Cost of Longterm Housing in San Juan del Sur

Thinking about a move to San Juan, but don’t know how much to budget for a rental?  Your monthly rent will vary widely depending on your needs, comfort level, and amenities.  Here are a few examples:

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When we first moved to San Juan, we rented a small one-bedroom, one bath home in Nicovale, a quiet community of 8 or 9 homes owned and managed by a Nicaraguan/Italian couple.  Located up a rather steep hill, the neighborhood was still walking distance to town (under 10 minutes), and a great workout on the way home.  Though we didn’t have a view, we loved the area for its proximity to town without being right on the main roads.  We could still hear the bumpin’ Semana Santa parties, but we were far enough removed from the main streets to escape the hourly announcement from the fruit and veg/scrap metal/politico trucks.  The owners were also very dedicated to their properties and managed repairs and ongoing maintenance swiftly.  Five years ago, we paid $450 per month, which included rent, electric (no a/c), water, twice weekly cleaning, security, parking, cable tv, and wifi.  The house came sparsely furnished, with basic kitchen utensils, and also included linens that were washed and changed twice a week.  The landlord also had a backup generator that he turned on during nighttime power outages.  The apartment served us well until we outgrew it and moved here:

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When I learned I was pregnant, two years later, we upgraded to a 2-bedroom, 2-bath newer construction unit in the same neighborhood.  This home had modern appliances and nicer furniture, as well as air conditioning in both bedrooms.  It also had the added bonus of a large balcony overlooking the bay.  We paid $700/month, which included all of the above amenities, minus electricity.  We averaged approximately $150/month on our electric bill, running both a/c units nightly.

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Two years later, our growing family prompted a third move – this time to a 4 bedroom, 2 bath house that also includes a fifth bed/bath in the pool house.  And it goes without saying that a pool house also suggests a pool (a large lap pool).  The house is a stand alone with large rancho, grill, as well as a two-car garage (we use one side while the other is reserved for the owners).  It sits in a small development of other standalone homes, each with different owners.  It’s nicely located within a 10-minute walk to the town beach and a 20-minute walk to town center.  Rent is $1,000/month and includes water, satellite tv, wifi, caretakers who maintain the grounds (excluding the pool) and provide security.  The house does not have backup and the water is on a pump system, so when the power goes out, we not only lose power, but water, too.

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To find out how we achieved the rental rate that we did, check back soon.  I’ll be offering more details and info on how to get the best rate for your rental.

To give you a sense of other options:

These 1 bedroom, furnished apartments, located right in town, rent for $350/month

This small development offers a variety of options sleeping 2-6 people and renting for $400 and up.

This studio, located just a few minutes walk from the beach currently rents for $550/month.

This 3 bedroom, 2-bath stand-alone home, in-town, rents for $600/month.

This 2 bedroom, 1 bath is a short walk to Playa Marsella and rents for $800/month.

This 2 bed, 2.5 bath condo, located a few minutes north of town rents for $1,200/month.

This stand-alone three bedroom home, located in the hills of the Pacific Marlin development, appx 10 minute drive from town rents for $1,500/month.

Ultimately, your decision on where to live will come down to your priorities.  Do you need a room with a view, a yard with a pool, or are you willing to sacrifice space for location and be closer to town?  How many rooms does your family require?  Can kids share bedrooms?  What amenities are you willing to give up and what are deal-breakers?  Do you want to live in a community or a standalone home?  Do finishings matter or can you make anyplace a home?  Keep in mind that power is expensive in this country.  You may think you want a home with central air (which is actually not too common here) until you receive your first electric bill.  Pools are fantastic to have, but you may prefer a rental with a shared pool that doesn’t require your time and energy.  Stand alone houses are great and private, but would you be happier in a neighborhood setting?

There are myriad ways to find your perfect rental.  When we moved here nearly 6 years ago, no one had long term options listed online.  We were lucky to find vacation rentals at that time.  But a lot has changed since 2008 and now you can do a large chunk of your search online at one of the many real estate/rental companies.  If that doesn’t work for you, it’s worth your time to skim the vrbo.com listings.  More often than not, owners there are looking for short-term vacation tenants, but you might get lucky.  Don’t forget to check local classifieds found in the Del Sur News.  You might even have luck checking Craigslist Nicaragua and Encuentra24, but these sites tend to focus on Managua and not San Juan del Sur.  And while it’s hard to imagine moving to a new country without home base, if you are traveling solo or have some flexibility, your best bet may be to stay in an inexpensive Guest House your first few weeks and spend some time simply wandering the streets.  You’d be amazed at what you can find just by asking around and showing up.

