Nicaragua: Beautiful and Affordable
Along Central America’s Pacific coast you’ll find rocky outcrops, world-class surf, and some of the most jaw-dropping views in the world. If it’s natural beauty you are after, Nicaragua is the jewel of this stretch of coast.
Today's Nicaragua is like a newborn child, eyes bright with hope with a smile promising a great future. The country stuns with its physical beauty, something that surprises every newcomer. Majestic volcanoes pepper the horizon along the Pacific Ring of Fire, some with billows of white smoke, proclaiming the life within, while others sleep, protecting their sparkling crater lakes for you to enjoy.
Lake Colcibolca, the 19th largest lake in the world, houses Ometepe Island, a magical place that soothes the soul with its own lakes, volcanoes and verdant green forests. White sand beaches and turquoise water with low-hanging palms greet you on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua. Bosawas National Reserve offers a dense rainforest, second only to the Amazon in the western hemisphere. Hiking, rock climbing, floating down crystal clear rivers, surfing a volcano and more are only some of the adventures in Nicaragua.
Because Nicaragua is just emerging as a tourist and retirement destination, many take advantage of the economical real estate and rental prices to retire early. Here you can buy an oceanview acre with a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house for less than $150,000, something that would cost easily over a million in the U.S.
Ocean-view condos for under $100,000 still exist, as do fully-furnished apartments to rent for $400 to $500 a month with all amenities and a block's walk to the beach. Don't despair if you want "more" of a house, as upscale mansions with a 240-degree view of the ocean exist for those with deeper pockets. The truth is, you can easily build your dream house and your dream life in Nicaragua, for about an 8th of the price of what it would cost you back home.
Still lacking a strong infrastructure, Nicaragua, like Costa Rica maybe 40 years ago, offers people from the U.S. and Canada and elsewhere the role of true pioneers. These expats are helping to shape Nicaragua into the tourist mecca it will become. New government laws with unparalleled tax benefits help expats form corporations and open businesses with ease.
Nicaragua is not for everyone. It's more primitive and wild than its Central American neighbors. It's for the young-at-heart, who don't worry if the electricity goes off, who don't stress over guests arriving late, who don't want to sit around just watching TV when they retire. It's for those with vision, who want adventure, want to feel young again and who want to create their ideal retirement. Don't wait any longer. Let Nicaragua surprise you.
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- Population: 5,788,531
- Capital City: Managua
- Climate: Tropical in lowlands, cooler in highlands
- Time Zone: GMT-6
- Language: Spanish
- Country Code: 505
On December 8, 1852, the people of the French city of Lyon lit candles in their windows to celebrate the raising of a statue of the Virgin Mary on the city’s Fourvière Hill. Now, more than 160 years later, this tradition has grown into the annual Festival of Lights, which sees the streets of Lyon lit up by more than 70 artistic light displays from December 5 to December 8. Millions of visitors arrive during the festival to take in these ornate, creative works, as the windows, fountains, and trees of Lyon light up with every color imaginable.
Life here is just easy,” says 66-year-old Ira Stephenson of his new life in the mountain town of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. “I lived in many other places around the world before I came here, and Matagalpa felt like home from the very beginning.” Back in Sacramento, California, Ira worked in drywall construction. But after a severe work injury, several unsuccessful surgeries, and plain bad luck, Ira found himself unemployed, disabled, and with very little money.
Often voted one of the best beaches in the Caribbean, West Bay Beach, on the western end of the island of Roatán, Honduras, boasts a growing community of contented, beach-loving expats—part- and full-time. West Bay rests along Roatán’s northwestern shore, which is perfectly protected from the island’s prevailing southeastern breezes. This leaves the turquoise waters calm and still, perfect for a refreshing swim or snorkel. For many residents, a people-watching stroll on the white sands with a cold beer in hand is a daily routine.
Justin and Sarah Fahey did everything the way you are “supposed to” in the U.S. They focused on their educations, both ﬁnally getting Master’s degrees at Boston universities. They got married. Justin landed a sales job for a large research company and Sarah worked as a counselor in a private Massachusetts school. The road to the American Dream stretched out before them. Everything was perfect. Or was it?
“Where else could we find this life?” says expat Monica Sedgwick of the one she and her husband James have created in Nicaragua. “We’re living in paradise, paying $200 a month for a three-bedroom apartment with a super view of the bay.” And they’re not the only expats to have discovered the wonderfully affordable lifestyle this retirement haven has to offer.
