Many Baby Boomer gringos consider Nicaragua as a country to visit or reside over others in Latin American for several reasons. Granada, Leon, and San Juan del Sur are popular areas with both Boomers and expats.
Nicaragua has the potential to be a very positive Latin American cultural experience.
Compared to most Central American countries, with the exception of Panama, Nicaraguan citizens are feeling better about their future according to a CID-Gallup poll.
Much of Central America like Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize is suffering from a lack of governance, poverty, violent crime, drug cartels, gangs, and poor economic growth. Nicaragua, along with Panama, is the exception and has made progress is addressing the needs of its citizens.
Many folks might say, well what about Costa Rica? Yes, Costa Rica is a more mature tourist destination, but lacks the Hispanic cultural heritage that Nicaragua contains.
It’s not a comparative bargain either in terms cost of living. It has some mature infrastructure but is lagging behind in investment compared to both Panama and Nicaragua.
Culturally, it is more like the U.S.A. in some regards. So if you want to have more of the U.S. go there. I’m sure others would disagree with me on that point, but we’ll discuss Costa Rica at another time.
Although no place is perfect, many Baby Boomer gringos consider Nicaragua as a first time Latin American experience.
Baby Boomers who want to make their dollar stretch can experience a Latin culture reminiscent of the colonial past. A feeling of relative security, traveling through the beautiful and diverse countryside, and the sense that you’ve definitely left the States but have not gone too far are all important reasons.
Plus, a relatively pragmatic government open to small business is a bonus. Entrepreneurs are welcomed.
So are you thinking about visiting or living in Nicaragua? Here are a few points to consider.
Dollar stretches further
The purchasing power of the U.S. Dollar is higher in Nicaragua than many Latin American countries. The current rate of exchange is 26 Nicaraguan Córdoba to 1 U.S. Dollar. With a few exceptions, goods and services are less expensive.
Your average Nicaraguan earns about $100-$200 U.S. per month. Labor is very inexpensive compared to the U.S.A. There have been recent labor protests in the garment industry and others which are pushing for higher wages. I hope they get the raise. Prices will still be attractive.
If you want to shop for luxury items stay at home. Things like autos and imported furniture are at a premium.
On the other hand, leasing a driver (safer) or taking a taxi (check out with hotel) for transportation is a good value. Medical care, medicine, and dentistry are very reasonable compared to the U.S. Most food is relatively inexpensive and if you like to eat out – you’ll get a lot for comparatively less.
If you’re looking for unique items particular handmade things like furniture, you have an advantage. You can get custom made pieces for very competitive prices.
Experience Latin Culture
If you really want to introduce yourself to Latin culture in a foreign country, Nicaragua is a good place to start.
Some people have said the culture’s slower pace in Nicaragua is more like perhaps the nostalgic 50’s or 60’s in the U.S. It’s a plus to lower your negative stress level and smell the roses.
The Spanish colonial architecture is some of the oldest in the Americas. Granada and Leon offer colonial buildings and churches that highlight the culture there.
You can read a previous blog of mine that features gringo opinions about Nicaragua in “Baby Boomer Gringo Granada Nicaragua” here.
Managua has its cultural celebrations, both religious and national events.
There are plenty of interesting places to visit and live throughout Nicaragua that reflect indigenous and Spanish colonial culture and architecture.
Beautiful and Diverse Countryside
Tourism is on the rise in Nicaragua. The nice thing is you can be tourist and avoid the tourist crowds.
The Nicaraguan landscape is as picturesque and diverse as few other beautiful places in the world.
You can hang out at the beach, go inland to jungle lakes and streams, or travel to cooler destinations in the higher plains and mountain regions with volcanoes that grow the coffee I love to drink.
I like gardens, particularly vegetable gardens. Growing your own food is both healthy and frugal. How nice it is to step out into your backyard and pick a few avocadoes and limes for lunch out of your own “grocery store.”
I would be lying to say there is no crime or gangs in Nicaragua, but compared to other places in Central America, it’s much less than say Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize. However, the north and south Atlantic regions of Nicaragua are far less policed and have more security challenges.
The Ortega administration understands that tourism and expats are an important part of the economy that is growing. The government is making consistent efforts to deal with serious crime and raise money to fund that challenge.
Petty theft is going occur – which by the way happens in the U.S. too, but if you looking for U.S. levels of security with its sometimes excesses, stay at home.
Petty crime may be looked upon differently in Nicaragua, maybe because a few locals may think you’re a “rich” gringo that can afford to part with your stuff. Who knows?
Just use your common sense when it comes to wearing or storing personal items. You don’t want to leave your purse or wallet out there in plain sight, like I did once in Seville and lost all my cash. It’s a small price to pay for avoiding more violent encounters you may experience in other places.
Also there are fewer police and they’re not well paid compared to U.S. standards.
There have been some unexplained violence in some of the northern rural areas. A small group of men have been arrested for a violent crime in the Atlantic north region. There are accidents periodically. Last year an unfortunate gringo from the U.S. ran over a local person with his SUV. He apparently was drunk and driving too fast. He went to jail, but it’s unclear how long he will stay.
The court system can work very slowly. Some say there is a dual system of justice, one for tourists/expats and another for citizens. Gray areas exist. That goes for a lot of countries – even the U.S. is not immune given the fact that it has the highest number of lawyers per person in the world.
