Bell Tower of Igelsia Merced
Photo by Leela Gill

Expats in Granada

People from the USA, Canada, Spain, Germany, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, and France are choosing to reside in the picturesque colonial city of Granada, Nicaragua.  Some expats are retired and volunteering their time to help the locals.  Others are re-inventing themselves and starting new enterprises like bed & breakfasts, art galleries, real estate, gift shops, clothing boutiques or health spas. .

One married woman with a property management business and mother of  a 6-year old son, co-founded an International School for with an acclaimed bilingual curriculum for both children of expats and locals.

A gentleman retired from a professional position in a high rise in a metropolis now shows movies on Friday nights (in Spanish) on the exterior wall of the house across the street to the families in his neighborhood.  His spouse teaches art to expats and locals at the Arte Center.  They both teach English to the police who want to learn to help in communication with tourists.  He rides a motorcycle to get around town and they are both enchanted with their active (so-called retired) lives in Granada.

Recently, the number of foreigners seeking colonial homes for acquisition has brought a growing number of North Americans and Europeans to Granada. Real estate prices are comparatively low (relative to other countries) especially since the re-election of Daniel Ortega as president and since the global economic meltdown of 2008.  This influx of foreigners is influencing commerce and culture in Granada, yet local extended families continue sitting in their rocking chairs on the sidewalks in front of their homes in the evenings which remain a charming tradition of warmth and graceful living.

Granada is a vivacious center of tourism in Nicaragua.  Renovated Museums are open and there are plenty of tour operators. Hotels and hostels are abundant in Granada and are continually opening. Restaurants and nightclubs have been growing in numbers which are very popular among Granada’s residents, tourists and expats alike. Granada, though now highly dependent on tourism, also has fertile agricultural lands that produces organic coffee and cacao, cattle, plantain and bananas.

History Brief

Granada is a glorious colonial city founded by Spanish conquerer Francisco  Hernandez de Cordoba in 1524, making it one of the oldest settlements in Central America.  This magnificent city has a rich and turbulent history.   It was a thriving harbor and port for trade and commerce, with intermittent pirate attacks fires, with its inhabitants living as traders, butchers, warriors, botanists, and artists.  It suffered a military attack by a rogue US soldier named William Walker, with grandiose ideas of taking control who declared himself President of Nicaragua and was later run out of the country.

Nicaragua was also a prominent player in transporting passengers an goods from New York City to San Francisco during the gold rush era in the mid 1800′s   Ship access from the Atlantic ocean flowered through the San Juan River, along the southern border of Nicaragua and through the great Lake Cocibolca.   It was then only a short railway ride to the Pacific Ocean provided by Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose ships awaited to sail to San Francisco.

Granada avoided damage during the years of conflict which existed in Nicaragua in the 1980s when the Sandinistas overthrew Anastasio Somoza and his National Guard.  The revolution was a concerted effort by rebels, intellectuals and even ordinary businessmen who saw the need to change the greedy and corrupt Somoza regime in power from father to sons over the past four decades.

The citizens and administrators of Granada have dedicated themselves to save and conserve their historic center, showing pride and character from surviving many of its adversities.  Granada is a jewel of a city.

Architecture & Mixed Uses 

Granada is a national cultural treasure full of colonial and neoclassical buildings.  It is known as “The Gran Sultana” or the Great Sultan.  There are brightly colored houses to liven up the architecture.

Granada enjoys residential uses mixed in with commercial uses such as  restaurants, hotels, hostels, bed & breakfasts, markets, pharmacies and banks, along with some boutique clothing shops, beauty shops, local crafts, real estate offices and governmental agencies.

Many of the residences are plain and secure from the outside, but once you enter the front door you discover an enchanting open courtyard with flowers, trees and vegetation sometime accompanied by a fountain or dipping pool.

Courtyard of a home converted to a bed & breakfast
Photo by Leela Gill

This open air courtyard is surrounded by a veranda style sala or  living room and the cocina or kitchen which are also exposed to the interior outdoors. Because the annual climate ranges from around 80º F -90º F, some bedrooms and offices have air conditioning.  Most rooms and outdoor verandas have ceiling fans.  

For the well-to-do residents with vehicles, there is parking inside of the house, sometimes in a place designated for a car, and sometimes right on the side of the front parlor.  Many have their own personal drivers, as well as housekeepers and cooks.  The average salary is around $175 per month per staff.

