Our trip to Pearl Lagoon was the most EPIC motorcycle journey we’ve taken yet in Nicaragua.
The Lagoon – located on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and 400 kilometers east of Managua – isn’t on the average tourist trail. A large river and two long peninsulas – which only allow very restricted access to the ocean – form this unique setting.
The fresh water is calm and stays very shallow. It is tinted brown from the river, but clean and refreshing to swim in. Locals are seen fishing, crabbing and shrimping at all hours of the day.
Most locals in this region of Nicaragua speak Spanish and English, but either is as likely to be their mother tongue. Their English sounds like the Jamaicans I grew up amongst in Toronto, Canada but with an even thicker accent and with more slang. I often found it easier to communicate in Spanish.
My wingman and wingwoman Adam and Tina were the impedance for this trip to Pearl Lagoon. They had a gap in their personal chef (In Your Home Dining) and classical violin gigs and wanted to spend some real time in the saddle.
Griff almost missed the trip. He didn’t clock the fact that the closing on his new business (Casa Rana) was on the same day we were leaving. Thank goodness for power of attorney.
Video credit for this post goes to Adam. The photos were collected from all of our phones.
We always look for new roads to ride. To get from Granada to Juigalpa we saw two routes on the map.
One was 80 kilometers shorter, but estimated to take the same amount of time. The only impediment we saw was a huge river cutting through the road and no bridge. We later realized this was the least of the challenges to be faced on the “short cut”.
GETTING THERE: DAY 1
The first leg of our trip from San Juan del Sur to Granada was uneventful. A beautiful ride but most of us have driven it a hundred times. We were all excited for the new stretch of virgin blacktop. The paved portion of the ride wound alongside Lake Nicaragua.
We eventually came upon a surface I can only describe as sand on top of hard packed dirt. Any sudden movements had the bikes drifting across the road with our hearts in our throats.
At the river we found a barge ferrying bicycles and other motorcycles to the other side. $1.25 USD paid for all four of us to cross.
On the opposite side of the river we stopped for a beer and rest and marveled at how early we would arrive at our final destination for the day.
On the map Juigalpa looked to be about an hour’s drive. We discussed pushing on past Juigalpa to the next town.
Then came the road filled of washboard, boulders, mud and rivers.
This ride left Tina emotionally frayed and raw vowing never to travel that section of road again. Two hours after our pit stop we were all super pumped to make it to the highway.
We agreed Juigalpa was as far as we were going on day one and we were ready for an easy ride on the pavement.
Then we rode into the heaviest rain I have ever ridden in and it poured down on us for the last 45 minutes. I felt my bike hydroplane once while changing lane positions too quickly.
At this point our only goal left for the day was finding a place to stay with a hot shower. Somehow we found a way to be cold in Nicaragua.
GETTING THERE: DAY 2
After a good night’s sleep we hit the open road with renewed vigor.
The highway from Juigalpa to Rama is full of tight curves and hills. We all leaned forward on our bikes and twisted the throttle for a couple of hours of unadulterated riding bliss.
The last 80 kilometers from Rama to the Pearl Lagoon was an unknown piece of road for us. We had heard accounts of travel time being anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, but none by motorcycle.
What we discovered was a road in the middle of a large construction project. Some of the surfaces were hard packed and easy to travel. Some sections were covered in marble sized gravel that left us gliding from side to side at the slightest twitch of the handlebars.
Then there were the parts of road not even under construction yet.
These sections were reminiscent of Tina’s hell road from the previous day. Throw in a river crossing or two and you get the idea.
We made it to town in about three hours and were ready to take a well earned couple of days rest in Pearl Lagoon.
OUR PEARL LAGOON EXPERIENCE
We all live in San Juan del Sur and are used to the mañana (tomorrow) way of life, but Pearl Lagoon took it to the next level. It’s a very relaxed community that provides a nice escape from tourism.
We have dozens of stories and great memories from our trip. The tales below are only a sampling.
On day one I desperately needed my wet and stinking clothes washed. My moto also needed a bath.
