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The Reality Of Life In Granada, Nicaragua


I’ve lived in Granada, Nicaragua for the last 9 years so it really feels like home.  But, it’s certainly not for everyone. 

Nicaragua, after all, is a very poor country and does not have all the amenities we foreigners are used to.  Countries like Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and most of South America are much, much more developed.

Granada is a small colonial city and most places are within walking distance – a big draw for someone like myself, who does not want to own a car.  It’s big enough to be interesting yet small enough to maintain a small town feeling.  Foreigners and locals alike always joke that everyone knows everyone else here.  It’s a bit of an exaggeration – even after 7 years I probably only know a fraction of the expats here.  And the expat population as a percentage is significantly lower than gringo-saturated areas such as Lake Chapala or San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.

The expat population here is quite varied:  young working couples with or without children, folks doing volunteer or development work, usually through NGOs (non-government organizations), retirees, people of every age who want adventure or just a cheaper place to live, and, older people (men) looking for very young girls or boys, which I and many others view as sexual exploitation of poverty.  (So if you fit into that last category please don’t come and make the situation worse.)

Benefits of Living Here

Granada has a lot to offer.  It’s a charming town on a deep fresh-water lake (which needs cleaning up, but is quite scenic) full of tiny islands, called isletas.  The streets are lined with one-story traditional colonial houses in a cacophony of colors, and the horse and carriage is still a popular, pervasive form of transportation.

The culture is lively, people are gentle, welcoming and friendly for the most part, and life is generally pretty slow and easy.  As a foreigner here you can study Spanish – actually, you must study Spanish to really be a part of the community and survive happily here.  All sorts of volunteer work are available and giving back to the community is very rewarding.

The weather is warm year round and the percentage of sunny days rivals San Diego or Perth.   As I mentioned before, you really don’t need a car, though many people do have one.  Granada is close to many, many tourist attractions and beautiful spots such as Omotepe, the large double-volcano island sitting in the middle of Lake Cocibolca; the five white pueblos, Volcano Mombacho, Volcano Masaya, several nature reserves less than an hour away; Laguna Apoyo, a wonderful, protected lake formed from the caldera of an ancient volcano; Volcano Masaya, and others.

Managua is less than 40 minutes away by a new highway, and the new internationally certified hospital, Vivian Pellas Metropolitano, is only 30 minutes away.  The Pacific Coast with its many beautiful, untamed beaches is around 2 hours, depending on the beach or village.

Health care is dirt-cheap and many ex-pats are “members” of the above-mentioned hospital and thereby eligible for sizable discounts on medical treatment, procedures, and tests.  This is one of the cleanest, most modern and efficient institutions of its kind and compares (or surpasses) any North American hospital.  In fact, I’ve been so impressed with health care here that I’m currently in the process of putting together a medical/dental guide.  More and more foreigners are coming here for plastic surgery,  esthetic/dermatological procedures, orthopedic surgery, dentistry and other treatments as the prices are not only cheaper than the U.S. or Europe, but also undercut those of Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama.

The cost of living is, of course, a huge draw for most foreigners, and many ex-pats who lived in Costa Rica for years but no longer find it affordable are coming here instead.  Real estate in Granada is relatively high for Nicaragua, but it has been “on-sale” for the last couple years, having dropped significantly when Daniel Ortega was elected.  This period also coincided with the global economic meltdown, so the real estate market has undergone a double-whammy.  Right now is actually an excellent time to buy in Granada.  However, before buying anywhere, it is highly recommended that you rent first for at least 6 months to make sure it’s really right for you.

Many folks here have discovered their economic niche and successfully run businesses here.  These include not only the obvious gringo businesses such as hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and real estate or property management agencies, but businesses such as art galleries, health clubs, spas, import-export, translation, gift shops, and others have also done well.  The trick is to find the missing niche, market research the hell out of it and, preferably, be the only one of its kind.  So it is possible to come here and continue to make a living.

