Nicaragua can be very cheap – almost as cheap as Southeast Asia – if you go to the right places. The key is to not stay in the popular Western-owned ‘party hostels’ such as Bigfoot, Pacha Mama or Naked Tiger which charge at least $10 for a dorm bed; walk a few blocks further and you can get a private room for the same amount(US$10).
In most respects, Nicaragua is the cheapest place to travel in Latin America, which makes it the cheapest destination in the Americas period. Naturally, you have to give up a little comfort in the process though. You’ll be on a “chicken bus” now and then if you get off the main tourist track. Budget hotel choices are a good value, but the selection and overall level of quality are not always up to what you find in Guatemala or even Honduras (outside the main tourist towns that is).
Most food is very affordable in Nicaragua and you can eat on average for around $4 per plate. As always, pizza and pasta are notorious for being the most expensive food options around.
English is also spoken among educated Nicaraguans, expats from the United States and Canada, and widely spoken by the tourism sector. In the Caribbean coast, due to the African and English heritage, cities like Bluefields and Corn Island, English language is spoken in the form of English creole by the majority of the population, along with other indigenous languages that coexist.
WHAT PEOPLE HAVE TOLD ME:
Nicaragua is safer than Mexico & Guatamala by far and, once again, some places are really lovely. The rum is the best in the world. You will never look back to SE Asia rum.
Also the 90 days should reset when you leave the Central America zone for a couple of days. So think about going back to the border in Mexico or to Belize or into and out of Costa Rica (all these options will cost you money so itinerary and route is a more important issue).
SOUTH & THE PACIFIC COAST
San Juan Del Sur
Nicaragua attracts a mixture of backpackers on a regional trip and young vacationers there for a cheap holiday. Many from the US and Canada in particular are attracted by its low cost, especially compared to neighbouring Costa Rica. The town of San Juan Del Sur is the epicentre of Nicaraguan gringo tourism so prices are higher (but still completely manageable) there. The beach in San Juan itself is not great but stunning beaches are just 20 min rides away.
Cars and trucks are very expensive (often being 30-40% higher than the same model in the states). If you do not have residency, you can purchase a vehicle or motorcycle but you cannot register it. Toyotas are the most popular and easiest to get parts for but KIAs, Hyandai, Suzuki, Jeeps, Mercedes and Chinese models are common.
Want a budget-friendly retirement destination? Think Nicaragua. Geographically, the nation is blessed with two long coastlines and two big lakes, plus volcanoes, highlands, rain forest, and rivers. In this manner, it has everything Costa Rica and Panama have, but it’s less discovered and developed and available to adventurers and eco-travelers at bargain rates.
Nicaragua’s low cost of living does not mean that you have to sacrifice quality of life. In fact, it’s possible to live in Nicaragua with even more luxuries than you were accustomed to back home simply because the prices are so low.
NORTH & THE CARIBBEAN COAST
Car jackings are common on the roads to the Caribbean coast, so flying is recommended.
There are only really 2 towns on the Caribbean coast:
- Puerto Cabezas which looks run down and unappealing; and
Both of which look run down and unappealing.
Sticking to a strict budget is a challenge. All basic supplies are flown in and therefore more expensive and hotel rates run high. Travellers on a tight budget should stick to San Juan del Sur (or all of Costa Rica) for beaches, go to the Mexican Riviera Maya (where the sand is just as white, the water just as deliciously chartreuse, and there are plenty of hostels just a short walk from an easy to reach bus station).
The snorkeling and diving off Belize or Honduras is better, the Caribbean feel can be had in Bocas del Toro (Panama), Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast (Puerto Viejo / Manzanillo) or on Caye Caulker in Belize for less money and with less effort.
However, if you missed your chance to visit Belize’s Ambergris Caye 30 years ago…or Honduras’ Roatan Island 25 years ago…you might want to check out Nicaragua’s Corn Islands right now.
The main benefit of the Corn Islands is that the friendly locals speak English as their official language and there are very few tourists. There are hotels and guesthouses, but beyond that, you won’t find souvenir shops or many tourist businesses at all. Not even coffee shops or Internet cafés. (And Internet won’t be what you are used to at home).
Jessie (my Scuba Diving Trainer on Gili Air has been to both islands and recommends Big Corn over Little Corn.