After a few conversations I’d ascertained that one person in town owned a pressure washer. Upon finding him I learned that he was too tired to wash our four motorcycles. He said if we returned the next day while he was washing his bus we could use his equipment for free.
I came across a woman washing a huge pile of clothes and asked if she was taking in laundry. She said sure so I gave her my clothes and asked for a price. She explained that she was washing the family’s laundry – and this was not a laundry business – but she would still wash my clothes.
There was a man standing in front of the house. I asked him if he knew anywhere that I could get my moto washed.
He replied, “Of course. Right here!”
He went inside and a minute later came out with a bucket and a sponge. He set them down beside the hand turned well.
I thought to myself, “Without a hose washing the bike was going to be a great deal of work for him.”
I was wrong.
As the man sat down in his rocking chair I realized the work was for me.
KICKING IT LOCAL
On day two we rode around town to get a feel for the area and even picked up a few hitch hikers on the way.
Later we stopped for lunch and happened to see a three-wheeled motorcycle delivering goods to local businesses.
Since there was a seat and even a canopy we had the bright idea to hire the driver by the hour. We asked him to take us to all the bars and local scenes we wouldn’t find on our own. This was a first for Eyner and he really didn’t know how to take us.
It didn’t take long before Eyner was letting us drive the bike and taking us to the nearby town of Haulover where he lives. Just in case we were in the market for some real estate he stopped at his uncle’s hotel which was for sale.
We made a pit stop at a shack to buy moonshine on route to a girl’s softball game. The game was super one sided so we carried on our way.
Soon after we stumbled upon a lively dominoes tournament. We could hear the tiles slamming on the table over the sound of the motorcycle. The smoky clouds of homegrown billowing up from the tight circle at the domino table primed us for dinner and an end to our tour.
Once back at our hotel we spent the evening with a few coolies and watched an incredible lightning show come across the lagoon.
All lodgings for this trip were between $10 and $20 USD per person per night.
The real standout accommodations were Hotel Los Arcangeles in Juigalpa and Casa del Agua in Granada. Both hotels were near central park. They had hot water, air conditioning and insanely comfortable beds. Breakfast was also included. Casa del Agua also has two pools and a freakin’ air hockey table.
We returned home without any mishaps – which is always an achievement on a motorcycle trip.
After 977 kilometers and six days on the road – with as many river crossings and driving on every type of road surface imaginable – we felt a sense of accomplishment arriving home.
Traveling to and visiting Pearl Lagoon was an exciting and memorable excursion but we were all ready to be “Home for a Rest”.
The lower cost of living is one of many reasons foreigners choose to relocate to Nicaragua. But like anywhere in the world your quality standard of living and lifestyle will have a great impact on your overall budget.
Below is a summary by category that shows exactly how much Gordon and I spent in April of this year (2017).
For a more detailed report – that shows every single purchase and expense for the month – click here.
A BIT ABOUT OUR STANDARD OF LIVING
Detailed information on each expense category is listed below. This information will give you great insight on cost of living and budgeting for a life in Nicaragua.
RENT – $550 USD
Base rent for our 800 square foot 1 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom home with shared pool is $550 USD. All utilities (electricity, internet, satellite TV and water) are extra. The house is equipped with hot water, air conditioning in the bedroom and a washing machine.
Currently in San Juan del Sur the going rate for a 2 or 3 bedroom, two bath home with a similar quality standard to ours is between $1000 – $1500 USD per month.
As with most long term affordable rentals this home was sparsely furnished when we moved in. To make the home more comfortable we’ve purchased black out curtains for the living room and bedroom, a sofa, a coffee table, a dining table and six dining chairs.
We got our sofa on (an extraordinary) sale for $400 USD at a department store in Managua called Siman. Our dining chairs were also purchased on sale for $55 USD each at a store called Full Home, which is also located in Managua. Both our coffee table and dining table were custom made by a friend who has a small mill in Masaya.
TIP: Even if you’re not purchasing big ticket items like furniture for your rental home it’s important to leave room in your budget for initial set up costs.
UTILITIES – $273.73 USD *
* This month we changed internet providers and had to pay an installation charge so our utility costs were $100 USD higher than they normally are.
