The Secrets of a Permanent Vacation in Nicaragua

I love living in Nicaragua. In fact, after almost 10 years, I constantly thank my lucky stars that I have had this opportunity. You might think I love Nicaragua because I was able to buy a wonderful ocean-view home that I could never afford in the U.S. 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. Now painting classes, being on the board of directors of a new art initiative in town, planning big events for the most popular beach restaurant in town, and having just plain fun on weekends have all contributed to the fabulous lifestyle I’ve created here. One that is much more fulfilling and fun than the one I had in San Diego, where almost everything I wanted to do was cost prohibitive.

Yes, for all of those reasons I love Nicaragua—but one of the absolute best reasons to live here is the plentiful travel opportunities it affords.

I’m a traveler—have been since I was 17 and took my first plane ride to Europe to travel with my friend for three months. The bug hit me; the rest is history. I can’t stay in one place long. I must travel, must explore. That’s what makes living in Nicaragua perfect: After nearly 10 years, I still haven’t seen it all. For my vacations or on a weekend, I leave my home in San Juan del Sur and travel to some interesting place right in my adopted country. And when I’m really longing to travel, I just rent out my house in San Juan del Sur and take off.

The Bosawas Biosphere Reserve

The Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in the northeast part of the country intrigued me. With over 2 million hectares comprising 15% of Nicaragua’s total land mass, it is the second largest rainforest in the western hemisphere after the Amazon.

I went to check it out and was surprised to discover that, despite becoming a UNESCO Biosphere site in 1997, it has met with almost no tourism. No signs announce its presence. You won’t find hotels, restaurants, or ranger cabins. It’s an untapped tourist treasure.

Hormiguita

The jungle was beautiful, but the discovery that stood out to me was the tiny town of Hormiguita, a place that time forgot. I was suddenly on the movie set of an old John Wayne western, only this was real. Horses were tied up to posts in front of the small stores that dotted the one main dirt road. The local saloon was busy in the middle of the afternoon. Men wore 10-gallon hats and spurs.

The people greeted us warmly, asked what we needed, and found horses for us to take to the jungle. The experience was fantastic and very memorable. The day didn’t cost more than $15.

Potosi

Over Christmas last year I hopped on a couple of buses and visited Potosi, a small town in the upper northwest corner of Nicaragua. The purpose of the trip was to see the famous Coseguina Volcano. Fancy digs had not arrived to this tiny city yet, but I found a charming hotel, Brisas del Golfo, for $25 a night.

The wonderful owners catered to our every need, even changing the menu some for my “healthier” dietary tastes and opening the restaurant after hours to make us a snack. They told us about a fabulous natural “hot springs” not found in any guidebook that we made sure to soak in every day we were there.

The hike to the top of the volcano and back offered spectacular scenery and the view of the crater was worth the walk.

Perla Laguna

A couple of years ago I traveled to Perla Laguna to check out the Caribbean side of Nicaragua. Palm-lined, white-sand islands dot the turquoise sea. On the mainland, there are Miskito settlements, like Marshall’s Point, that you won’t find in any guidebook. When you arrive at these places, it feels like you’ve left Nicaragua for another country. Settled by the British years ago, the people who live here speak Creole and standard English, Spanish, and Miskito. Bar music comprises of reggae and soca, not the Spanish salsa, merengue, and bachata of the Pacific side.

It’s an incredibly friendly place. Everywhere you go in Perla Laguna people greet you with a warm, “Hello” and welcome you to the town. While walking from one town to another, strangers hailed my group from their homes and invited us in for a meal or a drink. We took several people up on their offer and had the time of our lives. We tried the native cususa, a homemade alcoholic beverage made from sugar cane and ate corn fritters and the dish of the region, rondon, a fish, seafood, vegetable, and coconut stew.

Nicaragua also provides an opportunity to go on big trips. In 2010, I rented out my house in San Juan del Sur to spend six months in South America, a journey that was at the top of my bucket list. Had I been living in the United States, there was no way I’d be able to afford a trip like this. But using the rent money from my Nicaraguan house provided just what I needed to travel everywhere. I took buses, not planes, because I had the time. The longer I stayed, the more rent money I’d have. Buses also have the advantage of showing you the countryside, the colorful cities and when you go to new cities and new terminals, you meet new people. All of these things advance cultural knowledge and help you understand the country better.

I experienced the crazy Black and White Festival in Pasto, Colombia; hang glided off the cliffs of Lima, Peru; and walked up the steps to Macchu Picchu in the dark in order to arrive at the top exactly at sunrise, and see an amazing rainbow too! Iguazu Falls and the Perito Morena glacier in Argentina knocked my socks off. Small towns in every country gave me a glimpse of lives I could never see anywhere else. The towering mountains of Ecuador and the deserts of Peru inspired me. I even crossed El Condor Pass in Colca Canyon in Peru and the universe showed me majestic condors gliding by. I only bring up these amazing sights to let you know that I have to thank Nicaragua for allowing me to travel like this.

Whether I am exploring the towns, cities, lakes, rivers, forests, jungles, ocean, or volcanoes of Nicaragua, or skipping over to other countries because now I can, the world of travel has opened completely with my new life here. One way or another, living in Nicaragua makes me feel like I’m on vacation every day of the year.

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