Picture rolling, green foothills covered in forest, which frame mountains up to 2,300 feet high…the city itself, orange-tiled roofs over houses painted all colors of the rainbow, creeping up the mountainside. That’s Matagalpa.
Adrienne made the move to Nicaragua with Pax, her one-year-old son. As a 41-year-old woman, she still had to create an income. Back in Whistler, Canada, she had a successful nail salon business that she sold in 2012. When she arrived in Nicaragua, she had just under $10,000 to invest.
A family reunion for a 100-year-old aunt took Bob Urzua to San Juan del Sur for the first time. He fell in love with the place. The peace and tranquility attracted him immediately—he felt so good and calm on his trip. Would he feel this way if he lived here all the time? He decided to find out.
Before the automobile came along, people lived life on a more intimate scale. You shopped at the local butcher, baker, and grocer (whom you knew by name). The café downstairs, or down the street, was your second home, and its patrons your second family. You scheduled your day by how long it took to walk from place to place…and nobody was in a rush, anyway.
After nine years of living in Nicaragua, Darrell and Amy Bushnell still feel it was a great choice for their retirement. The people are friendly and accepting, the cost of living is low, and a welcoming expat community provides a busy social life.
As fall arrives in the northern hemisphere, Nicaragua remains warm, with temperatures averaging 79 F. That makes it easy to enjoy the outdoor festivities that sweep the country. The San Jerónimo festival, in the city of Masaya, sees a statue of the country’s patron saint taken from its usual haunt, the church altar, and carried around the town, accompanied by traditional dancers. One of the procession’s highlights is the Mozote y Verga, in which dancers reenact great battles of Nicaragua’s past from the Filibuster War of 1856 to the ousting of the dictatorship in 1979. The event kicks off on September 30.
We began International Living as a dream. Now it is a reality, not just for us but for thousands of people. I’ve met hundreds of them myself. And never have I met one who regretted it. But let’s back up. When I launched International Living in 1980, I really didn’t know much about living overseas…and barely anything about living at all. I was only 32 years old. What I thought I knew back then came mostly from reading…and from my junior year abroad, which was spent in Paris in 1969.
In this latest Debrief—exclusive to you as an International Living VIP member—Dan Prescher talks to IL Nicaragua Correspondent Bonnie Hayman about a little-known city that’s set to be the next great highland destination.
On my first trip to Granada, Nicaragua several years ago, I stopped in a small bookshop in the historic colonial quarter, just a few blocks from the main square. It was evident the owner—an expat from California—was a lover of literature. Classics…science fiction…travelogues…histories…and more lined the shelves. As I chatted to him, it emerged that he got started when he was just passing through Granada and, looking to make a bit of extra travel money…he laid books out on a blanket on the street to sell.
Monica Sedgwick and her husband, James, wandered into the laidback Nicaraguan beach town of San Juan del Sur about seven years ago. The pair were immediately hooked on its gorgeous beaches…quieter lifestyle…fun people…and the fact that it was cheap to live there.
I’ve lived in Nicaragua for seven years, and I can tell you that this is one of the most beautiful, affordable, and exciting countries in Central America. You can leave your stressful life behind and relax in the tranquility of a liquid gold touched sunset, listen to a gentle forest rain, or watch from your patio as thousands of fireflies make it look as though the stars have descended from the sky. And if you like excitement and adventure, Nicaragua will not disappoint.
Jacques Cousteau once declared the Blue Hole in Belize to be one of the best diving spots in the world—and few would disagree. The Blue Hole, part of the Lighthouse Reef system, is an almost-perfect circular limestone sinkhole that is nearly 1,000 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep. This striking ocean feature sits like a giant blue pupil in a sea of turquoise.
“I go into my kitchen and look out over my pool to the ocean. I can see all the way to the mountains in neighboring Costa Rica. On my terrace are beautiful potted plants including orchids hanging from coconut trees. I feel blessed,” says Lawrence. Lawrence and Jeanne were living a high-powered life in the Big Apple, working and raising three children.
Your cost of living in Matagalpa depends on all the home “comforts” you need, how often you entertain and how often you want to enjoy the city’s entertainment and other various factors. One expat who has lived in Matagalpa for four years says he spends $1,000 a month for himself, his wife, two kids, and one on the way. Their three-bedroom, two-bath house with garage and backyard rents for $300 a month. He has a $400 a month budget for food, and he spends $75 a month for all of his utilities. The extra $225 a month is for whatever they feel like spending the money on.
