Summary: Esteli, Nicaragua


800 meters above sea level and 2.5 hours outside Managua , this medium sized, cheap, safe and comfortable Nicaraguan agricultural hub is a solid option for laying low with a bottle of Flor de Cana, a locally grown and blocked cigar and a cup of coffee.

Pros: Downright cheap, wide selection of fresh local produce available from multiple outlets, local cigars, coffee and domestic rum cover your vices, largely walkable with affordable taxis, safe, activities abound, clean local water, comfortable climate, genuinely friendly locals, modest array of restaurants and shopping, and gringo pricing seems nonexistent (as of yet).

Cons: Dusty even during our rainy season stay and said to be worse in the drier months, evenings can be a little sleepy, and though there is music and dancing nearby at clubs along the highway it offers little variety.  The cinema is closed, at least temporarily.

Distortions: We rented a room in a shared house rather than an apartment, which spared us the hassle of arranging utilities and gave us access to the local expertise of the landlord (apartments are said to be available at similar prices).  Spanish school ate up a lot of our time, though we were able to fill our subsequent weeks without becoming bored.  We washed our clothing by hand, which was fine for a month but would probably become tedious after much longer.  Municipal water service was uncharacteristically spotty due to recent flooding in the region.

Esteli, a city of over 200,000 people, is a thriving metropolis relative to the towns we’ve become accustomed to.  Our previous outposts received supplies only by extended bus trips or expensive boat rides, but Esteli is the origin of many goods and a major distribution point for others.  There are many medical and dental clinics, pharmacies, restaurants, bars, shops, vendors, festivals, and more.  Even though it’s easy to organize various tours, from cigar production to forest preserves, this was the least tourist oriented town that we’ve stayed in and, not coincidentally, the cheapest.  And for a city it’s size it’s surprisingly safe.  Locals and transplants, including lone women, walk home confidently in the late hours without incident.

Esteli serves as a hub for local agriculture, ensuring a steady supply of produce from a variety of sources including two sizable grocery stores, mobile vendor carts wandering the streets and loudly chanting out there inventory, a large daily central market, a smaller weekly market along the central park and an assortment of small stores.  We patronized all of these, to varying extents, and were generally happy with the meals that resulted.

Lunch became our daily meal out and we quickly developed some favorites.  Delicias Loco (“loco” as in “express train” not “psych ward”) across the street from the central park and Licuados Ananda about a block away top the list, each offering terrific plates of food for about US$2.30 and juices for an extra US$0.46.  Street food was the norm for dinner; large, delicious plates of wood grilled chicken, rice and beans and salad, usually carried out and costing as little as US$2.55 (sweet plantains extra).  As our month was winding down we finally made it out to Mocha Nana,  a coffee house and (reputedly a) local intellectual hub.  It was empty when we were there, but I don’t doubt it packs up and it was easily the best US$1 cappuccino I’ve ever had (though most of the competitors in that division come out of Nescafe vending machines).  Nonetheless, that shit was delicious.

No discussion of food and coffee is complete without a mention of Cafe Luz, one of the many businesses and programs administered by our landlord, a British transplant and 10 year Esteli resident.  Cafe Luz is the cornerstone to many travelers’ Esteli experience and draws a varied mix of locals, transplants and travelers with a solid, fresh menu and damn good coffee.

Plenty of activities are available, including yoga and dance classes, volunteer opportunities and good hiking in the nearby natural reserves.  At least two gyms operated within easy walking distance of our place, though the one that I visited was a little to crowded with equipment (and therefore short on space to move) for me to ever actually enjoy my workouts.  I never made it to the other, but it seemed less packed.  So while it’s very easy to spend hours trying to master Spanish via the subtitles on the english language reruns of Law and Order,  it’s also no chore to find more constructive diversions.  The average monthly highs range from 78-87 and lows from 59-66 degrees Fahrenheit; the kind of eternal spring” that makes air conditioning unnecessary and a good night’s sleep easy to come by.

