Browsing Posts tagged Nicaragua travel

writer

I’ve got my head down trying to finish up a book called A Better Life for Half the Price, about drastically cutting your expenses about moving abroad. The problem with running your own show though, being an entrepreneur, is that you don’t just clock out at 5:30 and say goodbye to The Man. I am The Man. And I’m a really demanding boss.

So to take a break from coming up with all new material this week, here’s some stuff I’ve published lately and some interviews.

Here’s an interview of me that ran on the blog The Gift of Travel, talking about round-the-world travel, budget travel, and living abroad with a family.

Another in The Franklin Prosperity Report is about getting the most for your travel budget every time.

Here’s one in SmartyCents on how to travel on a budget as a family.

Nora Dunn gave a shout-out to my Travel Writing 2.0 book in this great article about how to earn a living while living abroad.

Machu Picchu

At Global Traveler Magazine, in April I had a feature story about Machu Picchu and in May one about what to do if you have a week in Nicaragua. The latter is still on newsstands, but click the link for the online version.

On Practical Travel Gear, I’ve been writing about travel tripods, carry-on insect repellents, and two under-$100 daypacks from Kelty.

While I go to work, two quick plugs: if you want to travel around the world, you ought to have a copy of The World’s Cheapest Destinations book. If you want to go all in and move abroad, sign up for the Cheap Living Abroad newsletter and I’ll help you make it happen.

Nicaragua cost of living

$2 appetizer platter at a nice restaurant in Nicaragua

“If you make $1,000 a month, you can drive a small car, take your family out to decent restaurants sometimes, and visit a place like this on the weekends.” That was an offhand comment from my Nicaraguan guide Pablo when we were at the overlook area checking out Lake Apoyo between Managua and Granada. “On that salary, you are middle class here.”

A lot more people are stepping up to that level in Nicaragua as the economy keeps improving and its relatively low crime rate make it a place international companies want to invest. If you’re coming from a developed country though, it’s an incredibly cheap place to live.

I do an annual post and individual country rundowns on the cheapest places to live in the world and there’s one key thing they have in common: most people earn less in that country than most people earn in yours. The big picture really is that simple. If you come from a country where the median income is above $40,000 per year, as it is in the USA, Canada, or Australia, then you’re clearly going to feel richer if you go live in a place where the median income is more like $6,000 a year. Even if you’re just living off a Social Security or pension check.

shopping Nicaragua

1/5 the price of Safeway, Kroger, or Tesco

These official numbers are kind of clumsy, of course, whether you’re talking about median income, per-capita GDP, or some other yardstick. Some “work” isn’t counted correctly, bartered goods don’t figure in, and naturally people under-report their real income if there are tax implications. Still, whether an average worker in Nepal makes $600 a year or $900 doesn’t make a big difference for my point. Compared to the Nepalis you’re loaded, even if you’re making the equivalent of a fast-food burger flipper.

If you’re living in a more expensive place, however, your money is worth less. Your purchasing power is crappy. Per-capita GDP may be almost six figures in Norway, but you’ll pay out the nose for virtually everything you would spend money on. It may be only 1% of that in Cambodia, but you can find a good meal for a couple dollars. In a sit-down place with a waiter. Then in the U.S., you have to factor in health care costs, which are astronomical if you’re not covered by a company health plan. This illogical, for-profit arrangement does not exist in most of the rest of the world.

Which brings us back to my travels in Nicaragua earlier this month. I was working on a few articles on assignment, so I had an English-speaking guide driving me around, one who had grown up in Miami and then moved back to Nicaragua when he was in high school. He wants to get back to the USA at some point, to take his kids to Disney World, but he’ll keep living where he is. His electric bill is usually eight or nine dollars. His house is paid for. His family eats very well on what he makes.

Granada house for sale

House in the center of Granada, for the price of a BMW…

I had coffee with a retired couple living in Granada and I’ll profile them in the book I have coming out later this year. “My pension alone is 3-4 times what the average Nica makes,” Jim told me. We spend around $1,800 a month, which is extravagant by local standards. We live in a big air-conditioned house with a swimming pool and pay $650 a month in rent. We eat out whenever we want, wherever we want. Medical care is so inexpensive here we don’t even have insurance. We just pay for things as they come up. I had to go to the best hospital in Managua for surgery and it was cheap enough that I put it on a credit card.”

