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7 More Reasons We Love Living in Nicaragua

7 More Reasons We Love Living in Nicaragua#1
For $4.10 USD we can get for 1 watermelon, 1 pineapple, 6 green mangos, 1 very large carrot, 1 cantaloupe, 1 avocado and 1/2 dozen bananas!

#2
After enjoying a cold Tona at sunset at one of our favorite beach bars we went to pay the bill. They couldn’t provide change for 100 cordobas so they said we could pay next time. Funny thing is C$100 is equal to $4.12 USD.

#3
In April our Nica neighbor who has been in the same house for all 39 years of her life – and is now finally able to build a kitchen and indoor bathroom in her home – gifted us with a six pack of Guatemalan beer during Semana Santa! So, so sweet and kind of her!

#4
We have time to cook!

#5
We can take our dog everywhere, including our favorite bars and restaurants.

#6
Lola, our favorite vendor at the fruits and vegetable market gifted us with a big juicy mango one day – just because!  We weren’t even making a purchase.

#7
The kind policeman that pulled Elisha over for not wearing her seatbelt (only to find out that her license had expired) allowed her to pay the C$600 ($24.79 USD) fine onsite for only C$200 ($8.26 USD).

5 Money Saving Tips for the Nicaraguan Expat

5 Money Saving Tips for the Nicaraguan Expat

We moved to Nicaragua nearly two years ago. Along the way have discovered a plethora of ways to save a buck.

We now live in a nicer home and own and maintain a vehicle.  Overall of our quality of life is better. 

The interesting thing? Our budget hasn’t really changed.

Here’s how we do it!

#1

BUY BEVERAGES FROM THE LOCAL DISTRIBUTOR
No matter where you buy it in Nicaragua beer and rum is cheap, but purchasing it at our local distributor allows us to save more than 50%.

To put things into perspective…

A can of Tona purchased at the corner store costs $1 USD, while a bottle purchased at the distributor rings it at just 0.53₵. If you want even more bang for your buck you can purchase beer by the liter – at the distributor – for just $1.14 USD per unit. 

Another plus purchasing from the distributor? They’ll deliver the goods right to your door … for FREE!

#2

EAT OUT LESS
When we arrived in Nicaragua the food was new and impressive, but within a couple of months it became very unexciting. 

With access to fresh ingredients and more time to cook we prefer to eat most of our meals in. Eating more meals in allows us to save a decent amount of money, which in turn means we can afford to splurge on a special dinner out now and again.

#3

BUY CELL PHONE MINUTES ON PROMOTIONAL DAYS
For the first few months after moving we shared a cell phone. During that time we were spending an average of $20 USD per month and we were constantly running out of minutes.  

With a bit of research and some trial and error we now average $12 per month for two phones and we rarely run out of minutes.

We purchase minutes on promotional days where the carrier sometimes gives us up to six times our minutes. And instead of paying for individual text messages, we purchase packages. 

#4

PURCHASE FRUIT & VEGETABLES FROM THE FRUIT TRUCK
In Canada we bought most of our fruits and vegetables from the grocery store. Occasionally we would go to a Farmer’s Market for better quality produce. Ironically the prices were even higher.

Here in Nicaragua fresh produce is available at our local Pali (grocery store), but the freshness and quality of our local vendors is far superior, not to mention much cheaper. We actually prefer to support our local entrepreneurs – and 9 times out of 10 – that is exactly what we do.

Depending on what we buy and where we buy it, it’s possible to save as much as 50% on produce.

Here’s an example:
At the grocery store one medium avocado is 40 cordobas or $1.66 USD.  At the local market the same sized avocado can be purchased for 25 or 30 cordobas. If we purchase from the fruit truck that visits our neighborhood daily we can get an avocado for 20 cordobas.  And if we’re lucky enough to be around when a vendor comes to our door an avocado may cost as little as 15 cordobas.

#5

LIVE THE LOCAL LIFESTYLE
I sometimes crave familiar brands from home, but have learned to limit myself to one or two treats (pretzels, peanut butter, chocolate chips and extra sharp cheddar cheese) now and then. 

I’ve given up my Redken shampoo for a brand I can buy here. We snack on Ranchitos, instead of Doritos and when we want a little spice in our life we use Chilero instead of Sriracha.

By learning to live without some of our favorite and familiar brands we’re able  to stay on budget. 

BEWARE:  If you insist on buying imported products from your home country you will significantly increase your living expenses.


These are just a few of the ways we’ve learned to save while enhancing our lifestyle.  
We’d love to hear from other savvy expats who’ve found additional ways to save.  Leave a reply in comments section below.