By the numbers, we brought the month in at US$700 for two people, excluding the cost of Spanish class but inclusive of all else, even housing.  Eating out was cheap enough that we never had to cook, groceries were affordable enough that we could cook as much as we wanted.  We spent almost exactly 10% of our budget on booze, a significant decrease over past months.  This reduction is due to cheaper booze and less drinking, which doesn’t feel as mandatory out of the heat and away from the energetic vacationing crowds.  My Spanish teacher estimated that the average (median?) resident of Esteli spends US$300 per month for everything including rent.  She also said US$150/month will get you a 2 or 3 bedroom apartment in town and roughly US$7 will get you a 3-day week of housekeeping, with or without cooking.


13 Responses to “Summary: Esteli, Nicaragua”

  1. tuong Says:

    This post is useless without pics.

  2. janie Says:

    Your posts are so helpful. I guess you probably wonder sometimes if it’s worth the effort but I, for one, am getting a lot of help. I currently teach English in Thailand but am looking at Nicaragua or Panama to relocate. Don’t think I can afford Costa Rica. I’m coming for the month of April so your posts are giving me direction. Thanks for going to all the trouble….

    • cgearhart Says:

      Thanks Janie, for me this is a good way to keep friends and family up to date and also keep me own notes straight (this is, at heart, a research trip), but I wanted to make sure other people could benefit from the info. It means a lot to me that it’s being put to use.

  3. cgearhart Says:

    Here’s some recent Esteli real estate info over at Nicaliving: http://www.nicaliving.com/node/19354

    I didn’t get to meet FYL while I was in town (he only comes to town once or so a month, from what I understand), but the woman who ran our house knew (of?) him.

  4. Wade Says:

    This post has really inspired me to give Nicaragua a try. I’m 50, and my company’s pension plan was terminated in 2008. So only getting $13.5k at 55 instead of about $22k. Trouble is there’s no COLA attached to it so will watch my purchasing power go down every year. Seems to rule out many places, at least until Social Security starts. I do wonder with the noted safety of Nicaragua and all it offers if it will become another Costa Rica. Guess all I can do is just watch how it plays out but do very much appreciate the real world well thought out descriptions. Thanks!

    • cgearhart Says:

      Hey Wade,

      I just saw your post over at Nicaliving (or a post from someone in a very similar situation). By all means, I recommend you give Nicaragua a try. But I’d also recommend you check out Boquete and some of the neighboring towns in Panama. You can spend US$1k/month in Boquete, but you sure don’t need to. We came in at under US$900/month for two. You’ll find plenty of fellow Texans around those parts, too, if you’re looking for some familiarity in the local community.

      There are affordable regular flights out of Panama City, epecially a red eye (though I’m spacing on who operates it, you probably woulldn’t have much trouble finding info about it).

      • Wade Says:

        Hey thanks, that was me. I’m very much interested in San Marcos, Nicaragua, a college town with plenty of English speakers around. Alot of cheap cafes, cheap rentals, good weather and cheap but decent transport to Managua. I enjoyed your write-up on Boquete but it’s too far from Panama City for me. Plus considering the cost of Boquete real estate I think I’d be a poor expat among the well heeled ones. I’m sure many of them are fine people but I don’t just want to get by. Need to set aside enough every month for annual family visits in the States. You are giving such good descriptions and facts that you may convince me to try a place you haven’t covered yet. Appreciate it and am envious of your travels!

    • Beinaj Says:

      I moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2007. Last year I went to Boqutte, Panama, and several places in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, to see if the situation there was better than in Chiang Mai. Long story short, Chiang Mai is the better place to be….for me anyway. I have only $750 social security and it’s plenty for a gentle lifestyle here among smiling people with good hearts. I never see barbed wire here or iron bars unlike Central America.

      • cgearhart Says:

        Plenty of people I’ve traveled with prefer parts of Asia to Central America. Personally, I can’t wait to see for myself.

  5. Stewart Says:

    I have enjoyed reading adventures very much, please keep them coming.
    May I ask you what was the name of the place you stayed in Esteli?
    Thank you,

    • cgearhart Says:

      Hey Stew, glad you’ve enjoyed my blog.

      We stayed here. This post is a little old, so the prices are probably outdated, but the email address should still work. Let me know if you have any trouble contacting them (assuming you try).

  6. […] in my Summary, not in the way I was able to capture the sum of our experiences in other towns like Esteli. The European portion of this trip could easily be a series of 8 (or something) Summaries about how […]

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