Another couple I’ve been corresponding with there has lived in Leon, Granada, and now San Juan del Sur for around $1,400 a month, while having a really good time. They’re sensible with what they spend, but not all that frugal when it comes to having fun. Their housing is only $300 of that.

Flor de Cana

$4 – $8 for a bottle of rum with set-ups in a bar

I like Nicaragua and I could live there, but this is just one country out of many that will have a detailed chapter. It’s one of the best deals, yes, but there are plenty of countries out there where the per capita GDP is 1/4 or less than what it is where most people reading this blog are from. Some of them have pretty good infrastructure too: popular destinations like Mexico, Turkey, Thailand, and Colombia. It’s just that a “middle class life” has a much lower price tag.

After surveying people who have signed up for the Cheap Living Abroad e-mail newsletter, the verdict is in on the book title:

A Better Life for Half the Price

The second and third choices will get worked into the subtitle.

For those who are serious about cutting their expenses in half and upgrading their life in the process, there will be other packages available with worksheets, webinars, and more. Details to follow, but sign up here to get the inside scoop.

Granada tour

You’ve probably seen a handful of photos from Granada, Nicaragua posted here and there. Usually you get the central plaza, the cathedral, a bell tower view over the roofs, and some horse-drawn carriages. Or in the case of a cheapskate like me, photos of signs showing how cheap everything is in Nicaragua.

I just visited Granada for the second time this week and got out of the center to some other areas. One of the great things about this gorgeous colonial city is that there’s lots to do outside of it within a short drive. That photo at the top, however, is from a place on the edge of town that you can get to by bike or cheap taxi: the city cemetery. I got all kinds of terrific shots from there and it’s really interesting to see how elaborate the graves are. One is a marble replica in miniature of a local church. Unlike when I’ve visited the famous ones in New Orleans or Buenos Aires though, there was almost nobody else here.

Granada isletas

The most common excursion is to go out on a boat ride around the little islands and peninsula jutting out into the giant lake where the city is situated. These islands have homes on them, some quite grand, that are weekend getaway places for wealthy Nicaraguans and a few foreigners. You may also stop at an old Spanish fort, but the best reason to go is to check out all the bird life. You see lots of herons, egrets, oropendolos, cormorants, and often an osprey or two.

Nicaraguan artisan

Excursions go to the Masaya volcano, where you can drive right up to the crater. If the crater is really active with sulphurous steam though, like it was when we visited, you probably won’t see much beyond the edge. The town of Masaya is a big craft center though, so you may be able to see some artisans at work. At the market there you can weed through the junky stuff and find some real treasures for a great price.

Masaya Lake Nicaragua

There is a lagoon to the side of that volcano and a few great overlook restaurants in the area where you can take it all in as you have lunch. The shot above is the panoramic view we got at ours. Then there’s Lake Apoyo, a deep one set in an extinct crater nearby. You will probably visit an overlook point with a great vista if you go on some kind of tour. But this would be a great place to chill out for a while and relax or get some work done. No motorboats allowed.

No matter what price range you’re in, you will eat well in Nicaragua. In my experience the food is a step up from most other parts of Central America, plus it’s a better value. If you want to splurge, you can spend $15 and get a big lobster platter or something like this that’s meant to be shared around the table. There’s lot of fried greatness in there and you won’t need to eat again for a while.

fried cheese tostones

Naturally, this is one of the cheapest places to live in the world as well. It’ll figure prominently in a book I’ve got coming out later this year on living a better life for half the price. Get on the newsletter list here.

Cheap travel Central America

There are a few clusters of cheap destinations around the world where you can travel overland from country to country on a low budget for weeks, months, or a year. For Americans, starting in Mexico and going down to Panama is a pretty reliable way to travel well without spending a fortune—especially since the initial flight won’t set you back too much.

There are major variations of course, which is why Nicaragua is a screaming bargain, Mexico is an “honorable mention” in my book, and Costa Rica isn’t in there at all. Even that last one and Belize will cost you less than home if you pick the where and how carefully, however, so all in all it’s a good block for long-term travel.

A month ago I updated my old article for Transitions Abroad on getting to Guatemala from Mexico. It’s an article, not a book, so it’s just going to give you a quick overview. It does give you a quick overview for the region though on sleeping, transportation, and eating/drinking. Plus there are ample links at the end to resources to find out more.

I like Mexico so much I have two houses there. (Though I’d like to bring that down to one. Beach house for sale – $68,500.) It’s no bargain if you go to Los Cabos or the Riviera Maya, but in the interior and many off-the-radar beaches, it’s a whole different story. In Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala, it’s a bargain throughout.

