1 small bottle of water – $3
18 bottles of beer – $40
Haircut, color & brow wax – $170
Sushi – $40
A few groceries – $57

Cha-ching…cha-ching…cha-ching!  

It was day 4 of my 1st trip home to Calgary when I officially started to freak out about how much money I was going to spend during my 5 week stay. If I continued at this pace the MasterCard was in for a serious beating.

After spending 8 months in Nicaragua it didn’t take me long to figure out what I had missed most in Canada.

1.  My Nephew Aiden – How sweet it was to be reunited with my adorable 11 month old nephew Aiden. From camping, to going for walks, to seeing Aiden through his 10 & 11 month birthdays, to reading Llama, Llama Wakey Wake over and over again and being there as he learned to crawl the time I spent with him was definitely the highlight of my trip.

– Day 2 in Calgary with Aiden

Moyie Lake, British Columbia - Canada

– Hangin’ in the Hammock Swing – Moyie Lake, British Columbia

– A rocking chair & a shirt from Nica for Aiden

2.  My Girlfriends (especially my sister) – Getting together with my special gang of girlfriends and being able to pick up right where we left off was a great feeling.  Heart to heart talks with my sis was something I think we both needed.

– Good Times with Girlfriends @ Melrose Bar & Cafe

Canmore, Alberta - Canada

– My sister Sally & I  – Canmore, Alberta

3.  Shopping I know my stores and I know my sizes. I know where to find the best deals on my favorite products and I love a good sale. Planning my visit at the end of the summer season was a good move – EVERYTHING was on sale. I so miss being able to get good quality clothing and the products I love at great prices.

– Aiden was such a good little shopper!

4.  The Food – $40 on sushi (for one sitting) was a bit expensive, but I gotta tell ya, it was worth every penny. Strawberries, blueberries and Activia yogurt were part of my daily diet.  And although not technically classified as food, I couldn’t seem to get enough 5 cent candy from Mac’s.

Joey Crowfoot - Calgary, AB

– Mmm! Tuna Sashimi Salad

5.  My Hairstylist – Cassidy from Ca Va Bien rocks! After 8 months without a real haircut it felt great to have my hair cut & colored by a professional I trust. Now if only I could convince her to move to Nicaragua.

6.  TV – Specifically the Slice channel. I have to admit I watched quite a few episodes of Say Yes to the Dress and What Not to Wear and even caught a couple of episodes of Intervention Canada while I was home.  Hey – don’t judge me! 

As we pulled into the driveway at my sister’s house on July 26th I felt like I had never left. Aside from Aiden, not much had changed.  

But after spending two months in Calgary – 10 months after departing on a Nicaraguan adventure with nothing but a couple of suitcases, and my husband Gord – I realized I’ve changed.

I’m thrifty now. I’m more laid back. I’m less concerned or caught up in the minor details of day to day and I’ve realized not everything has to be perfect. I don’t need a fancy house, or a designer handbag to make me happy. More importantly, I realized just how special time spent with family, friends and loved ones is and how much it means to me.

My cousin Nicole & I – Canmore, Alberta

– Chowin’ down on hot dogs! – Eau Claire Campground – Kananaskis, AB

Unfortunately all good things must eventually come to an end.  

– Almost packed & ready to go!

– Just minutes after this photo was taken tears started to flow.

Saying goodbye sucks, but as the plane left the runway in Calgary – 285 days after my Nicaraguan adventure began – I was more excited than sad. This time I wasn’t leaving home – I was going home.  

One Month’s Living Expenses: Granada, Nicaragua

Starting on April 1st Gord and I have tracked every single cordoba we’ve spent through to the end of the month.  To help us with this task we’re using a great little app called iXpenseIt. It’s available on iTunes for $4.99 USD and so far it’s worked great in helping us track our purchases and better manage our money.

Before you ask us why we would bother to take the time to do such a let me explain why. When Gord and I were researching our move to Nicaragua the burning question was,

“How much does it cost to live in Nicaragua?”  

We had difficulty finding the kind of detailed information we were looking for so today’s blog post is dedicated to those of you out there with the same question.

Before jumping right to the numbers I want to share a few important details regarding our lifestyle and the way we chose to live.

  • We are currently renting a brand new studio apartment in Granada, Nicaragua. It is fully furnished and our apartment complex has large saltwater pool, rooftop terrace and too many other amenities to mention.  Although our apartment offers hot water and air conditioning we choose to live without.
  • We own a 2001 Hyundai Galloper that we use for the occasional road trip and out of town travel.  Granada is a very walkable, so that’s how we typically get around.
  • We have no children or pets.
  • We prepare and eat most of our meals in house, but enjoy dining out at least a couple of times per week.  We are also big fans of ice cold Tona and Flor de Cana.

Our targeted budget for this month was $1400 USD.  We know some expats who are living on a lot less and others who are living on much more.  We are very pleased that we managed to end the month off at $1404.51, just $4.51 over budget.

Now onto the numbers…

The table below shows a detailed summary of our expenses by category.  Please note that the exchange rate is based on 23 cordobas per $1 USD.

And for those of you that want even more detail just scroll down the page to review every single purchase we made during the month of April.

