The Nicaragua breakdown

16 Jun

We spent 22 days–May 9 to May 31, 2014–in Nicaragua, beginning our journey in Somotillo and ending in Sapoa. Here’s a bit of a recap of our time in the country.

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We were pleasantly surprised by Nicaragua. It’s one of those countries no one ever really talks about but we saw a lot of tourists throughout the country. The topography is very diverse– ranging from mountains and volcanoes to lush lake towns and pristine beaches.

We found long stretches of remote beaches similar to what we experienced in Baja, cool towns, good food, and was relatively inexpensive. I say relatively inexpensive because they accept both cordobas (local currency) and dollars. Many things, especially in the tourist-run towns, are priced in dollars. Since everyone uses a different crummy exchange rate, it’s necessary to always have dollars on hand to get the best deal. Gratuity is added on to your bill and a fee is imposed when you use a credit card. Because of this, stuff is more expensive but you can still find a good deal and cheap produce at a local market.

We spent a total of $1702 while in the country, coming out to $77.36 a day. Our major expense was medical and without that, we would have spent very little in Nicaragua.

BORDER
When we entered in Somotillo, it was already dark out. Because of this, it was our best/fastest/easiest crossing yet. Everything you needed to do to enter the country was in sequential buildings and windows (so rare!). In 50 minutes, we were fumigated, paid $12 for mandatory vehicle insurance, and got our visas stamped. Getting the vehicle import permit was cake too. No one went out to look at the truck or verify VIN numbers. All they needed were my original documents and NO COPIES–a first! And since no one came outside to look at Skyhorse, the dogs entered unnoticed.

We left Nicaragua in Sapoa, coming from San Juan del Sur. This exit was unnecessarily chaotic. The buildings looked like an abandoned bus depot with no signs directing you so you are forced to rely on officials to stop you and tell you where to go or ask. We drove through the vehicle exit permit stop unnoticed (is that even possible??) only to be told later we had to get some paperwork there to cancel our permit. I waited in the longest line ever just to pay (yes, pay to leave Nicaragua) and get our exit stamps.

Then I walked back to where we drove unnoticed to sweet talk the vehicle permit guy into filling out forms without Skyhorse being in front of him. I refused to drive the truck back for him to see and he refused to stand and walk the 5 steps to his left to see where it was parked. He eventually caved. (It was hot out 🙂 )

After tracking down another (ununiformed) guy who filled out some form and bringing it all to a lady in a window, I then had to find a police officer in the mass crowds to sign off on all the paperwork. 1 and a half hours from beginning this nonsense, we had officially left Nicaragua.

Total: $32.60 (we were gifted the majority of our entrance fee into Nicaragua)

SAFETY
I include this category in every country recap because people think Central America is SO unsafe, but it really isn’t. We had no problems in Nicaragua. Completely, totally safe the entire time we were there, though many told us not to leave the truck unattended without security on the streets overnight. We didn’t see as many armed guards as we had in other countries but I don’t know if that means Nicaragua is safer or they just aren’t as fanatical as other places.

Total: $0

CAMPING
Another hot hot hot country. Supposedly, May is the hottest month in Nicaragua. We would have easily maxed out our 30 day visa had it not been so hot, but hurried through a few cities we could have spent more time in. We spent 6 straight nights in hotels in Leon and Chinandega to avoid the heat.

In Leon, the hottest city in the county, air conditioning seemed to be a luxury in hotels and not a necessity. $40 a night got us a nice room with 2 beds, a/c (so the dogs could enjoy some coolness while we volcano boarded during the day), private bath, tv with cable, wifi, parking with 24 hour security and a hearty breakfast.

In Chinandega, a city to restock and get great medical care, $25 a night got us a smaller room than in Leon but still with a/c, private bath, tv with cable, wifi, and parking with 24 hour security.

We got another room in San Juan del Sur, a cool American-type surfer town, again, because it was so hot and we wanted a place to get some good cheaper eats before crossing into pricey Costa Rica. We spent $25 for an even smaller room than Chinandega but whatever. It had air conditioning and accepted the dogs.

The other nights we boondocked, trying to find a location with as much breeze as possible. We parked in town in Masaya one night and caught the breeze from a storm but our stay in Granada parked at the Red Cross was sandwiched between two chicken buses and was stifling. Up and out when the sun rose.

The best spot we found in Nicaragua was on Lake Apoyo, on a private lot paying $4 a night for an awesome view and right on the lake with our own private access way.