International Living Daily Postcards

Each day International Living uncovers some of the most desirable–and cheapest–retirement havens on earth, including Nicaragua. In International Living’s free daily postcards, you can learn about retirement, property, travel and lifestyle opportunities from around the world. 

An article of mine was recently published as an International Living postcard and I’m pleased to able to share it with you!

Life in This Beach Town Keeps Getting Better…
By Elisha MacKay

With our toes in the sand and mojitos in hand, my husband Gordon and I clink our glasses to another spectacular San Juan del Sur sunset. The sky is a brilliant hue of orange, yellow and red. Our four-month-old miniature schnauzer puppy lies at our feet, spent from her romp on the beach. Sixteen months have passed since we left our home, our jobs and friends and family in Alberta to start a new life in Nicaragua.

Our Nicaraguan adventure began in Poneloya where we rented a lovely little house on the beach. From there we moved to a guest house in Leon. Three months later we were living large in a luxury apartment in Granada. Opportunity knocked and we found ourselves living with three dogs, two cats and a goat in a beautiful six-bedroom lodge in Laguna de Apoyo.

And finally here we are in San Juan del Sur.

Not long after establishing roots in San Juan we knew we had found the place where we wanted to settle down.

San Juan can be touristy at times, but maintains a great mix of locals and expats. Within a month of living in San Juan we had formed a large network of friends. And it’s easy to get by here with little Spanish.

A budget of $1,400 per month allows us to live very well.

Affordable rental homes are fairly easy to find—$500 covers our rent for a very nice three-bedroom, two-bathroom home; cable TV and Internet are included. Electricity is extra, with monthly bills averaging around $50.

Our monthly grocery bill averages between $250 and $350. We eat very well. In addition to the fruit and vegetables that are delivered to our neighborhood daily via a farmer’s truck, we enjoy fresh fish from local fisherman and grass-fed filet mignon.

We have a vehicle, but could certainly get by without one. Living in town allows us to walk almost everywhere we need (and want) to go. We spend an average of $60 per month on fuel.

Neither one of us surfs, but San Juan has plenty to keep us entertained.

Tuesday evenings are reserved for Trivia Night at our favorite expat bar, Republika.

The Saturday morning Farmer’s Market at Big Wave Dave’s is a great place to catch up with friends. It’s here where we pick up delicious baked bread, smoked ham, cinnamon buns and other tasty treats that we have difficulty finding elsewhere.

If we’re in the mood on Sunday evenings we can catch a flick under the stars at the newest, coolest place in town—Howler Bar. It’s also become our favorite place to go for live music.

When we want to cool off we visit one of many nearby beaches. Sometimes we head south to Playa Hermosa.

Playa Hermosa

Other times we go north to Playa Maderas. Both are within 20 minutes from our home and have beach bars that serve some of the tastiest fish tacos around.

The “Palm Island Pool” and swim-up bar (literally a bar you swim up to) at the Surf Ranch resort is our preferred place to catch some rays while sipping cheap, frosty Tonas (the local beer).

Gordon and I have really grown to love the laid-back coastal lifestyle San Juan del Sur offers. And as each sunshiny day passes, life in Nicaragua just keeps getting better and better.

Other International Living Postcards that may interest you: 

One Month’s Living Expenses: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Rarely a day goes by when “cost of living”  is not on the list of daily search engine terms for In Nica Now.  

Everyone wants to know how much it “really” costs to live in Nicaragua…
…so we’re going to tell you!

For the month of October we tracked every single cordobas we spent.  Despite the fact that we ate out a lot, drank a bunch and took a road trip to Managua we still managed to stay within our $1400 budget.

The table below shows a detailed summary of our expenses by category.  Please note that the exchange rate is based on 23.65 cordobas per $1 USD.

Expenses by Category

To view a detailed line-by-line list of our expenses for October 2012 click on the link below.

In Nica Now: Expenses – October 2012

As always if you have any questions feel free to send us an email.

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.  

We’re Moving to San Juan Del Sur!

Since Elisha and I arrived in Nicaragua 8 months ago we’ve managed to live in 5 different towns.  Our Nicaraguan expat adventure began in Poneloya and from there we moved to Leon. The next city we called home was Granada and then we were off to the spend some time at Apoyo Lodge in Laguna de Apoyo.  And finally here I am in San Juan del Sur searching for yet another rental.

A couple of months in each location has allowed us the time needed to see past the tourist scene while figuring out the true flavour of each town. That being said 2 months (or less) in a each place was not nearly enough time for any one place to feel like home.  Eventually we both want to settle down in one place, but for now we’re looking forward to spending some time in Nicaragua’s tourist playground.

