After spending five winters in Moscow, Russia as an English teacher, I decided I needed a big change. After my contract was up, I slung my backpack on my back and headed to warmer climes: Central America. I traveled around Central America for about four months, spending the most time in Nicaragua.
After a few weeks exploring the country’s various surfing towns, I happened upon Granada and fell in love. Not only was Granada, Nicaragua warm (the long days spent sweating in my open-air apartment will attest to that), the sense of community in the neighborhood was immediate, I never felt like I needed to be concerned about money, and the time I spent there was nothing but positive.
From my month-and-a-half stint, I noticed these four benefits to living in Nicaragua:
The Low Cost of Living
In everything you read about Nicaragua, the low cost of living is by far the biggest benefit touted – and why not? It’s true! Eating, living, and traveling in Nicaragua is incredibly cheap, even compared to other Central American countries which is probably why it’s so attractive.
I myself was able to easily rent an apartment in the very center of Granada, Nicaragua in 2014 for just $500 per month (including utilities) – and keep in mind Granada is one of the most gentrified, expensive cities in the whole country. Dinner for two on the main drag would often be no more than $15 (several drinks included) and could be had for much less if you head further from the center. Groceries are equally as cheap, particularly if you forgo the big chain grocery stores and dive into the local markets.
Easy Access to Many International Locations
Nicaragua’s central location in the Americas promises plenty of options should you choose to travel elsewhere or go home to visit.
By far the cheapest way to travel is to use buses, most of which are run by high-quality companies with buses luxurious enough to make those long international trips not too painful! Buses run from Managua to pretty much anywhere you might want to go in Central America. Buses to Tegucigulpa, Honduras; San Salvador, El Salvador; San Jose, Costa Rica; Panama City, Panama; Guatemala City, Guatemala; all run once to three times daily and even the longest trips cost no more than $70.
If you choose to fly, the Managua airport has many options for further travel. Flights to New York City take five hours while Washington, DC is just four and a half. (Tickets are around $300-400 to New York.) In the other direction, you can get to Bogata, Colombia or Quito, Ecuador for under $300.
How to get to Managua if you’re not living in the capital? Take a local bus that runs from just about every tiny town!
Nicaragua is Less Touched by Tourism
Unlike Costa Rica, where tourism (particularly ecotourism) rules all and tourists are almost overbearing, Nicaragua retains a lot of its natural charm. A large part of this is due to Nicaragua’s shady, violent past; most people don’t realize that the country is just as safe, if not more so, than other countries in Central America and that Contras (guerrilla forces) no long prowl the jungles.
All that being said, tourists, expats, and retirees are definitely in Nicaragua, particularly in more tourist-oriented towns like Granada and Leon. Tourism was up 10% in the first half of 2014 as compared to 2013, so it’s best to get to Nicaragua now when you still have a chance to explore its (relatively) unbeaten path!
English Students are Easy to Find
While tourism many not be quite as developed in Nicaragua as it is in neighboring Costa Rica, there’s still enough of a presence that it behooves Nicaraguans in popular towns to learn at least a little bit of English. While Nicaraguans are used to tourists coming and going, I found that when people knew I was living in the town for some time and that I was a trained English teacher, everyone wanted English lessons (or at least they knew a cousin or friend who did!).
While the cost of a private English lesson in Nicaragua is minimal compared to most of the world (expect to charge around $5-$15 per hour if you’re TEFL certified), the very low cost of living more than makes up for it. Plus, many students are looking for strictly conversational English, meaning lots of books and other supplies probably won’t be necessary.
Words by Polly Barks.