Sunday, February 19, 2012

All work and no play.....

Well, you know… makes you dull….. So, what can you do to liven up the research when you are checking out Nicaragua? There are so many options its crazy.

When was the last time that you looked down into the jaws of an active volcano? Take a trip to the Masaya volcano and you can do that. Tours can easily be arranged with one of the many tour companies or if you are really adventurous you can take the “chicken bus” and walk up the approximately 4km road to the top. There is an interesting Interpretive Centre about 1/3 of the way up if you need to rest for a while. For a more thrilling adventure then you can take a night tour which includes hikes to the summit, a tour of the bat cave, and a view down to the glowing lava at the bottom of one of the craters.

Have you tried zip lining yet? No? Then check out Café Las Flores Canopy Adventure and get your adrenaline thumping! Their webpage says, “There are 16 stations, 6 zip lines, a walking wire called “Double Cross”, an optional game “Boomerang”, a “Tarzan Swing” and a vertical rappel descent”. We did this tour when they were “Mombotour” and were impressed with their professionalism and eye for the safety of the participants.

When was the last time you had a romantic carriage ride with your sweetie? Granada has a number of carriages available for hire and is a pleasant way to spend an hour. They are waiting for you at the Central Square.

Is surfing your deal – well, there is an abundance of beaches at your disposal. Playa Madera near San Juan del Sur is a hit with many but not to be forgotten is Las Peñitas about ½ hour from León. Then there’s the Atlantic coast…. Check out the Surf Report, grab your surfboard and head for the waves!

These are just a few of the many activities that you can enjoy while you are scoping out a place to call home. What did you enjoy on your last visit to Nicaragua?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Trips to Investigate Nicaragua - Accommodations

We have had two trips to Nicaragua to investigate the cities that appealed to us as future homes.  For our first visit in August 2009 we stayed in Granada and did very little travel outside of the city. We knew we would be having subsequent visits to Nicaragua and wanted to get a good feel for the city.  We chose accommodations that, for the most part, were small hotels and off the main tourist path. We tended to stay in medium priced accommodations. Also, since we were in Nicaragua we wanted to stay in accommodations that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy at home – something that was more “typical” Nicaraguan. 

Our second trip in September 2011 was split between Granada and León. We were able to find a suitable apartment to rent in Leon and loved being a part of the local community. We felt that this enabled us to “experience” what it would be like to actually live in the city. Although we did enjoy some of the local restaurants we also had the pleasure of shopping at the local markets and supermarket.  We also got into the routine of purchasing our daily fruit and veggies from the woman who would walk past our house at 6:30 in the morning shouting out (really loudly) that she had some fruit for sale.  Once she knew she had potential regular customers it was no time at all and she was stopping at the gate to see if there was anything we needed.

Following is a summary of the various accommodations we enjoyed while we were vacationing in Nicaragua.

Hotel Mozonte – This hotel is located in Managua near the Austrian Embassy and Laguna de Tiscapa. It is in the style of a Spanish colonial with the rooms around a central courtyard with a nice pool. The room we had was large with 3 double beds. It was clean but not “modern” and could use some updating. The bed was comfortable but I remember thinking that the sheets were “scratchy” and could use some fabric softener. The room price includes breakfast and there was a nice selection; it was served in a little dining room. The staff spoke good English and was very professional and helpful. We had arranged with the hotel to have a driver pick us up from the airport and the driver was on time – we had a huge sense of relief when we came through the doors and saw a sign with our name on it.  All of our arrangements were made via email. This is the only hotel where I have been charged less than I was expecting which was a nice surprise. The price on the website must be for “high-season” and we visited during “off-season”. There is a computer in the main lobby which has internet and is available to guests. We stayed here August 2009 for our first night in Nicaragua.

Hotel Patio del Malinche – This hotel is located in Granada just two streets away from La Calzada – the main tourist street of the city. It is a large Spanish colonial building with two central courtyards. The room we had was small but sufficient for our needs and was located right off the pool on the lower level. The staff was very efficient and all arrangements were made online prior to our arrival.  Breakfast is included in the price (there is a small selection to choose from) and is served in a nice courtyard setting.  At no extra charge we were able to store our suitcase while we travelled and picked it up when we returned to the city. Laundry service is available as well as internet. We stayed here August 2009 for two nights.