– A shot of the bay of San Juan del Sur taken on my morning run

The fact that San Juan del Sur is a tourist hot spot means that there are lots of places to stay, but unfortunately there are few options that actually meet our needs. Most monthly rentals here are vacation homes with rates starting at $100 plus per night or Nica style homes that are quite “rustic” and somewhat undesirable.

With Elisha back in Canada visiting family for a month I’m left to house hunt in San Juan del Sur all on my own. Lucky for me our friends Jon and Quinn have been living in San Juan del Sur for the past three months.  During that time they’ve come to know the little ins & outs of the town and were more than happy to fill me in on all they’ve learned about Nicaragua’s favourite beach town.

– Our friends Quinn & Jon

When I arrived in town Jon & Quinn introduced me to the family that owns Elizabeth’s Guest House.  They helped me get set me up in a private and comfortable room so I could take some time to find an apartment.

– Elizabeth’s Guest House

Just as they had done with Jon & Quinn, Elizabeth and her family took me in like one of their own.  In fact, it was my first night in town when Elizabeth’s husband Orlando decided to get me drunk on rum.

– Elizabeth’s husband Orlando

The next day I woke up feeling a little rough, but fortunately Elizabeth fed me and nursed me back to health.  I’m sure glad she did because I had some work to do – it was time to begin my San Juan De Sur house hunting mission!

Life in the Laguna: Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua

For the past 35 days Apoyo Lodge & Camp in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve has been the place Gord and I have called home. To view some photos of Apoyo Lodge and area click here.

Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve consists of a volcanic crater lake and tropical forest that houses an unfathomable number of flora, fauna, bird, butterfly and animal species.

– Bright & beautiful flowers line the road of the reserve

– Monkey sitings are a common occurrence, but capturing a good photo of one is not

In the lake there are six species of fish that are only found here in the waters of the laguna. To catch a glimpse of what they look like check out our video below.

We moved to Laguan de Apoyo because our friend Shamus needed someone to take care of his place (and his pets) while he spent a month in Canada.  Life here has been very different from life in Granada.  For starters we are responsible for 3 dogs, 2 cats and 1 goat.

– Gord, 2 of 3 dogs and the goat

Since all of our food is purchased in Granada meal planning has to happen in advance, instead of one or two hours before we want to eat. When we lived in city we walked everywhere, but with the lodge sitting on the waters edge at the end of a road – that could be described as a trail – we need to drive everywhere. 

Prior to our move we thought we’d be bored in the laguna and to be honest we were a bit apprehensive about living in seclusion. To our pleasant surprise living at Apoyo Lodge has been much, much better than we could have imagined. 

Our kitchen, living room and dining room are open to the outside. We love going to sleep at night with all the doors and windows in our suite open.  Waking up to a view of the laguna and the calls of howler monkeys in the distance has been as great as it sounds. We’ve both enjoyed swimming in the lake and hanging out in the rancho.

We’ve also enjoyed the wide open spaces, especially when it comes to the kitchen. Experimenting with the wood oven has been great fun. Providing rides to local families and school children on our way out of the park has helped us feel, in some small way, part of the community.

– The oven can reach temperatures upwards of 700 degrees

– Our first attempt at pizza & it couldn’t have tasted better

“Living in the Laguna has been a memorable experience that has taught us a lot.”  

We’ve learned how to de-skunk a dog, what to do when a goat cracks its horn, who to call when the power goes down, how to safely remove ticks and how to care for a young parrot. We’ve also learned to live with many different and interesting critters of the Nicaraguan jungle.

– Green Parrot Snake

– The biggest toad I’ve ever seen

Gord has learned where all the major bumps and obstacles are on the road and I’ve learned that I need to start using my macro lens more often.

– Papaya flower shot with my Pentax K7

When we visited Apoyo Lodge for the first time 5 months ago we never imagined we’d be taking care of the place one day. We are so glad that we were able to help our friends out and so very grateful for this time we’ve had experiencing life in the laguna.

To view more photos that capture Life in the Laguna click here.  

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!

Do You Wanna Buy an Iguana?

We were recently driving along the highway,  just outside of the town of Masaya when we spotted some youngmen on the side of the road proudly displaying iguanas.  I pulled over to snap a photo and learned the following:

1.  These iguanas weren’t being sold as pets.  They were being sold for the meat.

2.  A nice plump iguana goes for approximately $4.35. Yup, that’s right 100 cordobas gets you one of these bad boys.  If you’re looking for more bang for your buck you can have both for 180 cordobas or $7.83.

Since taking these shots I’ve learned a bit more about this Nicaraguan custom through an interesting article by another WordPress blogger, Rachel Wyatt Lindsay.  

To read about this vegetarian’s experience eating iguana and the link between the Catholic Church and the threat of extinction for iguanas in Nicaragua click here.