INTERNET – $76.02 USD
We’ve been paying $76.02 USD per month for internet through a company called GGNet, but as mentioned above we changed internet providers this month. We now have service with a company called Wifinic. Moving forward our monthly charge for unlimited bandwith at speed of 2 Mbps will be $52 USD.
For detailed information on internet providers and packages available in San Juan del Sur click here.
SATELLITE TV- $17.73 USD
Our service provider for satellite TV is Claro. We have a dozen or so English channels including American networks like NBC, ABC and Fox. We also get BBC News, Sony Channel and FX, as well as an assortment of Spanish programming.
WATER – $10.98 USD
Water comes to our home via the city. Our monthly water bill averages between $8 to $11 USD.
ELECTRICITY – $16.46 USD
On average we spend between $15 – $20 USD per month on electricity, except for April and May when we use air conditioning for a few hours at night. During these months our bills range from $35 – $60 USD.
An Interesting Fact About Electricity Consumption in Nicaragua
If you use under 150 KWH of electricity in a month you qualify for a rebate of 50% off your total bill. If you go over 150 kilowatts – even if it’s by just one kilowatt – you lose the entire rebate and your bill pretty much doubles. In addition, the more electricity you consume the higher the rate per kilowatt hour you will be charged.
TIP: If you and your family need air conditioning to be comfortable at night electricity bills will be significantly higher than ours. If you’re planning to rent a home with a private pool you’ll need to factor in added electricity expenses to run the pool pump. Your water bill may also be slightly higher and often the home owner will require you to pay for pool chemicals.
CELL PHONE – $16.95 USD
We use unlocked cell phones that we purchased from Amazon.
We are set up on a pay as you go plan with Movistar. A local SIM card costs $2 USD. For just under $17 USD each we get a plan that includes 2.5 gigs of data and enough calling time to last the entire month. This plan does not include International calling minutes or text messaging. It does include unlimited Snapchat, Whatsapp and Facebook usage.
Since Gordon topped up his minutes at the end of March and went without data for latter part of the month we only spent half of what we’d normally spend on cell minutes this month.
TIP: Here cell phone credit is referred to as “saldo”. If you buy “saldo” on bonus days you can triple, quadruple or even quintuple your calling credits.
VEHICLE & TRANSPORTATION – $28.81 USD
Vehicles – whether new or used – are expensive here compared to what you’d pay for them in Canada or the US. You can see examples of pricing on Encuentra24.
We drive a 2001 4 x 4 Hyundai Galloper that we purchased 5 1/2 years ago for $7000 USD. Since doing a full overhaul in May of last year we haven’t had any major maintenance issues with the truck. We did however have the air conditioning repaired in January. The bill was $400 USD.
A few months ago Gordon sold his 2002 – 225 Yahama XT and purchased a brand new 2016 – 180 UM (United Motors) Renegade Sport. Sale price was $1600 USD. This included the registration paperwork, insurance and lawyer’s fees.
TIP: If you’re on a tight budget a motorcycle is a great option for personal transportation. Maintenance is inexpensive and gas mileage is great. Motorcycles also hold their value really well here.
GASOLINE – $37.63 USD
Although we drive our truck daily we never go very far. It takes only 5 minutes to drive to town from our home. And it only takes 15 minutes to get to our favorite beach.
Gordon’s motorcycle is very fuel efficient; the truck gets good mileage also. The truck runs on diesel which currently costs $0.79 USD per litre. The motorcycle operates on gas which costs $0.97 USD per litre.
Our monthly fuel consumption is consistently low.
HOUSEHOLD EXPENSE – $10.35 USD
On a month to month basis we spend very little on household purchases.
As inexpensive as it is to hire a housekeeper we do our own cleaning. The going rate for a cleaner to come to your home on a casual basis and clean for 4 to 6 hours is $10 USD.
TIP: If you’re planning hire a full time domestic worker (nanny, housekeeper, gardener, etc.) you should know that the current minimum wage for workers in this category is $171 USD. In addition to this base salary employers are required to pay a percentage to the government for the employee’s social security and health insurance plans. They are also required to pay aguinaldo (an extra month’s pay) and 4 weeks of vacation pay.