When you do find your dream spot, don’t forget the details.  Most rental companies will have you sign a rental agreement and pay some form of deposit.  If you rent direct from a homeowner, they may require a lease, but many don’t.  And be sure to ask the right questions:

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-Is electricity included?  Find out if they have old bills or can provide estimates of monthly usage if you will be paying this bill.

-What else is included? wifi, cable, water, security, parking, housekeeping, pool maintenance, etc.

-Any recent security issues?

-Who pays the caretaker salaries?  What happens if I am unhappy with the caretaker?

-Do you have backup power/water?

-What kind of water system does the house have, i.e. gravity tank, pumped well, town water.  This is important to ask because the type of water you have will determine when and how often you could be without.

-Are pets allowed?  Children?

-Who manages the property and to whom do I report maintenance issues?

-Who pays for repairs on the home?

It may seem complicated at first, but once you’re settled in your new place with a Nica Libre and the most beautiful sunsets, you’ll know that it was all worth it.  To learn some tips on how to save on rentals, check back soon for more exclusive info.

Teaching Opportunity in San Juan del Sur

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Don’t miss this exciting opportunity to live abroad in paradise while working with fantastic teachers and students.   San Juan del Sur Day School, located in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua is looking for a highly trained, experienced primary school teacher from the United States or Canada to work part time in a multi-age English immersion class of 18 students ranging in age from 4-8 years old. Fluency or familiarity with the Spanish language is desirable, though not required.  A minimum of a one-year commitment is expected.  In addition to teaching, candidate will have the opportunity to study/improve Spanish, practice yoga, and surf.  Applicants should submit a resume, cover letter, and two letters of reference to the school’s director Julie Speier at julieaspeier at hotmail dot com. To learn more about San Juan del Sur Day School, please visit our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Juan-del-Sur-Day-School/109137455588?ref=ts&fref=ts

Rancho Chilamate’s 3rd Annual Christmas Bucket Drive

Each year, our friends, Blue and Jamie, hold a Christmas Bucket Drive to raise money to fill buckets with supplies needed most by the local communities near their ranch in San Juan del Sur.  The cost to purchase is just $25 and provides a family with 5 gallon buckets with household items that the families would buy with what little money they have. This includes items such as:

  • cooking oil
  • salt
  • sugar
  • candles
  • matches
  • toilet paper
  • laundry soap
  • towels
  • blankets
  • cookies
  • spices
  • soup mixes
  • coffee
  • toothbrushes
  • toothpaste
  •  soap
  • sacks for harvesting
  • and last year we had enough donations to add new machetes to the buckets
  • and about 80 new files
  • PLUS they get the bucket with a lid as well… a very useful tool around the house.

For more information or to donate, please visit their website, Rancho Chilamate.  To see previous year bucket drives click here and here.

Let the spirit of giving begin and happy holidays!

The Trooper

I had some minor [major] car troubles yesterday, while Justin was out of town, and it reminded me of this early experience I had in Nicaragua…

Shortly after Justin and I moved to San Juan, he took off for a weeklong bachelor party in Colombia.  I knew the trip was planned before we even set foot on Nicaraguan soil, but I don’t think I truly believed that Justin would actually leave me sola in Nicaragua just 5 weeks into our adventure, until he did.  Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to be the girl who stood between Justin and his best buddy’s bachelor party, even if it was 1,000 miles away.

We had just purchased our new (old) car – a 1997 Isuzu Trooper, so I drove Justin to the airport in Managua and then planned to drive back to San Juan on my own.  Even now, after 4 years of life here, I can’t believe that I actually agreed to drive back from Managua, on my own, with absolutely no knowledge of Managua, the route to San Juan, or the transit “laws.”  I did it anyway.  Thankfully, our new friend, Baldo, was in Managua the same day and offered to ride back with me.  So after leaving Justin at the airport, I went to meet Baldo at Metrocentro, a mall just 15 minutes away and also a place I’d never been, but was certain that I could find easily.  A mere 4 hours later, I pulled into the parking lot and we were on our way.

I handed the keys over to Baldo, exhausted from my half-day trek around the winding streets of Managua, and we set off for San Juan.  As we neared Rivas, and dusk, our new (old) car began to show signs of distress.  First the interior dashboard lights began to dim and shortly thereafter, the radio stopped working.  Baldo assured me that we were fine, so we continued on our way.  We rounded the corner at La Virgen and embarked on the final passage home.  These days, that last stretch of road takes about 15 minutes to cover, end to end, but 4 years ago, that tiny stretch of highway required a 45-minute commitment thanks to giant potholes and endless desvios (detours).  So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that shortly after we made that turn, the sun set, the car stalled, and our headlights went out.