In my case, after building my house I immediately opened it as a very small B&B and this has covered my basic costs.  My other activities here consist of volunteer work as a founder/board member of the first lending library/literacy program for children, writing, painting and mosaics, yoga teaching, translation, and bringing down a U.S.  intercultural communication class from a university for the work-study component of the course.  Life is never boring, my schedule is my own, and I more than make ends meet.

Drawbacks to Living Here

Granada is hot.  Don’t let those average temperature charts fool you – you want to know average daytime temperatures.  Most days are between 82 and 88 F, year round.  The rainy season is delightful as it rarely rains all day and the water cools everything off.  Hottest months are mid-March through early May, or until the rains start, with temperatures 90-100 and often some relentless bouts of 95-100 for days.  A lot of people get out of town in April if they can.

Coolest months are December through February with nighttime temperatures in the 60s (and Nicaraguans in ski jackets, believe it or not), and daytime temps in the low 80s.  So you’ve got to be a warm-weather lover.  I myself love the warmth and don’t use air-conditioning, even during the hottest times of the year.  It’s a rare night that I can’t sleep as long as I have a good fan.   There are plenty of places just outside of Granada that are a little cooler:  Valle Escondido, Reparto San Juan, Laguna Apoyo, Diriomo and others are 5-10 degrees cooler and very accessible to Granada.  Plenty of people live in these areas and commute to Granada every day.

Nicaragua is poor.  Begging, raggedy glue-sniffers, sorry-looking skinny dogs and horses, and the overall poverty are just not everyone’s cup of tea.  Many people find that contributing to the community helps.  Literacy rates are very, very low.  Don’t believe the statistics.  Literacy here means you can read and write your name.  The average grade level is around 4th grade elementary.  Granada is one of the country’s wealthier cities, but a great deal of poverty still exists here.  And then there’s political corruption, poor infrastructure, utilities companies that extort and overcharge, bribery at every level and an inefficient, underpaid, under-trained police force.  The rate of crime is much, much lower than most of the rest of Central America but petty thievery does exist and people have to take appropriate precautions.  That being said, violent crime is extremely rare.

In Conclusion

Whether or not you choose to live here, Granada is a great place to visit and use as a base for experiencing Nicaragua and visiting its many natural attractions.  It’s a magical country, often compared to the Costa Rica of 25 years ago, with wild jungles, exotic plant and animal life, looming volcanoes and a slow, tropical ambiance.  It’s very easy to make friends and get established in Granada.  If you are considering relocating here, plan to rent for at least 6 months to really give yourself a chance to evaluate the pros and cons.

UPDATE October 2012
 
As of this date, there have been some gradual changes in Granada:  more tourism, more people relocating here (though not in hordes), and higher prices in restaurants and hotels.  There are also some good websites for those considering relocation, or just a visit to Granada:
 
www.nicaragua-guide.com     This is a good overall website run by my friend Darrell Bushnell, also a long time resident here, and the site contains lots of detailed information about Nicaragua and Granada.
 
 
 
Guide to Medical Tourism in Nicaragua:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00698R6OK     This is a new Kindle book about medical and dental services in Nicaragua.
 
 
 
And, last but not least, a plug for a pet project, our lending library here in Granada, Puedo Leer, that we established around 7 years ago, and strives to promote a love of reading among the children here in Granada.  We’ve grown by leaps and bounds, and we have many literacy and library projects in and around Granada.  For you lovers of books and reading:   www.puedoleerlibrary.com
 
 
And, thanks for all your questions and responses.  Some of you have been answered privately, most publicly.  I appreciate your feedback.  Helen K.
 

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29 responses to “The Reality Of Life In Granada, Nicaragua”

  1. Don A

    I drove throughout Central America and Mexico in 2008 on a year-long sabbatical. I found Granada my least favorite city.