Isla El Roble – This place is located on one of the islands of Granada. They have “all inclusive” pricing which included your accommodations, food and a tour of the Isletas. When you book this retreat you are reserving the whole island for your group – which can be a couple up to 12 guests. The price increases per person. The cook and housekeeper come on a daily bases, however the boatman will sleep on the island at night and acts as a night watchman. We enjoyed the island to ourselves every afternoon as they all went home for a couple of hours.  There is a nice swimming pool as well as an area to swim in the lake and two kayaks were also available for use.  The staff spoke limited English with us since we were trying to improve our Spanish – they were efficient and never intrusive.  Mealtimes were set to our schedule. The food was local Nicaraguan fare – very flavourful and good portions. One beer was included with your meal; however, wine was extra. It was truly a relaxing time with amazing views. Arrangements were made online and we met with the local contact when we first arrived in Granada to finalize arrangements. He had a lot of practical information and suggested areas of Granada that we should avoid (for safety). This company can also arrange tours to other parts of Nicaragua. We stayed here August 2009 for three nights.

Casa Silas – This quaint Bed and Breakfast is located in the heart of Granada only a short walk away from the main square. It is a recently renovated Spanish colonial with a central plunge pool – just perfect for cooling off after an enjoyable day of sight seeing. The room was large and comfortable with a good sized bathroom – the owner’s artwork is on the walls. Breakfast is served in the dining room and is delicious – especially the smoothies.  Laundry service is available and if you are planning an excursion and want to take a lunch with you then just ask and they will have one ready for you.  The owner is Canadian and has lived in Granada for a number of years.  He is very knowledgeable about Nicaragua and Granada in particular. He knows the best places for meals and has good suggestions for things to do around town. All arrangements were made online and they had Skype available to call home. They will arrange airport pickup as well as put you in touch with an excellent tour operator. We stayed here in 2009 for the majority of our trip and returned in 2011 for two of nights.

Hostal El CarmenThis is a newly opened hotel not far from the central square in Granada and is a good value for the budget minded traveller. We rented an “apartment” for $21.00 per night (Sept. 2011) and felt it was a great bargain. The kitchen has everything you need if you are planning to make some meals while you are in Granada. The apartment also has a TV with cable. The bathroom is large and the bed is comfortable. The only problem we had was that the ceiling fan was located over the dining room table and the air didn’t flow to where the bed was. If you rent a “room” it is also nicely appointed and a great bargain. Our friend paid $10.00/night (Sept. 2011).  It was a basic but clean room with a good sized bathroom. There is no TV in the room.  The owners told us that they are planning on installing a swimming pool in the courtyard in the near future which will certainly add to the appeal. This couple also manage a house located in another part of the city where they rent rooms or the whole house at a reasonable price. They are very friendly and knowledgeable of the area. All arrangements were made online. We stayed here in September 2011 for three nights.

Apartment in León – We found this apartment online (not listed with any company or travel website that I know of) and communicated with the owner via email. The location of the house is just outside of the downtown area, an easy walk through the local community. The owner lives in the US and has family in León that looks after the day to day management of the apartment. It is called an apartment but is more like a little “row” house. There is a little front porch that you can sit in and enjoy the activity in the neighbourhood, a dining area, TV area, good sized kitchen and bathroom and there are two bedrooms. There is a washing machine available to use but no internet. The place is a good size and clean. However, it isn’t immaculate. It is obvious that the family lives there when it isn’t rented and could use a nice coat of paint to freshen the walls.  It is a nice place to stay if you want to have a real taste of what life is like in León. All arrangements were made online and a deposit was sent to the owner in the US. We were met at the Cathedral and taken to the home and given instructions on how everything worked.  Although the owner speaks good English the family speaks mainly Spanish.  We were provided with a cell phone to use while we stayed at the apartment which was a nice perk. We stayed here in September 2011 and rented it for two weeks but ended up staying for only nine nights because we unexpectedly returned to Granada for our final few nights.