Travel Distance Is Just Right
You don’t have to burn a whole day or two traveling to and from Nicaragua. There are direct flights that are growing in number. The travel distance is an advantage, particularly if you have business or personal responsibilities that require you to return to the U.S. regularly. This makes Nicaragua a convenient Latin American destination.
Although Uruguay is one of my favorite places to hang out, it also is a 10+ hour plane ride.
A functional government seems to be reinvesting in the country’s infrastructure to build a better economy for all and at the same time making efforts to provide better services for its citizens.
Nicaragua is open to small business and the government seems to be working okay with all international parties including the U.S.A.
There are exceptions to this pragmatism. For instance, a controversial action by the local government in Managua to demolish a piece of architecture called the ”Concha Acústica” has stirred some emotions. The project was funded by the Taiwanese government to provide a public benefit. The architect had some harsh words regarding the government’s very quick and non-debated decision to tear the structure down.
Another exception might be the decision to build a canal connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific with Chinese government financing. Some Nicaraguans protest it. Others analyze it. The jury is still out.
In an article entitled “A Sandinista, a Liberal, and a businessman walk into a club…” the author who is also the editor of the The Nicaragua Dispatch points out the positive growth of the country where the economy and quality of life has improved.
The article says the politics have stagnated a bit with one party dominating the governance of the country. Even though one of the opposition party members states that Democracy has seemed to decline, he also says a least they are debating each other without violence. He deems that’s progress.
Is there corruption? Absolutely, yes. Most if not all governments in the world have corruption, the question to ask – is it “functional corruption?” Nothing’s perfect, but if it works for most folks, then what’s wrong with that?
Weather and Natural Disasters
The weather is warm all year round except for mountain areas. Depending on your location, the rainy season differs. But if you’re looking for a warm climate, Nicaragua is a good location.
Since Nicaragua lies in the “Ring of Fire,” earthquakes and the accompanying tsunamis are a constant reminder to be prepared. I wrote about the Ring in a previous blog. The government has contingency plans to respond to such things and communication is improving. The International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC) is another source for information.
There were recent floods in Managua due to the large amount of rain falling in a short period of time combined with the city drainage system clogged with street trash. There is room for improvement regarding trash collection.
Another Chikungunya outbreak has arrived in Nicaragua and the surrounding Caribbean. It’s a mosquito borne disease that is a virus. This virus is generally not life threatening, but it can create all sorts of body aches and pains. People say it hurts like Hades.
The government has a mosquito spraying operation, but it doesn’t cover everywhere. Bring your mosquito repellant. Yes, and like the West Nile virus, it’s possible to contract it in Florida, but there have been no official reports yet. HealthMap has a useful app to keep you informed of infectious diseases worldwide.
Baby Boomer Gringos Consider Nicaragua
Nicaragua is not just for Baby Boomers, but Boomers with a fixed income and maybe still paying for their children’s college education can find Nicaragua an attractive choice. The cost of living, the amenable climate, varied topography, low key cooperative culture, low cost health care and healthy food choices stand out for expats, entrepreneurs, and tourists alike.
If you want resort experiences with high security, it’s not for you. There are some attractive resort areas. Nicaragua’s first billionaire is developing a luxury resort on the Pacific coast with a very ambitious vision.
Nicaragua is still a relatively poor country, but the cultural experiences are there if you want to go for it. There’s always the risk of being “behind the curve.” Timing can be everything. Either you’re too early or too late, but the rewards of hitting it just right are huge. You decide.
Here’s some Nicaraguan music from one of the country’s music icons, Carlos Mejía Godoy:
Carlos in Managua, Nicaragua 1983
Carlos in San Francisco, CA 2010
Here’s Carlos’s equally famous brother, Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy in San Francisco, CA 2010:
Here is Lya Barrioz:
And finally Luis Enrique Mejía López, nephew to Carlos and Luis Enrique Godoy:
“Frequently Asked Questions” about Nicaragua
1. What is the currency in Nicaragua?
It’s the Córdoba – currently 26 C’s to 1 U.S. dollar
2. Where is Nicaragua? It’s between Costa Rica and Panama.
3. Is it a communist country?
No, it currently has a democratically-elected government.
4. Is English spoken there? No and Yes.
No, the official language is Spanish. Yes, there are folks who speak English, but you’ll manage better if you speak a bit of Spanish.
5. Population: Approximately 6 million (2012)
6. What is the standard of living?
Most Nicaraguans are poor by U.S. standards, but there is a small but slowly growing middle class. Wages are still low compared to the U.S. For example, a factory worker may earn about $100-200 U.S. a month, but the cost of living is relatively low compared to the U.S. Unemployment is still relatively high, but some progress is being made. Since the currency exchange is about 1 U.S. dollar to 26 Córdoba, people with U.S. type income can live in Nicaragua at a higher standard than in the U.S.
7. What kind of weather?
Tropical Nicaragua is warm and humid (often hot). Temperatures vary according altitude and mountains. Average temperature across the country is 82° F (28°C). The central mountains can have high averages in low 70’s.
The rainy season is May to October. The amounts range from high (lowlands of Caribbean) of 200″ while further inland is much less.
8. Information sources for further research:
9. Tourist Videos