    Of course it could have something to do with the transportation strike (with hidden nails tossed out by strikers blocking many roads) which held me up in Granada for 3 weeks during June. I found the cheapest hotel with AC but that didn’t do a lot of good because each day like clockwork at noon the power went off. That began a daily ritual as shop keepers and home owners rolled hundreds if not thousands of generators out onto the sidewalk.

    I’d stay in my hotel room with the temperature rising until I couldn’t stand it any longer; then I’d head out climbing the streets toward the city center, searching for a simple puff of wind of some sort, anything to provide relief. I would normally settle on the central park under a tree to spend my afternoons, as I was too hot and tired to walk anywhere but to a bar I knew that I had discovered served cokes on ice.

    I baked each day in the 107F degree heat. Then around 7PM I would know the power was back on as people began rolling the generators back inside. Then with the noise gone it was off to dinner and sometimes joining with the band of gypsy ex-pats who frequented the downtown bars, trying to relieve their boredom as they headed to a potential new venue of the night.

    I always wonder how they miss this part of my experience on House Hunters International ;-)

  2. Mary

    wow, that was it wonderful article. I could almost feel myself there. We are very interested in Leon and Managulapa. If anyone has thoughts or comments on living in these areas could you please get back to me. Thanks

  3. Jamie

    Excellent article!

    I’m not a retiree, but I am planning to travel for an extensive period in central and south america. I thought I had found the place for a home stay and Spanish tuition, but now I’m not so sure. I can handle high temperatures but not with high humidity. I recently returned from a trip to south east asia and found the humidity of Thailand too much – sweating whilst inactive in the shade was quite unpleasant. How humid does it really feel during the hottest part of the year?

  4. LUCKYMUNDA

    Hello Helen,
    Thanks for the detailed information on Granada.
    I live in Canada and have visited Nicaragua once. I love the place and would be opening up a business there once I have allocated enough funds for my new venture.
    Regarding your project, I want to donate my home library, which contains some very good books and an encyclopedia, to a charity. I was wondering if you know of a shipping company which can move the items free of charge to Nicaragua. If you can arrange one, I will be able to spare some PCs from my office as well. I will be able to offer some very good quality slightly used clothes etc. I will definitely join your volunteer group once I am there but please do let me know what I can do from here.
    Once again, I appreciate your helping out the folks who are in real need and wish you all the best!

  5. Granada, Nicaragua, as an expat destination | yucatango

    […] This page has what seems to be a balanced appraisal of life in Granada by a long-time expat. […]

  6. arji

    i really enjoyed reading your account of granada. me and my girlfriend are heading there on the start of an adventure. i run poetry and rap workshops and am interested in running a workshop perhaps while there. is this possible? to walk in and deliver something linking words, rap, and music?

    would love to get your thoughts on it. I’ve run international stuff before and the website speaks about it

    thanks for the article.

    arji

  7. Laura

    Great information–thank you! My husband and I recently visited Granada with our two young boys and we’re thinking about moving there in a few months when our housing contract ends in Costa Rica.

    We’d actually like to open a Montessori-style school in or near Granada (if you have any way to pass that information to Clau). I like the idea of being near but not in Granada (for weather and because I like the rural setting), but we need internet access. I know it’s available in the city, but what about surrounding areas?

    Thanks so much!
    =)
    Laura

  8. Clau

    Thank you for sharing this insightful entry! It is really helpful.

    I am a Montessori certified teacher and would like to explore the possibilities of opening a kindergarden with this approach. Any suggestions?

    I appreciate your time,

  9. Helen

    You don’t need any vaccinations for Granada. The main public health menace is dengue, spread by mosquitos and you are highly unlikely to catch it. But bring insect repellent (I use the herbal kind) or you can buy it (the poisonous type) here, but it’s more expensive. Helen

  10. Living in Nicaragua City - International Living

    Our readers love everything about living and retiring in Nicaragua. It is one of our top retirement destinations. Retirees love the affordable cost of living, the friendly people, the stunningly beautiful landscape, the superb weather that Nicaragua has to offer.