Evenings in Granada bring the families out on the sidewalks relaxing, conversing and socializing with neighbors in their rocking chairs.  It is a genteel society, with an air kiss to the right cheek upon greeting a friend or family member.  The Nicaragüense are gracious fun loving people with animated personalities.

Population and Transportation 

Horse drawn carriages
transport tourists & locals
Photo by Leela Gill

The population is estimated around 120,000 people, but the town feels much smaller. People get around primarily by bicycles, taxis, motorcycles, as well as horse drawn carriages.  It is not unusual to see more than one person on a bicycle.  You may see a father peddling the bike with his wife sitting sideways on the cross bar, holding a baby and a young child sitting on the back on their way to a relative’s home for child care, to school or to be dropped off at work. No one is wearing a helmet, yet the traffic seems to float around each other with magical orchestration. An occasional polite horn is tooted to let someone know that they are there.

Driving can be frustrating because there are many narrow one-way streets, small street signs, pedestrians, bicyclists,  street vendors, donkey-carts and motorcycles to distract.  A good map with street names is difficult to find and a GPS is vague as well.

Volcano Mombacho
Photo by Leela Gill

Lake Nicaragua formerly Lake Cocibolca

This glorious city sits on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, formerly known as Lake Cocibolca which means sweet water.  It is the world’s twentieth largest lake and the only freshwater lake to have sharks living in its waters. Fishing in the lake is quite good and fisherman, both commercial and recreational, regularly catch guapote and mojarras, as well as sardines

This great lake  is surrounded by the stunning (dormant) volcano called Mombacho, (1,350 meters) which exploded thousands of years ago to create 365 small islands in the lake. 

Many city dwellers from the capital of Managua enjoy the luxury of second residences on these isletas to escape the city on the weekends when family and friends stay over to go boating and to socialize.  Indigenous people also inhabit some of these islands.  You can see their children rowing in a dug out canoe to get to school.  Or a fisherman throwing his net out.  A few own their own boats and ferry passengers to their islands or take tourists out to view the islands, lake and waterfowl.  A few expats own their own islands as well.

On a clear day, one can see the top of a large volcano in this distance on Lake Nicaragua.  The island is called Ometepe,Nahuatl word meaning two mountains because it hosts two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas. There are pre-Colombian petroglyphs, hiking trails running through rain forests, and many species of birds.The lake is also home to many creatures, both marine and freshwater creatures. Exhibited in the Convento San Francisco Museum is a stunning array of pre-Colombian rock statues with animal heads

Stations of the Cross Procession during Semana Santa
on Lake Nicaragua with Volcano Mombacho in background
Photo by Leela Gill

Semana Santa or Holy Week:  Stations of the Cross Procession between the Enchanted Islands

During Easter Week, the most remarkable sight of the many pilgrimages by devout Catholics is the Stations of the Cross procession between the islands situated just off of the majestic city of Granada in Lake Nicaragua.   The lead boat, carrying a statue of Jesus draped in the fragrant pink & yellow plumeria flowers also carries the Bishop dressed in his purple robe along with a live band playing of horns and percussion playing music.

Following behind the Jesus boat, are hundreds of boats of the native islanders plus those affluent or wealthy who own islands with their second residence which is their get-away from the capital city of Managua.  While many boats now motorized, there are many rowed by calloused hands.

Hay una tradicion antigua y Catholica donde familias campesinas y peregrinos y familias ricas del Managua, queien viajandano en lanchas que tienen floress, bandaras, y adultos y niños y bebes en vestidas y camisas bonitas, pagan promesas y presentan offendas de su devocíon a  Jesus, el Cristo.  

Located at a pre-selected twelve islands, are crosses, also decorated with  flowers, at which the Bishop presides over a stations-of-the-cross prayer. The flowers from the island cross are then removed and given to the lead boat as part of the ritual.  By the end of the procession, the boat, and the cross is completely decorated with long strands of fragrant flowers.

Faith, devotion, sincerity and a joyfulness can be felt in the air, and seen in the eyes of those involved in this religious observance.

During Semana Santa (Holy Week) the beaches on the lake or ocean beaches such as in San Juan del Sur are very popular places for picnics and family gatherings.  

Plaza de la Independencia or Parque Central

Central Park is the town center as well as its heart and soul.  It’s a lively central plaza filled with food, flower and craft vendors, a fountain, a gazebo, kids playing soccer, lovers, tourists, and people enjoying eating at outdoor tables under large shade trees.   The primary cathedral is the crown jewel of the square and it is flanked by city hall, colonial government buildings, museums, restaurants, hotels, and banks.