Total on camping (including hotel stays): $233– $205 on hotels and $28 for the rest

FUEL
Pretty much the same as what we were spending in the other countries. We didn’t fill up often because it just wasn’t needed. The country is small and you can cover a lot of ground on little fuel.

Total: $268.57

MEDICAL
Medical care in Nicaragua was exceptional. As I wrote before, Hani had a cyst removed ($100) and a fatty mass removed ($300) by a dermatologist and plastic surgeon. The remaining costs were for the initial visit with the dermatologist, a few different rounds of antibiotics before and after the procedures and antibiotic creams. All in all super cheap compared to what it would have cost stateside, even with insurance, and just as good if not better care. Minimal scars remain and both doctors answered their cell phones whenever we had questions. Ten thumbs up and worth every penny!

Total: $485.32

FOOD
I cooked the majority of the time we were in Nicaragua, mainly to counter the amount we were spending on hotels. Produce and meats were cheap but the American products (PB, chips, canned stuff) was pricier because it was only available in tourist towns and they knew tourists would pay. Beers averaged a dollar a can, which was par. We spent $121.35 eating out (none of which was typical Nicaraguan fare), $352.96 on groceries, and $36.88 at the bar.

Total on food and bev: $511.19

PHONE/INTERNET
Down to 2 companies in Nicaragua: Movistar and Claro. After much debate, we opted for Movistar because they were having a special that day, I think it was like quadruple what you put on the phone. The SIM card was $2 and I put $9 on the phone for 2 weeks of service to use 1 gb plus a lot of local minutes and texts. Here, Movistar only gave you the option of putting money on your phone by the hour, day, week or two weeks. It’s kinda annoying to monitor and recharge the phone that frequently so when the data ran out, we just used any wifi we came across.

Wifi was very easy to find. Every restaurant, cafe, bar, hotel, hostel, you name it had wifi so we had no problem keeping in touch for the last few days just relying on wifi. All the networks are locked but it was pretty necessary to beat the heat by sipping a smoothie or iced coffee while sitting in a cafe for hours using their wifi.

Total: $11

DOGS
The ladies ran out of food so we bought another giant bag of crappy food for them, which Shae decided she doesn’t like. Also we found a small growth on Shae and brought her to a vet in Granada. Turns out it’s nothing, she’s healthy and fine and we had the vet look at Olivia too, just because. The visit was $6 and they sold Heartguard for…….$10.88 a 6 pack. It’s like triple that in the states. So I stocked up.

Total spent on the dogs: $66.80

NOT TO MISS
Lake Apoyo was phenomenal! The small crater lake is pretty tranquillo with day visitors and silent at night. The water was lovely and weather was cooler than the rest of the country. Just stock up on groceries before landing there. Or plan on burning a pretty penny eating out at the hostels and restaurants that line the lake.

WHAT WE’D DO DIFFERENTLY
Definitely not visit when it’s so hot. The country was awesome and we would have liked to spend more time walking Leon, Granada and San Juan del Sur. Also, we should have surfed but didn’t because Hani needed to recoup. We landed on some awesome surfing beaches. Lessons and rentals were very cheap and plentiful.

PROUDEST MOMENT (for us)
Winning at trivia in Granada. It was just Hani and I on a team competing against 11 teams of 4+ and somehow we won when we thought we had come in last. Guess we’re not as dumb as we think. Tastiest bottle of rum yet!

PROUDEST MOMENT (for me)
Being able to recognize ODB’s “Baby I Got Your Number” after hearing 3 seconds of the intro during a rousing game of Name That Tune in San Juan del Sur.

TIMES PULLED OVER
1, for nonsense, simply to make us pull over and we were back on the road a minute later.

TIMES COPS ATTEMPTED TO PULL US OVER
1. After the above incident, we figured we could just avert our eyes. The cops stand on the side of the road and wave people to pull over. No thank you.

BEST MEAL
La Lancha’s seafood in San Juan del Sur. For $6, we got a few small lobsters in a creamy garlic sauce, plantain fries, salad with an awesome dressing and tasty rice. De-lish!

FOR YOUR OWN NICARAGUAN ADVENTURE:
+ find a beach and call it your own. There are so many stretches of untouched water
+ swim and lounge at Lago Apoyo
+ learn to surf!!
+ volcano board…if you dare
+ eat your face off in San Juan del Sur

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