You can’t live any cheaper in Nicaragua than Matagalpa. You’ll find a brand new three-bedroom, two-bath house with front patio and back yard rents for just $200 a month.
If you’d like to live in the heart of downtown, where all the action is, plan to spend from $350 to $600 for a rental, depending on how big the place is and the location.
A lifestyle in Matagalpa can be described as calm, peaceful, and beautiful. In a typical day in this middle-class city, you may meet some friends at any one of the several modern cafés: Baristas, El Gran Cafe, Seleccion, for what could be the best cup of joe you’ve ever had. One of Matagalpa’s main industries is coffee production.
Matagalpa is one of Nicaragua’s undiscovered gem. This city has been thriving for hundreds of years and just now hit our radar as expats from the U.S. start moving in. A mountain town, Matagalpa boasts a year-round, spring-like climate and stays green all the time. With fresh weather, pristine lakes and rivers, the city nestles within nature, providing many outdoor activities.
The global rise in demand for craft beer from microbreweries has given birth to thousands of small businesses—brewing, serving, and distributing. In a backlash against mass production, the world wants its beer made in small quantities with great care. It has become a business where manufacturer and consumer are chasing discerning production…and the small operator has a great chance of succeeding.
You notice the difference the minute your vehicle starts lumbering up the excellent road that circles the city. You suddenly feel a cool breeze through the window; everything is green and fresh. You’ve left the hot lowlands behind. You feel like you are somewhere else as you pass acres of coffee beans drying out in the sun, trees that you’ve never seen before, mountain vistas at every turn, and horses and cattle on their ranches eyeing you curiously. Miles and miles of thick forest beckon you to explore.
Eleven years ago, I made my first public speech about opportunity in international real estate. The topic? “Nicaragua: The Next Costa Rica?” I argued that indeed it was. The premise of my talk was straightforward. Over time, I predicted, Nicaragua would develop along lines similar to those tourist-friendly Costa Rica has followed.
At home, prices are rising. It costs more to put gas in the car, buy groceries, and pay for health insurance. At the same time, retirement savings eroded in the market downturn. If you’re looking overseas for a low-cost alternative to an uncertain retirement at home, there’s good news. You can ﬁnd it in places that offer not just “cheap” living, but a whole basketful of beneﬁts, too—places where a mild spring-like climate is yours all year round…beaches are of powder-white sand…snow-capped mountains soar above colonial towns…and your costs could be as low as $1,000 a month.
There are a lot of people in the States today who think they’ll never have enough money to retire comfortably. But there are places overseas where you can still own your own property outright…where world-class healthcare won’t send you to the poorhouse…where the cost of living is much lower than back home. I was able to retire 11 years early by moving to Nicaragua.
I got to retire 11 years early by moving to Nicaragua. I can live on about $1,000 (or less) a month…and I’m not scrimping. In fact, I can enjoy more here than I could in the U.S. when I had a great salary. I eat out when I want…travel around the country…visit the U.S. once a year…and generally have a better quality of life. In 2007 I was a technical writer in San Diego, with Fortune 500 companies as clients and a nice home in a great neighborhood. But when I went on a vacation to Nicaragua, I didn’t want to leave. I immediately fell in love with the country and daydreamed about living my life there.
Wandering is our specialty. Since my husband, Chris, and I left the States at the start of 2013 with not much of a plan and a whole load of ambition, we have resided in seven homes and explored countless destinations in the two countries—Costa Rica and Nicaragua. During our travels we have rescued hatchling sea turtles from hungry birds…observed the most achingly beautiful sunset from a Pacific beach…and encouraged a sloth as he crept between trees…
Adrienne Greenwood had a choice. Stay in wet and rainy Whistler, Canada, close to the poverty line or go elsewhere. That’s when she discovered the tropical beach town of San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. “Nicaragua has everything I need: warm, friendly, family-oriented people and a good yoga-and-wellness community, full of colorful and quirky individuals who have also chosen an off-the-beaten-path existence, and a sunny tropical climate all year round. I love that,” says Adrienne.