Little Corn Island
Here are some of our tips and top picks for Little Corn Island:
- Book an open return ticket (you’ll probably want to stay longer)
- Stay on the east side for a nice ocean breeze to cool you off and keep most of the bugs away
- Accommodation: Three Brothers – private room for $200 a month (that’s less than $7 a night!)
- Flashpacker: Grace’s Cool Spot – we got a private cabana w/bathroom for US$30 a night (haggled down because we committed for 4 days)
- Breakfast: Rosa’s – a very filling breakfast for $3 including fruit and coffee / tea
Geographically, Nicaragua is blessed, with two long coastlines and two big lakes, plus volcanoes, highlands, rain forest and rivers. In this regard, it’s got everything Costa Rica and Panama have got, all less discovered and developed and available for the adventurer and eco-traveler at bargain rates.
One of the greatest things about Nicaragua, is that it’s still relatively off the radar of many travelers and retirees. As the country continues to attract tourists and expats, its list of amenities is likely to keep growing.
Among the least expensive places to live in Latin America, Nicaragua is also one of the safest.
If you are looking for first-world comforts, exciting culture and nature adventures, the colonial city of Granada is an ideal place to live. Other areas of Nicaragua offer all the conveniences retirees look for against the backdrop of beautiful natural wonders.
The secret of enjoying a wonderful retirement here won’t last long.
Sales aren’t as brisk as before Ortega’s re-election, but they are trending up, especially near the tourist hubs of Granada and San Juan del Sur. Our top choices in Nicaragua are colonial (and cheap!) Grenada and beautiful San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Coast. To be sure, I love the Pacific coast, and the relaxing, luxurious, lifestyle that many have found in the planned communities on the water. And I also am particularly fond of Granada, with its old colonial center, markets, restaurants, and thriving expat community. But León is different. It’s Nicaragua in its natural state. If you want to experience Nicaragua without the expats—or the false economy that follows them around—then León is worth your attention. And even though it’s an “inland” colonial city, León is very close to the Pacific coast. Las Peñitas is less than 15 miles to the west, when you’re in the mood for swimming, seaside sunbathing, or some fresh seafood in an open-air restaurant. Frequent bus service runs between León and Las Peñitas, making the trip easy and inexpensive.
“We find that we can live on around US$1500 a month but emergencies do happen and that does not include flights back home. The world is different now with many things being fairly expensive like gas, flights overseas, rising food costs, etc. One of the most modern hospitals in Central America is 45 minutes away in Managua. Property values have fallen significantly in this country over the past several years. As a result, you can buy one of Granada’s classic Spanish-colonial haciendas for US$50,000 or less. A couple could live comfortably in Granada on a budget of US$1,200 per month.
Nicaragua has a National Health System. We do not have health insurance. A visit to a doctor is US$15. Medical costs are low enough to pay as you go. Our prescriptions are less than the co-pay amount was in the states. How can that be? They are the same drugs.
Monthly budget: US$1,300. Monthly rent: US$500.
Granada and Leon vie for the title of Oldest City in the Americas. Whichever story you believe (that the Spanish conquistadores settled first on the shores of Lake Nicaragua at Granada or, perhaps, a few months earlier in Old Leon), Nicaragua is the big winner, with impressive colonial-era churches, public buildings and parks to her credit.
Property values have fallen significantly in this country over the past several years, thanks to the re-election of Sandinista President Daniel Ortega and the global recession, which has hit this country hard. As a result, you can buy a house on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast for less than US$100,000.
My Initial Thoughts…
- Anywhere on the Pacific Coast
- Las Penitas
- Managua (is dangerous? avoid it?)
- San Rafael del Sur
- San Juan del Sur
- Pearl Keys
- Corn Islands
- Isla de Ometepe
- Isla de Solentiname
- Rio San Juan
I can’t wait to get to Nicaragua. There are a number of places that grab my fancy.
I like the sound of Granada (I love old towns) but I would prefer it to be on a coast and near beaches.
I like the sound of the Corn Islands but I have heard that crime is a problem on Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island will be too quiet for me.. they also sound over-priced for what I am looking for.
There must be something of interest on the Pacific Coast.
I may find that I don’t actually need everything in one place… and that I can move between my favourite Nicaraguan spots to get what I need.
The next stop in my journey will be Costa Rica.