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Guide to Grocery Shopping: San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

Grocery shopping in San Juan del Sur takes a bit of effort. One stop shopping is unheard of. In this article we’ll attempt to make your San Juan del Sur shopping experience better by telling you where to buy what and how much you can expect to to pay for things.

Although Pali (owned by Walmart) is the largest grocery store in San Juan del Sur it’s my least favorite place to shop. The aisles are narrow and the selection is limited.  Pali stocks the basics and essentials, but not a whole lot more.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

– Produce section at Pali

Items like sesame seeds, peanut oil, rice wine vinegar, wasabi paste and extra virgin olive oil can be purchased at Miscelania Sanchez. Nutella, Kraft salad dressing and Frank’s Red Hot Sauce are part of the regular inventory. They also carry instant cake mixes, confectioners sugar, baking soda and brown sugar.   If you want cheese this is the place to go.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Guide to Grocery Shopping:  San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

– A sampling of some specialty items found at Miscelania Sanchez

I’ve been told by other expats if you don’t see a particular item you’re looking for at Sanchez just speak to the owner Gloria. She’ll do her best to find the item(s) you’re looking for and and bring them in for you.

Feta Cheese (171 g) – $4.65
Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (680 ml) – $5.27
Nutella (350 g) – $7.59
Peter Pan Peanut Butter (426 g) – $5.99
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese $1.35

On a side note many spices have been difficult to find here in San Juan del Sur (or any other place in Nicaragua – including Managua – for that matter). If you have favorites that you absolutely cannot live without you should bring them with you.

For your shopping convenience there are two Sanchez locations in town – one next to the market (shown above) and the other kitty corner to Barrio Cafe (shown below).

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Aside from fruit and vegetable trucks that drive through our neighborhood, the market is the best place to stock up on produce.  

1 Pitaya (Dragon-fruit) – $1.06
1 Watermelon – $1.27
1/2 dozen bananas – $0.21
1 Large avocado – $1.27
1 Pineapple – $0.85
30 eggs – $3.38

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

The market has the best selection, but if you can find what you need on the truck there are deals to be had. 

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

– Fruit & vegetable trucks drive through our neighborhood daily

Being so close to the ocean has it’s advantages.  We know of four fish markets in town, but our favorite (shown in the photo below) is located just beyond the marina.  To ensure you get what you want plan to make this your first stop, early in the day. 

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

– Here you can get mahi-mahi, mackerel, tuna, lobster, shrimp and more!

Lobster – $6.34 per lb
Shrimp – $4.65 per lb
Mahi-mahi – $2.96 per lb

For the best deal on beverages we go directly to the distributor in town.  It is located on the main road as you’re coming into San Juan del Sur.  It’s on the right hand side, just down past Pan de Vida Bakery, about two blocks from the beach.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

24 – 350 ml bottles of Tona – $13.87
12 cans of Coca-Cola -$5.07
5 gallons of water – $1.78

Even though we have to drive thirty minutes to Rivas to get to the nearest Maxi Pali it’s my favorite place to shop. Maxi Pali is as close as you’ll get to a North American supermarket. The store is bright and clean and the air conditioning is chilly. 

Rivas, Nicaragua

– Maxi Pali accepts payment by credit card

Maxi Pali offers a bit more variety when it comes to certain items.  Here we can get green, red and yellow peppers. They also carry grapes, kiwi and strawberries. We prefer to buy our meat at Maxi Pali.

Filet Mignon – $3.38/lb
Ground Beef – $2.05/lb
Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast – $2.55/lb

Like other Maxi Pali stores in Nicaragua the one in Rivas has a pharmacy and  a small clothing section.  They also carry housewares and a few electronics. They even have a “dollar” section.

And last, but certainly not least is on my list of places to shop in San Juan del Sur  is Pan de Vida.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

– This is a place to get excited about!

Pan de Vida is located 100 meters West of the Uno.  It is here is where you’ll find tasty bread and other delicious baked goods you won’t be able to find anywhere else in Nicaragua.  Everything is baked in the brick oven.

To date I’ve only tried the foccacia bread, the cinnamon buns and the banana bread, but I can’t wait to sample more of their daily offerings.

Banana Bread $4.64
Foccacia Bread $1.48
Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread $5.70
Round Multigrain Loaf $5.06

Items at Pan de Vida are a bit on the pricey side for an expat on a budget in Nicaragua, but if having good bread means giving up a few Tonas per month – I’m in.  These delicious baked goods are worth every penny! 

When we add everything up we usually spend between $250 and $300 on groceries each month. We don’t eat filet mignon and lobster every night, but we aren’t eating gallo pinto every night either. We also eat our fair share of meals out.

Hands down we eat more healthy then we did in Canada. We are eating a lot more fruits and vegetables.  And it’s rare for a week to go by that hasn’t included a nice thick tenderloin steak grilled on hard wood coals. Now that we have more time meal planning and prep is something we both really enjoy.

Life and food in Nica is A-OK!

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.

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.

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