I encouraged Baldo to pull over – perhaps we could call a tow truck, I suggested.  Baldo just laughed and pointed out that not only were we in the black hole for cell phone signal, but it would be a long wait for Triple A.   Instead, he hopped out, push-started the car, jumped back in and we continued down the highway.  This time, Baldo only accelerated when climbing a hill.  The rest of the journey, we relied on dear old Newton and his Law of Motion, chugging up hills, using the gas, and coasting down hills using sheer momentum.   He did his best to get behind other vehicles (which were few and far between) to light our way home.

To reassure me [and to calm my intermittent hysterics and quiet my naïve mechanical suggestions], for the remainder of the ride, Baldo regaled me with stories of his teenage years.  He’d been in this very situation before, except that when the headlights went out, his buddy walked alongside the car, illuminating their way home with a Bic cigarette lighter.

At one point, the wind picked up, swirling dust into the car, so [naturally] I closed my [electric] window for protection to which Baldo sighed loudly and reminded me that we were trying to conserve the car’s energy, not deplete it.  You can imagine how thrilled he was when, a few minutes later, I began to lower the window to relieve my forehead from the beads of sweat forming across my brow.

Eventually, we rolled [quite literally] into town, stopping at the Texaco to charge up the Trooper’s battery for the final push up the giant hill in Pacific Marlin, where we were staying with friends.  Barely in the door, I burst into tears, cursed Justin and our dear Trooper, and fell into a dead sleep.

The following morning, I rose early in an attempt to get a jump on the day and a jumpstart for the car.  I walked out the door only to find a flat tire and decided it was the Trooper waving her white flag in surrender.  I laughed to myself, turned around, walked back inside the house and gave her a nice 7-day rest.  Because a Trooper she is.

Manhandling Managua

I need to take a moment to brag a little here…

Justin and I crushed it in Managua last week.  I mean, we freaking rocked.   Anyone who has ever ventured into Managua on a day trip understands this accomplishment.  If you plan on 4 hours to complete your errands, you can expect it to take 8.  If you hope to get home before sunset, you should assume that you will return before sunrise the following day.  If you dare to say “this shouldn’t take long,” it will take longer.

Managua days are tough for San Juaneño transplants.  Us Expats are used to having 5 malls within a 20 mile radius.  But not here in Nicaragua.   Two hours there, two hours back, and 14 hours of navigating labyrinth-style roads, stop-light window washers, semis and oxcarts in between.

Normally, we leave San Juan later than planned and get home much later than we hoped.  But last week, we put Managua to bed.  Just like that.  We got out of the house by 7:30.  We rented a [reliable] car with functioning a/c and managed to drive more than 80 kilometers per hour without fear of a breakdown (car or mental).  We rolled into Managua just after 9:30 and were so early that we even had to wait for stores to open.  In 7 hours, we accomplished this:

-Bank
-PriceSmart
-Doctor
-Migracion (visa renewal – arrived to find a minimum 2-hour wait, but jumped the line thanks to the awesome migracion ladies who remember and adore Lucy from her passport application
-Lunch (I resisted the BK urge that often accompanies stressful MGA days and leaves me feeling nappy)
-Transito (paid a multa from our last trip to Managua)
-Lab (pesky thyroid)
-Stop and Go (a little slice of heaven for Expats craving Dr. Pepper, red curry paste, Butterfingers, and anything else that you can’t seem to find anywhere else.)
-Bavaria (sausage kings)
-La Colonia (stocking up on Cheerios and chocolate)

And we still made it home in time to put Lucy to bed, too.

Activities in and around San Juan del Sur

When my parents visited us in San Juan for the first time in early 2008, they both commented that it is a beautiful town, but they didn’t know how to access the various activities our pueblo claims to offer.  So, this post is for you, Mom and Dad.  Enjoy!  And FYI – this is really just an expanded list of Rancho Chilamate’s A to Z Guide, with the exception that all of these activities are within 30 minutes (más o menos) of San Juan.