Monday, February 13, 2012

So you think you might want to move to Nicaragua - Part 3

Hotel Mozonte, Managua

You’ve done the research and the self analysis and now you come to the fun part – visiting the country. We have visited Nicaragua twice now, once in August 2009 and the second time was in September 2011. We loved, loved, loved it.  Yes, I know that a vacation isn’t the same as living there; but it sure does give you a taste of reality.  However, it is important to remember that staying at an exclusive resort in the middle of nowhere isn’t going to help you get a feel for what it’s like to live there.

For our first trip we took a “soft landing” approach and stayed at some very nice places in and around Granada where there was the ability to communicate in English.  We rented an apartment in a local community of León for the majority of our second visit.  Both trips were very enjoyable and trouble free. 

Typical Guapote meal

Before our vacations we did a lot of research – yes, there’s that word again.  The Internet puts a lot of information at your fingertips.  I have found a number of websites that have all the information I need to make a success of our vacations in Nicaragua.  TripAdvisor was one of the major sites that I would read almost daily.  Listed on this forum are hotels, restaurants, activities as well as personal reviews by other travellers.  You can ask questions, search older postings and check out traveller’s pictures from their trips.  It has a wealth of information available to you.

Another excellent website is Vianica. Again, you can find information on various destinations around Nicaragua.  The layout of this website helps you to get a sense of the different departments in Nicaragua and what they offer for recreation, hotels, restaurants, tours and transportation.  It now offers online hotel registration which is a real bonus.

There are many other websites available online – all you need to do is search for them.  Google and Yahoo bring up many results and it can be fun to wade through them for information for your trip.  If you can’t find an answer to your question – put your question on TripAdvisor and I’m sure one of the experts will be able to answer it for you.

Did you come across a website that you found particularly helpful?  Please write a comment and share your information with other readers.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

So you think you might want to move to Nicaragua - Part 2

Research is all well and good but if you don’t know yourself it isn’t going to help you much.

I know many people who love to camp.  I do too. However, there is a wide variety in camping styles.  Some people love to ruff it – you know the ones.  They love to go way out in the sticks, sleep in the open or in a basic pup tent, use the bushes for the necessities and cook on an open flame.  On the other extreme are those who want all of the comforts of home – right down to the dishwasher and the heated toilet seats.

For me, I am somewhere in the middle.  I don’t want to sleep on the ground or use an outhouse and forget the bushes.  I like a bed and flush toilet.  I have done some basic cooking on a fire – like a hotdog on a stick, but prefer a cooktop or bet yet a little barbeque.

So, when you are thinking of moving to another country, and especially one that has challenges as far as Canadian and American standards are concerned, you need to analyse what comforts you need and what you can do without. In Nicaragua you can certainly get high class homes with beautiful amenities, fantastic views and most, if not all, of the comforts from your home country. Or, you can scale down your expectations to, well almost a shack with a dirt floor. Most of us will be looking for something somewhere in the middle.  Only you will know what you can live with.

SJDS Beach

When we were doing our research we realized that a small city or town would fit our needs. We have no desire to live in a large city like Managua any more than I would have lived in Toronto. So when you are looking to move to Nicaragua you need to find out what different areas of the country can offer you.  Do you want to live on the beach? Maybe San Juan del Sur is the place for you or perhaps Poneloya if you want somewhere less touristy.  Do you long for cool mountain air? Then Matagalpa might be the place for you. Is it Island life you are looking for? You can find this on the Isletas of Granada or Isla Ometepe.  Nicaragua also has the magic of the Caribbean and remote areas where basic amenities are all that is available.  The point is – you need to know what you want from your new destination and only you can answer that.
Las Isletas, Granada

When we were conducting our fact finding of where we wanted to settle in Nicaragua, we found the Moon Handbook – Living Abroad in Nicaragua invaluable.  I read it cover to cover a couple of times and even made notes in the margins.

We would love to know what source you found useful when deciding to move to Nicaragua.  Please leave us a comment and help other readers in their fact finding.