For more detailed information on hiring employees in Nicaragua follow this link to our friend Jenna Reid’s blog The 1 Less Traveled By.
GROCERIES & SNACKS – $356.30 USD
We enjoy cooking and eat the majority of our meals at home. 80% of what we buy is local with the remaining 20% consisting of more expensive imported items. Some examples include peanut butter, imported cheese, tuna, nuts and specialty cooking oils.
Since we tend to shop every two or three days – buying things as we need them – we have almost zero food waste here. This is a change from when we lived in Canada and bought groceries once per week only to have them go bad because we were usually too tired to cook after a hard day’s work.
Locally grown fruits and vegetables are inexpensive with prices varying according to the season. For example a pineapple costs a $1 USD, 6 bananas costs 34 cents, a large avocado costs between $1 – $2 USD. Potatoes are 68 cents per pound and a small head of broccoli costs around a dollar.
Imported products and pre-packaged foods cost the same, or in some cases more, than what they do in Canada or the US. For example: a 2 lb block of cheddar cheese costs $10 USD, a 3 lb box of Cheerios costs $8.78 USD and a 1 lb jar of peanut butter costs $4.39 USD.
TIP: If you are buying a lot of canned goods, pre-packaged foods and imported produce like apples, grapes and strawberries your grocery bill will add up quickly.
RESTAURANT – $172.63 USD
We ate out 14 times this month.
Depending on where you go a simple typical Nica plate of food with chicken, fish or beef served with rice, salad and fries averages in price from $3 – $8 USD.
TIP: Restaurants located directly on the beach generally tend to charge a little more for food and drink. Save yourself some money by eating and drinking at these places during Happy Hour when beer, rum and appies are only $1 – $2 USD.
ALCOHOL – $89.73 USD
The cheap price of alcohol makes it very easy to drink here.
$89.73 USD reflects the amount we spent on alcohol when we were out for drinks only and for alcohol that purchased to drink at home or friend’s houses.
A 12-pack of beer purchased at the supermarket or local pulperia (convenience store) costs $10 USD. A 750 ml bottle of 7 Year Flor de Caña rum also costs $10 USD. Wine is little more expensive averaging in price from $6 – $12 USD per bottle. You go you can expect to pay $1 – $2 USD for a beer in a bar or restaurant.
TIP: By taking advantage of Happy Hour drink specials – which are offered almost daily at nearly every restaurant on the beach and at various bars around town – you can save a lot of money on alcohol. Buying bottled beer by the case at the distributor saves 30%.
PET – $27.80 USD
Our only pet expense this month was for food. The 7.5 kg bag of food we purchased lasts our 15 lb miniature schnauzer approximately 2 1/2 months.
For complete details on life with a dog in Nicaragua including information on veterinarian costs, as well as details on what’s required to bring a pet into the country, click here.
HEALTH & BEAUTY – $78.86 USD
This month I had my hair cut at a foreign owned salon. The cost was $40 USD (plus a $5 USD tip) and included a shampoo, but no blow dry or styling. Services at locally owned salons are much cheaper. For example a ladies cut at Sol y Luna Spa costs just $8 USD.
CLOTHING – $0
Finding inexpensive quality clothing and footwear here – keyword being quality – is quite difficult. The majority of my clothing shopping is done in Canada once per year when I go back to visit family.
Although our wardrobes are more basic now, living in a tropical environment is definitely hard on clothes. That being said the costs of replacing tank tops, t-shirts, shorts and flip flops is drastically less than having to purchase both work and casual ware; not to mention trying to keep up with the trends and clothing needed for each changing season.
Gordon is less picky when it comes to clothing. He can usually find most everything he needs here in San Juan or at various retail shops at the malls in Managua.
GIFTS – $0
Since moving to Nicaragua we no longer buy birthday and Christmas gifts for family. On occasion we do purchase an inexpensive birthday gift for a friend here. From time to time we also make small charitable donations to local non profit organizations. This month we didn’t do either.