  11. Chiara

    Ciao Helen!
    so far your article has been the most useful i’ve read! Thank you!
    I’m going there to volunteer for a couple of months, can you please tell me if I need some vaccinations?
    Grazie mille!
    Chiara

  12. Stan

    I agree. Helen wrote an excellent article, all true. I spent the month of August there this year and it was a very happy time indeed. My host family was wonderful to me, I very much enjoyed the spanish language school and am going back in a few weeks for at least 3 months of more of the same. It is hot. I was soaked with sweat nearly every day but it did cool down at night and was comfortable for sleep.

  13. Kirsten

    Loved your article. Thank you so much for all the great information!!!! A few personal questions? How old-ish are you and is it safe for children to live and what kind of schooling options would i have for my children or could you tell me out to find these things out? I’m just not sure where to begin. Thank you in Advanced for any information you can provide!!!

    KU

  14. Jimbo

    We are interested in retirement real estate in Nicaragua and were planning to check out a condo at “Xalteva Condos-Hotel” to possibly purchase. We are making arrangements to stay there for a couple months on “vacation” to see if we want to buy. Are you familiar with that facility and if so, would you be so kind as to give us some advice about it in terms of permanent residency?! If it’s not what they have claimed I’d rather not waste my time and would welcome an alternative location to “test the waters”, so to speak. Thanks mucho……

  15. James

    Super article, Helen, thank you! You really should start your own blog, it would be very helpful.

    Best wishes,

    James

  16. Helen

    Hi, Thanks for all of your response to this article. I’ve answered many of you privately, and just realized I should be doing this on the website! To Chuck, as far as other places it’s best to come explore. The Laguna Apoyo, both on the lake and on the rim overlooking the lake, has seen development in terms of private houses and small hotels. A number of foreigners have built housing, but many find it isolated, even tho it’s only 20-25 minutes from Granada. You definitely need a car. Valle Escondido is 1 mile right outside of town, ideal location and you could bike, taxi or bus (or even walk) to the heart of Granada, so you’d have both city and countryside ambience. Cost varies a lot; I think $1000-1500/month, possibly more if you’re renting. Diriomo is a thoroughly Nicaraguan small town with very few foreigners so you need Spanish. It’s only a 15-20 minute ride to Granada. Very cute place, cooler if you’re on a farm. Come and visit, happy to help

  17. Tom O'Gara

    Can anybody advise me about the availability of internet service in Granada? The place sounds great to me – but I need the internet for my business in the USA. For that matter, I need reasonably steady electricity, too.

  18. Hector Butter

    Any American Military Retire living in Granada, I’m,and would like to make contact to another exGI,please mail me
    Thank you

  19. Frederick Cressman

    I can confirm everything said about Granada. Some Spanish sure necessary but people there are warm and friendly. Unlike beachfront and out of the way places Granada has everything you need close at hand, Pharmacies/Hardware/Dining out/Entertainment and easy access to Managua/Hospitals. All the benefits of Granada outweighted, for us, the view aspects of Pacific coast living.

    In our case we purchased a villa just outside the central square area and proceeded to renovate and update to North American standards. While materials aren’t inexpensive the labour costs are a fraction of developed world prices and the right ‘Maesto de Construction’ can look after everything provided you are there to supervise if you want it done to your ‘Gringo’ standards not ‘Rustico’.

    Granada like other parts of Nicaragua or Central America is quirky and perhaps not for everyone but it’s so very easy to fall in love with the place. Even the ice cream girl outside the Pali gives me a kiss on the cheek when we return from an absence.

  20. Glendora Paxton

    Hi Helen! Your article was very informative and I enjoyed it tremendously. My husband and I are looking at both Nicaragua and Ecuador as possible places to move to before retirement if possible. We would need to find a business to buy or start (my husband is in sales and I was also in sales before quitting in 2007, I now do pottery as a hobby). Granada caught my eye, but I am also interested in in the cooler places you mentioned. Do they also offer business opportunities?
    Do you know if there is anywhere to get supplies such as clay and glazes for pottery in Granada or surrounding areas?

