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.
When I chose to drop out of school at 14, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life other than to fulfill my lifelong dream to travel the world. Back then, I didn’t know how I would do so, I just knew I would make it happen. I grew up next door to an Italian family, the Picos, who had migrated to Australia with their sons, Giovanni and Pietro.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With Nicaragua just arriving on the scene as a top tourist destination, many people don’t know what this little country has to offer. Like Costa Rica about 30 years ago, Nicaragua gives you the same untamed beauty, exotic living locale, great business opportunities and the lowest prices around. Here are just a few attractions that you should not miss when you. Float on your back or swim lengths in this crystal clear turquoise natural pool in the middle of the forest. Ometepe Island itself should not be missed. A one-of-a-kind destination, you can hike up an active volcano, go kayaking in the 19th largest lake in the world, or relax in this stunning pool of water for the entire day. Cost of the day (approx.): Round-trip ferry ride—$6; hotel—$45 to $75 a night; scooter rental—$15 a day; food: breakfast, lunch and dinner—$50 for two.
The original Riviera (from the Italian word for “seashore”) sprang up in southern France and the bordering region of Italy. Upper-crust Brits, northern Europeans, and—later—well-heeled Americans flocked here for the beach resorts, casinos, and parties. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald had a villa here in the Jazz Age, although it’s said he was a horrible party guest. The term riviera has been adopted by regions all over the world, in places where the sun, surf, and vacation vibe live on. And when we hit the new-school rivieras in the developing world, expect to get a real bang for your real estate buck.
First, there’s the food… The supermarket produce sections in the U.S. are picture perfect: intensely orange oranges; big, shiny red apples; greens without a bit of brown. But, Nicaragua doesn’t paint, wax, and shine its produce, so I eat wonderfully sweet oranges with no beautifying chemicals added (for a fraction of what they cost in the U.S). I also eat fresh-caught (not frozen or farm-raised) fish twice or three times a week and real free-range chicken (that has been allowed to run free and is not injected with growth hormones.) The rest of my diet includes tropical fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm.
Ecuador offers sophisticated historical cities…miles of unspoiled, sun-kissed beaches…fertile farmland…and temperate mountain hideaways…and all of it for pennies on the dollar. You can live well for a fraction of the cost of living back in the U.S. And with Ecuador’s official currency the U.S. dollar, you needn’t worry about currency calculations or exchange risks. And real estate costs? They’re among the lowest we’ve found anywhere in the world.
Ron and Debbie Goehring consider every single aspect of their lives better in Nicaragua than in their hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “We eat home-grown food, exercise, volunteer in our local community, and live a simple and fulfilling life immersed in the local culture. We have never regretted our decision to retire in Nicaragua.” Both teachers, they were travelers from the start. “Throughout our married life, we explored the U.S. and traveled abroad extensively. When it was time to retire, we wanted something quirky, inexpensive, and adventurous, with a simplified lifestyle—abroad. Nicaragua fit the bill.”
“The people in my new community are some of the best I have ever met in my entire life. They are like my family. I feel safe, protected, and loved,” says Dawn Noel, who made the move to Nicaragua in 2012. “And there is a rich flora and fauna here. I am enveloped in beauty!” After a busy career as a traveling nurse, Dawn was ready for a new adventure. She longed for a place where she could feel free, be herself, and “be able to live out my later years without working myself to death.”
No matter how affordable the destinations we talk about are, the simple fact is: You can’t live anywhere for free… But what if you had an income that went with you? An income that could give you the freedom you need to just pick up and go? You could spend half the year in your own cottage on the beach…work in the mornings and snorkel and relax in the afternoons.
The couple explored Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, and Nicaragua. As their trips were part of a search for a new home, it made sense to stay awhile and get beneath the surface of a place. Ellen explains, “Extended stays make sense financially, giving us time between trips to recoup the cost of moving about.” But after three years of having no permanent base, they realized that it was actually this roving retirement lifestyle that suited them.
Back home, you are energetic and enjoy a life full of activities, friends and diversity. You want it to stay that way and you have your priorities. Nature makes you happy. After a lifetime living in cold weather, you’d like to throw away your winter coats. Health care and safety are major concerns. Starting a business entices you, but isn’t it too late? You love your delicious coffee and going to great restaurants with your friends. You seek volunteer opportunities to help people and give your life more purpose.
Licensed attorney Ashley Blaylock thought she had her life all mapped out. She was planning a legal career, specializing in corporate and tax law. But prior to taking a summer program in international law and human rights in Costa Rica in 2003, she took a vacation to Nicaragua. And that changed everything for this Houston native. “As a kid you have a vision of paradise, and when I saw Nicaragua, it was exactly like the vision I had,” explains Ashley. “It’s a gorgeous country, with mountains, verdant green countryside, and miles and miles of unspoiled ocean.
I bought my house in Nicaragua in one day on a whim. While I wouldn’t recommend doing something so hasty, it worked out great. I went back to the U.S. and neatly closed up my life there. Arriving three months later in Nicaragua, I was ready to start my new life in my new house.
No matter how affordable the destinations we talk about are, the simple fact is: You can’t live anywhere for free… But what if you had an income that went with you? An income that could give you the freedom you need to just pick up and go? You could spend half the year in your own cottage on the beach…work in the mornings and snorkel and relax in the afternoons. Maybe spend the other half of the year up in the mountains where it’s cool…and get paid while you’re at it…
With a laid-back lifestyle and increasing access to modern amenities, it’s easy to see why a growing number of expats are calling Granada home. This colonial city in Nicaragua has year-round hot weather, brightly-painted buildings and colonial-era architecture in the historic center, and diverse natural surroundings. It’s not surprising that it is becoming Nicaragua’s tourism hub. What is interesting, though, is how it is growing as a wellness destination.
“My husband Fred and I haven’t felt as vital as this in years. It’s like we’re young again and just starting out. It’s a fabulous feeling. We wake up every morning to happy conversation and laughter, the guests in our Nicaraguan hostel all having breakfast together,” says Carla Batty. Back home in Queensland, Australia, Carla and Fred had a life of relaxed dinners with friends, easy jobs they enjoyed, and the odd night out.