If you have any questions regarding the Cost of Living in Nicaragua please feel free to drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you!

Our Social Card

What’s a social card you ask?

Well, it’s similar to a business card, but used for social occasions. It is a convenient way to provide your friends, family and acquaintances the information they need to stay in touch. On it you can have as little as your Facebook address or email address, or if you prefer your home address and telephone number. A social card can be used when a business card is not appropriate. 

Tired of writing the URL address to our blog on a napkin or scrap piece of paper every time we made a new acquaintance Gord and I decided it was time to have some social cards made up. I spent a couple of hours on the design one day; followed by a few minor edits, tweaks and changes a few days later and then I was ready to go to print.

I placed a call to our good friend Carlos who told me where to go. We took our sample image to the local imprenta (print shop) here in Leon and three days later we had 100 really cool cards in hand.  I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome and especially pleased with the price. 100 cards rang up at 180 cordobas or $7.83 USD.

Our Lovely Little Apartment in Leon

After two months of waiting for the previous tenants to move out we were finally able to move into the lovely little apartment in the guest house here in Leon. Our monthly rent has increased slightly from $300 USD for the room we were renting to $360 USD.  

Our new pad has great curb side appeal and faces a nice little garden. 

We are set up in the kitchen with a few dishes, pots and pans, blender, small refrigerator and gas stove with oven. After two months of using a poorly equipped shared kitchen we are super pumped about having our own space to prepare meals.  

The espresso machine and toaster are ours.  The toaster is one of few possessions we’ve bought since we arrived three and a half months ago.  We picked it up last month at Maxi Pali for $12 USD.  Our friends Chad and Marnie brought our espresso machine to us from home.  Thanks so much guys; coffee never tasted so good!

We’re all set in the living room with four nice rocking chairs and a table.  Now we just need some company!  

Our bedroom is a good size with a huge walk in closet and the queen bed is comfy.  There is an air conditioner that can be turned on for an additional $100 per month, but since the ceiling fan works well enough we’ve opted to go without.

It’s nice to have the desk with a large mirror and an additional table with a couple of stools in our room. Cable TV is included in our rent and we still have free wi-fi in the common areas of the house. 

As per the usual in Nicaragua we are without hot water which means only cold showers for us. In Canada I wouldn’t have dreamed of having a cold shower but with the extreme heat here it seems like the only way to go.

Having spent the last two months anxiously waiting for the previous tenants to move out so we could move in it seems ironic that while spending time in Granada with Chad & Marnie last week we found an apartment we simply couldn’t pass up and will be moving in just a couple of weeks.

One Month’s Living Expenses: Leon, Nicaragua

When Elisha and I decided to move to Nicaragua we knew that we would need to be on a budget – and believe it or not it was something we had never done before.

Elisha’s budget was always based on spending any extra cash that she had, while I saved whatever extra money I felt I didn’t need.  That being said we have always lived below our means and have never been extravagant people.

Although we’ve been told by a few people that a budget of $1,200 USD per month in Nicaragua is quite high this is the amount we agreed upon.  

We figured it would take some time to find out which restaurants, markets, shops and grocery stores would have the best deals and accepted the fact that December and January would be “learning months”.  We weren’t surprised to find out that were were over budget for the month of January.  

Total expenditures for the month came in at $1,201 USD.  

We learned a few things things this month and have decided to make a number of changes.

First and foremost, we are going to prepare more of our own meals and have fruit on hand for breakfast.  When we reviewed our detailed spreadsheet of the month’s expenses we realized we ate out 3 meals per day, more often than not.  Although the nearly 50 meals we had out were cheap ($280 USD), they weren’t necessarily healthy for the waistline or the budget.

Another change will be our drinking.  Apparently we’ve been celebrating because not a day went by in January where we didn’t have a cerveza or two.  Even though our total expenditure for alcohol was just shy of $160 USD, we will make a couple of changes here as well.  We plan to cut back some and be smarter about where we buy our liquor.  Instead of paying 100 cordobas for a 375 ml bottle of rum, we will buy the 2 litre combo pack at Pali for 189 cords. And instead of paying 18 cords at the grocery store for a 355 ml can of beer we will buy a case of 12 litres at a cost of only 36 cordobas per bottle.

We spent $205 USD on groceries.  With a commitment to eat in more often we expect this amount to go up slightly for the month, but since we’ve figured out the best places to shop we aren’t expecting a huge increase.

$32 USD was the amount we paid to purchase a cell phone and talking minutes for the month. For February we have purchased a package that cost $7 USD that should last through to the end of the month.  $60 USD went to Amazon and iTunes for books, music and iPAD apps.  $30 USD went to transportation (bus and taxi fares). We spent $52 USD on a nice dinner out to celebrate our 5th year anniversary.  We enjoyed a delicious meal with 2 appetizers, a main course of filet mignon, a nice bottle of Italian wine AND pecan pie for dessert.  A great night out and worth every penny we spent!

Monthly recurring fixed expenses include $300 for rent and $80 for Spanish lessons. Besides a few random incidentals, this is what we spent our money on for the month of January. 

Although our friend Glyn lives on $300 a month (and thinks we are living the life of rock stars and drinking champagne every night) we happen to think we did a fine job with our first attempt at following a budget!

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