    Thank you
    Gp

  21. Patti

    I am an Expat living in the Lake Chapala area of Mexico for over 4 and a half years and love it here but found your article on Nicaragua very interesting. I backpacked and trekked thru Central America last year at this time and spent a wee bit of time in Nicaragua and loved it…
    I live in a Fracciamento, where only 2 of us Americans reside among the Native Mexicans…The cost of living for me is minimal because I choose to live like the Natives…Shopping for food at the Tianguis, open markets, for fruits, vegetables, fresh fish, chix, meats, is unbelieveably inexpensive…
    There are always news stories of the violent crimes being commited here in Mexico but they are mostly targeting the drug trade activities…If you use common sense and stay away from areas that are unsafe and do not use drugs you can live a good life here in Mexico…
    I did find this article to be intriguing and will venture to Nicaragua later this year to do some in person investigating ….
    A change might be nice….
    Patti thecrazychef Somewhere in Mexico

  22. Dale of Florida

    I want to get information on Northern Peru, such as the areas of Mancura and Piurra. Send what you have.

  23. Jim Heiser

    For Allan K. Dick,
    I lived in Panama City, Panama for 4 years. The 350K condo you mention is definitely upscale living. We had a condo of 80 sq meters, 3bd, 2 bath in a decent area and the mortgage and association fees were 460 per month. It was centrally located. If you cook in a lot I would definitely recommend you shop at the public market where fruits and vegetables are very cheap. Believe it or not most Panamanians do not take advantage of it. I find the people to be some what lazy and unambitious. If you are an impatient person you wouldn’t want to drive as it is insane, no rules on the road, aggressive, etc. On the other hand you may consider it a challenge. I lived there rather well for $1500 per month. Lots of luck to you.
    JimHeiser

  24. Rick

    Enjoyed the article. My wife and I were originally looking at Costa Rica as our retirement destination. Nicaragua has caught our eye. Only two issues that concern us. One is the availability of quality healthcare and the other is political stability. I would hate to wake up one day and find out that the government has nationalized my house just because they could.

  25. J. Johnston

    Helen,
    Are you in the business of real estate, travel services, lodging or something similar? I’d like to talk to you offline concerning current day prospects for retiring in Granada. You have my email in this comment posting. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Jay

  26. Allan K Dick

    My wife and I are Canadians who have lived outside Canada for the past 25 years (5 years in Brazil and 20 years in the US, where we are now). We want to retire outside the US due to health care costs and a relatively high cost of living. Canada is a very real alternative but is cold (yes, we are used to cold, but don’t like it).

    We are considering Panama due to weather, no hurricanes, good infrastructure, stable government, affordable health care, etc. One big issue I have is frequent comments that “you can live well for USD 1,500 a month and save money on just your US Social Security check”.

    In checking out real estate, etc, a suitable house/condo is still around USD 350K (no real info on rentals) and the cost of living for food, etc is not terrifically cheaper than the US (we don’t dine out often).

    I would like to see a more detailed comparison of the COL between a US location and a location in Panama – much like US relocation websites offer. Also a reliable source for real estate information – I just haven’t seen anything on any websites that backs up the extravagant claims I have seen elsewhere.

    Thanx – sorry to be long-winded.

  27. Chuck Sultzman

    Hello Helen. We live in Vero Beach Florida and are both weary from the summer heat. Nicaragua sounds interesting to me, but I would be more interested in the cooler places you mentioned: Valle Escondido, Reparto San Juan, Laguna Apoyo, and Diriomo. A web search can only provide so much information and may be biased. Can you tell me more about these places? What would it cost to live, renting, in a comfortable, safe area of these other places?

    Thanks for a good, informative article,
    Chuck Sultzman

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