Learning to Drive in Nicaragua

I’ll begin this post by saying that I am no expert in the subject of learning to drive in Nicaragua.  We bought our truck a month ago and even though we rented vehicles while vacationing in Nica, we only used them to go from one city to the next.  Even now that we live here Elisha and I only drive the truck when we make our once a week trip to the Maxi Pali supermarket or when we go on the occasional road trip.  I should also be forthright about who the actual driver of the vehicle usually is – Elisha.  

You are probably wondering why I am I one writing this post.  Well, to be honest Elisha asked (i.e. told) me to and as some of you already know my moto is “Happy wife, happy life”… so here I am.

Driving in Nicaragua is not for the feint of heart.  It’s important to stay focused at all times.  In my opinion distracted driving laws really aren’t necessary in Nicaragua because if you become distracted while driving you wouldn’t make it 5 minutes without causing an accident.  

On any given road you will encounter cars, trucks, busses, ox carts, horses, bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians, herds of cattle, chickens, dogs, kids selling iguanas for meat and let’s not forget – the police.  All will be moving unpredictably and at various speeds – except for the police.  They will be standing at the side of the road waiting to see if this roadway circus causes you to step out of line.  Once you do (and you will) it’s pretty much a guarantee that they will be there.  This is especially true at the entrance to any town and most certainly so near the airport.  I’m not sure if it’s more feeling than fact but it would appear as though the local police are set up in places where it’s that much easier for them to extract money from you.

The ticketing system in Nicaragua is interesting.  Generally the police will write you a ticket for an infraction and the costs is usually around 200 cordobas, which is just under ten bucks.  They will give you a copy of the ticket and keep a copy for themselves while attaching a copy to your license which they keep.  When their shift ends they will take your driver’s license (and any others they have collected) to the police station where it awaits your visit.  For your fun and excitement you must take a trip to the nearest bank to pay the fine and have your your ticket stamped.  You must then return to the police station of the town that issued the ticket to pick up your license. You have 15 days to do this or I’m not sure what, but I suspect it’s probably a lot less fun.

We have a friend who lives near Granada. When he gets a ticket he simply waits the 15 days to pay it and proceeds to drive without worry of receiving additional infractions during that period of time.  When the police ask for his license he shows them his pending ticket and he’s free to go.  It seems as though additional tickets are not issued when you already have one and with no license to threaten to take they have no bargaining power over you.

This ticket paying process isn’t terrible unless you are only passing through a town.  In this case you would need to make a special trip back there to retrieve your license.  I’m quite sure there is a possibility that the police understand this all too well.  In all of our travels in the past three months luck has been on our side and we’ve rarely been pulled over.  The couple of times we were no tickets were issued.  That all changed when our friends came to visit and we were traveling with luggage on the roof rack. It seems as though this is the symbol of a foreigner on a road trip.

During the two weeks we spent traveling with our friends we were  pulled over 3 times.  The 1st infraction occurred just as we were leaving Leon.  Elisha made a left hand turn across two lanes instead of one.  When she realized what she had done she immediately moved into the correct lane.  Even though no cars were near and she caused no issues this slight oversight was the result of not one, but two infractions.  One for the improper turn and one for an improper lane change.  According to the book the fine was 600 cordobas or if we paid the officer directly it would be 400 cordobas. Luckily we were able to settle on 200.

The next infraction was really weak.  A slow moving car applied the brakes and made a right hand turn into a driveway.  Elisha signalled and went around him as he pulled in.  Because she crossed a solid yellow line the police officer stepped out onto the road about 100 meters up the highway and motioned for use to pull over.  He gave us a long drawn out lecture about driving safety. To avoid the hassle of paying at the bank he was gentlemanly enough to allow us to pay our 200 cordoba fine directly to him.

The 3rd infraction was almost too much to take. Coincidently about 5 minutes from the airport we were pulled over after we drove through a traffic circle.  The police officer wasn’t even looking in our direction until we were driving past and then he walked out toward us.  He said that we lane changed in the traffic circle without signalling.  This was very far from the truth and even if it was  he would not have known anyway because he wasn’t even looking.

I got out of the truck and told him the ticket was a piece of shit.  He said it wasn’t.  Then I told him that he was a piece of shit. He didn’t agree with that statement either. I then proceeded to tell him I didn’t have time for his games and tried to push some cash into his hand. He started yelling at me and instructed me to get back in the car. I thought maybe I had really pissed him off and pushed a bit too far so I did as I was told and got back into the car. I looked over at Elisha to tell her this might be bad, but I didn’t have the chance.  The cop was standing beside her window with his hand in the truck waiting for the cash.  Apparently the only thing that upset him was my uncultured attempt to bribe him in plain sight. I guess I still have a lot to learn about driving in Nicaragua.

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