I have a bit of an embarrassing problem every time I go to Nicaragua.
For at least half the first day, I’m constantly asking waiters to repeat the price for a beer, cocktail, or meal, thinking I misheard.
Could it really that low? They give me a weird look and reassure me it is. Then there’s the next embarrassing part—I’ve just come from the ATM and only have big bills— that’s a lot of change, sometimes all they have in the register! After, I make sure to keep plenty of small bills on hand.
The same thing happened to me on my latest visit, to the colonial jewel of Granada on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. I live on the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and we like to head over the border for quick weekend trips sometimes.
It’s just $50 and a five-hour bus ride to Granada on TicaBus, one of the many private bus companies that do the run. The bus is air conditioned, they play movies, and staff shepherd you through the border quickly.
A steak dinner for three in Granada, with wine, at El Zaguan, an open air restaurant with live music on weekends (and you see your food sizzling away on the parilla, or wood-fired grill, in the corner), set us back just $45—and that was the most expensive meal we had. Try the steak with jalapeno cream sauce, by the way, it’s a traditional dish that’s just delicious.
Vigoron, a Granadan specialty of yucca, marinated cabbage salad, and chicharron, or fried pork, paired with a tall glass of chicha, a corn-based drink, was just $4.
Mojitos and other rum drinks, made with the pride of Nicaragua, Flor de Cana, were $1.50 around town. Ice cold Tona beer was 75 cents.
Our room in Hotel Casa San Francisco, in a lovingly restored colonial building, was $50 a night. It was just two blocks from the heart of the colonial quarter: the Parque Central in front of the cathedral and Calle La Calzada, a pedestrian street full of restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, bars, art galleries, and cigar shops—all in restored colonial homes.
Of course, dining and drinking on the cheap are far from the only reason to be in Granada.
Just wandering the streets, I stopped every 15 feet to take a picture. The red tile roofs, the tranquil courtyard gardens glimpsed through grand open doorways (it’s like a secret is behind every closed door), restored homes, and the crumbling plaster on buildings waiting for someone to bring them back to life—a casual walk around this neighborhood yields many rewards for photographers.
It’s a historic city. But by no means is Granada stuck in the past. It’s a thriving, bustling town.
An estimated 1,000 expats live in Granada. And it’s not hard to see why. Low cost of living, a beautiful setting, and real estate is cheap too.
Restored colonial homes with landscaped courtyards and modern amenities start at $200,000. I found fixer uppers in the colonial district on my recent trip from $99,000 and up for 4,000 square feet. But smaller one- or two-bedroom places, new construction, can be found for $40,000.
Granada just feels so alive. It’s vibrant. Things slow down in the heat of the day—time to read a book around one of those quiet courtyards or hit the pool. But it picks up as people go out for evening strolls searching for a nice place to enjoy a pre-dinner drink.
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