Friday, February 10, 2012

So you think you might like to move to Nicaragua - Part 1

We recently had a conversation with our son Ben and I asked him directly what he thought about our move. He got a strange look on his face and didn’t seem to want to answer. That’s when I knew…. I said, “You’ve been telling the guys at work that we’re crazy, haven’t you”. It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. I can just hear him now – “Do you know what my crazy parents are doing now…..”  He said to us, “Have you researched this? This isn’t like a vacation you know. It’s not like going down there for a couple of weeks at a time. You’re moving to a third world country, you’re leaving your jobs and you have sold everything! If this doesn’t work out don’t expect to come back and live with me!” Ben brought up a valid point in preparing for a move of this magnitude.

We reassured Ben that we have done a lot of research.  There is a ton of information online as well as publications that you can purchase to help give you a sense of what life would be like in Nicaragua.  Personally, we have bought the Moon Handbook – Living Abroad in Nicaragua as well as their book more geared to tourism. They also have a good website and Forum to prepare for a vacation in Nicaragua.  Also, I have found the website Nicaliving to be a huge source of current information. Their forum has a lot of very relevant information on how to get things done in Nicaragua as well as what to expect life to be like.  The owner of the website and his spouse has written an ebook – Living Like a Nica – that we purchased and have found very informative.

So, you think you might want to move to Nicaragua – you have the idea, but what should you do next? In one word – RESEARCH. It will take some work on your part but in the end you will be better informed and prepared for what life will be like.

We have listed only a few of the sources we drew on when we made our decision to move to Nicaragua. Please let us know which books and websites you read.  Of course, book learning will only get you so far – next step – analyse yourself.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Proof of Onward Travel

One problem when you are planning to move to Nicaragua or even to visit past the 90 day Tourist Visa is that you may be required to show "Onward Travel". Our Travel Agent told me to be sure to have proof of Onward Travel because I could be denied boarding if I couldn't prove it.

Some people get around this problem by buying return tickets and not using the return portion.  I have read of other people who just ignore the possibility that they are required to have Proof of Onward Travel and just pray that nobody asks them. Still others "fake" return tickets to try and prove Onward Travel.

I was happy to find a company from Costa Rica that will provide a simple solution to this problem - A Safe Passage.  "A Safe Passage" primarily purchases tickets for people who are flying into Costa Rica on a one-way ticket. I emailed them and inquired if they could purchase tickets for us from Managua, Nicaragua to San Jose, Costa Rica and they were able to do so.  They required copies of our passport information as well as the date that we wanted to travel. Payment was easy through PayPal.

Here is the link for "A Safe Passage" if you are interested in their services:

If you have experienced the challenge of proving Onward Travel please leave us a comment and tell us how you handled the situation.

Monday, February 6, 2012

More about us

We are two fifty-something Canadians who have decided to break free from the day-to-day work routine and dedicate our time and energies to a more fulfilling way of life. For the last 20 years, Pat worked fulltime in the Electrical Wholesale retail world; while Debbie on the other hand, was busy in the accounting field.  Originally from Ontario, our last 8 years in Canada were spent in Halifax, Nova Scotia, enjoying fresh ocean breezes and a slower pace of life.  We have 3 children and 2 grandchildren.  So, in other words, we are ordinary people, with ordinary lives – just like you.

Five years ago, with the kids all grown up and realizing that retirement “loomed” in the near future we sat down and discussed what we thought that “future” might look like.  We decided that we really didn’t want to work until age 65 and set about finding a way to accomplish that.  We quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to retire early in Canada – not on our potentially meager financial allowance.  It was decided that we needed to investigate the following:

  • What countries had a low cost of living?
  • Would we need to learn a new language?
  • What is the climate? Health care? Daily life like?
  • How much money would we have to live on?
After much internet research as well as picking the brains of many people (hope we didn’t hurt you!!) we determined that Nicaragua warranted further investigation.  We loved the look of the country – it had it all – mountains, ocean, city life, country life, and a low cost of living.

About the time that we started assessing our situation, we decided that we would start to learn Spanish.  We figured that we would likely need it since most of the countries with a “low cost of living” were Spanish speaking.  Learning Spanish has been a long, slow and sometimes painful process; but we finally feel that we are starting to get a handle on it.  Just in time too since we are moving February 28, 2012.

This blog is to chronicle our life in Nicaragua while living with a monthly budget of only $600.00 CDN.  Please experience the ups and downs of expat life with us as we live the simple life in Nicaragua – the land of lakes and volcanoes.