Horseback Riding with Rancho Chilamate

Canopy Tour with Da Flying Frog

Take Surf Lessons with NSR, Chica Brava, Casa Ariki

Visit La Flor Wildlife Reserve to see the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

Visit to surrounding beaches (Marsella, Maderas, Playones are all about 25 minutes north and Remanso, Yankee, Hermosa, and Coco are between 10-40 minutes south)

Practice Yoga at Zen Yoga Studio or Nica Yoga

Get a massage, mani/pedi, and more at Spa del Sur, Bonnie Lassie, or Pelican Eyes

Go Sailing with Pelican Eyes or Nica Sail and Surf

Go Deep Sea Fishing or Spear Fishing with Aquaholic

Play a friendly game of Paintball

Try Kitesurfing on Lake Nicaragua

Learn Spanish

Volunteer with Comunidad Connect, Barrio La Planta Project, A. Jean Brugger Foundation

Join the annual Howler Mountain Bike Race (seasonal)

Play Frisbee Golf

Take a Helicopter Tour over Playa Ocotal or Playa Hermosa

Rappel from the Lighthouse

Real Estate Tour with Justin at Aurora Beachfront Realty

Hike to the world’s second largest Jesus

Rent a Kayak from Kyle’s Kayaks, found at Pau Hana Restaurant

Try to Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) in the San Juan Bay

Tour San Juan on an ATV

Itinerary for a 10-day trip to Nicaragua: Lake/Beach/Volcano Style

Justin and I have been fortunate to travel a decent amount of Nicaragua while living here.  Every trip we take, I deign to say it was my favorite, until the next one comes along.  I have documented various sojourns throughout the country in previous posts:

Purisima in Leon, Leon Viejo, Volcano Boarding, PoneloyaGranada, Granada IsletasOmetepeCorn IslandsEsteli, Condega, Miraflor, and TiseyJinotegaLaguna de ApoyoMasayaTolaMontelimar

But I am often asked for ideas for a solid 7-10 day vacation for first-time visitors to Nicaragua.  Though this particular itinerary may not reflect all of my favorite locations, it is a good first primer on the country.  Check back later for further itinerary ideas.

Airlines flying to Nicaragua:
American Airlines, via Miami
Continental Airlines, via Houston
Delta Airlines, via Atlanta
Spirit Airlines, via Ft. Lauderdale
Taca Airlines, via San Salvador
Copa Airlines, via Panama City

Upon arriving in Managua, you will want to have a shuttle or a car rental available.

Shuttle Companies Servicing San Juan del Sur Area:
Iskra Travel
Adelante Express
Pelican Eyes Resort

Rental Car Companies
At the Managua Airport
In San Juan: Dollar, Alamo, Classic Cruisers 

Should you arrive in Managua late at night, I highly recommend spending the night in a hotel.  If you want to stay near the airport, try:
Hotel Camino Real

Unless you have a lot of shopping needs (i.e., you’ve bought a home here and need to furnish it, buy sheets and towels, etc), I recommend skipping Managua altogether.  It is rather chaotic and not very tourist-friendly.  Upon departing Managua, your vacation truly begins!

For an itinerary, you might consider the following:

Day 1: Arrive in Managua early afternoon, 45-minute transfer to Granada. Granada is a beautiful little city and always a favorite of first time visitors. It has the brightly painted buildings, the horse-drawn carriages, etc.  Relax at hotel pool, wander city in the evening. Stay at Hotel Plaza Colon or Hotel Dario 

Day 2: Take Panga Tour of Isletas on the Lake Nicaragua in morning, relax in afternoon.  Good chance of seeing Howler Monkeys here.

Day 3: Transport to San Juan del Sur in the morning – possibly stopping at Mombacho Volcano for a hike before heading to San Juan.  You will need a solid half day for this excursion.

Days 4-7: Stay in San Juan del Sur.  Click here for further ideas on activities in San Juan.  Stay at Pelican Eyes Resort and SpaPosada AzulVillas de Palermo or rent a house from Vacation Rentals Nicaragua.

Days 8-9: Visit Isla de Ometepe, on Lake Nicaragua, home to Volcan Concepcion and Maderas.  You can access Ometepe via a ferry from San Jorge, a town located just outside of Rivas and appx. 30 minutes from San Juan del Sur.  The ferry takes about 1 hour to get to the port at Moyogalpa.  Taxis and buses are available at the port or you can arrange for a private transfer ahead of time.  Once there, hike the San Ramon waterfall, ride horseback to the Ojo de Agua (a natural swimming pool), kayak on the istian river, and rent bicycles to explore the island and visit the museum in Altagracia, home to view pre-Columbian Nahuatl Indians petroglyhps.  Stay at Hotel Villa Paraiso or Totoco Eco Lodge

Day 10: Depending on what time and date you plan to depart, you could stop in Masaya on your way out of town.  There is an artisan market there and/or you could drive up to Masaya Volcano.  There is no hiking involved with this volcano.

The itinerary allows for flexibility.  Some prefer to skip Ometepe altogether or visit the island before relaxing at the end of your trip in San Juan.  For people with more time, I would also recommend a visit to the colonial city of Leon, located approximately 3.5 hours north of San Juan.  For extended vacations, consider going further north to Esteli, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Somoto.  Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen, bug spray, camera, and bathing suit and have a great time!