When you are considering where to retire, Nicaragua should be on your list. It has everything the other Latin American countries have…and then it has its own surprises that set it apart from the pack. For example, Nicaragua’s physical beauty is second to none. If you’re a nature lover, crystal blue lakes, turquoise rivers and pools, miles of surf-worthy ocean and sandy beaches, majestic volcanoes, cascading waterfalls, sun-flecked canyons, islands that look like pearls in the sea, and sunny blue skies will call you to this beautiful place.
Turquoise blue water, white sand, palms swaying in the breeze, and a cold drink in hand…it’s the setting for a new life on one of Central America’s picture perfect Caribbean islands. In a place like this, the cares of the world melt away and you are very much on island time.
I love living in Nicaragua. You might think it’s because I was able to buy a wonderful ocean-view home that I could never afford in the States. My house, on nearly an acre of land, would cost 10 times more in my home town of San Diego than the $132,000 I paid for it here. Or, you might assume that I love it so much because I was able to retire 11 years early…or because the sunny warm weather puts a smile on my face every morning. You could point to the more fulfilling life I have now, complete with fabulous friendships I’ve made with local people and other expats, and ask if that’s the reason.
In International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2015, we ranked and rated the 25 best retirement havens in the world. You can stretch your dollars in any of them and live better than you can back home—for less. But the ﬁve below offer the lowest cost of living and come out on top in the Cost of Living category in the Index.
For more than 11 years I’ve traveled all over Latin America. From the U.S.-Mexican border all the way to Argentina, I see firsthand the opportunities this vast land has to offer. I’ve never seen a better time to invest in development land in Latin America than right now. The biggest returns in development come to the earliest speculators who take positions. You don’t need deep pockets to invest in development land—if you know how to do it. Nicaragua, for example, is a country of stunning natural beauty and abundant resources. It has a young population and its economy is catching up from a very low base. It has great potential as a retirement and vacation locale for North Americans. In the early 2000s, money and people raced in. Many didn’t have the skills or the experience to develop real estate.
People from all around the world come to my adopted home town, San Juan del Sur. It’s Nicaragua’s most popular beach town and home to a cheerful mix of folks. Let me give you an example. I once found myself in a bar where visitors and locals often meet up. With a rockin’ band that invites anyone with an instrument to sit in and play, a true mix of Nicaraguans and foreigners, and fabulous local fare, it was so crowded that I found myself sharing a table with strangers. I was the lone U.S. citizen among 12 people from 12 different countries.
I’ve lived in Nicaragua for seven years, and I can tell you that this is one of the most beautiful, affordable, and exciting countries in Central America. You can leave your stressful life behind and relax in the tranquility of a liquid gold-touched sunset, listen to a gentle forest rain, or watch from your patio as thousands of fireflies make it look as though the stars have descended from the sky. And if you like excitement and adventure, Nicaragua will not disappoint. Here are just some of the once-in-a-lifetime activities Nicaragua has to offer, whether you’re stopping over for vacation or staying full-time.
I’m a beach girl—I love the sun, sand and surf. A few years ago I had a choice: to never be able to retire in the U.S. because it was too expensive, or retire 11 years earlier than planned and live in a tropical paradise, free of stress and close to the ocean, my favorite place to be. Nicaragua called me and the coastal town of San Juan del Sur captured me. In San Diego there was no possibility of ever living near a beach. I’d never have the millions necessary. But here in San Juan del Sur, I was able to buy a small, two-bedroom/two-bathroom house for $132,000…with an ocean view. My friends can’t understand how I keep so busy in a beach town the size of a stamp (the main part of town covers three square blocks), but I’m doing things that I’d never have done back in California.
If you dream about a different life… one lived on a sun-dappled beach… or in a colonial, history-rich town… or some exotic big city abroad… but you need an income to make it happen, sooner rather than later… Then you should know: There are proven, flexible ways you can fund your life overseas… and get paid to do something you genuinely enjoy… So you gain the freedom to pick up and go… travel when you feel like it… live in a place you love… and all the while earn $12,000… $25,000… $40,000… even $85,000 a year or more…
In a handful of noteworthy places on the planet right now, you could own a world-class property for $150,000 and have it throw off $1,000 a month, right from the start. These are what I call “exceptional markets.” Places where you’re looking at as much as an 8% yield… more than double the norm. But you don’t need mounds of cash on hand to get in – often less than $20,000. And these are gains you can pocket with little-to-no effort.