Days in Granada are between 82 and 88 F, year round, with the evenings and night time temperatures only a few degrees cooler, yet still hot.  The hottest months are mid-March through May, where temperatures might be in the  95º to 100º  F range for several days.

Coolest months are December through February with nighttime temperatures in the 60ºs (and Nicaraguans in winter goose down coats), and daytime temps in the low-80º s. The rainy season is delightful as it cools things off, but days remain humid.  It rarely rains all day.

Health Care

Health care is more affordable than in the United States.  There is a state of the art hospital situated in Managua around 35 minutes away from Granada on a new highway.  Vivian Pellas Metropolitano hospital is an internationally certified hospital.  Foreigners are coming for medical tourism for plastic surgery, orthopedic surgery and other procedures because the prices are much less expensive and the quality of care is comparable or exceeds that being offered in the U.S.

 A Personal Cost of Living Guide by Expat Darrell Bushnell of Granada

The cost of food and housing will be some of your highest costs and they will depend greatly on how often you eat out but there are many other costs. We’ll do a general overview here then cover each major topic in more detail.

We estimate our average total monthly cost is around $1,500 but that includes almost everything except traveling outside the country. We have a large, beautiful colonial home with a pool, employ a maid, a fairly new SUV and a motorcycle. Taxes are much lower here but they still exist and they probably will go up someday. Eat local fruits and vegetables, stay active in the local community and never get sick if you want to live cheaply.

As  of  September 2012

The below monthly costs are typical for a typical home for a expatriate in Granada which tends to be a palace compared to the homes of the locals.

  • Maid – $100 (depends on number of hours, duties, responsibilities)
  • Gas (cooking) – $20
  • Electricity – $100-200  (lower if no pool pump, higher if you need A/C)
    One reason this is high is that many of the locals are not paying for their electricity.
  • Water – $8-9
  • Garbage Pickup – $1.25 a month and they pick up three times a week
  • Telephone – $90 (two cellulars, unlimited minutes, no calls outside country)
    Note-there are two major phone companies here, one of your highest costs will be when you make calls to someone with the other phone company – high surcharges
  • Internet – $25 (cable internet with WIFI, good speed, competition is heating up)
  • Cable TV – $19 (fairly similar to cable in the states, many English channels)
    If not in major city, you may have to purchase a satellite system.
  • Homeowners’ Association Fees (if your property is in a complex or development)
    They have just started these here and they vary greatly.
  • Property Taxes – In Granada, $250 a year for 4,500 SF home.
    We know people paying more for a smaller home and less for a larger one.
    Treat the property inspector and the alcadia (city offices) like kings – they are.
  • Home Maintenance – Cost of labor very low, materials higher but still low
  • Gasoline – approaching $5 per gallon, diesel is less
    Good reason to have a motorcycle, scooter or bicycle.
  • Vehicles – 20-40% higher than prices in the states except Chinese which are lower.
  • Vehicle Maintenance – Part prices similar to states but labor much cheaper
    Ex. Flat rear tire on motorcycle – They had to disassemble, fix tube, reassemble – cost $2
  • Food – $300-600 for 2 people (locals live on a lot less if you like rice and beans every day)
  • Entertainment – $100  (Depends on what this encompasses and your hobbies)
  • Homeowners’ insurance – Many people do not have this but rather inexpensive
  • Car, Motorcycle Insurance – $56 per year for SUV, $30 for motorcycle – basic insurance
  • General Taxes – Sales tax (IVA) is 15% but is usually already in the cost.
  • Tips – Generally around 10%
  • USA Income Taxes – Only the USA still requires taxes on any income no matter where you live and any capital gains you make.
  • Medicine – Generally much, much less and usually do not need a prescription
  • Doctors – Office visit to English speaking doctor $15
  • Dentist – A thorough cleaning $25 (see section on health care)
  • Beer, Liquor – Local beer wholesale $.60, at restaurant or bar ($1)
    Good rum – very cheap but imported liquors are more expensive but everything still tends to be cheaper since taxes are generally lower. Wines do not have extensive variety here but a good bottle can be $5-6.
  • Clothes, Shoes – Very inexpensive at the outlets but much higher at shoping malls.

If you want to learn more about Granada, you can visit Expat Darrell Bushnell’s website.

The hosts of Expat’s Paradise and its crew got a chance to meet Darrell and his wife Amy and shadow them for awhile in Granada. Their lifestyle and interview will be shown on a television network to be announced soon.  Because his website has no commercial agenda and is very authentic, it is recommended reading.


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