ENTERTAINMENT – $10.61 USD
Our entertainment budget is consistently low. Other than our Spotify music membership and the purchase of a Kindle book now and again we don’t spend a lot on entertainment.
Here is San Juan there is live music almost every night of the week – with no cover charge. A ticket to see a movie at our 30 seat cinema costs $4 USD. For $15 USD you can enjoy an all inclusive night of Wine, Painting & Pasta at the Art Warehouse.
ROAD TRIP – $337.64 USD
This month we took a mini 4 day, 3 night vacation to the city of Matagalpa with friends. Total spend for accommodations, meals, snacks and activities was $337.64 USD.
Highlights of our trip included a hike and lunch at Selva Negra Ecolodge & Coffee Estate, a tour of El Guayabo Coffee Farm and a visit to a local weaving shop. By doing self guided tours we saved a ton of money.
Our friends drove and were kind enough to pay for all the gas which cost around $55 USD. It was their treat to us in exchange for us being their “tour guides”.
If you do the math we only spent $42 USD per day per person on this trip. It really is great to live in a place where taking a mini vacation doesn’t have to break the bank.
DAY TO DAY SPENDING VS. TOTAL COST OF LIVING
Figuring out what your cost of living will be in Nicaragua it not as simple as multiplying your estimated daily spending by 365. It’s important to consider for the following additional expenses:
TRIPS TO YOUR HOME COUNTRY & OTHER VACATIONS
This year I paid $660 USD for a return ticket from Managua to Calgary. Over the course of a three week trip I usually spend between $1100 – $1500 USD.
Although I have a free place to stay and access to a vehicle while in Canada I still pay for groceries and gas. I don’t go crazy with eating out and entertainment, but expenses tally up very quickly.
As mentioned earlier I do buy a lot of clothing to replenish our wardrobes. I also come back with a few household items.
If you we were to multiply this amount by 2 (or 3, 4 or 5 if you’re a family) it’s clear to see trips “home” are not cheap. If you plan to do any traveling after moving to Nicaragua – whether it be to your home country or elsewhere – don’t forget to add this expense into your budget.
At this time we choose to live without medical insurance. Public health care is free, but not at the quality standard we are accustomed to in North America.
Depending on who you see a consult with a private doctor here in San Juan del Sur costs anywhere from $10 – $13.50 USD. An appointment with an English speaking doctor at the Vivian Pellas Metropolitan Hospital in Managua costs $35 USD. You can see a specialist there for $60 USD.
Almost all drugs that are only available by prescription in Canada or the US can be purchased here over the counter. I priced out a some drugs at our local pharmacy recently – a month’s supply of Yazmin birth control pills costs $21 USD. A Ventolin asthma inhaler costs $7.06 USD. A 500 mg tablet of Amoxicillin costs just 10 cents.
Recently Gordon had a cleaning and check up at Clínica Dental Rivense in the town of Rivas, which is 30 minutes by car from San Juan del Sur. Cost was $20 USD. He was happy with the quality care he received.
CAR & MOTORCYCLE INSURANCE
Motorcycle insurance for the year is $35 USD. Basic insurance for our truck for one year is $55 USD. Full coverage insurance is not an option for us as our vehicle is over 10 years old. For new vehicles full coverage insurance is in the range of $350 – $400 USD for the year.
If you own a used vehicle you will need to factor vehicle maintenance and repairs into your budget. Labour here in inexpensive, but parts are not.
TOURIST VISA RENEWAL
If you are living in Nicaragua full time and you do not have residency you will be required to renew your tourist visa every 90 days. The cheapest and easiest way to do this is by crossing the border to Costa Rica. Cost per person for tourist visa renewal via Costa Rica border crossing (not including transportation to and from) is $24 USD.
For detailed information on tourist visa renewal and border crossing click here.
Are we spending less money than we did when we lived in Canada? Absolutely! Could we live on less in Nicaragua? Of course.
In conclusion, if you want to live with many or all the comforts of home in Nicaragua it’s likely going to cost more than you think. Budget wisely!