So do a little planning, but getting to Guatemala from Mexico to decide if it sounds like a region where the price is right.

Granada

In most respects, Nicaragua is the cheapest place to travel in Latin America, which makes it the cheapest destination in the Americas period. Since it’s also close and easy to get to for a reasonable airfare, at least for those of us in the U.S. and Canada, your total cost for visiting Nicaragua is going to be lower than almost anywhere else you could go internationally.

Granada

This huge “meal of the day” was $2.50 with drink and tip

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—again, outside the main tourist towns that is. In part this is because domestic demand hasn’t been there and while tourism numbers are growing fast, they’re still relatively small.

This is a country where you can feel like an adventurer though, with almost no tour buses in sight, affordable restaurants everywhere, cheap drinks, and limited hassles from touts and scammers. If you’re looking for somewhere to kick back for a while and let your budget recover, here you can do it in a beautiful colonial city (Granada), on a beach (San Juan del Sur or a more isolated surfing village), or in the mountains of coffee country.

At the time of writing, the exchange rate was 23 cordobas to the U.S. dollar. So if two happy hour cocktails are 35 as in a photo of a bar I visited below, that’s around $1.50.

hotel

A $52 splurge (with full breakfast) in Granada

Hotel and Hostel Prices in Nicaragua

Dorm bed: $3 – $8 per person, often incl. basic breakfast & Wi-Fi
Basic double room with shared bath: $6 – $15
Double room with private bath, A/C, TV, maybe a fridge: $10 – $30.
Nice double room with all that, good bedding, daily maid service, breakfast, maybe a pool: $25 – $60
(There are probably only about 12 hotels in all of Nicaragua where rates for a standard start at more than $125 double per night.)

Food & Drink in Nicaragua:

Market stall lunch: $1.50 – $3
Basic restaurant lunch: $2.50 – $7
All-you-can eat buffets: $4 – $8.
Fancy restaurant meal, cloth napkins: $7 – $15
(There are probably only about 20 restaurants outside Managua where you can spend $20+ per person on dinner excluding drinks.)

Flor de Caña rum, 4-year: $2.50 – $4 per liter
Flor de Caña rum, 7-year: $4 – $9 per liter depending on where.
Cheap local rum: $1 – $2.50 per liter.
Rum cocktail in a bar: $1 – $2.50.
Small beer in a bar: 60 cents to a dollar in a bar
Liter-sized beer in a bar: $1.50 – $2 (Less in a store or at happy hour.)

Seasonal fruit: 50 cents to $1 a pound
Tortillas: 50 cents for a handfull
Bread: 10-20 cents for sandwich roll, 50 cents for a baguette
Coffee: 50 cents to $1 a cup, from good local beans

Transportation in Nicaragua:

The regular buses in Nicaragua are mostly converted school buses discarded by U.S school systems and on their second life here. They can be slow and crowded, but will often only cost you a dollar or less to get you where you’re going.

Express bus: 60-80 cents per hour of travel.
Express minibus: around $1 from Managua to Granada, around $2 Managua to Leon.
Tourist door-to-door shuttle: pricey, but quick and air-conditioned. $27 for Granada to San Juan del Sur, $18 to $35 each between Granada and the Managua airport depending on group size.

Local buses in cities: 15 – 25 cents.
Taxi ride: 50 cents to $4 in city limits anywhere. $6 to go across Managua, more from the airport.
Taxi from the Ometepe ferry dock in San Jorge to the bus station in Rivas: $1 – $2 (depending on your bargaining skills.)

Ometepe

Ferry from San Jorge to the main port on Ometepe: $1.50 (small boat on the right above) to $3 (air-conditioned large ferry, on the left).
First-class air-conditioned seat on the overnight trip from Granada to San Miguelito: $9. (Second class is $4, but can get crazy crowded.)

Bike rental: $3 – $8 per day, less for half day.
Scooter/motorcycle rental: $12-$40 per day depending on quality, demand, season, and your bargaining patience.

Internal flights: $80 to $140 round trip on a puddle jumper prop plane.

Other Prices for Travelers in Nicaragua:

Hop-on, hop-off tourist site buses: $10 – $22 per person
Internet access in cafe: 75 cents to $1.50 per hour
Hourlong massage from a blind masseuse in Granada – $15
25-minute VoIP phone call home – $1 USA, $1.50 Europe
Museum admissions – 25 cents to $2